Catford Mews: A New Wave of Retail Culture.

Living in a city like London often means becoming accustomed to constant shifts in culture. New technologies and trends in business emerge to have an effect on the way our society functions and interacts. The NLA (New London Architecture) recently published research which explores the changing face of retail in the city: “with the golden era of British retail in faint memory, the retail sector continues to resiliently and creatively diversify its models to define the future of retail in London.” 

This research features Catford Mews, a multifunctional retail and community space anchored by its three-screen cinema, as a case study. As Catford embarks on the process of regeneration, the ‘Mews promises to be a development that promotes localism and represents the desires of its community. The cinema aims to be affordable and inclusive, with average ticket prices being between £5 and £8. As well as being fully accessible, with wheelchair access and hard-of-hearing screenings. “Instead of building a shiny new tower and then worrying about what we put in the ground floor last, [I propose] we start with what the community wants and then over time we can do development,” says Preston Benson, Founder of Really Local Group.

Flexibility, accessibility and diversity have proven to be significant features within community spaces, whilst commercial space is becoming more integrated. Hugh Seaborn, Chief Executive of Cadogan Estates, who are also featured in NLA’s research, believes that “people seek identity and emotional resonance with the places in which they live, shop and socialise.”

It should be the people who set the tone and function of a space, rather than the building dictating its use; “multifunctional retail spaces are the future. People want to be able to do everything in one place, and this does not mean being overwhelmed by choice but rather being able to enjoy a number of offerings which all complement each other.” 

In light of these findings and of Catford Mews opening this Friday 6th September, we re-visited the venue to speak to the newly appointed Marketing & Programme Manager, Isra Al Kassi. We discussed what the curation of the venue will look like, what activities will be available and most importantly how it is going to represent its local communities. 

Isra Al Kassi, Marketing and Programme Manager at Catford Mews.

Isra Al Kassi, Marketing and Programme Manager at Catford Mews.

Firstly, congratulations on your new role Isra! Let’s start the interview with an introduction to yourself and your journey so far.

I was born in Sweden and I moved to London to study when I was eighteen. I became a single mum quite early on so I had to drop out of university, which meant I had to create my own path. The first thing I did was start my own business. I ran a creative space in Streatham called ‘LattjoPOP.’ It had a cafe, retail space, workspace and a playroom. It was family-friendly and brought the community together. When it closed I went to work at The Ritzy where I did events and hires for two years, and then I moved on to be the marketing manager. 

In terms of film, when I was running LattjoPOP I was doing quite a lot of film writing; reviews of events and festivals. I was also finishing my degree in Languages and Film. Eventually, I started something called Tape Collective because I was part of the Barbican young programmers. It was a scheme for underrepresented young people to put on screenings. At the end of it, my friend Angie and I started doing our own screenings, and then our friend Nelly joined us. Quite quickly we realised what our real target audience was, we had a strong South London focus. A lot of what we did was exploring identity and heritage but in a British/European setting.

Now, I’m here (at Catford Mews).

Cinema Screen Steps.jpg

Amazing, what’s the English translation of LattjoPOP?

So Lattjo is a way of saying fun and silliness in Swedish, and the pop was just the idea of pop-up culture. This was five years ago so it’s really interesting how what I did then, is so relevant to what I do now at Catford Mews. 


What would you say you’re most excited about in your role?

There are so many things. The role is very much programming and marketing but it has also grown into outreach. I’m most excited about meeting and working with new people. I think that’s a strength of mine, meeting people with ideas and finding solutions for them. I’m a problem solver. 

I’m excited by what inspires people when they see the space, as not many people have seen what the venue looks like yet. There are a lot of cinemas that show the same things, we have the opportunity to experiment so I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes.


Aside from film, what can people expect to see and hear in terms of music and culture?

When I’m running a screening, it’s a lot about putting on a well-rounded event, I think that’s really important. We’re going to have multi-functional spaces which means that not everything will be about sitting in the cinema, but rather it’s about the full-on experience.

I think in terms of music, it’s really important to work with what’s here. There’s a real scene of people whether that’s in Deptford, New Cross or Catford, they’re part of the emerging talent scene in the UK and I don’t want to miss out on that.


How do you aim to ensure Catford Mews remains a community space as time goes on?

I think it's about intent, making our intentions clear from the beginning. I know for a fact that the team, as well as the people we’re recruiting, have a passion for the ethos and we’re in agreement as to what that is.

I do think it’s important to note that there is a tendency to think that community means charity. It can be a community space and still have a nice finish, good equipment and well-presented events. I can’t even imagine running Catford Mews without community in mind.


Do you have any fears or concerns about the future of the project?

Well, I’m quite fearless to be honest with you. I’m very aware of the conversations around the topic of regeneration, I’ve lived in Brixton for a long time and have witnessed how the community have reacted to the changes in the area. I think people believe in what we are doing at Catford Mews; we’ve received a lot of support and an understanding of our goals, so that has greatly reduced any concerns I might’ve had.


Will there be opportunities for young people to showcase their work and make use of the facilities?

I ran a family-friendly space so to me it was about offering space to whoever needed it. Right now, I can’t say exactly when the open mics will be or how long people can have the art gallery spaces for but there are definitely plans in motion to make those things happen.

Another thing I’m quite passionate about is local filmmakers who want to put on shows. One thing about filmmaking, in general, finding spaces to film can cost a lot of money. We want people to be able to use our space for filming. We want such projects to have a full lifespan; you might record something in the space or meet collaborators and then present the finished product here as well.


In terms of presentation, what will be the process for those who would like to hire the space to put on an exhibition, for example?

There would be a fee for the private hire of spaces or screens. For exhibition space, hosting a free entry event like a book club or for us to buy your stock there will be no cost unless there are additional expenses like setting up or hiring staff involved. Get in touch with proposals and enquiries. 


What makes localism important to you? 

There are so many incredible people that come from Catford and have an incredible sense of pride in the area. Imagine if we nurtured that more? I think that’s the importance of localism. I believe in collaboration.


Catford Mews is offering Catford Chronicle readers the chance to win tickets to their official launch party in September! To enter the prize draw, each reader will need to email with 'Catford Mews launch party' as the subject line. You must also be following the Catford Chronicle on social media. Please note that by entering the competition, you agree to be added to the Catford Mews mailing list. All winners will be announced by us on Monday 9 September. Good luck!

This is the beginning of an exciting time for Catford Town Centre. The more people involved, the better the needs of the whole community will be reflected.

To make general comments on the Town Centre click here.

To comment on the ideas that the architects have begun to develop click here.

Have your say and please share the project with people you know locally.