Oneika Raymond travels to the heart of Peckham, a bustling neighborhood in South London just a few miles southeast of the Thames River. There, she joins local author Jendella Benson for a walking tour of the district she holds dear.
Peckham is where Jendella set her debut novel, Hope and Glory, in order to pay tribute to the town and its Nigerian-British community.
Oneika meets up with Jendella at Peckham Rye station to kick off the tour of Rye Lane, Peckham’s main thoroughfare and the place to shop its local markets, dine on international flavors, and people watch. No matter the day of the week, Rye Lane is buzzing thanks to its numerous markets, food vendors and beauty salons.
Then, Jendella takes Oneika to Peckhamplex, a cinema tucked back from Rye Lane. With its £4.99 tickets, it’s a staple for a casual night out. They also view Peckham Portraits, a collection of images of iconic Black British actors changing the face of cinema.
From there, Oneika and Jendella duck into a traditional indoor Peckham market, where they marvel at the textiles, imported peanuts, and shea butter. It’s truly one-stop shopping, and indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit of the neighborhood.
The last stop on the tour is Peckham Palms, a modern interpretation of Peckham’s indoor markets, and a Black-women led mall that’s supporting local innovation. Peckham is a Black-beauty hub, and the Palms provides affordable rent and fosters community.
They end the day at The Flygerians, a café-in-residence at the Palms run by local sisters Jess and Jo Edun. While chowing down on Nigerian street food specialties like jollof rice bowls and efo riro, Oneika and Jendella discuss how Peckham inspired Hope and Glory, how reading can be one of the most authentic ways to travel, and Jendella’s best advice to engage with the community when you visit Peckham.
To read full episode transcripts from About the Journey and see photos of each featured destination, head to About the Journey on Marriott Bonvoy Traveler. Starting this season, you can also watch videos from select episodes on our Marriott Bonvoy YouTube channel.
Jendella Benson: So this is the main artery of Peckham. It’s changing, as a lot of neighborhoods are, but I think it still feels very much like Peckham, like the old Peckham isn’t going away. There’s the graffiti, there’s the bill posters, there’s the market. Like you can literally go buy a pillow if you wanted to right now. (Laughs)
Oneika Raymond: I love that.
Jendella Benson: Do you want a duvet? Let’s go get a duvet…yeah. I love it. It’s such a vibe. It’s Peckham.
Oneika Raymond: Welcome to About the Journey. I’m your host, Oneika Raymond, a travel journalist and member of Marriott Bonvoy.
This season, I’m uncovering the lesser-known sides of six iconic cities. In my years of travel, I’ve found there is no better way to see a city than through its neighborhoods and the people who call them home. So I’ll be meeting up with in-the-know locals to show me what makes their homes one-of-a-kind: from the sights, sounds, and flavors to the hidden gems, and *so much more.*
This week, we’re exploring London’s storied Peckham, a bustling district just a few miles southeast of the Thames River
Jess Edun: Peckham’s a fun, vibrant, incredible area full of people from many walks of lives. You’ve got the Nigerians; you’ve got the amazing Caribbean community. You’ve got the amazing LGBTQ plus community as well.
Maryanne: There’s a lot going on in Peckham. It’s got not just food, not just drink. It’s something for local mothers, children, families, and so on.
Jess: It’s one of the places that’s so vibrant, it’s colorful, it’s full of life…the greatness that is Peckham.
Oneika Raymond: Thanks to the creative works of local writers and filmmakers, Peckham is making a name for itself beyond London. But for those of whom it’s long been home, Peckham has always been the place: to gather, to shop, to get your nails done. And I want to get to know that Peckham, which is why I’m meeting up with author Jendella Benson for a tour.
She set her debut novel Hope and Glory right here. It’s a coming of age story that perfectly captures the spirit of Peckham and its people.
Jendella Benson: Because I wanted it to be a very British, very Nigerian story, where else would make sense but Peckham?
Oneika Raymond: I adore London: the food, the art, the culture. In fact, I spent two years living here in the east end. But I never ventured too far south of the Thames. I’d spotted Peckham Rye station on the tube map and wondered about the neighborhood of Peckham, known fondly by its Nigerian British community as “Little Lagos.” Well, that all changes today.
Oneika Raymond: Hi.
Jendella Benson: Hi.
Oneika Raymond: Lovely to meet you.
Jendella Benson: Nice to meet you as well. You look great.
Oneika Raymond: Oh, you look fantastic. I mean, give us the style deets sis. Come on.
Jendella Benson: Thank you, thank you so much.
Oneika Raymond: Jendella stands tall, wearing a white jumpsuit, gold trainers, and a warm smile. We’re meeting for the first time just outside Peckham Rye Station, a grand three-story building that’s being restored to its 1860’s splendor.
Jendella Benson: Well first of all, we’re at Peckham Rye Station, which is like the center where a lot of people come in through. But I can’t wait to show you the rest of it. The markets, the hairdressers, the cinema…
Oneika Raymond: So, let’s get into it. Let’s get started.
Oneika Raymond: The station is tucked back from the street. Jendella and I walk through an alleyway plastered with posters to find ourselves in the heart of Peckham.
Oneika Raymond: So, yeah, I’m loving the vibes, I’m loving the colors. Where are we exactly?
Jendella Benson: Okay, so we’re on Rye Lane, which is kind of the main thoroughfare through Peckham. It’s where all the shops are.
Oneika Raymond: I see clothing stalls…
Jendella Benson: There’s every, everything. Like anything you want, you can come to Rye…
Oneika Raymond: Rye Lane runs about a half mile between Peckham High Street at the north and Peckham Rye Park & Common at the south. Many locals live in the terraced houses that line the side streets, but odds are good they do their shopping here.
Jendella Benson: So this is –if you’re gonna bump into anyone, it’ll probably be on Rye Lane.
Oneika Raymond: Okay.
Jendella Benson: So if you don’t wanna be seen, if you don’t wanna bump into your aunties, your mom’s best friend, you don’t wanna be sent on an errand to Rye Lane. This is like the heart. This is where all the industry is. If you want your fresh fruit, you want your fresh veg. I feel like this is still the cheapest place in London to get plantain as well.
Oneika Raymond: My first impressions: Jendella is spot on. Scanning the busy street, I see a Jamaican fruit and vegetable stand across the way. Nail salons, butcheries, and electronic shops are all within eye line. Storefronts sell West African, Turkish, West Indian food. London’s signature red double decker buses roll by. Peckham is full of life, and Rye Lane is at the center of it all.
Oneika Raymond: This looks a lot like Brooklyn. So, in Bed-Stuy it’s more Afro-Caribbean. The same kind of influences.
Jendella Benson: It’s so interesting just how the diaspora can just put a fingerprint on a place and then you’ll go somewhere else where there’s a similar kind of diaspora will be, and you’ll be like, Oh, I’m home.
Oneika Raymond: Peckham is truly a multicultural neighborhood, with a strong Nigerian fingerprint that shows up in its food, its textile shops, and its friendly people. Jendella herself is a first-generation British Nigerian.
Jendella Benson: I had family who lived in Peckham, so we were visiting them quite regularly. And the week after I turned 18, I was here with my little suitcase. As well as the freedom of moving out of my parents’ house, it was also just being around other Nigerians like, Oh wow. This is where the people are.
Oneika Raymond: The epicenter.
Jendella Benson: Yeah. It justfelt like, Wow. Okay. And it felt like a second coming of age. Coming into my Nigerian heritage and just being immersed in that like Nigerian Britishness.
Oneika Raymond: Peckham shapes the world of her novel, Hope and Glory, which a reviewer called: “deliciously South London.” Her book tells the story of a Nigerian-British family navigating life here.
Jendella Benson: I wanted to preserve this idea of Peckham that I had for myself, like kind of trapping this time period in amber because I just wanted to pay homage to the Nigerian community as well that nurtured me and allowed me to grow and blossom.
Oneika Raymond: As a writer, Jendella has a knack for noting the little details that make Peckham unique.
Jendella Benson: On a Sunday, you’ll see people coming back from church, so there’s loads of African church congregations. And what I love about it is that you’ll see them in different kinds of outfits. So there’s these white billowing garments and then you’ll see the bright African print fabrics.
Oneika Raymond: Mm-hmm.
Oneika Raymond: As we continue our walk down Rye Lane, I spot a theater with a colorful marquis that advertises tickets for 5 pounds. Jendella tells me its Peckhamplex theater, an indie cinema that is a staple for a casual night out in Peckham.
Jendella Benson: It’s such a community vibe. I’m gonna keep saying community, community, but it’s such a community vibe. And I think that the owners have really made a pledge to keep it low cost and affordable and kind of keep it as a mainstay of the area because it is iconic.
So, if you’re gonna watch a bad film, this is the best place to watch it because the commentary will have you in stitches.
Oneika Raymond: Okay, so we have people talking back at the screen…
Jendella Benson: Yeah, people talking back at the screen, people ordering Deliveroo to come to the cinema. Like…
Oneika Raymond: Stop. Oh my God.
Jendella Benson: It’s such a vibe. You could go there by yourself and feel like you’re there with friends.
Oneika Raymond: That could be the new tagline. (Shared laughter)
Oneika Raymond: We walk up to the Peckhamplex entrance, where we take a closer look at a row of large format, sepia toned photos lined up to the right of its doors. They’re the Peckham Portraits, a photography series shot by Franklyn Rogers.
Jendella Benson: So these are the Black British actors from theater and film. And I think it’s just, you know, you can’t be what you can’t see, right? And you just want that local pride as well, you know? And I think maybe now it’s changing, so there are more opportunities…
Oneika Raymond: Jendella reflects on how Peckham’s reputation has shifted more positively in recent years, in part due to a rich arts scene and in greater part due to locals like herself shining a light on the community.
Jendella Benson: As kids who’ve grown up in Peckham as they get older, and now they’re directors, now they’re authors, they can kind of tell a different side of the story.
Oneika Raymond: So they can become agents of change.
Jendella Benson: Exactly.
Oneika Raymond: And they become storytellers and change the narrative.
Jendella Benson: Yes. A lot of people who’ve lived in Peckham, who know Peckham, who’ve grown up, they know what the community can look like. But for the rest of the world, it’s like a revelation. It’s like, wow, that’s what Peckham is. Yeah, I’m hopeful for the future. There’s so much great stuff happening that is allowing the beauty that we see to be transported to a wide audience.
Oneika Raymond: As Jendella and I continue our stroll down Rye Lane, we’re drawn in by the shops we spot as we pass by.
Jendella Benson: Oh my gosh. I love fabric shops.
Oneika Raymond: Yeah the textiles.
Jendella Benson: I always think if I was in another life, I would own like a fabric shop.
Oneika Raymond: Mm-hmm.
Jendella Benson: And I’ll be bringing in all of the African print, the Swiss spoil, the French lace, and like selling it.
Oneika Raymond: One thing I wish I’d known when I lived in London: Peckham is the place to go for affordable beauty care. Black women come from all over to get their hair and nails done.
Jendella Benson: If you come to Peckham and a lady does not ask… They’ll be like do you want your hair done? You’ve not come to Peckham. It’s just part of the hustle. It’s that innovation. The fact that we can just make lives with our hands literally by just putting our talents to use and kind of creating.
Oneika Raymond: Peckham is alive with this spirit of entrepreneurship. We pull into one of several indoor markets on the street to experience it firsthand. This market has an unassuming entrance, but walking through you see a long hallway lined with individual stalls.
Jendella Benson: Yeah, so these are more like the kind of traditional market shopping, arcades. Like the one stop, get absolutely everything. Parties are obviously a big thing in Nigerian culture, whether it’s weddings or birthday parties. So like when you need to get ready, like, this is where you…
Oneika Raymond: The one stop shop.
Jendella Benson: …You can get your hair and you can get your clothing, and you can buy your fabrics, you can get your gele tie, which is the head, the head, the head wrap.
Oneika Raymond: Each vendor has its own colorful shop gate — blue, red, yellow, purple. When they’re pulled down it’s just as welcoming as when they’re open for business. Jendella and I share a reverence for these spaces.
Jendella Benson: And again, it’s just such a bustling place of industry and opportunity and, like, it feels like a little wonderland.
Oneika Raymond: Yeah. No this is cool. There’s so many things to see. Oils and lotion.
Jendella Benson: And it’s like that smell, right?
Oneika Raymond: Mm-hmm.
Jendella Benson: You can smell the hair products, the shea butter.
Oneika Raymond: See, I can get lost in these stars. I love these stores. Oh, they even have expressions!
Jendella Benson: Yes.
Oneika Raymond: Haircare, tailors, fresh peanuts grown in Nigeria. Indoor markets like these are a staple of community life here in Peckham. But, they’re facing economic pressures.
Jendella Benson: I think there is a concern about whether these places will last, maybe another generation or two. Because who’s taking them over as well?
Oneika Raymond: Because who’s, who’s gonna take them over?
Jendella Benson: But then there’s certain things that you’re just not gonna be able to replicate online. You’re gonna like, if you want your fabric made into a specific outfit,you need to go to the tailors. You can’t order that online in the same way.
Oneika Raymond: Mm-hmm. True.
Oneika Raymond: We step back into the bright sunlight and make our way to a modern interpretation of the indoor markets we’ve just explored.
On a street running parallel to Rye Lane is Peckham Palms, a mall opened in 2019 as the UK’s first Black hair and beauty hub. Today, Black-women-led Peckham Palms is opening up to other vendors, too. Its mission is to support entrepreneurship by providing affordable rents and a place to build community.
Jendella Benson: Ownership is really important for the Black community, but especially for Black women. I mean, part of it is survival, definitely. But I think, also, we’re innovators. If someone is not doing it, then maybe we can give it a shot. So I wanted to come to Peckham Palms because for me, it just feeds back into our community and just building that community.
Oneika Raymond: Mmhmm.
Jendella Benson: And I just love the fact that this is a space where Black women can just be their full selves. They can earn their money. They can support their career. They can do whatever they want. So, um, not just places of quote unquote vanity. They’re places of solidarity.
Oneika Raymond: A key member of the tight knit Peckham Palms community is Jess Edun, the co-owner of The Flygerians café.
Jess Edun: Hello everyone. Hi.
Oneika Raymond: Jess opens up the café, a warm, cozy spot accessible from both the street and inside the Palms.
Jess: Ta da! I’m just gonna go open the shutter for you as well, so you’ve got a bit more light.
Oneika Raymond: Owned by sisters Jess and Jo, The Flygerians serves Nigerian-British street food inspired by their grandma.
Jess Edun: Her name was mama, uh, “Mary Nigerian” as we like to call her, and she taught us how to cook from the age of nine. So it’s an all-inclusive space that we’ve wanted to create and that we think echoes and represents us and our family very well.
Oneika Raymond: Jess says that you don’t have to be Nigerian to enjoy their food — which includes a Nigerian take on British fish and chips, Jollof rice bowls with plantain and beef suya, and efo riro — or spinach stew.
Jess: You just have to be someone with a good vibe who wants to enjoy and chop life. And that’s what it’s all about. (Laughs)
Oneika Raymond: When the sisters launched The Flygerians, they knew Peckham was the spot to do it.
Jess: I mean, Peckham is mini Lagos. Let’s get that right. It’s definitely the perfect place for a Nigerian street food business. There’s a beautiful chaos about Peckham and there’s a beautiful harmony about our business. So bringing that together makes sense.
Oneika Raymond: This is Jendella’s go-to restaurant in Peckham — she’s driven miles to satisfy a Flygerians craving. And it’s one of the places where her debut novel, Hope ad Glory, was celebrated by the community when it first launched.
Now that I’ve gotten to experience the sights and sounds of Peckham, Jendella and I sit down to discuss how the neighborhood helped inspire her book. But first, we talk about the flavors that make the meal in front of us so unique.
Oneika Raymond: For those of us who may not be familiar with Nigerian food, what are the flavors and the spices that define the cuisine?
Jendella Benson: There’s this tomato base, which appears in a lot of stews and it’s kind of like also the base for jollof rice. So there’s tomatoes obviously. And then you can have your ginger, you can have what we call ado, which is like scotch bonnet pepper as well. Very important.
But the thing about Nigeria is that it’s so massive. So each region will have its own kind of like regional special as well. So like, efo riro is a Yoruba dish, which is kind of my ethnic background within Nigeria. But like Igbo people have their dishes as well, so there’s so many different varieties. You can’t get bored with Nigerian food.
Oneika Raymond: I’m so happy that you are giving this specificity, because so often we lump together all the nations of Africa into a monolith.
For those who are not familiar with the novel, Hope and Glory, how would you describe it?
Jendella Benson: Well Hope and Glory starts with Glory. She’s been out in LA, she’s been living her best life, if you believe her Instagram. But when her dad dies, she comes back to London and she finds her family in chaos. So her brother’s in prison, her sister’s in a marriage, which is questionable from Glory’s point of view. Her mom’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown and she decides she’s gonna stay and try and fix everyone’s problems. You know…an immigrant daughter (laughs) idea to fix everyone’s problems. And in the process she discovers a family secret that potentially could tear everything apart. So yeah, no spoilers. (Laughs)
Oneika Raymond: But, something that we can say right, without spoiling anything, is that Hope and Glory is set in Peckham. What are some of the scenes in the text that people would be like, “Oh, yep, that’s Peckham, that’s South London.”
Jendella Benson: Rye Lane. Burgess Park, which is one of the biggest greenest spaces within London, it makes an appearance. There’s a church scene as well. So there’s just like all these…
Oneika Raymond: All these parallels.
Jendella Benson: Yeah, all these parallels.
Oneika Raymond: And so, About the Journey as a travel podcast. Yeah. I’m a huge traveler. How do you feel books and literature in general can be a form of of travel? For those people who can’t hop on a plane or can’t jump in a car and go…
Jendella Benson: Yeah.
Oneika Raymond: …someplace different.
Jendella Benson: I feel like they’re almost one of the most authentic ways to travel because you’re seeing this place, often through the eyes of someone who’s lived there or grown up there.
So if you go and you travel to a place, like, unless you have a local tour guide, you’re just kind of maybe gonna hit the hotspots, you’re gonna hit the touristy kind of bits. But reading and seeing a city, a town, a neighborhood from an insider’s perspective is so invaluable.
Oneika Raymond: Mm-hmm.
Jendella Benson: So, I love traveling by reading you are transported to a world that you never even maybe thought to visit. And maybe now one day you will if you get the chance.
Oneika Raymond: I like that. I like the idea of the book being a gateway, and very oftentimes the story being reported by people who are from there and who know a place intimately, right. They’re writing from a position of authority. So, thank you for that.
For those who do make the trip down to Peckham, what tips do you have for them to add to the flavor and the vibrancy of Peckham and not detract from it?
Jendella Benson: I mean, first thing I’ll say is that you need to go to the locally owned community spots and look people in the eye. Engage with people, like find out who people are as well. Cause it’s not just about an area, like it’s about the people. The vibe is created by the community, so you need to engage with the community. Come just ready to see, ready to learn, ready to just be a part of what’s already there.
Oneika Raymond: Honestly, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you, Jendella, you’ve showed us so much in the neighborhood. Just everything about you is such a light. My final question to you is, what do you want both our listeners and travelers to take away from this time that we’ve spent with you in Peckham?
Jendella Benson: I guess there’s a view of London, which is like high society, but there are worlds within worlds here. There’s so many different kind of little pockets of Britain that you can dip into.
So I think that I just want people to just have the open mind to just explore and See the city for what it is. Take it for what it is, and also prepare to be surprised by what you find when you come here.
Oneika Raymond: Well said. Well, thank you again, for taking us on this journey with you and for giving us insights into your own personal journey.
Jendella Benson: Thank you.
Oneika Raymond: Thank you.
Oneika Raymond: I really loved the hustle and bustle of Peckham. It was palpable. I think we all owe it to ourselves to explore cities more fully. I am a firm believer in not being able to do a place in only one visit. And so maybe Peckham is not on the radar of the guidebooks just yet. But I think it’s going to get there and I think it’s really important that it does because it shatters the single story of London.
If you wanna get off the beaten track and if you wanna see something different, then go to Peckham.
Oneika Raymond: That’s all for this episode of About the Journey. Thank you to our Peckham guide, Jendella Benson. Next week, we’re headed to South Central LA to explore the historic neighborhood by bicycle.
Michelle Moro: All right, you can hear all the super busy sounds of South Central. These were my stomping grounds growing up, you know? It was my own little 15 minute city.
About the Journey is produced by Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, At Will Media, and me, Oneika Raymond. Our Marriott producers are Robin Bennefield and Valerie Conners. Our AT WILL MEDIA producers are Kait Walsh, Kristy Westgard, Gale Straub and Elliot Davis. Mixing and original theme music composed by Andrew Holzberger.
Learn more about Jendella Benson and where to read Hope and Glory at Jendella.co.uk.
You can learn more about visiting Peckham and how to travel more meaningfully — from Marriott Bonvoy Traveler at traveler.marriott.com.
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I’m your host, Oneika Raymond. See you next time.