The Guardian’s redundant row over Deptford’s Job Centre pub

There are many terrible things going on in south-east London right now. The rise in the number of people forced to use food banks. People young and old are being forced out of our area because of a lack of affordable housing. Stupidly-priced, ugly speculative housing developments appearing everywhere to line the profits of a select few. The politicians who’ll happily sacrifice communities’ health and well-being to drive new roads though our neighbourhoods, instead of delivering the public transport we sorely need.

But according to The Guardian, the worst thing going on in south-east London right now is the name of a pub.

The Job Centre Deptford, 6 June 2014

The Job Centre opened at the beginning of June. I popped in on its first night – in its first half-hour, as it happened. The staff were still figuring out how to work the tills, a spark was sorting out a final bit of work with the electrics and some brick dust still sat on the tables.

I only planned to pop in for one, but I soon gained good company and stayed for a bit longer. By the time we left, the place was doing a healthy trade – hey, some dancing had even broken out. It had the kind of mixed crowd you’d expect from somewhere in Deptford, with a dog curled up on one of the chairs. It felt like the place had been open for years. This’ll be a hit, I thought.

My only worry was the place had barely been decorated. And from the upstairs gents’ toilets, people in the flats opposite had a view right into the cubicle. Awkward.

Job Centre, Deptford, 6 June 2014

I tweeted a few thoughts about the pub, and somebody asked me if I thought the name was offensive. At first, I had my doubts about the name. The place was a job centre until 2010, and was then was squatted on and off – it looked like it was having a riotous party the day of the royal wedding in 2011. Pub firm Antic agreed to take on the site in January 2013, under the name “The Job Centre”.

Antic had clearly based the pub’s logo on the 70s/80s Job Centre design… but nobody did anything naff like making cocktails named after benefits. There’s a little pin board up where people could advertise local vacancies – but essentially, it’s just a boozer.

The Job Centre, June 6 2014

Maybe I’d have called it the Mercury (after the newspaper once based upstairs), but Antic names its new pubs after the buildings they used to be. (Coming soon: The Woolwich Equitable.) It’s common for new pubs to be called after their buildings’ former uses, and a job centre is part of the urban landscape. And anyway, if they’d called it something else, plenty of locals would have just called it “the old job centre” anyway. If you were looking to piss people off, you’d call it the Moustache and Ukelele.

Effra Social, Brixton, September 2013
Effra Social, Brixton

(Indeed, if there’s an Antic pub I’ve found a teensy bit dodgy, it’s the Effra Social in Brixton – a former Conservative club which is a fine place for a drink, but still has pictures of the old club’s members on the walls. If that was my Tory grandad’s picture left up for the amusement of guffawing drinkers, I’d want to have a few words with the owners.)

Scroll forward five weeks, and the Guardian’s Comment is Free ran this on Wednesday morning from Jane Elliott, “senior lecturer in contemporary literature and culture at King’s College London and a resident of Deptford”.

Guardian Comment is Free

Gentrification? Irony? Behave, it’s a bloody pub, and one whose name has been known for 18 months. Brockley Central has dealt with this piece’s failings better than I could, although it’s worth emphasising this line from Elliott:

“Many of those moving into neighbourhoods such as Deptford – myself included – would prefer not to see themselves as part of the wave of displacement…”

Yeah, right. Some well-paid incomers are more worthy than others, eh?

Anyway, there was some sound and fury on social media, largely generated by people who’d never visted the place, branding the Job Centre some kind of hipster hell. Which it certainly wasn’t the night I visited. Nowhere on Deptford High Street is like that.

Someone at the Guardian didn’t want this to blow over, though. On Wednesday evening, a news story appeared.

Guardian, 9 July 2014

So, five weeks after the pub opened to a packed crowd of locals, it faced a backlash over a name that’d been known for 18 months. Eh? Something smelt fishy about this (and it wasn’t the whiff from the other end of the high street).

Strangely, the story didn’t refer back to the Guardian piece that kicked it all off. Instead, it referred to an “open letter” written by one… Jane Elliott.

Guardian, July 9, 2014

So Jane Elliott is actually from Lewisham People Before Profit, the political party which tried to take over the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign earlier this year.

A nice publicity coup for them. LPBP’s main public face, former Lewisham Conservatives vice-chairman, estate agent and political chameleon Ray Woolford, was understandably delighted.

Ray Woolford, Twitter
Ray Woolford, Twitter
Ray Woolford, Twitter

Funny, though, because back when the Job Centre pub opened, Ray was wishing them luck:


Thanks to tweeter @Chimpman for the screengrab.

So if the whole thing was a publicity stunt from People Before Profit, what about the local outrage? Well, the report didn’t come from a Guardian news reporter, but carried the byline of culture reporter Hannah Ellis-Petersen. I asked her on Twitter if she’d visited the pub, and she didn’t respond.

I wonder, though if she approached the story with an open mind…

Hannah Ellis Petersen on Twitter

It also carried the byline of Helena Horton, the editor of a student newspaper in York. She did answer my questions, saying she interviewed locals “around the area outside the pub”. Like this one:

Guardian, 9 July 2014

How many job centres look like this?

Job Centre, Deptford, 6 JUne 2014

While the Job Centre row is a decent publicity coup for Lewisham People Before Profit, pointing fingers at a pub’s name isn’t going to find people homes they can afford to live in, or jobs that pay a decent wage. Indeed, Woolford appeared to be hoping the pub would close – adding to the dole queue.

The sad thing is that there is a debate to be had about gentrification – from the absurdity of places like Peckham’s “Bellenden Village” enclave to the local politicians who appear to resist nice things in their wards out of fear of attracting middle-class incomers. It’s a debate with many grey areas and one bound to reveal your own personal prejudices.

Maybe we can have a chat about it some day – at the Guardian’s own hipster coffee bar

6pm update: “It’s great to have a new local…” Crosswhatfields’ take on the Job Centre, including the curious case of the Lewisham Council-subsidised supper club…


  1. The News Shopper also did a piece, triggered by the People Before Profit whining. Their poll reveals the vast majority of people either don’t think it offensive or don’t give a toss.

    Personally I think it’s nice to keep the old function of the building as the name and so more power to Antic, assuming the booze is reasonably priced!

    All those “Old Post Office” pubs are the real insults if you ask me. Bring our post offices back! 😀

  2. Please don’t continue to promulgate the myth that LPBP ‘took over’ the Lewisham Hospital Campaign – it isn’t true. The facts are more complicated than simply saying this and I suspect you don’t know anything about it first hand but are relying on sources not giving the full story.

  3. antmanbee: PB4P absolutely did attempt to take over the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, and only pulled out of that plan when they realised they didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of succeeding. They also used the name on ballot papers in the council elections, despite a motion against that being passed at an SLH meeting. I was at the AGM and have been at previous SLH meetings so I have seen first hand what has happened.

  4. You’re simplifying the matter just to suit yourself. the ‘motion’ was a meaningless one – the campaign had no right to attempt to copyright the words that the PBP candidate used, words approved for use by the Electoral commission and registered by PBP as a show of support for the SLHC way before the sectarian Labour party used it’s influence to ultimately destroy the campaign (as it stands now) because PFI was the reason for the issue regarding the various hospitals in the first instance and the labour party sought to distance themselves from the fact that they signed the PFI in the first place.
    You may have been to the AGM (where the voting was rigged) and various other meetings but you have not been to any PBP meetings to hear a balanced view – I have been to both and witnessed the events in full from both sides.

  5. You haven’t been to a PBP meeting, so that’s a blinkered and prejudiced opinion, and probably one that permeates the SLHC, and certainly one that they would foster, and you’ve fallen for it. I’m surprised by you.

  6. Dave – Lewisham People Before Profit is one of the topics here.

    Antmanbee – why are you hiding behind a pseudonym when knocking people? You aren’t doing LPBP any favours.

  7. I believe antmanbee is the candidate who used the SLHC name in the council elections, so make of that what you will.

    I’ve nothing more to say on the topic of PB4P for the moment.

    As for the pub name, it’s perhaps a little insensitive but I don’t think it’s the end of the world.

  8. This is the first I’ve heard of PB4P in relation to this so as a publicity stunt for the party alone it leaves a little to be desired. I haven’t been, but if it’s like the other Antic pubs then it probably caters to a mix of new arrivals and the kind of locals who have been there all along without anywhere to go to. The Guardian piece is shoddy and lazy and I find manufactued Twitter outrage tiresome in the extreme, but at the same time going “it’s just a bloody pub” is too easily dismissing why people might find it crass and offensive as a name. Just because Antic names most (not all) of its pubs after the building they used to be doesn’t make it a good idea in this particular case.

    “But according to The Guardian, the worst thing going on in south-east London right now is the name of a pub”

    Oh come on, this is worthy of the Mail, you know as well as I do the Guardian doesn’t actually think this.

    “How many job centres look like this?”

    Is this relevant?

    I’d be interested to see how many of the jobs created by the pub have gone to the unemployed of the local area, but this is an issue with shiny new businesses opening anywhere and by no means confined to this particular pub.

  9. matt, pub jobs? i doubt they have recruited from surrey, more than likley local. in any case why is that important? jobs are jobs and certainly jobs that the previous empty building didnt provide. i’ve always found the millitant ‘local’ thing a little overdone, hopefully jobs across london are open to everyone in lewisham…see also the obsession with ‘locally sourced’, the farming industry would go bust and we would all be paying a fortune for spuds if we could only source from farms within a days donkey ride.

    but i digress…a lot.

    (also think the name is a little ‘hmmmm’ but anything that Ray Woolford opposes is probably worth giving the benefir of the doubt)

  10. Bien peasant outrage and hypocrisy. It’s all rather wonderful publicity for Antic. I hope they open a similarly offensive pub in Greenwich soon.

  11. There is probably more constructive employment chat going on in the bar than the real job centre !! Luckily the building wasn’t a public toilet or even the Dole Centre,

  12. A pedant writes: The old Mercury offices, and believe me they were old, were at 116 Deptford High Street, the Job Centre Pub is at 120-122 Deptford High Street.

    Apart from that, thank you for a very good overview, which compliments the excellent Brockley Central piece that you link to.

    As I stated elsewhere on Wednesday “Like any pub it [The Job Centre Pub] is dependent on local trade. If the name puts people off then it will not survive. If the name puts off guardian columnists, bandwagon jumpers and suchlike then it will thrive.”

  13. There’s a great scene in Minder (Rocky Eight and A Half) where Arthur Daley interrupts Terry McCann’s job seeking; “this man is gainfully employed: he thought the Job Centre was a new pub, didn’t you my son?’. Who’d have though we’d all live so long?….

    I thought the name committed the twin sins of being both wacky and crass but I wasn’t hugely bothered – just tweaking it to ‘the old Job Centre’ might have been an improvement. Besides, as every Peep Show viewer knows, the correct name for a new pub is the Swan and Paedo.

  14. Yes, I’m happy to admit that I was the PBP member who stood in Lewisham Central – if anybody wishes to question me further about the reasoning for my use of certain words in the recent election they will be welcome and I will answer honestly – although it’s possible that that honesty may dispel the rumours surrounding the issue that are being passed around by people with a lack of understanding. That said, there’s little to add from what I said in the Newsshopper.
    As fas as using a pseudonym, well, many people do online . . . and neither was I knocking people although the discussion started because I was critical of you continuing the baseless rumour you mentioned.

    You’re all very welcome at any monthly PBP meeting – if you don’t come you won’t know the truth regarding the aims and actions of our party, it’s as simple as that. (and you’ll will find that I’m a perfectly approachable person, I may even buy you a pint)

    Actually, I did tell one untruth in my dialogue with the person who uses the pseudonym ‘clogsilk’ – I have never attended a SLHC meeting (personal reasons forbade me) but I have had excellent feedback from my colleagues who have been present. I apologise for misleading you in that respect.

    all the best

  15. @antmanbee given your 4% of the vote were whatever words you used on the ballot paper important? Your and your party are an irrelevance, thankfully.

  16. I had something like a 60%ish increase in vote since 2010 – so that’s positive and if you factor in a ‘party share’ of votes in the ward my vote come out at about 10.73% (I’m told) slightly more than the conservatives (10.07%) and slightly less than the Greens (11.77%), (LibDem (5%), UKIP (9%) and TUSC (3%) all falling short of this as well), and PBP came second to Labour in 6 wards, so as a party we have made a positive impact.
    Whether or not attaching the wording in support of the Hospital Campaign had an effect is anybodies guess – maybe I would have got in if I hadn’t used it!! (smiley)
    And by the way, it’s not my party, I belong to the party and you could make a contribution to the party as well if you wish it to, so come along to a meeting and enjoy!

    all the best

  17. You’re right there are many important issues to discuss. But the fact is the people of Deptford still have to trudge across Lewisham to Catford in order to sign on. For some people this will now be every day. If like me you cycle it is bearable. Buses through Lewisham can be a pig due to the traffic. Many people are now spending one and a half hours to get to the jobcentre, anywhere between once a week and once a day. For those people, this issue does have importance in their lives.

    The closure still stings a lot. This is rubbing it in a bit.

  18. I don’t have the need of a personal website or blog, I try and resist that vanity – but thanks clogsilk, and remember, if you need to know anything about PBP please get in touch with me (via the PBP website) first and I’ll be more than happy to do all I can to fill you in on our side of whatever story it is.

    all the best

  19. I’m amazed that there are still people out there who take anything the Guardian says seriously. That surely is a miracle!

  20. Is there a reason why we are reading an article about the media in generalisation rather than a venue itself? As a long term deptford resident, a place that offers decent local beer, supporting local businesses, play great music and embrace the entirety of their area, dogs included, is welcome, exciting and useful in the community. Small minded northern london comments are not usefull or inherently unbiased.

  21. Great article… I’ve been in there 3 times and didn’t see any hipsters just a mix of local people. A couple of local old boys were at the bar, and they were loving the Bob Marley vinyl that was on. I get the wider topic the guardian piece was making but turning the name of the pub into the focus of all this outrage is ridiculous. It’s created jobs, given vibrancy to a derelict unit, and more importantly is not another bloody paddy power. The people who run it are very friendly and if you follow them on twitter they have said from day one they want to make an inclusive neighbourhood bar.

  22. If something appears in the Guardian then either the complete opposite is true or it can be safely ignored.
    Regardless, being offended doesn’t make you right.

  23. I popped in there on Saturday afternoon after a swim at Wavelengths. It’s a great place. Lovely staff who were really friendly. Good selection of beers and good music. Were very kind to the kids with us. Wish Charlton had a local venue like this.

  24. Its a pub name. Read that and if you’re still angry, read it again.

    @antmanbee… “don’t have the need of a personal website or blog, I try and resist that vanity.” Well why don’t you piss off from commenting on this blog then? You have a nasty streak a mile wide, and contribute precisely bugger all to public discourse. Just whining about the way in which your political flag of convenience is portrayed.

  25. “Not another bloody paddy power” – exactly. I’ve lived in Deptford for two years now and in that time I’ve seen more pawn shops open to support the increasing number of betting shops. Funny how they open up next to each other. I think that’s more insulting to locals than a place to socialise. I’ve been in a couple of times and loved the mix of people in there. Old and young, trendy and not. The fact it’s always busy says a lot about the opinion of locals too!

  26. The article about the “Job Centre” Pub in the Guardian has succeeded in raising concern about the dismissive attitude that our society often holds towards those who are unemployed. Human beings who should be able to share in our community, but who are treated as a nuisance who will hopefully disappear as a result of social cleansing powered by the ever increasing price of housing. The name of the pub supports the desire of certain people to treat this reality as a joke, as nothing to worry about, as passe. It’s uncool to care about actual human beings. Rather, you should demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of yourself as a cog – a well oiled cog, and keep grinding, buying your overpriced Meantime lager and be cleverly complacent. Complacency is so attractive if it’s done in a clever way. Making a stand is very unappealing. It makes you awkward, different, odd. Something to be laughed at. But personally I think that if that is what it takes to get some middle class people to pull their fingers out of their arses and give a shit about what’s going on around them then it’s the right kind of stand to make. I have learned a great deal in my time with People Before Profit, and also through the other social causes I have got involved in over the last few years (Crisis, Credit Union, The Rushey Green Time Bank). I would urge other people who have time on their hands to take seriously the issue that has been raised by the Guardian article. We need to change the culture we live in, the respect we have for each other, and the time we are prepared to give, in order to rediscover a progressive path.

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