I am a writer, with a particular interest in place and our relationship to it. I run a literature consultancy called UrbanWords, which specialises in projects using creative writing as a way to explore and question our relationship to place, with a particular focus on regeneration and urban renewal. You can find out more about UrbanWords at www.urbanwords.org.uk and more about my fiction writing at www.sarahbutler.org.uk.

The theme of Hidden Spaces has a real lure for me. I started thinking about all the hidden spaces I’ve had the privilege to discover/be invited into over the last year or so. My plan is to blog about a few of those spaces…

So, first up: the Greenwich Peninsula. I was writer-in-residence there, alongside the poet Aoife Mannix, as part of a project called Almost an Island? in the autumn of 2008. I fell in love with the mysterious, industrial, moonscape of the west side of the peninsula – a far cry from the increasingly smart, regenerated east side. The peninsula, like so much of the land along the Thames to the east of London, was a dumping ground – a venue for the dirty industries that the city relied on but didn’t want to see. The very word, peninsula, which the OED defines as “A piece of land that is almost an island, being nearly surrounded by water”, and which comes from ‘penumbra’ – the edge of a shadow and ‘insula’ – island, intrigues me – a place of shadows, an almost place, not quite land, not quite water.

Here’s one of the short pieces I wrote as part of my residency.


There’s a sign saying the footpath’s closed, but no-one to police it. It’s an empty part of the city; a lorry now and again, the driver perched high in his metal castle, his eye line way above your head, whistling.

The tide is neither here nor there. There’s no barrier, but I suspect they wish you wouldn’t walk amongst the treasures. Here at the top it’s all plastic colours. Bags hold onto their contents. Blue pot pourri – dyed husks that have forgotten their smell. A red strap that used to hold things together. Further in, the colours grey. Cracked glass. Feather soft ash. And down here by the shore, rusted up shapes, like tempura vegetables. A nail, a hook, the loop from a long rotted tarpaulin.

I prefer here to the tarmacked path, dissected in two, punctuated by red signs in anticipation of emergencies. Here, moss clings slick green to concrete corners. Cobble stones bridge the shore. Here, the water is closer. It’s just a step across to the stacks of windows on the far shore. But standing there, I wouldn’t feel the crunch and give of cracked ceramic and rusted metal and rock underneath my feet. Standing there, for too long, I would be asked to leave.

Find out more about Sarah Butler here.


Hidden Spaces – a month of blogs by members about their hidden space – whether they be real, imagined, unbuilt, cut-off from the public, demolished, spiritually significant or politically sublimated. Read more from the series.