The Car Park Cats Of Peckham

By Londonist Last edited 29 months ago
The Car Park Cats Of Peckham

Hidden behind one of the main arteries in the heart of Peckham, there is a colony of around 15 feral and semi-feral cats who spend most of their time, like disaffected youth, hanging around a car park surrounded by empty vodka bottles and fast food detritus.

We've been advised not to say exactly where they are for fear of sick, pitiful fiends who might seek to locate and brutalise them. What a world.

The Peckham car park cats are an unusual bunch. Most of London's feral colonies tend to gravitate towards neglected gardens or allotments. These are a proper urban colony. Street cats.

Only a matter of minutes from a busy thoroughfare, they congregate and socialise, sleep, eat and frolic, right there amongst the petrol fumes and carelessly tossed trash.

The Celia Hammond Animal Trust (CHAT) once received a call from a concerned citizen who'd noticed that many of the car park cats appeared to be heavily pregnant.

Thankfully, as most are long-neutered, this wasn't the case. These cats are just massive.

Mostly this is on account of well-meaning locals who love feeding them and, even when asked to stop, refuse.

"They do mean well," says Trudi at the Lewisham branch of CHAT, "but they can see how fat the cats are. And really it's sad because they're going to get things like diabetes and arthritis."

CHAT's long-term goal is to be able to take the friendliest of the car park cats and rehome them. The charity tries to help all distressed animals but its efforts are concentrated on unneutered feral and stray cats.

It's thought that the car park colony started out about a decade ago, as the abandoned litter of an unneutered shop cat. Then, as time went by and the colony established itself, other people — people with too many cats and too few scruples — added to them.

Far from being a rare occurrence in London, cats and kittens are unceremoniously dumped every day — in gutters, in garages, on doorsteps, in skips and in bins — by people who are either unusually cruel and self-centred, or else simply desperate.

About the Celia Hammond Animal Trust

The Celia Hammond Animal Trust is one of the first places people turn to when they find cats in peril.

Consequently the charity is constantly overwhelmed. At its Lewisham branch alone, it has up to 400 cats waiting to be homed, and an ever-expanding waiting list, all of which is made worse by the government's swingeing austerity measures.

"The bedroom tax hit us hard," Trudi explains, "because people are having to move into flats and a lot of those flats have private landlords, or they're housing associations, and they won't take animals."

Trudi showed us the book where all the requests are logged. There are a lot. An awful lot. "On one day I had 17 separate calls from people wanting rid of cats. There's a man who's got 18 cats and the neighbours are complaining, and only one of the cats is neutered. If people neutered, it would solve a lot of the problems."

Neutering is definitely the way forward, but it is a constant battle against ignorance and in some cases, unmitigated idiocy. "It's infuriating but a lot of people will let their cat have kittens and they still won't neuter them. They'll ask us to home the kittens because they can't home them, and when you ask them if they're going to neuter the mum, they say no. So, what is the point?"

Peckham's Car Park Cat Colony

Most of the Peckham car park cats were neutered around 2010. Trudi explained how it works: "If they're feral, we have to go and trap them. Then we bring them in for neutering and keep them for about three to four days. We give them health-checks, we flea, worm, vaccinate and microchip them, then we put them back."

The microchip contains the history of the Celia Hammond intervention.

"They're registered to us as car park cats. We do that with all the colonies. We microchip them so we can keep a track on them. Once we've neutered them and put them back, we kind of feel responsible for them. We feel like they're our cats."

The car park colony cats are pretty fortunate. Apart from the obesity problem, they seem to be in pretty good nick. And this is by no means always the case for wild cats in big cities.

"People imagine happy little colonies of feral cats," Celia Hammond told the Radio Times back in 1989. "In fact they travel far afield to find food and get hit by cars or become prey to appalling cruelty. There's very high kitten mortality, and they don't die nicely."

Indeed, the situation is becoming so serious that we have dispensed with all of the feline puns that usually accompany any article about cats. Although the urge is strong.

Love cats? You can help

If you're a person who loves cats — and we have been led to believe that the internet is teeming with such people — there are many ways you can help.

Obviously, you could donate money, or you could also donate superfluous cat paraphernalia — toys, boxes and what-have-you, or else you could even donate your time. CHAT always need volunteers to feed and clean cats, to transport animals or food, or even to help tame feral cats.

Besides that, of course, and perhaps most important of all, they always need cat-lovers who are willing to share their homes.

If you're interested in adopting, fostering, donating or volunteering, get in touch. Email

You can see CHAT founder Celia Hammond and fellow model Sue Gunn trapping stray cats in London in the 60s here.

By Karl Webster

Last Updated 17 October 2016