Restaurant, gallery and performance space, the Wapping Project, is closing its doors this month after a three-year-long dispute with complaining neighbours, EastLondonLines can confirm.
When Jules Wright, founder and creative director of the gallery found the disused and derelict Hydraulic Power Station, it was listed as an ‘English Heritage Building at Risk’.
Now after 13 years as the most significant cultural landmark in Wapping, the building’s future remains uncertain.
Following considerable local confusion, Wright has revealed the real reason behind the closure: her unwillingness to continue in the face of opposition from a small group of unnamed local residents who are unhappy about noise and disturbance from the venue.
The Wapping Project’s restaurant served its last meal on December 1, and the gallery is due to close officially on December 22. It was sold in July of this year to private developer Nick Capstick-Dale for £3.2m but Wright said that he had no clear plans for its future.
Wright said: “The sale of the building has been completely my decision. My neighbours are distraught that this place will be empty but I cannot do what I set out to do with the place anymore. I cannot go through another December to January with all the aggression that I face.”
She said the complainants had been ‘making hell’ for her.
The disused power station has been open as a gallery since 2000, when Wright converted it from what she described as a “casual den for itinerant heroin users” to trendy artistic space.
Over the past 13 years, the space has been used to host exhibitions, outdoor film theatre and architecture socials as well as a highly regarded restaurant.
Wright does not deny that the infrequent larger social gatherings may have created some degree of noise, but insists that they are essential for business. These events, most frequent over the Christmas period, have been crucial to the funding of the building and gallery, which has never had an entrance fee.
However, after years of complaints from a group of irritated, anonymous neighbours, Wright says the outdoor events can no longer run: “We can not hold our much loved summer film season in the garden and performances outside of the building are out of the question. Times really do change.”
In a statement released earlier in the year, Wright said: “As Wapping settles into a well behaved neighbourhood, closer in spirit to a Surrey village than an inner London borough, and the developers move in to complete the gentrification, the time has also come for us to move on.”
Wright comments appear to solve the confusion over the reasons for the closure. Last month, a piece in the Observer, written by her friend, architectural writer Rowan Moore said it was because of ‘persistent’ complaints to the police and local authority by the residents of three nearby apartments. However, local blog, ‘What’s In? Wapping’ said the claim ‘’is not true’’. The facts do not support Rowan Moore’s story.”
The blog which is run by local resident Vickie Flores, added: “The fact is that the Wapping Project has not caused noise disturbance for local residents and Tower Hamlets Council did not threaten to close the Wapping Project down because of Nimby residents. Jules Wright wanted to sell and UK Real Estate wanted to buy it.”
Tower Hamlets council said they had not taken ‘any action’ requiring the Project to close, while St Katherine’s and Wapping Safer Neighbourhoods Team of the Metropolitan Police said ‘’no local businesses or residents have mentioned a noise problem.”
Twitter and other local forums have naturally acted as a discussion ground for gallery frequenters upset and confused by the rumours circulating regarding the closure.
Wright spoke of how she found the very notion of rumours offensive, adding: “Rumours are of no interest to me. In fact I do not see why there should be rumours. [People] simply need to come and ask me why I have decided to close. Rowan’s article was accurate. He didn’t need to see any documents to confirm it.”
She also disclosed an email she had sent to a supportive local councillor: “Do people think it is easy for me to walk away from this? Of course it isn’t. This project is 20 years of my life. And I put everything I had into it.”
It is certainly no secret that Wright has also not been popular among some visitors to her venue: the Wapping Project’s review pages on the Time Out website and TripAdvisor contain detailed, angry complaints about the restaurant-gallery.
Wright acknowledges that she has aggravators both online and in the Wapping neighbourhood, although refuses to read any media reports. What appears to frustrate her most is that “these people have not once come to talk to me. They are cowards.”
Wright came to Wapping from Australia with her husband in 1973. While she was once excited by the potential of the area and the space, she now appears to be disheartened by the area’s gentrification: “The towns are empty. There are no artists in Wapping anymore. There is no artist culture.”
As for Wright’s future plans: “First and foremost, I am going to take four weeks off. To sleep. Something I have not done through my entire working life!”