Hackney Wick artists concerned over area’s future

Fish Island pic-Katherine Cantwell

Fish Island pic-Katherine Cantwell

Hackney Wick’s artistic community is nervous for the future.

Proposed development of the area mirrors similar gentrification processes that pushed creativity out of fellow inner city spots Shoreditch and Hoxton.

Last week the planned development of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was approved when The London Legacy Corporation awarded Balfour Beatty Group Limited a £154m contract to carry out works on the stadium.

The transformation of the stadium into a cultural and commercial legacy will have a huge impact on the surrounding areas such as Fish Island and the central creative hub, Hackney Wick.

Joanna Hughes, founder of Mother Studios in White Post Lane, Hackney Wick, said: “Hackney Wick is vulnerable, there are many artists here, everybody is on really short leases and people are really under threat.”

The whole thing about the ‘legacy’ and what London trades on is the diversity of creative talent. Ironically this is no longer happening in the city centre.”

From the moment you step out of the Overground train you are greeted by a magnificent piece of graffiti on the back of an old warehouse building, signaling the creative nature of the area.

Nestled in the heart of Hackney Wick, Mother Studios is an independent, nonprofit, artist-lead organisation that Hughes has run since 2001. Having set up one of the first studios in the area, Hughes can recall a very different picture of White Post Lane that today boasts a number of artistic spaces, galleries and coffee shops.

She says, “The reason I first came here was because there were many empty spaces. Industry in the area was on its last legs, so the landlords were very keen to have somebody renting these properties.”

“There was always a demand for studios but there were a few people initially worried about coming here, it was very raw and industrial. Now it is the opposite, people are desperate to come here.”

Part of this desperation comes from the areas unique location, situated next to the River Lee and opposite the Olympic Stadium. With strong transport links into both Stratford and central London, the new infrastructure built for the Games has had a huge impact on people wishing to live and work in the area.

Hajini Semsei who co-directs Arbeit Studios, set up their studios on the lane earlier this year. Originally located near Old Street, the growing expense of rent and short term licensing agreements, forced them to look elsewhere.

Semsei comments on how the geographical move from East London to further North has provided people with more options. They have been overwhelmed by the area’s growing popularity amongst tourists as well as artists who are not locally based.

She said: “We certainly see a trend where creative freelancers move from Old Street to Hackney Wick. It now has better transport links, is much cheaper and still vibrant.”

However, the area’s popularity has opened up the possibility of dramatic regeneration.

This poses immediate threats to those whose creativity could be squashed by rising rent prices or plans to demolish current sites.

Plans to demolish a similar site in Vittoria Wharf are currently being opposed, and local campaigners are still waiting for the final verdict. Resident and practising artist Conrad Armstrong objected to the plans.

He explained: “I am tired of being bullied by developers, and I wish the Council would protect me and my community. All the disturbance I have had to endure from being moved on from work spaces I have rented in East London, has really set me back and financially crippled me.”

He is not the only artist under threat. Hughes, who practises drawing and painting as well as running the studios is currently in negotiation with the landlord of Mother Studios. An imminent rent increase will be unaffordable for some artists and she is worried that a few people will have to leave.

While the artists are concerned about rent rises, developers see Hackney Wick as an area of opportunity, a site which they argue could be transformed for the better.

Tim Gaskell is from CMA Planning, one of the primary private companies alongside the LLDC behind the regeneration of Vittoria Wharf.

He said: “Such an application represents an exciting opportunity to deliver a sustainable mixed-use scheme within a high-quality development which would provide a significant benefit to the local area. It would deliver new homes and new commercial space.”

With further planning applications being put forward, transport links ever expanding and the inevitable rent increases threatening, it appears that Hackney Wick’s creative hub has been swallowed by the familiar patterns of gentrification that have plagued East London.

The question is where will creativity flourish next?

Many people have already argued that cheaper rents in Peckham have attracted artists there, moving into zone three and far into the fringes of the city.

Or, as Hughes points out, creativity could be further pushed out into in the remote space of people’s bedrooms or garages.

As she puts it: “Artists will always make and create work, but, their work would be better if they were surrounded by other artists rather than in their back bedroom or garage.”

Where then, is the ‘London’ in Legacy?

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