"Secured! 7000 sq ft of affordable creative workspace. This is an extraordinary moment and it’s important to stop and understand why. Not least because this resounding success story of community innovation, collaboration and creative placemaking provides a model for what can be achieved, not just here but in so many other places."
Guest Editor, Clare Richards
The Wick Newspaper Issue 9
Anderson Group - the Essex based developer behind Fish Island's Carpenter's Wharf scheme, which includes the Anderson Contemporary gallery and free artist studio residencies - has agreed to provide the Hackney Wick and Fish Island Community Development Trust with a long lease on almost 7000 sq ft of affordable creative workspace in the Swan Wharf development on Dace Rd, Fish Island.
This deal has been achieved through the best kind of people power – organised yet open discussion, involving anybody who feels a need to be involved in the outcome. And it simply wouldn’t have happened if representatives of Anderson Group hadn’t regularly sat down alongside other interested parties at the Cultural Interest Group (CIG), Hackney Wick's innovative monthly networking meeting that was established in 2010. So ‘how’ it came about really matters.
Since the 2012 Olympic Games were awarded to East London, Creative Wick has been pioneering a model of ‘inside out regeneration’ – by providing opportunities for the existing grassroots creative sector and by lobbying for development to respond directly to the needs of those living and working locally.
I (and our funding charity, Footwork) became involved four years ago, to support both that idea and its execution. We believe that the best way to create resilient communities is to value local knowledge and encourage people’s freedom to act in shaping the places in which they live. In Hackney Wick we’re learning a great deal too – about how this model can keep the community involved and thriving, even through a process of continual upheaval. This is a challenge that many other places are facing too, so if it works in Hackney Wick, we really need to make a noise about it.
The model has three essential ingredients: the Cultural Interest Group, The Wick newspaper and the Community Development Trust. Think of these as ‘connection’, ‘communication’ and ‘community ownership’. As an open access, trusted local network, with monthly minuted meetings and a weekly email newsletter, the CIG provides the connection. It is ‘trusted’ because any issues or ideas can be aired and, by building strong personal relationships over time, members can work out how best to work together. For instance they can present a united front with a shared goal that developers and stakeholders can buy into.
As a quarterly local newspaper, The Wick provides essential communication, keeping people informed and issues alive, or sharing examples of good - and bad - practice. Through the community ownership of assets, The Community Development Trust can protect affordability in the long term and ensure that local people and businesses become permanent stakeholders.
I (and Footwork) have long made a noise about the importance of trusted local networks, which come in many forms and the CIG is an innovative example. By having early (often unplanned) conversations, any thorny issues can be dealt with as they arise. This kind of continual engagement enables community stakeholders to express views while they can still influence decisions; and with this close community collaboration - in co-designing schemes, or helping to identify the gaps in local services, for example - mutual trust is increased and the risks to the developer are reduced.
This is such an important win-win – and it marks the crucial difference between a developer making a long term investment in a place and its social, cultural and economic future, rather than simply looking to make a quick financial return. We now just need others like Anderson Group to see the light, too. What this requires is for any large organisation becoming active in an area to understand the valuable expertise and knowledge that already exists there; and to come face to face with the local people who are its guardians and those who hold its future interests at heart. This is what will help build long-term community resilience.