‘Regeneration’, ‘gentrification’, ‘development’ – terms that have come to dominate the news agenda in the context of London’s changing neighbourhoods, from Brixton in the south to Hackney in the east. One such area experiencing a paradigm shift is Hackney Wick and Fish Island, the strip of land on the cusp of Stratford’s Olympic Park – an area which was given a significant boost as a result of the 2012 Olympics.
Once a pioneering Victorian industrial quarter which produced plastics, petroleum and inks, Hackney Wick and Fish Island is now a creative hotspot, lined with studios, bars, co-working spaces – and soon to follow, a considerable number of new homes. Given the availability of brownfield land, Hackney Wick and Fish Island is an area of great opportunity, with the potential for carefully managed development providing a chance to deliver the housing needed for current and future generations, alongside leisure and employment.
To the north, a new neighbourhood centre is planned adjacent to Hackney Wick station, with new homes, affordable work spaces and transport improvements including improved pedestrian and cycle links. To the south, on Fish Island itself, housing association Peabody is creating Fish Island Village, comprising mixed tenure housing including shared ownership and affordable rent, studios, play areas and landscaping that will help connect the various elements of this new neighbourhood. Other private developers are also investing in the area, building crucial Build to Rent homes, reflective of the younger generation who need high quality rental accommodation with shared social and work spaces – ideas borrowed from the co-housing model which is popular in America.
Inevitably, the changing of any area will be met with resistance. However, London is facing a housing crisis and there is a desperate need to deliver new homes to meet the needs and requirements of different audiences. The key is to work in close consultation with the local community, relevant authorities and developers to retain and enhance an area responsibly – in a way that benefits both the new community and existing community. Such measures are already in place, including the Hackney Wick and Fish Island Cultural Interest Group (CIG), which was founded in 2009 to facilitate a permanent, sustainable, creative community in Hackney Wick and Fish Island. The group acts as a forum for anyone with an interest in the area to discuss ideas, plans and hopes for the future. Creative Wick is another enterprise, founded in 2013 by William Chamberlain, which seeks to facilitate a permanent, sustainable, creative community for local residents. As a result, good relationships have already been fostered amongst various parties, which will have a positive impact on the fabric of area.
Although we cannot hold back the tide of regeneration, it is important to work together with existing local communities to ensure that as many artists and residents as possible remain in the area. It is vitally important to ensure that the creative spirit that embodies Hackney Wick is preserved.