2012 Olympics: East London’s Cody Dock given new sustainable life ahead of Games

By Tierney Smith

Hidden gems of land lie disused and neglected around London – their potential going to waste.

Often former industrial zones or decrepit buildings, they need extensive rehabilitation before they can be used again.

A key part of the Rio+20 talks will focus on Sustainable Cities, and the need to protect virgin land by maximizing our use of existing  areas that can be developed.

But the problems here are legion. It is often cheaper to clear a forest or fields and build new houses – rather than clean up a former factory or demolish old houses.

At a time of increasing cuts in public expenditure in Europe and with the private sector tightening their belts, projects to re-use this land must search for more innovative ways of getting off the ground.

One project in East London near the 2012 Olympics site is attempting to break this cycle.

For Simon Myers from the Gasworks Dock Partnership, this has meant going online in an attempt to ‘crowd-fund’ the money for a major regeneration project in one of the capital’s best kept secrets – Cody Dock.

The plans include community garden, space for artists and moorings for the areas residents (© Spacehive.com)

Once home to a thriving gasworks, Cody Dock – which sits on the River Lea and is tucked away between the financial centre at Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park – has been sealed off and hidden for years. Until recently it was not even visible on google maps.

Despite billions of pounds in both public and private money being invested in the regeneration of the region – at the Docklands, the Olympic Park, the Royal Docks and Stratford – Cody Dock remains buried and neglected.

But now, with a little help from Spacehive.com, a website specialising in crowd-funding for public space projects, Myers aims to transform the 2.5 hectares site into a hub for Newham’s artists, residents and nature lovers.

He also wants to open up the River Lea’s 36 mile long waterways, stretching from the Thames, through East London, past the Olympic Park and all the way to Hertfordshire, re-connecting areas currently cut off by the dock.

“Newham has the highest transient population in the country,” explains Myers. “And about 80% of the people in the local area either don’t know that the River Lea exists, even when they live three minutes walk from it, or have never even heard of it.

“That’s partly because the access is really poor.”

“It [Cody Dock] is right in the shadow of Canary Wharf and between the Olympic Park and the Docks. It is a very densely packed area and it is an oasis of calm, with an amazing history.”

The closed off Dock acts as a barrier to those wanting to use the pathways along the River Lea (© Spacehive.com)

A hub for creatives

Myers hopes the Dock can become a hub for artists and creatives from the area – allowing them to have the same effect on Newham as they did on other areas of London like Shoreditch, which is now home to a thriving arts and clubbing scene.

The project will offer space to those artists who actively work in the area – engage with the local community through school workshops or local apprenticeships for example – at fixed, lower rates.

Alongside this, they also hope to offer moorings for those living on the river and aims to set up 50 garden plots for people within the community which will run along the open public footpaths.

Other plans for the site include space for people to learn about the Dock’s history, areas for people to sit and enjoy the views and a community boat which will be available for hire.

The final stage of works involves constructing a bridge which will span the mount of the Lea River opening up the footpaths either side to further connect the River Lea’s waterways.

For Myers it is about people taking ownership of where they live and work. Newham Council currently has the strapline ‘a place to live, work and stay’ and Myers says “If you want people to stay give a little bit of the land that needs regenerating. Let them have an ownership stake in it.”

Crowd Funding

Myers want to see the area opened for those who live and work around thw Docks (© Spacehive.com)

Finding out about Spacehive – just over two months ago – Myers thought it would be the perfect collaboration for his ambitious project.

With £60,000 of the £140,000 already raised, and the deadline fast approaching in seven days Myers says he aims to get a short extension to allow for the businesses and organisations currently showing interest to pledge their amounts.

While Crowd-Funding in itself is not a new concept, this will be the Capitals first public space to use the tool – following on from Spacehive’s pilot in South Wales.

It is the first platform for funding dedicated to public spaces – and aims to take on those projects which are sometimes considered too quirk and risky for councils.

Spacehive say they aim to offer a space for more innovative and creative ideas to come through – ideas set out by the community for the community.

The premise behind it is simple: if it is popular with the public and they pledge, it will happen.

Myers has been thrilled by the popularity his project has received. The biggest pledge made to the project was £45,000 and this went all the way down to the individual pledges of £2.

And money has not been the only thing pledged. Recently the Chelsea Flower Show – an annual event held in the heart of London –  offered the site trees and shrubs for their gardens, while the group say they are inundated with people keen to volunteer.

Each of these is as important as the other for Myers.

“At the end of the day if you may manage to get the whole of Newham to pledge £2 each and fund it, but it is unlikely,” he says. “But what is happening is lots of people are saying ‘I support this with my £2’ and then local businesses are looking at it and saying ‘this is something that is catching people’s imagination.

“The £2 pledges came first, then the £50 and then the bigger ones started coming in from local businesses who saw that…And then the next things that happens is some of the bigger agencies who think has captured the interest of more people and local businesses think they should be supporting it.”

The aim is to get the site open before the Olympics, so that more people are able to use and discover the project. Then Myers hopes the site will grow to the needs and wants of those who use it.

Do you have a similar project where you are? Wherever you’re based we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a message below or Tweet @RTCCnewswire


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