From production lines to creative vibes: The changing face of Hackney Wick
- Credit: East Wick and Sweetwater
With a new neighbourhood called East Wick and Sweetwater set to change the face of Hackney Wick’s Olympic Park, reporter Reemul Balla takes a deeper look at how the area has developed over the years into what we see today.
Hackney Wick is ever changing. It was once a frothing industrial neighbourhood housing a range of activities such as dye, waterproof cloth and printing works.
As the production lines decelerated following the war, artists and creatives have made the Wick their home.
The waterways, formerly used for trade, are now recreational hotspots. People can hop on and off a barge or canoe and ride down the mossy waters having sunk a few pints of craft beer at the bars lining the canals, such as the Crate Brewery.
Stepping into the Wick is like falling into multiple artists’ sketchbooks. Some of the graffiti is wild and loud, running across buildings, onto railings and walls of the industrial yards.
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Then there is the street art, such as the beautiful psychedelic artwork on restaurant and bar Number 90, which amplifies the creative scene that the area has transformed into.
Despite its strong connection with industry, Hackney Wick’s buildings were never monolithic behemoths, but smaller container-like structures, especially alongside the canal.
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Following the Blitz, there was barely any regeneration to the area’s infrastructure. Existing buildings were repaired and occupied. It was only after the turn of the millennium that Hackney Wick and its neighbouring districts received a strategic plan of redevelopment.
In 2004, then-mayor of London Ken Livingstone finalised the London Plan, which detailed how the Lower Lea Valley area from Hackney Wick to Canning Town and beyond, along with other parts of East London, would be revitalised.
In July 2005, the Olympic Games were awarded to London, specifically East London, and this kick-started the transformation of Hackney Wick.
Matthew Sharpe, a planning consultant, worked on and off the Olympic site for nearly 17 years.
He said: “At the time, the site had an industrial feel and a range of odd uses, including a mountain of disused fridges that were stacked six storeys high.
“I remember writing reports for the legacy planning applications saying ‘we will provide a great park and space to walk around’ and now it’s so rewarding to see that is actually what has happened.”
Just a stone’s throw away from the Wick is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and slightly further is Westfield Stratford City, all accessible by Hackney Wick’s modern Overground Tube station.
Out went the stagnancy and derelict energy, and in came the social cafés, modern furniture shops and miscellaneous art and photography studios.
As more performing arts venues and local theatres opened, Hackney Wick built upon its existing artistic background and maintained its hipster vibe - by not whitewashing the existing graffiti.
The gentrification of the area was aesthetically and economically beneficial, but met with criticism by artists on low incomes in a quandary due to rising house prices.
Matthew now works as a planner for the East Wick and Sweetwater development, which promises affordable homes and a bridge between the different communities of Stratford and Hackney Wick.