Campaign to keep Hackney Wick 'alive' with street art

Covid-19 street art in Hackney Wick by artists Endless.

Hackney Wick Covid-19 street art by anonymous artist Endless. - Credit: Sam Starbrook

A group of Hackney Wick creatives have launched a petition calling on Hackney Council to consider developing more painting space for street artists in the area.

Hackney Wick is home to a large concentration of artistic communities.

Once an industrial hub, its warehouse buildings and walls lining the Hertford Union Canal are abundant with murals, installations, and street art - making the area a prized urban gallery for London’s creative talent.

But, after the neighbouring Olympic Village was built in 2012, Hackney Wick has become increasingly gentrified as a popular area for housing developments.

NHS graffiti in Hackney Wick.

NHS graffiti in Hackney Wick. - Credit: Sam Starbrook

This led Hackney Wick graphic designer and photographer Sam Starbrook, 35, to kickstart a campaign recently, in the hope the council will help build a new legal space dedicated to street art.

The petition states: “Street art is essential for Hackney Wick to stay alive and keep its heritage, however recently as the area is slowly changing with new developments, there is becoming less and less space for artists to paint on.”

Jellyfish street art in Hackney Wick.

Jellyfish painting by artist 'E Pod' by the canal in Hackney Wick. - Credit: Sam Starbrook

Sam, who has lived in Hackney Wick for the last decade, said that support for the petition so far has been “phenomenal".

He noted the famous Stockwell Hall of Fame in South London as inspiration for the campaign, saying: “It was originally built for kids to play sports, but it has slowly changed into a legal street art graffiti spot, where artists are allowed to express themselves. That's what I want for Hackney Wick.”

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Anonymous artist Endless, from Bow, has been doing street art in Hackney Wick for two years.

He currently has an exhibition in Milan displaying some of his previous paintings from Hackney Wick’s desolate streets in the first lockdown.

Artist working on street art in Hackney Wick.

Anonymous artist Endless working on street art. - Credit: Sam Starbrook

“When street art was up and coming 10 years ago, it was all Liverpool Street, Shoreditch, and Brick Lane,” Endless said. “But then the corporations came in with big buildings and it's changed.”

“A lot of the big murals you see in Shoreditch are managed by agencies, so there is money involved.

"In places like Hackney Wick, it’s more free. But now there's new buildings coming into the area, so a similar thing is probably happening.

"You can't avoid it, because money overrules everything in most cases. But if there were more areas in Hackney Wick where street art is allowed to live, that would be a good thing.”

For other artists, a dedicated painting space would help to protect murals from being immediately covered up by graffiti tagging.

Black and white painting in Hackney Wick by artist Endless.

Black and white painting by artist Endless. - Credit: Sam Starbrook

E pod is a 43-year-old contemporary artist who regularly works in Hackney Wick. “Hackney has always been a fun place for me, you get a better vibe than anywhere else in London,” he said.

“Painting by the Hackney Wick canal has become such a common thing, and people like to see murals and different things go up. The reason I signed the petition is because it would be really nice in future to have certain protected areas on rotation for a specific handful for artists to paint on.”

Local Hackney Wick councillor Jessica Webb agreed: “Street art is an intrinsic part of the area’s creative heritage."

“The council is actively engaging with landlords and creatives in the area to keep the vibe we want.”

Street art by the canal in Hackney Wick.

Doughnut art by artist Fat Caps by the canal. - Credit: Sam Starbrook

Meanwhile, Robert Sakula, Founder Partner at Ash Sakula Architects, has been working on the Wickside development which received planning approval in 2018.

The regeneration project is to provide 500 new homes and includes a section of the famous public street art wall on Tower Hamlets’ side of the Hertford Union Canal in Fish Island.

“Most of the existing graffiti wall is being retained and is becoming the canal-facing wall of a proposed café at the lock,” Robert said. “Part of the wall at the western end will disappear to make space for the new pedestrian square. You can see full details in the planning consent on the council’s planning website.”

Plan for Wickside development by Ash Sakula Architects. 

Plan for Wickside development by Ash Sakula Architects. - Credit: Ash Sakula Architects with BUJ Architects

Sam Starbrook’s petition to Hackney Council has nearly 300 signatures and has a goal of 500. You can view it here.

Sam has been taking photos of street art around the area for the past four years, documenting its rapid transformation on his Instagram account, @hackney_wick_creatives.