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Future Cities Forum report: Creating sustainable cultural districts

Contributors from left to right: Fred Pilbrow, Founding Partner, Pilbrow & Partners, Jonathan Martin, Head of Inward Investment, Walthamstow Borough Council, Naila Yousuf, Partner, Wright & Wright Architects, Heather Fearfield, Co-founder, Future Cities Forum, Linda Roberts, Head of Graduate Futures, Business and Innovation at the London College of Fashion (The University of the Arts London), Eleanor Lang, Executive Director, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Leader of Islington Council.

As part of Future Cities Forum's 'Innovation Cities' event at Here East, a panel discussion was held on the current cultural regeneration of Stratford with the V&A Museum, BBC Music and The London College of Fashion moving in to the new creative campus.

Questions were asked in terms of what makes for a sustainable new creative quarter, how the history of the East End could be embraced in its' planning, what opportunities are available for young people in terms of skills training and jobs and whether the existing community as a whole felt they had a genuine part in the regeneration of place?

The Head of Graduate Futures, Business and Innovation at the University of the Arts London, Linda Roberts spoke of the importance of community when creating a new cultural quarter:

'Community has always been important. We need that nine years ago when it first became apparent that we would be moving to Stratford in east London. It was essential that we didn't land like a space ship and we wanted to connect with local people here and be good citizens. We had a vision of having a serious societal and economic impact and we launched our fashion district in 2017. This helped to catalyse the incredible heritage of the fashion industry and manufacturers in the area and work out how the local fashion industry could benefit.

'Our short courses have always been a way in for people interested in fashion and its an educational offer that is very close to my heart. We offer an array of courses which enable people to test the waters, if their parents are suggesting one career and they want another. It can help if they are also trying to step into a new role in their careers.'

Executive Director, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Eleanor Lang, said she was excited about the emergence of the new creative campus in Stratford but felt there was more work to do to integrate it into the existing community:

'We are really delighted that this quarter is happening and London moving east is a good thing. Anything that brings people east has to be celebrated, but talking to young people I get the feeling they still think the campus is not for them. I find that extraordinary and we all have still to make an effort to change that perception.

'It is our 140-year birthday at the theatre and we are continuing to work a lot with young people. We put on plays the year round and act as a training ground for young people who cannot afford to go to drama school or university. We work with schools and our programmes get people into work. We would love to expand too.

Museum of the Home - image courtesy of Wright & Wright Architects

Naila Yousuf, Partner at Wright and Wright Architects, who joined our panel discussion, has been working on an important project to re-design the Museum of the Home in east London and celebrate the history of the site it sits on:

'In the re-modelling of the museum it has been very important to represent the local community and make sure that the building connects back to the City. We have made the back of the museum the new front and created a more formal Georgian garden to fit with its origins.

'In Hackney and Shoreditch there is a rich history of 'making' in terms of furniture and haberdashery. It has been important to have those heritage stories told, who made those objects, who owned them and I think we have succeed in celebrating that important culture for the future.'

Wright and Wright describes the project:

'With a remarkable collection telling the story of domestic life housed in a set of richly atmospheric 18th century almshouses, the Museum of the Home is an institution of national significance. The remodelling of the existing building, 92% of which is retrofit, doubled the publicly accessible areas, created 80% more exhibition space and ameliorated the building’s deterioration, with no commensurate increase in energy consumption or the costly carbon count associated with a new build. The Museum is widely celebrated for its contributions to the public realm; it has received multiple awards and continues to be a thriving centre of civic engagement in the heart of Hackney.

'The scheme resolved the lower and ground floor galleries, realising an 80% increase in exhibition space in addition to a new collection study centre. The scheme also improves public access through introducing a new main entrance directly opposite Hoxton Station, adds two new contemporary multi-functional garden pavilions together with a street-facing cafe. The design extends to landscaping, with new physical and visual links for visitors to the Museum’s gardens – one of the largest and most ecologically rich green spaces in Hackney.

'When Wright & Wright were commissioned to remodel the Museum in 2014, it was under a growing set of pressures. The fabric of its Grade 1 listed buildings was in jeopardy, with structural weaknesses and outdated services. Collections were housed in poor conditions, circulation was inefficient, and education and exhibition spaces were at capacity. In developing and implementing a ‘fabric first’ approach, the spatial and experiential potential of the historic almshouse was the project’s key impetus, catalysing an architecturally sustainable, sensitive and hugely effective outcome.'

Museum of the Home, with new garden planting - image courtesy of Wright & Wright Architects

How the mix of culture and science is being integrated in London's diverse quarters and at Here East, was another topic looked at by Fred Pilbrow, Founding Partner at Pilbrow & Partners. He described how excited he gets when he can see the mix taking place in the Capital:

'I love the idea of having worked on The Crick and seeing how those science spaces are so valuable for King's Cross and at the same time working with a group of music entertainment businesses in York Way to provide a building where you have guys wearing kaftans in the basement and scientists in white coats at the top.

'At Here East, I am enjoying working in the digital sand pit. Gavin Poole has done a masterful job of re-purposing the buildings and site but I want now to offer something new to compliment what is here. It involves ambitions for more film production and sound stages and with the big band width here, all that production technology can deliver. So my idea is to use the sound stage as a plinth and have a garden or work space above. I have a number of schemes on the go.

'One of the projects that we carried out recently was on the Grade II listed cinema in Walthamstow with its original design based on the Alhambra in Spain. We needed to find a new use for the theatre and we worked with Soho House to create a centre for live performance calling it a national centre for comedy. We were very lucky to work with the London Borough of Waltham Forest to make the project a success.'

Pilbrow & Partners describes the project in more detail:

'The site comprises a Grade II* listed super cinema, recognised to be of national significance as a rare surviving example of the extravagant and flamboyant work of the Granada Group, their famed architect, Cecil Aubrey Masey, and interior designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky, at the height of the cinema boom of the 1930s. 'The restoration of the EMD will form the centrepiece of the wider, culturally-led regeneration initiative, promoted by Waltham Forest. The cultural and educational uses will be supported by restaurants and bars. In totality, the site will thus become a vibrant hub of activity by day and night and a major contributor to the local economy. This project enables Waltham Forest to further establish itself as a key player in London’s creative and cultural scene with a unique cultural identity and has served the Borough aspirations to become London’s first Borough of Culture in 2019. The project will create a destination for East London and support the growing evening economy.'

Image: CGI for remodelling of Granada EMD cinema in Walthamstow, courtesy of Pilbrow & Partners (for Soho Theatre Group and London Borough of Waltham Forest)

The London Borough of Waltham Forest was the first 'borough of culture' and Jonathan Martin, Head of Inward Investment at the council described how important culture has been for redevelopment and creating opportunities for residents:

'We have embraced culture and it has given us the momentum behind Soho Theatre. Our cultural-led strategy has really enabled a buy-in from local businesses and communities have been able to say what they perceive to be their culture and then seek funding for their own projects. We had to buy the EMD cinema from the previous owner but it has been an important investment and meant that we could attract the University of Portsmouth to establish a base here. Its a win for the University too to be sited next to a cultural quarter which attracts young people as well as footfall for the local economy. These places have to be fun to be around and the University is benefitting from the cultural offer.

'We want to use a hub and spoke approach and embrace culture for our town centre and improve place-making. We also want active travel and for people to enjoy Waltham Forest through cycling and on foot, which will improve the air quality and was a major concern for us. We are asking how we bring our high streets back into play and culture could be the answer and seems to be something that most people will support.

'We need to guard our heritage and the theatre is an example of that and ask what does it mean to local residents. Story-telling sessions from people who know the area are very important. We have a commitment in the leadership at the council who are working well with residents to create this successful regeneration.'

The London Borough of Islington is the most recent borough to have been given the title of 'Creative Enterprise Zone' by the Mayor of London and the Leader of the Council, Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, explained what she wanted to achieve through this new accolade:

'We have a focus on Archway which many people know is home to an amazing set of creative 'makers' and artists. I think we need to protect what we have and our heritage, for instance the pub where Libertine started out. We need to make it grow and use the opportunity to create a dialogue to work out what the needs of the cultural industry is and also the needs of the community, employment and how to grow our local businesses.

'We still have forty per cent child poverty in the borough and there is a lot of equalling up to do but we can use this cultural opportunity as an opener for that conversation. We must concentrate on our young people and give them the educational opportunities and openings into the creative sector that they deserve. So if you are an architect of the future for example, you can achieve your dreams. We are also working on a new public square in Archway, named after the Irish community, and this all helps to start different cultural conversations with diverse groups. I think Archway often gets branded as a place left behind, so we need to create a greater sense of place and champion that sense of place.'

Thank you to our guest panellists who were able to paint such a diverse picture of extraordinary cultural regeneration that is taking place in east London.


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