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Hackney Wick artists are protesting to save their studios

By
Kyra Hanson
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Over 2,000 people have now signed the petition to save Vittoria Wharf in Hackney Wick, the graffiti-covered maze of rented studios, galleries and independent businesses, which is home to one of the largest artistic communities in London. 

We spent the morning with Nima Teranchi, one of the tenants behind the campaign who lives in the warehouse at the centre of the dispute between residents and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which plans to demolish the warehouse to build a footbridge. 

As we pass through a studio where Conrad Armstrong's motorbike jacket art hangs from the double-height ceiling, Nima explains why they started the campaign. 'It's not about individual artists being relocated, it's about making the case for why this community is important to this area, and to London generally; these are the breeding grounds for the artists of tomorrow’. 

Armstrong has an upcoming exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, and you can see Conrad Shawcross's new work The Optic Cloak from the A12. Both artists forged successful careers out of communal spaces like this one.

Artists and residents from Vittoria Wharf. Photo: Kirsten Allen

The studios that make up Vittoria Wharf are used for recording, screen printing, life drawing and gigs, including Tunnel Vision, hosted by NTS, London's premiere radio station for underground music. In 2013 Vittoria Wharf was listed as an asset of community value. Nima says artists here use their work to help support people from deprived backgrounds. In the recording studio, engineers and producers share their equipment and expertise for little or no money. 'There's a huge atmosphere of mutual support, of lending each other things and this cross-pollination of ideas means the rate of artistic development happens very quickly here.' He says.

So what will Hackney Wick look like if the LLDC follows through with its plans?

Before the 2012 Olympic games half of Vittoria Wharf was compulsory-purchased by LLDC, who received planning permission to build the bridge, which an LLDC spokesman says will 'significantly improve connections around Fish Island, Hackney Wick and into Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, helping the area properly benefit from the regeneration investment being made there.' 

'As well as supporting existing residents and businesses, the bridge will connect the area with the 1,500 new homes, businesses and schools that will be built at East Wick and Sweetwater.' LLDC also says it is keen to work with local people to ensure the bridge benefits everyone.

Photo: Save Hackney Wick campaign

But Nima says developers are 'eradicating the human element from the area'. Next door to Vittoria Wharf is a newly erected example of 'mixed use accommodation', the kind which rises out of the rubble once warehouses like Vittoria Wharf are demolished. It's a typical apartment block with the ground floors reserved for artist studios.

Nima points out that in contrast to Vittoria Wharf the artist's studios here are largely vacant: 'What we've created is completely organic, it happens over years, created by the people that move in and out, building connections as they go. Once Hackney Wick goes there's pretty much nowhere left for a space like this to happen again – unless we end up in Zone 7 – but I think you need that geographical relevance.' He adds.

However, Nima remains optimistic about the future. The community is pursuing Tower Hamlets council and LLDC in order to purchase the land and manage it themselves: 'This could be an amazing model for how a big corporation does actually listen to and engage with a community. Together we could make this a huge cultural hub, or it could be another residential block. What kind of legacy does London want?' 

Once the petition has 2,500 supporters it will be delivered to the LLDC. On August 12 there will be a community forum to further discuss the issues with LLDC, followed by a protest in Stratford. 

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