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Feature: Hard work pays off as ‘forgotten’ Cody Dock is given new lease of life

07:33 15 May 2014

Cody Dock
Photo: David Mirzoeff

Cody Dock Photo: David Mirzoeff

Archant

On the face of it, the Cody Dock regeneration is about revitalising Newham’s disused riverside.

Simon Myers in front of the River Princess commuity boat at Cody Dock
Photo: David MirzoeffSimon Myers in front of the River Princess commuity boat at Cody Dock Photo: David Mirzoeff

But for the man behind the project, it is also about reclaiming an area which could be a catalyst for change in the borough.

With a 999-year lease recently granted by Thames Water, securing the Canning Town dock’s future as a cultural quarter and community space, Simon Myers hopes it will provide a focal point which will encourage residents to connect with the area.

“I realised I had found somewhere off the radar that no-one else wanted and could have a huge impact,” he explained. “After all, how do we get people not to be transient if they are not making a connection with a place? This is a public right of way through which people can connect with their natural landscape on their doorstep.”

The site had been derelict for 25 years but is now home to its first artist in residence thanks to the work of about 800 volunteers to date.

Jim Mathews works on landscaping a garden at Cody DockJim Mathews works on landscaping a garden at Cody Dock

Containers providing studio space for 10 further artists are currently a work in progress, with each available at a reduced rent in return for offering something to the community, be that workshops in local schools or holding their exhibitions in the borough.

“Artists typically are very transient creatures and we want to get them to stay a bit longer by providing a feasible place for the foreseeable future,” Simon, who set up charity and social enterprise Gasworks Dock Partnership, explained.

Other projects in the pipeline include the creation of 10 new mooring spots to provide a sustainable income and using a currently static boat to provide trips up and down the river.

Access to the Lower Lea River via the dock will be possible by the time the site fully opens in the summer, thanks to a £79,990 grant from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

The dock’s opening will also coincide with the unveiling of sculpture walk The Line, which will link Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the O2 with a series of modern and contemporary sculpture.

“It is exciting for us because it will help enable people to discover this stretch of the water,” Simon enthuses.

His vision for the site developed after he recognised its raw potential, having grown to the know the area well since moving near the dock about 11 years ago.

Having previously lived in Hackney and Walthamstow, he knew the River Lea well and was “amazed” to find 800 of the 1,000 residents surveyed in a recent poll had not even heard about it.

“I have always been very close to the river and the river has, in a way, always been a part of me,” he recalls. “I just couldn’t believe how underused it was and how people did not know about it.”

His initial research revealed that countless feasibility studies had been made but developers had been scared off by the scale of the work involved.

“All the results came back with the result ‘don’t touch it with a barge pole’, mainly because there was no definable period of time that it could be completed in,” Simon, who lives on a houseboat close to the docks with his wife, Julie, and their children Tom, 10, and Emma, seven, recalls.

But by making the redevelopment a community project, Simon, who has a background in project management, says he had the “luxury” of not being governed by similar restrictions.

“I knew that this was something that needed to happen so I set about finding out what the problems were,” he said.

These included clearing mounds of rubbish out of the river and ownership disputes and resulted in Simon opting to spend a year learning about social enterprises to get up to speed.

About £200,000 has been spent on the project to date, most of which has been provided by grants, but Simon notes the true cost of the work probably runs higher as connections with local suppliers have enabled both labour costs and materials to be greatly reduced.

Now he hopes the dock will be something the community can be proud of, and, with plenty to see and do, perhaps become Newham’s next big attraction.

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