Perched on the mouth of the River Lea is a mishmash of buildings — brown brick sits next to wooden huts, which neighbour a ‘Container City’, and London’s last surviving lighthouse. This is Trinity Buoy Wharf, part of the Docklands infrastructure and inarguably a true creative hub.
Earlier this year, The Wharf (as it is known locally) celebrated its 21st birthday — in its current form. From the empty and derelict former docklands that have stood here since the 1800s, in 1998 the space was revived and transformed into what it is today: an affordable haven for people in the creative industries.
This is all thanks to Urban Space Management (USM) who won an open competition set up by the site’s owners, the London Docklands Development Corporation.
Keen to protect creatives against the death knell of rising rents and high rise developments taking over previous industry hubs, the USM’s proposal saw it take a 124-year lease on the site and then, with the help of the Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust, funnel 25% of the rental income back into promoting arts activities and projects in the area.
Since winning the competition, the USM has offered subsidised rent to its tenants and restored the Wharf’s historic buildings to include workspaces, exhibition galleries, event and performance spaces, a cinema, cafes and even installed a pier so it is reachable by water transport.
Among its 500-plus population are a mix of people from all facets of the creative industry, including photographers, designers and makers, web designers, musicians, artists and small businesses.
As a testament to the cultural and creative importance of the area, The Royal Drawing School has a campus located there. The Trust has also stayed on mission by supporting up-and-coming creatives through various projects.
One of is being the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize (previously known as the Jerwood Drawing Prize), which is the longest running annual exhibition for drawing in the UK and offers emerging talent a national stage to show their work.
Not satisfied with spending the last 21 years supporting the creative industries in London, site manager John Burton explains that USM is looking to add more space to the Wharf: “We have outline planning permission to add some more buildings and hope to get detailed planning permission for those.
That will complete the development, but there will always be something to tend to! I’m also looking forward to the future growth of even more arts activity.”
Wharf Resident: Parkour Generations
One of the more unexpected tenants on the Wharf is Parkour Generations, which is based within the Chainstore Gym. The space is the UK’s only true indoor parkour training zone. Gym manager, Alex Pownall explains why parkour is one of the most creative sports out there.
How did you start out in parkour?
I’ve been doing it since the age of 15 — I started after seeing Casino Royale at the cinema, and then traveled up to London from Sussex to take some classes. Parkour is what’s referred to as a transformative practice, meaning that through training it automatically changes the way you think. We could all do with a little more self-awareness, self-acknowledgment and confidence, and parkour is an immensely fun and accessible way to acquire those things while building strength, mobility and resilience.
What would you say to someone who is interested in taking part?
Parkour is one of the only truly personal sports. It’s a practice that defies uniformity and encourages individuality.
How long have you been at the Wharf?
Parkour Generations moved into one of the Container Cities, which are made up of shipping containers in February 2014. It’s a very bohemian community with a large appreciation for performance art, pop culture and wellbeing practices — we fit into all three of those categories.
Describe Parkour Generations.
It’s what you’d get if you mixed a playground, a city and a gym into one. It was designed and kitted out to ensure that we can train everyone from young children to the elderly in parkour and all of its component disciplines.
How do you contribute to the Wharf community?
There’s often something going on that the public can attend — we work with the Wharf throughout the year to run parkour seminars and other training-related events. We teach regularly in several local schools and host ‘Leave No Trace’ training jams that invite the community to gather at a training spot and collect rubbish for two hours before the session begins.
We also offer discounts for residents or those who work on-site. They’re a lovely lot! Coming into work is always nice when you’re greeted with waves and smiles.
Clipper Magazine is produced for Republic by Courier Media.
Article Last Updated: March 8, 2023
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