Save Stour Space – Chew On This Fish Island

Fish Island community hub? Art studios? Meeting Point? Meeting Place? Or…?

Save Stour Space Unity pic

The great thing about being truly independent is that you can stand in a meeting full of people beholden to corporate or local authority agendas and responsibilities and say something like:

This is a watershed moment. If Stour Space goes, then that’s the last remaining gallery on Fish Island and the last remaining link with the creative culture that you used to regenerate it. I can’t overstate the importance of this. I go all over the borough and people are very cynical. If this last bit of ‘old Hackney Wick’ goes, then everyone who’s been here a while and remembers the promises made over the decade will say that they knew that would happen. They’ll say that the Wick has been rinsed for every penny.

All the academics watching it will put this in their case studies… I know we all have our responsibilities to this and that organisation, but let’s look in our hearts and remember what it was that brought us here in the first place and not throw it away to make another percent profit.”

I’ve been exploring Hackney Wick for a decade now and on Tuesday night it was heartwarming to see, the old spirit of the Wick was abroad again. The activists, the eccentrics and the anarchists were out, mixing with newcomers to the area.

There was a lot of love in the air as the divas, the dancers and the DJs tore up the floor in Stour Space. The occasion? A meeting to save it had brought together a mix of locals united by the knowledge that this would be one loss too many in a long list. The last stand?

Be Nice Club at Stour

Afterwards, the Tuesday pay-what-you-want community slot Chewsday saw the return of the long-running Be Nice Club with Wick Radio. People like a velvet revolution you can dance to down here. Performer Conrad Armstrong – “We’re not hippies, we’re punks!” – reminded us why we were there: “If Stour Space goes under, we’ll all be the less for it… No man and no Hackney Wick is an island.” The Arrows of Love lead singer nodded, approvingly.

That was always Hackney Wick’s strength when it was an island, its unity. Sitting in the audience at Stour Space (Tower Hamlets) were Hackney Wicked founders and the guys behind a similar space just over the border in Hackney, Grow.

Grow know that they too operate in a precarious environment where not meeting the high rents can drag you under but conversely creating a great vibe can make you a hot target for redevelopment. They had come not to spy on Stour, but to offer their support.

If the promises of the developers and the corporate duckers and divers are to mean anything, if the planners and the promoters of the new ‘vibrant’ Hackney Wick are to be remembered at all positively, Stour Space (gallery, community space, studio provider, polling station, community hub etc) needs to stay.

Because there already was a ‘vibrant’ tight knit community and everyone was promised that the existing beautiful baby would not be thrown out with the post-Olympic bathwater when redevelopment came.

I watched a double-decker airliner being launched once. There was talk of all of the novel facilities it was to have upstairs for its customers. But I’d seen this before and I knew that that – as happens often with social housing quotas – those exciting amenities would be quietly dropped for revenue-generating seats to max out the ROI on every inch of space.

Save Our Stour wall spray imagejpg

Yield. Return. Profit. We know the price of everything, but do we know the true value of something as hard to build as an organically-evolving creative ecosystem? We do when we’re selling it to investors apparently, but how quickly that appreciation fades once the deal is done…

It’s not just for the surviving old-school Wickers that Stour Space needs to stay. It’s not just so the big money men (it is usually men) can be seen to have some integrity, that this last remaining gallery on Fish Island needs to endure.

It’s for the new residents too. Mortgaged to the hilt or renting from wealthy investors, they were promised an exciting neighbourhood in return for the large sums of money they hand over monthly.

Now most of the artists have been forced out, don’t the new residents deserve something of what they bought into too? Or does every last inch of London have to return maximum yield, no matter what you cut down in the process?

Does the heart of Fish Island have to give way because the already huge rent (the amounts are staggering) they are paying could be a little higher from someone else, or their corner could hold more flats? ‘It’s just market rate’ people sometimes say. The elephant in the room here is landordism but they as ever they manage to stay in the shadows in a society obsessed with property ownership.

But here’s an opportunity (another one – see the Save Hackney Wick debacle over a bridge nobody wanted but that got pushed through anyway, despite a community coming together), an opportunity not to sever the links with the past, to preserve a community hub. We could take this chance to preserve the kind of thing people always talk of building, but that already exists?

We could at least look back and say to ourselves: “Sure most of it’s gone. But in a corner of Fish Island, a thriving community space keeps the old spirit of Hackney Wick alive.”

For more information on the campaign see here. Events are planned for the weekend of 27/28 April Hackney Tours will be running a fundraising walk. Join the mailing list for more information, or follow @hackneytours for more information.

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