30 July 2019

Hoping to create huge art opportunities in East London, Poplar HARCA are ready to launch their project later this year - read more here.

Project Timeline

Concept development of Poplar Works started in Spring of 2015, with full development commencing in January 2016 following successfully secured initial funding from the Mayor’s London Regeneration Fund.

Construction works commenced in May 2018 and the scheme will open in September 2019. The scheme is expected to remain in operation in the long term and has the potential to shape the focus of nearby regeneration.

The project

Poplar Works is a £6m fashion hub in Poplar. It will create 85 local jobs and 185 training, mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities within two years, alongside 40 low cost studio spaces for fashion businesses, manufacturing and training facilities and a public cafe.

Poplar Works’ scale and ambition draws on a deep understanding of, and collaboration with, the people who will use the space. There has to be an appreciation of the area’s long tradition in fashion to inform an authentic, ambitious and accessible fashion industry for the future and a unique partnership between local individuals and community groups, anchor institutions, and industry experts all with a long-term commitment to East London.

At Poplar HARCA, we have a team solely focussed on supporting broad-based social, economic and cultural regeneration. The Accents team conceives and delivers projects based on reappraising our 5 key assets: space, community, business, place and people to maximise their value to our communities and stakeholders.

This re-appraisal of our spaces identified 100 underused garages spanning a motorway. These garages became Poplar Works; conceived and developed in partnership with the London College of Fashion, UAL and creative workspace provider The Trampery. The scheme attracted a £3.9m grant investment from the Mayor of London.

Challenges

Poplar Works is still in development and will open in September 2019.

So far we have faced the following challenges:

Funding - Poplar Works is a medium sized development. As a new build project, we needed to seek a range of additional funding sources in order to make the project work as a non-residential development, delivering sub market end-prices to enable local and small businesses to access space.

Community Engagement - Poplar Works is a project that combines the local with the industrial. We want a place that fosters connections between local fashion entrepreneurs and London’ rising stars. The local community will always be at the heart of the project, so cementing community involvement is key. Ensuring everyone was aware of the opportunities took a lot of shoe leather. We have knocked on over 400 doors in the local area and have spoken directly to over 200 people. We also produced regular newsletters that we hand-delivered door-to-door, attended regular meetings with the local Estate Boards and drunk gallons of tea with local community groups. Our partners have been running programmes encouraging people to translate an interest in sewing into high level skills and meaningful employment. Through this process we have uncovered a wealth of local fashion talent – from local mums interested in sewing classes to a teenager printing T-shirts in his parents’ lounge; a resident who used to run a women’s empowerment network in Bangladesh where she supported women to sell their fashion creations to those studying fashion in central London, excited to be part of what’s springing up literally on their doorstep.

Construction - Converting 100 garages, spanning a motorway, in an area which had seen limited investment has been challenging. With brilliant design, clever engineering and a firmly held collective vision across all partners, a building is emerging which will provide a great home for a range of fashion and making businesses, sitting alongside high quality training programmes and delivering significant employment opportunities in a rapidly growing industry.

Outcomes

Poplar Works will open in September 2019 and our expected outcomes are:

People

- 85 new jobs in Poplar
- 185 training, mentoring or enterprise opportunities
- local people completing accredited training programmes in fashion-related jobs where there are currently skills shortages.

Places
- 1800m2 of new workspace in Poplar across 40 business units and a manufacturing facility
- 1257m2 of improvements to the public realm around the Poplar Works site
- Refurbishment / redevelopment of 100 derelict garages.

Partners

- 5 key partners involved in core project delivery
- 20 partners involved in the wider delivery.

If you did this again, what would you change?

We have not opened Poplar Works yet so it is hard for us to reflect on changes at this stage but we would certainly ensure that future projects have the same level of community engagement as Poplar Works to guarantee our projects are embedded in the community where they operate, while at the same time having the power to transform places and people.

We would also ensure that future partners are as engaged as those working on Poplar Works – delivering workshops, meetings and consultation long before the site opens so they become part of the community ahead of the shiny new buildings that local people would otherwise assume are not accessible to them.

What can others learn from this example?

Think big. Investing in ambitious partnerships with long term strategic significance is key to realising large scale, local regeneration projects.

Don’t try to do everything.
Housing Associations are good at lots of things, and often have an unrivalled local knowledge and long term investment in a neighbourhood. But we need to work with expert partners if we want the best delivery on the ground.

Think ahead.
London is changing. As long term custodians in our neighbourhoods, Housing Associations are well placed to anticipate changes and build infrastructure and institutions to ensure that communities are beneficiaries of change and growth.

For more information contact danny.tompkins@poplarharca.co.uk

Poplar Works