Riverscape

Canning Town: How Confluence at Cody Dock is literally immersive as an artwork

Lighting Up The Lea commission plunges visitors into the sounds of the river and the surrounding area

Gino Brignoli, biodiversity officer at Cody Dock

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“Immersive” is one of the most over-used words when it comes to the arts.

But Confluence at Cody Dock has a singular and legitimate claim to it, if desired.

Artist Tom Fisher has created a body of work based on a five-month residency at the community-led regeneration that literally plunges the ears of listeners into the River Lea and its environment.

Working under the name Action Pyramid, the sonic artist and musician was awarded Cody Dock’s Lighting Up The Lea commission – a challenge to respond creatively to its Tidal Lea River Ecology Report.

While some might have expected lights and bulbs to play a part in that response – given the title – with typical freedom of thought, the decision was made to fund a project that would illuminate the river for visitors in a different sense.

Supported by Cockayne Grants For The Arts, The London Community Foundation and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Confluence itself comes in multiple parts.

Artist Tom Fisher, aka Action Pyramid, records sound under water

The first is already in place and free for visitors to Cody Dock to experience. 

Listen To The Lea allows up to two people to put on headphones at a dedicated spot and listen live to the sounds of the river below via two hydrophones that are permanently submerged in its waters.

The free listening post will be in place until June 12, 2024, with visitors able to listen in person or to tune in online.

“I find it very relaxing,” said Gino Brignoli, biodiversity officer at Cody Dock.

“I can’t stop myself from trying to figure out what it is I’m hearing – perhaps I’m not zen enough – but I really enjoy sitting there and listening.

“I love being next to the water – having the opportunity to see the river, especially at slack tide when the Lea is relatively still.

“I find it fascinating that so much sound is contained within its waters.

“While we don’t necessarily know what we’re listening to through the hydrophones, water is an amazing conductor of sound and there are so many things to hear.

Tom with his Listen To The Lea installation

“Everything that lives beneath the surface tends to communicate that way because it’s a murky world and vision is unreliable. 

“We can’t be certain, but we think we may have heard fish moving pebbles around and clams letting out air on the bottom.

“Personally, I like that the sounds give you an imaginary world to enter.”

While the Lea is considered to be “bad” environmentally speaking – with Gino and other groups targeting improvements that will at least see it receive a rating of “poor” – the river nevertheless teems with life. 

Lighting Up The Lea’s focus is on turning the spotlight on an ecosystem that supports bats, eels, kingfishers and grey seals as well as invaders such as crayfish and mitten crabs. 

“It’s about saying: ‘Hey, this is London’s second largest river and very few people know about it – either that it exists at all or that it’s significant’,” said Gino.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to make sure people know about it, so they can visit.

“We’ve had visitors from Eastlea School in West Ham, for example – which is named after the river – and found that even the teachers hadn’t necessarily made that connection, or been aware that the Lea is here in east London.

Gino enjoys the sounds of the Lea looking towards Tower Hamlets

“The exciting thing about working in ecology is that as long as there’s a will, we can actually achieve quite a lot. The younger generation seem to be more engaged – it’s exciting because this is where the change will come from.”

Awareness is ultimately the point of Confluence  – an appropriate name for a work created on the tidal Lea where fresh water meets brackish, changing direction twice a day as it rises and falls by four or five metres.

The second part of the work will come in the form of an installation that is set to launch with a live event on April 12, 2024.

Tom’s sonic work – wrought from recordings of the subaquatic world, the movement of the Lea estuary’s mud, passing bats and seasonal birdsong – will then be available to hear daily in a dedicated listening space at The Barn, Cody Dock’s new venue and arts space.

“It has been a real pleasure to begin working on this commission, with the Lea often being a source of inspiration for my work,” said Tom. 

“The chance to spend extended time exploring, listening to, and learning about the local tidal ecosystem and surrounding habitat has been really wonderful.

“Something which is often a feature of my practice is using sound as a means to help us reconsider a place.

“The site’s ecology report has been a fascinating starting point.”

Cody Dock CEO, Simon Myers, added: “The lower Lea is rapidly changing and without wider appreciation and awareness of its incredible urban biodiversity we are on track to lose this rich diversity, just as people are rediscovering this under-appreciated corner of London. 

“My hope is that this commission will quite literally help shine a light on the Lea while also producing a new piece of immersive art that inspires people’s imagination.”

Tom’s installation will be available to listen to at Cody Dock’s art space The Barn
  • dive in

The Listen To The Lea part of Confluence is available to experience daily for free on the east bank of the river. It will be in place until June 12, 2024.

Action Pyramid’s installation will be available to listen to for free after April 12.

While Cody Dock is continually open for walkers, its official hours of operation are 9am-5.30pm daily. 

The regeneration effort offers people a wealth of opportunities to volunteer, including on projects to restore and re-flood the dock itself, to clean up the Lea and to observe and record the wildlife that can be found locally.

The scheme is home to a wide variety of initiatives aimed at transforming a formerly derelict toxic waste dump on an industrial estate into an area and facility, which can be enjoyed and visited by local residents and those further afield.

In 2022 it featured in Sir David Attenborough’s Saving Our Wild Isles.  

Find out more about Cody Dock here

Read more: New events space Broadwick Studio launches on Wood Wharf’s Water Street

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Leamouth: How the SS Robin has returned to within 150m of her London birthplace

Historic ship’s move is the start of the latest chapter as Trinity Buoy Wharf prepares her for opening

The SS Robin, moored at her new home at Trinity Buoy Wharf – image Harry Dwyer

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So there she sits, resplendent in her red and black livery, atop a specially constructed pontoon and ready for the next chapter of her life.

The SS Robin has, after some 133 years, returned to within 150m of the shipyard where the iron plates of her hull were first riveted together. 

She might be smaller in size than the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast – but make no mistake – as historic ships in London go, she’s deserving of attention.

And following her most recent relocation from Royal Victoria Dock to Trinity Buoy Wharf, the story of the only surviving Victorian steam ship in existence is a big step closer to getting appropriate prominence.

It’s a move that’s been a long time coming.

Having spent a chunk of her retirement (1991-2008) at West India Quay opposite Canary Wharf, the Crossrail project saw her moved to Suffolk, with funding secured for restoration.

That saw her lifted from the water and mounted on a pontoon in 2010, with the intention of returning her to Docklands for public exhibition. 

But plans to open her as a museum ship in Royal Victoria Dock faltered so, while she has been moored near Millennium Mills since 2011, she’s remained mostly closed to the public and inaccessible. 

Nearly there – passing the cable car over the Thames – image Simon Richards

Schemes were mooted, plans made and locations suggested, but in more than a decade, Robin failed to find a permanent home.

A site was not forthcoming in either the Royals or West India Docks, amid the ironically choppy administrative waters of the bodies managing these vast human-made lakes. 

Eric Reynolds is founding director of Urban Space Management, which runs Trinity Buoy Wharf.

He is a man who makes things happen. London is strewn with projects he’s had a hand in – Camden Lock Market, Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank, Greenwich Market and Merton Abbey Mills, to name a few.

After becoming involved with the SS Robin and growing frustration at the failure to open her to the public as promised, he’s now overseen the relocation of the vessel to the mouth of the River Lea, where she will have a permanent home among the growing historic fleet at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

“The original intention was to keep going with the project and leave Robin where she was in Royal Docks,” said Eric.

“But eventually I gave up – I just couldn’t get any of the organisations to get off the fence.

“So instead we turned to the Port Of London Authority to get a licence to drive two piles into the riverbed at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Heading through the Thames Barrier on her way to Trinity Buoy Wharf – image Simon Richards

“The ship and her pontoon probably have a combined weight of about 600tonnes, which is not something I’d want to moor directly against the listed river wall as it would pose some risk.

“So, instead, it’s held between two giant ‘knitting needles’, which weigh 17 tonnes each. There’s a seven-metre rise and fall of the tide, so Robin will demonstrate that every day.”

That change in level also presents the last significant stumbling block to opening the vessel to the public.

A 40m gangway is set to be installed over the next couple of months that will go up and down with the level of the water, providing access at a suitable gradient.

Then, members of the public will be able to tour the vessel and view a wealth of information about her past and why she’s been preserved in this way.

“The driving idea is to make that information and Robin herself available to people who live here and know the area, as well as newcomers to it,” said Eric.

“There’s a population the size of Swindon scheduled to move in – a whole new town is being created.

“Shipping is still the major way by which the world trades with itself and London is here because it was driven by this tidal river and the trade that took place on it.

“Robin is the very last complete trading vessel of the period in the world with its original method of propulsion still in place.

“She was sold reasonably early in her life to the Spanish who operated her on a bit of a shoestring, so they didn’t do what nearly everyone else did, which was to take out the steam engine and put in an easily operated diesel.

“When you look at the ship and see the small size of the rudder and the huge propeller, you realise she’s relying on torque rather than revs.

Urban Space Management’s Eric Reynolds – image Jon Massey

“I really take my hat off to her crew – operating her in a crowded dock. With modern vessels you have bow thrusters and they can turn on a sixpence whatever the weather.

“With Robin you’d have had to spend 12 hours just getting steam up – their lives were so hard. We have a lot of material about her working life so we’ll be able to tell people all about it – the crew on her maiden voyage, for example. 

“What we won’t do is commercialise her in any way – the whole point about this ship is she looks and feels like one that would carry coals from Newcastle and salted herring from Aberdeen.

“That should be respected and the entire idea is to create a free access open museum, along the lines of Blists Hill in Shropshire, where people can come to learn.”

Trinity Buoy Wharf plans to work with a cross section of organisations including schools, artists and musicians to explore and illuminate the vessel’s heritage as a jumping off point for study, not least in the fields of science and technology.

It also intends to tell the story of the ship’s construction at the yard of Mackenzie, MacAlpine And Company in Blackwall.

“That’s really quite amazing,” said Eric.

“With health and safety now, we could never imagine a 14-year-old boy throwing lumps of red hot metal up for someone else to catch in a shovel.

“The majority of the ship is original, and when we cut some of the metal and sent it away, the people said that you couldn’t get iron like this any more.

“It was probably made by some process that you wouldn’t be allowed to do now.

“For young people it’s a window into a lost world – an educational asset rather than a tourist attraction.”

In time, Trinity Buoy Wharf plans to bring all the historic vessels in its collection together with row barge Diana and the tugs Knocker White and Suncrest connected to the SS Robin, so visitors can tour all of them.

Watch this space for an opening date for the historic vessel.

Find out more about the SS Robin at Trinity Buoy Wharf here

Read more: How Canary Wharf’s Creative Virtual is taming the voice of AI

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Stratford: How London College Of Fashion is opening itself up to the community

UAL’s East Bank campus hosts Designed For Life exhibition showcasing fashion as a force for positive change

The Decolonising Fashion And Textiles Project, part of the Designed For Life exhibition at the London College Of Fashion

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Even partially open, the enormity of East Bank cannot be overstated.

Its buildings on the edge of the River Lea may appear compact when viewed crossing the water from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

But this is largely an optical illusion due to the sheer scale of Stratford – the towering structures of International Quarter London and similar behind. 

But, if the physical space afforded to the likes of the BBC Music Studios, V&A East and Sadler’s Wells East is considerable, then the cultural, economic and psychological impact on Newham and the surrounding area is greater still.

Tom Daley splashing into the pool at the London Aquatics Centre and West Ham kicking a small round inflatable about may be sporting legacies of the 2012 Olympic Games.

But their true legacy – more than a decade later – is in the regeneration of the area and the prosperity this will bring in the long term.

How many students will walk through the doors of UCL East (part of East Bank, albeit located on the other side of the river)?

How many dancers will tread the boards at Sadler’s Wells’ new venue?

What music will be played for the BBC?

What sights will be seen at the V&A?

How many lives will now be enriched and shaped by what goes on in these buildings in a part of London that 15 years ago looked very different? 

These are tantalising questions with thrilling answers that will undoubtedly shape Stratford in the years and decades to come. 

Heartening then, that the first of the gang to open at the main cluster is already making significant early efforts to use its space for good.

Designed For Life is displayed over five publicly accessible parts of LCF

University Of The Arts London has consolidated the London College Of Fashion (LCF) at East Bank in a purpose-built tower, which opened earlier this year.

One of its first acts has been to fill five of the publicly accessible areas of the building with Designed For Life, an exhibition featuring textiles, design, film, photography, artefacts, personal testimonies and community building intended to showcase “the transformative power of creative action in shaping our world”.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on.

There’s a dress made from a decommissioned refugee tent, an interactive living room reflecting the lives of people in east London, a cloth dragon in a trenchcoat, textile artworks created by migrants together with fabric portraits of them and much more. 

Far too much, in fact, for this article to do the whole thing justice. However, the feel of Designed For Life is very much of using LCF as a platform to tell stories from the area – bringing people who might not usually be represented in such a building inside and putting them centre stage. 

It makes sense, then, to focus on just one part of the exhibition and dig a little deeper into what visitors can expect to find among the swirling cast concrete staircases of the latest addition to Stratford’s educational scene.

Head down a level from the entrance and you’ll find items and a short film showcasing UAL’s Decolonising Fashion And Textiles Project.

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, senior lecturer at LCF’s Centre For Sustainable Fashion

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, senior lecturer at LCF’s Centre For Sustainable Fashion, who is leading the initiative said: “The project runs for two years and has received funding from the Arts And Humanities Research Council.

“First I did some ethnography to immerse myself in the context – the three boroughs we are concentrating on – which are Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

“I wanted to understand the needs and aspirations of the local communities there.

“Then we did storytelling sessions with participants who are refugees or asylum seekers based in London.

“The stories were of identity, cultural heritage and migration – but also the participants’ skills, needs and aspirations.

“In the sessions we were asking them to bring clothes, textiles and objects that meant something to them.

“We are very mindful that refugees are often interviewed, investigated or monitored, so we didn’t want to do a study of them.

“Instead, as a team we all took part by bringing our own objects as a way to share each other’s lives and also build empathy.

“People coming to view Designed For Life will see more than 40 artworks created by participants and ourselves with statements written to express our feelings.


A migrant himself, Francesco created his own artwork alongside workshop participants, including fabrics to remind him of Brazil, Holland, South Africa and Italy

“It’s really a celebration of the untold stories of refugees – which are often overlooked – with the exhibition aiming to shift negative or dominant narratives to show how people can bring their skills and talents to a local community and economy.”

Francesco worked with local photographer JC Candanedo – a Catalan-Panamanian migrant who has a studio in London – to capture images of people taking part in the sessions. 

The headshots were then transferred to fabric, with participants using multiple techniques to decorate, embroider and alter them.

Each work has its creator’s statement printed on the reverse so visitors can discover more about the people they are seeing.

“What’s beautiful is that every story is unique and challenges what it means to be a refugee or asylum seeker in London,” said Francesco.

“People come here to escape from war, violence due to religion, gender discrimination or politics.

“What I like is the collective sense of all these stories – it’s bigger than the individual parts.

“The coming together of all of this gives a sense of community and the mutual support which builds for refugees.

“People participated for different reasons.

“Some were interested in fashion and textiles, wanted to learn some skills, or perhaps worked in the industry and are aiming to rebuild their careers here.

“Others just wanted to meet new people and use crafts to enhance their wellbeing – especially those living isolated in hotels in very poor conditions.

“Meeting other people has helped them to rebuild their confidence, and making new connections has helped them to rebuild their lives.

One participant created two artworks during the project, this one during a pilot session

“One participant has two artworks in the exhibition.

“The first was created for a pilot we did last summer. 

“It is very dark, with blood coming from the eyes.

“As a researcher I have tools to help people unpack their stories.

“At first she had an identity crisis about her heritage.

“She’s from Singapore and, as a trans woman, she was the victim of rape, and when she reported this to the police, she was blamed for being trans.

“She came here and joined our project.

“At first she didn’t care about fashion or want to pursue a career in fashion.

“She thought it was unreachable and not very inclusive.

“She wanted to wear more western clothes to feel more integrated into society here.

“She has very traumatic memories of her own country and wants deliberately to erase her own past. 

“All through this project we tried to highlight something small that she had which could keep her grounded, and she realised that she always wore a necklace given to her by her mum before she left.

“You can see that in her second work.

“She wanted to add some glitter to this artwork as a sense of hope for a brighter future.

The second piece she created

“Through this process she met many other people, and now she’s volunteering for several charities and is feeling much more confident.

“You can see here that she has really embraced her gender and identity and is also tapping into different aspects of her culture and heritage by including batik from Indonesia, where her auntie is from, for example. 

“In the second piece – called Smiles And Pain – she wants to unpack what it means to be an asylum seeker, where she says that, even if we wear a smile and are resilient, behind that there is a mountain of trauma and pain.

“She also wants to say that everybody wants to be treated with tenderness and deserves love and safety.

“Refugees may not have many material possessions, but they really hold onto their material culture and their heritage. 

“Working with vulnerable people, we can’t ask them to tackle the climate emergency from a sustainability point of view– they have more pressing issues socially.

“By plugging into their heritage, however, they can start gaining agency – a voice – and make connections locally that may point to education, employment and entrepreneurship.

“That’s using fashion to drive positive change.”

Remember, this is just one of five displays covering multiple projects at Designed For Life. Set aside an afternoon to explore the exhibition fully.

  • Designed For Life is free to visit with no booking required.
  • The exhibits are available to view at LCF at Stratford’s East Bank, 10am-5pm, Tuesday-Saturday and will be in place until January 19, 2024.

Find out more about the exhibition here

Designed For Life features a series of installations including a recreation of a textile worker’s front room

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Leamouth: Why June 30 is the deadline for Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize entries

Annual award is appealing to artists to submit their work to be in with a chance of winning £10,000

Submissions are now open for the 2023 prize

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People have been drawing for a long time.

Hand stencils have been found in caves dating back around 64,000 years but the act of making marks on a surface has perhaps never been as widely celebrated as it is today thanks to innumerable social media time lapse videos.

Things were very different in 1994, however, when artist and academic Anita Taylor set about founding a drawing competition.

“I founded it when I was working in higher education at an art school in Gloucestershire because it was hard to teach drawing without showing students contemporary examples,” said Anita, who today is professor at and dean of Duncan Of Jordanstone College Of Art And Design at the University Of Dundee. 

“What was then the Rexel Derwent Open Drawing Exhibition was one way of supporting artists who draw by giving them the opportunity to show their work.

“But it was also a great opportunity to give students the chance to see the work of artists who made drawings and were drawing now.

“Contemporary drawings were difficult to see other than in museums up to the 1990s, so the exhibition has grown from there.

“It has become very popular and there has been a very big submission.

“Through that we’ve built a lovely community of artists who want to test their work through the format of an exhibition.

Dean of Duncan Of Jordanstone College Of Art And Design at the University Of Dundee, Professor Anita Taylor

“It also works to further education in terms of being able to share drawings and discourse about them with schools, colleges, universities, researchers and the public, of course.”

The competition has been through several iterations since it was founded, including some 16 years as the Jerwood Drawing Prize with funding from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Today the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize has been in east London for the past six years – supported by Eric Reynolds and the team at Urban Space Management in Leamouth.

Attracting more than 3,000 submissions, it culminates in an exhibition of some 65 works, which starts off in east London before touring the country.

A panel of selectors is responsible for choosing the shortlisted entries and awarding four prizes – first and second place for £8,000 and £5,000 respectively, a student award of £2,000 and the Evelyn Williams Drawing Award of £10,000, which is given every other year.

There is also a separate submission and selection process for working drawings with a prize of £2,000.

All submissions from the UK need to reach the selectors by June 30, 2023.

“Drawing is hugely important to everybody as a vital means of communication and expression,” said Anita.

“It’s something that we all do, but it has become a very sophisticated language and something that enables us to see where we are in the world – to understand what it is to be human and to communicate effectively.

“It covers the whole range of languages, medium, purposes. We’re looking for drawings that are different in their form, intent, content and execution.

Anita founded the prize to provide a place to see drawings other than in museums

“It might be a performance drawing, a diagram, an expressive drawing – we don’t define what a drawing is, but we do ask people to consider what a drawing is.

“Then, it’s for the panel to decide what a good drawing is and find a good drawing they can agree on.

“It’s a very broad field and this is part of our discussion about what a drawing is today. That’s why we have a series of experts reflecting on this.

“We’ve had works entirely found, works that have been performance drawings and works that are beautifully executed – more conventional drawings.

“We’ve had fantastic things and amazing artists in the show.

“We’ve had phenomenally well-established artists, either at the beginning of their career and also later in their career.

“It’s a great thing where people feel open to test their own drawings.

“We see works by students, by various published artists and people who draw but may not be artists – engineers, for example.

“It’s the panel’s decision whether to include digital work, but if it’s original work, then some argue it shouldn’t be reproducible – but it really depends what its purpose is.

“David Hockney’s digital drawings are really amazing, for example, so we think we will see drawings that reflect that interest, but it will be down to the selectors to see which ones they want to include in the exhibition.”

The exhibition will be in Trinity Buoy Wharf from September 27, 2023

The 2023 panel making those decisions for the main prizes will be Laura Hoptman, executive director of The Drawing Center in New York, Dennis Scholl, collector, arts patron and president and CEO of Oolite Arts and British artist Barbara Walker.

It will be their deliberations, which result in the content of the exhibition, which is set to launch on September 27, 2023, at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

“I hope people who come and see it will be excited by drawing – that most humble of activities,” said Anita.

“It’s something that appeals to everyone. I hope they will see that drawing is really inclusive.

“It’s an extraordinary space that explores and reflects all sorts of different approaches to drawing, to see marks on paper, on the ground, on film, on tracing paper – testaments about being alive in the world today.

“I should like visitors to take from it that everyone can draw, and we’ll include everybody.

“We’ll also have a fantastic education pack and we’ll be encouraging schools and colleges – everybody – to get involved.

A panel will draw up a shortlist of entries, which will be exhibited

“The exhibition is set to finish on October 15 at Trinity Buoy Wharf before it goes on tour everywhere.

“It’s something people all over the country can really enjoy because drawing can help them deal with complex issues in a way that can engage others.

“That’s one of the beautiful things about it – it can take people on a journey without them feeling that it’s complicated.

“It’s perhaps less frightening and more inviting than other kinds of art.

“The space at Trinity Buoy Wharf is so welcoming, so open and so reflective.

“Anyone is welcome to submit work, but we would recommend that people are over 18.

“There’s no age limit as such – we don’t want anything that would stop work being submitted.

“So if you think it’s a drawing – a good one – and it’s a drawing you want to test in this kind of way, then it’s a fabulous opportunity to get your work seen by a really distinguished panel.”

Submit entires via this link.

The programme will include works by Haydn, Wagner, Dvorak and Coleridge-Taylor as well as readings of poetry by Emily Dickinson and Carol Ann Duffy.

The concert is set to take place on June 18 from 2pm-3.45pm with tickets costing £14.25.

Read more: How Kinaara on Greenwich Peninsula offers authentic Indian flavours

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Bromley-By-Bow: How the House Mill aims to get its waterwheels spinning again

The world’s largest surviving tidal mill is ongoing as it targets the production of electricity from the Lea

The House Mill at Three Mills in Bromley-By-Bow

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“I just think this plucky building really deserves to survive – it’s been through so much,” said Beverley Charters.

We’ve just ascended an ageing wooden staircase and squeezed through a small wooden portal to pop out onto the roof of the House Mill, a Grade I listed structure that straddles the River Lea in Bromley-By-Bow.

To stand on the duckboards in the v-shaped channel that runs between the roof of the building’s twin peaks is a rare privilege.

It’s not on the official tour for various health and safety reasons, but it does provide a place to locate this extraordinary hub of historic industry in east London.

Beverley points out all the areas and activities that the mill would once have supported, including a vast pig farm with the animals fed on waste products from the site.

Today it’s a sea of regeneration with Sugar House Island and many others, all set to bring new homes and businesses to the area as progress marches on.

Under our feet, however, some 247 years of history await.

Today two mills remain standing at Three Mills although the site has a history of tidal milling that dates back to the Domesday Book in 1086 – the earliest recorded examples of such activity.

Originally Three Mills produced flour, notably for the celebrated bakers of Stratford-Atte-Bowe, with the number of mills dropping to two in the 16th century.

The site later pivoted to grind grain that was used to distil alcohol and the area became a major player in the production of London gin.

Today the House Mill, built in 1776 on foundations dating to 1380, and the Clock Mill, rebuilt in the early 19th century, still stand.

While the latter currently houses the Harris Science Academy East London, the former continues on a journey of restoration and preservation that started in the 1970s when this glorious building nearly became a flat expanse of tarmac.

The House Mill’s Beverley Charters, a trustee, and Geoff Cosson, a volunteer

“It could have been destroyed by bombs during the Second World War like the neighbouring Miller’s House or flattened by developers who wanted to turn it into a car park – but it wasn’t,” said Beverley – a trustee of the House Mill Trust, which looks after the building and who – alongside volunteer Geoff Cosson – shows me round.

“What we ultimately want is a working building that offers all manner of opportunities to educate people so they can see the wheels turning again.

“This is the world’s largest tidal mill, it’s an extraordinary building and it’s our dream to make it fully functioning and sustainable – a place with real purpose.”

Even without the waters of the Lea turning the wheels, the building is remarkable.

Filtering down through its levels – following the route that would have been taken by the grains on their way to the grinding stones and the sacks waiting for the flour on the ground floor – Beverley and Geoff release a steady flow of anecdotes and facts about our surroundings.

Mostly constructed from wood, the place is a baffling maze of hoppers, stores and production floors where the grain would have been sorted, cleaned and fed into the whirling stones whenever the tide was providing the power, day or night.

That force was provided by four massive iron waterwheels, harnessing the green energy of the Lea and distributing it through the building via huge drive shafts.

The overall plan is to restore the House Mill to some degree of working order with the waterwheels spinning once more with the tide, although these will be used to generate electricity to power the building and give it an income, rather than to grind grain.

With much work done internally in the 1990s, including the rebuilding of the bombed out Miller’s House as a cafe, visitor and education centre, a substantial amount of work has already been achieved. 

Wooden blanks in the mill for making metal machine parts

But the trust faces big bills to keep operating and fundraising for a challenging project to dam the river, so work can be done on the wheels to bring them back into use.

It’s also having to contend with increasingly frequent flooding of the mill’s ground floor, possibly as a consequence of measures upstream to control the level of the waterways in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which prevents the incoming tide flowing as far up the river.

Nevertheless, there’s a sense of fight and optimism, with the next project aimed at weatherproofing and protecting the rear of the building to match the recently renovated facade. We wanted to complete it pre-lockdown, but it’s finished now and we think it looks rather fabulous,” said Beverley.

“Now we’re somehow going to fundraise for the back and repair some storm damage we’ve had to the roof before returning to the main project of getting the building working again. We hope it will be possible and we think we can do it.”

But why bother expending all this effort to conserve and celebrate a historic building at all?

“I just think buildings like this are fantastic,” said Geoff, a former teacher who became involved with the project after moving back to the Isle Of Dogs from Cyprus and visiting the House Mill with his wife.

“There’s also a degree of connection because both my grandparents were from this area – my grandmother lived in Nairn Street just down the river and got married on Christmas Day at the registrar’s office in Bromley-By-Bow, which is still there.

“I wanted to be involved with something that wasn’t just about ogling things, where there was a bit of history.”

The mill contains examples of machinery used in its operation

Alongside that link to the history of the area, there’s also a major part that the mill can play in east London’s ongoing story.

“We have been in a period of recovery following the pandemic, but we were busy pre-lockdown with weddings, quiz nights, gin tastings and other events,” said Beverley.

“They might not relate to the history of the mill directly but once people are here we smuggle the heritage in.

“What we’ve found is that once people come through the door and see the size of the machinery they just love it and we have lots of stories we can tell them.”

The House Mill Trust is currently seeking funding and volunteers to continue its work.

The building will be open on Sundays in summer for guided tours costing £10 (including a guide book and a hot drink).

The House Mill’s next project is to refurbish its rear wooden facade

Read more: How The Qube is offering creators studio space in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Three Mills: How Harris Science Academy East London is looking to the future

Principal Mark Taylor says joining the Harris Federation puts school on a very solid foundation

Harris Science Academy East London recently opened its new building – Custom House

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Change is under way at Three Mills Island.

In September last year, the East London Science School joined the Harris Federation – a trust comprising more than 50 primary and secondary schools in and around London.

Originally founded as a standalone free school in 2013, the newly named Harris Science Academy East London has become part of a much wider family of institutions and has its eyes firmly on the future.

The ultimate plan for the academy is a move just across the Channelsea River into purpose-built premises as part of Berkeley Homes’ vast TwelveTrees Park.

This development will see some 3,800 homes and other amenities constructed on land between the River Lea and West Ham station.

In the meantime, however, the academy remains based across two sites – The Clock Mill and Lock-Keepers – for Years 7-9 and 10-11 respectively, having last month opened a new sixth form facility at Three Mills.

Principal Mark Taylor said: “The new building is called Custom House and was historically used for checking goods coming in and out of the area.

“The academy was previously on three sites with the sixth form based in facilities at Eastlea Community School.

“The opening of Custom House means we can bring those students back to the Three Mills site, which is very important.

“Sixth formers should be the leading students in any school.

“From the point of view of unity and the vision of the school it’s perfect. It brings us together and helps to create a common purpose in terms of what we’re trying to do here.

“Having those sixth formers on this site shows our younger students where they can get to – it really makes a difference if they are visible.

“The building itself has been renovated to a high standard by the film studio that’s based next door to us and, as it became clearer that relocating the sixth form would be beneficial, the Harris Federation team secured it for us and set it up properly for our staff and students.

Harris Science Academy East London principal Mark Taylor

“It has some beautiful, traditional features and a lovely layout but with modern facilities.

“We are expecting Lord Harris to open it on March 9, which will also mark the official launch of the Harris Science Academy East London.”

Joining the Harris Federation is a big change in itself for the institution. The organisation educates tens of thousands of pupils in the capital and employs thousands of teachers.

“Primarily what the federation brings to us is the organisational infrastructure to support what we are doing – something that can be challenging for an academy on a temporary site like we are,” said Mark.

“It has the resources to ensure that we have everything that’s appropriate to a modern school setting in terms of safeguarding and in areas of compliance.

“The federation also offers an enormous amount of teaching support. It has subject consultants to help our staff deliver the best education to our students that they can and to help teachers as we continue to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

“The federation has a wealth of experience that we can draw on to ensure our students get the best outcomes possible and has a strong track record in doing that.

“This includes a focus on the progress of every child to make sure they are doing the best that they can.

“We are distinctive in offering three science subjects all the way through the school for as many children as possible and we hope to maintain that approach.

“But we also have a really strong humanities offer including Latin, Mandarin and modern languages.

“Right now, our focus is on exam performance and ensuring students are getting the right results.

“We know what assessment data our students come to us from primary schools with and what that means they are capable of and it’s our job, through good teaching, support and experience, to help them achieve that.

The academy is currently based at Three Mills Island

“What the Harris Federation gives us is a really solid foundation for the academy so that we can make that happen.

“We look different to other schools in the area – we aren’t surrounded by fences and we’re currently based in historic buildings – and we want to stand out.

“We offer a great range of subjects and last year we held our first week of enrichment activities since the pandemic.

“This is time for all students off timetable to go on trips and visits and pursue activities over and above their normal school work.

“We are hoping to run that again this year, this time for a fortnight.”

Looking further into the future, the vision for a 1,000-student capacity building to house the academy at TwelveTrees remains a tantalising prospect.

“The plan is for a modern school with a really strong identity,” said Mark.

“The plans look amazing and for parents and students coming into the school it’s something that is going to be great.”

For now though, there’s a sense of shared purpose and the buzz of change in the air at Three Mills as a new chapter opens.

Read more: How South Dock Bridge connects Canary Wharf and the Isle Of Dogs

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Canning Town: How Cody Dock continues to evolve and grow as its projects unfold

Gasworks Dock Partnership CEO Simon Myers talks present and future as the scheme marches onward

The visitor centre at Cody Dock takes shape

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As is invariably the case, a trip to Cody Dock yields an excess of optimism, promise and excitement.

What was once a rubbish tip piled high with industrial toxic waste has already become home to businesses, a plethora of wildlife, art and vegetation. 

In the 14 years since Simon Myers co-founded the Gasworks Dock Partnership, an eyesore has been transformed into a community asset on the River Lea that’s tantalisingly on the threshold of the next stage in its evolution.

As CEO he’s presided over a passionate team and the efforts of countless volunteers in that time, who have all contributed to turning the wooden model of the project’s masterplan into full scale reality.

“To go alongside our rolling bridge across the dock mouth – which we installed earlier this year – we’ve finally finished our toilet and wash block,” said Simon.

“That means that after more than a decade of visitors using our very glamorous Portaloos we’ve now got proper facilities with showers, changing rooms and running water.

“What that really does for Cody Dock is to make it accessible for people to come down, especially for school visits.

“We’re probably about half way through the construction of the first phase of our visitor centre, which will include an exhibition and event space.

“The hard work is done – the foundations are in, the frame is up, the walls are being built and we’ll be doing the roof over the next couple of weeks.

“Then we can start fitting it with 100 400-watt solar panels and batteries that will give us our own electricity supply with an output that is more than the total present power consumption for the site.

“Obviously that’s only when the sun shines, but we have every intention of looking at ways of storing energy on site and – given that we have a tidal dock with a lot of water going up and down, we want to investigate how we can use that to generate electricity too.”

Like every aspect of Cody Dock, a great deal of thought has been put in to the execution of its projects and how what is created can do multiple jobs.

The Gasworks Dock Partnership is working towards re-flooding the dock

In addition to generating power, the visitor centre will become the focal point of the site.

“We have a little pop-up gallery space on site where we’ve tried lots of things and that has provided proof of concept,” said Simon.

“We also already have weekly visits from schools who come and do cross-curricular field studies in areas such as local history and river ecology

“We’ve also had an interesting arts and cultural programme at Cody Dock over the years.

“But pretty much everything has been outside – the visitor centre gives us a venue where we can put on significant exhibitions, put on shows, accommodate school visits, host music nights and film screenings.

“The first part of the venue has a foyer and a separate main area but they can be combined into one big space if required.

“It’s very much multi-functional and we’ll be equipped to host theatre performances with a fold-away stage, a green room and a proper lighting rig.

“What happens within that space will be very much a collaboration with the community and arts organisations.

“The first thing we did when we cleared the dock was host an opera on a floating stage in the middle of the water.

“These kinds of performances are very much in our DNA – we use arts as an engagement tool and this venue will enable us to do that on a scale matching the number of people who are now coming to Cody Dock on a regular basis – we’re really excited.”

Completion of the visitor centre’s first phase is expected by late spring next year to coincide with Newham Heritage Month in June.

Also in the pipeline is a new theraputic gardening, training and horticultural space that will provide a place for learning and propagation to provide all the plants for the site.

“That’s a collaboration with fifth-year architecture students from Westminster and should be complete by March,” said Simon. 

“It will be a space that feels like you’re outdoors, but is actually indoors filled with plants – think Scandinavian conservatory.

“That will be opposite our rolling bridge and our plan is to finish the final landscaping of the area between the crossing and our visitor centre. 

“Then we’ve got a year of planning, preparation and finalising the designs for what we have been calling until now our Heritage Pavilion.

“We actually want to run a bit of a competition and, with public consultation, to come up with a better name for it.

“It will be a new space – somewhere that celebrates the history of the waterways in this area. 

“Its roof will be the keel of a fully restored Thames Ironworks lifeboat, which we already have on site at the end of the dock.

“It’s made from Honduran mahogany, is just over 100 years old and belongs to the first generation of self-righting lifeboats. 

“It has an enormous iron keel and we’ll be restoring it for about a year before flipping it upside down to form the roof.

Gasworks Dock Partnership CEO Simon Myers

“That’s a nod to the fact that the River Lea was once the Danelaw boundary and we’re on the Viking side. 

“So there are lots of things to get involved with if people would like to come down and volunteer.”

Cody Dock has also recently appointed new members of its team to look after ecology and education at the site, who will be running projects over the coming year as work continues towards the ultimate goal of re-flooding the dock.

After that happens, the site will become home to residential moorings, a berth for a heritage ship and dry dock facilities to service boats sailing up and down the Lea.

“I think we’re about 18 months away from doing that,” said Simon.

“We’ve done most of the necessary work at the end of the dock and we’re definitely over the hill with the restoration work on the dock walls. 

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then it will be about connecting us up with Canning Town via that last elusive bit of footpath along the river.”

Read more: How British Land is set to build a new town centre at Canada Water

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Leamouth: How Trinity Buoy Wharf could combine a river crossing with flats

Living Bridge would join agreed Hercules plan over the Lea to connect Newham and Tower Hamlets

An artist's impression of USM's Living Bridge idea
An artist’s impression of USM’s Living Bridge idea

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It starts with an idea. The concept of people living on bridges isn’t new – they’ve been doing that for hundreds of years all over the world.

But Urban Space Management’s (USM) “aspirational” suggestion for a residential crossing at Trinity Buoy Wharf, spanning the mouth of the River Lea still feels a little bit visionary.  

There’s something inherently attractive about inhabiting structures over water. Looking back, we have the historical romance of the Old London Bridge and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, for example. 

Flowing forward, there’s author William Gibson’s sci-fi vision of a jerry-built, self-governing shanty town clinging to the steel bones of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.

This imaginary leap into a near future – where a ribbon of infrastructure is repurposed by a passionate, vibrant community of squatters, reacting to the pressures of insufficient housing and oppression – is a flash of what necessity and collaboration might be capable of. It’s counter-cultural, haphazard and seductive.

USM’s plan for a Living Bridge has something of both examples.

It’s a functional proposal – a connection to Royal Docks for pedestrians and cyclists that would ensure a flow of traffic through the existing site. 

But it’s also the root of a future community, with around 70 properties suspended from the steel arch that would support the entire structure – brought to life in Cartwright Pickard’s illustrative designs. 

USM founding director Eric Reynolds
USM founding director Eric Reynolds

Access to the river would be preserved for taller vessels with a section of the bridge able to lift to allow safe passage.

Planning permission has already been granted for one crossing in the area – Hercules Bridge over the Lea on the northern edge of Ballymore’s Goodluck Hope development. 

If built, this would connect to both a footpath towards Canning Town station as well as to the Lower Lea Crossing flyover for access to Royal Docks.

USM is currently gathering feedback on a range of ideas to improve connectivity in and around Trinity Buoy Wharf, with a consultation running until July 20, 2022.

Its plans aim to help overcome barriers such as roads, rivers and railways to make journeys that are complicated now, simpler in the future.

USM founding director Eric Reynolds said: “Right from the beginning, I thought the problem for this whole bit of London was that it is disconnected from itself in every way. 

“Standing on the roof of the building that’s now occupied by Faraday Prep School at Trinity Buoy Wharf in the late 1990s, it was clear we should be doing something about this.

“Our outline planning application for the site allows us to build a bridge as a continuation of Orchard Place because it always seemed to me that the Lea should have more than a road bridge over it – there should also be something for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We should be connecting people, not just for us, but also for people living north and east of here – in Canning Town for example.

“They should see the river as part of their back or front garden, not something that’s just hidden away.”

A rendering of the Living Bridge by night
A rendering of the Living Bridge by night

The case for a second bridge becomes increasingly clear when future development is taken into account.

The Thameside West scheme is expected to deliver some 5,000 new homes just across the river as well as a new DLR station, a school and industrial and creative workspaces.

“One of the things we did achieve years ago was to persuade the DLR planners to leave a straight bit of track on that land to allow potential for that station,” said Eric.

“It didn’t make sense then, but, with thousands of homes and a new town centre coming, it does now.

“Regarding the bridge – it may be that we put homes on it, we don’t know yet. We think there are two good reasons for doing it.

Firstly it creates new land and a new opportunity for a community.

“Secondly, in doing that, it offsets the cost of the bridge – so there’s an economic and a social argument.

“The Living Bridge would also be a big signpost to the importance and value of the River Lea, which was a vital part of the transport of this area – a line of power and industry – before it silted up. It deserves that recognition.

“Imagine coming up the Thames and seeing this out-of-scale bridge, all lit up with people living inside it.

“I really think it would appeal to Londoners – every building along the river is worked so as many properties as possible have views of the water.

“Here it would be right underneath – with no risk of anyone building in front of or behind you.”

An artist’s impression of the Hercules Bridge proposal

But does an area that is already connected to Canning Town via London City Island’s bridge and, potentially the already agreed Hercules Bridge really need another crossing?

“At the moment, the existing bridge takes you to the top of London City Island but we have an awful lot of walkers, dog owners, cyclists, hikers and so on who come to Trinity Buoy Wharf and would really like not to have to go back on themselves,” said Eric.

“The Hercules Bridge gives people the chance to do something different – to walk round the edge of the Lea and follow the river north. 

“What the Living Bridge would do is to make it much easier to follow the Thames along the southern edge of Royal Docks as far as Barrier Park.

“It increases the potential for pedestrians and cyclists to reach these areas.

“It’s also in some ways an attempt to re-invent a community that was here in the past.

“There was a small fishing community and a school here, which was wiped away when local authorities decided that slum clearances were the thing to do.

“There also used to be a little ferry that took people across the Lea because the Thames Ironworks and Orchard Wharf needed to get their workers to work.

“During the Crossrail Works, the foundations for that ferry were found, so this has grown partly out of what we perceive as a respect for the past and an aspiration for the future.”

At present Trinity Buoy Wharf is a dead end for walkers and cyclists
At present Trinity Buoy Wharf is a dead end for walkers and cyclists

Read more: Genomics England set for relocation to Canary Wharf

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River Lea: How Cody Dock’s new rolling bridge unlocks the project’s potential

Hand-cranked structure designed by Thomas Randall-Page allows the dock to be reflooded

The rolling bridge will transform Cody Dock
The rolling bridge will transform Cody Dock

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There can be few pieces of infrastructure in the world that so succinctly represent the story and future of a project in the way Cody Dock’s rolling bridge does.

Recently tested for the first time, it’s the culmination of years of work – an elegant, ground-breaking solution that’s at once simple, highly engineered and not insubstantially bonkers.

The Gasworks Dock Partnership (GDP) has, with the help of more than 11,000 volunteers, spent the last 13-and-a-half years working to clear and regenerate an unloved patch of industrial land on the River Lea – used for many years as a toxic tip. 

A major milestone in that project will be the re-flooding of the dock itself.

With the junk cleared and the polluted sludge beneath painstakingly removed, the GDP always knew it needed to sort out a solution to the crude dam that currently provides a bridge over the dock entrance, but also blocks access from the tidal waters of the river.

GDP co-founder and CEO Simon Myers had duly found an off-the-shelf rising bascule bridge from Holland that would do the job – bridging the gap and opening when necessary to let ships in.

Planning permission was applied for and granted. But then something happened.

Bridge designer Thomas Randall-Page
Bridge designer Thomas Randall-Page

“It always starts with a conversation in a pub, doesn’t it?” said Thomas Randall-Page, designer of Cody Dock’s rolling bridge.

“Somebody told me Simon was building a new bridge, that it was a product from Holland and that it wasn’t the most interesting thing.

“I didn’t have any work at the time – I’d just quit my job to set up my own practice and I approached Simon and asked if I could counter-propose something that people would come and visit rather than just walk across.

“He said that would be fine, because they already had planning permission for the other bridge and I was doing it for free.

“Then I went off to help my friend move her canal boat and spent two weeks going through locks and looking at all this amazing Victorian infrastructure – most of it counter-balanced and low energy.

“So I started to think about an opening bridge but one that worked in a way that had never been done before.”

The rolling bridge has now been finished and awaits its official launch
The rolling bridge has now been finished and awaits its official launch

The result was a model for a rolling bridge, produced in partnership with structural engineers Price & Myers.

Operated by a hand crank, the whole structure inverts on tracks, raising the footway high above any ships that want to gain access to the dock.

“In a way it’s the opposite of the bascule bridge, because that’s all hydraulic – like trying to lift something at arm’s length – so a lot of energy goes into it,” said Thomas.

“This one is a very balanced system with counterweights, so it’s going to be manual – you just turn a handle and wind it over.

“It will be quite slow, but people will be able to do it themselves and hopefully others will come to watch it open.”

While Simon and the GDP team were immediately attracted by Thomas’ proposal, they put it through a rigorous process of assessment to ensure it was something that would both work at scale and could be built within budget.

“We knew we were taking quite a big risk with something that’s untried – to our knowledge, this is the only bridge of its kind in the world,” said Simon.

“Thomas gave us what we needed to convince our board and we decided to re-apply for planning permission, although he had to wait five years for us to give him a call and say we’d found the money and were actually going to build it.

The bridge rolls on steam-bent oak, guided by metal teeth
The bridge rolls on steam-bent oak, guided by metal teeth

“That was about a year ago and he engaged Price & Myers to work on it, all knowing that there was a fixed budget that we simply couldn’t go over.

“From the outset, everyone was committed – there has been blood, sweat and tears poured into it, nobody has made any money but they all wanted to make it work. 

“That’s really humbling – it shows there’s a different economy at work, one where people do things because they are passionate and excited about them – when do you get the chance to roll a 12-tonne cube of steel by hand except on a project like this? 

“The bridge is the most significant structure here. The dock itself is important, but it’s no good if boats can’t get in and out – it’s a statement of intent that we are bold and ambitious here. 

“It’s our first really big commission, it puts a marker down and it raises our game – with 400 names of those involved in its construction engraved on it, it really is a bridge of the people.”

The structure rolls on a pair of tracks like a giant cog
The structure rolls on a pair of tracks like a giant cog

Thomas added: “I started designing the bridge seven years ago, so to finally see it in place is both surreal and great – really amazing,” said Thomas.

“It’s better than I’d hoped. Cake Industries, who fabricated it, have been really helpful. There’s been so much goodwill in the whole team – a really collaborative and open process.

“Everyone felt like this was a project we really have to get right. It’s something special.”

So there you have it – a £260,000 bridge that will officially open later this year and last for the next 125.

It’s both a testament to the whole project’s collaborative nature and a gateway to a future that’s looking especially bright at present, with a the construction of a new visitors’ centre and a wash block already underway. 

With repair of the dock wall progressing and pilings in place at its far end too, GDP can now plan to re-flood the dock, creating residential moorings and a dry dock facility on-site.

Cody Dock is always looking for volunteers and companies to help it achieve its aims – you can find our more here.

When fully inverted, the bridge allows taller ships underneath
When fully inverted, the bridge allows taller ships underneath

Read more: Artist creates pieces for Pride Month across Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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