SO Resi Canning Town

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
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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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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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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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