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The Wicked One: Rawden Pettitt

How did you come to be in Hackney Wick?

It was one of those discoveries. Coming to London from Australia, I didn’t really understand Hackney Wick’s existence until I started work on designing the Olympics in 2008. I was developing Eton Manor, where the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre now is, and had just moved to Victoria Park, so my commute to the site was through the Wick. There was this kind of moment of “oh my god, what’s going on here and why aren’t I more aware of this?” There was then a little bit of serendipity, The Eton Manor site was to be the world’s first dedicated Paralympic venue, so I spent a few years meeting lots of amazing people to understand what this means and what a fully inclusive space is so that it could have a wider benefit in Legacy. In 2014, we had a child born with Cerebral Palsy. This Games experience removed a lot of the initial fear of what’s around the corner and gave me a really good insight into what type of environment would not only help her, but also us as parents. Living in central London is sometimes not that easy with physical disabilities, especially in a typical London terraced house. I knew though about the Trowbridge Estate and its bungalows, and we were lucky enough to find one and adapted it to suit all of our needs.

What do you love most here?

The diversity of people and ideas and the sense of identity that has been created. I like the fact there are a lot of energized people here and ideas going on everywhere bearing fruit. HWFI epitomises the vision of the sought after 15-minute city; from your home you should be able to walk within 15 minutes and get all the amenities you need – education, health, entertainment, sustenance, nature and public transport. We have this! Having the canals, Greenway Victoria Park, the Olympic Park, Mabley Green and Hackney Marshes on our doorstep makes me feel spoilt, especially during Lockdown. For a young family or any other resident, that is just so valuable.

Do you think the area has changed much since 2008?

Yes and no. For me, Hackney Wick is more about spirit than actual physical contexts. I was attracted by the creative community and the way they expressed themselves, but I was also aware of the people who were here before the artists. People with memories of factories and demolished tower blocks. The creative industry over the last several years has really had to band together, in an act of self-preservation, and that has been really inspirational to witness. I do fear that for the older generations and other members of the community, there’s a greater sense of isolation as development marches on. The extent of change happening here isn’t just because of the Olympics, it has been in the pipeline for decades. It’s the rate of change that is the issue and a sense of hyper regeneration that makes some people feel like it is happening overnight. For me though, one of the beauties of here is the sense or expectation of continual change. It’s what street art is about, a sense of impermanence and the potential for ‘meanwhile’ uses for developments are great. I’d like to seeinterventions that facilitate evolving change and enable identities to come and go in a sustainable way.

Where is your favourite Hackney Wick hangout?

Besides the Trowbridge Estate I would have to say it’s between the Hackney Pearl and Grow. When I first started working on the Olympic Park, the Pearl really drew me in. They offered their amazing food to the building sites within the Park and when they occupied the street space I thought that was such a great thing. I’d find myself working there almost a day a week. I also love spending time at Grow, for both work and pleasure. What they’ve done there, in terms of the canal setting, the food, music and community engagement, is really inspirational.

What changes do you think should be made here?

Development will, of course, need to happen and London needs affordable housing. But to do this takes more than just homes. It needs a diversity of activities, scale and character. A balance where community consultation with developers is not just a box ticking exercise (see p.9). Where organisations or individuals are not a thorn in the side of developers but are appreciated because they can demonstrate the value they bring.

What’s your greatest achievement?

In the work that I do, you spend a lot of time developing and delivering an idea, and it’s a pretty rewarding experience. I’ve been really lucky to be involved in some amazing projects, like the Olympics, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the new Museum of London at Smithfield Market and many others. Beyond my family I think that the main thing I’m proud of is the fact I had the courage to leave my childhood home on the beach to seek out new ideas and people that really inspired me. Moving to Hackney Wick is a part of that journey.

What would you like the future of HWFI to look like?

A place that continues to inspire people to get involved in their community to make a positive difference. A place that sustainably supports the creative communities. I hope that a balance can be found between new developments and being able to maintain moments of absurdity or rapid change, and that it’s not too manufactured. Hackney Wick needs to have a little bit of freedom to express itself. With the major developments due along the canal, I hope that this doesn’t get too absorbed into the current language of development. I like it feeling different when I cross the bridge from the Olympic Park.
I hope that there can also be more bridges – not physical ones, we’ve got enough of those – but social ones, that better connect the creative and entrepreneurial community with other residents and social organisations. For people like my neighbour, Pat, who’s maybe been here for 50 years, I’m not sure how included she feels in the wider discussions. Wouldn’t it be great for people like her to actually feel included in this.

Describe HWFI as a sound or smell

It’s almost like a sound of restlessness. There’s definitely a beat and rhythm to it, that’s for sure. But maybe it’s a subconscious sound. There’s enough real, colourful sounds in your face here, so perhaps it’s one that you are not fully aware of but makes you keep tapping your foot and giving you the energy to join into this amazing place.

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