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Guest Editor: Sir William Atkinson

Dip inside the pilot print edition of The Wick and you’ll see that our first guest editor is local resident Sir William Atkinson. He was renowned during his career as  ‘superhead’, transforming some of London’s worst-performing schools and becoming a TV star in the process. Today he sits on a wide variety of boards, from the Royal Shakespeare Company, to the Clink Charity and as chair of the London and South East Canal and River Trust.

Sir William expressed concern at a virtual CIG meeting in the summer that this new publication must reflect the true diversity of the area. It therefore felt right that we give him a platform to set out this vision in the very first edition. Below is an extended version of his editor’s letter. Future guest editors will similarly have the chance to guide the direction of The Wick, to ensure it genuinely reflects the voices of all local people in an active, collaborative way.

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Sunrise over Fish Island is often accompanied by a dramatic display of burnt oranges and muted golds gradually illuminating the skyline above the cranes and towers of Stratford and the Olympic Park. At weekends the sound of swans and scullers provides a soothing backdrop to the early morning peace and tranquillity before the mayhem occasioned by walkers, runners and cyclists all crowding the towpath and spilling onto the grass verges. As the day unfolds the Canal slowly becomes animated with wide beam and narrow boats, canoes and paddle boats. By midday the grass banks across from Omega Works are covered with groups, principally of young people, eating, drinking and just hanging out. Barge East (excellent fayre) and Moo Canoes are a welcome addition to the ever-growing diversity of dining options in the neighbourhood. The local canal network is much used and appreciated by both boaters and non-boaters.

Life in Hackney Wick & Fish Island is comprised of an eclectic mix of artists, designers, artisans, theatre makers, micro brewers, film makers, architects, academics, bars and restaurants; not to mention residents like myself. The recent designation of the area as a Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) not only recognises the diverse and extensive creative enterprises but also the potential for further growth and development.

Residents here care passionately about protecting and improving the local environment and to this end there are a number of groups and organisations who work with energy and enthusiasm in challenging both planning and existing practices deemed not to be in the best interest of the local community or environment.

While much of the new accommodation is intended for renters able to use the excellent transport facilities to travel quickly to all parts of the capital and beyond for work and leisure, there is a growing population of owner occupiers who are in search of a permanent base for their families. They are looking for high quality accommodation, safe streets and towpaths, good schools, clean environment and readily accessible quality open spaces.

Although there is much to recommend life in Hackney Wick & Fish Island there are also challenges. The unrelenting pace of knocking down and building up has not benefitted all members of the neighbourhood equally. Whilst this process has undeniably created impressive places to live and work, for many established artists and creatives it has meant having to leave the area for more affordable premises, far from their original place of work. In addition, there are a large number of residents who have lived in Hackney Wick for many years/generations who have become mere spectators to all the changes taking place in their midst. At the moment the needs of this community are insufficiently considered and as a consequence are in danger of being left behind. We need to develop more innovative and agile ways of connecting to and engaging with these residents.

When eventually Covid-19 is brought under control there are likely to be greater numbers working from home with fewer residents doing the daily commute. The ‘new normal’ will not only create opportunities for the hospitality sectors but also for local quality community spaces that allow individuals and groups to freely associate and socialise. Planners, developers and responsible entities need to be far-sighted in seeking creative solutions to address these challenges.

Hackney Wick & Fish Island has gone through countless changes over the last few hundred years, the significant difference today is the sheer pace of change. Local landmarks are disappearing over a matter of months and not decades: Embracing and influencing the future is a challenge for all of us.

It is my sincere hope that The Wick newspaper will play an important role in stitching together the disparate strands of our neighbourhood and help to create a more cohesive community.

Sir William Atkinson, MA DUniv (Open) DL FRSA

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