Poplar Works is a fashion workspace and training centre, developed by Poplar HARCA, London College of Fashion, UAL (LCF) and The Trampery. A strip of under-used garages straddling the A12 was used to re-establish fashion at the heart of Poplar’s local economy, creating links to LCF’s forthcoming East Bank campus, and facilitating learning and networking opportunities for our community.
This brief emerged from the context of rapid urban change. In the next decade, Poplar’s population will more than double. Along this small bend in the River Lea, 8,000 homes are planned across ten separate sites. In the face of such transformation, Poplar needs cultural and economic spaces that underpin sustainable communities. The ‘market’ will deliver homes, but we also need spaces to work, learn and meet our neighbours.
Fashion is the industry that can help this place to flourish. It has a rich and diverse history in East London: Bengali tailors, Jewish designers and Huguenot weavers have led the sector over the past 250 years. It’s a growing industry with huge potential: since 2010 the fashion sector has added over 11,000 jobs to East London’s economy, and has a GVA of over £267m in Tower Hamlets. In 2022, LCF will move to the Olympic Park, establishing a major educational opportunity 10 minutes away.
Poplar Works is the start of an industrial strategy for a rapidly changing Lower Lea, where a revived, authentic, accessible, ambitious fashion industry will bring people together, offering genuine economic and cultural opportunities to our diverse community.
How has this project contributed to the urban life of this place?
Poplar Works has improved urban life at different levels. Economic Our studios offer much needed affordable workspace to Poplar’s entrepreneurs. Studios have been designed at a variety of sizes and specifications: something to suit everyone’s needs, whether they are hobbyist makers looking to expand, or high flying design start-ups.
By locating businesses of different types and stages in the same space, we’re creating new networks that support growth and learning. 85% of studios let to date are from the local community. Education & employment London College of Fashion’s Making for Change programme offers a state of the art vocational education facility, with a Fashion & Textiles curriculum structured around accessible learning.
Courses are free for those unemployed, operate during school hours, with supplementary ESOL classes to support learners with limited English. This has created new opportunities for Poplar’s community, removing barriers to educational achievement and matching skilled local people with fashion production roles in the capital.
Our café offers a new public space, run by Leon and Alaina, a mother and son brought up on the nearby Aberfeldy estate. It’s a space where residents old and new will come together and build the foundations for a genuinely mixed, sustainable community in this changing place.
Poplar Works has improved the urban realm. It was built on the site of 100 under-used garages that were abandoned, boarded up, and attracted antisocial behaviour. The facility has brought activity and natural surveillance, leading to improved resident perception and decreased ASB.
What do you see as the greatest success of this project?
Our greatest success is building a genuinely community focussed space, that is underpinned by an ambitious strategic partnership. This combination offers enormous opportunity to Poplar and encourages local people to excel and grow, specifically including those who face disadvantages.
Poplar Works was developed by a strategic partnership of sector leading organisations. Poplar HARCA has an international reputation for regeneration, and extensive community networks. LCF is globally recognised and the oldest fashion university in the world. The Trampery are creative workspace pioneers, developing a network of fashion workspaces in East London.
The strength of this partnership has leveraged significant investment (£6m total including £2.7m GLA funding), and underpins our programme of training and business support. At the same time, Poplar Works is embedded in its community, establishing ever growing links. Since our first design meeting we’ve done a lot to get to know everyone.
We’ve had over 200 face to face conversations with neighbours, more than 50 people came to our construction Open Day, and we sent out newsletters every couple of months. And it’s paid off: 85% of lettings for studios are from Poplar and Bow, 75% of learners are from Tower Hamlets, our café is being run by a family from our estate, and our events programme is being led by community members. This is what good regeneration should do: improve opportunities and ambitions in communities, whilst keeping local people at the centre of the vision, building from their needs and interests to create confidence for the future.
What the judges said
The judges praised this project as working on every level. They liked how the project was rooted in the community and sought to support economic activity that was already there, without reinventing the year. The resilience of the project during Covid was also a positive.