A creative community at Royal Albert Wharf: new impact study shares five years of transformative achievements

Art & Culture

A creative community at Royal Albert Wharf: new impact study shares five years of transformative achievements

Royal Albert Wharf, a landmark Royal Docks’ housing development led by Notting Hill Genesis, is a unique neighbourhood in London. Where the historic Royal Docks meets the Thames, homes sit adjacent to artist studios, creative businesses, exhibition space, and public art. Activated by artists, events ranging from public art programmes to makers markets keep the waterfront lively and strengthen the fabric of community life.

Leading with a strategy of ‘Creative Placemaking’, which recognises the value of dedicating space to artists, Royal Albert Wharf presents a compelling case of urban regeneration. Delivered as a collaborative initiative between the housing and creative sectors, it has proven to be the catalyst for ground-breaking success, leveraging tangible social, economic, and public gains.

Situated at the eastern end of the Royal Docks, this burgeoning neighbourhood has experienced remarkable growth: the first phases of the development alone delivered more than 800 new homes as well as over 30,000 sqft of commercial space. However, securing occupancy of newly developed commercial spaces in emerging areas, particularly within housing-led developments, can often pose significant challenges. To address the difficulty of vacancies or underutilised spaces appearing boarded-up, or inaccessible, Notting Hill Genesis engaged Bow Arts, a leading arts and educational charity, to animate Royal Albert Wharf.

Bow Arts responded by building 34 high quality affordable studios for artists, designers and makers. Beyond filling vacant spaces, the partnership nurtures sustainable relationships, continuing a programme of events with opportunities specially designed to encourage participation between artists and local residents, as well as foster a sense of ownership of their local area.

This impact study is a great testament of our joint community wealth building agenda that we are keen to progress in Royal Docks

Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, Mayor of Newham

Five years on and the ‘Creative Placemaking’ programme has ushered in social, economic and physical change. Recognising these successes, Notting Hill Genesis and the Royal Docks Team commissioned an Impact Study, authored by Dr. Michael Owens. The study charts the transformations of five years of ‘Creative Placemaking’, highlighting successes and challenges and providing a blueprint that can be adopted by other developments for their own success.

The Impact Study found that ‘Creative Placemaking’ delivered through the partnership was an effective solution. From adding overall financial value to the Royal Albert Wharf development, positively impacting sales and lettings, to empowering communities through apprenticeships, skills and training, the impact study paints a vivid picture of multi-faceted and far-reaching achievements that open exciting possibilities and pose real challenges to more traditional approaches to occupying space. Embedding the arts into the fibres of community structure proved to be a credible and viable alternative to the management of commercial space in new developments.

The partnerships nurtured by a ‘Creative Placemaking’ strategy yielded positive outcomes for local people and residents alike. Breakthrough moments include the V&A announcement for artist residencies at Royal Albert Wharf; establishing new social enterprises, such as Well Bean Café; attracting new occupiers to the area, such as Café Namaste with renowned chef Cyrus Todiwala; and free artist-led workshops for residents and the local community.

These impacts align with the Royal Docks Cultural Placemaking Strategy, which is rooted in local talent, ambition and community. The placemaking partnerships borne out of Royal Albert Wharf are supporting the Royal Docks’ bold ambition to become London’s cultural engine, creating a cultural destination for the capital and showcasing and supporting local talent.

Bow Arts' study offers key recommendations for developers and placemakers to implement a valid and cost-effective approach in revitalising new developments. Visit the Bow Arts website to read the study’s full findings and find out more.

Jules Pipe CBE, the Deputy Mayor of London for Planning, Skills and Regeneration said: “I’m pleased that Royal Albert Wharf is being celebrated as an exemplar development that meets the highest standards of creative placemaking and urban regeneration.

“In the space of five years, this development has transformed the Royal Docks into a thriving neighbourhood boasting over 800 new homes, 34 high-quality affordable artist studios, and commercial space, creating new skills and employment opportunities, and supporting community-building in the local area. This supports our mission to build a better, more prosperous London for all.”

Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, Mayor of Newham said:” The creative industry has the potential to unleash great economic benefits for local economies and people. This impact study is a great testament of our joint community wealth building agenda that we are keen to progress in Royal Docks, the first London Enterprise Zone, bringing so many visible benefits already for residents while increasing outward investment. We’ll continue working with all the partners involved to build on the great success already achieved.”

Lizzie Stevens, the Managing Director, for Places & Estates at Notting Hill Genesis said: "The experience of Creative Placemaking at RAW has helped NHG rethink its approach to neighbourhood development.

“We have removed some of the artificial lines between former business departments, and we are now more experienced and confident in how to work with an external stakeholder like Bow Arts, bringing specialist expertise that strengthens our sales, lettings and estate management. I feel that we have been ambitious at RAW, but we have managed the risks of establishing a new market and building a new community. We have a model that can be replicated in further phases at Royal Albert Wharf. Creative Placemaking is now a viable option in our toolbox for future developments."

Marcel Baettig, CEO of Bow Arts said: “The creative economy is a vital part of the London economy. The best-performing sector for over a decade, 1 in every 6 jobs offered in the capital is in the creative industries. Embedding artists and providing them with support in the form of affordable studios and ongoing opportunities is essential for a sustainable creative ecosystem and a long-term future for artists at the Royal Docks.”