How Bow Arts is helping creativity bloom in Royal Albert Docks

Art & Culture

How Bow Arts is helping creativity bloom in Royal Albert Docks

Set up in East London in 1994, Bow Arts is an education arts charity providing affordable creative workspace for a community of over 400 artists, makers and creatives at 13 different studio sites across London, including Royal Albert Wharf.

Bow Arts uses surplus income generated from its studio sites to deliver an award winning education programme that works with around 100 schools a year, training and paying artists to deliver high quality workshops.

Alongside 40 creative workspaces at Royal Albert Wharf, Bow Arts has also partnered with Notting Hill Genesis to deliver a culture-led placemaking programme, centred around community arts hub RAW Labs.

The space is open to local residents and the public, and offers an ever-changing series of events and workshops, including exhibitions, talks, and weekly art and yoga classes. Any income generated in this space is reinvested into supporting other projects within the development.

We sat down with Joss Taylor, head of enterprise and placemaking at Bow Arts, to talk about the opportunities at Royal Albert Wharf on the back of the pandemic, and how the area is emerging as a creative hub.

Tell us about Royal Albert Wharf. How did you get involved?

We were invited to be part of the evolution of Royal Albert Wharf by housing association Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) about five years ago, when it began shaping the fantastic place that you see today. At that time, we couldn’t just rely on local footfall, so we partnered with NHG to become the commercial managers for the development.

This meant we could establish a long-term approach at Royal Albert Wharf, using creative arts to drive the foundations of a successful and happy community. Our studio space filled within three months giving us a talented network of artists on site.

What is your relationship like with the local community?

RAW Labs opened in the early stages of Royal Albert Wharf and has really gained momentum as the community has grown. As a result of conversations with residents, we’ve run yoga classes, art clubs, and ‘drink and draw evenings’ which are always well attended. We’ve also started to facilitate monthly food and craft markets on the first Friday evening of every month in Pump House Square.

The studio spaces are also all public-facing and glass-fronted so residents walking by can see the creatives using the space and will feel an active part of the community. Last summer, a collaborative of our artists also launched Art in the Docks as a free gallery space for the local community.

One of the big moments for us was the resident-led rainbow installation in 2020, now an iconic image of Royal Albert Wharf. One of Notting Hill Genesis’ residents had transformed his balcony into a rainbow and we joined forces to take this idea and grow it, resulting in the footbridge on site being transformed into a major, resident-delivered, public artwork. It was delivered during the middle of the pandemic and took 50 residents two weekends to install. It was a huge success, and was voted Public Installation of the year by Dezeen, beating competition from across the world.

Crowd of people at Bow Arts in Royal Albert Docks

What sort of makers and artists live and work at Royal Albert Wharf?

We’re lucky to have a huge range of creators and makers at Royal Albert Wharf, many who have been based here from the very beginning, and many who have moved with their families and friends because they are so passionate about the area.

Charlie Tymms is a puppeteer who has worked on productions like the Harry Potter stage show. She uses Royal Albert Wharf as a testing place for her puppets, most recently giant dinosaurs, which the kids love.

We are really lucky to work with Charlie Claydon who set up and runs The Well Bean Company. He arrived four years ago with two small chocolate machines looking for space and now has a staff of eight running from our RAW Labs space. On his journey there have been ups and downs but our relationship and the support from the community has helped keep them going. They are now one of the most popular destinations in the Royal Docks and Charlie moved to the development last year.

What’s next for RAW Labs and Royal Albert Wharf?

Our main aim five years ago was to establish a cluster of artists here, and to turn this end of the docks into a thriving creative community with genuinely affordable workspace, as well as an amazing place to live. We’re so happy to have achieved this with Notting Hill Genesis, and our most important goal now is to expand on the work that we’ve already done.

We are continuing to grow the facilities at Royal Albert Wharf, including Café Spice Namaste restaurant run by celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala and other small enterprises. We are really excited to be working closely with The Well Bean Co. on developing the Royal Docks’ (in my opinion) best café, now open seven days a week and offering a fully vegan menu.

We’ve just worked with one of our artists Matt Ponting, in consultation with residents, to design a new wayfinding system at the development that will include quotes on what makes Royal Albert Wharf special to those that live, work and play here.

To keep up to date with Bow Arts’ activity at RAW Labs, follow the Royal Albert Wharf Community Facebook and Instagram page. Notting Hill Genesis is also providing homes at Royal Albert Wharf through Shared Ownership and private sale – to find out more, visit the NHG website.