NLA Royal Docks PechaKucha

Art & Culture

Innovation in the Royal Docks PechaKucha

Exciting times lie ahead for the Royal Docks. With a varied line-up of speakers, the Innovation in the Royal Docks PechaKucha, the first event in NLA’s Royal Docks programme, gave a snapshot of the creativity and dynamism re-energising the area and of the people working to make it happen. The theme, ‘innovation’, runs ‘deep in the DNA of the Royal Docks - the first dock ever to have electricity’ said Neil Robinson, ABP’s director of global communications.

Speakers to take to the stage and present their 20 chosen images, each for 20 seconds, came from organisations as varied as the Mayor of London and Mayor of Newham’s joint Royal Docks Team, the heritage cane sugar industry giant Tate & Lyle, cultural centre and workspace The Silver Building, community food waste initiative The People’s Kitchen, alongside Haworth Tompkins, Lendlease and ABP.

Innovation runs deep in the DNA of the Royal Docks

Neil Robinson, ABP

Together they pieced together a story of transformation for this area of east London – into a distinctive place of culture, fun, food and sport – with space for business, creativity and waterside living. Tate & Lyle’s vice president of research and technology, John Kerr, presented the 140-year-old history of the sugar refinery on the banks of the Thames and its history of innovation – a story so closely entwined with the history of the Royal Docks itself, which opened in 1880 as the largest purpose built dock in Victorian Britain. Tate & Lyle’s refinery chimneys 'have come to define the neighbourhood’s skyline'. Nowadays, such a massive industrial site so close to the city ‘is cause for wonder’, and 'that’s what makes its presence in Silvertown so special' say the Royal Docks Team.

Dan Bridge, the team’s programme director, gave an overview of the mixed-use development projects and comprehensive programme of cultural placemaking, promotional and investment activity being planned or taking place throughout the area. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the whole project, Dan and Lendlease senior development manager Jess Wallis agreed, is the water that sits in the middle of it all: 'we are turning our attention to this amazing asset to get people into and onto it'. With climate change high on the agenda, Jess added, 'we’re thinking about how it can help tackle some issues about food production and urban farming'.

Millennium Mills

Millennium Mills

A theme that linked all the presentations was the reactivation of existing, unused space. Jess focused on Millenium Mills, an imposing turn of the 20th century flour mill which was abuzz with energy in the 60s, but now lies derelict. Lendlease’s plan is to create a cluster of activities to allow 'that energy to take on a new form'. The design aims to activate the ground floor and make it publicly accessible and open the square to provide a valuable public open space. Lendlease are also gathering a significant amount of data through their Loneliness Lab, which will be 'embedded into the design' to tackle loneliness in the area.

The Silver Building’s general manager Charlotte Robinson painted a lively picture of this bustling cultural centre. Only three years ago, Charlotte said, the 55,000 sq ft structure had been 'full of asbestos, left derelict for 17 years'. It has now been brought back to life as ‘meanwhile space’ to provide affordable workspace to scores of creative businesses.

Kiran Chahal

Kiran Chahal

People’s Kitchen’s founder Kiran Chahal shared news of the community cooking champions, who turn food waste into feasts, opening their first permanent space in the Thames Barrier Park Café. It is 'a beautiful structure', situated in the middle of the park which, Kiran said, they are 'going to use to activate all that green area that isn’t being used'.

Hugo Braddick presented Haworth Tompkins’ masterplan for the £300 million development of the 25-acre Albert Island site, a direct response to 'the loss of industrial land in London'. The new shipyard for the scheme includes new industrial units, a restoration and upgrade of the marina and the creation of a Transport and Engineering Education Hub.

Finally, Neil Robinson shared ABP’s vision for the north bank of Royal Albert Dock as an 'iconic business district' as well as a bustling high street with over a kilometre of south-facing waterfront. He closed the PechaKucha with a contagious statement: 'Royal Docks… is the future!'.

Hugo Braddick

Hugo Braddick


The NLA Royal Docks Programme includes monthly curator-led model and exhibition talks on the second Friday of each month from 12:30 – 13:00 at The Crystal building around our 1:1000 scale model of the Royal Docks and surrounding area.

The programme of talks will cover the physical model and take a look at the past, present and future of the Royal docks, focussing on key themes that make this area unique to London. Book here to join.