He lives in Wimbledon, but Gavin Poole’s roots are pure East End royalty. His grandparents were Pearly Kings and Queens and he proudly recalls the tale of how they were introduced to Mahatma Gandhi during his 1931 visit to London when the leader of the Indian independence movement shunned lavish hotel accommodation in favour of living among the poor of Poplar.
Pearly Kings and Queens work tirelessly for east London — and Poole is carrying on the tradition. Chief executive of Here East, he heads the £100 million project to retrofit the Olympic Park’s former media centre at Stratford — built for journalists covering the 2012 Games — into a 1.2 million square foot “digital campus”, with space for small start-up companies working alongside students and major corporations.
His aim is to help create future jobs for local children and enable them to stay in the East End, an area that had largely lost its way before the Olympics gave it a much-needed boost.
The campus will be joined by a new cultural quarter, with an art studio and 1,000-seat auditorium for one of Britain’s leading contemporary ballet companies — Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, currently based at Sadler’s Wells. There will also be a parade of artisan foodie shops, cafés and restaurants beside the River Lee Navigation overlooking Hackney Wick.
By 2025, there will be about 35,000 new homes, a mix of Scandi-look houses lining the waterways and Georgian-style terraces in the northern quarter.
“The idea of Here East is that its residents won’t have to get on a train and commute to work elsewhere, leaving the E20 postcode a ghost town during the week,” says Poole, whose CV includes a long stint as an engineer working for the RAF; a Government adviser specialising in the welfare of military veterans, and executive director at the Centre for Social Justice.
“There isn’t anything else like this in London. It will be arts and technology working together and we are committed to securing an economic legacy for the Olympic Games.”
Right now, Here East is a hive of activity as workmen remodel the media centre to a design by architects Hawkins\Brown, a project which involves stripping off its industrial cladding and replacing it with fretted glass.
Like a vast jigsaw puzzle, the glass will be pieced together, converting a huge gantry area used for air-conditioning units during the Games into a framework of glass-fronted shops and cafés.
An open-air piazza will be used for markets and events when the project is up and running. The first tenant to take residence at Here East was BT Sport. Another major space will be taken by Infinity SDC, a data centre operator which is also bankrolling the project alongside property investor Delancey.
This week, the first postgraduate students from Loughborough University arrived to study technology-related subjects, and there will also be space for Hackney Community College and students from the renowned architecture school The Bartlett.
By next summer, Poole believes Here East will be well under way. The centre is already 52 per cent let, with a final completion date set for 2018 when he estimates that it will provide employment for an estimated 5,500 people.
The publicly funded site is owned by the London Legacy Development Corporation, but Here East, formerly known as iCity, has been granted a 200-year lease.
As Cambridge’s Silicon Fen created a mecca for tech companies, so Here East will be all about digital technology, but this could include anything from furniture design to software development.
Place to collaborate
This is not just a simple workspace, it’s where the start-up kids and the big companies will all collaborate, and it’s also where you will find the latest hi-tech equipment, from 3D printers to robotics, in an environment which is more than just about work.
At present, its tenants are mostly large companies and educational organisations, but Poole wants young people in start-ups, perhaps renting a desk space for just a few days each week.
“It is our job to create the right sort of tenants and the right sort of mix,” he says. “We don’t want a head office here — we have turned two down because it would destroy the vision.”