The former press and media centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the sprawling heart of London’s Olympic legacy; over 1,200,000 sq. ft. of versatile space contained within 3 vast warehouse style buildings: the 850,000 sq. ft. Broadcast Centre, 300,000 sq. ft. former press centre, and a 750 seat auditorium. The site also features communal outdoor areas, and a huge terrace running alongside the press centre, overlooking a landscaped canal.
Here East, formerly known as ICity, are re-developing the site into a centre of innovation and enterprise for the Tech community, bringing together talent from the worlds of Academia, start-ups, global corporates, investors and social enterprises. A 200 year lease was signed in May this year with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and the project, a joint venture between real estate specialists Delancey and Infinity SDC, one of the UK’s largest data centre operators, will officially open its doors in July 2015.
Buildings Contractor Laing O’Rourke have been selected to carry out the transformational work to the site, and the work is due to start next month. The site is already 40% pre let; the Broadcast Centre, a hangar like structure large enough to fit 5 Boeing 747s side by side, is already home to BT Sport, who occupy a custom built 80,000 sq. ft. production centre, from which they record all of their live shows in front of an audience holding area which can fit up to 160 people. A postgraduate research and training centre run by Loughborough University, a digital apprenticeship scheme run in conjunction with Hackney Community College, and a datacentre expected to be the largest (260,000 sq. ft.) and most efficient in Europe, built by Infinity SDC, are the other confirmed tenants.
Architects HawkinsBrown are responsible for the design of the site, which will feature a gridded area on the east elevation reserved for start-up businesses and local enterprises, a new yard for community activities such as film screenings, events and exhibitions, and numerous indoor and outdoor green spaces featuring retail outlets with a focus on local and artisan producers.
It is expected that Here East will help stimulate long term economic growth, contributing £450m to GDP and £340m to the local community. The site will create over 7,500 jobs; 5,300 on site and 2,200 in the local area, with supply chain effects creating a further 9,100 positions across the UK. GDP per job has been estimated to be £54,900 by 2018 according to an independent report carried out by Oxford Economics, which is approximately 20% above the national average. Here East have pledged to work closely with the local community in Stratford, East London, to provide routes into employment, access to facilities, and by using local businesses as part of the supply chain.
The total level of investment will be over £1bn with London 2012 providing £297 million, Here East £100m, Infinity clients around £500m and secured tenants £270m; the LLDC will continue to take revenue via rental income, profit-related premium and an Estate charge for upkeep of the park.
Gavin Poole, the CEO of Here East, and the man charged by Delancey with transforming the site into a world-leading technology cluster, is justifiably proud of their achievements thus far. He tells a story of taking a party of interested VC’s from the States to the Old Street roundabout, home of “Tech City”, during the Olympics in 2012. Arriving by taxi, the non-plussed delegates asked: “is that it?” Shoreditch and Old Street are unrecognisable from 10 years ago, but the growth is stalling somewhat as space is beginning to run out, and rents are becoming prohibitive, meaning small companies and start-ups are being pushed out of the area, replaced by corporates supporting the activities of the City of London.
The ex-Royal Air Force engineer, and his team at Here East have created a vision that puts the site at the centre of the regeneration and redevelopment of an area that sorely needed investment in infrastructure and wholesale changes from the ground up, by integrating the community with an industry which has a proven ability to flourish under the right circumstances.
Here East have signalled their intent to introduce a “maker” culture, where products can be created, marketed and funded all under one roof, by bringing the Maker Faire to the UK, the first time it will be held outside of the US, and he expects anything made and developed at Here East to bear a hallmark of quality that will be recognised the world over. Here East was launched at the South by Southwest exhibition in Austin Texas, and it is clear that the expectation is for the site to become a global player in the Technology space, building on the foundations provided by Tech City and The Silicon Roundabout.
Olympic legacies can be tricky: Barcelona in 1992 was an unprecedented success that turned around the fortunes of an entire City, restoring it to former glories, Athens a failure that continues to blight the landscape. The Here East proposal fought off stiff competition to win the contract to redevelop the site, recognizing that London is in a moment where Technological enterprise is seen as one of the most significant and fastest growing contributors to the UK’s economy and its place on the global stage. Here East has stayed “vision pure”, having already turned down 3 offers from the Banking industry to occupy a significant proportion of the office space on offer.
The creative and digital industries in East London are already providing upwards of 50,000 jobs, and Google, Facebook, and other globally recognised brands such as MindCandy and Unruly Media have recently taken up residence in the Capital. In a global economy worth $2.3 trillion to the G20 in 2010, and forecast to grow to $4.2 trillion by 2016, this represents good news for a City that provides nearly a quarter of British jobs in IT and related services, and just under a quarter of telecommunications jobs.
For Gavin and his team it is as much about education, however, as it is about global recognition, quite simply because you can’t have one without the other. The “Maker Movement”, as they have termed it, is the extension of the DIY ethos into the technology sphere. The imposing nature of the site, its sheer scale and the legacy of the games, will challenge its occupants to use their learning and build upon their ideas, applying them creatively to solve big business problems and deliver solutions that have a global impact, dragging the economy with it.
So if you are a crafter, educator, engineer, scientist, creative, student or even, as George Osborne put it, a “maker” or a “doer”, London is full of Eastern Promise. Let’s hope it’s a case of “if you build it, they will come”.