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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on securing this important debate. Both he and I were involved for many years in different aspects of the 2012 London Olympics, he in the sport, me in ensuring that east London had a longer-term legacy from the Games.
I was involved in the London Games for 19 years. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, and I, along with Paul Brickell, Richard Sumray and the architect Mike Davies, wrote the first document setting out the legacy vision for east London and creating the rationale for what turned out to be a successful bid. Paul Brickell and I then wrote the structure for the Minister of State, Hazel Blears, which led to the establishment of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, where I chaired the regeneration committee for 10 years.
I mention these facts, which are often not grasped by the press and the wider world, because the reason we got involved in the Games as locals from day one, and encouraged this country to challenge the Paris bid, was precisely because we could see the catalytic opportunity the Games would present to east London with respect to regeneration and community building: using sport to stimulate an enterprise economy that would not only generate jobs and skills but create mixed integrated communities. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect sport, recreation, housing and the arts with business development and entrepreneurial activity. The planets we could see had the possibility of aligning, thus creating the thrust you need to generate changes on a large scale. This 248-hectare development could catalyse change in some of the most challenging communities in this country, if only we could move beyond traditional government silos and join the dots.
One of the keys to our success of course was that those of us working on the ground knew that in the middle of this emerging opportunity lived one of the largest artistic and creative communities outside New York. The die was set, the conditions existed to lift the well-being of thousands of people in some of our poorest neighbourhoods. The challenge was to get the long-term cross-party support that would be necessary and to bend the clunky, siloed machinery of government to serve our purpose. I left the Legacy Corporation board last March with a legacy firmly rooted in east London. The plans we have been developing over the last 19 years for sports, the arts and culture at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park continue to slot into place.
Our plan, first articulated in 2006, to bring University College London, UAL, the London College of Fashion, Sadler’s Wells, the BBC, the V&A and the Smithsonian to the park is going well, although it is a hard grind as always getting the buildings actually built—there is nothing new there. Practical relationships are deepening between these institutions and local communities; that is the key and it is why a core group of us got involved in this project in the first place. Fish Island was designated last Friday as a creative enterprise zone by the Mayor of London, thus helping to generate a lively small-business cluster linked to universities, cultural institutions and the tech and creative businesses at Here East, the former Press Centre.
I will focus the remainder of my speech on the arts and on one of these east London artists in particular, because I think the clue to the “how” in the title of this debate is to be found in his work in east London stretching back over 30 years.
Frank Creber is like the Lowry of east London. I declare an interest as a friend and colleague. It was he who was commissioned by the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and LOCOG to make paintings that captured the regeneration and legacy of the Games. It was Frank who I worked with in 2014, when at ExCel London, down on the Royal Docks, he unassumingly brought together the “Walking on Water” exhibition in partnership with Grand Designs Live. A one-mile long art exhibition captured the interplay between east London’s vibrant communities and the regeneration which is now defining them, with large art works mostly in oil, capturing the public spaces in east London where education, housing, recreation, theatre, business and enterprise and the arts play together in a global dance.
Over 110,000 people visited Frank’s 200-piece exhibition, which brilliantly captured the changing life and times of east London. Large oil paintings captured both the scale and physicality of the regeneration taking place in the Lower Lea Valley. But more importantly, Frank captured the lives of local people who live in these communities, dissected by the many islands of land that litter the six and a half miles of waterways that define the Lower Lea Valley.
Places are created and defined by how well or not the physical changes they undergo connect and engage with the people whose lives they disrupt. Look at some of the megacities the Chinese are creating, displacing en masse millions of people along with their history and identity. Let us ask ourselves how engaged their people are in the regeneration of their societies. Where are their artists?
Frank Creber’s pictures, which you can see on the web, rather brilliantly capture the engagement in east London and the creative interchange between people and place. He knows that health and well-being are not to be found in government silos but in the interplay between them. His pictures capture the thought that you can only embrace change if you are a participant in it, not just an onlooker. He captures the human spirit’s natural tendency to be curious. His work does not think in boxes; it is organic. Frank works with local young people on their projects; his pictures capture this interplay. Many of the young people Frank works with in east London come from chaotic backgrounds. His artwork positively embraces this complexity and sees it as a positive opportunity to be harnessed, much as I suspect John Lennon did in his life: the adversity made the man.
The arts are a window into our souls and into our communities. Frank Creber is an excellent example of what this debate is all about.