HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS; Artists' Communities Are an Important Part of Our City's Life. as We Celebrate the London Design Festival, David Spittles Looks at the Creative Ways Used to Find Artists Homes and Keep Them Living in Town

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Byline: David Spittles

THROUGHOUT history impoverished artists move to run-down areas in search of cheap studio space. The romanic bohemian air of the area eventually attracts the fashionistas. As it becomes smart and fashionable, property values soar. The impoverished artists, unable to find affordable workspace, move on to another run-down area. And the cycle has repeated itself.

Chelsea was such an area, as were the hilly lanes of Hampstead. More recently our young creatives have headed for Shoreditch and Bermondsey.

Gritty Peckham and Deptford are still in transition. But in the east, Homerton has launched a clever plan that could be a brilliant blueprint for other boroughs.

Under way at a canalside site, formerly a factory where Matchbox Toys were made, is a scheme of 49 permanent purpose-built artists studios, 209 new flats and 13,300sq ft of new commercial space. The waterfront is being opened up to the public for the first time and moorings created, while the apartment buildings include a 14-storey tower that will maximise the views along the waterway (which leads to the nearby Olympic Park) and over Hackney Marshes.

The idea comes from an alliance between developer Telford Homes and Acme Studios, which is a charity that provides workspace for artists.

Hackney council, which in the past has had disputes with developers over so-called "live-work" homes that were never or rarely used for genuine home businesses, has energetically backed this scheme.

Described by the government planning inspector, no less, as having been built, "with care and flair", the commercial space is likely to end up as loft offices for creative businesses and galleries feeding off the new artists' studios, thereby generating local employment. Called Matchmakers Wharf, the development's 209 new homes (from studios to four-bedroom apartments) are a mix of 138 privatesale flats, shared ownership and rented accommodation.

Homerton already attracts struggling artists but most of them have had to live in short-lease spaces, says Acme, the charity that is funded by the Arts Council and already has a network of 400 studios across the capital and several developments in the pipeline (see box below). …