Across a new bridge exiting the park and down a forbidding flight of steps, there is a sign stating portentously “Pollution Control Valve Down Steps”. It is not clear which steps this refers to, but this is where the flyover from Canning Town creates a snug, sheltered area that has become colonised by some rough sleepers. This is a civilised space, surprisingly well appointed and orderly. It looks like home, is private and intensely territorial. I am an intruder. Cody Dock, just one reach upstream from Trinity Buoy Wharf, has an utterly different agenda: while Trinity Buoy Wharf is unashamedly, if alternatively, marketed, this is a project driven by a proactive community group, who, although they have no money, are high on ideas and idealism. However, they operate in the context of inexorable development and realise that the key to the promotion of their plans lies in their ability to harness institutional support and partnership, which they manage with tremendous ingenuity and determination. Two of the group happen to be ex-Middlesex fine art students and yet another is a media technician currently working at Middlesex University.
On the day of our visit Cody Dock was host to a large team of volunteers from Royal Sun Alliance, who were busy erecting shuttering screens and dismantling the wharf safety rails in preparation for setting them further back. Simon Myers, the site manager, talked us through the ongoing projects and future plans, leaving us in no doubt that in the fullness of time there would be a thriving arts and residential boating community with the additional asset of a working dry dock. The intention is to demolish the concrete bund across the dock entrance and reinstate the lock gates to facilitate a mooring facility; after which the expectation is that it will become a self-funded amenity. There are plans afoot for an enhanced, ecologically rich footpath link along the river towards Bromley-by-Bow and a much heralded sculpture trail; both of these have a significant input from Cody, aka Gasworks Dock. All of this can only happen through a heady mix of optimism, opportunism and persuasion. Already new alliances have been forged with organisations such as the Friends of the Leeway Group to restore and enhance the Fat Walk (a term coined for the breadth of the walkway rather than the breadth of its walkers) and Thames 21, a volunteer group committed to the integrity of the Thames and River Lee riparian environment (see following chapter).
Our next call, just below the Olympic Park, was Three Mills at Bromley-by-Bow. This is a conservation site owned by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust. Although this has been an active mill site since at least the seventeenth century, the surviving buildings date mainly from the nineteenth century. These have had a chequered career, falling into disrepair, bombed in the Second World War and later partially restored, but the architecture is significant and is sufficiently intact to be Grade I listed. This is another community-driven enterprise, aided and abetted by its obvious heritage value. As a part of the rehabilitation of the site for the Olympics, the Three Mills Lock on the Prescott Channel coupled with the Three Mills River Weir were constructed. Such work may facilitate the reinstatement of a functioning mill, further enhancing its value as a visitor destination. Its current attraction relies upon its value as a relic of our industrial heritage, an intimate backwater that softens the brutality of a functional tideway and introduces a slower-paced contrast to the frenetic busyness of the East Cross Route at Bromley-by-Bow.