High House - some thoughts

High House Production Park – the site for our completed Artist Studios building as well as several projects in progress – is a fascinating development that deserves to have its story more widely told.

High House farm was a collection derelict, but important, historic buildings and the remains of a grand walled garden, that had become marooned on the outskirts of Purfleet, between the A13, M25, the distribution depots and warehouses of the motorway fringe, and the housing and industry of Purfleet itself. A community group had been formed to try to save and restore the buildings but a viable plan for the site was difficult to come by. (Interestingly, during this period Hana was involved with the Visionary Thurrock project that proposed alternative culturally led futures for Thurrock, and worked with the High House community group).

All this changed in 2005 when London won the 2012 Olympics, and the existing businesses on the Olympic site were therefore given notice to leave – including the Royal Opera House, which had its scenery workshops there. They were shown the High House site, and the logistical access to the road network, as well as the amount of space available, made immediate sense. A masterplan was developed, with the ROH as the first anchor tenant, for a new kind of industrial park focused on the creative industries, and allowing for the restoration of the historic buildings and gardens.

The picturesque cliché of the creative industries is that they are housed in old industrial buildings from the 19th or early 20th century, and act as first wave pioneers, gentrifying an area before the developers move in. The reality is that the creative sector encompasses a lot of large scale fabrication and logistical activity – as well as rehearsal or recording space – that often finds homes in much more utilitarian business park or industrial premises, cheek by jowl with other forms of manufacturing and enterprise.

A dedicated campus for this activity – with all the benefits of co-location, cross-fertilisation between different site users and the knock-on impact on the local community (the Royal Opera House now bases all its education and outreach work at Purfleet) – seems such a logical and necessary move that it is surprising to us that other sites like HHPP have not sprung up. It offers the opportunity for the creative industries to – as they have always tended to do – inhabit an edgeland, unusual space and pioneer different ways of living, working and learning. For us, it has been an exciting opportunity to explore what 21st century industrial buildings might be – utilitarian and economic, but also robust and flexible, and enticing for users who have a creative as well as a practical eye.