Engagement through architecture: Eastside’s perspective

In January, Eastside welcomed Matt Lane as its new chief executive and artistic director. Works Post spoke to Matt about engaging with the community through architecture, and developing partnerships at Perseverance Works.

Opera might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Essex. But the borough of Thurrock on the North banks of the Thames was in fact the site of a significant cultural regeneration project led by Eastside’s newest recruit Matt Lane.  

“My job was to build the Royal Opera House’s presence in the area. We developed two new buildings, and I also led a programme of community and cultural regeneration activities for the whole region,” explains Matt, who joins Eastside Educational Trust after more than nine years leading the project. 

Despite his extensive experience in the culture sector, Eastside’s new chief executive and artistic director is in fact a Medicine graduate. After years spent studying Medicine and pursuing artistic endeavours on the side, Matt graduated from the University of Bristol. “But the reality of continuing artistic pursuits as a Junior Doctor was hard. In the end, I decided I had to follow my heart and change career,” he says. 

Since joining Eastside in January, Matt has spent a few months getting to know the creative entrepreneurs at Perseverance Works. Keen to pursue partnerships with their neighbours, Eastside is working with jj Locations to develop an annual photography competition for young people. Eastside is also looking to open up their office space to agencies and professionals working in digital or media, to encourage collaboration and create a bigger impact. 

Engagement through architecture 

An existing partnership with Adobe will support Eastside’s next project: the architectural renovation of its space at PW. Having secured a grant from the Adobe Foundation as part of its Regional Leadership Grand Programme, Matt wants to make Eastside’s HQ act as a cohesive expression of what the charity does for young people and communities. Given its enviable window space, the charity hopes that its redesign will help create a dialogue with passers-by on Hackney Road, telling them about Eastside’s creative and cultural activities and how to get involved.

“Our interior design has a number of different components; we have some very corporate desks, colours that relate to our brand, and various areas that reflect how our organisation has developed. It doesn’t necessarily all join up though to present a clear impression of who we are. We need to be more porous as an organisation and available more visibly, so that you don’t just walk past us but you engage from the outside with what we are doing on the inside, and you find the right way to connect with us,” explains Matt. 

PW’s historic industrial architecture (which has helped to obtain provisional listing status) will be embraced during the redevelopment. Neighbour Gibson Thornley has done some feasibility work on the project, the first phase of which will be completed by the end of the summer. With a wealth of experience in community regeneration, the new Eastside chief exec’s latest project is an exciting one to watch. But the challenge of adapting the historic space to suit modern needs poses an interesting question for the modern charity: “How can we bring some of the heritage back, but with a forward-facing vision?” Matt asks.