3 August 2012
From Oliver Wainwright's Blog
Salmon smokers and caviar suppliers to the royal family, H. Forman & Son has been producing the finest fish products in east London for over 100 years.
Founded in Stepney Green in 1905, it had a factory in Dalston’s Ridley Road, before moving to Hackney Wick in 1971. The factory burnt down in 1998, was rebuilt, and then flooded with water, so the business again relocated to higher ground, opening a new facility in 2003.
Only two years later, the Olympic bid was announced, outlining a 300-hectare swathe of east London for demolition. The secluded island site where Forman’s new factory stood would be the fated site of the main stadium. The business was handed a compulsory purchase order by the London Development Agency, as part of the forced relocation of over 200 businesses on the site, which cost an estimated £1.5 billion.
“It was just disaster after disaster,” Lance Forman told the East London Advertiser. “There was no point in trying to fight it out in the courts because compulsory purchase law is unfair and needs severe overhauling.”
“Instead we decided to become the biggest nuisance to the government and authorities. We asked awkward questions at every public meeting, bombarded them with letters and got ourselves into the media.”
The campaign worked, a deal was done, and Forman’s opened a state of the art new facility on Fish Island in 2009, just across the River Lea from the stadium site, complete with gourmet fish restaurant. It was hailed as “the only Olympic success story”. But Forman’s ambitions didn’t stop there.
In 2011, determined to profit from the very event that had forced its relocation, the company unveiled proposals for a £10 million VIP Olympic entertainment complex – in the surreal form of a giant sofa and 30-metre wide television screen.
“The living room floor is 6m off the ground and underneath you have 5,500 metres of hospitality space,” Forman said of the plans. “The sofa itself is the equivalent of a four-storey building with hospitality space. The cabinet that the giant TV sits on could become a nightclub for 1,000 people or 1,500 people.”
But objections were raised, ambitions downsized, and the plan morphed into what now stands on the factory’s 20,000sq m former car park: the £2 million Fish Island Riviera.
250 tonnes of sand have been brought in, along with 40 palm trees, a giant marquee and a luxury superyacht – craned in from a truck, as the waterways are now closed for Olympic security.
For £25, you too can enter this strange wonderworld of decking, raffia sofas and drooping sunshades, and allegedly mix with medal-winning superstars – who will apparently be lured by the presence of a pop-up Maddox club.
“Regular faces to be seen include the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay-Z, Sadie Frost, Grace Jones, Orlando Bloom and Will.i.am,” trumpets the Maddox brochure. “They are drawn by opulence, exclusivity and fun.”
On the day I visited, it instead appeared to be populated by huddled groups of West London twentysomethings, delighted to have found comfort in the closest thing to Boujis in the edgy wastes of the east end.
But, once again, Forman’s ambitions do not stop here.
“We would like to work with a developer to rebuild our Riviera site with a residential led scheme,” he says, “but have lots of galleries studious, boutiques, cafes.”