Everybody needs good neighbours

The end of 2022 marks the completion of the London City Island development, and the community that has emerged over the past seven years continues to blossom and grow. We spoke to some key residents and business owners about finding the perfect blend on London City Island

Before it became London City Island, this particular corner of east London was a largely forgotten space. The potential of this 12-acre island, surrounded on all sides by the River Lea was, however, undeniable. Not only was the site superbly connected and on the doorstep of London’s hottest postcodes (Shoreditch, Greenwich, Canary Wharf…) but the unique ecology and landscape allowed it to retain a rural feel while being a stone’s throw from central London. 

Since development began in 2015, London City Island has emerged as a destination in its own right, full of contemporary homes and creative, community-minded spaces and ventures.

The colourful architecture of London City Island

Food and drink
You can tell a lot about a neighbourhood by the calibre and variety of its culinary offering. And London City Island is certainly making a name for itself with its diverse and contemporary dining options. Much of this can be sampled at the monthly Friday Street Food Market, where you can try everything from Korean barbecue to fresh paella. Soda & Friends, which arrived in April this year, turns to Japan for its unique sharing plates and highball cocktail menu. The neighbourhood bar also hosts regular cocktail masterclasses and events, and founder Nate Brown will be launching pizza joint Nebula on the island next year.

‘I believe in the power of community,’ Nate commented. ‘I think it might be from growing up in rural Northern Ireland, where life was centred around the community. London City Island has that same feeling… The development has cultivated a community on the peninsula, and we knew that we could bring another level of social capital to the space. Soda & Friends is all about being a neighbourhood cocktail bar. 

‘When Nebula lands, I think London City Island will have it all,’ he added. ‘We’re tweaking the space to provide everything the islanders are craving. It’s going to be epic. The last year has shown us how these “third places” (separate from work and home) can nurture social capital, and where communities are born and can grow. London City Island is a special place and it’s about to get even better.’

One of the earliest food and drink outlets to open on the island in 2019 was The Espresso Room, a small coffee shop located at English National Ballet and launched by entrepreneur Daniel Bull. It didn’t take Daniel long to launch his next venture on the island, and he wasn’t perturbed by the challenges of a global pandemic. In fact, lockdown gave Daniel an opportunity to support the local community by providing them with fresh groceries and, more importantly, fresh beer. And so The Lockdown Room was born, and in late 2021 the bar moved into a permanent site where it remains an island favourite that has never lost its sense of fun, irreverence and community spirit. 

And there’s lots more to come in 2023 when Asian-inspired Wok & Grill will open on the island along with Chinese supermarket and bubble tea shop Jiamart store & Yi Fang Fruit Tea. In nearby Goodluck Hope, foodies can look forward to the imminent launch of District Bakery, greengrocers Taylor’s of Goodluck Hope and Caviar N25, as well as a weekly pop-up from Food Disco (@food_disco_uk), which brings an exciting roster of restaurants and street food traders straight to your door.

Summer at The Lockdown Room

Arts and culture
English National Ballet has called London City Island home since 2019. The contemporary space was designed by Glenn Howells Architects as a 93,000 sq ft state-of-the-art ‘dance factory’, located in the heart of the development. At times, you can even spot dancers rehearsing through the glowing windows.

London City Island was always intended to be a hub for creatives, and it continues to attract businesses and individuals with artistic flair. One of its most notable residents is Sokari Higgwe, a former banker and self-trained photographer who moved to the island in 2016 and set up London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio in late 2020. Despite early challenges due to the pandemic, Sokari has thrown everything into his gallery, including hosting an impressive 11 exhibitions this year alone, most notably the debut UK solo show of Nigerian artist Jacqueline Suowari this October. 

‘The island has been a great place for us as a new business, with more people visiting from outside, and more residents moving in,’ said Sokari. ‘I love the energy of the island and the support from the residents.’

Like Daniel, Sokari is an integral part of the London City Island community, and describes the development as the ‘perfect place’ to set up his business. ‘Being a creative myself, I wanted a place where our business would tap into the creativity of the local talents, as well as talents outside and in other parts of London,’ he explains. ‘We achieved this when last year we had a very successful Creatives of City Island exhibition alongside creatives of the local area. This year, our Spring Exhibition 2022 attracted artists from all over the UK, Europe & America, with 52 artists displaying 100 artworks in our gallery.’

They Way They See Us by Jacqueline Suowari at London Lighthouse Gallery

Another local resident who also owns a creative business on the island is Dantae Johnson. The producer and singer-songwriter (who releases music under the alias Dantae The Kid) moved to the island in 2017 and set up his recording studio soon afterwards. With his Three Bears Ent label, Dantae has invited a string of artists to his London City island headquarters, including JLS and The X Factor winner Dalton Harris. The studio, which is available for hire for people wanting to try their hand at recording an album or podcast, has also hosted a series of fitness classes and workshops from local instructors.

The Woods Studios

‘London City Island is a special place and it’s about to get even better.’

Nate Brown, founder of Soda & Friends

Fitness and wellbeing
Indeed, fitness has proved a flourishing industry on the island. Every local resident is automatically enrolled in the City Island Arts Club, which includes world-class gym and spa facilities and access to the iconic red swimming pool. A sprawling rooftop football pitch is also due to open soon for residents and the public. And late 2021 saw the launch of HUM Yoga studio, which runs several classes that centre around the “Schumann Resonance” – the frequency of the Earth – and other unique workshops. It was founded by complementary therapist-turned-yoga instructor Oriana Shepherd, who also made a home for herself on the island.

‘I fell in love with the vibe of the island and knew it was where I wanted to set up home and business,’ she explained. ‘What I love about London City Island is that it’s a self-contained island with everything you could need, and it’s less than 20 minutes from the heart of the best city in the world.’

Hot on HUM’s heels was this summer’s launch of The Strength Room, a specialist gym with world-class training and coaching facilities. Co-founder and fitness instructor Misty-Leigh Botha recognised the opportunity to bring their ‘unique approach’ and world-class coaches to the island.

‘The area is an inspiring place to be,’ Misty commented. ‘From the development itself to the friendly and welcoming community here, we can’t wait to get started and help grow the amazing base already established.’

HUM Yoga studio

Family, fashion and more
One of the many perks of living at London City Island is that the space is largely car-free and green, with plenty of open spaces and lush plant life. This makes it ideal for young families. And when parents need to entertain their little ones, they head to Docklands Village Nursery (formerly known as Gymboree), which originally opened on the Island in early 2021. Since then, it has become an island favourite; a respite for parents and an opportunity for them to make new friends. The family-friendly appeal of the island wasn’t lost on estate agents Johns & Co either, who were ‘delighted’ to launch an office there.

Residential director Clynton Nel commented: ‘Being hyper-local means that the community can pop into our office to discuss selling or letting their property and for those renting here, we are never far away when issues arise. We love the diverse community that lives on the island and we are always willing to get involved with the various events that take place here.’

Another creative resident with a young family is Chinese fashion designer Lulu Liu, who specialises in the intricate and classic art of embroidery and haute couture design. She launched her showroom on the island in 2021 and offers a unique service that combines 3D technology with traditional hand craftsmanship.

I have lived [on the island] for a few years now and it’s a lovely place to live, and my son goes to Faraday School, so having a showroom here works for me and I can work on my business and be at school easily,’ Lulu commented. ‘I’ve also made friends in this community; it feels like a little village. It’s very cosy with a good community – which makes life much easier!’

Fashion designer Lulu Liu