By Oli Dickson Jefford
When Simon Myers first moved to London aged 17, he had little idea just how strong a connection he would develop to the River Lea – and now his passion for the capital’s heritage has seen him honoured nationally.
After moving to Newham in the early 2000s after almost a decade in the city, he fell in love with the river and wanted to transform the local area. Using his background of working in the arts, Myers, 48, co-founded the Gasworks Docks Partnership to encourage community-led regeneration within Newham.
The forefront of the charity is Cody Dock, a once derelict space that is now a key environmental, arts and cultural centre.
Myers’ work has been recognised as part of a campaign championing the individuals and projects who work tirelessly to save the environment, with the help of National Lottery funding and players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week. To celebrate his incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises his story.
He said: “Personally, I always used to be someone who worked behind the scenes, whether it was stage managing and designing.
We’re proud to celebrate the work of amazing individuals through our funded projects by unveiling portraits this week.
Meet our four heritage heroes tackling #ClimateChange and championing natural heritage across the UK 👇 #ThanksToYou #SavingNaturalHeritage #COP27 (1/5) pic.twitter.com/rHUPH3x6EX
— National Lottery Heritage Fund (@HeritageFundUK) November 9, 2022
“I’ve never strived to step into the limelight but after all the work that we’ve done, it means a huge amount to receive some formal recognition for what we have been doing.
“I’m quite humbled really, and I just hope that our story can show how if I can do it, anybody can do it and make that change in their community.
“People don’t need to have the answers, if they feel something needs to be done and they want to make that difference, just start and you’ll find that all those answers exist within your community.
“If in some little way receiving this recognition can inspire others then I’m really happy.”
Newham is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the UK and is also one of the communities that sees the least amount of engagement with arts and cultural projects.
And it is the growth in engagement within the local community that Myers, originally from Oxfordshire, is most proud of, with thousands of local volunteers working with the project since its formation.
Myers added: “When we first investigated ownership of Cody Dock it was full of about £2m worth of waste, and we put in an offer to form a charity to give people an ownership in the regeneration by getting rid of all the rubbish, opening access to the river, and creating a sustainable and affordable arts space.
“In 2011 we put on a free opera on a floating stage in the middle of this derelict dock, handed out tickets to the local community, invited them in and showed them round the river - which many of them were not aware even existed.
“In our first year we had about 1000 people volunteer to start clearing the rubbish and opening the space up. Winding the clock up by 11 years, we’ve had over 11,000 people volunteer here and we have creative industry studios.
“We’re in the process of building an environmental and creative arts centre and it’s through the activities of all of our volunteers that the lower Lea River is now opened along its entire length.”
Three additional digital portraits have been created by artist Yoniest Chun, depicting the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things to help support the environment as part of The National Lottery’s People’s Portraits series. Also honoured with a portrait is Milly Revill Hayward from the Forsinard Flows in Scotland, Veronika Brannovic from Torfaen Local Nature Partnership in Wales and David Bolton from Fermanagh Beekeepers Association in Northern Ireland.