The SS Robin and Water City

Water City is all about changing the way we think about East London and in particular the Lower Lea Valley. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity for East London to become an inspiring location to live, work and play and the SS Robin project shares this aim.

St Pauls Way by Frank Creber

There is a seven mile network of rivers, canals and docks in East London’s Lower Lea Valley, stretching from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the northern of the valley to the Royal Docks, Greenwich Peninsular and Canary Wharf in the south. These waterways comprise parts of Newham, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich. They have the potential to create a new metropolitan district of London if we join the dots and connect business, people and place.

London and water are inseparable. Water connected London with the rest of the UK and the world. Londoners learnt how to use water to power industry and water drove economic growth. Londoners grew things, made things, invented things and ways of doing things because they lived on or near water. In turn water has created the London we know today. It has always inspired Londoners. Particularly in East London, water connected people, ideas, capital and infrastructure and helped to create a global entrepreneurial hub from where the industrial revolution spread around the world.

A tremendous amount has already been achieved. The success of the London Olympics has been followed by the development of a genuine legacy. Major institutions are moving east onto the Olympic Park, including University College London (UCL) with it’s science, engineering and research programmes; the Victoria and Albert Museum, with its creative and educational programmes, University of the Arts London, Sadler’s Wells and the London College of Fashion. Together they will create the ‘Olympicopolis’, a dynamic hub connecting science and the arts and building relationships between world class brands and curriculum development in local schools and more importantly working with the new innovative businesses moving into the area which now see the Lower Lea Valley as the place to be.

It is our ambition to create a similar aspirational outcome for the Royal Docks, the home of SS Robin. In addition to existing organisations such as ExCel, the Airport, Siemens Crystal and Emirates Airline, new housing is being built at Royal Wharf and on other sites around the dock.  The Asian Business Park (ABP) and The Silverton Partnership have submitted ambitious and large scale planning applications and the new Crossrail will now connect this development node to central London and beyond.

The SS Robin currently sits right in the middle of this transformation. She is thus well placed to create and shape an exciting narrative that tells the story of the history of the science, industry and innovation that shaped the London Docklands and link this to the science, engineering and entrepreneurship which will now define the future of the area.

The SS Robin is an icon which connects the past and present, it is also well placed to be a dynamic hub which will engage and involve local people in the ongoing transformation of their area. We are keen that the SS Robin’s restoration will be completed well before most of the development of the Royal Docks takes place. The Pontoon in particular will be well placed to act as a venue for events, exhibitions as well as being a home for innovators and entrepreneurs.


Watch the short film (featuring the SS Robin), or click here for the Water City CIC website.


The SS Robin Trust is pleased to have the opportunity to work in partnership with Water City CIC. The role of Water City CIC is to help connect the SS Robin to its local context and maximise opportunities for partnership.

Water City CIC runs the Water City Music and Arts Programme. This programme has been promoting a vision of a Water City in East London since 2009. It has done this through the use of music and the arts and exhibitions, performances and concerts. Water City CIC also provides its business partners with unrivalled local knowledge enabling them to deliver real social and commercial impact in East London.

Last year Water City CIC arranged the Walking on Water exhibition with Grand Design Lives at ExCeL and this year there is a more ambitious show: ‘A Grand Design for East London’, which will be integrated with the main GDL show, which attracts over 100,000 visitors. The goal is to evolve the show into an annual Expo setting out the opportunities that now exist in East London.


Colleagues at Water City CIC have been working with Professor Brian Cox to deliver the St Pauls Way Science Summer Schools, ( and in 2013 Brian took part in an event at Siemens Crystal in the Royal Docks which featured the SS Robin. Prof Cox believes that to find the next generation of scientists, Britain needs to look in new unexpected places and have fresh ideas to attract them. Speaking about the event, he said:

“This is a very exciting event. We will give the students access to leading scientists so they can see first-hand the excitement of scientific discovery. We will learn about and discuss new insights into the nature of the Universe, the Exo Mars project, the link between diet and diabetes, as well as engineering challenges from the oldest complete steam ship in the world, SS Robin, to Crossrail and sustainable technologies, to name just a few."


Water City Community Interest Company (CIC) is an Andrew Mawson Partnerships social enterprise. Over the past 30 years, Andrew Mawson and his colleagues have built numerous enterprises in East London – starting with the Bromley by Bow Centre in 1984, and expanding to take responsibility for the St Paul’s Way Transformation Project in what was at that time one of the most challenging housing estates in Tower Hamlets in 2006.

Andrew and his team have been working in Silvertown since 2005 and played a key role in enabling a new secondary school, the Oasis Academy Silvertown, to open in 2014. This school will now be a key element in the successful regeneration of the area. The school has been working closely with SS Robin, hosting citizenship classes, and providing volunteering and learning opportunities.