I’m Jamie, co-founder of Barkney Wick.
Lucy and I wanted to share with you a little about how we came to open our wonderful dogs’ and humans’ community centre on Fish Island in Hackney Wick. You can also check out the article that the Hackney Gazette wrote about us when we were crowdfunding for our project and watch this space for a short video tracking our journey from an empty unit through to the space we call Barkney Wick today.
Lucy and Jamie
Lucy and I met in January 2020 when my barkner in crime – Wolfgang (or “Wolfie) – and I were united. January 2020 feels like such a long time ago now, considering everything that has happened since then. It’s really hard to believe that, at the date of writing this, it has only been a year since we met. Yet here we are today having set up a community centre for our furry and human friends in Hackney Wick.
Back in January 2020 I was working as a construction lawyer from home two days a week and in the office the rest of the time, so Wolfie and I needed to find someone to take him out for walks with the neighbourhood gang while I was busy lawyering. Fortunately, quite a few of my neighbours are also pup carers and were quick to recommend Lucy, who was already a staple in the community; walking and educating pups in Hackney Wick.
From the first time I met Lucy and her barkner in crime, Luna, I was completely blown away by her passion for looking after pups and also by her determination to champion all animal rights and live as ethically as possible day-to-day.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was largely ignorant on many of the issues surrounding animal welfare and the impact of our decisions on our community and our much wider environment until I became a dog carer and met Lucy.
Now that I am armed with the knowledge that I have gained through Lucy and by re-educating myself I would be ashamed if I wasn’t changing my lifestyle, as much as I can, and trying my best to re-educate others to think about how we choose to live our lives and the ways in which we can care for our struggling planet.
I live on Fish Island which is an area of Hackney Wick that has been described as an area impacted by so-called “gentrification”. Perhaps quite rightly there was an initial backlash to the apparently upper-middle class “suits” moving in to a famously creative and industrial part of London.
Personally, I had lived in Hackney, Shoreditch and Stoke Newington for years before settling in Hackney Wick, but you never really know your community and its history until you decide to put down roots there.
I’ve been in London since 2005 and am originally from Jersey. I have moved around a lot during the years I have lived in London and never really knew where I was going to end up. But as the daughter of an artist and an (admittedly very much part-time) artist myself, Hackney Wick is somewhere I feel at home in.
The other side of the coin though is that, with a full-time job as a City-worker, I experienced first-hand how unsettling the shift has been with people moving in who wouldn’t ordinarily have picked to live here. Especially due to the fact that creative spaces and industrial units were – and are – being demolished to make way for living space.
My personal opinion is that there has historically been some disconnect between public authorities and developers in the “regeneration” of Hackney Wick and that has perhaps contributed to the area feeling disjointed. That aside, that community disconnect appears to be dissipating now, and we hope that Barkney Wick will be a place where the community continues to forge together.
A Community Centre for Dogs and Humans
So many people in London (and elsewhere of course) have started re-evaluating their life choices. One big example being – do I “need to have children?” – which is an environmental issue in itself. But also – “I live alone but would really love to care for a dog, can I make that work when I’m working? And “I live in a flat. I don’t have much (if any) outdoor space”.
The amount of dog shelters and charities in the U.K that will not let you adopt a dog because of such a lifestyle is astounding. But the fact is that if we have the resources, the support, the engagement – to make it possible to give a dog a great life (and for them to give us a huge amount of joy). There is no reason for dogs to live their lives in shelters – or to be passed from foster home to foster home.
One key thing that struck me after I met Lucy – and then so many other dog carers in Hackney Wick – was that there wasn’t a dog day care centre near to Fish Island to help pup carers provide the enrichment and education their pups need.
I started looking at empty commercial units on Fish Island and researching start-up loans to work out whether it would be doable to open a community centre for pups and humans. I really wanted to do so with Lucy, to incorporate all the ethical values she spearheads into the foundations of the centre. So, I texted her one day, when she was out walking Wolfie and the gang. Her first reaction was to ask whether I was drunk… once she was reassured that I wasn’t, she said she was completely on board. And so, project Barkney Wick commenced.
Finding a Space for Barkney Wick
When searching for a space for the centre we found it challenging to identify a unit that wasn’t designated as “studio” space and appropriately allocated with planning permission.
This meant we were really limited as to spaces we could rent and turn into a day-care. In fact, we ended up with only one option. Which was far larger than we had imagined. As scary as it was though, to take on such a big space, when we saw it we just thought – this is it. This is a space that we can turn into not just a day care centre – but an educational centre – a community centre – even including a plant-based dogs’ and humans’ café.
The size of the unit we found just meant that we would have to work even harder to get the funding and everything else together to make it work. So, we negotiated the heads of terms with the landlord and pushed forward with our application for a Government start-up loan.
And then along came coronavirus.
Suddenly we weren’t just faced with the challenge of opening a dog day care and community centre and gauging enough support from the community to keep it open: we were also hit by the prospect of it being a complete non-starter because no one would be able to use it.
We had already, by the beginning of the first lockdown, negotiated the lease and were ploughing ahead with our project plan. So, we were thinking “should we still do this? Isn’t this the worst possible timing?” But then something we had not envisioned happened. People had more time at home and embraced it – suddenly more and more people were taking the leap and welcoming dogs of all ages into their homes. Not only that, but, perhaps because of where coronavirus came from – (eating animals) – people began questioning what they were putting into their bodies. For all the negatives that coronavirus has brought on the world, at least, at the very least, there have been lessons learnt and lifestyles changed for the better.
We decided to go ahead, sign the legals and wait for Sui Generis planning permission for the dog dare care part of the centre to be granted. And it was a long wait. 7 months in fact. In the meantime, we put out a post on Hackney Wick locals’ social media for team members and we were inundated. In that time we were able to secure a government loan towards the fit out and legal costs and we held a crowdfunder which raised over £2,000 towards the project. We also posted in the Hackney Wick Locals Facebook group to let the community know about Barkney Wick.
The response we received from the local community was (and continues to be) incredible. Our team have come from us from a variety of backgrounds – some changing career after losing their jobs – and are all incredibly passionate about the project and the ethics that come with it. A local lady, Mareli, even took on the task of preparing natural plant-based dog treats for Barkney Wick, called “Lick&Mix” (www.lickandmix.com) and they are incredible!
We have also had people offer us their services – such as the interior design for the fit out, graphic design, marketing, candle-making – the list is endless! People began to contact us offering materials too – wood and pallets for tables, drawers, a couch, dog beds, a white goods for the café…! it is incredible how many people want to help us out. And of course, upcycling and recycling is what we are about, tying in to our low-to-zero waste objective.
And here we are today, opening our doors to our wonderful community of pups and humans.
We are gradually building up from offering our day care and walks services alongside our café to offering all the other exciting things we have planned together for the centre. Puppy training and other behavioural classes for example.
We are also selling our amazing plant-based dog treats and building up our café menu offering dog and human cakes, pastries, treats and lunches to share together. And you can bring your own bag and fill up on dog treats from our “Lick&Mix” zero waste wall!
The day care area is also available for community use when not being used for dog day care. Head over to the Community Space page to find out more.
We will also host educational events to re-educate ourselves as to ways in which we can make changes to our lifestyles that are beneficial to our planet. Plus, some dog and human cinema and dogumentary evenings too…! Please do sign up to our Newsletter to be kept updated on future events at Barkney Wick for our wonderful community.
Finally, and most importantly, Lucy and I want to say how extremely grateful we are for all the support you have shown us and our team as we have pushed forward with project Barkney Wick. Words cannot describe how thankful we are for your kindness.
Thank you for supporting us!