Step out of Pudding Mill Lane DLR and a fairly desolate view awaits. Vast areas of hardstanding surround the station, demolished to provide back-of-house for the 2012 Olympic Games but never subsequently redeveloped. Long term housing plans have yet to kick off, so an unusual company have stepped in with a temporary project to utilise one acre of backlot - the Snoozebox Hotel.
At the end of last year several dozen black metal containers appeared in the compound opposite the entrance to the station. They were stacked in a long row, two boxes high, each with a small portholed door. I was initially mystified, wondering if perhaps someone was providing austere accommodation inside shipping containers for hardhatted workers engaged on local construction projects. I should, as ever, have read the planning application.
A couple of months ago workmen turned up to ready the project for public occupation. They renumbered the pods, spruced up the interiors and added a reception area at the front. One half of this gained a check-in desk and a small bar/kitchen, the other a social space with woodchip ceiling brightened by a cluster of artisanal light bulbs. The company's original plans had also included a roof terrace but this never materialised... which, having seen the surrounding view, I could understand.
The pods are numbered 001-020 on the ground floor and 101-120 upstairs, the top floor accessed via a metal staircase and narrow balcony. Only if you walk round to the other side of the hotel facing Marshgate Lane do you spot a separate numbering from 021-040 and 121-140, because it turns out each container contains east- and west-facing rooms so as to cram in the maximum possible number of patrons.
Each room has an internal area of just 5½m² (apart from the DDA-compliant rooms which have double that). Within that tiny space are a double bed, a single bunk-bed (slotted in at right angles over the top) and an en-suite wet room (which I believe is code for alcove with a sink and a shower). Air-conditioning is provided, because there are no windows, while a TV at the foot of the beds provides digital distraction. The only natural light is what shines in through the porthole in the door, because these are meant as rooms you crash and sleep in rather than somewhere to spend any significant period fully conscious.
Basically it's a budget hotel aimed a clientele who simply want to be in London rather than paying a premium for mints on the pillow and neatly folded toilet roll. Some guests will be international tourists but many will just have driven down from the shires, which is why the far end of the site is taken up by 12 parking spaces. The owners had originally wanted 68 parking spaces, but it seems the planning authority managed to persuade them there was a DLR station nextdoor.
A couple of weeks ago the Snoozebox Hotel took its first paying guests. I haven't seen much action - the place hasn't set Pudding Mill alight - but I did spot a member of staff delivering a coffee to a patron in the lounge area so things are taking off. Indeed the hotel is currently fully booked until 31st July (when a Standard Double En-Suite will set you back £37.90, rising to £62.10 over the bank holiday weekend and £71.10 this time next year). That's pretty good going for a bed inside half a metal box, but only if you're the proprietor and not a paying guest.
I wondered if there were any plans for the much larger vacant expanse alongside, and blimey yes there are!
A company called Aniara intend to build a temporary theatre here, with a 25m-high hexagonal auditorium and seating for 1500, which for what's currently nomansland would be an astonishing intervention. Performances would take place six evenings a week (and two afternoons), with a concourse of food and drink stalls out front to tempt patrons to hang around longer. An 11pm curfew should ensure that Snoozebox patrons get some sleep.
With ghastly economic timing the theatre was granted planning permission on 17th March 2020, just before it became apparent that densely-packed auditoria were amongst the severest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. If the project does eventually surface it's been given a cut-off date of March 2025, while the hotel has until July 2024 before it has to be taken down. But the dead zone of Pudding Mill is at last springing to life... even if it'll still be many years before anyone properly lives here.