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Blackwall: Why Sweet Nothing Bakehouse at Republic offers more than just cake

Founder Beth Cardy has opened her brand’s first bricks and mortar premises in east London

Sweet Nothing Bakehouse founder Beth Cardy
Sweet Nothing Bakehouse founder Beth Cardy – image Matt Grayson

Readers in thrall to the tyranny of the sweet tooth take note, there’s a new player in town. Baker and entrepreneur Beth Cardy recently opened the doors to her first bricks and mortar premises at Republic.

Located just over the Aspen Way foorbridge from East India DLR station, Sweet Nothing Bakehouse serves up coffee from all-female Deptford-based roastery Lomond alongside an extensive array of cakes, tarts and pastries, plus milkshakes and soft-serve ice cream from Brick Lane’s own Dappa.

Decked out in pale pinks, subtle greens and blonde wood, pepped up with pot plants and dark metalwork it’s a light, inviting interior connected to a foliage-framed outdoor space via full-height plate glass windows. It all serves as a backdrop to the punchy aesthetic of Beth’s cakes which luxuriate under curls of buttercream icing, slices of dried fruit and the glamour of glitter-spritzed cherries. 

Little surprise perhaps, that she began her career in the world of fashion before making her way into the kitchen.

“Sweet Nothing started in Hackney, in my flat with my flatmates doing bespoke cakes,” said Beth, who runs the company as managing director.

“After school I went to Sheffield Hallam University and did a fashion degree. I wanted to do design – that was my dream. I moved to London to get into the industry, and realised that it wasn’t what I wanted at all.

“At university, you’re wrapped in cotton wool, you never have the real experience, so I moved into the  production side of the industry and started baking on the side.

“My mum’s actually a baker, working in the catering industry and, even when we were kids, she would just bake with us for fun.

“I found that I really enjoyed it, and I really liked cake as well, so that helped. So, I did a bit of research and enrolled on a one-day a week patisserie course.”

A selection of cakes on offer at the bakehouse
A selection of cakes on offer at the bakehouse – image Matt Grayson

Beth continued working in fashion while she trained, eventually leaving the industry to join Euphorium Bakery in Islington, which enabled her to gain the experience necessary to become qualified as a baker.

She said: “That was really hard work, getting up at half-three in the morning for a 5am start. I did that for three months – you don’t see anyone, you get up in the dark and it was not very sociable.

“I couldn’t go out at the weekends or see friends but it didn’t really put me off, I just wanted to work for myself and set my own hours. So that’s when I started Sweet Nothing in 2015, baking bespoke cakes from home.”

Working other jobs while she nurtured her brand, she made the move into events, buying and kitting out a former horse-box trailer to make the business mobile in 2016, going on to serve her products at corporate gigs for the likes of Microsoft, Paco Rabanne and Warner Brothers Studios.

“In 2017 I started looking for premises, because that’s where I always knew I wanted to go,” she said. “I didn’t always want to be in this trailer working at events, I wanted a bakery.

“It’s taken three years from finding something to actually opening because you need the right location and the right branding.

“A few places fell through, and then finally we decided to come to Republic. The unit we have is close to the DLR and gets the foot traffic in and out of the development. 

“We finally got it in March 2020 and opened on April 1 – that took 12 months because of the pandemic, which interrupted a lot of our plans, but we are here now and we want people to know we are open.”

The bakehouse serves Lomond coffee
The bakehouse serves Lomond coffee – image Matt Grayson

Sweet Nothing is constantly evolving and, as the business establishes itself, Beth is already looking to the future, near and far.

“We are a bakery and we have a bespoke cake service, which is a big part of the company – something we’ll probably end up expanding to be our main source of income,” she said. “As a female-led business we want to promote other small firms and our ethos is very much working with independent suppliers such as Dappa and Lomond.

“We don’t use any plastic and all of our cups are biodegradable. Or cutlery is disposable or wooden.

“Any plastic we do have is made from plants, so it doesn’t take 300 years to decompose, but 30 days instead.

“That was a big thing, because opening a bakery, we might have been adding to landfill – all those cups, those lids. Even before Covid a lot of people were getting into sustainability. Think how many restaurants and cafes and take-aways there are in the world and it’s unbelievable how much rubbish they generate.

“We have a food waste bin, so anything in the kitchen which is scrap goes in the bin and is then disposed of properly. 

“We’re also working with a company called Too Good To Go, which is basically an app, that offers magic bags – we fill them up with any pastries we can’t sell at the end of the day and they go out to customers. They don’t get to choose what’s in the bag, but it means we make our costs back on the pastries and we’re not generating wasted food.

“At Republic we have plans to start a brunch service, although we’re still finalising the menu.

“It’s likely to include pancakes, avocado on toast, poached eggs, waffles and the Croissant Benny, which is Eggs Benedict in a croissant.

“It will be very Australian-inspired and we’re hoping that will come together before the end of June.

“Eventually, I want to expand to other sites then maybe to start a  franchise eventually, but that’s a few years away.”

Outdoor space at Sweet Nothing Bakehouse
Outdoor space at Sweet Nothing Bakehouse – image Matt Grayson

For now, there are plenty of attractions for customers already in place, not least a range of newly launched loaf cakes.

“They have a filling inside, which is a bit of a surprise with lots of nice textures,” said Beth. 

“Overall, Sweet Nothing is very pink, Instagrammable but still classic – over the top but not too much – our products just look mouthwatering.

“My favourite thing to do is actually the bespoke cakes, which start at £36 for a five-inch one. 

“A customer will come to us and say they want pastels or stencilling and that’s the best thing, when you get to be creative and they are happy with the result.

“Running your own business is almost more stressful than working for other people, but in a good way.

“Eventually I want to step away from the everyday responsibilities of the business and start to expand it. I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to have something like the bakery I’ve opened at Republic, to be honest.

“When I go home and have some time to myself, I think: ‘I did all that,’ and I’m so proud. Obviously it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is incredible. 

“I maybe thought I’d have a little place in a village, so to have this as my first premises is amazing and we can’t wait for more businesses to open here, which is good for all of us.” 

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Greenwich: How the Art Of Zero Living brings sustainable products to shoppers

Store in Greenwich Market stocks more than 400 eco-friendly lines with no plastic packaging

Art Of Zero Living founders Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite
Art Of Zero Living’s Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite – image Matt Grayson

Vita Viskackaite and Justas Kanapeckas would love you to bring your own containers when you visit their shop in Greenwich Market. But if you don’t it’s no bother. The Art Of Zero Living is as ready to serve curious passers-by just as any convenience store would. But it does it without resorting to single-use plastic.

Opened two months ago, the shop carries more than 400 product lines – all carefully selected by the couple to meet their exacting environmental standards – including 240 kinds of food with 85% certified as organic. 

how did you come to start the Art Of Zero Living? 

Vita: It was born during the pandemic, when we were at home for eight months doing nothing, and we couldn’t shop zero waste, because there was nothing around, so we decided it was the perfect time to start something.

I was working at Itsu in the logistics department as a supply chain coordinator.

Justas: I’d been working in a restaurant as a manager for the last 10 years, so I’m from a retail and hospitality background and Vita knew about supply and logistics, but retail was new for us.

One morning over coffee – we’d already watched a lot of Netflix – and we said, as we were locked at home, we should use the time for something.

The storefront in Greenwich Market – image Matt Grayson

where did you find inspiration?

Justas: We’d read a book by Bea Johnson, who coined the term Zero Waste. We’d always been into nature and, because we have a daughter, we thought it was important to work on that area.

Vita: Bea gave me a kick up the arse. Her ideas had already pushed me to make changes – we refused to buy food in single-use plastic packaging, but during the pandemic we were forced to go back and buy it, because we didn’t have anywhere to buy it locally in Greenwich. When you’re purchasing this stuff every day, you don’t realise – you think it’s normal. 

But when you start living a different lifestyle and then you have to go back, you realise that it isn’t at all.

Food products ready to be dispensed into containers – image Matt Grayson

what will people find in the shop?

Vita: High quality, natural, sustainable food and other products – absolutely nothing that has chemicals in it.

It’s all about being able to trace each product from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. We can provide all the information customers need and we believe in organic food and use all the products ourselves. I’m happy to stand by every single one – if we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t sell it.

Justas: We’ve done eight months of homework and we’re still doing it if we decide to bring in a new line.

Customers can buy as much or as little as they like because the things we sell are mostly not pre-packed. We try to eliminate as much packaging as possible. 

Of course, for first-time buyers we provide paper bags and containers free of charge. We live this lifestyle so we know how to encourage people.

The shop also sells many non-food products – image Matt Grayson

how does it work?

Vita: We explain that to everyone who comes through the door for the first time. Either people go back home and get their jars and containers, or use our bags.

I remember my first time shopping in such a store – it’s very strange if you’re used to a supermarket. You’re afraid to drop the beans or that you might put something in the wrong place, because it’s complete freedom for you to help yourself.

But nobody should worry – we’re always there to advise customers that it’s fine, that they can make a mess and it’s normal. The shop is designed for this. Then they laugh and we make them feel welcome. We want Greenwich to know that we exist, because we are affordable. We said that we were not going to be expensive, even though we are organic. People should be able to afford this food and bring their own containers.

Justas: We’ve had Australians come to our shop – many of them – and they’ve said shops like this are on every corner in their country and wonder why it’s not like that in the UK. We are the first shop like this in Greenwich.

how would you like to develop the brand in future?

Vita: Business is getting better and better – we knew that at the beginning it was going to be very hard.

No-one made a shop work in two or three months, it takes time – one year, maybe two – we don’t know. But this is our idea, it’s our lifestyle and it comes from the bottom of our hearts, so we’re going to fight for it.

Justas: One of the good things is that everyone can buy from us, because they are not forced to buy a lot. We have literally had people spending 83p on nuts or some pasta.

I hope this shop will bring us more attention in general, and maybe we’ll start a bigger project, perhaps open a few more or maybe teach kids in schools – that would be nice. It’s not only business, it’s spreading a message.

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Property: Why Alex Neil believes estate agency must be international and local

Matteo Congedo, regional manager for Canary Wharf and Docklands, talks service, sales and lets

Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo
Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo – image Matt Grayson

First established in 1984, when much of Docklands was still a derelict industrial wasteland, estate agency Alex Neil has stood the test of time, embracing the challenges of regeneration while growing and nimbly evolving to serve its ever-changing market.

Walk through the doors of its Canary Wharf and Docklands branch on Westferry Road and beneath the grey and copper of its branding you’ll find a business marketing properties in 65 different countries via 94 online portals – the kind of reach that would have been impossible 37 years ago.

“When we represent a vendor or a landlord, we do the very best we can to make sure they get maximum visibility in terms of marketing,” said regional manager Matteo Congedo.

“Because of Brexit and the fluctuations in the value of the pound, people overseas have seen that as an opportunity to invest in London and Canary Wharf is seen as one of the best places to be, so we’ve invested heavily in marketing all the properties we have internationally. That’s not something many agents can offer in London.

“But we also like to have a local presence – for example, we send out 300,000 printed supplements in the areas we cover as well and that reaches a different audience.

“We’re a modern agency, but that means using a range of different methods to make sure we cover as wide a demographic as possible. 

“One of the mistakes agencies make in terms of marketing is that they think one thing is going to work and they invest all their time and effort in that – social media, for instance. But what about people who don’t look at those platforms?

“What we’ve seen with video tours of properties during the pandemic, for example, is that because people are potentially committing themselves to a home for 30 years, they’re not going to do that if they only see it on a screen.

“It’s not like buying something on Amazon where if you don’t like it you can send it back. So during the pandemic we made sure we could continue physical viewings, equipping our staff with PPE, minimising time wasted.”

Operating from three locations in addition to Canary Wharf – Chiselhurst And Bromley, Bow And Bethnal Green and Rotherhithe And Bermondsey – the company covers Docklands, Kent, Essex and east and south-east London, marketing properties both to buy and rent.

Matteo said: “The sales market is very interesting at the moment because the only two things people were thinking about a couple of months ago were buying a place and working from home.

“At that time, because of the restrictions, buyers didn’t really have much opportunity to do anything else. With the easing, we’ve seen a bit of a drop in terms of viewings but a rise in terms of the quality of applicants – more serious buyers.

“Before we had people who were just looking around because there wasn’t much else to do.

“Now, as society opens up to other things – you can see family or friends you haven’t seen in a long time – those people who weren’t seriously committed to buying are doing those activities instead, rather than  searching for a property.

“That’s good for owners, because the time between putting a property on the market and getting an offer has fallen as a result.

“The way I see it, the average age of Canary Wharf residents is likely to drop. 

“Over the past year, families have started to be more open to other areas.  This area is great to live in but potentially doesn’t offer as much in terms of schools as some others. That’s what’s driven a lot of families to move to the outskirts of London.

“But, if you want to live in a cool place, walking distance to the office and the amenities of Canary Wharf and you want to be able to do lots of activities then it’s the place to be.

“I’m a true believer that Canary Wharf won’t struggle. Yes, over the past 15 months we’ve been through a lot and we’ll need a bit of time to adjust, but what Docklands offers is unparalleled compared to any other place in London. 

“People don’t want a long commute, especially if they’re working in financial services or for a big company where they’re doing very long hours in the office.

“The last thing you want to do after that is to go on a depressing journey on the Tube. It’s dark and dingy, especially in winter – an increasing number of people want to live close to work. 

“Also, what the buildings here offer in terms of facilities is very attractive – you have cinema rooms, swimming pools, concierge services and business hubs. The lifestyle here is completely different to how it was 20 years ago. 

“In terms of what’s popular, the older developments are really holding their ground because they offer a very large floorplan and that’s what people want. Then there are a lot of youngsters attracted by the new developments.”

Matteo says the rental market will book in September – image Matt Grayson

Matteo said the rental market locally had been through a rollercoaster of a year with the pandemic initially seeing tenants leaving the area but predicted a recovery would follow widespread return to offices.

He said: “We’ve seen Canary Wharf Group move into the build-to-rent market – a prime example being the Newfoundland building, which is just across the road from our office – that’s evidence of the demand for package deals where those renting pay a fixed price with bills included.

“We’re dealing with the Circus Apartments at Canary Riverside, which is another build-to-rent scheme  of 46 apartments, all offering luxury living because that fits with the calibre of people the area is attracing at the moment. 

“When people were not allowed in the offices, we did see a migration away but things are picking up and I think we’re going to have a boom around September when a large proportion of Canary Wharf workers are expected back in the office.

“That’s what we’re preparing our team for. It’s reassuring because there’s a huge buy-to-let market locally with many investors putting money in from abroad.”

Matteo was also keen to stress that, while Alex Neil is very much a company that looks outward, its heart is firmly in the communities it operates in, donating a percentage of its fees to a chosen charity each year and welcoming collaboration with local organisations.

He said: “Estate agency is a people business. The agent should be someone embedded in the community – it’s very important that every viewing we do, every person we speak to, we give the best possible level of customer service because you never know who you’re dealing with.

“The tenant of today could be the buyer or the landlord of tomorrow. Because we’ve been here such a long time, we have people who perhaps began renting through us but are now looking to buy and are looking only through us because they have an expectation – they know we’re going to do the best we can.

“In the industry, you see a lot of pop-up shops, businesses that start up and then close down after a couple of years because they don’t really offer a service. We’ve been established since 1984 and that says a lot.

“This year both me and the firm’s director David Hatch will be running the London Marathon to raise money for Guy’s And St Thomas’ Kidney Patients Association. We’d love to raise as much money as possible. As a company we try to do as much for charity as we can.

“An estate agency should be part of its community –  a point of contact if you need anything. 

“For example, we just bought a greenhouse for a girls school in Chiselhurst so they can grow plants. It’s about giving something back to people locally.”

Call 020 7537 9859 or go to alexneil.com for more information about properties in the area or to pledge your support for Matteo and David’s efforts in the forthcoming London Marathon

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Fish Island: How Rewritten rewrote the rules on sustainable bridesmaids’ dresses

Katie Arnott and Fran Cookson started their brand, which now offers a bridal collection too

Rewritten founders Fran and Katie
Rewritten founders Fran, left, and Katie – image Matt Grayson

The story of Rewritten has, at its heart, a friendship. Katie Arnott had been working at then emerging jewellery brand Astley Clarke for about four years when she was assigned as a buddy to incoming head of communications Fran Cookson.

Despite being in different teams, the pair worked closely, becoming good friends over the next four years when one night, over several glasses of wine, inspiration struck.

“We were both getting married and we couldn’t find nice, cool, contemporary bridesmaids’ dresses for adults,” said Fran.

“We’d asked our friends where they’d been shopping for them and were told there were only traditional, old-fashioned shops – we saw this gap in the market and decided to launch a bridesmaid’s dress brand.

“We always knew we wanted to do our own thing and between us we thought we had the right skill set. Katie understood retail and operations and I had a background in fashion design as well as marketing.

“We put a business plan together and approached Virgin for a business startup loan in 2016 and that’s how we founded Rewritten.”

startup

“We’ve nearly finished paying back that loan,” said Katie. “Applying for it was really good for us because we had no idea what we were doing at all. 

“We’d never started a business so we didn’t have a clue how to write a plan for one. Doing that really forced us to sit down and look at so many different aspects of the company. 

“We put this huge document together, applied and got accepted straight away. Virgin has been very supportive over the years. We have often gone back and done talks there because they have lots of entrepreneurs and startups going though their programme.”

Rewritten Bridesmaid
Brookyln Dress in Olive Green, £140

styles

“We started with four colours and four styles, and now we have around 14 colours and 10-12 styles,” said Fran who designs Rewritten’s products.

“We’ve grown quite a lot as a brand and we have a wholesale channel as well, so we have stockists around the UK and internationally.

“We sell mainly through our showroom appointments and we’re fully booked until August as well as selling a lot online.

“We’re quite a disruptive brand, in that we were really the first ones to do a wide range of colours and sizes and styles available digitally, which wasn’t really a thing before in this market. 

“The bridal industry is very old fashioned although it is changing. Traditionally bridesmaids’ dresses would be very generic and really expensive – £300 per dress – that’s a huge amount of money if you have eight to buy. 

“Many were prom-style – it was almost a joke category and that’s what we wanted to change.

“The question we ask is: ‘Why can’t you wear a really cool dress or a jumpsuit as a bridesmaid – something that you could potentially wear again?’. We call it sustainable bridesmaid-wear – the idea is that this no longer a ‘single use’ industry.

“Women’s fashion is one of the biggest environmental offenders and bridesmaids’ dresses are a big part of that – they’re relegated to the back of the wardrobe and we wanted to change that, making pieces you want to buy and wear, whether that’s different styles in the same colour or the same dress in a wide range of sizes. 

“When we started, this approach didn’t even exist and people really enjoyed that autonomy rather than being told they had to wear a horrible dress.”

Rewritten Bridesmaids
Rewritten can provide different dresses in identical colours

showroom

Having originally opened its doors in Tottenham, the brand has relocated to Fish Island in Hackney Wick, with premises that cater for its shipping operations and, crucially, customers who want to try dresses on.

“We make the whole thing really special with private fitting appointments and we open at the weekends too,” said Fran.

“People can come in as a group, have a glass of Prosecco and it’s a really lovely experience.

“It’s our clients with their mates having a trying on session – and our frosted glass makes it very private. Hackney Wick is such a cool area, with all the bars and restaurants around here – we have a blog on our website that tells visitors where the best places to go for brunch or a drink are and people really make a day of it.”

sustainability

Katie said: “We’re trying to change the preconception that weddings are about single-use fashion. Our brand is about rewriting the rules.

“We had to apply for our space at The Trampery in Fish Island – they were looking for sustainable fashion brands and we are one of the six founder members here. 

“We’re not saying we’re perfect but we’re really striving to make a lot of changes, using recycled fabrics and making a lot of the collection in London as well as only making dresses when people order them which is a sustainable way of manufacturing.”

Rewritten Bridal
Rewritten’s bridal collection includes Simone Dress, £575

spreading

Rewritten recently launched its first bridal collection, made entirely from organic and recycled fabrics in response to demand from fans of the pieces in its core collection.

“We’re quite a London-centric brand at present so we’d like to become a lot bigger in the UK,” said Fran. “We’ve been looking at Manchester and we also have a lot of Irish brides, so Dublin could be an option too.

“In terms of sustainability we want to have the whole collection made in recycled fabrics by the beginning of 2023 and that’s partly about changing people’s mindsets about what that means, educating our customers. Our bridal collection really shows that – it’s affordable and the dresses could really be worn again.”

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Wapping: How Stirling Eco is bringing art to the booming world of electric vehicles

Founder and CEO Robert Grace is building a moped-focused brand that’s filled with creativity and a flare

Stirling Eco founder and CEO Robert Grace – image Matt Grayson

Creativity courses through Robert Grace like the electric mopeds he designs and sells flow through the streets of London. The founder and CEO of Stirling Eco began his career in decorative ceramic tiling, rising through an apprenticeship to the pinnacle of the industry with a company – Grace Of London – that produces intricate mosaic designs using 12, 18 and 24-carat gold, other precious metals and Swarovski crystals.

So what prompted him to launch an electric vehicle company and base his operation on The Highway in Wapping? 

“Stirling Eco came about because I was asked to decorate a bike – an electric moped – about three years ago by a German company because of my reputation with gilding and ceramics and so on,” said Robert. “I said: ‘Sure, send it over’. This bike was to be decorated for a big fancy show in America and, when I got it, put it together, sat on it and tried it out, I realised there was nothing much like it in the UK.

“We actually stock that model in the showroom now – it’s called the Ridgeback. So we did a bit of product research and we were so far ahead of the curve.

“During the first lockdown, I was fortunate that I was staying for three months in Poole, in my friend’s beautiful house, 80 metres from the sea, sitting in the garden and thinking about what the world was going to be like. When you set up a business, you try to imagine how things will be in five years, but the virus turned everything on its head.

“We couldn’t really see beyond 12 months at the time, but I wanted to work out what could set us apart if we went into this market, just as I was set apart from my peers as a tile fixer by the creative component to what I was doing. We decided it would absolutely be the art side of the business that set us apart with the bikes, so we set about designing something really stylish.

“Primarily it had to be functional because people would buy it to get to and from work – it had to work correctly, but beyond that there was no reason it couldn’t be sexy and fun as well.”

The result was the Electro Ride, a low slung collection of curves evoking classic chopper motorcycles but built for modern urban riding. Powered by a 2,000W motor it boasts a 45mph top speed although comes limited to 30mph, has a range of 30 miles on a single four-hour charge and starts at £2,410 for the entry level model. 

A gilded Electro Ride with Swarovski crystals - image Matt Grayson
A gilded Electro Ride with Swarovski crystals – image Matt Grayson

 “You can buy an electric motorbike that does 70mph for 100 miles, but that isn’t the market that we’re in,” said Robert. “We want to transform the way people travel around cities – that’s the nucleus of our idea, that’s where everything begins. The components we use are pretty much standard – a moped is two wheels, handlebars and a throttle but electric vehicle technology is so fluid at the moment. The motors are getting more efficient, the batteries are lasting longer and controllers are evolving.

“So changing the motors on these to upgrade them is relatively inexpensive – it’s not like changing an engine in a car – and the maintenance on them is really simple. Really it’s just tyres and brake pads.

“That’s why we’re an art-orientated business – we can decorate bikes personally for clients and then upgrade the technology as it becomes available.” 

Walk in to Stirling Eco’s showroom and there’s little doubt that you’re at a dealer with a difference. As well as selling the Electro Ride, the company stocks a range of other electric vehicles including the Vespa-style Trento.

Part art gallery, part den for electric vehicle enthusiasts, it boasts street art murals and paintings and a red carpet area for those seduced by the glitz and glam of celebrity.

Taken as a whole it forms the perfect backdrop to the mopeds – especially the art bikes, which include one gilded in 24-carat gold and festooned with sparkling crystals, available for £25,000.

“It’s the usual analogy of being a very small fish in a very big pond because we’re competing with big brands,” said Robert. 

“If we were in the same room as them we couldn’t compete – we’d get torn apart. So that’s why we’re here on The Highway. What we’ve decided to be here is the most exotic fish in the tank and this is our aquarium. That’s why people’s eyes are drawn to us.

“We’ve got graffiti artists here, but we didn’t want the showroom to look like Camden Town, so there’s a really good objective mix of artwork here, combining the work of the Bickerton Grace Gallery, which I set up with photographer Anne-Marie Bickerton, with what we were doing with the bikes.”

Stirling Eco creative director Tee Blackwood models the Electro Ride
Stirling Eco creative director Tee Blackwood models the Electro Ride

A quick glance through Stirling Eco’s social media channels reveals a brand that’s unafraid to have a bit of fun while creating some buzz, tempting celebrities to mount its bikes and even collaborating with Ryan Reynolds’ stunt double in the Deadpool movies. 

Look beyond the hype though and there’s both a solid business case and an environmentally conscious core to the firm’s operation. 

At the time of writing London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is set for a significant expansion, potentially affecting millions of car owners in just over 120 days.

Robert said: “There’s a massive number of people who will, all of a sudden, have to think about paying £12.50 a day to keep their car in the zone if it doesn’t fit in with the new restrictions.

“Many of those will be two-car families where they need two modes of transport. A lot of our clients are coming in because they can’t afford to keep two cars and they’re seeing us as an alternative. They need to keep one car to visit people outside London because our bikes aren’t allowed on the motorway, but they’re looking to us for a vehicle that’s ULEZ compliant, totally tax-free and that you can ride into the City without paying the congestion charge or polluting the atmosphere.

“We’re doing things properly. You need a CBT at least to ride one of our bikes and they have to be insured. But you also get flexibility – you can take the battery out and into your house to charge it, which costs about £1 for 30 miles.

“As a company we really want to look after people. The batteries are guaranteed for 12 months and we pride ourselves on really good aftercare and like to stay in touch with our clients. We even organise rides and people are welcome to join us.

“The nice thing about these bikes is that when you pull up at the traffic lights you get people asking about them – they really turn heads.

“I’d like to share the story of a client of ours called Greg. He works for a big law firm in IT and used to get the Tube every day from Golders Green to Moorgate and used to arrive at work angry every day.

“He came in the other day and we asked him how the bike was as he’d been riding it for about two months.

“He said: ‘Rob, I arrive at work happy every day’. It was really nice to hear him say that – now in terms of the commute he’s in control, there’s no-one around him, breathing on him, that’s freedom.”

There’s a sense that Stirling Eco, which launched in 2020 is very much at the start of its journey and with a showroom filled with art and creative people it’s a space that demands attention.

As for Robert’s tiling, he’s accepted Wharf Life’s challenge to create a special edition of the Electro Ride decorated with his signature mosaics. We’ll watch this space with interest.

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Canary Wharf: The Greenhouse Theatre brings zero-waste venue to Jubilee Park

Company set to perform three free shows in the round on rotation from July 23-August 15

Artistic director of The Greenhouse Theatre, Oli Savage – image Matt Grayson

As Oli Savage lies on a stack of timber in Canary Wharf’s Jubilee Park, the trees all around and the sky above are reflected in his glasses. His attitude isn’t one of repose but of mirthful collaboration, creating the illusion of a wooden wall where one is yet to be built.

This is because The Greenhouse Theatre, of which Oli is co-founder and artistic director, is only just starting construction ahead of its run on the estate from July 23 to August 15. The venue will host three plays in rotation during this period and tickets are free, although going fast online so eager attendees will need to move quickly. After picking himself up off the planks, Oli sat down to tell us more…

tell us what The Greenhouse Theatre actually is…

It’s the UK’s first zero-waste performance space. That extends to everything we do from the construction, which uses found or recycled materials, to our shows and our marketing.

What that means to us is that everything we use had a life before it came to us, and it will go on to have a life after, if we don’t continue to use it – that’s it in a nutshell.

how did it begin?

I’ve been involved in theatre since my mother took me to Stagecoach at the age of five. At university I picked up some directing credits and eventually went one step further down that path to become an artistic director. The only way to get even more ownership was to create my own venue.

A few years ago I was touring a piece of queer theatre with a very good friend, playwright and close collaborator of mine, Henry Roberts. One night, we’d had too many drinks and he pitched me the idea for a show, which went on to become Swallows – one of the pieces for when the venue first opened.

It was about intimacy and aggression and the damage that we do to each other and to the environment, and how we view violence towards other people and to the natural world as different, when really they’re kind of the same thing.

My mind immediately started whirring, and I said: ‘If we’re going to do this, then we’ve got to do it properly in a sustainable way that’s eco-friendly’.

The only way to really know if the venue fits in with that is to build it yourself and so that’s what we did – our first outing was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. 

When you start running a zero-waste venue, the antidote to inaction is knowledge. We’ve had to learn so much about sustainability as the project has developed.

Image of Oli Savage on a step ladder
Oli and the team are building the venue in Jubilee Park – image Matt Grayson

what will Wharfers be able to see once the venue’s finished?

We have a really fun selection – The Greenhouse Theatre offers a number of different things – the shows, which are designed to inspire, and a programme of workshops and events to help people convert that inspiration into action.

We’ll also have family events such as storytelling and scavenger hunts.

We’ll have three shows in rotation – I’m directing As You Like It, an all-singing, all-dancing musical production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. It’s about getting out after months of lockdown, having fun and having a laugh.

Henry Roberts is working on 12, which is a much more intimate piece, an exploration of how language and relationships shape our interaction with the climate and the natural world. It’s a bit more intense, a bit more hard-hitting, but very uplifting – a very beautiful piece of theatre 

The other piece is called Hjem, and is about a young girl whose grandmother has dementia.

The girl discovers the older woman had a relationship with a Norwegian sailor and, as the play progresses, she uncovers a beautiful story formed through sea shanties about how we build connections and relationships through the natural world.

All of our shows discuss the environment and the natural world in some way, but none of them are about the climate crisis explicitly. It’s about beautiful storytelling.

WHAT'S ON AT GREENHOUSE THEATRE?

AS YOU LIKE IT
7.30pm - Fridays, Mondays
2.30pm - Sundays
Shakespeare’s classic, directed by Oli, this cross-dressing love story comes complete with an original score of indie-folk music. A chance to escape to the forest in a celebration of life and love  

12
7.30pm - Saturdays, Wednesdays
2.30pm - Fridays
Written by Henry Roberts, this play explores memory, language and intimacy as it follows a relationship struggling to survive in a world that’s falling apart. Just what is worth saving? 

HJEM
7.30pm - Thursdays, Sundays
2.30pm - Saturdays
Harry Sever’s magical modern folk story of whirlwind romance across the decades connecting Northumberland with Norway as a story is discovered and a bond is forged between two unlikely friends 

what’s the atmosphere like?

In the past, our programmes have won awards but the main thing we’re trying to create is a really open and engaged space. 

When you visit the venue, the creators, once they’ve done the show, will be milling around for a chat.

The space is in the round, so it’s all about creating a social, informal, fun atmosphere, not like you’d expect when you go to the West End. The shows will be high quality, but it’s all about having a fun time.

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Canary Wharf: MMy Wood Wharf by Mercato Metropolitano set for the estate

Image of Mercato Metropolitano founder and CED Andrea Rasca

George Street facility will house traders selling pizza, gelato, beer and wine plus a jazz club

Mercato Metropolitano founder and CED Andrea Rasca – image James Perrin

Andrea Rasca has two gifts. Spend even a little time with the founder and self-styled chief executive dreamer of Mercato Metropolitano and it’s not long before his talent for simplicity emerges. He can take a complex area like sustainability, for example, and cut through the crap, the greenwashing and the often tepid attempts by big corporations to polish their images.  

This feeds into his second gift – vision. Andrea can see potential, conceive of successful places that don’t yet exist. So it’s easy, sat in the sunshine on the meandering wooden benches stretching down to West India South Dock, for him to conjure a future where the waterside park becomes the most attractive destination for visitors to Canary Wharf.

The exquisitely finished boardwalk and the emerging residential community at the eastern end of the estate are two of the reasons his business has taken space in George Street to create MMy Wood Wharf, set to open later this summer.

To understand the potency of this opening, it’s important to look at where it’s coming from. In 2015, Andrea set up Mercato Metropolitano on the site of a former paper mill in Elephant And Castle. Today, the 45,000sq ft facility attracts millions of visitors every year and is host to more than 40 vendors, a micro brewery, a gin distillery, a jazz club and an extensive grocery. 

But it’s also an expression of Andrea’s goals and ideals. It’s a platform for small businesses to trade, but to do so they must fit in with MM’s sustainable economic model that strives to be socially responsible and an asset to the local community it operates in.

“I want to make food become the centre of our lives,” said Andrea. “We eat three times a day. It’s our first medicine. Food connects us to environmental issues, to farmers and to our health. There’s nothing more important. For the last 70 years, food has been treated like a normal commodity The big corporations have decided to sell us food regardless of the provenance or chemical content – they just want to make more money out of it.

“Five years ago I arrived at a point where I said: ‘I think I’ve got it, it’s enough for me. Why don’t we try to go back to how things were – this should be the normal state of things. There’s no genius here.

“With this model, we created a physical platform where we could allow small entrepreneurs and producers to operate without the hassle of rent, the business rates, things like that.

“We would give everything to them and help them grow their businesses so they could concentrate on the food. That meant they had to align with our vision, our manifesto for sustainability and food as a human right, which means adequate food  – accessible nutritious and compatible with the local culture.

“We vet every single one of each business’ suppliers and they have to change if they don’t conform to our model.”

Having created a successful pilot in Milan, Andrea turned his attention to London, a city he’d been visiting since the age of 15, having struck a deal with his father that the cost of his trips to stay with a cosmopolitan family in Harrow-On-The-Hill would be covered so long as he was learning English. 

It was an arrangement that allowed him not only to indulge his passion for opera, musicals and jazz, but also to uncover the good things in the capital’s food scene at the time.

“I have always been attracted to London for the kind of soft power or energy that it has,” said Andrea. “So I decided I wanted to test my idea in one of the best markets in the world – for me, that was Borough Market.

“But on a trip to look for locations there was some misunderstanding about what I was looking for. I was being shown places where there was footfall from a marketing perspective.

“So I said I couldn’t care less – I didn’t need historical data because what I see is what is not yet there. I wanted to feel the vibe of a location for people’s needs they didn’t yet know they had.

“So when they showed me the Elephant And Castle site – an abandoned printing factory full of drug addicts – it was beautiful. I fell in love. I had a feeling, crazy, but it was there. So I told my friends I was going to do it, against all of their advice.”

Having opened in 2016 on a shoestring with Andrea and his friends doing much of the conversion work themselves, the first year saw MM rack up £9million in sales, more than doubling that in its third year with more than 4million visitors coming through the doors.

“We call it a circus now – food is very important, but it’s 50% and the other half is the atmosphere of artists, community and accessibility,” said Andrea. “We realised that somewhere like this could reach more people in a city like London.” 

MMy Wood Wharf is set to open later this year – image James Perrin

Which brings us to MMy Wood Wharf – the latest project – as Andrea expands across the capital, having already launched at a second site near Elephant and in a converted church in Mayfair. November is expected to see a 30-vendor venue open on the Redbridge Town Hall car park site in Ilford with seating for 600 people. But before that, his Canary Wharf venture will open its doors.

“I had the idea in my head that whenever we open a big one, we need to have smaller ones too to provide a bit of an alternative to the delivery system for takeaway food, which is not a model with love,” said Andrea. 

“First they sell anything, like McDonalds, and I don’t want to be in that space, secondly, they have dark kitchens and you don’t know what they’re cooking in there and, thirdly, the delivery guys are underpaid.

“In the restaurant business we control everything – the safety regulations are amazing, so my idea was to combine a smaller version of our grocery, not a big variety but everything you need, with a smaller version of Mercato and deliver in a different way to the people who live a few hundred metres from the market.

“It’s called MMy, because it’s the customer’s space, their community. Every one will be different and I want people to tell me if they like it or they want to change it.” 

So what can Wharfers expect when MMy Wood Wharf opens its doors later this year?

“First of all, good food not compromised by conglomerates, or chemicals – everything will be healthy and natural,” said Andrea.

“We’re going to have 10 small corners inside, so you will have the chance to buy your own cheese and ham, freshly baked bread and olive oil.

“You will also have the chance to eat the most amazing gelato, freshly made every morning, great meat from our butchers, oysters, fresh fish, amazing craft beer and a wonderful corner of wines.

“We’re going to have amazing pizza, which is the same as we have in the other locations, with 48-hour raised dough, Neapolitan tomatoes and Mozzarella, which you need to have for a good pizza, and pasta made freshly in front of you – there will be such a big variety.

“On the lower ground floor we’ll have an amazing jazz club with music and food and drinks – wines from all around Europe and further afield.

“The most important thing, which I really want to stress, is that food, people and environment are at the centre of everything we do, not shareholders’ revenue.

“This is vital, because the only way forward is not when you talk about sustainability, but when your business is based on it.

“Sustainability is not just showing that 1% of your business is green, but when 100% of everything you do is – maybe not perfect yet – but aiming towards that. We are plastic-free and all our staff are paid the London living wage as a minimum. It’s easy to be green and then pay nothing to your employees.

“I believe – first of all – you have to create your own community. Then we need to talk to kids about it, that’s the future. 

“Everything we do is about creating the right balance for a better city.”

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Greenwich: Flow Farmers Market brings fresh sustainable product to the Peninsula

Developer Knight Dragon teams up with Bompas And Parr and Urban Food Fest for regular event

Sweet treats on offer from Oh My Sugar at the market – image Matt Grayson

A clutch of food traders are plying their wares on the banks of the Thames as Greenwich Peninsula hosts Flow Farmers Market every other Sunday. With the next one set to take place on June 13 – and with dates running throughout the summer until September 19 – we caught up with the organiser and stallholders to discover what residents and visitors can find on the strip of land between the end of The Tide and the river.

“We really wanted to expand the artisan food element that is part of our urban design market Sample to create a regular farmers’ market,”  said Kaia Charles, cultural projects manager for Greenwich Peninsula at property developer Knight Dragon.

“So we worked with creative food firm Bompass And Parr to develop an idea about what that could be for the Peninsula – to bring a range of fresh produce, organic meats and cheeses here. Flow is inspired by the river itself, its location and, as it grows we really want to feature local producers.

“We want it very much to be for the residents here so it’s about what they want and need – that’s what will drive what we have here.

The idea is the selection of traders we have at the moment goes really well together with organic bread, cheeses, olives and meats.

“It’s gone down really well with residents so far and the stalls are also near two of our retail tenants – Choy House and Ardoa – so people can visit them too. We want to enliven the river and celebrate the resilience of our community after the pandemic.”

Flow Farmers Market, programmed by Urban Food Fest, takes place every other Sunday from 10am-3pm. Here we talk to some of the traders taking part:

Oh My Sugar owner Aysar Kalkanel at the market – image Matt Grayson

OH MY SUGAR

cookies – brownies – sweets

Oh My Sugar owner Aysar Kalkanel said: “I started the business in 2020. I’d been travelling and I wanted to come home and open a brunch bar, but I arrived back just as we went into the first lockdown, so I had to think of an alternative. 

“I’d never baked before, but it blew up completely. Originally it was going to be more about sweets, but everyone kept ordering the brownies and cookies.  We started doing just online and then a couple of people suggested markets and it’s been the best thing I’ve done. 

“We mainly sell cookies, brownies and blondies which is a version of a brownie made with white chocolate – they’re very sweet, but people love them. We basically offer a variety of chocolate-smothered goodness.”

Samaneh serves customers at Flow Farmers Market – image Matt Grayson

OLIVETO BAR

olives – garlic – sundried tomatoes

Oliveto’s Samaneh Khazaei said: “The business has been established for almost 12 years now. We marinade everything ourselves and source our olives from Italy, Greece and Spain.

“All of our products are homemade and sold freshly at markets, whether it’s the olives or the hummus. 

“Our flavours include olives flavoured with mixed fresh herbs and chilli. We are also selling Persian garlic and artichokes. We don’t use vinegar or salt in our marinades, just extra virgin olive oil. We also do vegetarian stuffed vine leaves. 

“Personally I love our olives stuffed with almonds and anchovies – they’re really tasty. I also have to mention our hummus, which is delicious.”

Produce from Pick’s Organic Farm on sale – image Matt Grayson

PICK’S ORGANIC FARM

vegetables – meat – bacon rolls

Pick’s Organic Farm’s Hannah Patterson said: “The farm is based near Leicester in Barkby Thorpe and we come down every Saturday and Sunday to trade at farmers’ markets in London.

“We do a range of hot food – cooking sausages and bacon at our stall – as well as selling meat, fresh eggs from our chickens and fruit and vegetables too, although not at every market.

“All the meat we sell is produced from our own animals. We have a variety of sausages including Welsh Dragon, flavoured with chilli, a good selection of beef, lamb and chicken as well as burgers – a bit of everything you could want, really. We sell burgers, hot dogs, bacon rolls and egg rolls or any combination customers want.” 

Cheeses from The Big Wheel at the market – image Matt Grayson

THE BIG WHEEL

cheese – crackers – condiments

The Big Wheel’s Hazel Cross said: “We specialise in artisan British cheeses, which come from up and down the UK. For example we stock Lancashire Bomber, Colston Basset Stilton and Keens and Montgomery’s cheddars plus Lincolnshire Poachers and Cornish Yarg.

“We also have an international classics section because there are certain things that no cheese board should be without. Our customers come and they want a Parmesan or a Langres, which comes from the Champagne region of France and has a lovely orange colour. My personal favourite is the Ribblesdale Goatesan, a hard cheese from Yorkshire.

“The Big Wheel exists only at markets in London and that allows us to keep our prices competitive.”

Kudciea Khan selling Rodgis’ bread at the market – image Matt Grayson

RODGIS

sourdough – sausage rolls – pastries

Rodgis’ Kudciea Khan said: “We offer a range of sourdough bread with loaves for £4 or, if someone wants two, it’s £6.

“There’s rosemary, olive bread, rye and multiseed on offer. The products are all freshly made at a central kitchen and  and we have savoury food and pastries as well, including chocolate cheesecake and pasteis de nata.

“We’ve been really busy at Flow, with people queuing despite the rain and we hope to add even more products to our stall here. 

“Rodgis is a family business which operates at various farmers’ markets around London and via its website.”

The business also produces a range of charcuterie, pastas and olives available to purchase online, shipped from its base near Peckham

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Isle Of Dogs: Tiny Tigers offers kids and adults space to play at South Quay Plaza

The cafe and soft play space has been inspired by the principles of Montessori and the owners’ son

Tiny Tigers play area – image by Matt Grayson

By Laura Enfield

An indoor play area filled with things to climb, slide down and play with sounds like every little kid’s fantasy. And three-year-old Nico Reckers-Ng is lucky enough to have parents who have made that dream come true by opening Tiny Tigers Cafe.

Set in South Quay Plaza, the soft play fun zone is inspired by their son’s favourite things and the principles of Montessori, which encourage less noisy gadgets and more open-ended play.

The bright, spacious unit is filled with padded structures to climb and slide down, but also a host of mostly wooden toys and puzzles chosen to foster independent and imaginative play.

“There might be the occasional electronic toy but most of what we put in is supposed to try to create this environment where we switch off from electronics and move towards this organic, natural heuristic play that children learn and develop from,” said mum Elaine Ng.

“There is a sensory mirror and balls, trains, instruments, some books and I play piano for the children, so we have impromptu sing-a-longs.”

Nico gets to run amok in the play area when it is not in use and joins his mum for sessions, which has helped her stick to limited screen time during the pandemic.

Following Montessori ideals, TV is a rare treat and even during lockdown she avoided working in front of him, instead logging on after he went to bed and working until 1am to catch up on various tasks and cafe logistics.

“If I’m on my computer he just wants to climb on my lap and see what I’m doing,” said the former coder, who now works in wealth management for an American bank. “I try not to show him stuff on my phone either, so he doesn’t think it’s this amazing YouTube box.

“It’s tough because sometimes you would love to just throw them in front of the TV but, what I have found is, it’s quite addictive and they will ask for more and, if you try to engage with them, they are not interested. 

“Whereas, when I’m playing with my son, he’s making things up and there’s a much more natural type of development that happens.

“I completely understand why people use TV and there’s no judgement at all, but we didn’t have TV for thousands of years and now when I’m on the tube and everyone is on their screens, I wonder what that means for social interaction and behaviour.

“Social media will have a lot of responsibility for the mental health of our children, things like filters and how quickly they grow up, scare me.”

Nico tries out some of the equipment – image Matt Grayson

Elaine wants Tiny Tigers to help children become interested in the world around them. Classes in baby massage, baby sensory and Frog Prince music sessions have just launched and she is planning special events to celebrate the area’s multiculturalism, such as marking Eid and Black History Month.

Elaine is Malaysian Chinese, her husband, Thomas Reckers, is Czech German and the couple would love to bring their cultures to the cafe through language classes.

“I love London because it is so multicultural,” said Elaine, who grew up between the capital and Malaysia.

“If you move to France you become French whereas in the UK you grow up being British but being aware of your own culture because we celebrate Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year all these things. When I’m in London it doesn’t matter that I’m not white and I think that’s important for my son. I don’t want him to feel like an outsider.”

She and Thomas both work full time in finance and run the cafe in their spare time. And there have been more than the usual fun-filled ups and downs at the play area. The business was two years in the planning and finally opened last October, only to close again for five months when the second lockdown arrived.

It reopened again on May 17 with sessions limited to eight children and 45 minutes so staff are able to clean the play equipment thoroughly between each use.

“Nothing ever happens overnight is my long lesson after this,” said Elaine. “It’s been a huge learning curve and very hands-on, which we can do because we only wanted to open one place. If we were a big chain we would have just thrown money at it.”

The couple are running the cafe as a passion project rather than a money maker and Elaine said: “We would like it to break even at least, because we have put a lot of money and time into it. But, for us, it was more something that fitted into our philosophy of how we would like to bring up our son.”

Elaine said they wanted to keep costs down to make it as accessible as possible and help address the lack of facilities for the growing number of families on the Isle Of Dogs.

“Pre-maternity leave, I thought I would travel all over London with the baby, because that’s what I did before,” she said. “Actually, about 15 minutes from the flat was my maximum journey time. I was really disappointed by the lack of options on the island.

“In Canary Wharf the businesses are geared towards office workers and there’s not much space for prams, which I understand because they have to make their rent. I think people underestimate the number of families that are in the area and the infrastructure for them isn’t as strong here.”

Finding a suitable unit was a big challenge as the couple wanted to open something locally.

“Prior to Covid, I used to take Nico to central London for the Royal Opera House ballet class and its opera class and we would go to museums, art appreciation sessions and they were brilliant but just so much work,” said Elaine. “It was three hours of planning for a 45-minute session. We just wanted something more local.

“We wanted it to be financially viable, but also for the quality not to be compromised – that’s very important to me. 

“Every time we do something I think: ‘Would I be comfortable doing this with my son?’ If the answer is no, then I don’t want it in my unit.”

Elaine spent two years visiting play areas with Nico – Tiny Tigers encompasses all the elements he enjoys but also thoughtful facilities for adults. Aimed at kids aged up to five, it includes dedicated buggy parking, adult and toddler toilets and a separate changing room with a waist-level counter that has walls on three sides so babies can’t roll off.

Elaine bakes cakes for Tiny Tigers Herself – image Matt Grayson

Adult and child tickets cost £7, with non-crawling siblings allowed in for free. If children are old enough to play independently, parents are encouraged to sit in the cafe area and have a drink and relax. 

It serves Monmouth coffee, pastries from Paul Rhodes Bakery in Greenwich and food cooked fresh daily by the venue’s chef. Elaine bakes the cakes including a sugar-free option for kids and offers a toddler lunchbox for £4.

The volunteer with island-based charity Community Parents remembers struggling to play with her son when he was a baby and hopes the cafe can offer new parents the support she lacked.

“I didn’t know how much interaction to give him,” she said. “I went to Gymboree and just repeated what they did and I used to push him in the pram, talking to him about the weather. I felt like that crazy mum.

“I’m lucky to have a lot of support now, so that does take the pressure off me but I think it’s great when you can really interact with your children and I hope that’s what this place can offer.”

She also hopes it will fulfill their initial dream to give Nico a place to flourish.

“It’s a whole balancing act,” she said. “I don’t want my son to grow up thinking his parents were distracted by this. 

“We built this for him and we go there as much as we can because we love to be involved and I really enjoy talking to the parents. It’s so important to me that he feels loved and knows I’m there for him.”
Go to tinytigers.club for more information or to make a booking

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Stratford: Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes on expansion and spirit

How chef Jackie Christian is celebrating her mother’s legacy in Greenwich and Hackney

Jackie Christian, co-founder of Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes – image Matt Grayson

It would probably take something the length of a novel to do justice to Jackie Christian’s story. The Stratford resident, working with her sister Natalie Walker, is the driving force behind Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes, which have been delivering sweetness and generous levels of Wray And Nephew overproof spirit to the mouths of Londoners for the past six years.

“Our mum, Doreen, always cooked these amazing dinners for family and friends,” said Jackie.

“She’d also make rum cake and banana bread and, because I was the second eldest, she’d get me to help out doing bits and pieces around the kitchen when I was a teenager.

“Because of that, I wanted to become a chef so I went on a catering course – you did six months in college and six months working in the industry.

“So when I was 17, my first job was working at the Mayfair Hotel with Gordon Ramsay – he was my boss and that was the start of my career. After my training, I was called into the office – I was wondering what I’d done because Gordon was in there. But they said: ‘We love the way you work and we’re going to save you a job here’.

“I was amazed, so I went back to college, finished my course and started at the Mayfair, working as an a la carte chef. From there I went to L’Escargot in Soho – I loved it so much – and then to Fred’s Club, which was on three floors and for the rich and famous. We had Boy George, Neneh Cherry – all the celebrities.”

After years working long hours at the top of the London restaurant scene, Jackie and her husband decided to start a family and she stepped away from the industry.

“I have to be proud of myself because I’ve had a tough time,” said Jackie. “I lost my husband to a heart attack out of the blue when my son was five. We lost our mum and, just recently, our sister but I know that they’re watching – they are our angels.”

It was inspiration while thinking about her mother that led Jackie’s life to change direction again. Having forged a successful career in contract catering, Jackie had hit an impasse. She was happy to be cooking, but bored by the repetitive nature of the work.

“Someone asked to buy a cake from me and I was looking at Ma’s picture. That was the time I decided to continue her work. She used to make rum cakes with me and then give them away to neighbours and friends. If you got one it meant you were a bit special because of the love that goes into baking one. So I resigned from my job and decided to go for it, just working from my home in Stratford.”

Rum soaked fruit as part of the baking process – image Matt Grayson

Born in London after her mother emigrated from Jamaica, Jackie uses a recipe passed down through at least three generations for her signature product, soaking fruit in overproof 63% ABV Wray And Nephew white rum before partially blending it and adding more rum as the other ingredients are folded in by hand.

“By using this spirit I’m preserving the theme as well as sticking to the original recipe,” said Jackie. “Before the pandemic, I would go to Jamaica once a year, buy the rum and bring back the sunshine to England to bake into the cakes.

“It’s about telling the story of our mother to our customers and letting them try the cake. I had no idea if this would work as a business in the beginning but it has. It’s not a cheap cake to make.

“You need to soak the fruit for ever in the rum – I have a big barrel for that. Mummy didn’t like it whole so we blend it until it’s like a chunky puree, add the other ingredients and bake the cake. 

“Each one takes about three or four hours in the oven and then we put more rum on it and leave it to soak and infuse.”

Jackie’s rum cakes are made by hand using her mother’s recipe and generous quantities of the spirit – image Matt Grayson

Having started with a regular stall at Greenwich Market, Doreen’s has built up a significant following in the borough allowing Jackie and Natalie to expand the business to Bohemia Place Market in Hackney.

Lockdown saw online sales start up too and Jackie got the keys to a commercial kitchen in Woolwich, which will allow her to grow production and take on staff to assist.

“We got the unit at Thames-Side Studios in October last year,” said Jackie. “Now I can get a team in because it’s just been Natalie and me. I’ve always had management roles when working in contract catering, so I know how to lead a team. You have to treat people with so much respect. No job defines a person. 

“When I employ someone to wash up, I wash up with them. If they’re the last one to leave, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and help – we’ll grab the brooms and mops and clean together.

“Lots of people have asked me to take on work in the past and now I can accept more. People need to know what real rum cake tastes like – hand crafted as a labour of love.

“What feels good is when a customer tells me that my cake reminds me of their mother’s – it makes me cry and then they cry too. 

“It’s happiness – because that means I’ve smashed it with my mother’s generation and now we’re starting to capture the younger people too.

“They say they’ve never had it, then after a sample, they’re hooked. It is tough – we get so busy that I don’t get a rest. Sometimes it’s an eight-day-a-week business.

“But when you see reactions and responses from the customers you feel so good. That’s when I know I’m doing this right. That love feels amazing. 

“My mum gave me the inspiration to become a chef and to start this business, and this is giving that love back to our customers.”

As well as offering Doreen’s classic rum cake in a variety of sizes and shapes – all of which should last a long time on the shelf thanks to the high levels of rum within, the business also sells a vegan version.

Also available are Jamaican rum truffle brownies, stem ginger and chocolate brownies, lemon and coconut muffins and Appleton Estate rum sponge cakes made with a darker, spiced spirit. 

Orders can be placed online or the various products can be found and (frequently) tasted at Greenwich and Bohemia Place markets.

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