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Fish Island: How From The Ashes BBQ rose to success from the desolation of lockdown

Co-founder Curtis Bell talks inspiration, meat and serving up pulled pork in a doughnut from his hatch

Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island
Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Fire can be a sudden spark that ignites with a burst or a softly glowing flame that slowly smoulders.

Curtis Bell has experienced both since founding barbecue business From The Ashes BBQ in June 2020 after just a few weeks of planning.

“It was just a burning desire,” said the Swansea-born chef, with no hint of a pun intended.

“My favourite thing was always to cook on the beach. Maybe it’s a primitive thing, but I have always just been drawn to the flame. I tried doing the posh stuff – fine dining – and it just isn’t me. 

“I just like the rawness of cooking in a very direct and simple way over the flames.”

Tucked behind a hatch on Fish Island, the takeaway experienced a rush of fame in lockdown, with its salty smoked pork served in sugary handmade doughnuts.

Customers were walking from as far as London Fields to queue for up to an hour. It was a success that took Curtis and his co-founders by surprise.

“It just exploded overnight and we were getting reviews and write-ups in the papers – we had to hire staff,” said Curtis.

“It was daunting, unexpected and an amazing thing to happen out of lockdown.”

The “we” is Frank Fellows and Martin Anderson, who Curtis met when he moved to the big smoke (pun very much intended), having landed a job at barbecue joint Temper in Soho.

Until then he had followed the recipes of another renowned restaurant, Pitt Cue, “like the bible” – bosses had even offered him a job, which he wound up turning down.

“I felt like it was ‘don’t meet your heroes’ and I wanted to keep it almost as a fantasy,” said the 29-year-old.

“By then they had gone from this really gritty, basement barbecue to this corporate steakhouse for City workers and it had kind of lost its magic.”

It is that hands-on flavour that Curtis loved and wanted to capture with From The Ashes.

That, he feels, is achieved by working directly with farmers such as Farmer Tom in Herefordshire and McDuff in Scotland to source meat.

Curtis at wok in the kitchen
Curtis at wok in the kitchen – image James Perrin

The team also does most of the butchery themselves in a tiny eight foot by six-foot kitchen, so they can stick to their whole animal approach.

“We make sausages from the legs and smoke down the necks and shoulders and bellies and then smoke the loin like a rib roast,” said Curtis.

“We get half cows and use the bones for stock and the fat for potatoes and trimmings for mince for a special. 

“It’s not only more cost effective, it’s also a much more efficient way to cook. I think everyone needs to be cooking like this.”

They launched the business thanks to a loan from his dad and a pig from Farmer Tom who said: “Pay me when you can”.

A friend made them a smoker from recycled parts, which they dubbed “The Piggy” and they began experimenting.

“The hardest thing is patience,” said Curtis. “From seasoning it right the way through, to resting it can be 12 hours and the temptation to get into it earlier is huge. 

“It does take its toll when you’re doing big events and have to start at 6am and go through until midnight. It’s endurance, stamina and hard work.

“Sometimes you cut into it and it’s overcooked. That’s disappointing, but I will braise it down and make a brisket ragu and try and make the best of a bad situation.

“We try to avoid as much wastage as possible.”

From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall
From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall – image James Perrin

So is it worth all the effort?

“Yes, I love it – all good things come to those who wait,” said Curtis.

“You can have a steak, which takes 15 minutes to cook, or a piece of rib, which has taken seven hours. I guarantee you will be way more satisfied with the latter.

“As much as my back hurts and my legs hurt, there is so much satisfaction in the joy it brings people.

“When you put all those hours in and it pays off watching those people bite into it – it’s just amazing.”

The chance to birth his own business came when he, Martin and Frank were made redundant during the pandemic.

Curtis and Frank opened a dark kitchen for fried chicken restaurant Coqfighter and decided they should “copy the formula” with barbecue.

“The person who was renting out the Coqfighter kitchen had one on Fish Island too and we went over and had a look at it and scrambled some money for the deposit and the first month’s rent, and in we went,” said Curtis.

Martin came on board and they spent four weeks testing out recipes, eventually landing on a doughnut filled with pulled pork as their signature dish, inspired by Black Axe Mangal restaurant in Islington.

“Lee Tiernan up there is a genius and did a duck liver parfait and prune doughnut which probably changed my whole life, it was that good,” said Curtis.

“We were just toying with ideas and one day ordered some really shit Tesco doughnuts and tried putting some pulled pork in the centre of it – it just worked with the sweet, savoury, salt, smoked fat.

“A lot of people are still very cautious but, because you have every sense in your mouth, it’s perfect.

“We put it on Instagram as a draw and it worked. It was a magnet and there was a time I couldn’t open Instagram without seeing my doughnut. 

“Some people may think of it as a gimmick and are not impressed, but I find that hilarious.”

A party in June 2020 with all their hospitality mates, kicked things off for the trio and they just began opening the hatch every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Del Piero doughnuts ready to go
Del Piero doughnuts ready to go – image James Perrin

“People started walking up  – it built momentum and, the next thing we knew, we had queues round the block,” said Curtis.

At the peak, he was waking at 6am on Saturdays to tend to the smoker and meats and start rolling and proving the 120 doughnuts they were selling a day.

Made over two days from a laminated enriched dough, they included sweet options such as custard in different flavours and dark chocolate Hennessy and hazelnut praline.

Other creations included a smoked pork bun with pickles, sriracha Marmite mayo, smoked garlic mayo and a slaw made with hispi cabbage, fennel, apple, lime juice, walnut, jalapeño dressing and gorgonzola sauce.

They quickly attracted queues, which stretched as far as the Premier shop on Roach Road with punters soaking up the sun and free shots handed out by Curtis.

“It was just a really special time and something I would love to relive again,” he said. “But we’re back in the real world now, sadly.”

Since London went back to business, Curtis has found himself having to stoke the flames of success in new directions.

Following their early success, From The Ashes landed spots at food venues Two Tribes Campfire in Kings Cross and Kerb Seven Dials.

And their summer has a full roster of festivals, events and private parties, including Bigfoot Festival, British Summertime, Bike Shed in Tobacco Dock, Big Grill Festival in Ireland, London Craft Beer Festival and Manchester Craft Beer Festival.

Frank left in October last year to work with his girlfriend at the cafe of local company Barkney Wick, but Curtis now has a team of seven chefs and said there is no such thing as a day off for him.

“The hatch will remain open and we want it to go from strength to strength,” he said.

“We’re looking to get an outside licence so we can have benches and seats.

From The Ashes cooks up a range of meats – image James Perrin

“We now sell some craft beers and park wines, perfect for a summer day when you’re sitting on the kerb eating barbecue.”

He’s also been implementing a huge shake-up of the menu to help with the business’ longevity.

“Now summer is coming, I’m changing the menu on a weekly basis,” he said. “I ring my farmers and see what’s available and create the menu around that.

“This weekend we have got some whole smoked chicken with some wild garlic pesto, an aged sirloin with horseradish cream and roasted beef fat.

“Last week I had an aged beef meatball sub with mozzarella, parmesan and wild garlic again. We’re going to become seasonal.”

Curtis said the founders had been a bit unsure of themselves as they tried to transition from their blaze of glory in lockdown to the more even tempered real world.

“It’s been daunting,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out what our dream is but I think it is to be a bit of a household name in London and keep on enjoying what we are doing.

“I just want to keep cooking outside and doing amazing pop-ups – happy and free. I don’t want to do anything too serious. I’ll never be the person who wants a big huge chain.”

Curtis said the pressure of running a small business was enough. They’ve never had any investors and are just about breaking even.

But with prices skyrocketing across the board, the profit margin is getting smaller.

“We are increasing our prices and I hope customers understand why we need to do that,” he said. 

“I think the next year will be incredibly tough on hospitality with everyone trying to save pennies.

“I can already feel the pressure, but hopefully, we can keep our heads above water and keep going and growing.”

Read more: How Squid Markets is bringing street food and fresh produce to Canada Water Market

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Woolwich: How Tideline Art’s Nicola White digs up treasure from the Thames mud

How one former banking PA turned artist rediscovered her childhood love of found things

Artist Nicola White on the Thames foreshore
Artist Nicola White on the Thames foreshore – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The tide is high when I speak to Nicola White.

It’s a matter of small consequence to most Londoners, but to the 53-year-old mudlarker, it’s from the rise and fall of the waters that life emerges.

The Woolwich resident remembers two very distinct desires from her childhood in Cornwall – to never, ever work as a boring secretary and to have her own shed where all her treasures could be displayed.

As a young girl, she avidly combed the beaches and land, collecting shells, driftwood, bits of rope, mushrooms, toadstools, seedpods and eggshells.

“It’s something I have always enjoyed doing – using things I’ve found in artworks,” said Nicola.

“Life happens and, when I became a teenager, I lost interest and went and lived in France and then had my first child pretty young at 22 – everything was on hold, because I had to work.

“I did a bilingual secretarial course because I speak fluent French and then worked as a PA for banks in Paris and London.”

Nicola uses her finds to make art
Nicola uses her finds to make art – image James Perrin

For 25 years, Nicola found herself doing a job she had vowed to avoid. While it brought her a comfortable life, money to buy a flat, security for her son and later her daughter, she never loved it.

“I was at the mercy of my choices for quite a while,” she said. “I was very good at my job, but I had this feeling it wasn’t what life was all about.

“I had this burning desire to create and make art and just be outside. I couldn’t ignore this thing in me.

“That said, I wanted to share my passion with other people and make the most of my life. I tried to ignore it but I was getting more miserable.”

She already knew the answer lay outside her door on the banks of the Thames.

When Nicola moved to London in 1999 she was almost immediately attracted to the river because it reminded her of her childhood in Truro.

“One day I was in Greenwich and the tide was low and there were these steps leading down to this long stretch of beach,” she said.

“I was just drawn to go down there and found this really peaceful world away from all my worries and my job.”

She started finding pieces of broken pottery and glass and used them to create art, just like she did as a child. Eventually she spotted her first coin.

It was then she discovered what she was doing had a name – mudlarking – the practice of scavenging through river mud for lost items of value or historical significance – this was a pastime enjoyed by a handful of Londoners back then.

But it has grown in popularity thanks to a blossoming online community, in which Nicola plays a large part.

She works under the name Tideline Art and has a YouTube channel with 135,000 subscribers where she documents her finds, broadcasting to 30,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram.

One of Nicola's pieces
One of Nicola’s pieces – image James Perrin

She also has a thriving business selling the art she crafts from the items she pulls from the mud. 

Her glass fish, which she puts up for sale twice a year, go for around £250 each and typically sell out within 24 hours.

Later this year she will be giving a series of talks as part of the Totally Thames Festival.

“Mudlarking is such a part of my life I can’t imagine not doing it,” said Nicola. She took the plunge eight years ago, aged 45, quit her job and rented out her flat to embrace the mudlarking life full time.

“I had been doing it for about 15 years – making art in my spare time and I suddenly thought: ‘I want to see if I can do something I love with my life’.

“I was very nervous of leaving banking, but I was building up Tideline Art on social media and my website and things gradually came together. 

“I think if you follow something you are really passionate about and put all your energies into it, then doors start to open up for you.”

Today she has a studio at her home in Woolwich filled with hundreds of treasures she has found over the years, including a silver half crown from Elizabeth I’s reign and a wax seal stamp that belonged to the Commodore Superintendant of Woolwich Dockyards .

“A while ago I was sitting in this room and thought – ‘Wow this is actually what I dreamed of as a child – it really fills me with joy’,” said Nicola.

Nicola also makes historic finds, including this 18th century onion bottle -
Nicola also makes historic finds, including this 18th century onion bottle – image James Perrin

She can be found on the foreshore as early as 6am and as late as 11pm, up to four times a week, looking for treasure. 

“It’s very hard not to go because you think you might miss out on something,” she said.

“That’s the thing about mudlarking – you simply don’t know what you are going to find and that’s what keeps you going back.”

Her love of naval and industrial history means Greenwich, Deptford and the Isle Of Dogs are her favourite areas to go, kitted out in sturdy boots and knee pads with her trowel and phone at the ready to document any finds.

“You need patience and persistence,” said Nicola. “People might think you just stroll down to the Thames and come back with lots of bounty without any effort.

“What people don’t see are the hours you go down and don’t come back with anything. 

“I get people asking where to go to find clay pipes, but mudlarks don’t give locations away because that is part of it – you have to go down and find out for yourselves. There’s no quick fix.

 “I have never met anyone who isn’t inspired by this idea that you can find and hold history in your hands. It’s accessible to everybody.”

There are negative aspects though. The mud can be dirty, smelly and full of rubbish – particularly plastic – and, more recently, face masks. It can be dangerous too.

“I got stuck in the mud once,” said Nicola. “Luckily someone was with me, but it really was quite scary and gave me a new respect for the mud.

“The tides can rush up and you have to make sure you know where your exits are, because there are pinch points where you can get cut off.”

Another of Nicola's fish sculptures
Another of Nicola’s fish sculptures – image James Perrin

Nicola mostly mudlarks alone as she enjoys the meditative aspect of it, but she said there was a strong sense of camaraderie in the community. 

“It can be competitive but also supportive – people will help you identify your finds and share information,” she said.

More important items do not get used in her art, but are researched and featured on her channels. Rarer items have to be reported to the authorities.

“You have to have a permit to mudlark from the Port Of London Authority,” said Nicola.

“One of the responsibilities we have is to report any find that is over 300 years old, or ones that are historically significant, to the Museum Of London and they put them into a database. 

“It’s really not the financial value. If you are going into mudlarking for that, then forget it. It’s about the story behind the finds for any genuine mudlarker. I like to think of the Thames as a giant liquid storybook.”

So in all those hours on the foreshore has she ever let anything slip through her fingers?

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost anything but one day I would like to throw something in for someone to find in 300 years,” she said. “I wonder what they’d find out about me? It makes me think of my own story.”

And that’s the truth of mudlarking. Everything and everyone has a story to tell.

Treasures rescued from the mud -
Treasures rescued from the mud – image James Perrin

Read more: Enjoy an extract from London Clay by Tom Chivers

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Canary Wharf: How Lenderwize spotted telecoms’ companies’ need for finance

Level39-based firm verifies digital assets allowing money to be lent to the businesses handling them

Digital assets are increasingly important in a connected world
Digital assets are increasingly important in a connected world

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Lawrence Gilioli’s business, at least at present, is mostly hidden from the minds of the public.

Make a call from the UK to Brazil and the phone rings, someone picks up and the conversation happens.

As far as the user is concerned, they’re paying BT for that call and it’s delivering that connection.

Except, in the world of telecoms, that’s not what goes on.

“BT doesn’t have all the lines in the world, so needs to connect with an intermediary or wholesaler,” said Lawrence.

“They, in turn, don’t have all the lines either, so they need to connect to a terminating operator, which completes that phone call.”

It’s in this middle stage that Lawrence, a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in the telecoms industry, has identified his first market.

“These companies are invoicing each other – the middle man has to pay the terminating operator in Brazil and BT has to pay the middle man.

“However, typically the intermediary has to pay Brazil on seven days, but won’t get paid by BT for 60 days.”

That payment mismatch at worst means the wholesaler can’t do business at all, or limits what they can do, due to cash flow.

To address this problem, Lawrence created Lenderwize.

Based at Canary Wharf’s tech accelerator, Level39 in One Canada Square – but with staff distributed around the world in reflection of the industry it serves – its aim is to provide smart finance solutions for these companies.

“We are essentially talking about digital commodities and services here,” said Lawrence.

“Today’s world is ever more digital – that means traditional banks don’t understand it and they don’t know how to fund it, to validate activity or how to mitigate risk.

“So we’ve invented a fintech platform that uses patent pending technology to capture the digital assets behind phone calls, text messages and data use, for example.

“These things are intangible, but our technology makes them tangible because we are able to capture, validate and certify that these are real assets.

“That means you can lend against something Lenderwize certifies has been delivered.

“We understand this market because me and my partners come from this industry, which is huge – $64billion a year and growing. It includes voice calls, text messages, data use and, now, other e-goods and commodities.

“It is hidden to the general public and it’s even hidden to the financial world, because, being digital, once again, they will shy away from it.

“Typically banks or other investment institutions want to invest in real estate, the motor industry or tangible things like that.

“Consequently, there is this whole digital world that is under-served by banks and under-capitalised, but with a tremendous need because this area is only growing in size and companies need access to funding.”

Digital assets are increasingly important in a connected world
Digital assets are increasingly important in a connected world

Having launched the platform two years ago with the intention of building a business ultimately to sell to a large financial institution once the concept is proven, Lenderwize now has 12 staff split across London, Italy, Australia, Holland and Switzerland.

“We have just passed processing 350million calls in the last year and we expect that to double this year and to triple within two,” said Lawrence. “We expect to surpass a billion calls.

“The way it works is that our clients buy into our system and the data is uploaded automatically onto our platform. 

“That gives us access to their switches anonymously, so we can validate and verify that the information they are giving us on a daily basis is verifiable.

“Right now we’re doing that on a sample basis – looking at calls going to the same destinations from the same number and capturing durations and frequencies.

“We’re checking to see if the numbers are real and, ideally, will ultimately do that on every single asset.

“That’s part of our know-how, but it’s the case that the operators in this market require these services, so clients reach out to us because the need is so great.

“We have a very precise credit vetting procedure and our ability to verify the assets means we’ve only had one default so far, which is exceptional.

“I think the ability to analyse beforehand and then to validate on a daily basis is the key to success. It means that if there is something wrong, we discover it immediately, not at the end of the month.”

In addition to providing credit to these wholesale companies, Lenderwize is also in a position to embed a range of financial services in its operation.

Lawrence said: “We’re looking to exit in three years and we think we’ll be sexy to a bank, a telecoms operator, an insurance company or a big bank.

“That’s because ultimately we are an entire ecosystem that can be used for supply chain financing or supply chain payments, but the direction our fintech platform is going in, which mitigates risk, will be adding on embedded finance, insurance and payment solutions, all in real time.

“As this whole world gets more and more digital, the need to speed things up in real time becomes greater, from risk analysis to the transfer of value.

“Our direction is to continue to develop new technology but we don’t want to re-invent the wheel ourselves, we want to develop partnerships with high quality businesses.

“That’s why we’re so happy to be at Level39, because there’s so much interesting stuff going on here.

“We want to partner with organisations doing specific things to add to our mosaic, creating services for our investors and our clients.”

As if revolutionising the finances of the telecoms industry on the business end wasn’t enough to be getting on with, Lawrence also has ideas about how Lenderwize might branch out into the consumer market.

“Today we’re B-to-B and tomorrow we want to be B-to-C,” he said.

“At the moment you’re probably paying a flat fee for your phone contract, but statistically you’re throwing away about 25% of that money.

“We want to give people the ability to convert what they’re paying for and not using.

“Three years ago, 25% of people surveyed globally said they would be likely or highly likely to change their operator on the spot if they got a phone call offering them a new deal.

“Three years later and that figure is 66% – there is no loyalty in the mobile world.

“This means that Vodaphone or BT, for example, could lose their entire customer base overnight, potentially.

“Mobile operators need to create loyalty programs, to create stickiness.

“So we will be proposing our finance-meets-telecom solution on people’s phones, where customers can place unused airtime that they have already paid for in an interest-generating wallet.

“We want to tackle two great inefficiencies – airtime and bank savings accounts that offer low or no rates of interest. 

“We want to convert these from cost centres into profit-generating centres – a tool for everyone to use in a proactive way. We’ll be talking more about this later in the year.”

Lawrence, who holds dual Italian and American citizenship said he’d based the business in London because of the efficient infrastructure, easy access to clients and investors and tax breaks for startups.

“Level39 is at the heart of fintech in Europe, it’s also the coolest place to be aesthetically and it’s connected to all the banks,” he said.

Read more: How cryptocurrency exchange Coinjar gives investors options

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: Why the Massey Shaw fireboat is seeking new volunteers

Historic vessel lying in West India South Dock looks to ensure its stories continue to be told

Massey Shaw is currently moored at West India South Dock
Massey Shaw is currently moored at West India South Dock

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This is not the story of the fireboat Massey Shaw. How could it be?

Just to stand on the deck of this remarkable craft at her berth in West India South Dock is to feel her planks and steel plates quietly pulse with the decades of history they’ve absorbed.

It would be possible to fill this space many times over without coming close to bottoming out the sheer depth of material associated with this remarkable boat.

It might be the part she played saving goods worth many millions of pounds just a year after coming into service by blasting down the walls of a warehouse with the power of her main jet to stop a fire in its tracks at Colonial Wharf in Wapping. 

It could be the more than 500 lives she saved as part of the flotilla of little ships launched to help rescue British servicemen from the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940 – ferrying soldiers from the land to larger craft and herself taking about 100 back across the channel, making three trips despite the danger of the sea and enemy fire.

Or it may be the part she played in the desperate firefighting effort during the Blitz.

Massey in full flow

But these stories – and many more – are best told by those who know, the volunteers who are working to keep her shipshape and who hope eventually to open her to the public as a museum ship.

Built in 1935 by J Samuel Whites at Cowes on the Isle Of Wight for £18,000 (more than £2million in today’s money) she served the London Fire Brigade from launch until 1971.

After a decade in the wilderness, in 1982, the Massey Shaw And Marine Vessels Preservation Society embarked on a project to restore her and to sail her once again to Dunkirk for the first time since the 1960s.

Today, after much passion, a sinking, restoration work, vandalism, repair and renovation, she lies by the entrance to West India Docks, sharing space with the 1920s steam tug Portwey and the Dockland Scout Project. 

From there, the Massey Shaw Education Trust, as the society has become, intends to use its 40th anniversary year to raise awareness of its work, the vessel herself and the opportunities available for those who might like to get involved with the ongoing  project.

Rescuing troops from Dunkirk

Trust CEO David Rogers – himself a former firefighter, albeit a land-based one – said: “We’re a completely voluntary organisation and we’d really like to engage with a wider audience including people who are in Docklands.

“Perhaps they’ve seen this black and red boat that looks a bit strange – we often get questions about what she is and what she does.

“So one of the things we want to do is to get more volunteers of all ages who can come along and support us in our plans for the boat.

“We’ve had her for 40 years, but we see ourselves as custodians and we now need people to take her forward for the next 40.

“This boat has a unique history and we want to help people understand it and to help shape it whether they’re involved in the fire service or not.

“We want people to come and be trained so they can run the engines, operate the boat and man her pumps so she can appear at events. 

“But we also have a big archive that we’ve built up over the years, so we need people with IT skills to help organise and digitise that.”

Massey Shaw Educational Trust CEO David Rogers
Massey Shaw Educational Trust CEO David Rogers – image Matt Grayson

Currently the team are working towards getting Massey Shaw ready to once more cross the channel in 2025.

“We’re part of Dunkirk Little Ships, which celebrates the journey made by those boats in 1940 to save troops from the beaches,” said David.

“The crews who went over during the war were all volunteer firemen and fortunately they all came back safely, but some of the soldiers they rescued had been badly injured.

“We’d especially like young people to take part in our next trip, to learn the skills that were taught back in the 1930s, which are needed to operate the boat so future generations can continue to enjoy and learn about her.

“Volunteering is a great deal of fun – over the 40 years I’ve been involved, I’ve met some fantastic people and I’ve always enjoyed it.

“It’s great when visitors come onto the boat, especially if they have stories to share about individuals who perhaps served on Massey Shaw or were associated with her. 

Massey's 'monitor' which shoots its main jet
Massey’s ‘monitor’ which shoots its main jet – image Matt Grayson

“Also, the opportunity to go out on the boat, to show people what she can do and what it was like in its early days gives you a real buzz. We’re here to prove she can still do the job she was built for.”

Descend into Massey Shaw’s engine and pump room and you can see exactly what he’s talking about.

The beating heart of the vessel is her two main engines that require constant maintenance to both propel the boat and to power its firefighting equipment, capable of pumping enormous amounts of water to where it’s needed.

David says the main brass cannon on deck – called ‘the monitor’ – is capable of pumping 13,000 litres of water every single minute with enough force to propel the whole boat along when in full flow. 

“Last year we had an open day and the pump was running and the harbour master ran up the dock and said it was just fantastic – that he’d never seen anything like it,” said David.

“That’s the reaction we want – people clap and cheer because it’s such a great thing to see. We’re hoping to hold another open day to raise greater awareness of what we’re doing on August 14 and we’re very keen to attract new visitors.

“Beyond that we’re working to get Massey Shaw ready for Dunkirk in 2025 and we have an Arts Council application in to become an independent museum.

“Then we want to find somewhere we can have a link to the shore so we can display our archive.

“We’re also looking to partner with other local organisations and companies so we can expand and move forward from here.”

The Massey Shaw Education Trust is actively seeking new volunteers, partnerships and funding for its activities.

One of Massey's two main engines
One of Massey’s two main engines – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How Terrible Thames takes Horrible Histories onto the river

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Tower Bridge: How Terrible Thames floats Horrible Histories down the river

Woods Silver Fleet operates the boat hosting the shows from its Tower Quay Pier in east London

Terrible Thames co-writer and director Neal Foster and Kate Woods of Woods Silver Fleet
Terrible Thames co-writer and director Neal Foster and Kate Woods of Woods Silver Fleet – image Matt Grayson

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It’s fair to say the Woods family have some history with the river.

Thames Watermen since 1866, Lillian and Alfred Woods launched sightseeing tours of the capital from the Tower Of London in the early part of the 20th century – an enterprise that boomed in the 1950s around the Festival Of Britain. 

Lillian then encouraged her son Alan with his idea to gradually build the Silver Fleet – a series of vessels built for the Thames in Kent and Suffolk shipyards. 

While Alan remains chair of the company, today its course is steered by the next generation – siblings Thomas, William and Kate – who have spent the last two decades overseeing its growth as a provider of luxury river cruise ships for events and private charters. 

Over the years the Silver Fleet has welcomed film stars, politicians and members of the royal family on board – and that remains its core business.

But history also has a funny way of coming full circle and, in possession of refurbished 1980s vessel Silver Sockeye and, having acquired Tower Quay Pier, the family has made a move back to sightseeing, albeit with a fairly big difference. 

“We had this boat, which was built by my father with a lot of love – it was looking fantastic after its refurbishment, with all the lovely woodwork inside – and we thought it would make the best sightseeing cruise in London,” said Kate Woods, who works as design and development director at Woods’ Silver Fleet.

“We also thought there was nothing on the river to entertain children, so we looked and looked and, without really understanding how Horrible Histories worked, we approached Neal with the idea that we were Thames Watermen with a nice history and that it would be an interesting idea to bring the brand to the Thames.

“We’d also bought the pier by Tower Bridge, which is a great location, so we were absolutely delighted when it fired him up.”

Silver Sockeye in here Terrible Thames livery
Silver Sockeye in here Terrible Thames livery

Neal, by the way, is Neal Foster – actor manager of the Birmingham Stage Company, resident at The Old Rep Theatre and the man responsible for bringing Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories to the stage worldwide as well as conceiving performances under its irreverent cartoon umbrella for the likes of Warwick Castle.

Woods’ approach resulted in Terrible Thames, a tour unlike any other on the river in that it’s a full blown theatrical performance complete with sound engineer, soundtrack and an ever-changing backdrop as the boat makes its way to Parliament and circles back to Tower Quay Pier via Execution Dock at Wapping. 

Co-written by Neal and Terry, one of the biggest challenges for the team was adapting the content to the speed of the boat – something that constantly changes and is dictated largely by the ebb and flow of the tide.

“We’ve been doing Horrible Histories since 2005 and in the West End for 10 years, but we’d never done it on a boat,” said Neal.

“I was instantly attracted to the idea – I’ve always loved rivers. If I’m visiting a city, I’ll always head for a trip on a boat, so being on a boat for long periods suits me very well.

“It was also clear there was an awful lot of history in the section of the Thames we’d chosen to work with, so wherever possible we decided we wanted to attach it to whatever you could actually see from the boat. 

“When we were writing the show, the two biggest problems were that firstly I didn’t know where the audience’s attention would be – whether they would be looking at the actors or at London going past.

“It turns out they were looking at the actors a lot more than expected so we had to make sure the characters really pointed to the things they were talking about. 

“The second issue was the change in speed – you could almost say no two trips are ever the same – so the script had to be adaptable to cope with that while still being manageable for the actors, all while performing for the audience. 

“That’s why we’ve had to rehearse thoroughly – you need actors who can think on their feet and react quickly.

“It’s a bit like doing Hamlet, but the ghost might appear at the end of the play instead and you have to kill Claudius three acts early.

“It’s why you need the sound engineer – to make sure everything happens at the right time.”

The show features a student and a teacher on a trip down the Thames
The show features a student and a teacher on a trip down the Thames

Terrible Thames cruises run regularly at weekends and during school holidays – with a full complement of half term sailings from May 30 to June 3.

“With stories constantly updated and added, it’s a 45-minute ride designed to impart knowledge with plenty of humour and the brand’s customary gore.

“The whole thing that Terry is doing with Horrible Histories is to tell you the history you don’t know or that the stories you think you know are actually completely different,” said Neal. 

“One of the captains working on the boats said that he had been on the river for 20 years and he hadn’t ever known any of the stories, and that’s a chap who has lived and breathed the river.

“It really is something for Londoners as well as visitors to the capital.

“When we were writing it, Terry came up with the great idea of it being hosted by a teacher and a student who has won their school history prize and is being taken on the trip as a treat.

“The student and their family have been on the river all their lives so they are quite confident they know more about its history than the reluctant teacher. So it then becomes a battle about who knows more. 

“There are 40 or 50 stories in the show, which takes in Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Cleopatra’s Needle, Parliament and the Gunpowder Plot – which was really on November 4 – Boadicea destroying London, the Golden Hind and even people fleeing the Great Plague by hiding on boats on the river, who died because that’s where the rats all were.”

Kate added: “I’ve been really touched by people’s reactions to it.

“With all the trained Thames watermen, there’s a real London feel to the whole experience and it’s been put together with so much love, from the actors to the illustrations on the boat that were hand-drawn especially for us.

“There’s something about the two brands going together that works so well.

“It’s been really well received, and we were sold out at Easter, but we do sometimes have walk-in spaces so if you’re in the area, it’s always worth checking the timetable.”

Terrible Thames cruises take place at weekends, daily in school holidays and on occasional days during term time to accommodate tourists and school visits.

  • Adult tickets cost £22 off peak and £25 on peak, with kids costing £14-£15 respectively. Under-3s go free and family tickets cost £65-£72 for two adults and two kids.

Bookings can be made here

The Terrible Thames cruises leave from Tower Quay Pier
The Terrible Thames cruises leave from Tower Quay Pier

Read more: Discover the Massey Shaw historic fireboat and get involved

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: Discover Patricia Volk’s vibrant clay sculptures with Cornucopia

Artist’s mid-career retrospective at One Canada Square brings more than 40 of her works together

Artist Patricia Volk with some of her pieces
Artist Patricia Volk with some of her pieces – image Matt Grayson

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“It annoys me slightly when someone describes me as a ceramicist or a ceramic sculptor, because I don’t think the fact I’m working with ceramics has anything to do with the pieces I produce,” said artist Patricia Volk.

“I have no interest in doing glazes or anything like that – I’m not a potter.

“I also have no interest in repeating things – I like to keep changing and developing. I like things to look as though they’re slightly unsteady, as if you would have to put your hand underneath them to stop them falling over.”

Cornucopia, a mid-career retrospective featuring more than 40 of her sculptures, is currently filling the lobby of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf.

The exhibition, which will remain in place until June 10, 2022, is free to visit and open every day.

The brightly coloured forms, often twisted and curled in on themselves, present a stark contrast to the marbled hues of the tower’s ground floor space.

“When I’m making the piece, I never think of how people might respond at the other end,” said Patricia.

“But I would like to think that people would enjoy seeing them, and maybe that the work would give them something to think about as well.

“I hope people are moved and might pick things up that I might have been thinking about subliminally. There is a series of pieces called Source – very simple forms – that I really liked doing.

“They’re a contradiction with the totem pole pieces, which are quite complicated, because they are very simple forms with a drip.

“They have to be made properly because the drip won’t go where it’s supposed to if they aren’t – I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I get from doing those drips.”

As we talk, it becomes clear there’s a real connection in Patricia’s life between the work she creates and her own and others’ reactions to it.

Born in Belfast, she wanted to be an artist from an early age.

More than 40 of Patricia's works are on display
More than 40 of Patricia’s works are on display – image Matt Grayson

“It was what I always wanted to do – I can remember when someone asked me when I was five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to be an artist,” she said.

“My father was a member of the Ulster Arts Club and, when my mother wanted to get rid of me on a Sunday morning, I was packed off there.

“I remember walking around and looking at the paintings on the walls and the beautiful sculptures. It was a fantastic place and it was something to aspire to, definitely.

“I’m very dyslexic – I can remember starting school at the beginning, drawing a picture of a wedding and my teacher calling in another teacher to have a look at what I’d done – that’s where all my self-esteem came from. 

“I was completely obsessed with drawing – people would come up and ask me to draw a picture. I always won the prizes.”

With no portfolio, however, art college was an impossibility and Patricia got a job in the textile industry before moving to London at the age of 17.

Again unable to get into art college – something she admits would have been a remote possibility for someone of her age – she nevertheless found work and stayed.

“It was when everybody believed that London was the most exciting place and two of my friends decided to leave home,” said Patricia.

“We were very, very young, and I thought I’d just do that as well. My mother was delighted to see me go and I just stayed.

“Things happened, circumstances happened. I got a job very quickly here and I got married very young and had a child.

“I came over in the April and the Troubles started in the August.Then there was no going back.

“It was a bad time, but people here were very kind to me. I got a job as a typist and then went to work in advertising and met my husband.

“The group he was with had all been to art college – they’d done film and TV.

“Then, one night, in my mid-30s, after 16 years of not drawing, I picked up a pencil and thought that I could still do it.

Patricia's early work focussed on heads
Patricia’s early work focussed on heads – image Matt Grayson

“I said to someone that I had always wanted to go to art college, so I took a year out, went to adult education classes at the Camden Institute and Islington Institute, and did life drawing and clay modelling. 

“I remember someone walking in and seeing a figure I had done, and saying that I’d got something – that I could do it, and it gave me such pleasure.

“Looking back, there’s always been someone who has said something like that when my confidence has been at its lowest, to pick me up and make me look forward.

“In that year out I got a portfolio together, applied to Middlesex Poly because someone said I had to do a foundation course.

“I went to a party and someone asked what I was doing, and I said that I wanted to go to art college but I’d never get in because I was shit, and they got my address, got an application, sent it off and, although my husband said I’d never get in, I did, and that day was the happiest day of my life.

“For the first time, I hadn’t told any lies about my qualifications and I’d got in because of what was in my portfolio.

“So then I started my education at Middlesex Poly, and went on to do three-dimensional design. After I’d done my degree it was my mindset to go out and earn a living.”

And to a certain extent, that’s what she did.

Constantly altering and changing her approach she’s progressed from making monumental heads to writhing coloured forms and vibrant totem poles.

Recognised as a Royal West Of England Academician and a fellow of the Royal Society Of Sculptors, her work can be found in numerous private, national and international collections including the Swindon Museum And Art Gallery.

Perhaps her success can partly be explained by the forces and inspirations at work within her pieces, absorbed throughout her life.

She said: “As a trainee designer in Belfast, the lady who ran the company had come from Vienna with absolutely nothing and had certain ways of doing things.

“She taught me how to do patterns so no material was wasted. Even now when I roll out a big slab of clay I’m thinking ‘100% economy’. 

“It’s interesting how the things that happen to you when you’re a lot younger have such a dramatic effect.

“What’s important to me about my work is that it keeps me sane when I’m feeling down in the dumps. 

“It’s fascinating that pieces I’ve done which people find uplifting may have been done when I’ve been feeling depressed.”

Patricia's pieces are made from clay and often hollow
Patricia’s pieces are made from clay and often hollow – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Ian Berry set to create denim artwork for Canary Wharf

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Rotherhithe: Why UK Wallball is launching courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

Organisation’s CEO wants facility to be used as an urban playground to help boost Londoners’ activity

The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre
The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

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Sunlight streams down onto the freshly minted wallball courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.

I bounce the rubber ball and slap it vigorously with my hand.

My opponent steps in, makes an easy return, I dash forward striking the yellow sphere deftly into the bottom right hand corner of the wall, where it bounces back into the court and lands stone dead. The point is mine.

I lose all the other points, of course, but then my opponent is founder and CEO of UK Wallball and a former European No. 1 singles champion. So I don’t feel too bad.

Dan Grant and the governing body for the sport he runs are on a mission to get as many people as possible outside, active and bouncing balls against walls.

Installed in partnership with British Land, the two UK Wallball courts on the Rotherhithe Peninsula will be free to use (if you’ve brought your own ball) and can be turned to any number of game variations following their forthcoming launch on May 12, 2022.

Dan said: “Wallball is a simple, accessible sport where you hit a ball against a wall with your hands. Lots of people will have done it at school – called it pat-ball, Eton Fives, one-wall handball – there are lots of different names for it, but ‘wallball’ is the one they play around the world.

“This is the one wall version and it’s the international standard.

“Basically, you have one big rectangle marked out on the wall and one big rectangle on the floor. The main thing is – all you need to do is hit the ball with either hand so that it hits the wall and lands in the court.

“It can bounce once before it’s hit again and then you rally away until it either bounces twice or it goes out.

“The way it’s scored is that you get a point for each rally won on your serve – if you lose the rally then it’s your opponent’s serve. Games are usually played up to 11, 15 or 21 points.

“The easiest way to think of it is that it’s like playing squash against one wall – but there’s no line to hit it above, so you can hit it low and kill the ball.

“For the service, the ball has to hit the wall and land in the back half of the court and then it can land anywhere in the box.

“There’s also a blocking rule – if I hit the ball and then don’t move, I’m a legitimate obstruction that the other player has to try and get around.

“You can’t rugby tackle the other person out of the way – it’s a non contact sport – so they have to get round you to get the ball back.”

UK Wallball CEO Dan Grant pictured at the new courts

Having travelled the world playing the game Dan subsequently trained as a doctor, so his interest in promoting sport goes beyond pure publicity and is firmly rooted in the physical and mental benefits of outdoor activity. 

“Our aim at UK Wallball is to try to get as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible active.

“In cities where grey space is increasing and green space is disappearing, we think people should use walls for things like this.

“There are official rules, but our motto is: ‘Any wall, any ball, anytime’. We don’t care how people use the courts, so long as they are being used.

“If people want to invent their own rules, they absolutely can. This whole space at Surrey Quays can be used for a lot of other things – not just traditional wallball.”

The Rotherhithe installation is the first multi-court facility for free use in the country.

Alongside the two playing areas is a third space where those waiting to have a go can hang out, spectator searing and a vending machine selling balls and gloves.

Dan said: “Last year, we did our first proper community court at Bankside, which was also a really vibrant installation.

“That was us working with the Jack Petchey Foundation to target young people in London.

“When it went up it got a lot of media traction, which was awesome. I think a lot of people during the pandemic realised exercise in the open air was a pretty good thing, and that wallball is cheap too – in fact, if you have your own ball, it’s free.

“Off the back of that, British Land, which is regenerating the area around Surrey Quays and Canada Water, saw it, thought it was pretty cool and got us down to find out if they could do something for the community here.

“I persuaded them that they should and so we’ve installed the courts.

“We got our artist back – Dan Gurney – to make them look great. I really like his geometric approach. It works really well in an urban space.

“When you do this kind of thing, you want the courts to feel like they belong, so the design is inspired by both the greenery and the docks on the Rotherhithe peninsula.

“We’ll also have posters telling people how to play and how the design of the courts fits into the local area.

“The way we think of it is as an urban amphitheatre – yes, we want it to be used for wallball, but other sports and arts organisations can get in touch with us and use the space as well.

“It’s also that street to elite philosophy – I want a kid who’s played on these courts, hasn’t had to pay for anything apart maybe for a couple of quid for a ball and then for them to go on and play for Team GB. That would be really cool.”

A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own
A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own

Dan, who works as a doctor in emergency medicine and medtech, believes wallball could be the next big thing in the UK – something he believes would be beneficial to the health of the nation should urban environments embrace it. 

“Everything we’ve learnt over the last few years suggests it will catch on in the UK,” he said.

“It’s already big in Ireland, Spain and the Basque Country – it’s huge in the USA. In New York there are 2,500 courts. Wallball is taking off here too. 

“We’ve started working with schools over the past couple of years and the kids love it. It’s not just sport either – when we put a court in a school we can give them a blank canvas and they can design it, so there’s a creative element there too.

“Our ethos is that it’s not super-serious. 

“Of course, there are pathways for GB Juniors to go straight to the top, but if you just want to turn up and play, that’s fine too.

“I feel like if the kids are enjoying it, then that’s good for all of us.

“As a doctor I’m interested in prevention. We know that if you’re just active and walking around, then that’s really good for you.

“As you travel you see people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds have the worst outcomes in terms of health. So, having an urban space that feels safe and fun is much better than the alternative.”

The UK Wallball courts at Surrey Quays are set to launch on May 12, 2022, from 1pm-3pm.

The courts will be in place on an ongoing basis.

Read more: APT in Deptford seeks trustees to sit on its charity board

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: Why Art In Perpetuity Trust is seeking up to five new trustees

Charity aims to build resilient organisation for the future to operate studios and gallery space

APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees
APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees

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We are practising ‘artist-led’ as a reality, not just terminology – we are living and breathing creative independence and that’s something we strive for in perpetuity, just as our name says.”

In a nutshell, that’s APT, as described by its administrative director, Sarah Walsh.  

The Art In Perpetuity Trust operates from, and indeed owns outright, a former textile warehouse on the banks of Deptford Creek, a complex that houses 42 artists’ studios, a thriving gallery, a performance space and a working sculpture garden off Creekside. 

But it’s much more than just a landlord, it’s a potent, creative community and, following a period of evaluation and reflection during the pandemic, the charity that runs it is reaching out to recruit new trustees to help it continue to deliver its mission, namely to support creative thought and artistic vision both in the studio and the wider world.

APT administrative director Sarah Walsh
APT administrative director Sarah Walsh

“APT was set up 20 years ago by a group of artists who were looking to find new studios after they were forced to move from their previous home,” said Sarah. 

“They made an arrangement with the guy who was selling the building to slowly purchase the freehold over a period of time and then transformed the legal structure of the organisation into a charity.

“It’s not just a studio complex, it’s a space for interaction, for the exchange of ideas – it’s a community and it’s been created that way purposefully to provide support for those who have left education and want a space that isn’t isolated but alongside their peers.”

Now APT is seeking up to five new trustees to bolster the charity’s board who will work alongside the committees of artists resident on-site that drive its activities and direction.

Sarah said: “We are looking for people who can provide a range of skills and experience in five areas to ensure we remain a resilient organisation for the future.

“We’d like an artist or curator with an excellent industry profile, a legal expert with understanding of charity, property and employment law, someone with public sector experience and knowledge of local communities in south London, a trustee with a background in fundraising and income generation and a financial professional with a knowledge of the charitable sector.

APT owns its own building outright in Deptford
APT owns its own building outright in Deptford

“Trustees bring different voices, skillsets and experiences to the table that we can use to help build partnerships, communicate what we’re doing and maintain our resilience as they govern the charity.

“We have a unique structure here – the committees of artists don’t work independently, we all work in unison to run APT together.”

Trustees meet six times a year in addition to attending the charity’s AGM. Attendance at various private views and events will also be expected.

Sarah said: “As an organisation we’re always thinking about diversity, equality and inclusion and that includes the way in which we recruit trustees. 

“It’s important to us to be accessible and transparent and to reach out as widely as possible to attract a range of people who can represent APT successfully. 

“We’re a little nugget in Deptford with the most wonderful community – anyone coming in as a trustee will experience that.”

  • The deadline for applications to become a trustee is May 30, 2022

WHAT THE TRUSTEES SAY

  • “Being a trustee means you can see the direct impact and valuing of your skills and experience to make a positive difference to the lives of others in the local community. It opens up a whole new world of networks and creative possibilities on your doorstep.”

Jenny White, co-chair, APT Trustee

  • “Being a Trustee allows you to contribute your skills and knowledge to the development of an organic and creative organisation. You gain valuable experience being part of the  contemporary art scene and wider Deptford community. Besides, it’s fascinating to be engaging with artists and their diverse practices.”

Ann Gilmore, co-chair, APT Trustee

APT's gallery space on Creekside in Deptford
APT’s gallery space on Creekside in Deptford

Read more: Canada Water Market launches at Deal Porter Square

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Canada Water: What Squid Markets’ Canada Water Market offers shoppers

Company behind Wapping Docklands Market expands to Deal Porter Square, south of the Thames

Canada Water Market on its very first day of trading

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Not to be confused with South Korean ultraviolent Netflix phenomenon Squid Game, Squid Markets has reached a milestone.

On the first birthday of its first successful project – Wapping Docklands Market at Brussels Wharf – it unveiled a second, this time south of the Thames. 

Even for its first iteration on Easter Sunday (April 17, 2022), it was clear Canada Water Market is the right thing in the right place. 

Despite hordes of Londoners heading off to see families, the traders, street food vendors and refreshment stalls were doing brisk business at Deal Porter Square – something that will doubtless continue as the market is set to run every Sunday outside the library from 10am until 4pm.

It offers visitors a heady blend of live music, cuisines from around the world, German beer, wine, baked goods, fresh produce, crafts and art – a place to shop, but also to meet, eat, drink and be merry as the sun sparkles on the waters of the nearby dock.

Squid Markets founder Will Cutteridge

The divide created by the Thames itself was indirectly the inspiration for Squid’s latest venture – a physical obstacle that Londoners have been working to overcome (somewhat unsuccessfully) for hundreds of years.

While previous generations have tried tunnelling to connect Wapping and Rotherhithe, for Squid founder Will Cutteridge the solution was simpler – take what already works in one location and replicate it in another.

“We know at Wapping Docklands Market that the majority of our customers come from north of the river,” he said.

“So I thought we should have a market south of the Thames but in relatively close proximity to our first operation. 

“That way we’re able to start to grow the brand both in east and south-east London. That’s when I started looking for sites – literally on Google Maps, zooming into open spaces.

“Because London is so densely packed, if there’s a large open space it’s pretty obvious and I began looking in Rotherhithe and Deal Porter Square seemed the obvious place to do it – it was the right sort of area for what we’re offering.”

Art by Ed J Bucknall on sale at the market – more here

With swathes of regeneration already completed – and a great deal more in pipeline – the peninsula has seen a steady increase in population with new businesses and ventures arriving in the area. So what is Squid bringing to that mix?

“Canada Water is, like Wapping, primarily a food market,” said Will.

“We want people to come and do their weekly shop with us, get all their fruit and veg, their bread and all the standard items, while also grabbing a coffee and catching up with their neighbours.

“One of the most exciting things that we’ve seen at Wapping is that it has brought the local community together.

“People who live in the same building, right across the corridor from each other and have never spoken, have met at the market, and I think that’s the joy of something like this.

“That’s exactly what we want to create at Canada Water – something that brings people together in an old-fashioned way. 

“I think that’s important in this day and age, because people don’t talk to each other in London very much and the market provides a friendly environment where they can.

Produce from Chegworth Valley is also available – more here

“You go to the supermarket, pick up a bunch of carrots and put them in your basket, and it’s not very immersive or interactive.

“If you buy a bunch of carrots from our Chegworth Valley stall, the team running it all live and work on the farm – they pick the fruit, plant the seeds, and you’re meeting the people who grow your food – you have a dialogue with them, come back every week and it’s always the same people.

“We also have a small craft section in all our markets, because we tend to find that there’s a lot of local people who have a side gig making things.

“For example, we have a a guy who hand-makes all his terrariums – Plant And Person – which is quite cool.

“Hosting those pitches is a great way to get local businesses to the market, and it provides a bit of variety in addition to the food itself.

“We also have a local artist – Ed Bucknall – who sells his works, and one lady who takes all of our empty bottles from the wine stall at the end of the day and uses them to make candles.

Cheese from The French Comte – more here

“Street food is, of course, a critical part of our operation – visitors to the market can do their shopping and then listen to some live music, have a beer or a glass of wine and then grab a pizza, some curry, steak or a wide variety of Asian food.

“There’s also a guy selling Portuguese sandwiches and vegan Caribbean food from Joy’s Caribbean Fusion, so there’s a lot to choose from.

“Our plan is to have a total of 35 traders here, which is enough to provide a really good mix of food, produce and services – we’re always on the look out for new traders, so anyone interested should get in touch.

“We might have re-branded, but we remain hugely passionate about sustainability – it’s incredibly challenging but it’s something we remain focused on.

“One of the ways in which Squid does this is to find small businesses through its markets and help them build their brands nationally – we’re always seeking really interesting food producers that we can go into partnership with.”

Spinach rolls for £4 from Rodgis – more here

Read more: How Canada Water Dockside will transform Rotherhithe

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Stratford: Discover Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World

New show at Theatre Royal Stratford East hails female role-models and stars Christina Modestou

Christina Modeastou as Jane Austen, right
Christina Modestou as Jane Austen, right

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The 1990s may be back in style, but thankfully Girl Power never went out of fashion.

It has been given an empowering new spin in musical Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, which is set to run at Theatre Royal Stratford East from June 15-July 17, 2022.

Based on a book by Suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst, it celebrates often forgotten women from history such as Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen and Pankhurst’s own relative Emmeline, all seen through the eyes of inquisitive schoolgirl Jade.

They are brought to life by an all-female cast and a creative crew who have worked with the likes of Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue,  Miley Cyrus and Beverley Knight.

We asked part-Welsh, part-Greek star of the show Christina Modestou to tell us about the fantastic women who have inspired her.

the matriarch

My mum Lula is one of the biggest role models in my life. She has always been 100% behind me with anything I wanted to try as a child and critiqued me in a healthy way. 

My mum was a hairdresser and she loved her job – having a parent who loves what they do really rubbed off on me.

I used to go and help on a Saturday and witness it first-hand. Looking back, I see how everyone there encouraged me.

I used to write stories and act things out as customers were waiting for their perms to set. It was one of the customers who said I should go to a drama class as it made me really happy.

the teachers

I started classes with Irene Hopkins when I was five. She was my first singing teacher and had a massive impact on me. 

She had this wonderful knack for bringing out your best qualities and encouraging you to flourish in what you were good at.

I never liked classical music, I always found passion in pop and jazzy sounds. 

Instead of putting me in a box I didn’t want to be in, she stretched me, found my flair and leaned into that. She didn’t try to mould me into anyone else. 

She still comes to see every show I do and will send me a card. There’s still that level of support.

My dance teacher Jackie Bristow was also pivotal. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for her

Star Christina Modeastou
Star Christina Modestou


the character

My claim to fame is being in the choir scene in Love Actually and the year I graduated I did We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre. 

But the pivotal role in my career was playing Nina in In The Heights at Southwark Playhouse.

That was an experience I still hold very dear. She comes from a working-class community and goes away to university but, in trying to work and learn, she has to drop out because her grades are slipping and she has to go home and tell her family she has failed. 

It’s something quite common in our industry. People say you’ve got talent and put you on a bit of a pedestal and the thought that going home is a failure is hard. Exploring that was really exciting.

the fantastic women

This show has a really special place in my heart because I wish I had seen something like this growing up. 

In musicals there are historically four types of women – the unrequited love interest, the princess, the matriarch and the whore. Even in Les Miserables, that’s how women are portrayed. 

In our musical, we get to show who women are without men and be silly and funny, serious, loud, quiet, sensitive and strong – so many different things. I was asked to audition after I played Anne Boleyn in the original cast of Six.

I have been involved since the original workshops and it’s been amazing to see how it has snowballed. It’s a very physical show and you are representing real women.

Christina as Gertrude Ederle, in red
Christina as Gertrude Ederle, in red


the brawn

I play Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel and broke the world record. I didn’t know her story but she is incredible. She had measles as a child and by her 40s was almost deaf. 

She taught swimming to deaf children and, when she noticed people were drowning, she helped open pools in poor areas so people could learn to swim.

She was as strong as a man, won gold at the Olympics as part of the first female swimming team and invented the two-piece bathing suit.

I admire her strength and resilience and warmth. She was unapologetic about what she could achieve and was always helping others.

the wit

Most people know Jane Austen. I love playing her in this show because she comes back around the age she died, in her early 40s and befriends Frida Kahlo. 

They are chalk and cheese but give each other a wonderful platform. The thing that impresses me most is her wit. She was such an observer and wrote characters and comedy so well.

the intellect

Mary Anning was an English fossil collector and palaeontologist who discovered the ichthyosaur when she was twelve years old and uncovered skeletons of the plesiosaur, pterosaur and lots of other key things. 

I get the impression she lived a very hard life. She got struck by lightning as a baby and everyone else near her died.

She was one of 10 children, but only she and one other made it to maturity. She also lost her work to men, who didn’t give her credit for her discoveries. 

There is a real isolated sadness to her, which I find fascinating.

I think she homed in on the joy in her work. In the musical, we meet her with Mary Seacole and Marie Curie and they become this superhero trio.

So she has learnt how to work as a team in our world, which has a magical vibe as if all these women had come back to life.

Christina as Mary Anning, left
Christina as Mary Anning, left

the co-stars

I have never been in a rehearsal room with so many women. Doing this show has been a real collaboration and we have had some amazing discussions about gender, diversity, and disabilities. 

I’ve never experienced a room as open as this and it has opened my eyes to a lot of bias I didn’t know about. 

It is also about the fact feminism isn’t about women being better than men, it’s about being fair.

We don’t want the young men in the audience to feel they should be controlled by women. We want them to be inspired by these women. Feminism isn’t about vengeance. 

Shows like Emilia, with an all-female cast, have paved the way for this. In that, women play men, which is something we rarely see. It’s bonkers, because men play women all the time – in panto and on stage. 

In Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, we see these icons through the eyes of a young woman of colour and that is wonderful.

We wanted to make sure there was diversity – as we tour the show we want to make sure as many children are represented as possible.

the body

It’s not just about representing ethnicity, it’s about body shape. The first time I saw a body I recognised as being like mine was in Mad Men. I saw Christina Hendricks and was like: “Oh my god, finally, a curvy woman”.

I have to wear a unitard in this show, which was quite exposing for me, but the power of going out there knowing I can be a size 12 or 14 and be proud of it and hopefully inspire others, is unexplainable.

Often I get told I don’t look Welsh enough. I sit right in the middle of a lot of categories. I’m Welsh but with a Greek Cypriot background.

I’m not young, old, tall, short, thin or fat. I once got told I wouldn’t have a career until I’m older as I didn’t fit a category and I thought: “Screw that”.

the stars

I would love to work with Olivia Colman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Emma Thompson. Jenna Russell is amazing and I would work with her again and again. 

We did Urinetown together at The Apollo and then I managed to put on a cabaret at Southwark Playhouse during the pandemic and she did that with me too.

She is a class act. I admire people who put the work first and are selfless enough to tell the story which sometimes means giving up your moment to shine. That’s what inspires me.

herself

Someone asked us in a Q&A who we would be if we could be any women for a day and my colleague, Jade, said: “I would be me”. What a cool thing to feel – that you just want to be you and no-one else.

Read more: Discover the denim-based art of Poplar’s Ian Berry

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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