View Notting Hill Genesis Properties

Deptford: How Taca Tacos mixes flavours of Mexico and California in Deptford

Restaurant owner Thorne Addyman talks juggling looking after a newborn with opening his first site

Thorne Addyman, owner of Taca Tacos in Deptford – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

When we chat, Thorne Addyman is rumpled, tired and a little distracted.

Pretty standard for someone who has launched their first restaurant – Taca Tacos – during an economic crisis.

But his disarray is also due to the Deptford resident recently becoming a father.

If you think it sounds bonkers to bring new life into the world at the same time as launching a Mexican restaurant, I agree.

But Thorne said opening in Deptford Market Yard a few weeks before his daughter was born felt just right.

“I’ve been interested in the arches for a while but it’s a big commitment,” said Thorne, who has spent years cooking at pop-ups and markets. 

“A year ago, I did go and view one, but didn’t feel ready.

“Then, it was still available in June, so I asked to have another look and it felt like the right decision to go for it.

“Deptford feels more alive this year and it seems like people who don’t live here are taking it more seriously and saying it is really coming up. 

“I only live four minutes away and was having a baby, so that made it all very manageable.”

Reality is hitting a bit differently now he has to get up in the night for nappy changes and feeds.

But Thorne does seem to be managing the juggle admirably, roping in family to help with babysitting while he preps ingredients.

The restaurant serves up six varieties of tacos, inspired by Thorne’s trips round the food truck scenes in California and Mexico – where he had his eyes opened to the amazing variations of the dish.

Food at Taca Tacos in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

His menu includes the bestselling beef birria, which takes six-hours to slow-cook in a broth flavoured with four different chillies that’s then served on the side for dipping.

There is also the green chile pork served with avocado, pink onions, jalapeno salsa and coriander; the chicken pibil, baja fish, pulled ‘shrooms quesataco and a black bean taco.

“There are no rules for tacos,” said Thorne. “There are combinations of flavours that work better, but it is just about carrying food to your mouth.

“Going on those trips really helped me understand how amazing Mexican food can be and how that’s missing in this country.

“It’s mind-boggling that everywhere you go they have their own styles.

“In Mexico City I had an Argentinian fusion taco with smoked cheese and rib-eye steak.

“I’m interpreting different areas and bringing a different collection of flavours and styles to London.

“The Mexican wave is very early on and I’m hopefully catching it at the right time.”

Formerly an east Londoner, Thorne and his wife moved to Deptford in 2018 attracted by its “cool vibe”.

“It felt like there was a strong community here and such an array of food and drinks and shops as well,” he said.

“Walking down the high street, it almost felt like you could be in a different country with the smells, colours and fabrics.”

As we talk I can sense Thorne is in that new baby haze, where parents are prone to streams of consciousness.

“It is still in the phase where it’s all very new and we’re like: ‘What is this thing? How do we keep it alive?’,” he said.

The restaurant blends Mexican and Californian flavours – image Matt Grayson

My request for some career background is met with a 20-minute rundown of his life from age 14, when he started as a pot washer in his home town of Hay On Wye in Wales.

He talks about learning the importance of little things such as caramelizing onions for flavour, his move to London to work at Jamie Oliver’s steak restaurant Barbecoa in St Paul’s, and his two-year hiatus at a food and drink PR agency in Shoreditch.

The pull between kitchen and office continued, with a stint doing savoury waffle pop-ups in east London followed by a job for St Austell brewery in sales. 

“I didn’t love it or hate it,” said Thorne. “But fast forward two-and-a-half years and I got that itch again to do something with food. 

“My mum’s family are American and we were very lucky as kids that we were able to go to California near enough every year, where there’s lots of Mexican food.

“So my wife and I went on a road trip there and spent a lot of time eating tacos to really soak up some of the Mexican food that was about.

“When we came back, I started recipe testing and finding authentic suppliers in London.”

In June 2019 Thorne started with a four-week taco pop-up at The Greenhouse in New Cross Road (since closed), which sold out every night.

A three-month stint at a tequila bar in Dalston was juggled around his job, but just as momentum was building, Covid hit.

Furloughed from work, Thorne sold taco meal kits and a partnership with Plateaway saw his numbers jump from batches of  20 that he hand-delivered in south-east London to selling 200 a week nationwide.

“We got lots of good reviews, lots of bloggers wanted to try them but, as lockdown began to ease, we had to stop,” he said.

“All the way back in 2018, I’d put in a proposal for Brockley market, which is notoriously difficult to get into, but then the guy who runs it contacted me the day before we got married last August, and asked if I could do tacos there.

“It was a big moment as it’s established – some of the traders have been there for 10 years and it was a gateway to something a bit more serious.

“I could buy some equipment and it wouldn’t just be a pop-up.

Thorne cooks beef for six hours for his beef birria tacos – image Matt Grayson

“We did that every Saturday and built up a customer base and got lots of good feedback.  

“It was the first time I was able to interact with customers and having them come up and tell you they’ve enjoyed it makes it all worthwhile.”

Events with Kerb and wedding catering followed and then Thorne decided to up his game with a trip to Mexico.

“I hadn’t ever been before, which I didn’t feel was great given I was selling tacos,” he said.

“I went to Mexico, southern California and Austin, Texas – I read lots of books and blogs and ate tacos and burritos all day.

“The food trucks of LA  became a big inspiration for our business.

“It’s a pretty good way of bringing it over to London because they are Mexican families but they cater for western buyers.

“Going there, seeing it, eating it, tasting it was so important. Knowing my food was up to scratch compared to those who have cooked it from recipes that have been in families for generations.

“When I came back, I felt fully inspired.”

He had taken on Deptford local Tung Van Phan as head chef in November who encouraged him to go for it, when the Market Yard space came back on the table.

“Tung has completely thrown himself in and I could not have done this without his help,” said Thorne. “He is such a big part of the story and the journey. “

The duo spent time building the menu and the venue, with handmade tables, authentic Mexican ingredients and finishing touches Thorne said made all the difference.

“We spend three hours making a salsa because the ones you buy aren’t fresh,” he said. 

“They don’t really give you that hit of deliciousness and umami, where you taste all of the different levels.

“We spend a lot of time recipe testing and speaking to butchers and suppliers about what they’ve got. 

“I think the tortillas I use are the best in the UK because they are made fresh by two Mexican guys and delivered the next day.”

So how is he managing to juggle childrearing and restaurant running?

“It’s been a crazy couple of months really,” he said.

“We’ve got family based in Deptford so yesterday my auntie picked our daughter up and one of her cousins was playing with her all day.

“I was able to do prep and my wife was able to sleep.

“Being a parent is a completely new area of life that you never knew existed until you’re in it. It’s definitely been interesting doing both.”

Thorne visited California and Mexico for inspiration – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover east London firefighter Stephen Dudeney’s book

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Bromley-By-Bow: How Bow Arts has found its forever home at Three Waters

Charity founder and CEO Marcel Baettig on the importance of providing space for artists

Bow Arts founder and CEO Marcel Baettig – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

When the mini budget was announced last week, charities were left mostly empty-handed. It is a scenario Marcel Baettig, founder and CEO of Bow Arts, is well used to.

For the last 27 years, he has worked to generate the means to provide affordable workspaces and steady incomes for artists in Tower Hamlets.

Along the way, the charity has missed out on grants to help buy property, survive Covid and pay energy bills.

But it has thrived through a model that allows it to offer subsidised rents to artists and employment in creative projects for schools and community groups.

It has grown from supporting 50 artists to 500 and from one site – its headquarters in Bow Road – to operating in 15 locations spread across London.

Until now, it has only rented space.

But after more than two decades it has finally entered a new era with the purchase of its first building – on the ground floor of the Three Waters development at the meeting of the River Lea and Limehouse Cut canal.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Marcel, a trained sculptor who established the charity in 1994.

“This secures our future. The aim has always been to use the income we generate from our buildings to support creative community services, like work in schools, public art galleries and different sorts of events. 

“We have been very unlucky with our timing.

“When we grew and property was affordable, there were grants around for organisations like ours to help buy buildings.

“But we were just a bit late and all the money had been given out.

“So we’ve had to be very steadfast, slowly save our pennies and get ourselves into a position where we could afford to buy something. 

“We’ve eventually managed to do that through the partnerships that we set up about five or six years ago with housing association Peabody.”

Nine months ago, it approached Bow Arts to create a permanent creative space on the ground floor of the scheme – a joint project with developer Mount Anvil – as part of its community contributions.

“We had been trying to buy something for a long time,” said Marcel.

“It’s the only way we can maintain low rents for artists and guarantee support for them in the future. If we have a landlord, they can put the rent up and then, so would we.”

The 57-year-old was inspired to set up Bow Arts after his own struggles as a sculptor.

He said: “I had quite a successful career but the trouble with this type of work is that it’s project-based and when you get to the end of that bubble, you have to start all over again.

“It might be six months before you get another commission if you’re lucky.

“So that was quite a hard way to live. 

“I just had the idea that if I could get a collective space, where there would be a group of people doing the same sorts of things, then we could control the rent by sharing it and share all the resources.

Bow Arts supports artists in east and south-east London – image Rob Harris

“I also happened to do quite a lot of education work in schools and with special needs groups – I knew artists had a lot of transferable skills.

“I thought it would be a way to get work and build up relationships in an area.”

He found an ally in Marc Schimmel, who had just supported Damien Hirst and helped kick off the Brit Art movement.

“He offered me Bow Road and helped me set up the charity – we were full within three months,” said Marcel.

“I’m the only failure, as I’m the one that hasn’t been able to go back to being an artist.”

The charity began saving for a deposit, but found it couldn’t keep pace with property prices no matter how fast it saved.

“We had finally saved £1million and my big fear was that we were going to lose all of that through the pandemic,” said Marcel.

“Luckily, we were able to hang on to it, which meant we just about had enough to get a mortgage and buy this property for £2.2million. 

“Where we get hit as a charity it is because none of our artists are higher earners – they are all below the VAT threshold so we’re not registered for VAT and we don’t charge VAT.

“But we have to pay it on the purchase – another £500,000 – and then the extra 20% for the fit-out. It is hard to make it affordable for artists.

“You’re constantly trying to work with the government or HMRC to find ways around it, but there is no provision to support the third sector in doing what it could do very well in this country. 

“It’s a real shame considering charities have taken on an awful lot of local services for councils over the past 10 years.

“A tax break would make a huge difference to us and so many other organisations.”

All of Bow Arts’ education work stopped during lockdown, but it was able to get some financial support from places like the Arts Council and the GLA to help artists keep renting their studios. 

Even so, it lost about 20% of its tenants and Marcel said the energy crisis had hit just as things were starting to bounce back. 

“None of the mainstream stuff ever comes to us because we’re a charity and it’s all targeted at businesses,” he said.

“We will try the best we can to get grants, but as artists, we’re used to not having a lot of money so we’ll just be putting on thick jumpers.”

The charity provides studio space for artists in London – image Rob Harris

Marcel said the charity had finally managed to achieve its goal of a permanent site now the property market was changing.

“People are asking themselves if they are going to get these prices for commercial space and what the alternatives are,” he said.

“Then there’s been a lot of interest in the creative sector and in this new area of business. 

“Over the last five years, there has been a real sea-change in London and awareness of the strength and the power of the creative economy. 

“There are a lot of empty buildings around and people have looked to organisations like ours who have many years experience in filling these buildings and keeping them full.”

Bow Arts’ low rents – which range from £100-£500 per month- have seen it stay 98% full since day one.

The charity creates a circular economy by ploughing at least 25% of that money into supplying services for the surrounding local area, such as arts programmes for schools and community groups.

It trains its artists to be the ones who deliver that work and they get paid for doing it.

The charity is overwhelmed by the demand for what it does, getting about 12,000 hits a month from artists looking for space. 

Marcel said it began building relationships with developers a few years ago to try to increase its supply of studios.

“We have worked with the GLA for many years because there is a creative workspace crisis in London with over 50% expected to be lost in the next few years,” he said.

“We started to form proper partnerships with organisations like Peabody, Notting Hill Genesis and Mount Anvil because they’re the guys that are building new places and we can work together to deliver creative workspaces.

“What has been quite incredible is the value added by building an artist community that works with local schools and organisations. 

“That has meant a lot of commercial landlords and local authorities have actually given us buildings at very reduced rates, so that we can actually develop this creative placemaking.”

Bow Arts first began working with Peabody in 2015 as a partner on its huge Thamesmead regeneration project.

The old Lakeside Centre was transformed into 40 artists’ studios, a community nursery, kitchens and a cafe.

Its plans for the 26,000sq ft of space at Three Waters will see it converted into 70 studios.

Marcel, pictured at Bow Arts’ Three Waters space – image Matt Grayson

Set to open in January, the launch will be celebrated with the award of the East London Art Prize, run by Bow Arts in conjunction with the V&A, UCL and the Whitechapel Gallery. 

“It has grown out of the East London Painting Prize and is all about encouraging new artists and promoting them, to bring as many into view as possible,” said Marcel. 

“We’ve had 670 applicants, which is phenomenal, and shows how many artists are out there.”

The shortlist will be announced at the opening of Three Waters with an exhibition of work held at the charity’s Nunnery Gallery in Bow.

The winner will get a cash prize, free workspace, an exhibition and support for two years until the prize is awarded again. 

“It is really hard for young artists in those early stages,” said Marcel.

“So an organisation like Bow Arts, which is absolutely committed to supporting them and maintaining affordable rent levels, is vital. 

“There’s so much talent out there and, as London pushes east, we’re opening up more markets for people who want to go into the creative sector.

“It’s become a very viable career.”

Bow Arts also supports the next generation of artists through its work with 100 schools across London. 

“We train artists very carefully to be able to deliver workshops, activities, commissions and things like that,” said Marcel. 

“Then we’ll develop long-term roles and partnerships with the individual schools and with consortium groups of schools to deliver a creative programme.

“A lot of the creativity has been taken out of the curriculum in mainstream schools. 

“We want to expand that operation and Three Waters means there will be permanent funding to support that work in Tower Hamlets and Newham, which will have a huge impact.

“There’s so much talent in the area.

“So many people from less privileged backgrounds just simply don’t know how to access the arts or even understand that there is a potential career for them there.

“We’re giving them those opportunities.”

Looking back, Marcel said it was strange how he’d changed alongside the charity, finding a new career without even realising.

“I would never have expected this if I’m very honest, as I always saw myself as an artist,” he said.

“I couldn’t have stayed as enthusiastic about it if it wasn’t such interesting work with interesting people. 

“I don’t just mean the creative community, it’s everyone we get to work with – developers, schools and the local community. 

“The support we’ve had and the interest from people has been really quite amazing. 

“So I have been distracted by this for the past 27 years and that time has really flown by.”

Read more: Discover east London firefighter Stephen Dudeney’s book

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Poplar: How London Firefighter tells the story of Stephen Dudeney’s 31-year career

Book by former borough commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney is available now

Firefighter Stephen Dudeney has published a book about his 31-year career
Firefighter Stephen Dudeney has published a book about his 31-year career

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

There’s a circle to this story – it begins and ends with the printed word.

Stephen Dudeney grew up in Poplar, just down the road from its fire station.

As a boy in the 1970s, he was fascinated with the fire engines, even chasing them on his bike when he was old enough to ride.

“I loved them,” he said. “When I was about 12 I started going to the big library in Mile End to look at picture books full of them. 

“Then, one day, I saw a book with a really bright cover – loads of flames and fire engines. I pulled it off the shelf, and it was just full of text.

“I was disappointed, but I started reading it and found I quite liked it.”

It was an encounter that fed what was already a growing passion and Gordon Honeycombe’s Red Watch about firefighers in Paddingtonand Denis Smith’s Report From Engine Co. 82 about a fire crew in New York added further fuel to the flames.

Stephen said: “Gordon, who was then an ITN newsreader, had done a lot of charity work with the London Fire Brigade, and his book was a best-seller.

“It’s known as the book that launched a thousand careers because a lot of people – a bit older than me – had read it and decided to join.” 

While Stephen had always been fascinated by fires, once harassing his dad to take him to see a big blaze in Wapping, his journey to becoming a firefighter really began aged 14 when he and a friend volunteered to help out at Poplar fire station.

“We turned up on bonfire night because we knew it would be busy and offered to make the tea and cook some dinner for them,” he said.

“We both expected them to tell us to go away. I remember them saying ‘Thank you very much’ and we were expecting a ‘but’. 

“Instead, they said: ‘We’d love you to. Come on Thursday night, about six’. So we did.

“It was a different time, that’s not something that could happen now – just imagine, an unaccompanied 14-year-old at the station.

“Looking back, I expect they thought I was a poor kid, which I wasn’t really.

“I don’t think they thought I’d end up as a firefighter – I probably didn’t seem intelligent to them.

“But I’d join in with all the banter and I used to go down the pub with them – fancy being given a pint at that age.

“It was a good time. It changed me at school too – I started using that banter at school and the other kids probably thought I was a bit of a live wire.

“I was probably fairly bright and had been doing well with my studies but I know I was a bit of a disappointment to my parents because, having been put in the advanced classes with good reports, at that time I decided I didn’t need to worry about all that because I was going to be a fireman.”

Stephen joined the brigade in 1987, with his first shift the day after the King’s Cross fire that claimed the lives of 31 people. 

His 31-year career saw him serve at all the fire stations in Tower Hamlets, rising first to training officer and then station officer before going on to become station commander and then borough commander for Hackney in 2013.

Then, as Tower Hamlets had been placed in special measures, he returned to the area where it all began for him, finishing his career as borough commander in 2018, based at the new Millwall Fire Station on the Isle Of Dogs. 

London Firefighter is available from Amazon, priced £11.99

While that completed the circle career-wise for Stephen, he’s since gone one step further, publishing London Firefighter, a book that aims to give readers a sense of the evolution of the London Fire Brigade during his more than three decades of service.

“The changes have been massive over that time,” he said. “When I joined, it was still very much the fire brigade of the post-war era.

“The big changes came through the 1990s and into the 2000s, and it’s now completely unrecognisable. 

“We used to do a lot more of a lot less – it was fires, car crashes and the occasional flood.

“When you look at what’s done now – all sorts of things such as water rescue and animal rescue – the firefighters have got equipment and procedures that are so different.

“If I’d joined in 1957 and left in 1987, I would have recognised everything.

“Leaving in 2018, the only thing that was the same, was the water and the hoses. I hope this book shines a light on the modern brigade and how firefighting is a bit of London history. 

“I want people to come away thinking we’re not a bad bunch.

“I’d always had the idea that I wanted to write a book and I’d kept notes over the years – moving files over from computer to computer.

“Then, when I retired, I thought I would do something about it.”

While the book offers vivid first-hand accounts of what it was like for Stephen to tackle ferocious fires up close, it also offers a wider perspective on the sheer complexity of organising the service and its multitude of functions.

For example, during his career Stephen played his part in the response to such major incidents as the 1996 Docklands bombing by the IRA at South Quay on the Isle Of Dogs and the Buncefield fire – the biggest incident of its kind in peacetime Europe – when an oil storage facility exploded in 2005.

“You expect to see and experience some things as a firefighter,” he said.

“I was called out to Grenfell Tower and it remains the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

“From a mental health point of view, I’ve largely survived the fire brigade in terms of the awful things that I saw over the years, but Grenfell really affected me.

“Since I left the service, I’ve started a company that consults and advises on fire safety and I was recently on my way to do a survey of a building when I passed the tower. 

“I thought I was OK, seeing it again, but later on I couldn’t get it off my mind. 

“Even though I wasn’t there over the night, when it was at its worst, it’s had a tangible effect on me and I think there will be a generation of firefighters who will feel the same, who will never forget it.”

That’s also the point of Stephen’s book.

To set down what happened and who it happened to, so those events and people aren’t forgotten.

  • London Firefighter by Stephen Dudeney is published by Austin Macauley Publishers and is available from Amazon priced £11.99.

Read more: New Scientist Live returns to Excel with a festival of ideas and innovations

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How Fairgame is set to revolutionise competitive socialising

CEO Richard Hilton says the funfair-themed venue will feature games, street food and cocktails

Fairgame does give some cuddly bears away as prizes - image by Matt Grayson
Fairgame does give some cuddly bears away as prizes – image by Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Fairgame is something fresh.

While competitive socialising has been around for a while in Canary Wharf, it’s almost as though Electric Shuffle and the brightly coloured minigolf by Craig And Karl, were gateway drugs.

This new venue, set to officially open on October 4, 2022, is a pure sugar rush of grown-up silliness.

Overseen by a cheerful, furry pink bear, who may have been to a few too many illegal raves in the 1990s, Fairgame is a vast, 20,000sq ft funfair-themed bar, playground and street-food hangout.

There are cocktails, pizza, nine games to try and Prosecco-infused candy floss.   

The venue’s owners have taken spaces once occupied by Davy’s, The Limehouse and The Merchant and knocked through to make a massive space with a terrace stretching down Fishermans Walk. 

Don’t worry too much about finding it, though. Helpfully there’s a five-metre rubber duck sat in the dock right outside.

That, in itself, is a statement both of location for the venue, but also of wider intent for Canary Wharf.

What better way to let London know the direction the estate is headed, than by pointing the way with a giant yellow duck?

Like the dock its aquatic landmark sits in, however, Fairgame is more than just the ersatz glamour of a dodgy funfair.

Behind the fun is a serious operation run by some big names and the activities are scrupulously honest.

Fairgame’s co-founders include Paul Campbell of Hill Capital Partners, who sits on the boards of Hawksmoor, The Alchemist and Blacklock, and music industry lawyer Andrew Myers.

But it’s Gymbox founder and now CEO of this new venture, Richard Hilton, who takes me on at Gopher Broke, the venue’s update of Whac-A-Mole.

Fairgame co-founder Richard Hilton aims his water gun - image by Matt Grayson
Fairgame co-founder Richard Hilton aims his water gun – image by Matt Grayson

“Fairgame is a revolution,” said the Watford-born entrepreneur.

“We want people who come here to feel elated. That goes for our staff too – it’s vital they enjoy what they’re doing to create that environment.

“When I was a little kid, I used to love going to the funfair.

“It would come round once a year and my parents would take me. The games were magical – the chance to win a prize. 

“When you transition to being a parent yourself you realise it’s really expensive and the experience is a bit grotty, but there’s still something magical about the games – you can’t help but love playing them and that’s what I want people to feel, here in Canary Wharf.”

While there’s a whiff of nostalgia about Fairgame – its tagline is that it’s the funfair “exactly like you don’t remember” – the games aren’t fixed or charged individually, they’re played purely for the pleasure of competition, although cuddly bears are given as prizes for those who do especially well.

“We’ve genuinely reinvented them,” said Richard.

“Every game has tech in it so people will be playing really slick games and competing.

“You can play in groups of two, five, 10, 15 or even 100 – which is great for a corporate day out – the number is unlimited.

“You’ll be able to see how you’ve done in individual games through our leader boards and overall, once you’ve played all nine.

“We incentivise people with the bears, but really it’s the joy of beating the people you’re with that you’re playing for.”

Players pay £13 per person, which gets then 75 minutes to tackle each of the nine games at the venue, twice.

Packages that include food and drink are also available.

There are nine games in total, which participants play twice - image by Matt Grayson
There are nine games in total, which participants play twice – image by Matt Grayson

Playing is not mandatory, however, and Wharfers are free simply to visit the venue for cocktails at the Bumper Bar or dishes from on-site vendors Burger And Beyond, Rudy’s Pizza Napoletana and Dos Mas Tacos.

Its terrace gets the sun in the evening and Fairgame plans to install covered seating and heaters for comfort.

Inside, visitors will find plenty of flashing lights, two bars, semi-private booths, a private events space, a candy floss and sweets bar and all the pun-tastic games. 

Fairgame has reimagined and re-branded a multitude of classics such as Lawn Of The Dead, inspired by crown green bowling, Pantry Pandemonium – a game where missiles are thrown to knock targets off shelves and Circus Freak, where contestants try to accurately aim a water gun to raise a clown’s head faster than their opponents.

It’s the variety that Richard thinks will be key to the venue’s success.

“I don’t have a favourite – I love them all,” he said. “That was the joy in selecting them – I chose the ones I enjoyed the most and was best at.

Final Furlong – our roller derby – is great and we also have one called Dunk The Junk, which hasn’t been made since the 1970s.

“You have to try and get as many balls as you can into these rubbish bins, but the lids keep opening and closing so you have to time it just right. I love it

“The majority come from the USA, but one – Phoney Island – our version of a duck shoot, comes from Oldham and is made by a guy who just takes joy in creating games. 

“They all test different abilities – shooting, throwing, hitting – the idea was to do something more stimulating than having a venue dedicated to one thing. 

“The reason funfair games are great is the variety, and nobody else has thought about putting them together like this in a circuit.”

Richard himself has history as an entrepreneur.

Having started out in the advertising world, he spotted Crunch while working in New York and created Gymbox in 2001 for the London market. 

Fairgame's five-metre high duck is outside the venue in the dock
Fairgame’s five-metre high duck is outside the venue in the dock

“I saw something in the States and wondered why nobody had done it in Britain,” said Richard, who sold most of his shares in 2016, while remaining a director of the company. 

“I was going to retire, but realised I was too young.

“My wife definitely wasn’t ready for me to give up work, so I began to look into something called competitive socialising.

“If I go out, I’m quite happy sitting in a pub and talking to a  friend, but the younger generation want a bit more. 

“So I had a go on one of the golf concepts but found it a bit repetitive.

“That’s where the idea for Fairgame came from.

“The reason we picked Canary Wharf for the first one is that it’s a really interesting area and now that Crossrail is here, it’s even more accessible.

“There’s the business community but with Wood Wharf and the areas around the estate, there’s a large residential population too.

“You’re getting brands like Hawksmoor and Patty&Bun that I don’t think would have opened a decade ago – it’s evolving and changing.

“I live on the other side of London and it’s not what I thought it would be. 

“That’s thanks to Canary Wharf Group – there’s a vision for the place and it’s going to get even better, especially now its five minutes from Liverpool Street and 13 from Tottenham Court Road.

“It’s an exciting journey when you think what it was like even five years ago and it’s great to be a part of it.”

Players of dunk the junk attempt to get balls into bins
Players of dunk the junk attempt to get balls into bins

Read more: How The PA Show Canary Wharf is bringing a community together

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How The PA Show Canary Wharf aims to bring a community together

Mash Media’s boutique event is set to be held at the East Wintergarden on Wednesday, November 2

The event will be hosted at Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

“Community” is the word on the lips of Lisa Farnfield.

As Mash Media sales director, she’s responsible for organising the first PA Show Canary Wharf, which is set to take place on November 2 at the East Wintergarden in Bank Street – and she’s determined to make it a place of connection as well as business. 

Mash runs The PA Show at Excel – a nationwide gathering of those working as personal, executive and virtual assistants or office managers – which is gearing up for its 12th edition when it returns to Royal Docks in March.

Building on the success of this year’s show, the company decided to try something new in the interim.

“The PA Show Canary Wharf will be an intimate event for those working in the sector in London, that we’re holding due to popular demand,” said Lisa.

“It’s boutique – a way for people to come and meet suppliers, connect with like-minded people and learn from the great content we’ll be putting on.

“The East Wintergarden is a great venue, exactly the right size, and it has great facilities at the heart of Canary Wharf.

“There will be two theatres on the day, one focused on tech and the other on personal development.

“Speakers include Abigail Jones, an EA at Instagram, Lauren Bradley, founder and lead trainer at The Officials, Abigail Barnes founder and CEO at Success By Design Training and Sarah Howson and Marianne Whitlock – co-founders of Strategic PA Recruitment.

“It’s a chance for people to brush up on their skills and to come together – especially as being a PA, EA or VA can be an isolated position.

“The show is just in the run-up to Christmas and it will have a really special feel to it.

“We’ve got corporates and companies coming along – venues, restaurants, bars, hotels – a lovely selection of high quality businesses.

“Our focus will be the PA community and we’ll be running some great activities during the show, such as speed networking and a prize draw. 

“We’ll also be inviting everyone who attends to after-show drinks so that our visitors and exhibitors can wind down together and connect.

“That’s what people want and it’s our job as an organiser to tune into that – to make sure we have the right content and the right suppliers.

“Our experience with this new style of event will also feed into the main flagship show in March – our all-singing, all-dancing gathering of the sector nationally.”

Mash Media’s Lisa Farnfield – image by Matt Grayson

Visitors to the East Wintergarden will get access to The PA Show Passport allowing them to get stamps from exhibitors to qualify for a goody bag and entry into a prize draw. 

Prizes include a £500 gift card from passport sponsor Harrods Corporate Services and Eastbourne Tennis corporate hospitality tickets for four from Keith Prowse.

Exhibitor slots at the show have nearly sold out, with only a couple remaining.

Lisa, who used to live and work in Docklands, said: “I think that’s about location – being in Canary Wharf has drawn people’s attention.

“Live events are back and people want to go to them. It’s not just about putting on a show, it’s about putting on an experience.

“There’s so much change in this area, it’s important for people to know what’s coming up. 

“We want people to say: ‘Wow, that was a great experience’ – that’s our main aim with this more intimate show, a very select group of exhibitors and a layout that allows people to stay connected throughout the event.

“On a personal level, I’m thrilled to be back in Canary Wharf.

“There’s a real community here, not just for those who work here, but among those who live locally.

“It’s really meaningful to come back and deliver something like this here.”

Lisa said planning for this event had also informed how Mash will evolve the main PA Show when it returns to Excel from March 1-2.

“Because it takes place in spring it will have a different feel, but it will be a more intimate experience,” she said.

“We’ll be having five theatres but also more activities to attract a wider, larger audience.

“It’s about what we can do to make sure there’s a real buzz on the show floor. 

“Throughout there will be exhibitors that really pull people in and we’ll have the PA Passport and speed networking – some of the things we’ve developed for this smaller show.

“We’re always striving to ensure the layout and ingredients that go into the show are both as good as they can be so we deliver something that people want to return to again and again.”

  • PAs, EAs, VAs, office managers and those in similar roles can attend The PA Show Canary Wharf – sponsored by South Western Railway – for free.
  • Registration is essential for entry. Theatre sessions cost £42 including VAT. Visitors can get 10% off through Wharf Life with code 1009.

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Royal Docks: How New Scientist Live is bringing a festival of ideas to Excel

Speaker programme includes Sir Patrick Vallance, Rohin Francis, Dr Simon Clark and Gillian Forrester

New Scientist Live returns to Excel from October 7-9

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

“We grandly title it: ‘The world’s greatest festival of ideas and discoveries’,” said Martin Davies.

2022 will be his first year in charge of delivering New Scientist Live, which returns to Excel in Royal Docks from October 7-9.

While our interview is conducted via a phone call, 20th century tech can do nothing to mute his obvious enthusiasm and excitement.

“When New Scientist magazine first started doing the show, I found myself being rather envious – I’d had my eye on this job for a few years, so I’m really pleased to be working here now,” he said.

His role as the title’s head of event production is a natural fit for a man who spent more than 13 years at the Royal Institution, helping to deliver its programme of lectures and events. 

“I studied natural sciences at Cambridge and ended up specialising in the history and philosophy of science,” said Martin.

“That meant I came out of university knowing a bit about lots of different things, but not really a specialist in anything, which is terrible if you want a research career.

“That wasn’t for me – I’m a real generalist – so the career I’ve had at the Royal Institution and now, here, is absolutely perfect.

“One day I’m talking to a neuroscientist and a biologist and the next to a particle physicist and a chemist.”

It’s that breadth that New Scientist Live seeks to offer visitors to the show – an exhibition and a programme of speakers that allows anyone who turns up to encounter and understand ideas and discoveries across a wide range of fields.

“Our mantra is: ‘Science is for everyone’,” said Martin.

“Our writers make the most complex subject understandable for the magazine’s readers and we want to keep that same ethos for the show.

“It’s not for professional scientists or nerds – they’re welcome, too, of course – but for everyone who is interested in the world around them and how things work.”

New Scientist head of event production Martin Davies

The event is set to run over three days – a Friday dedicated to school parties with a programme specifically aimed at younger visitors – and the Saturday and Sunday open to all-comers.

“People will arrive at Excel onto our gigantic show floor, which will be packed with stuff to do,” said Martin.

“There’s something for everyone – VR roller-coasters, virtual drones to fly, all sorts of exciting activities and the chance to get your hands on some excellent scientific products in our marketplace.

“I’m especially excited about our hospital of the future exhibit where lots of partners will be showcasing some absolutely incredible medical technology.

“There are machines for surgical training so visitors can slice someone up in a virtual environment and they’ll also be able to see robot surgeons – this is incredibly futuristic technology that will be in hospitals in the next five to 10 years. It’s real, not science fiction.

“People might also be surprised to see a lot of exhibits to do with the future of food and might wonder what science has to do with farming.

“But there’s so much technology involved and a real demand for people with STEM skills to work in farming.

“Take agriculture, for example – there will be a combine harvester there and people will be able to sit in the driving seat, but that’s the wrong way to describe it.

“It’s more like the cockpit of a fighter jet with screens and joysticks everywhere.”

Arguably the show’s greatest attraction is its extensive programme of talks, this year spread across four main stages and an interactive stage, with speakers talking on everything from stool transplants to dark matter.

Sir Partick Vallance is set to open the second day of the show with a talk entitled The Future Of UK Science And Innovation.

He remains the Government’s chief scientific adviser, having risen to public prominence thanks to his frequent press conference appearances alongside Sir Chris Whitty and a carousel of now (mostly) former cabinet ministers.

There will be plenty of activities to explore on the exhibition floor

“He’ll mostly be talking about how science is used in government and the part it played in the pandemic, so it will be really interesting to have that inside view of the conversations that were going on in 2020 and 2021 – how he argued the case for science and what lessons can be taken from that when the next crisis inevitably comes,” said Martin.

“There are so many brilliant scientists and writers but some of the people I’m really interested in seeing are the younger, up-and-coming individuals who may not be so well known.

“We’ve got Rohin Francis, for example, who’s a consultant cardiologist and he will be doing a talk called The Human Body: Design Disaster.

“We may have evolved over thousands of years, but there are things in our bodies that are not designed very well, so that should be a really funny and informative talk.

“Then there’s Dr Simon Clark who will be doing a talk called How To Become A YouTube Scientist.

“He’s a physicist with half a million subscribers on the platform and does stuff about atmospheric physics – looking at the climate. 

“But he also describes life in academia, studying and how to get through a PhD at Oxford, which is no mean feat.

“He’s a really interesting person.

“We’re always looking for good speakers and I spend a great deal of my time researching the best people to have.

“But it’s all a team effort. Our magazine journalists all spend a lot of time talking to scientists and we get some great suggestions from them.

“One example is cognitive scientist Gillian Forrester from UCL, who spends her time getting apes to solve puzzle boxes, getting young children to do the same puzzles and asking what we can learn about the ways they do it. She’s such a great speaker.”

  • Standard tickets to New Scientist Live cost £42 for adults and £17 for children when booked in advance. Family tickets (two adults and two children) cost £106 – a saving of £12. 

There are also options to live-stream talks from the event and to get access to content on catch-up.

Visitors will find plenty of stands offering interactive experiences

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How The Pearson Room’s winter cocktails mix warmth and beauty

The Canada Square venue is offering seasonal flavours and a special offer for PAs and party planners

The Pearson Room’s Theo Damse

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Right now there are two things to tell you about The Pearson Room.

  • The first is that it’s just launched its new cocktail list for winter 2022, with the bar team working hard to come up with 14 drinks to tickle the tastebuds of thirsty Wharfers.

“I would describe it as focused on smoky, spicy and sweet flavours as those are right for this time of year,” said Theo Damse, assistant bar manager at The Pearson Room. 

“We try to make it so we have as little waste as possible behind the bar and we make use of as much of each ingredient as we can.”

That means the venue, which is located above Waitrose overlooking Canada Square, is all set for winter, with a special Christmas drink – Santa’s Little Helper – also in the pipeline for the festive season. 

General manager at The Pearson Room, Emilie Parker-Burrell said: “We like our menu to be original, creative and something you won’t find anywhere else. 

“The team have been amazing, coming up with all these drinks since we first talked about changing the menu in June.”

See below for our six picks from the new list.

  • Also on Wharfers’ radars should be the venue’s loyalty scheme, which applies to PAs, EAs and anyone working at a company who has responsibility for making corporate bookings.

“We’re calling it The Pearson Collective,” said Emilie.

“The way it works is that those on the scheme get points based on the number and size of booking that they make with us.

“Because we are owned by Third Space, those points can be used as credit at the club, Natural Fitness Food and Third Space Spa.

“You’d get one point for a booking for four people, which works out at £5.

“The Pearson Room is very flexible – it can handle small dinners right up to receptions for 350 people.

“If you booked exclusive hire of the whole venue, that would be 40 points, so £200 in credit. We want to reward those who are loyal to us – it makes sense if we give something back.”

Email events@thepearsonroom.co.uk for more information about The Pearson Collective

SIX OF THE BEST – OUR PEARSON ROOM PICKS

1. Cinema Seat – £14

Mezcal Montelobos, Cointreau, popcorn syrup, lime, pineapple juice

This punchy drink comes garnished with a few sweet kernels of popped corn and some sticky syrup to help the medicine go down

2. Fairy Belle – £12.50

Belle De Brillete, Benedictine, pistachio, pear, Prosecco

The ideal welcome drink for a festive bash, this slender, elegant flute comes with a couple of pistachio nuts and a crisp, clean flavour

3. First Frost – £11

Whitley Neill Violet Gin, violette liqueur, lavender

This pale purple drink lies as lightly on the tongue as the first whisper of ice crystals forming from the morning dew. A subtle cocktail in debt to the classic Aviation

4. Winter Drop – £14.50

Rémy Martin 1738 cinnamon, lemon, orange juice, fresh orange segments

This is a proper, grown-up drink served with slices of fun – literally three toasted orange segements dipped in sugar and cinnamon

5. Just Chill – £11

Ocho Tequila, watermelon liqueur, grenadine, watermelon syrup and chilli

This is the partygoer who makes an entrance in a stunning shade before hitting the dance floor to spice things up. Carefully balanced

6. Santa’s Little Helper – £14.50

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte, Mount Gay Rum, Cherry Heering (served hot)

Available from November, this brilliant, potent drink should be a Wharf rite of passage. Heady, smoky and warming for winter

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How Utilidex helps its customers manage their energy

Co-founder and director of the Level39-based company talks billing and climate change optimism

The topic of energy is ever-present in the headlines in 2022
The topic of energy is ever-present in the headlines in 2022

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

The topic of energy is seldom out of the news at present.

There’s the government plan to cap household bills at an average of £2,500 through 2023 with six months of equivalent support for businesses at a cost of more than £100billion. 

Then there’s the longer term problem that, unless humanity brings down global carbon emissions by finding ways to generate the power we need in more environmentally friendly ways, then our activities on this planet will be the end of our species.

Whatever is going on in the market or with the planet, organisations’ ability to accurately know their own usage and impact is essential.

That’s where Utilidex comes in. Founded in 2012, the company is based at Level39, Canary Wharf’s tech community, spread across various floors of One Canada Square.

“We create software for businesses, the public sector and industry,” said co-founder and director Mike McCloskey.

“We do three things. Firstly, we do billing and, by default, bill validation for our customers.

“Secondly, we handle energy procurement – that means buying energy for the future for large corporates and industrials particularly.

“The reason we do that is so companies are less exposed to big changes in prices, to mitigate big shocks in the market.

“Then thirdly, from the data we receive, we create, assess and monitor the carbon footprint of an organisation based on the latest conversions.

“These actually change every year based on how much renewable energy is in the system.

“Once you have that data, which tends to be in half-hourly granularity in the UK, you can make observations – a business can monitor things like how much energy is being used when a property is vacant or a floor is empty in a building.

“You can work out things like energy intensity per square foot and then compare different buildings to see how they differ.

“That’s how you start to understand whether you’re wasting energy.

“Once you start looking at data in this highly granular form, then the observations become more interesting.

“These days, companies are devoting a bit more time to this – they are carbon aware – but even prior to that there was still a requirement for people working in facilities management to understand day-on-day, week-on-week, month-on-month, whether the organisation was making energy reductions and procuring power more effectively.

“These are the sorts of things we try to inform our customers about.

“With our software, it’s all about usability and understanding how the system works – getting as much benefit as you wish and deciding how much activity you can and want to devote to energy.

“In terms of value, we can measure the impact of projects and behavioural change – for example, swapping to LED light bulbs.

“The data can provide the justification for doing things like that.

“We also do the basic things like ensuring our customers’ bills are accurate.

Utilidex co-founder Mike McCloskey
Utilidex co-founder Mike McCloskey

“If your bill is £5million, then you’ll want to know if it’s correct or whether you’re under or over.

“It could be that a company is still being billed for a property it no longer owns, that the rates have changed or that the meter data is either not coming through or has been poorly estimated.

“There’s a lot of talk about energy suppliers over-billing, but in my experience, they’re just as likely to under-bill which is equally problematic if there’s a shock at the end of the year and it wasn’t in the budget.

“Traditionally much of this work was done manually, which was time consuming and prone to error, so we do it digitally.”

Utilidex, which has recently added water to the list of utilities its software supports, did not spring fully-formed from the minds of its founders – Mike and co-founder and CEO Richard Brys.

Instead it is a company where change and evolution have shaped its activities, growth and direction.

“When you start a business in the utility sector, especially if you’ve got some experience, you usually have a plan,” said Mike.

“But as the market evolves there has to be re-calibration and sometimes chucking everything out of the window and starting again.

“All these things happen in a dynamic fashion, but you have to adapt to those changes to stay in business. 

“We were very lucky. Our first two corporate customers – Bourne Leisure and Aviva – had massive environmental awareness in 2014 and still do today. 

“Their interest drove us into an area where we had to learn quite quickly what had to be done to support behavioural change in buildings.

“Nowadays, every organisation above a certain size in the UK has a carbon target.

“These are set at board level, so have to be adhered to, and there are lots of opportunities where our data can be used either by consultants, developers or sales providers to build a business case for a project.

“We want to build our business in the UK and grow it here – there’s a lot to do.”

One of the parts of its business  Utilidex hopes to expand is the ways it supports organisations to reduce their carbon emissions.

Mike says industrial companies will invest in making their own energy
Mike says industrial companies will invest in making their own energy

“I’m actually more optimistic now about climate change than I was eight months ago,” said Mike.

“Sadly, that’s down to the rocketing energy prices.

“They will cause a dark winter where energy conservation becomes really important for financial survival, be that for households or businesses.

“The impact of this will accelerate the process because it will force everybody’s hands and that should be a good thing for the planet.”

While Mike said there were no easy fixes for businesses facing escalating bills, he said some would be in a position to take action.

“It’s a massive problem and will need to be addressed in a variety of ways,” he said.

“One way for organisations to do that is to become both producers and consumers of energy as well as investing in batteries to help avoid peak rate tariffs.

“Where firms have the capital, now would be a really good time to invest in wind or solar – and make their own energy. That’s the way industrials will need to go.

“It’s also good because it creates additionality as well – there’s one more solar panel or wind turbine generating power that can be used or fed back into the grid.”

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Stratford: How Jim And Tonic plans to use Sugar House Island to make gin and rum

Takeover of The Print House at Dane’s Yard includes bar, restaurant, terrace and two distilleries

From left, Jim And Tonic COO Mark Warren, founder Jim Mark and distiller Hendré Barnard – image James Perrin

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

A lot can happen in six years.

A long-time fan of gin and tonic, Jim Mark had been on a skiing holiday to Norway and experienced the drink in a new way.

He was served big glasses with quality contents (think Williams Elegant Gin and Fever Tree Tonic), topped off with a variety of garnishes.

Before long he was gently slurring the words “Jim and tonic” and a business idea and brand name were born.

“That experience got me thinking about getting these flavours to everybody and so I bought jimandtonic.com for £20 – that was the beginning,” said Jim.

“We started in 2016 with one van – Genevieve – having agreed to trade on a golf course at a corporate event. 

“It was on a whim really, an idea to try and build a company that was about bringing wonderful gin and tonics with crazy garnishes to people, which not many had seen at the time. It went down really well.”

The day was such a success, in fact, that further sporting events followed as the fledgling company built its business from a mobile base.

“Then we got into Mercato Metropolitano, at Elephant And Castle, which was our first permanent bar,” said Jim.

“That’s where our main distillery is and it really helped our business.”

Jim And Tonic garnished with cucumber and lavender

Further expansion followed, including a partnership with brewery German Kraft, which brings us to 2022.

Jim And Tonic recently took over The Print House at Sugar House Island in Stratford and is in the process of creating a blockbuster home for the brand.

In addition to an extensive outdoor terrace, indoor bar and restaurant, there will be two distilleries – one for gin and one to create rum.

There’s also an events space and plans for a botanical rooftop garden on one of the two buildings the company has taken over.

“We visited this place and fell in love with it – it feels like an open space,” said Jim.

“In terms of hospitality, I think the area is underdeveloped – there’s not much of an offering for people.

“But these are lovely buildings, right by the water – there’s the outside space and we can make this a place that’s great for all.

“We’re a distillery but we want to create great spaces – boutique shops and bars for people to come and enjoy their gin and tonics.”

Located a short walk from Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, Sugar House Island is towards the Bow end of Stratford High Street. 

Jim And Tonic’s patch sits in Dane’s Yard, right on the banks of Three Mills Wall River Weir – a stretch of water that forms a triangle with the River Lea and Pudding Mill River.

With a plethora of wooden benches to choose from, lit by white bulbs strung above them, a bar on an open-top bus and a 40m, multicoloured tower lit by some 600 LEDs, Jim And Tonic makes the area an immensely attractive proposition.

And that’s before you even get to the stuff it serves.

Bar staff sharpen up their skills – image James Perrin

“At the moment we’re producing four gins, and a couple of other products, including a Ugandan project with a water charity to fund wells in Africa,” said Jim And Tonic distiller Hendré Barnard.

“We are a sustainable urban distillery, so we try to source as many ingredients locally as possible.

“Our London dry, for example, has botanicals that can be found within the M25. We also try to work with community gardens, that supply us with ingredients we use in the gin. 

“Our Roobee pink gin uses honey from urban apiaries, literally made in the capital.

“What really sets us apart is that we’re small scale compared to other so-called craft distilleries.

“We produce very small batches but we are looking to grow our sales to both consumers and businesses.

“We’ve got big plans and that’s one of the reasons we came here – to have a brand house, so that people can experience the process, do distillery tours, tastings and allow people to get their hands dirty to a certain extent, so they can see what we do and how we do it.

“We’re also going to be making new products for this area, speaking to the community and using local ingredients.”

One of those new products will be a first for Jim And Tonic – Sugar House Rum.

“Rum’s my favourite spirit and it’s really growing as a category,” said Jim And Tonic COO Matt Warren.

“As well as the distilleries over in the Caribbean, you can see a lot of variations with spiced rums, flavoured rums, and as a result it’s becoming a more popular drink. 

The Print House features an extensive terrace area
The Print House features an extensive terrace area

“It’s great for mixing cocktails and it’s an area that really interests us because there’s a bit of a scene in the UK now.

“Here, we want to expand what we’ve done already, to bring that same vibe we’ve created at other venues to Stratford, with good quality products and music. 

“This is an area that’s developing massively, with offices moving in and a lot of residential property.

“We want to make Jim And Tonic a great place to come, have a drink and some nice food – we have a really great chef here.

“Then add to that distillery tours, gin blending classes and events so we can do private bookings.

“We’ve already had our first wedding, so that’s something we want more of – a full calendar ranging from things like Yoga and community get-togethers to networking events and Oktoberfest.”

With all that in the pipeline, and Jim’s plans to create some kind of gin-on-tap system that delivers spirits at the press of a button, this is a place to try sooner rather than later.

The Print House is also home to Jim And Tonic's bar on a bus
The Print House is also home to Jim And Tonic’s bar on a bus

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Royal Docks: How Dido’s Bar will immerse audiences in stories at The Factory’s Unit F

Director Josephine Burton talks about the epic retelling of The Aeneid set in the Royal Docks

Dido's Bar director Josephine Burton - image Ali Wright
Dido’s Bar director Josephine Burton – image Ali Wright

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

Refugees have to leave everything they know – not just places and people, but communities, careers, sights and sounds they have found comfort in their whole lives.

They arrive in a new world and are expected to assimilate. But how do they do this when everything around them is unknown?

This is the struggle Dash Arts seeks to capture with its new production Dido’s Bar, an immersive retelling of Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid, set in Royal Docks.

“I’m Jewish and British, English and a Londoner and have always felt I’m many things – on the edge of so much,” said director Josephine Burton.

“I’ve enjoyed being in that liminal place between different communities. It’s how I see the world, so I’m interested in seeing other people’s otherness too.”

The story of migration and love will be told through the eyes of refugees today and unfold in a real life bar built in part of a former Tate & Lyle warehouse.

Audiences will, we are told, be immersed in a strange world when they arrive, where they are unsure what motivates the people around them.

They will mingle with the cast as the story of Trojan refugee Aeneas unfolds around them.

But instead of being set in ancient Italy, the production has been transported to a jazz bar with a line-up of live musicians.

It’s set to run at The Factory from September 23 to October 15, 2022.

“The audience will walk into the venue, with a house band warming up in the corner and they’ll grab a drink from the bar,” said Josephine.

“Then the drama of this amazingly powerful love story between Aeneas and Dido and the great battle between Aeneas, the foreigner, and Turnus, the local boy, will creep up around them.”

Josephine is co-founder and artistic director of Dash Arts, which is based in Whitechapel.

For the last 15 years it has worked with 9,000 artists to create work that bridges divides across art forms, cultures, languages and communities.

“We go on a bit of a journey and spend a lot of time listening, understanding, meeting and researching artists and eventually creating work with them,” said the 45-year-old.

“It’s like opening up a Pandora’s box with this extraordinary wealth to explore, understand and then share with audiences.”

Dido’s Bar has been two years in the making and was first inspired back in 2017 when Josephine met Kurdish Iranian refugee Marouf Majidi in Finland.

“I had been on an exploration of what it means to be European which had emerged out of the Brexit referendum,” said Josephine.

“I met Marouf in Finland in 2017 on my way back to the airport over a coffee and he told me his story of traveling to Europe. 

“He fled Iran as a refugee and was relocated to Finland, where he settled and eventually studied at the Sibelius Music Academy in Helsinki, where he now teaches. 

“He’s been on an extraordinary journey from the music conservatoire in Tehran where he studied Persian classical music, to teaching Finnish folk music.

“He found it very hard at first to establish himself musically and connect with the musicians he was playing with in Finland.

“Eventually something shifted for him and he found his place, but he was no longer ‘in tune’ with musicians from central Asia.

“It was such a short meeting, but that thing he said about feeling out of tune lived with me.

“I picked up the phone three months later and said I really wanted to tell his story and wanted him to be at the heart of it.”

Marouf Majidi - image Ali Wright
Marouf Majidi – image Ali Wright

He agreed, but at first Josephine struggled to find the right way to bring his story to the stage.

“I wanted to tell Marouf’s story and find a way of understanding what it is to be European through the experiences of refugees who travel here,” she said.

“It’s perhaps the people who move here and go through such a transformation, musically and emotionally, to insert themselves and settle in a new place, that can help tell us who we are. They can be that mirror for us.

“But I didn’t want to just tell a personal story, I also didn’t want to create a super band of musicians. I wanted to do something theatrical and dramatic.”

Her lightbulb moment came when she remembered a text she had studied 20 years ago as a classics student.

“I was chatting to someone about how the Aeneid is the story of our time, of the refugee and the struggle to find a place to belong,” she said.

“Aeneas flees Troy in the war-torn East and travels across the Mediterranean to seek sanctuary and build a new home in Europe

“It’s the story of both the experience of fleeing and having to assimilate and discover that, once you’ve arrived, it’s only the beginning of the story.

“Suddenly I realised it was the perfect way to tell Marouf’s story and to understand the role of Aeneas in a contemporary setting.

“The original epic poem is pages and pages long in Latin, involves mass battles and love affairs and is very involved and beautiful.

“We’ve taken that story and mapped it on top of Marouf’s.”

She developed the idea during a series of residencies with playwright Hattie Naylor and Marouf, who has composed the music alongside Riku Kantola.

Research and development in Scotland in February 2020 was followed by a residency in Finland – a few days together as part of Royal Docks Originals – and a residency in Cornwall.

Marouf then moved to London this summer to finish developing the show.

The cast of 10 is a mix of nationalities - image Ali Wright
The cast of 10 is a mix of nationalities – image Ali Wright

“I remember the two of us bent over on the floor in Scotland in the rain with copies of the Aeneid in English, Latin and Arabic ,” said Josephine. 

“We spent hours trying to work out what the story was and finessed it to the point where we would challenge each other to tell it in less than a minute, then 30 seconds, then 10. 

“Then we did a lot of jigsawing and planning and brought in Hattie who had adapted the Aeneid for Radio 3 as a drama.

“She’d go off and write and then we’d write a song together. It really was a collaborative process.”

The result is a show where the epic warriors of the original story are now musicians trying to make it into the spotlight and the goddesses are sisters who own two bars – one on the edge of town and one in the centre.

It draws on the backgrounds of its international cast who hail from Morocco, Madagascar, Germany, Finland, and Eritrea, and uses their native languages to enrich the performance.

Josephine said: “The show now is about how to understand an old myth written 2,000 years ago that feels so resonant and timeless.”

It will be staged in Unit F of The Factory, disused sugar warehouses that have recently been transformed into a series of new venues and workspaces. 

“It could never be in a black box theatre,” said Josephine.

“I wanted the audience to feel that they were somewhere impromptu and exciting and slightly makeshift. We spent quite a lot of time trying to find a place and saw some extraordinary places across the Docks. 

“Then, last May, I visited The Factory when it was in quite an early stage of development. 

“Projekt, our partners for the show, had just got Unit F from Tate&Lyle and, when we walked in, there were pigeons in the rafters and sugar all over the floor.

“It was sticky and black underfoot and it felt very powerful as a venue – I just knew it would amazing.”

Dash Arts has built the bar from scratch and it will serve up beverages from nearby Husk Brewing using local staff.

Newham artists will take to the stage each night and the show will be complemented by a programme of gigs, talks, food events and workshops to engage the local community, which has been shaped through the area’s history of immigration and dockers.

“It’s a perfect marriage for us of place and story because the audience is really going to feel that they’re coming to somewhere incredibly exciting and diverse,” said Josephine.

“Newham is one of the most linguistically diverse boroughs in London – there are hundreds of languages spoken there – and it has always been a first port of call for people.

“So to tell this timeless epic story today in Newham’s docks is really thrilling and right.”

The project has been co-produced with the Royal Docks Team and Jospehine said they have worked hard over the last year to embed it into the community, meeting local groups and running music workshops.

“There is a real sense of culture and community building happening there and I got very excited about that,” she said. “I had this real instinct that there wasn’t anywhere else to put Dido’s Bar.

She hopes the audience will embrace the world they have created.

“I really want them to have a wonderful night and love the music because it’s extraordinary,” she said.

“I want them to feel as I felt, that this old ancient story has such resonance today, to feel moved by the protagonists and the journey they have taken. 

“I hope they feel we have done justice to some of the biggest questions of our time, about how to assimilate into our communities.”

THE FACTORY – A NEW VENUE FOR ROYAL DOCKS

Once used by Tate & Lyle for sugar production, this 5.2 acre site on Factory Road is now a series of work and event spaces run by meantime use specialist Projekt (also behind the Silver Building)

It landed the first grant from the Royal Docks Good Growth Fund for a year-long refurbishment and opened the 100,000sq ft space in June. 

Organisations that have made The Factory their home include Community Food Enterprises, Links Event Solutions and The Beams – a new venue by Broadwick Live.

Unit A is home to a cafe run by The Breadmeister, Unit D is a set of workspaces and Unit F is a refurbished warehouse that will be hired out for film and TV productions.

Projekt said the venue provides new work and event spaces that will “safeguard and grow the already burgeoning artistic and cultural community around the Royal Docks, as well as providing a significant amount of affordable workspace.”

Read more: Discover Pouya Ehsaei’s Parasang at Woolwich Works

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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