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Royal Docks: How puppet-maker Charlie Tymms creates magic through movement

The Royal Albert Wharf-based creative talks dinosaurs and intuitive working in the studio

Charlie Tymms with her T-Rex puppet
Charlie Tymms with her T-Rex puppet – image Matt Grayson

Royal Albert Wharf might look like a relatively ordinary residential area – brick clad oblongs arranged sensitively around both the waters of the dock and the older buildings in the area. But look behind the doors and windows of its lower floors and you’ll find a thriving community of artists and makers.

The presence of Bow Arts and Art In The Docks – which recently opened its artist-led project space at the development – ensures a rolling programme of public activities, helping the work spill out to a larger audience.

So when puppet maker Charlie Tymms, strapped and velcroed into her latest creation, steps out onto the quayside – tail whipping behind her – it only causes a minimal stir.

The beast is  one of a series of creatures she has made for The Dinosaur Show, a new production that enjoyed its maiden run at the Blue Orange Theatre in August. It’s also her first ever single-person puppet.

“He’s a really naughty character on stage and chases after the palaeontologist and nicks sweets out of her rucksack – he’s delightful,” said Charlie.

“While we were doing our research and development for this project – a really important part of the process – we had a puppeteer, the puppetry director, two producers and myself play around for three days with basic prototypes.

“It was really good fun because it quickly became The Dinosaur Show That Went Wrong

“We had the size of the theatre marked out on the floor and the sheer scale of the T-Rex – with its huge tail knocking things over – was where the part of the story about this one being really naughty came from.”

One of Charlie's sketches for the T-Rex
One of Charlie’s sketches for the T-Rex – image Matt Grayson

Collaboration has been a constant feature of Charlie’s career, which began when she was asked to do some scenic painting 25 years ago for her mum’s friend. She went on to work in set design and fell into her current area of expertise “by accident”.

“In terms of puppetry, which I now specialise in, I was asked to sculpt a full-size elephant – a massive polystyrene thing – with four people inside for the legs that could carry a small child on its back,” she said.

“It was for a Michael Morpurgo show called Running Wild and through that process I met this amazing puppet-maker called Nick Barnes, who is very well established. I’ve been making with him for years – almost as an apprentice – on loads and loads of projects. Then, through that, I’ve been gradually doing my own projects. 

“With Nick I’ve tended to be the sculptor and painter, while he designs all the armatures and mechanisms. 

“It’s a really nice process because everybody gets involved at some point – the puppeteers and the people producing the shows. I’ve gravitated towards collaborative projects because I like working with other people.”

Every project Charlie takes on is different but all her puppet creations involve translating an idea into a physical form that can be manipulated.

“For the T-Rex, I made the first model out of cheap plumbing pipes to try out the length of it and the harness,” she said.

“In the end the frame became more of a rigid structure as I decided on the best form of engineering for one puppeteer and the easiest way for them to control the dinosaur.

“I’m a very intuitive maker, so I don’t generally pre-design – I do it on the hoof but I do loads of anatomical research, so I’ve got hundreds of pictures of skeletons of T-Rexes – their skulls and anatomy – and loads of sketches.

“Then you start with the human and build it around them. In the end you want to ask the audience to believe that this thing has a life and a spirit.

“The puppeteers are amazing creatures in themselves, because they can bring things to life, but the maker can help the process enormously by where they position all the joints and where the strength needs to be to operate the puppet.

“So, with T-Rex the thighs are really important, because they’re just so massive – along with the head and the tail –  visually they are the anchor points.

“Then the audience can use their imagination to fill in the gaps. In this model, for example, there is no rib cage.”

Charlie demonstrates another puppet
Charlie demonstrates another puppet – image Matt Grayson

Those aged three and over watching The Dinosaur Show, will also have to use their imaginations when it comes to another of her puppets.

“We knew quite early on we wanted a large head of a brachiosaurus coming out and looking over the tree canopy, then craning into the audience,” said Charlie. 

“I wanted to make it really huge, but that would have been too terrifying so a head on a long neck is what we’ve ended up with. The children will be able to feed it leaves as it swings out.”

Charlie, who has produced owls for Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, been on puppet hospital duty for Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs movie and created a Toto out of gingham scraps for Wizard Of Oz at the Chichester Festival, said watching her puppets in performance was always a mixture of anxiety and joy if the audience liked the show.

“With every job you learn a little bit more about how to do things in a better way, to solve problems,” she said. “It’s a very inventive life, which I love.

“Puppetry is definitely having a renaissance partly down to the success of His Dark Materials and especially War Horse, which put the puppet at the centre of the story.

“It was quite a radical statement for a theatre company to do that and it kind of lifted the genre.

“Then there’s Lyndie Wright of the Little Angel Theatre who’s a figurehead in our world and her daughter Sarah who set up the Curious School Of Puppetry a few years ago, that every year sees 12 puppeteers come out, which is having a real impact in terms of growth.

“Anyone interested in becoming a puppeteer should take a look at its website – curiouspuppetry.com.”

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Wapping: How Wapping Wicks scented candles grew from a passion into a business

Sara-Jane Cross turned a lockdown hobby into a brand by mixing oils with soy and coconut wax

Wapping Wicks founder Sara-Jane Cross - image Matt Grayson
Wapping Wicks founder Sara-Jane Cross – image Matt Grayson

It started off with making gifts for family. Trapped at home in lockdown, Wapping resident Sara-Jane Cross decided to try a new hobby. She sent away for a kilo of wax on the internet and all the ingredients necessary to make her own scented candles, got melting and posted the finished products off.

“I made seven different ones,” said Sara-Jane. “My mum said they were amazing and that I should sell them. 

“My boyfriend came up with the name – Wapping Wicks – and we started in November because I’d decided I needed to hit the festive market, which is huge for candles. I started making one called Christmas Frost in batches of six.

“There are all sorts of secret ingredients in it, lots of spices – a combination of orange, pine wood and cloves. It just smells like Christmas and it completely took off. At that stage I had no website and it was a bit out of control. I was making candles at 11pm to keep up with demand.

“I’d come home from work, do the deliveries in the pouring rain and spend the weekends making as many as I could.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own business – to be honest I didn’t know whether people would buy them, but the orders kept coming in through Instagram so I created a website when I couldn’t go north over Christmas and after that I was in a lot more control.”

Sara-Jane, who is originally from just outside Chester and moved to east London eight years ago, has spent the time since developing her range, which now includes many different scents, wedding favours and even candle-making kits for those who want to give the craft a go themselves.

“I really want to see where it goes, where I can take it,” she said. “I use soy and coconut waxes and was passionate from the start about making sure I wasn’t using paraffin.

“I feel like there’s a gap in the market for natural wax so I’m going to see what this Christmas looks like because September to

March is the sweet spot in terms of sales – generally people buy candles when it’s colder weather.”

Sara-Jane, who works in the insurance industry when she’s not making candles, uses recycled jars for her products and donates 10% of the profits she makes to charity.

“I’ve raised money for Action Medical Research and the Countess Of Chester NHS hospital where my nan passed away so I wanted to give something back to the nurses there,” she said.

“I’ve also supported local charities including East London Cares, which tackles loneliness among the elderly. People have sent their ideas in via Instagram about who we should support.”

Some of the products in the Wapping Wicks range
Some of the products in the Wapping Wicks range – image Matt Grayson

So far, Sara-Jane’s range of products includes Pomegranate Kuro, Winter Frost, Pomelo Breeze, Velvet Peony, Rosewood and Seashore. She also produces limited editions and is always looking to develop new scents.

“A lot of the ones I’ve come up with have been based on feedback I’ve had from people,” she said. 

“Seashore, which features vanilla, coconut and amber, reminds me of the seaside and being by the river in Wapping. 

“I’m working on one at the moment for friends, which has peppermint and eucalyptus, and my brother has decided he’s into candles so I think there’s a bit of a male market out there – I haven’t got a masculine scent at the moment.

“It’s all about experimenting, just finding something that smells amazing.

“The black and white branding is just me – I love it – and I do a bit of art, sketches of buildings, which are all monochrome too. I’ve done some of Wapping and I definitely want to combine the candles and those images in the future.”

That’s a move that’s likely to go down well with Sara-Jane’s core customer base which has seen strong sales locally. 

“Some people order 10 at a time and give them out to family, especially customers who are living in Wapping,” she said. 

“A lot of my customers come back and you see orders coming from the same housing development after one person has bought some.”

Sara-Jane delivers her candles in Wapping
Sara-Jane delivers her candles in Wapping – image Matt Grayson

With strong sales in her first year, Sara-Jane said she would ultimately love Wapping Wicks to turn into her full-time activity, but for now she’s content to keep making her candles from home.

“You have to be really precise,” she said. “You measure out the wax, the scent, which is a blend of different types of oils.

“Then you melt the wax using a bain-marie, as if you were melting chocolate, until it gets to about 65-70 degrees centigrade. You take it off the heat and wait for it to cool down to about 55 degrees and then you add the scent, stir it in and pour it into the containers you’ve prepared.

There’s a little sticker on the bottom of the wick that holds it in place and a centring piece for the top to keep it straight.

“I have to use sellotape when I’m making my bigger candles because they have three wicks.

“Then you have to let the wax set for a couple of days – I always have lots of candles standing around in my house at different stages of the process.”

Prices for Wapping Wicks candles vary, starting at £14 for Seashore or Winter Frost. A three-wick Pomelo Breeze candle costs £26.

Local customers can get 10% off their next order by returning jars to Sara-Jane for recycling. 

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Canary Wharf: Six By Nico opens Canary Wharf restaurant at Chancellor Passage

Brand owner Nico Simeone brings his six-course tasting menu concept to diners in east London

Six By Nico head chef Nico Simeone outside the Canary Wharf restaurant
Six By Nico head chef Nico Simeone outside the Canary Wharf restaurant

There’s something new in Canary Wharf. The estate has played host to many different kinds of cuisine served at everything from fine-dining establishments to street food kiosks. There was even a place that only served steak frites.

Six By Nico is different. Housed in a long, single-storey space in Chancellor Passage, opposite the Wharf’s Post Office, the venue is all dark finishes, dramatic lighting, plants in pots and banquettes decorated with antique maps of Docklands.

But it’s the food that’s the contrast. All guests are served a six-course tasting menu, the content of which changes every six weeks. There’s a vegetarian variant, a few extra dishes to bulk things out if wanted and an optional wine flight, but that’s the bare bones of it.

And it’s a model that works. Honed by Scottish head chef Nico Simeone in Glasgow, Canary Wharf is his eighth site in the UK as his brand expands.

“It was all kind of an evolution,” said the softly spoken cook. “I left school and then just stumbled into kitchens. I’ve been really fortunate that I found my passion.

“I just fell in love with it – that was bit of luck. From there I wanted to keep learning, work my way up in kitchens. I did that and then I was in the fortunate position where I was able to open a wee restaurant in Cleveden Road in Glasgow.

“It was called La Famiglia – an Italian family-run restaurant and then I re-branded it as Simply Fish.

“It probably spent about four years failing, to be honest – breaking even or losing money.

“I’ve made so many mistakes over the years. It’s cost us lots of money in some cases, but nobody should be scared to do that – you’re always going to take hits and bumps along the road and you just have to keep moving forward in the hardest times.

Filo canneloni with taramasalata – part of the extras bundle
Filo Canneloni With Taramasalata – part of the extras bundle

“I had one last roll of the dice and re-branded the restaurant as 111 By Nico. That was really the first time I’d put my personality in the food and we made tasting menus work. Then another site came up in Glasgow in the Finneston area of the city and I grabbed it with both hands – spending a wee bit of money from the year we’d been trading, which was the first time I’d made a profit. 

“Then I came up with the idea – I asked the question: ‘Why can’t we just change what we cook every six weeks?’. It started with Italian, then French and just evolved into Six By Nico.

“We serve a six-course tasting menu with the inspiration for it taken from a theme.

“For example, we may want our dishes to evoke memory or a destination. Right now, for the first six weeks in Canary Wharf – until September 20 – we’re doing a menu called The Chippie.

“My parents ran a fish and chip shop, so that’s a memory for me and all the flavours and courses through that menu are things I’d associate with that environment.

“What we say is it’s a new story every six weeks. That’s something to look forward to. The downside is you can get something that’s so successful and popular and then you throw it in the bin, so we’re always trying to create and improve on the last theme.

“We change the dishes eight times a year and, about four times a year, all the restaurants sync up, but London’s never done the New York menu, for example, which we know is good so it would be silly not to bring it here – we mix it up across the country.

“As far as working on new menus goes, I’ve been so fortunate – as the company’s grown we’ve been able to get talented people in, we have an amazing creative team.

“We all sit down and come up with ideas constantly, we do tastings to tweak and improve things and that’s how we do it.

Chips And Cheese - the first course at Six By Nico
Chips And Cheese – the first course at Six By Nico

“The Chippie starts off with chips and cheese – Parmesan, curry oil and a pressed potato terrine. It all finishes off with our take on a deep-fried Mars bar.

“The main course is smoked sausage with a trio of pork smoked under a cloche with the flavours of celeriac and apple.”

Nico said opening on the estate was simply down to visiting and getting a feel for the area.

“We work with agents to find sites and somebody said there was an opportunity in Canary Wharf,” he said. “I see a lot of places, but sometimes you go somewhere and you get that feeling – a gut instinct.

“I loved the spot and spent some time going around the area. I thought it was perfect for the restaurant. 

“I don’t even know what’s coming after The Chippie on the Wharf yet – we don’t necessarily plan that far ahead. 

“The big thing about Six By Nico is that we try to work seasonally – we’d never do the Amalfi Coast that’s in the other venues in winter, for example.

“I want people who come here to enjoy themselves, to have a good experience and be happy. 

“When I go to a restaurant I enjoy everything – the atmosphere, the staff, the team and the setting.

“The vibes of a place are a big thing for me. With the team here we’re really customer-focused – everything is about that.

“We don’t look at other businesses, we try to compete with ourselves to make us better.”

Trying The Chippie

So, what’s eating at Six By Nico actually like? The first thing to be aware of is the price. The six courses are priced at £37 per head. Add the wine flight – for £33 – and aperitif for £7.50 and a snack to go with it for £5 and you’re looking at £82.50 plus service. 

The dishes arrive as perfect little morsels – Six is the sort of place that errs on the side of quality rather than quantity, so the ravenous will need the add-ons, one of which comes in the form of delicious hunks of sourdough. 

As for the main attractions, they’re well presented, with artful dabs of sauce here and a sprig of greenery there. 

It’s very much dining as theatre – each arrival preceded by a discussion of what might appear and then the excitement of hunting around the plates for the promised flavours. 

The Chippie turns out to be a complex homage to the flavours of Nico’s youth, refined well away from their genesis but nevertheless amusing.

The scampi is crisp and rich, while the smoked sausage is more pork three ways than an improbably red saveloy and the chips and cheese, a gentle nod in the direction of the deep fat fryer rather than a full-on takeaway delight.

But the restaurant is beautifully kitted out, dressed in golds and rich coppers that lift the whole experience – an engaging venue to tempt back the audience for the next performance. 

And a special mention should go to the steak pie – a smart, meaty delight of a course.

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Canary Wharf: Yole opens Canada Place branch as two friends grow their business

Brand developed in Spain sells ice cream and frozen yoghurt with no added sugar as a healthier dessert

Image shows Milad Nawaz and Salman Qureshi of Yole - image by Matt Grayson
Milad Nawaz and Salman Qureshi of Yole – image by Matt Grayson

Milad Nawaz and Salman Qureshi have been friends for about 20 years. Friends at university, the pair sold sunglasses together at Harvey Nichols before both embarking on careers in banking.

“I was probably the better salesman,” said Milad, who subsequently became a consultant. “We used to try to take each other’s customers.”

“We’ve actually had arguments over this,” said Salman, who left banking after a couple of years to go into retail, partially at least because he didn’t like wearing a suit every day.

The warmth between the two men – born 20 days apart – is palpable. As we chat they earnestly praise each other’s skillsets, the foundation of a business partnership born in 2014 as they began to discuss working together.

The pair’s first experience of franchising came in 2016 when they opened a branch of Subway in Leyton. They grew that business to 11 outlets before selling two and maintaining a portfolio of nine.

In 2019 they became the master franchisors for Wok & Go – a food store where customers see their noodles cooked fresh in front of them – in a deal that gave them the rights to the whole of greater London.

It’s a business they’re keen to grow with an east London branch expected to open in Canning Town in the coming months.

But right now the focus is on something sweeter, albeit without the usual sugar rush – ice cream and frozen yoghurt brand Yole, which opened in Canary Wharf on August 14.

“We actually debated for a while because we were looking for another venture and it was Milad’s idea to get a dessert, but something healthy,” said Salman.

“We spent a lot of time doing research – about a year searching for a brand – and we found Yole and it ticked the boxes.”

A serving of ice cream from Yole - image by Matt Grayson
A serving of ice cream from Yole – image by Matt Grayson

Milad added: “We’d been looking at bubble tea, which is a big trend, but that’s full of sugar – for me, I want to enjoy dessert and not worry about the calories.

“A medium cup of Yole is equivalent to a mango, a small cup works out at about a banana.

“Our servings start at 55 calories and then you add the fruit so you have something that has protein and fibre in it and it’s gluten free.

“Every new product that the owners are developing is also sugar-free.

“For example we’ll have a bubble waffle coming out later this year and that’s the first sugar-free one in the world. Yole started off in Singapore – the founders began by franchising for another ice cream brand but they decided they wanted to change it up and spent two years making a sugar-free version. 

“The whole concept is healthy desserts – something you don’t have to feel guilty about. That’s how we fell in love with it”

Salman said: “The products are developed in Spain and the owners are Spanish. They have massive plans to open worldwide.

“We’re looking to expand in the UK and we have master franchisor rights for that.”

Canary Wharf is the pair’s second opening in the UK, having already launched an outlet at Lakeside shopping centre. Plans are in the pipeline for further branches at Canary Wharf, Covent Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue and Westfield White City, with further hope for one at Westfield Stratford City.

“Our plan is to open five stores initially – the first thing you want to do is to make sure the customers love it and that it works in this country,” said Milad. “Then we want to roll it out across the rest of the UK.”

Yole offers its core products in a variety of different ways – in small, medium and large cups with a selection of toppings including fresh fruit, sauces and – for those who need a bit of sugar, marshmallows and M&Ms.

“The customers who have tried it at Lakeside have loved the taste,” said Salman. “We also have something unique – the cone, which we make in front of them once they’ve ordered. I haven’t come across anyone making them fresh and warm and also, the size of it is a lot larger than you’ll find in many other places, making it really good value.”

The Canary Wharf branch of Yole - image by Matt Grayson
The Canary Wharf branch of Yole – image by Matt Grayson

Cones cost around £3.95 at Yole, while other options such as having bubble tea pearls included with your ice cream or a serving of pre-flavoured Twist cost £4.95 and £4.45 respectively.

“The Twist has been very well received – people sometimes think it’s like a McFlurry but it’s covered with fruit and it’s sugar-free,” said Salman.

Milad added: “The Boba is following the trend of bubble tea, so you’ll have the tapioca balls with mango or strawberry and you have it with the ice cream instead of with the tea. Our products are great for children because they don’t get that sugar rush and they’re also suitable for diabetics. There’s something for everyone.”

Salman said: “I have a four-year-old and this is the first time I’ve let him go crazy on ice cream.

“We really believe in the ethics of the brands we’re working with now. We’re very conscious about promoting things that are healthy. I want my son to be eating healthy food and I want to sell things I’d give to my kids.

“We’re also very conscious of being environmentally friendly – everything that can be is recyclable or breaks down.

“We’ve all seen the weather recently and we can all do our bit by educating the people around us and raising awareness about climate change. We all need to work together and brands need to get behind that. Yole is certainly doing its bit.”

Canary Wharf was selected as a place to open partly due to Milad’s knowledge of the area.

“Because Milad has worked in Canary Wharf for years he had a particular vision,” said Salman. “For example, he just knew this site would work for Yole.”

Milad said: “Everyone here works really hard and they are concerned about what they eat. 

“You can see Farmer J is doing really well because it’s all freshly made in the morning.

“People don’t mind paying a little bit more for something healthy. Investment bankers work 12 hours a day, the least they can do is eat healthily. For us, it’s about getting the message out there that Yole is healthy.”

While the pair are currently working hard on their various franchise options, they said they were very happy to talk with anyone else who was considering leaving the corporate world to start their own business.

Milad said: “If there’s anyone who wants to talk about doing it, we’re very open. We’ll always try and help because we had mentors when we were younger and they guided us. I would say for those considering starting their own thing that you should stay working in your job at the start.

“There is a lot of risk involved and you should work to get it to a point where the business is stable first.”

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Isle Of Dogs: University Of Sunderland In London expands beyond Marsh Wall

Lynsey Bendon talks space at Harbour Exchange as growth follows increased student demand

Image shows the University Of Sunderland In London's Lynsey Bendon
The University Of Sunderland In London’s Lynsey Bendon

“We were shown a lot of different places, but this is where we want to be – it’s perfect – it works for us and it works for our students,” said Lynsey Bendon.

There’s excitement in the voice of the assistant director of operations and student experience at the University Of Sunderland In London as she talks about its expansion at Harbour Exchange on the Isle Of Dogs – a move that will allow it to keep up with demand for places while retaining the links it’s built in the area since its creation in 2012.

“It’s on the opposite side of the DLR tracks to our Marsh Wall site, so it’s very close by,” said Lynsey. “We’ve been able to start with a blank canvas to design what we need as a teaching space.

“It has flexible rooms and it’s a lovely environment in terms of group and study areas. We’ve listened to what our students need and want – everything down to having a kitchen that’s really accessible where they can make their own food but also meet with staff. We’re thrilled.

“It’s also really nice to be able to grow from where we are because the students love our location next to Canary Wharf and our connections to local businesses but also the food, culture and shopping.”

The expansion of the campus, which will see the university taking a whole floor at Harbour Exchange, has been driven by significant demand. 

More than 4,400 students attended courses at its Marsh Wall base over the past year, with 2,794 joining across four intakes since March 2020.

While about 10% are international – reflecting perhaps the university’s outward-looking stance, having opened a Hong Kong campus in 2017 – about 50% are drawn from nearby London boroughs.

“Our students are what we call in the industry ‘non-traditional’,” said Lynsey. ”The average age is 36 and we have 60-40 female to male split. 

“Our motto is that we’re a life-changing university and we like to think that our people don’t necessarily come to us straight from school, but with a measured decision that they want their lives to change, which we hope to facilitate.

“We quickly realised there was a demand here in London and we tailor our courses to our students – we don’t expect them to be 18, straight out of school.

“We expect them to have experience that they can talk about and build on. When we started, some of the courses were targeted that way, but we’ve rewritten them and developed them through talking to our students to meet their needs.

“Ultimately we want them to progress, we want them to do the best they can for themselves and to fulfil their potential.

“You can’t just teach something – you have to build it around them. Our students are very vocal, which is extremely helpful when you work in the role I do, because you need ongoing conversations. We want to be there, supporting them, to help them succeed.”

Lynsey, who joined the University Of Sunderland In London in January 2020, is well placed to have those conversations, having left school after her A-Levels.

She said: “I was then unemployed for a short time before going into the workforce. I worked in banking in London in the 1990s, which was a very interesting time. When I came to have my children, I realised that it wasn’t a career I could stay in, so I left the workforce for a bit.

“Then I went back as a part-time member of staff on the help desk at the University Of East London. After a few years I specialised as an international student adviser before joining London Metropolitan University as compliance and immigration manager in 2014.

“That was challenging and taught me a lot – but I realised that I wasn’t going to progress further in my career without higher qualifications and at that point I was very lucky to be able to participate in a postgraduate certificate through my employer at that time, with the University Of Nottingham.

“So I was there, at 39, looking at a blank sheet of paper, never having done a first degree, absolutely out of my depth, and I can completely relate to our students, when they get to that point.

“But it gave me so much, some fantastic experiences and it taught me so much academically – both how to write reports and also all those things you don’t necessarily associate with academic learning. It also gave me so much confidence that I could do these things.

“I always say the tears were worth it, but I had such a good time, it outweighed any difficulties and it enabled me to go into management.

“So, after becoming the international immigration manager at London Met, I became head of student services and, in January, came here. Then lockdown happened in March, so it’s been quite a year. I had to learn quickly because I’m also the Covid lead for the London campus.

“Fortunately, it’s a really vibrant place, and a really great community, so people were very forgiving when I asked the same question for the sixth or seventh time, because I didn’t quite understand what went where.

“Our student growth over the years has been pretty consistent so I don’t think our current figures are down to people looking for a new direction just as a result of Covid.

“In our admissions process, we speak to each student individually and help them to make sure they are taking the right decision for them.

“The pandemic has shown us aspects of strength in our teaching and other areas where we’ve been forced to introduce things that we’re going to keep. We’re lucky that we get lots of people coming to us through word-of-mouth – Mr X may come to sign up with us in September and then Mrs X will follow in April – and you only really get that if you’re giving people what they want and the best tools for success.”

The University Of Sunderland in London offers courses across four main areas – business and finance; tourism, hospitality and events; nursing and health and engineering at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The campus also offers Master Of Business Administration degrees – MBAs.

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Canary Wharf: Feeding Black opens at Museum of London Docklands

Exhibition at the London Sugar And Slavery Gallery examines the role played by food in black identity

Aleema Gray is community history curator at Museum Of London Docklands
Aleema Gray is community history curator at Museum Of London Docklands

Walk over the floating green bridge from Canary Wharf to West India Quay, turn left and, just behind a now vacant pedestal, you’ll find the Museum Of London Docklands.

Head up to its London, Sugar And Slavery gallery and, provided you visit before July 17 next year, you’ll find a bright orange corner dedicated to Feeding Black.

The display, which opened to the public this month, examines the role played by food in black entrepreneurship and identity in south-east London. 

Focusing on four businesses – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell plus Junior’s Caribbean Stall and African Cash And Carry, both in Woolwich – it explores how they act as much more than suppliers of goods and services to their customers, as spaces to talk and express politics, culture and heritage. 

Community history curator Aleema Gray said: “One of the things I’m really interested in is looking at alternative knowledge – what it means to represent in terms of curatorial displays, and that was the motivation behind this exhibition.

“It’s about alternative ways of knowing. For instance, we’ve recently had an upswell of looking at black British history. But, when you go into the community, there’s oral history, the things that are left outside academic textbooks. Curators are typically seen as people who conserve this kind of academic knowledge.

“What’s interesting about this project is looking at the ways alternative knowledge can be used to make certain interventions in the role of curator – it sounds wishy-washy, but it is essentially asking how we can include multiple different perspectives and narrative experiences in our displays? I put a call out, basically asking: ‘What are contemporary black experiences?’. Some people said, ‘my kitchen’ or ‘the barber shop’ and one person put forward an idea she had, which she referred to as the ‘black economy’.

“She’d been looking at black-owned food businesses as part of her research, focussed on African Cash And Carry – interviewing people that came in – and discovered these spaces were about more than just commercial gain. They were for politics, culture, sending money back home and buying food. There was even a little restaurant – a multi-dimensional space.

“I wanted to explore that a little bit further, so I took that and thought about what the next step was for this kind of research and put forward a proposal for Feeding Black – which takes the element of looking at not only community spaces, but also interrogating power, because a lot of the conversations when we did the initial oral histories were talking about what it means to be in London today, to survive and thrive, to start a business, the challenges, the setbacks, but also stories about being part of a diaspora.

Junior’s Caribbean Stall in Woolwich features in the exhibition

“Apart from one, all the people featured in the displays were born outside London – one in Ethiopia, one in Jamaica, one in the Congo, one in the Cameroons, so a lot of this is entangled with questions of migration and so on.

“That’s how the initial idea came about, but the area I work in, Curating London is very much a participatory project – we place a particular emphasis on being on the ground – visible outside the museum – and asking what a museum wall is.

“We had to re-jig things a bit because of the restrictions around the pandemic, but essentially the main exhibition deals with four black-owned food businesses, their oral histories and the objects that they put forward reflecting their place. It also looks at different themes of food including health, the different objects you find in kitchens as a place of work but also the nutritional value of ingredients and dishes and we’ve got a recipe wall as well.”

In her role, Aleema has a particular responsibility for the London Sugar And Slavery Gallery in which the exhibition sits.

She said: “Since the gallery opened it has been shelved a little bit, so my responsibility is to try to re-mobilise certain conversations, make some interventions to think about how we develop, and take that gallery a little bit further. 

Feeding Black sits in the wider gallery, because I wanted to do something in response to the ways in which Docklands has been developed as a direct result of the plantation economy.

“For me, food acted as a perfect segue to think about London, Sugar And Slavery, not only in terms of the content of the exhibition, but also the visual design.

“This exhibition is very much about the process as well as the content, as is the wider gallery.

Feeding Black was about using that space as a vehicle for community engagement. 

“It’s also not necessarily a chronological history – it draws on certain themes and it puts forward not necessarily answers, but asks questions about the legacy of this history and how we are all implicated in it. Feeding Black tries to speak to that.

“In the crates under the wall display, for example, you have certain questions, such as: ‘Where does our food come from?’

“It’s very subtle, but it helps people to think about the legacies of migration, enforced or otherwise.”

Aleema, who is currently finishing a PhD on the documentation of a community engaged in the Rastafarian movement in Britain, said it was weird to talk about herself as a curator. 

She said: “I didn’t go to museums as a young person because I didn’t see myself or my history reflected in these spaces but something I’m really passionate about is curating history from below – the silent histories, the hidden archives – I’m a historian. 

“There’s this idea of what history is in schools – the Romans and the Tudors, for example. I feel there’s a need to show that history is dynamic, it’s a verb, and that started my work to see how we can bridge this gap. This is what I’m doing as a curator and an academic – situating myself as the outsider within.

“The Museum Of London and museums in general are making a strong effort. There’s a lot more work to do but we’re definitely on the right path.”

The museum is free to visit and is currently open from 10am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday.

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Isle Of Dogs: How east London author’s work introduces banking to children

Nithya Sridharan – writing as PecuniArt – has published her first book, titled The Magic Box

Isle Of Dogs author Nithya Sridharan – image Matt Grayson

“My grandparents were exceptionally good storytellers,” said Nithya Sridharan. “I grew up in a joint house in Bangalore, where they lived with me and my parents. Every night me and my sister would be packed off to them for a while and they would tell us stories.

“My grandmother was a mathematician and they would weave complex topics such as algebra and geometry into the stories, which were often about the village where they grew up. As city-bred girls, me and my sister were completely enchanted by them.”

The Isle Of Dogs-based writer recently published her first book – The Magic Box – a story that similarly seeks to educate as well as entertain, although drawing on Nithya’s wealth of experience working in the financial services industry in Canary Wharf, rather than maths.

“The story, which is aimed at children aged seven to 11, came from starting to think about how I could weave some key financial concepts into a fun, magical tale, which is also south Asian, because I wanted to bring that flavour into books,” she said.

“A lot of it comes from living and learning in that part of the world. The story is set in a tropical town called Lokpuram and it follows three children who are trying to solve a problem that involves money. There’s a magical character in the mix as well.

“Within the story there are a lot of concepts that are blended together, which makes it easier for kids intuitively to understand key financial ideas, such as how a bank works, what one is and how it has money.

“There’s one part of the book which I personally enjoyed writing, that is about central reserve banking. I don’t use the words, but the concept is there and it’s woven into the story.

“We start with the idea of a bank and how borrowers and lenders can come to such an institution – a place that connects them – and shows how the basic business of banking works.

“I also talk about interest rates as a fee, which you pay on top of what you borrow. If you think about the origins of banking, the idea has been around a long time, but not in the forms we see today.

“The word ‘bank’ comes from the word ‘panca’ in Italian, which means ‘bench’. It started with people sitting down and trying to put borrowers and lenders together.

“They used to have IOU notes, which later evolved into the money and currency that we know today.

“So these concepts have been around a long time and people intuitively understand them, even if they haven’t heard of the terms before.”

Writing under the name PecuniArt – a portmanteau of the Latin word for money and art – Nithya was driven to write her book to help boost people’s knowledge of the financial world. 

“I wrote the book because financial literacy is key to the world we live in – everybody uses money,” she said. “Recently there was a study which was done by the Pensions Institute, where they found that, if you look at the population of young adults, one third of them did not understand concepts like interest rates and inflation.

“I suspect lots of adults don’t understand either, even though these terms are constantly in the news.

“Research has shown children and young adults who are basically financially literate have an easier time in their lives – they’re better able to access low-cost loans, have better credit scores and less debt delinquency.

“I feel that with the world that we live in, if you know how to interact with money, what these concepts mean and what the economy is, then you’ll engage with it better, not just in terms of borrowing and lending, but also in terms of your own personal wealth and wellbeing. You’ll know what to do and what it means when the interest rates go down – you won’t get caught out by high interest payday lenders.

“The book is meant to be read as an introductory view of what a bank is, rather than as a detailed analysis of what the world is today.

“There is a section in the book – titled the concept check – where I talk about whether what happens in the story is real. I didn’t want to go into greater detail in terms of what you get from banks, or the stock market today, because I think that’s more advanced. 

“The whole point of the book is to introduce these concepts and, obviously, it’s a magical story, so it’s not intended to be taken literally.”

Nithya, who has lived on the Island for six years, said she hoped to foster a sense of inquisitiveness about the financial system in the minds of her young readers.

“I want them to understand the concepts, but also for them to be something kids are curious about,” she said.

“I’ve had some feedback from children who have read the book, and it’s interesting that some hadn’t thought about these ideas previously – they asked a lot of questions about how it all works.

“I also hope the story gives them enough information on what these concepts are, so that they can ask and engage with adults on all those questions, and find out more about them – that it makes them curious. The feedback I’ve had has been that the kids are very engaged with the magical aspects of The Magic Box.

“The very young ones are disappointed that this part isn’t real. What was very encouraging though, was that even young readers were interested in the subject after they had read the book. You might think that banking, economics and finance sound very technical and not easily accessible, but I’m pleasantly surprised people actually find them interesting – I was hoping for that outcome.

“This is definitely an area schools should be focusing more on. An element of financial literacy should be open to all.

“There are a lot of resources out there already – the Bank Of England, for example, has a financial education portal. While some schools are doing good work, I certainly believe there should be greater involvement from them in providing financial education.

“A study by the Organisation For Economic Co-operation And Development looked at financial literacy for kids across the globe in 22 countries and found that, in certain states, policy intervention was needed to increase those levels.”

While The Magic Box – available in paperback via Amazon priced at £9.99 and at selected bookshops in London – is PecuniArt’s first title, Nithya is already thinking about another book.

“For the next one I will think about how to break down a very complex concept, like the economy,” she said.

In the meantime Nithya will continue sharing posts about money and art for both adults and kids via her Instagram account – @pecuniart.

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Canary Wharf: Summer Lights work by Liz West is perfectly placed at Cabot Square

Hymn To The Big Wheel fuses Spice Girls and Massive Attack just across from Boisdale

Artist Liz West at Greenwich Peninsula - image Charles Emerson
Artist Liz West at Greenwich Peninsula – image Charles Emerson

You’d struggle to find a more appropriately placed artwork in London than Liz West’s Hymn To The Big Wheel. Installed in Canary Wharf as part of its Summer Lights festival, featuring 11 works placed across the estate until August 21, the walk-in structure at Wren Landing is composed of vertical, deeply coloured panels for visitors to interact with.

While the work is visual in nature, it’s sound that links it by coincidence to Cabot Square, just south of its location – where restaurant and live music venue Boisdale Of Canary Wharf has played host to both pop sensation Mel C and, more regularly, reggae powerhouse Horace Andy. 

“If you Google me you’ll find out I’m the Guinness World Record holder for the biggest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia in existence,” said Liz.

“I hired out my collection to museums when I graduated and that’s how I managed to become an artist full-time, so every piece of my work owes something to that. 

“There’s also the idea of every piece being a self portrait, that the colours are borrowed from my obsession with music videos in the 1990s, that garish, Britpop palette.

“I’d always liked strong female artists and, in 1996, I was 11 – the target age. I remember watching Top Of The Pops one day – they came on and I was like: ‘These are for me’. I heard the first few lines of Wannabe and I thought, this is exactly representing me – they were all individuals, loud, girls-next-door and not necessarily wealthy.

“To a girl from Barnsley who wanted to strive for more, when seeing that I felt that if I worked hard enough and was passionate enough, I could achieve what I wanted to.”

Visitors can enter Hymn To The Big Wheel - image Matt Grayson
Visitors can enter Hymn To The Big Wheel – image Matt Grayson

Before cueing up a Spotify playlist packed with Spice Girls hits for your visit to Summer Lights, Liz’s contribution actually takes inspiration from another 1990s source.

“I love music and dancing, and I grew up with music around me,” she said. “I always try to find a bit of a double meaning to give more substance to my titles, so this one is a reference to Massive Attack’s Hymn Of The Big Wheel from Blue Lines, and if you listen to the lyrics in that song, it talks about the Earth spinning on its axis and how we all go by, day by day.

“I thought that was a wonderful sentiment, because this is a piece of work aiming to be a sundial, and that’s caused by the Earth revolving, and the ‘Big Wheel’ being the planetary system, with our planet going round its star – ‘hymn’ shows this work is also an homage to the Sun. 

“I would love people to walk into the work with the sound of Massive Attack playing – they might start dancing and become performers within it as they move around it.”

And that’s especially appropriate for its location as fellow trip-hop nerds will know the lead voice on that track is Horace Andy, whose quavering, high-pitched tones, as mentioned, have regularly blasted out from Boisdale’s stage, prompting audience members to get to their feet, just a few hundred metres away.

As for the work itself, Hymn To The Big Wheel has been a long time coming – an opportunity for Liz to revisit an idea originally conceived for a completely different place.

“It’s two concentric octagons – a piece I’ve had in the back of my head for a long, long time,” she said.

“When I was first invited to submit a proposal for Spinningfields, Allied London’s property in Manchester in 2015, I had this drawing for an octagon pavilion which had coloured clear walls, just transparent block colours, not stripy in the way that it is now. That drawing was proposed and developed into something that was affordable at the time. It was my first piece of outdoor, public art, and, working with fabricators for the first time in my life, it was a big milestone for me in terms of my practice.

“The piece ended up going from being an octagon, to a tunnel to a prism structure, and that was due mainly to structural issues, like snow-loading and wind-loading in a Manchester winter.

“When I was asked to propose a piece for Summer Lights I didn’t know what I was going to do so  went through all my drawings and stumbled across one I’d made six years ago.

“I asked myself how I could bring that up to date and I was listening to that Massive Attack track at the time and it all kind of slotted into place in a really nice way.

Inside Liz West's Hymn To The Big Wheel - image Matt Grayson
Inside Liz West’s Hymn To The Big Wheel – image Matt Grayson

“Then it was about placing one colour overlapping another to get visible colour mixing happening in front of people’s eyes. 

“All my work is about the theory of how light behaves – in this case a sundial – and how colour behaves.

“I get lots of samples of the exact material, and I layer them over each other in a very methodical way – starting with the reds and putting every single colour over them, then the oranges and so on.

“At the back of my head is the thought that there are a number of panels in the installation, so I need that number of colour mixes. Then it becomes a matter of detraction – taking away colours that I don’t feel are working together. There’s an element of instinct within that as well.

“This world is full of grey granite, silver metal and reflective glass – that’s how most buildings are being made. I guess I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, that’s important to say, and randomly – choosing to live in grey, northern cities and towns – Barnsley, where I grew up, Manchester, where I live now and Glasgow, where I studied – my antidote to living in these wet, grey, northern cities is to self-remedy by creating these really vivid works. 

“The feeling I want people to have when they encounter my work is meditative, for it to be about them. I don’t want to describe to people how they should feel. Everyone speaks the language of colour, no matter what your race, sex, age or background – it’s universal.”

Find out more about Liz’s art here.

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Greenwich: How Greenwich + Docklands International Festival is filled with hope

Artistic director Bradley Hemmings talks healing, unity and highlights across the River Thames

GDIF artistic director Bradley Hemmings – image Matt Grayson

There’s something very reassuring about the return of the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (GDIF). Now in its 26th year, it’s set to run from August 27 to September 11, promising its usual rich collection of performances and installations running the full spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Bradley Hemmings founded the festival in 1996 and has been at the helm as artistic director for more than a quarter of a century.

“This is a very wonderful and important year for us, because it follows on from what we did in 2020,” he said. “Last summer we were able to deliver the festival in the middle of the pandemic, safely and in a completely re-imagined way – bringing performances to people, rather than the traditional focus on encouraging everyone to come to town centres.

“We’ve taken some of that learning from last year and mixed in a bit of both – town-centre fun and conviviality, that sense of occasion, but also taking doorstep performances out to neighbourhoods.

“One of those that I’m very excited about is called Mystery Bird, which features a processional giant birdcage with images of birds projected on it and a beautiful soundscape all around, that will move through places in the dusk and early evening.

“At certain points it stops, birds are released, and, by the miracles of technology and sound, they fly everywhere – onto houses and into trees. It’s a wonderful experience of release and all the things we’re looking forward to.”

Balsam is set to take place in Woolwich as part of the festival

From his base at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Bradley and his team have been working to come up with the finished programme, which has just been released and includes the fruits of a two-year partnership with the Diplomatic Representation Of Flanders to the UK.

Central to that arrangement will be a production of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills at a site in Thamesmead that’s been closed to the public for more than 100 years, created by Flemish company De Roovers in response to its setting. It’s set to take place from September 7-11 and will cost £15 per person.

“It’s one of the projects we’d hoped to present in 2020, but the situation with international travel made that quite difficult,” said Bradley. 

“We’ve always been committed to it, because the play, which was originally written as a TV film, has a wonderful connection to the site we’re taking it to.

“When Thamesmead was created, this area was used for the spoil, which came when they were draining the land so it’s created this landscape of hills and woodlands where nobody is allowed to walk.

“Potter’s story features adults playing children and it takes place in wartime in the idyllic Forest Of Dean. But, like Lord Of The Flies, things aren’t quite so idyllic.

“We look through rose-tinted glasses, but the reality of it was actually rather more brutal – children and their games, which go seriously wrong, who are very much the victims of war, just as much as their parents are.

“The setting, where still in the 1960s and 1970s there were stories of kids who would explore this remarkable landscape on summer adventure schemes, is part of the psycho-geography of Thamesmead and we’re playing with that by bringing this production here.”

GREENWICH AND WOOLWICH DIARY DATES

Balsam
Building 41, 
Woolwich
Sept 7-11 (£15)
Potions and elixirs are created to heal and calm in this theatrical adventure

Family Tree
Charlton House And Gardens
Aug 27-30 (£15)
Discover this new play exploring exploitation and ethics in healthcare

Dance By Design
Greenwich 
Peninsula
Aug 28-29 (free)
Check out The Lost Opera, Finale and Dandyism at this free pop-up in North Greenwich

Another key part of the programme is the return of Greenwich Fair on August 29. This collection of circus, dance and theatre performances, complete with street games, owes its lineage to a regular historic festival that brought travelling shows and attractions to the town until 1852 and was much loved by Charles Dickens.

Flying high over that spectacle will be We Are Watching, in place at the Old Royal Naval College from August 27-30 – Swiss artist Dan Acher’s monumental 10-storey high flag depicting a giant eye made up of digital portraits from people in 190 countries across the globe.

Bradley said: “The idea of it is that all those people are expressing the fact that they are watching what is about to happen later this year at climate change conference COP26 in November.

“It’s a provocation, if you like, to all of us – to the festival audiences, to think seriously about what this all means and how they might be able to contribute to that, but also to the global leaders who are going to assemble in Glasgow.

“The other work we have featured from Dan is called Borealis and there has been a huge amount of interest in that already.

“It is an extraordinary recreation of the Northern Lights, which are certainly on my bucket list.”

Dandyism will be part of Dance By Design on Greenwich Peninsula

The installation promises to create the experience of seeing the Aurora Borealis at two locations in south-east London.

Like the vast majority of the festival, it is free to attend and will be in place from August 27-September 5 at the Old Royal Naval College and from September 9-11 in Woolwich.

Closing things out, on September 10 and 11, will be Healing Together – a programme of street arts, installations and performances focused on the environment and taking place at both Royal Victoria Gardens in Royal Docks and Woolwich town centre.

“The first year of the festival was 1996 when you could only go from the Isle Of Dogs to Greenwich via the foot tunnel – there wasn’t even the DLR,” said Bradley. “Not everyone was in love with the idea of a cross-river festival. The way this area of London has transformed is part of our story. 

“With Healing Together we’re supporting another cross-river relationship that isn’t new – North Woolwich, Woolwich and Silvertown used to be part of the Borough Of Woolwich but were separated in the 1960s, so we thought we’d bring them back together.

“There will be gardens of light and fire to explore, a cross-river street theatre programme and a finale moment you can experience on both sides of the river on September 11 that, by the miracle of light and fire will unite both Woolwiches.”

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Royal Docks: Cyrus Todiwala’s Cafe Spice Namaste set to open at Royal Albert Wharf

Relocation of Prescot Street restaurant after 25 years sees east London welcome chef to quayside

Cyrus and Pervin are set to open Cafe Spice Namaste in August
Cyrus and Pervin are set to open Cafe Spice Namaste in August – image James Perrin

Aldgate’s loss is the Royal Docks’ gain. After more than a quarter of a century operating in Prescot Street, Cafe Spice Namaste – the flagship restaurant in Pervin and Cyrus Todiwala’s family business – has been forced to relocate, after losing its lease to a new landlord with an eye on redeveloping the venerable red brick building it occupied, as offices.

With the pandemic biting and hospitality reeling, the couple initially looked at opening on Commercial Street in nearby Shoreditch before a former employee, living in east London, got in touch.

“She said: ‘Why don’t you come to Royal Albert Wharf? It would be nice for a little cafe’,” said chef patron Cyrus. “So we looked at it and decided in the end to establish a wider business.

“There are lots of plans in my brain, which gradually we will put into action and, fingers crossed, we will succeed.”

At the heart of everything will be a fresh incarnation of Cafe Spice Namaste, set to open in August and located on Lower Dock Walk, less than 10 minutes on foot from Gallions Reach DLR.  

While the setting – overlooking the waters of Royal Albert Dock towards the University Of East London, Excel and London City Airport – provides the backdrop, there’s little doubt that the food will be the most potent draw. 

It would be easy to fill the remaining space on this spread by simply listing Cyrus and Pervin’s many achievements – not least holding a Michelin Bib Gourmand for nearly two decades, which would make the new restaurant the farthest east in the capital (by some distance) to trouble the guide, should it be similarly recognised.

But rather than cover the same ground as a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme – which has already done a great job of distilling and presenting the background to the Todiwalas’ current situation (including their notice to quit their old premises, Cyrus’ successful battle with cancer and the story of Bombay Duck) – we’re going to focus on the future. 

Cyrus intends to start things off with a few informal evenings for those signed up online to his Greedy Pigs Club before opening the venue officially.

He said: “We always had a splash of colour and I think that will come here too. This space is a lot more modern, with big windows, so it will feel different, but we want to bring back as much of the feel of the original Cafe Spice Namaste as we can. The food is a variety of Indian cuisine, not stuck to any one region or area, though we do have an emphasis on my own style of cooking which is Parsee and we do a lot of Goan food because of my background working there for several years. We try to bring in as much of the sub-continent as possible. At the new restaurant, the classics that our regulars will be familiar with will remain – the rest will evolve.

“We will do specials around seasonal British produce and we’re also thinking that, in this area, it may be easier for people to have more shared plates, which will be small plates so we can present a bigger variety and bring more choice to the menu. We’ll also hold supper-club style events once a month that people can register for online.”

Cyrus has many ideas he hopes to develop in Royal Docks
Cyrus has many ideas he hopes to develop in Royal Docks – image James Perrin

Without the goodwill and support of its loyal group of regulars, it’s likely Cafe Spice Namaste wouldn’t be coming to the Royal Docks or anywhere else, for that matter. 

It was hit especially hard by the pandemic because of its location in the City – losing almost all passing trade – and never having focused much on takeaways, so a group of three customers led a funding drive, raising nearly £50,000 to help with the move.

Cyrus said: “That felt really amazing – where else would you have customers willing to put money in and help you relocate and re-establish yourselves? 

“That money gave us a big stepping stone. Hospitality has been decimated and we were certainly not alone in many of the difficulties we faced, but we had other problems and issues as well. We weren’t able to benefit from local sales as the City was deserted.”

His other restaurants, based in Hilton hotels, including Mr Todiwala’s on the Isle Of Dogs and one near Heathrow, remain closed too, victims of business models upset by Covid-19. In the short-term, then, it’s up to Cafe Spice Namaste to be the lead in the charge for recovery. 

During the photoshoot for this piece, a service boat was visiting Royal Docks, loading up on fresh water to supply a recently arrived superyacht in central London. Having not used the craft in a while, its crew were allowing the excess to gush through the system and down into the depths below to Cyrus’ visible discomfort. The spectacle of so much water apparently going to waste was a tough watch for a man from Bombay – a visible sign of one of the key ingredients in his makeup.

Perhaps one of the reasons the Todiwalas were able to find support in the community is that Cyrus has been persistently outward looking, keen to get deeply involved with the creation of the produce he uses and to ensure as light a touch as possible on the planet. 

“I grew up in an area with acute water shortages and no electricity for most of the day,” he said. “I wish I could get more people to see how the culture here is so wasteful – nobody considers what happens to things once they’ve been put in the bin.

“We started recycling bottles in 1992 – nobody had heard of it then and nobody wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them away.”

He’s also run farms producing pigs and poultry as well as agricultural plantations of pineapples, coconuts, cashews and mangos. More recently, he was the first chef ambassador for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, presenting Mudchute Park And Farm on the Isle Of Dogs with its approved status in 2017 and in June took over from the late Albert Roux as group chef ambassador with The Clink Charity, which delivers training to inmates in British prisons. He’s also in talks with a farm project in Greenwich to supply Cafe Spice Namaste with seasonal vegetables to minimise food miles.

As part of his latest venture he is also hoping to establish an academy to train young people at Royal Albert Wharf.

“We will start with one-off classes for four hours and it will grow slowly,” said Cyrus. “But some people will want to do a week and, if there’s interest and demand then we’ll build that in.

“As the restaurant opens it will be a stressful time – it’s always difficult to find your feet, but we’ve been at this for many, many years and so we’re prepared, compared to the newer operators.

“I want this to be a place that the community accepts, that draws people to us, supplying their needs at different levels. 

“One gentleman living across the water has already asked us to supply a week’s menu to him every seven days, so we’re doing that, and other people may want the same. If people sign up to our newsletter then they’ll get all the information about what we’re doing, what we’re developing. There are loads of ideas that are brewing and, when we are established, we can start to implement them.

“I’ve had a great life and a good career so far. It’s been hard, but that’s because I take on extra things, thinking about how I can help the community and what I can do for young people. But if I’d done it differently I probably wouldn’t have learned as much as I have.”

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