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Hackney Wick: How An Unfinished Man explores spirituality and mental health

Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play tells two truths and is set to be performed at The Yard theatre in Hackney Wick

An Unfinished Man is set to play at The Yard theatre

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On a chilly January morning, playwright, poet and filmmaker Dipo Baruwa-Etti stands on a boundary in Southwark.

Two things are true. He is standing in front of a red wall. He is standing in front of a blue wall. Neither statement tells the whole story, but neither is false.

To his right the property is painted a vibrant scarlet. To his left, an expanse of eggshell stretches away. He’s on a line between two places, two different ways of looking at the world.

His positioning is fortunate because his latest play – An Unfinished Man, set to run for a month at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick – is an attempt to explore how conflicting viewpoints can coexist and be equally valid, and his physical positioning in front of the camera is a convenient visual metaphor.

Audiences going to see his work may wish to reflect that the theatre is also close to a divide – the line between Tower Hamlets and Newham, the borough where Dipo was born and grew up, living first in North Woolwich and then in Stratford where he’s based today.

“The play is about a man called Kayode who’s been unemployed for seven years, and his mum and a pastor come in and tell him he was cursed as a child, and that’s why he’s unemployed, so they set about reversing the curse through a prayer ceremony,” said Dipo. 

“His wife thinks he’s just going through a mental breakdown and that the ceremony is going to make it worse.

“So it becomes a clash between Western and West African views on his mental health and his situation and, in the middle is Kayode, who’s trying to find out what the truth is and what his path forward should be.

“I have Nigerian heritage and in Yoruba culture if there’s something wrong or not happening in your life, you pray or sometimes have dreams about it and I found that spirituality really interesting.

“I believe in it, but to what extent is there still truth in it? How much is it society and how much is it a spiritual battle?

“Everyone around Kayode has all these answers about what he should be doing and what he’s going through. I guess the question I’m asking is whether there’s a true answer when it comes to mental health, unemployment, faith, spirituality, visions and witchcraft in particular?

“That’s what prompted me when I spoke to Jay Miller (artistic director at The Yard) about the idea in 2018 and I’ve been working on it since then.”

Dipo is a playwright, director and poet
Dipo is a playwright, director and poet – image Matt Grayson

An Unfinished Man was originally scheduled for performance in 2020, but the pandemic delayed things. On the morning we meet, Dipo tells me rehearsals, which are now in full swing at the Jerwood Space, should have started 665 days ago.

In the meantime however, he’s been busy, working as Channel 4 Playwright on attachment to the Almeida Theatre and, more recently, seeing his work The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East in June last year.  

Softly spoken, with a wellspring of considered, creative energy bubbling through him, he said he wasn’t one for detailed plot planning. I tend to go straight into the writing process – I don’t research around what I’m writing until after a first draft,”  he said.

“For An Unfinished Man, what I did immediately was write something based on instinct, on who I knew these characters to be and the situation.

“Then, after that I started having conversations with people who are working on it with me, through a series of workshops with actors, bringing people in to talk about the idea, about the concept and the questions they may have.

“All those questions and thoughts continue to challenge my perspective on what I think the story is.

“Not many people read the first draft – just Jay at The Yard and two friends. I think now rehearsals have begun we’re on draft 12.

“So I’m constantly letting the story evolve, based on questions I’ve had and thoughts that people have given me.

“That might be from comments that actors have made even if they don’t know they’re making them, if it triggers me to have a new thought.

“Because there has been this two-year gap, we’ve had the chance to interrogate and live with the material for a bit longer than usual.

“Mostly in this case that’s about making cuts – we’re in a good place with it. The play hasn’t changed that much since 2020, but it’s got tighter and tighter and that’s been great.”

Dipo is prolific, regularly working on multiple projects at once.

As a writer-director his film The Last Days (BFI Network/BBC/Tannahill Productions) starring Adjoa Andoh and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn had its UK premiere in August and he has projects in development with Blueprint Pictures, ITV Studios and Duck Soup Films.

“There was one day when I said I was going to be a writer, – my mum asked: ‘Why?’.” he said. “I was 15, I hadn’t written anything, but I loved reading stuff and watching TV and films, although I hadn’t seen that much.

“But that’s what I said I was going to do. I was part of a drama club in secondary school, so I was always aligned with creative theatre, but I performed in stuff rather than wrote it, because you don’t really do that then.

“The first thing I wrote was a TV script. I got my mum to buy me a bunch of screenwriting books, read them all and then I wrote 12 episodes of a show, called Secrets, Lies And Deceit – a drama, set in London, about a group of teenagers.

“My first five years of writing was really training – no-one ever saw the scripts. I wrote maybe 50 in that time because I just wanted to learn how to do it. That’s when I started writing plays, five years after deciding to become a writer.

“I actually went through and deleted all of the scripts I wrote as a teenager last year – although I have a record of the titles – because I don’t want anyone to ever see them. I think they’re just terrible.

“For anyone who’s considering becoming a writer, the only advice I have is to find stories you’re actually interested in telling because the path is really hard.

“I got my work seen through sending it out, submitting pieces to competitions.

“But I’ve also done lots of behind-the-scenes work in theatres and TV where I got to know people and took their advice. It’s often really about who you end up knowing and who can help you.

“If you’re writing by yourself without anyone challenging you or questioning what you’re doing, then it’s really hard to improve.”

While Dipo is engaged in many different kinds of writing, he’s especially drawn to the stage.

“What’s exciting is that live interaction with the audience – making them feel part of the narrative,” he said.

“That’s so important to me – that they are suspending their disbelief in such an interesting way and how you can play with the form.

“While I was interested in film before theatre, I’ve realised that plays are the medium at its purest and you don’t have to fit the conventions in the same way.

“I only ever write for myself – it’s an outlet – so if a play doesn’t happen it doesn’t really upset me. It’s not important whether someone sees it or not. 

“But when an actor says the words I’ve written, it changes. It becomes something bigger, something I want an audience to see, more than just words I’ve put on a page.

“It feels like a story that’s important to the room and the people who are listening to it.

“Actors bring my work to life and they put their own interpretation on it. It becomes something physical and that’s when I want people to see it.

“With An Unfinished Man, we did the first workshop in May 2019 and one of the actors said to me that the play made them want to start a conversation about the themes and questions it raises.

“That’s the response I want. I hope people watching the play will start to think about the ideas – in this case about explorations of faith and spirituality alongside mental health and depression.

“For me it’s about people having those conversations, particularly among the black community, saying: ‘This is what I believe – can our beliefs align?

“Are we going to be on the same page?’. It’s about the interrogation of those questions. Sometimes I believe Kayode is in a mental health situation and sometimes I believe it’s a curse.

“I don’t think you can ever fully know and that’s what’s interesting. Both explanations are true.

“I’m not trying to give answers and I never want people to think that the writer’s view is the right one.

“It’s about what the audience thinks and however they respond to the play.

“What’s important to me is to keep making the work that I want to make, that’s truthful to my voice. I’m not too fixed on what I want to create, but I do want to be proud of the body of work.”

Read more: Discover Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long at Wilton’s

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Canary Wharf: Marugame Udon brings a wealth of fresh noodles to Cabot Place

Brand’s European CEO Keith Bird on rolling out the Japanese super brand’s ‘amazing’ value and quality

A chef nets freshly cooked udon noodles in the open kitchen
A chef nets freshly cooked udon noodles in the open kitchen – image Matt Grayson

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Marugame Udon is the latest restaurant to open its doors among a clutch of new arrivals around the rotunda at the top of Cabot Place’s escalators.

It’s located opposite Gallio, German Doner Kebab and what’s soon to be Neat Burger – so there’s certainly plenty of choice in the area Canary Wharf Group has decided to dub Atrium Kitchen.

But a few things make the massively successful Japanese brand stand out.

It’s not the smiling welcome (somehow communicated despite the face mask), it’s not the fancy strip lights hung to look like drying strands of noodles, it’s the sheer attention to detail being paid second-by-second, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour by those running the place and producing the food. 

Embarking on its 22nd year, the business has grown from one restaurant to around 800 in its native Japan with 1,250 now trading worldwide.

Canary Wharf is its third branch in the UK – following launches at Liverpool Street and The O2 – with St Christopher’s Place already in the pipeline and many more to follow.

Marugame Udon European CEO Keith Bird
Marugame Udon European CEO Keith Bird – image Matt Grayson

Away from the inevitable talk of roll-outs and bottom lines, however, the key ingredient for the brand’s European CEO, Keith Bird, is fun.

“You could stand and watch this kitchen all day – I feel like I’m Willy Wonka in the udon factory,” he said.

“I love hospitality, it’s in my blood. When I was doing an MBA, a guy called Tony Hughes came in and did a talk about retail, restaurants and leisure.

“I’d spent my time in telecoms and banking and from what he said, hospitality sounded like the area I wanted to work in.

“The principle he was talking about was very simple – that if you look after your team, they are going to look after the guests.

“If the guests are happy, they’ll come back more frequently, and then the business flourishes, it grows, and you keep investing in that virtuous circle.

“Sometimes businesses that struggle lose sight of that.

“You need to make sure that your team live the values, understand the business, really want to be here, so recruit them well, train them well and treat them well.

“Even with our delivery drivers we make sure we have a place they can fill up their bottles because they’re carrying our precious cargo.

“In the restaurant it adds up to a special element you can’t really codify. It’s something about the energy – if people are happy in a great environment, guests want to be a part of that.

“So when customers go down our line with a tray it’s show time – you get the theatre of seeing everything being made and served in front of you.

“We want people to have lots of fun – that’s why you’ll hear the shouts as ingredients are prepared, but it’s something that can’t be forced, the staff have to want to do it and that’s what great hospitality is all about.

“That’s fundamental for Marugame – we want to serve delicious food, but also want to lift people’s lives a bit.”

Noodle-like lights at the Canary Wharf venue
Noodle-like lights at the Canary Wharf venue – image Matt Grayson

With calls of “Fresh Udon” peppering the air in the kitchen, the theatre of cracking sous vide poached eggs into bowls and pints of Asahi beer that miraculously fill from beneath via a Bottoms Up machine, there are plenty of acts to observe.

But that’s not to say things aren’t taken seriously.

“We’ve got our Udon master, who has come over on a one-way ticket from Japan – he’s here for at least five years and probably longer,” said Keith, who has worked with brands including Wasabi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Flight Club.

“The point is to make sure that the udon is absolutely perfect. We take it to the point of obsession that the ratio of flour, salt and water is correct.

“We go through a real process of making sure it matures, so you get the full flavour.

“Even the hardness of the water is measured on the Clark Scale. We have a really sophisticated water quality system to make sure every portion of noodles is absolutely perfect.”

An egg delicately cooked in its shell
An egg delicately cooked in its shell – image Matt Grayson

That level obsession has resulted in a special vacuum machine that sucks a very specific amount of moisture off the noodles after cooking – aimed at helping them to pick up the flavour of the broth or sauces they’re put with.

“You can have the noodles in their purest form – Kamaage, which are served straight from the pot with either a sweet smoky dashi dipping sauce or a vegan version for £3.45,” said Keith.

“Or you can have them in a light fish or vegan broth for £4.45.

“Then we’ve got loads of exciting dishes including a Chicken Katsu Curry Udon for £6.95 and a Chicken Paitan also for £6.95, which is sliced pieces of chicken thigh in a rich chicken soup with a poached egg that’s cooked sous vide in its shell and cracked into the bowl.

“Then we have a big Beef Nikutama with caramelisd onions in a sweet smoky broth and an egg for £8.45.

“That’s probably my favourite – it’s really satisfying and the ingredients balance really well with the udon.Seeing the shell crack open and a cooked egg drop out is sensational.

“Then there’s our range of tempura – deep fried in front of the customers.

“We offer loads of different pieces including prawn and chicken and it’s great for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet because we have sweet potato, pumpkin, red pepper, asparagus and courgette.”

Tempura ready for diners to serve themselves with
Tempura ready for diners to serve themselves with – image Matt Grayson

Tempura dishes range from 85p-£2.25, with customers able to serve themselves as they make their way to the till.

Keith said: “I’ve helped loads of amazing businesses in my career but the difference with this one is you have an offer that is for everyone.

“Udon is for the rich, the poor, the young and old – it’s healthy, amazing value, and we have a team here that want to make your experience with us the very best it can be.

“This is one of Japan’s super brands for a reason and to make it accessible to people here is really exciting.

“There was a survey in the country ranking all the top brands and Marugame came in at number 14 – one above the iPhone. 

“We chose to open in Canary Wharf for our third restaurant because it’s a place where people work, but also where they live – and that’s important for us. 

“There’s a solid population and a good Asian community as well and many know the brand already.

“Like any restaurant serving food from a particular country, you know it’s going to be good if there are people of that nationality there.

“That makes a good foundation for us, but it’s also about the people who will discover Marugame – Europeans who haven’t been to Japan.

“The Wharf is fantastic, it’s growing and ever-changing with housing going up on the estate and around it.

“We did this deal during the darkest times of Covid, but we believed that if you go to a great place that has always done well, with a great reputation and great shopping it will work.

“Workers are important, of course, but it’s the resident population that’s the key.”

Chicken Katsu Curry Udon, served in a reusable bowl
Chicken Katsu Curry Udon, served in a reusable bowl – image Matt Grayson

Visitors to Marugame can also rest assured the brand is doing its bit for the environment.

“In addition to beer filled from the bottom – which is great theatre, we have wine in cans which is better for the environment,” said Keith. 

“We’ve got good green credentials. One of our key values is doing the right thing.

“All our packaging for takeaway and delivery is recyclable, so there’s no plastic in there, and we’re trying to minimise everything we possibly can.

“We practise the fundamentals of reduce, re-use, recycle – a simple but very effective message.

“You come in and there’s a bowl that gets used and then re-washed, and will be used hundreds and hundreds of times, and that helps as well.

“It’s important for our team as well, because they want to work for a place they believe in – the faith we put in them and they put in us, to do the right thing, keeps this journey going.

“We want to make Canary Wharf proud of us. We want to do something really special here and we think the brand can go in many other locations in the UK.

“It’s on the money and we’re delivering for customers.”

Read more: Shutters opens its doors in Canary Wharf

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Greenwich: How Joy’s Caribbean Fusion tackles waste and meat consumption

Founder Tescha Joy blended banana skins, spices and veganism to create a street food business

Tescha Joy of Joy's Caribbean Fusion
Tescha Joy of Joy’s Caribbean Fusion image Matt Grayson

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Taste and waste is what Tescha Joy is all about. Driven by a desire to create sustainable, eco-friendly, flavourful food, she created Joy’s Caribbean Fusion – a street food brand that had its debut at Bexley’s Wasteless Market two-and-a-half years ago.

Since then she’s gone on to establish herself at RARE Farmers Market at Royal Arsenal Riverside and recently started a residency every Thursday from noon-8pm, at Pegler Square in Kidbrooke Village, just by the station.

 Her food is vegan and contains only plant-based ingredients, cooked with Caribbean spices to create dishes that attract longer queues at the markets she serves than stalls selling meat. And it all started with some banana skins.

Scroll down for Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry recipe

“I’m a public health nurse and work three days a week in the NHS,” said Tescha.

“My first dish was banana skin curry – I was at work one day and everyone was throwing away their banana skins and I asked them to give them to me instead.

“I hate waste so I took those skins and created a dish with them. There’s lots of iron, fibre and many other nutrients in them. The whole point of the dish was that I wanted to show people that you don’t have to throw away certain ingredients. 

“I showed you can create a nice meal from them and that’s where I got the idea for the business – it’s the dish I took to the Wasteless Market and it’s the only recipe I’m happy to share because I want people to recreate it at home.

“I want to have it printed in this paper so readers can use it rather than throw away their banana skins. 

“We’d normally throw them away in the Caribbean too – people over there are amazed when I tell them.   

“I’d decided to go vegan for environmental reasons – I think we eat too much meat in this country. I’m not anti-meat, but I think it’s important to cut down.

“Climate change is important to me because I want a better future for my children – I want them to grow up in a world where we waste less food. 

“I know what it’s like to be hungry. The majority of people in this country don’t know what that’s like and we need to cut the amount of food we throw away.

“I’ll literally make a dish from nothing – some potato peelings can be put in the oven with olive oil and you have some crisps.”

Tescha's take on doubles with chickpea curry
Tescha’s take on doubles with chickpea curry and pickles – image Matt Grayson

Tescha’s banana skin curry remains a firm favourite on the menu at Joy’s, joined by a host of core dishes intended to delight diners with both flavour and texture.

She said: “Cooking is also my passion and it’s in my blood. My parents owned a restaurant in the Caribbean. I would have to just get changed after school and go and help whether I wanted to or not.

“My brother owns a restaurant in Catford and I have another brother who is in America and has a restaurant there.

“There’s a long family tradition of cooking, but I’m the only one who does vegan.

“Normally you’d have jerk chicken and jerk pork – quite meaty dishes. I wanted to explore different types of food using Caribbean flavours.

“Also, I think it’s good for my children to see that vegetables can be really tasty and it’s better for the planet.

“On the classic menu, I have chickpea curry with flatbread – it’s really naughty because it’s deep fried – and that’s served with mango chutney, which I make from scratch before every market, tamarind sauce and pickled onion, red cabbage and cucumber.

“In the Caribbean we call it doubles because you get two smaller breads, but I do it as one large one, just to be a bit different.

“We also do rice bowls with toppings of barbecue jerk mushroom, jerk tofu and cauliflower bites.

“My best seller is the combination bowl where you get a bit of everything including the chickpea curry and the flatbread. It all comes with the same toppings – the chutney and the pickles.

“Then we do specials such as vegan fish, which is made from jackfruit or banana blossom with plant-based marine ingredients to give it that fishy flavour.

“People can be a bit hesitant to try vegan dishes, but once they do, they usually come back and say they don’t need the meat.

“I catered for a wedding in December and the bride told me some of the guests thought they’d need to go to the local burger shop after they’d eaten the food.

“But she called me back later and told me nobody had gone – they all were amazed at the texture of the dishes and the different flavours.

“I’ve built up a big following in the areas where I trade – at RARE in Woolwich I have a queue, which is longer than the meat queue and I think people are becoming more aware of veganism and meat-eaters are also cutting down and having plant-based food instead.”

Joy's serves a range of vegan dishes
Joy’s serves a range of vegan dishes – image Matt Grayson

New dishes undergo strict quality control from Tescha’s children who taste all of her dishes before they’re allowed to make it onto the stall.

Her ambition is to keep growing the business to the point where it can operate more widely and be her sole focus.

“I’m still working as a nurse, which is something I’ve been doing for 20 years,” she said. “I’d love to have Joy’s in multiple locations, to train people up to run those stalls and serve the food. 

“At the moment my goal is to get a van so the business can be more mobile.

“This really is my passion – it’s something I want to develop. I now make and sell my own sauces too – called Island Drizzle. 

“People kept coming and asking me for my recipes and my husband said: ‘Don’t tell them, just put it in a bottle’.

“It comes in medium, hot and extra hot. They’re all vegan too and are quite different to a lot of sauces out there because you can use them as a marinade, a dressing and as a condiment.

“It’s not the hottest sauce around because I’m more into the flavour than the heat – customers can come down and try it.”

Cook it: Banana Skin Curry

While most of Tescha’s recipes remain secret, she’s happy to help people cut down on waste by sharing this one – perfect for using up that unwanted peel…

Tescha's Banana Skin Curry
Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry

Ingredients (serves three-four)

4-5 large ripe banana skins

1 cup peeled, diced potato

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp curry powder 

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp fennel seeds 

1/4 tsp cumin seed

2 cardamom pods

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp ground coriander 

1/3 tsp chopped scotch bonnet 

       chilli pepper (optional) 

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion finely (chopped) 

1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)

1 tbs curry leaves (optional)

2 tbsp fresh coriander (chopped)

1 cup water 

1/2 cup coconut milk

Method

Thoroughly wash the banana skins, remove the rigid woody end at the top and dark spot at the end. 

Add lemon juice to the skins to stop them going dark while chopping (they will still be edible, even if this happens, so don’t worry).

Use a spoon to scrape out the inner lining and discard the scrapings. Depending on your preference, finely or roughly chop the skins. Then add the diced potato to them and combine with salt, curry powder and turmeric. 

In a pestle and mortar, place the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pod, garlic, ground coriander and chilli. Grind into a paste. Add the paste to the banana skins and potatoes and mix in well. Add chilli here if preferred for a spicier dish.

Add the oil to a frying pan, heat and turn down. Add the chopped onion and stir until softened and then tip in the chopped banana skin mix. Increase  the heat and sauté for 10 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk, water, thyme, curry leaves and fresh coriander to the pan. Cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. 

Add an extra 1/4 cup of water if you prefer a more moist curry. Remove from heat once the banana skins and potatoes are soft. Serve with rice of your choice, a flatbread or on a bed of salad.

Tescha Joy

Read more: Tom Carradine celebrates six years of Cockney sing-a-longs at Wilton’s

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Leamouth: How Lightship95 offers musicians high quality recording riverside

Trinity Buoy Wharf-based studio on a boat is all set up to capture any sound you can make

Giles Barrett, left, and Dave Holmes of Lightship95
Giles Barrett, left, and Dave Holmes of Lightship95 – image Matt Grayson

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There’s a moment during my interview with Giles Barrett and Dave Holmes when the waters of the Thames sweep into the mouth of the Lea and lift the entire venue we’re sat in, gently off the riverbed.

But it’s not the subtle undulation of the liquid beneath that these two are primarily interested in – they spend their days tuning into and capturing waves of sound created by a diverse stream of musicians flowing through the recording studio they run.

Now moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Lightship95 was originally built as a floating lighthouse, part of a fleet of similarly sturdy vessels capable of holding position in all weathers.   

Owner Ben Phillips, a producer and engineer, bought her after she’d left active service and conceived and undertook a two-year project to turn her into a recording studio – an alternative to the pressures and uncertainty of building one on land.

He ran the business until 2017, when Soup Studios relocated to the vessel from Cable Street in Limehouse.

In 2021 Soup moved back onto dry land, but Giles and Dave – two of its crew members – opted to remain aboard, launching their own partnership under the name Lightship95 and continuing to record.

“I’d been running small studios in London since 2005, when I graduated, but the weird coincidence for me about this ship is that I could see it from where I grew up in Kent,” said Giles who takes the role of Lightship95’s studio manager.

“It was working as a lightship on the Goodwin Sands and I could see it on the horizon pretty much every day, so it’s quite strange to be on it now.

“The reason I’m here now is tied in with the reason that Ben decided to build a studio on the ship in the first place.

“I’ve built and then been kicked out by gentrification very quickly from a number of studios in London over the last 16 years.

“That’s what happens – artists go in, they build something, it’s a nice building and then the landlords realise it’s time to raise the rent.

“That’s difficult when you’re trying to run a studio.

“Soup wasn’t kicked out of our last studios in Cable Street, but we never had any security there, because there was a yearly rolling lease, so you’re terrified of the landlords the whole time.

“The really good thing about Trinity Buoy Wharf is that it has written into its lease an obligation to make a certain section of its income from cultural activities and that’s a rare thing in London.”

Lightship95 moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf
Lightship95 moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Dave is Lightship95’s senior engineer and didn’t see the vessel growing up, on account of doing that in New Zealand. 

He said: “I came over in 2011 after a couple of years backpacking in Europe and South-East Asia and thought I would have a look around and see what was happening on the other side of the world.

“Initially I was freelancing, doing bits and pieces for about a year, mostly at the Royal College Of Music, before a mutual contact put me in touch with Giles in 2015.

“Then I started hanging around at Soup, bringing my microphones and other equipment over from New Zealand bit by bit.

“We worked hard to grow the studio and the client base and then we found out the ship was available. It was a bit of a risk, but our clients followed us, so it paid off.

“The pandemic has been different to normal, obviously, but it has given us the opportunity to refocus and get this business the way we’d imagined it.”

The studio’s 1980s tape recorder – image Matt Grayson

With a control room contained inside the ship’s former diesel tank, its live space occupying the former engine room and a vocal booth nestled between the two, Lightship95 offers a wealth of flexible facilities and expertise to its clients.

“The lion’s share of what we do, apart from making good coffee, is to allow people to forget what is normally invading their conscious minds and come and do what they’ve booked the place to do,” said Dave.

“It’s about looking after our relationships with our clients, because we want them to come back.

“It’s our job to understand what they’re trying to do, what their set-up is so we can arrange the live space in the best possible way.

“There are lots of little things – like the sounds of the instruments in the room, the sight lines and the monitoring so that when we take them into the control room and play it back people say: ‘That’s what we’re looking for’.

“There’s a huge amount of experience and knowledge which is hard to break down, that goes into building what that sound is.

“But I quite like the idea that our clients aren’t really aware of that – we want them to focus on what they’re doing and not be worried about the technical stuff.”

The live room at Lightship95
The live room at Lightship95 – image Matt Grayson

Giles added: “We make records in lots of different ways and one of the things that we do in a studio of this size is to encourage whole bands to come and record together. 

“Lots of records get made in a layered, computerised way – one instrument at a time – and that’s fine, but it’s great to encourage musicians to come and play together to get that interaction, that live feeling.”

Alongside different recording set-ups, Lightship95 is equipped with a bewildering array of tech, both digital and analogue. 

Giles said: “From a technological point of view, this is the best time to be making music. We’ve gone through the time when everyone chucked out their analogue gear, brought in the digital stuff and realised that a lot of it wasn’t good enough

“But now we can make a record on just a MacMini and challenge anyone to tell whether it went through analogue or digital.

“Then we still have all the analogue gear which we can use as creative inspiration and with total flexibility because it can be integrated into a digital environment.” 

Dave added: “Some of our microphones are 80 years old and we have a tape machine from the 1980s, which was the pinnacle of analogue.

“The mixing board is analogue too – the last model before the company went totally digital.

“The beauty of digital is that it’s such a clean result – you might want a 1960s-style guitar and you can get an instrument from that era, use a microphone that will give it that colour and then, digital capture of that will be perfect.

“It’s also the flexibility of having so many inputs and outputs that means you’re never short of workspace – the computer power is ridiculous.”

The studio offers both digital and analogue tech
The studio offers both digital and analogue tech – image Matt Grayson

While the extensive soundproofing prevents anything much being heard outside the boat itself, Lightship95 has hosted all sorts of clients – many on the modern jazz scene – as well as the likes of Ghostpoet, Mike Skinner and Roots Manuva.

“It’s a really exciting time to have a studio business,” said Dave.

“We want the place to be used – we’ve been quite crafty in that we have all these things we like to use, but it’s still affordable, and that’s important.

“This is our life – as we’ve grown, our clients have grown at the same time and it’s been really exciting to see the successes of people we’ve been working with for for many years.” 

Lightship95 costs £480 per day to hire with discounts for block bookings. Rates include use of instruments, equipment and an engineer.

Read more: Tom Carradine celebrates six years of Cockney sing-a-longs at Wilton’s

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Canary Wharf: How Darren Bruce helps gym-goers hit their goals at Third Space

The elite personal trainer has spent 20 years coaching clients at the Canary Wharf club

Third Space elite personal trainer Darren Bruce
Third Space elite personal trainer Darren Bruce – image Matt Grayson

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Learning to move in the right way is crucial to avoiding injury and achieving your goals through exercise.

So says elite personal trainer at Third Space in Canary Wharf, Darren Bruce

If anybody knows, he certainly ought to. Typifying what the massive gym in Canada Square offers, Darren has a wealth of expertise, having competed at the highest levels as a sportsman.

As a boxer he was a challenger for the IBO Welterweight World Title and is a former British kickboxing champion and county champion long jumper.

But he’s also spent nearly 20 years helping gym-goers achieve their own aims.

“I actually started working here when it opened in 2002 as Reebok Sports Club,” said Darren.

“I was being sponsored by a construction company at the time – I’d go to work for half a day and then box at a gym in south London.

“I’d had lots of breaks in my career but I’d decided I needed to think about doing something else, so I saw the marketing suite for the gym and went to see what it was all about.

“I already had a personal training qualification but they said they didn’t need trainers at that time so I started out taking boxing classes.

“That was pretty much brand new to me but I ended up having the busiest class at the club – that was my foot in the door.”

Darren began seeing clients one-on-one in 2004 image Matt Grayson

Two years later Darren got a job as a personal trainer after another member of staff left and has never looked back.

“At first making the transition from athlete to trainer was awkward – I’d trained at the highest level, so I realised I needed to gear things down, but in no time at all I got it,” he said.

“Personal training is about getting that relationship with the client right, getting them to believe in you and knowing your craft.

“I’ve worked beside some really great coaches over the years so I stuck close to a couple of those guys, learnt from them and studied. 

“My skills developed from there and they’re still developing – I’m always trying to evolve what I do, but I’ve stuck to my principles since starting personal training in 2004, and I still use the same approach.

“Safe exercise is first and foremost. You don’t want to injure your client – it’s a bad experience for them and they’re not going to come back.

“Then, everything is about sound movement patterns.

“Many people who come to me have desk-bound jobs and the best thing is to get them moving. 

“If I can make them feel that they are moving better and they’re getting stronger, then they’ll keep coming back and progressing – I still have the first client that came to me at this gym and she’s fantastic.”

Everything starts with a thorough assessment before Darren creates a bespoke series of exercises.

“The first time someone comes to me, we’ll do an evaluation,” he said. “I’ll ask them what their goals are, what their previous training history is like and whether they have any injuries. 

Darren's professional boxing background informs his approach
Darren’s professional boxing background informs his approach – image Matt Grayson

“From that process, I will go about devising a programme that’s dependent on that client’s goals and what they need to achieve them. Then we’ll work through it together.

“I think people should aim to train for a minimum of twice a week with a personal trainer helping them. 

“People shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking they can do this on their own.

“Our personal training clients at Third Space find they can get an extra 10% out of themselves with a coach.

“People generally don’t know how to improve themselves – that’s why we’re here to coach them in those movements.

“That’s important for safety too – if someone wants to do a high impact class they’re much better off seeing a trainer first because their movement patterns might be pretty poor and that’s something we can work on.

“That’s why it’s best to see a trainer more than once a week as progress is faster.”

As a trainer, Darren is able to draw on the countless hours of expert coaching he’s received over the years.

“Discipline is the most important thing,” he said. “You have to learn to focus and realise that progress doesn’t come overnight.

“When it comes to coaching boxing we can do the drills I used to do, but just spend less time on them so the client is always learning and progressing.

“Obviously it’s great when you have clients who want that specific combat expertise – if people want to spar we can do that in the ring here in a safe manner because I’m a professional.

“That’s one of the things that sets me apart because it’s not an easy thing to do. But the discipline of training for boxing is also great for general fitness. 

“The great thing about Third Space is there is so much of it – so much room – and the facilities are first class.

“There’s no waiting around, even at peak times, and it has everything you need.”

Membership of Third Space Canary Wharf costs £180 on a rolling monthly contract.

Personal training rates at the club are available on request, with a discount for new members on their first two sessions.

Group-wide membership for all clubs including City and Tower Bridge costs £210 per month.

New members get two guest passes, a meal or shake at Natural Fitness Food, 25% off their first treatment at the Canary Wharf spa and an ongoing discount of 5% as standard.

Read more: Why even exercise specialists need personal trainers

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Wapping: How Tom Carradine’s show is simply a good old cockney knees-up

Pianist celebrates six years of sing-a-long performances at Wilton’s Music Hall in east London

Tom is set to perform at Wilton's in January and February
Tom is set to perform at Wilton’s in January and February image Matt Grayson

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Tom Carradine is adamant that he doesn’t have a cockney bone in his body.

But anyone who’s seen him levitate and click his heels, grinning from ear to ear couldn’t fail to doubt that more than a little East End magic courses through his lithe and dapper frame.

A singular individual, clad in sharp vintage clothes, he’s a man perfectly suited to the niche he inhabits – showman, entertainer, crowd pleaser. 

More than that, he’s an education, a smuggler of facts in with the bonhomie, such that audiences attending Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long, will leave having absorbed a smattering of knowledge

A regular Thursday night performer at Mr Fogg’s Tavern in Covent Garden, he’s a regular name at venues across east London and is celebrating six years of sell-out shows at Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping with gigs on January 20, 22 and February 8.

It all started, of course, with biochemistry.

“I was born in Coventry, in the Midlands, and grew up there,” said Tom. “To cut a very long story short, I was told by the careers advisors not to be an actor or a musician and that I needed to get a proper job.

“I’d always been fascinated by London – I’d pored over maps of it as a kid and knew the Tube lines inside out.

“My mum and dad had trained at the teacher training college in Roehampton, so I was always fascinated by the history of the city – its ghost stories and all that kind of stuff.

“We’d go a couple of times a year to see shows and I’d always wanted to live there since I was tiny.

“I ended up doing a biochemistry degree at Imperial College London, that’s when I moved to the city.”

Tom met West End musicians while at university
Tom met West End musicians while at university image Matt Grayson

It was while at university Tom realised music had a bigger pull for him than test tubes and Bunsen burners. Having always played piano, he became involved with the student operatic society. 

“I met West End musicians that way and gradually I was being asked to play for things like cabaret concerts, auditions and rehearsals,” he said.

“I finished off my degree as joint honours with business studies and then spent time doing fringe theatre and touring as the keyboard player in shows such as Blood Brothers – living out of a suitcase for about eight years.

“Then I decided to hang up my touring shoes and was playing a bit for Les Miserables in the West End. While I was doing that, I was introduced to the London cabaret scene.

Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long was lots of different things coming together. There was my love and fascination for London and old-time music.

“Even though there are no Cockneys in my family, I was involved with Scout gang shows back in Coventry growing up and through that I learnt a lot of music hall and wartime songs.

“Then on the London cabaret circuit and the vintage scene I was starting to develop my own vintage style. I discovered as an adult you can do what you want and wear what you want. 

“I was playing with a 1920s-30s band called Champagne Charlie And The Bubbly Boys.

“We were playing at a vintage festival in Bedfordshire – actually based at the airfield where band leader Glenn Miller took off from on his last flight when his plane crashed and he was lost.

“After the show we ended up in an old Nissen hut, which was a pub, with a battered old piano. Half the keys weren’t working and it was completely out of tune.

“But my friend Dusty Limits, who was hosting one of the stages, tipped me the wink and said: ‘Play some of the old songs’.

“So I did My Old Man Said Follow The Van and Knees Up Mother Brown – all the songs I knew from childhood and took requests.

“The pints kept coming and I kept playing. Then we did the same the night after.

“I didn’t really think about it again until we went back the following year and people saw us on the way and asked if we were doing the sing-a-long again.

“The rest is history. Now I make a full-time living pushing around my mobile piano – Kimberley – and driving my van all over the country.”

Tom wears a mixture of vintage styles
Tom wears a mixture of vintage styles image Matt Grayson

Ticket holders for Tom’s shows can expect a blistering array of sing-a-long classics from British and, often American, pens including tunes so well known over this side of the pond many assume them to be native. 

“It’s a good old-fashioned knees-up,” said Tom, who these days operates from a base in Tonbridge.

“It’s my job to whip the crowd up and then we’ll go through maybe 200 songs you never knew you knew.

“The lyrics are projected on the back wall and it’s all about audience participation – bringing back those memories with tunes people haven’t heard for years. 

“It’s fast-paced – there are medleys – and you can buy a ticket for anywhere in the theatre, but I get to be in the best seat in the house, which is right in the middle of everyone when they sing.

“As much as anything the show is exploration and education as well as entertainment. 

“I like to try and link things together in medley – for example, last time I was at Wilton’s I did one based on tramps with Burlington Bertie From Bow – about a man dressed above his station in life as an upper class toff – echoed by Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London with the old man in the closed down market. 

“I’m a firm believer that songs from the 1890s to the 1950s need to be performed and shouldn’t sit as dusty old sheet music whether it’s the better known ones or the others.

“People will know Daisy, Daisy and I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, the latter written in America.

“But will they know The Postman’s Holiday or It’s a Great Big Shame? Unless we sing them and pass them along, they’re just going to die out.”

Tom's spats, made to an Edwardian design
Tom’s spats, made to an Edwardian design image Matt Grayson

Audiences can also expect to be delighted by Tom’s wardrobe as well as his moustache.

He said: “When you have facial furniture like this, it’s hard to wear anything but vintage. It’s very rare I’m ever seen outside the house without a collar and tie on, even when I’m putting the bins out. 

“I completely appreciate vintage purists, but I mix and match if only so the really precious pieces get a longer life.

“For this shoot my trousers are 1950s, the spats are modern but to an Edwardian pattern, the waistcoat is 1960s and the jacket is 1920. 

“The collar and shirt are new – thankfully there are companies that still make these kinds of clothes. I wear clothes that make me feel good.”

Performances at Wilton’s start at 7.30pm with tickets from £9-£18.

Audience members should bring a pair of lungs and expect to work them enthusiastically.

Read more: Inject some colour to fight the January blues

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Royal Docks: Momtaz Begum-Hossain offers tips on bringing colour into your life

Docklands-based author’s latest book Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness In Colour released

Author Momtaz Begum-Hossain – image Alexandre Pichon

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BY MOMTAZ BEGUM-HOSSAIN

Short days, grey skies, and cold weather can make the winter months feel overwhelmingly bleak. But you don’t have to wallow in the winter blues.

I wrote my latest book, Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness In Colour, because I believe it’s important to immerse yourself in the joy of colour. That’s true during winter, more than any other season. 

Colour is an instant mood-booster. It can lift our spirits, guide decision-making, communicate with our emotions and inspire our creativity, but it doesn’t always get used to its full potential. 

By welcoming colour into different aspects of your life, you’ll experience its full sensory benefits.

We don’t just see colour, we feel it too. Here are my seven suggestions for bringing more vibrancy into your life: 

Dress in a variety of shades and hues

wear it

Whether your job requires a uniform, or you work from home, wearing a pop of colour will have a mood-boosting effect on you. 

An accessory is an easy element to start with. Reach for colourful gloves when you’re outside and cosy, patterned slipper socks indoors. 

Your choice of scarf and even your face covering all involve making decisions about colour, so use them as an opportunity to experience new shades.

Go for vibrant food and drink

consume it

Though we’re in the season of craving warming, comforting soups, stews, and hotpots which typically fall into an autumnal colour palette of oranges and browns, aim to add unexpected shades to your meals. 

Visually enticing food tastes better, so engage all your senses by adding colourful touches. Salad ingredients that are normally associated with summer are ideal. 

Swap green garnish for chopped up beetroot, sliced tomatoes or spinach leaves. These go with all dishes and will complement the flavours and excite your mind. 

Experiment with different lights in your home

light up

Mood lighting and coloured lighting create atmosphere. Hang up fairy lights or, switch to smart bulbs so you can change the colour of a room instantly. 

Notice how you feel under different lights – red, blue, green, purple or white, and experiment with switching between them. 

If you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a condition where people feel depressed during the dark days of winter – invest in a SAD lamp.

These simulate natural daylight, boosting serotonin levels making you feel naturally happier, although it’s advisable to check with a doctor before you start using one. 

Fill your workplace with bright colours

bring it to work

As a child having a pencil case filled with novelty erasers, highlighter pens and multi-coloured biros was a high point of going to school but somewhere along the line, this natural instinctive pleasure for getting excited about colour can get lost. 

Get that joy back by swapping out ordinary desk stationery for fun items – opt for a colourful re-usable drinks holder and make sure your notebooks come in a variety of hues.

Find those shades on a walk

 go on a rainbow hunt

Put aside an hour and dedicate it to seeking out and appreciating colour.

Keep an eye out for new colours you’ve not seen before, shades that make your heart sing and tones you’d like to incorporate into your life.

Do this when you’re out and about at lunchtime. 

Time spent appreciating colour by slowing down in a mindful way, is good for your overall wellbeing.

Consider focusing on on a single hue

try a colour meditation

Deep breathing helps the body calm down, relax and think more clearly. 

Meditating on colours will help you harness the energy of particular hues to help you with situations you’re dealing with and is a common practice in colour therapy treatments. 

For example, green is a naturally balancing colour so if you’re looking to become more balanced in your life you could meditate on the colour green by breathing in green light and sending it around your body. 

Blue, on the other hand, is the colour of communication so if you’re preparing for a job interview or giving a talk, meditating on blue light will help open up your communication channels ensuring you give your best performance.

Look around you for colours – image Nick Shasha

embrace nature

In winter it’s hugely beneficial for your mental and emotional health to witness as much natural daylight as you can. 

One way you can channel light energy is by watching sunrises and sunsets as often as you can. If you struggle to find the time, think of it like taking a coffee or screen break – make it part of your routine. 

Winter walks are satisfying for the soul.

Take a weekend trip to the sea to observe grey skies blending into grey seas – it’s just  as beautiful as when the water glistens under summer sunlight. 

After rainfall, look for dewdrops on blades of grass and observe how evergreens command attention when you’re in your local park. 

Whether you have five minutes or a whole day, there is joy to be found in nature by slowing down, observing changes, and taking a moment to absorb its colour-fuelled energy. 

Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness In Colour by Momtaz Begum-Hossain is out now, published by Leaping Hare Press, priced £14.32.

Read more: Why The Sporting Club is a coaching gym

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Wapping: How The Sporting Club delivers for clients at all levels of fitness

Personal training gym in Garnet Street offers one-on-one and semi-private sessions alongside classes

Founder of The Sporting Club, Tim Keleher
Founder of The Sporting Club, Tim Keleher image Matt Grayson

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January is traditionally the month of knee-jerk reactions to the excesses of the festive season.

Alcohol is shelved, meat nixed, diets started and resolutions to walk thousands of steps more a day than last year enthusiastically begun.

It’s not peak time for sign-ups at The Sporting Club in Wapping, however.

That usually comes in February as expert help is sought in the fitness field when it becomes clear abstinence and good intentions aren’t quite going to be enough to generate the honed body of desire.

While its personal training programmes aren’t cheap – a one-to-one session costs £80 for 60 minutes – founder Tim Keleher can promise a highly tailored service that has seen around 30% of clients working out with him or his trainers for more than 10 years.

“We’re realistic with people right from the start,” he said. “We set sensible goals that change over time.

“If people say they want a six pack then I’ll be honest with them and ask whether they’re willing to train six times a week, clean up their diets completely and not go out on a Saturday night. For many that’s a step too far.

“What our clients report after they start training with us is a general feeling of wellbeing. It might be that their sleep improves, their concentration at work is a little bit better or that they feel energised and are more likely to do healthy activities outside the gym.”

Originally from Melbourne, Tim made the journey to London from Australia at the invitation of his brother Jamie, who had more work than he could handle as a personal trainer.

While Jamie moved on from Wapping to Wimbledon, Tim stayed in east London, steadily building up his business at John Orwell Sports Centre before moving into his own premises, tucked away at Sovereign Close looking out onto Wapping Woods. 

Seeking more footfall and greater prominence he’s now relocated the business to premises over two floors in Garnet Street, which has generated a stream of interest from passers-by, one of whom stops by during our interview. 

“We are coaching based – that’s the fundamental difference between us and a mainstream gym,” said Tim.

“Our clients come and they are always getting coached – this isn’t a gym where you can come and do a workout on your own and we have to be clear about that.

“Predominantly people train here in one-to-one or two-to-one settings with a trainer. We also offer semi-private sessions for up to three people with a focus on strength training and classes, at the moment, for up to eight people. 

“That allows us to bring in a few different things, such as Yoga, boxing and circuit training. Our clients will come in and do one or a combination of a lot of those.

“The first thing to say is we can train people of all levels but our typical client is someone who doesn’t have any  specific athletic goals.

“Most have busy lifestyles, stressful jobs and perhaps they haven’t been doing enough exercise and would like to lose a few pounds.

“But my youngest client is the 12-year-old daughter of a friend across the street who is doing some strength training with us and our oldest is a local councillor who is in her late 70s and we have everything in between.

“Most people who start with us stay with us, they love training and are loyal to us as a local business and I think that’s a good reflection of the service we offer. 

“We have about 90 clients who are doing personal training with us and of those, 25 have been with us for more than a decade. I still have the very first client I started training at John Orwell.

“We always ask clients to commit to at least 12 weeks of training. It’s not a cheap thing to do, but if you want to get the most out of it there has to be an investment of both time and money.

“Generally, getting people to commit financially is a good way of getting them to do the work they need to in the gym.

“We do offer a bit more flexibility with our semi-private classes and group classes where session packs are available and people can purchase single sessions too.

“For the group classes we also do an introductory offer of three sessions for £30.

“Ultimately I think we’re a good place to train, but we won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. For that type of session, I want people to try one out and see if it fits with what they’re looking for.”

Tim demonstrates a squat at the club
Tim demonstrates a squat at the club image Matt Grayson

The Sporting Club’s core focus, though, is on personal training, with personal programmes created for each client according to their needs and individual goals.

“I think what sets us apart is the quality of the trainers we have here,” said Tim, who grew up playing a range of sports before discovering a passion for weight training in his late teens.

“Unfortunately the quality of personal trainers in the industry as a whole is not very high – it doesn’t take much to get your certificate and you have providers of those courses who want to make it as easy and accessible as possible to get those qualifications.

“But what you learn in many of those courses does not give you the skills to be a personal trainer.

“It’s a first step and everyone has done it, but learning the process of becoming a trainer, knowing how to read clients and to write really good programmes for each individual – that takes time.

“A statistic that is probably a little old but still rings true is that two thirds of personal trainers are out of the industry within six months.

“They get their certificate, they try to make a living out of it and within six months they can’t and then they’re out. It’s a massively high turnover.”

Staff at The Sporting Club are selected based on personal connection or recommendation and have to go through a rigorous interview process, which includes writing a programme for Tim and coaching other trainers under scrutiny.

“That enables me to see what their skill sets are like and how they work,” said Tim. “It also ensures that I’m comfortable for them to start seeing clients.

“We currently have six other trainers here apart from myself, including Justin Lam who I’ve been working with for more than 10 years after meeting him on a course.

“That expertise is essential because, having worked eight years in a public gym my opinion is that most people don’t know enough about exercise to do it by themselves and get results.

“They might have the best of intentions but don’t know how to put exercises together to get the most out of their workout.

“For a lot of our clients, having a set time in their calendar when they’re accountable not just to themselves but to us, is motivation enough.

“And that’s the first step. You have to show up every week – it’s a game of consistency. Then we’re very good at designing programmes, asking what a client’s capabilities and goals are and bringing the two together for them.”

Brightly-coloured kettlebells at the ready
Brightly-coloured kettlebells at the ready image Matt Grayson

Part of the service is having a facility and equipment capable of delivering and from its clean, white shopfront to its banks of free weights, cable machines and basement studio, The Sporting Club is comprehensively kitted out.

“I like my toys,” said Tim. “Take our set of bars, for example. We have a lot of different ones that you would not see in a mainstream public gym.

“They will probably have a standard Olympic bar and nothing else. Mainstream gyms are usually a little behind what studios like us are doing.

“But the reason we have these things is to ensure we can safely do different types of exercise with a wide range of clients.

“Our latest piece of kit is called a belt squat machine, made by a company called Primal. Because you’re loading around your back this is a really easy and safe way to coach squats.

“I’ve only had it for four months but it’s quickly become the most versatile and most-used machines we have because it allows people a greater range of motion.

“We also have our track – a must for personal training studios if you have the space.

“It’s where we load up push sleds or pull sleds and you just get people dragging weights, which is a great way to build leg strength.”

Read more: Why Third Space’s Eve Powell turned to a personal trainer

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Greenwich: How GCDA is celebrating the breadth of its activities in the borough

As Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency marks its 40th, we chat to CEO Claire Pritchard

GCDA CEO Claire Pritchard
GCDA CEO Claire Pritchard – image Matt Grayson

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Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency this year celebrates 40 years since its creation.

It was founded with a stated central mission to support the establishment of community owned, democratically managed cooperatives to boost employment, improve local economic opportunities and protect or provide local services. 

In short, it’s spent four decades working to make the lives of people in the Royal Borough Of Greenwich better and there’s much more to come.

For the last 20 years, Claire Pritchard has worked for the organisation, taking over as director in 2010.

She said: “In our 40th year we really want to celebrate and highlight what we do. It’s still very much about community development.”

That might seem like a pretty open-ended statement, but Claire deserves some sympathy, because efficiently conveying the sheer breadth of GCDA’s activities is no easy task.

It supports, trains, educates, connects, sells, communicates, promotes and gives a platform to a Chinese Women’s Association to perform fan dances. It runs a community centre, a shop, markets and a commercial kitchen.

It hosts Yoga, boxing, Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu, Mencap, a Vietnamese Women’s Group and provides space for a nursery and a domestic violence drop-in service.

It offers courses in starting businesses, community development, catering, feeding kids, crafts and horticulture, among others. Oh, and later this year it intends to open an art gallery.

It’s a complex web of industry, with threads woven right through the borough connecting entrepreneurs, makers and residents through the likes of GCDA’s operations at Woolwich Common Community Centre, Made In Greenwich and Greenwich Kitchen.

Claire outside Made In Greenwich
Claire outside Made In Greenwich – image Matt Grayson

“This is what we’ve grown into,” said Claire, who joined the organisation in a role focused on food in the borough. “There was a big change about 15 years ago when we had to go from being a grant-funded organisation to one that could fund all of its own activities.

“That was really tough, but it enabled us to go back and see what we really wanted to do – what people’s needs were and how we could respond to them.

“For example, six years ago we found Woolwich Common Community Centre, which was one of the lowest occupied venues of its kind in the borough, located in one of the poorest wards in London. It was an area where people wouldn’t go in the evenings – but now it’s fully occupied.

“We really responded to what people asked us to do, so now there’s everything from table tennis to food growing, boxing training and much more.

“We’ve also always wanted to celebrate small businesses and support them. 

“We wanted to do something called Made In Greenwich as a platform for local artists and makers that was sustainable.

“We’d been looking for years and eventually managed to secure a shop right in the centre of Greenwich.

“We now stock products and works of art from more than 100 makers in the borough – supporting fledgling businesses who don’t have the money to market themselves so they can grow and refine their operations.

“Made In Greenwich has just won the 2021 award for retail at the Best Of Royal Greenwich Business Awards and it’s a brand we really want to develop.

“Our strategy as an organisation is not necessarily about us having practical projects, but about looking at and celebrating what and who we’ve got in the borough – to promote those businesses and their sustainability because that’s how you create local wealth.

“Now we’re pursuing a gallery space, which is in a prime position just around the corner from our shop, because exhibitions are a great way to make campaigns whether it’s around equality, refugees or any other topic. We hope to open that in the autumn.

“What we’ve worked out is that, being local and knowing where we work is really important – we want  people who work with GCDA to be part of that community.

“We also know that in the future we don’t want to get much bigger as an organisation.

“The way to achieve what we want is to have a series of buildings where that work can come from – a gallery, a community centre, a shop or even a pub – so we can curate more activities to serve the needs of local residents.

“We have developed a very particular model for doing this, and we’d like to find a way to support other areas to do it too – not doing it ourselves because we don’t want GCDA itself to get really, really big.

“I did present to Tower Hamlets the other day, for example and Greenwich University have some funding in place to work with North Kent council to replicate our community centre model around food, social enterprise and sustainability.

“Where we have been successful in supporting communities, we would like to support other organisations to replicate this in the next 20 years.

“In Greenwich we want to help our communities thrive socially and economically, whether that’s by creating a nicer environment for people, training them in cooking skills, helping them access affordable fruit and veg or campaigning for more social housing and to protect public assets.

“In the 20 years I’ve worked here, one of the things that has made me most proud has been how everyone involved in GCDA has responded to the pandemic, turning our services on their head in a single day after the first 2020 lockdown and working out how to care for the very vulnerable, something we’re continuing to do.

“We’re a small organisation – there are fewer than 40 of us – but I think we’ve provided more than a million meals to those in need and we continued to support the traders at our markets, local businesses and our makers. 

“If people would like to get involved, they can look at our website or find us on social media, but they can also come and see us at Made In Greenwich or at one of our markets. 

“We’re always interested to talk to people and you can always join as a member. It’s through talking to those using our services and our members that we’ll define what we do in the next two decades.”

Read more: East End Community Foundation unveils Life Chances Campaign

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Property: Estate agency Alex Neil sees rental demand drive lettings and sales

Area manager Georgia Nailard takes the market’s temperature and looks to the year ahead

Alex Neil area manager Georgia Nailard
Alex Neil area manager Georgia Nailard image Matt Grayson

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Much was written over the early months of the pandemic about the inevitable, lasting effects a period of home working would have on the nation.

Cities would become hollow doughnuts as workers fled areas dense with people to work permanently and remotely from desks in rural houses, meeting colleagues only via Zoom and completing assignments via broadband.

Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of a Metaverse – where we’re all constantly online, virtually popping in and out of each others’ lives from wherever we are in the world – will come to fruition. But perhaps not.

Far more likely is that genuine, real-life human interaction will once more reassert itself as the dominant preference for work and leisure.

Before Omicron pressed the pause button and Delta was all we had to worry about, workers had flooded back into Canary Wharf – not forced to be present, but eager to meet, work and, crucially, socialise with colleagues and friends.

There was buzz, industry and colour and there will be again. 

I’ve already read at least one columnist’s account of her abortive move to the coast followed by a return to London and all its delights, having discovered life beyond the city has serious limitations. 

While a sample size of one isn’t much to go on, this anecdote fits with a trend in the local property market as demand surges for rentals.

Georgia Nailard is area manager covering estate agency Alex Neil’s operations at its Bethnal Green And Bow and Canary Wharf offices.

She said: “Throughout the lockdowns no-one went to work. At first that was exciting, but it wore off pretty quickly and most people and businesses have realised how important it is to actually be in the office with other people.

“Working at home five days a week can be very isolating – going to the office isn’t just for the company’s benefit.

“Ultimately that realisation means people want to rent in close proximity to places like Canary Wharf.

“What’s happened in the last couple of months in the run up to Christmas has been quite dramatic – the rental prices we have been able to achieve are very different from six months before that. 

“In some cases we’re getting more for them than we would have before the pandemic, which is amazing and something landlords may not be aware of.

“There has been a slight shortage of rental properties coming back to the market.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty over the past 18 months and some tenants have been signing up for longer tenancies, meaning ultimately that there aren’t as many places available to rent.

“But the demand is there – usually we’d expect the market to slow down in December and we didn’t see that in 2021. 

“With the market like this, it means when a new property becomes available we can do a large open day for viewings and we’ll usually receive multiple offers, sometimes going over the asking price.

“Doing these events means we also build up a lot of prospective tenants for properties coming onto the market. 

“I expect similar trends to continue in January and throughout the year, I don’t see that demand slowing down.

“There are often changes of circumstance for people around the Christmas period too, so that may bring even more tenants looking.”

That demand is also benefiting the sales market as canny investors see the return of profitable yields to be had in Docklands, while house prices are driven by people’s increasing desire to live on the Isle Of Dogs and nearby in east London.

Georgia said: “The way the rental market is going at the moment, there are investors out there who have cash, don’t require a mortgage and will see the opportunity Canary Wharf presents – the yield on property in the area is unbelievable at the moment.

“As an agency we’re experts in marketing property and, with our international package, that’s where we offer something quite different.

“As well as being on all the main UK portals, we make sure the properties we sell get maximum exposure here and across the world, which is really important.

“It’s about making certain that we’re angling each property at the right buyer, thinking outside the box, being proactive and educating buyers.

“Right now investors are looking for quality rather than quantity.

“It will take time for the sales market to fully recover from the pandemic, but we are starting to see some positive signs, with the numbers of applicants rising and many people looking to sell.

“Ten years ago, I think people saw the Canary Wharf area as a place to rent, but now you are seeing buyers who want to move here for the foreseeable future, with existing residents looking to upsize.

“People want to stay here because of how much it’s changing – the pubs, restaurants and bars that are opening, for example.

“The quality of the buildings here is fantastic – they have so many facilities and many of the older developments are located right on the Thames with great views.”

Georgia says she always wanted to be an estate agent
Georgia says she always wanted to be an estate agent image Matt Grayson

Georgia said Alex Neil’s role was to make moving home as easy as possible for all concerned, whether that was for buyers, sellers, landlords or tenants.

She said: “I grew up in Brighton and my dad was a car salesman – he was always selling something and had that motivation.

“We moved house quite a lot when I was younger and I loved going on viewings, so I grew up wanting to be an estate agent.

“I love working with people and helping them move – it can be one of the most stressful times in someone’s life as property is usually their biggest asset – so we try to take the stress out of things.

“There are so many emotions involved with the process but we try to make it as smooth as possible, making sure everyone’s happy at the end of it. 

“The best way to do that is to be honest and to set everyone’s expectations at the start, rather than raising them to the point where they are unrealistic.

“We always tell people how we’ll start from ‘x’ and end up at ‘y’. For sales, that means from viewing to completion.

“A lot of people haven’t bought or sold for a good number of years and forget the process. In that time there may have been changes in technology or with other parts of the transaction.

“Everyone is different, so we have to adjust to each person, making sure they understand exactly what the process is and what the steps are, from signing the terms of business to completion.

“Leaving questions with someone will only make them confused so we try never to let that happen.

“It’s the same for lettings – we aim to make letting out a property as simple as possible, because it can seem quite overwhelming.

“That’s why we’ve developed a checklist so landlords know exactly what they need to do and what they must have at every stage of the process.

“That’s what makes us stand out in the market – we’re the experts and we’ll help you every step of the way.”

Read more: Hamptons launches new office in Canary Wharf

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