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Canary Wharf: How Broadwick Studio delivers total flexibility at Wood Wharf

Company’s street level events venue and meeting suite has launched at east London’s Water Street

Broadwick Studio is located at the junction of Water Street and Charter Street on Wood Wharf

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The ability to see what isn’t yet there, is arguably Broadwick’s talent as a company.

Having built a portfolio of festivals, the business took a change of direction in 2019, opting to focus on physical event spaces.

Its current portfolio boasts a plethora of venues, many of which are spread across Docklands and east London.

These include the purpose-built temporary structure Magazine on Greenwich Peninsula, former warehouse Dock X in Canada Water and The Beams and Silverworks Island at Royal Docks – one a former industrial sugar store and the other a vast outdoor show ground with Millennium Mills as a backdrop.

While all are essentially blank canvas spaces, they also have something else about them. Magazine looks out over the Thames with Canary Wharf in the background, Dock X sits at the heart of a massive regeneration scheme, The Beams is beside one of Tate & Lyle’s sugar factories and Silverworks boasts an astounding view of Docklands structures past and present. 

While clients are free to brand and mould the spaces exactly how they want, the venues are also of and in their surroundings, granting them potent identities all of their own. 

A visitor might watch a drone show outside at Magazine, but they’ll remember the little craft soaring above the Canary Wharf skyline in the shadow of The O2.

The venue has been designed as a blank canvas

Typically, the vibe is modern, minimal and industrial. Nowhere was this more true than at Broadwick’s flagship venue Printworks London – with events taking place in the stripped-back press halls at Canada Water’s Harmsworth Quays.

Here, from 1989, Associated Newspapers’ publications rattled off enormous machines, 24-hours a day.

Originally intended only for temporary events use, it proved so successful as a venue, that developer British Land is currently in the process of making it a permanent part of its regeneration of the area

Which brings us to Broadwick Studio, the company’s latest space.

With Printworks out of action as works are carried out, the company needed a new home and relocated to offices at 30 Water Street on Wood Wharf.

“When development started we began looking for a new space – we already had a great relationship with Canary Wharf as we were operating the East Wintergarden,” said Elisa Chiodi, Broadwick’s managing director for spaces, innovation and growth.

“We thought having our company here would be a great position to be in.

“We are an entertainment, space and culture organisation and it felt like a great addition to the mix of companies which are based here.

“We love it – it’s easy to get here.

“The team enjoys the fact the Wharf is full of restaurants and shops.

Broadwick’s Elisa Chiodi

“It’s also that 30 Water Street is a very beautiful space – it’s very much us as a company.

“We always look for places that are Broadwick – we always try and find spaces we can turn into a good representation of who we are.

“We’re very minimalist and pared-back.

“We believe in energy and agility, so all of our spaces can be turned into almost anything at any moment.

“Being simple and flexible in everything we do is really important.

“We’re very open – nobody at Broadwick has an office, not even our CEO – and that works for us. 

“We’re also very bold – when we make something, people know it’s us.”

Given that ethos, Wharfers won’t be too surprised to discover that the company has decided to launch a ground floor facility below its offices.

Broadwick Studio includes three meeting rooms and a main event space, with full height glass walls, which can more or less be used for anything.

“We want there to be a reason why people come to the places where we are,” said Elisa.

“We thought: ‘What better than a new venue at Wood Wharf?’.

“We’ve also found that Canary Wharf Group0 is really keen to work with us to have some community activities happening here – that new talent can use the space, perhaps artists, designers or musicians.

Broadwick Studio has plug and play facilities including lighting and a full kitchen

“We really have an open view on what will happen at Broadwick Studio.

“It could be a meeting space, host workshops, product launches, parties – anything.

“We want to work with all kinds of companies in all sorts of industries, as well as community groups which might be interested in using the space as well as businesses hosting events or Christmas parties.”

Located on the corner of Water Street and Charter Street opposite Tribe Hotel, Broadwick Studio can accommodate up to 120 people for a standing reception.

It includes a fully-kitted out kitchen, bathroom facilities and two points of access to help manage the flow of guests.

While minimal in design, looks can be deceptive as the venue comes with some lighting, AV equipment and screens.

“The idea is to make it as plug-and-play as possible,” said Tara Quish, sales and events manager at Broadwick, who previously worked in events for restaurant brand D&D.

“We are completely flexible. If someone wants to do something, then we want them to get in touch.

“If it’s something we haven’t done before, we’d love to find a way to make it happen. 

Broadwick Studio’s suite of spaces includes three meeting rooms at ground level

“To make things simple, on-site furniture, event lighting and house production equipment is included with hire.

“That’s why we’ve decided to include a kitchen, to maximise what people can do in the space. 

“You can even paint the walls if you like, so long as you paint them back.”

With an extensive track record of managing events across its portfolio, Broadwick is also well-placed to offer companies assistance in sourcing firms to cater and produce their events in the space if needed.

Vibration Production, for example, can be called on to provide a wide range of technical services.

But Broadwick is also keen to help the space become part of the fabric of its surroundings.

“The buildings at Wood Wharf have a very different feel to other parts of the estate,” said Elisa. 

“It’s much more urban – and that’s one of the reasons we like being here – we are a very industrial kind of brand and this fits perfectly with what we do. 

“We have been here for less than a year but it feels like home to us and that’s why we wanted to do something. 

“One of the things that we want is for people to see what we do.

“We have a lot of clients who already want to use the space for branding opportunities – not just private events and it’s really well positioned for that. 

Broadwick Studio’s event space can be used for parties, presentations, launches, workshops and meetings

“But we also want to talk to people who live locally and to local artists about what we might do when there isn’t an event running – how we might give their work some exposure.

“Is there some way we can use Broadwick Studio to showcase what they do?”

 In addition to Broadwick Studio, the firm is also gearing up to relaunch the East Wintergarden in Bank Street.

Designed by architect Cesar Pelli – who was also responsible for One Canada Square – the building boasts a vaulted glass ceiling and sits overlooking West India South Dock.

Broadwick is set to officially reopen the venue in April as The Pelligon – a flexible space taking up to 1,000 people – this could be used for awards ceremonies, conferences, launches, filming, parties or weddings.

“It’s going to be something very different to how it’s been in the past,” said Elisa.

For now, it’s a case of watch this space, but Broadwick Studio is very much up and running already.

Those interested in booking an event at the space or collaborating with Broadwick should contact the firm for more details by calling 020 3725 6061.

Find out more about Broadwick here

The space can be curtained off from the street for more private gatherings

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Wapping: How Puddle Jumpers has opened a new site in east London

Nursery school expands its operation, bringing a former church school back into educational use

Puddle Jumpers new nursery is in a former church school

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Puddle Jumpers isn’t just the name of a brand, it’s a statement of intent.

The company recently opened a second nursery in Wapping, expanding on the success of its first site in Limehouse.

The new facility brings a building that once housed a church school back into educational use and, while the walls might date to 1871, what’s inside is firmly rooted in the here and now.

With the refurbishment of its ground and first floors mostly complete, the nursery is now welcoming its first children and the place is starting to buzz with life.

It’s warm and welcoming with plenty of wood used to create furniture, flooring and a cosy reading area with London landmarks crafted from oak.

All in all, it’s a substantial setting for the Puddle Jumpers themselves as they explore and discover the world under the guidance of staff.

Senior nursery manager Lucy Prew-Ajayi has spent the last 27 years working with children and young people in a multitude of settings and leads the team at the new location. 

The building is undergoing a complete refurbishment and is now accepting children

“As a career, it was a no-brainer from me – I was one of those privileged people who knew what I wanted to do as I went through secondary school,” she said.

“My mother was a headteacher and a childminder when she was on maternity leave, so we were always surrounded by little people.”

Her professional life has seen her work at international schools in Berlin and study play therapy, working with young people who had suffered traumatic events before coming back to early years education at Sure Start centres before the Government closed them down.

She’s spent the last 12 years working for NGOs, family clubs and nursery schools as a manager and director and has now arrived in Wapping.

“I chose Puddle Jumpers because of the organisation’s vision,” she said. “That’s for children to think for themselves and teaching them to be brave.

“For me it’s as it was 27 years ago – we’re here for the children and they are here to thrive.

The nursery has a lending library, complete with London landmarks

“Life can be turbulent and children need to understand that crises can happen.

“Mental health issues are on the rise, so we believe in giving children the opportunity to be courageous and to develop resilience.”

Learning through play is very much at the core of Puddle Jumpers’ offering, with children encouraged to make, participate and create during their time at the nursery. 

“As an early years, foundation stage nursery, we follow best regulatory practice and the curriculum guidance, but we also take inspiration from the theories of Rudolf Steiner and Loris Malaguzzi, who developed the Reggio Emilia approach,” said Lucy.

“These approaches are all about creativity, the arts and the power of language expression. We interpret those through the facilities we have.

“For example, we have a living kitchen where children do botany and cookery classes and that includes a lovely little herb garden, which is magical and great for sensory education.

“Upstairs we have an art atelier where imagination is brought to life – it’s about children putting what they see in their minds down on paper.

The nursery’s living kitchen is designed for kids to get involved

“Later this year, we’ll be opening a sensory room where children will be supported in self-regulation.

“This will also be a place to introduce them to technology without it being a screen, so that from a young age they learn how to cope with it.”

The main play spaces, a lending library – where parents or staff can read with children – and an area for music, complete the picture inside.

“We also have our fabulous garden, which is truly beautiful and has been designed to be very inspiring,” said Lucy. 

“We are puddle-jumpers, so we believe in going outdoors in all weathers, which is also really calming for the children. 

“It allows them to be free, to be themselves and then experiment.

“Outside, we have a big sensory area, a magnificent water station – where children can experience different types of movement and positioning, with lever pulling.

The nursery has plentiful outdoor space with a climbing frame in the pipeline

“There’s a big pirate ship – which is a sandpit – and we have mud kitchens that are great physical play areas.

“Later in 2024, we’ve commissioned a Tower Bridge climbing frame for the children to enjoy.

“Throughout their time here, we believe in a challenging curriculum for all ages and this includes our Ambitions programme, which is designed to keep children stimulated and to help them identify what they might like to try on the extra-curricular list, when they get to primary school. It really helps with that transition.

“We are here for every single child – to challenge them, celebrate them and to meet their needs.”

Lucy was also keen to stress that Puddle Jumpers’ approach was very much about working with parents.

She said: “After registration, we get in touch and invite them to come and look round.

“At the moment we have two open days a week, and it’s nicer if you’re in a group together, because it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re alone.

Find out more about Puddle Jumpers here

Puddle Jumpers’ senior nursery manager Lucy Prew-Ajayi

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com

“A nursery school must work for the family first – adults also need to feel safe and secure. We’re very open-door.”

She said the nursery worked to help build networks among parents and to help equip them with skills to help their child learn, develop and grow. 

“Over the course of the year we have a number of events for parents and families, so they can come and socialise together,” said Lucy.

“We do have a couple of evenings just for our parents to let their hair down and talk about things they have in common.

“Some parents want to talk about their children – others about what’s going on in the world. We’re giving them that link, which is very important in a part of London with an international community, where people may not have immediate family nearby. 

“We also run a free programme called Parents As First Educators, helping them understand behaviour and how to manage it.”

Puddle Jumpers is open for registration of children.

A minimum of two full days per week applies.

The nursery is also currently recruiting staff for its new location.

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Rotherhithe: How Debut’s classical concerts are returning to the Brunel Museum

Lizzie Holmes’ monthly series presents musicians performing in the historic Thames Tunnel Shaft

Debut performances take place in the Thames Tunnel Shaft

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Debut has returned to the Brunel Museum, bringing a fresh series of classical music concerts to the venue’s subterranean Thames Tunnel Shaft.

The monthly events – set to run this year from March until September, 2024 – combine the delights of cocktail pop-up Midnight Apothecary, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches from Lo Viet and performances by musicians for audiences of up to 65 people sat at cabaret-style, candle-lit tables.  

The vibe is welcoming and accessible, based on a format created by Debut founder – curator, host and soprano Lizzie Holmes.

“I launched the company back in 2015, with concerts in different locations,” she said.

“The Shoreditch Treehouse was our first regular series and it became really popular.

“I’d attended an acoustic pop gig there through Sofar Sounds and told the owner that it was an amazing experience but that they needed to get some classical pianists and opera singers in to match the size and volume of the venue’s Steinway Model D concert piano.

“We also did performances in places like the Old Operating Theatre and at the Cutty Sark, but that’s more challenging as there’s no piano. 

Debut’s Lizzie Holmes

“Then a friend mentioned the Brunel Museum – we went along and saw the Grade II listed Thames Tunnel Shaft and remarkably, there’s a piano that lives down there.

“The environment and the atmosphere are beautiful – the acoustic is like a church and it’s steeped in history.

“It dates to the 1840s and so much classical music was created around that time.

“With Midnight Apothecary on the roof, it’s a match made in heaven.

“It’s very exciting to be able to breathe new life into the space and to encourage audiences to discover it.”

A typical Debut evening begins at 6.30pm with botanical cocktails created by Brunel stalwart Lottie Muir and her team.

“At 7pm the Tunnel Shaft opens with the first performances starting at 7.20pm.

“There’s a half-hour interval at 8pm, with the second half finishing around 9.15pm with the bar (and its fire pits) open until 10pm.

“When people come to a concert, first of all they’ll be greeted on arrival and then encouraged to chat to the performers,” said Lizzie, who trained at the Royal College Of Music.

“In London, or any big city it can be hard to find connections and we want everyone to leave feeling they’re part of a community – that they’ve had a communal experience for an evening.

“The energy is electric. During the concerts the musicians will share anecdotes to connect with the audience – something we often don’t get the opportunity to do, having performed to thousands of tiny faces at bigger venues.

The Brunel Museum’s roof garden above the venue

“We make sure that audiences are never spoken down to – we just share the music.

“If a performer just enters a room and breaks out into an aria, people’s jaws will be on the floor. Sometimes you don’t need to do any more.

“It can be amazing and thrilling, but it has to be presented in the right way with the right story. 

“People like seeing that the incredible skills of an instrumentalist or a singer are coming from a normal person who you might see going to the shops or queuing up at the dentist.

“It’s about creating that sense of normality alongside the extraordinary.”

Debut’s next date at the Brunel is set for March 14, featuring mezzo Leila Zanette, flautist Rianna Henriques and pianist Przemek Winnicki alongside host Lizzie and resident piano improviser Sam Peña.

Lizzie said: “People love Sam, he takes lots of requests and is also a brilliant collaborator.

“Prezemek is a superstar from Poland who has a big following on Instagram – he’s flying over from Europe.

“The whole idea is that people get a real mash up of different composers and musical feelings throughout the evening.

Audiences sit cabaret-style in the Thames Tunnel Shaft

“Leila is a wonderful singer who I met six years ago and Rianna is a woman of many talents who is joining us for the first time – she also plays clarinet and saxophone and has just graduated from the Royal College.

“We’ve got Debussy, Chopin, a little bit of jazz, Offenbach, Bizet, Mendelssohn and Mozart, with the Flight Of The Bumblebee to finish.

“It’s nice to have that variety and a combination of rising stars and people who are firmly embedded in the industry and making waves already.

“We’ll always have a guest singer and a guest instrumentalist, and sometimes a duo, such as guitar and flute. It’s always a very healthy mix.”

Lizzie finds musicians for Debut through her extensive contacts, word of mouth and via direct application.

She said: “We get about one a week applying and our doors are always open.

“In 2020, we also ran an artists development programme called the Horizon Project, which attracted 150 applications.

“This year we held an open stage for the first time where we had 25 new musicians we hadn’t worked with before coming along to play a couple of pieces. 

“It was like a Debut night, but without an audience.

Midnight Apothecary’s botanical cocktails are available at the events

“To perform with us, you need to be a brilliant musician, but it’s also about personality.

“The audience will miss so much if you can’t show them that inner person and so that event was really helpful in identifying the right performers for Debut.

“For some musicians, it can be quite disarming to be that open with an audience – it’s an interesting balance.”

Lizzie often performs at Debut nights herself, but says her main interest is in providing a platform.

“I do a solo here and there – I love to sing – but I revel in seeing other musicians flourish,” she said.

“Discovering new talent and sharing it is such an amazing thing.”

Tickets for Debut’s March 14 concert at the Brunel Museum cost £32.

Other events at the venue and Shoreditch Treehouse are also available.

Find out more about Debut here

Audiences begin the evening in the roof garden

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Royal Docks: How Atlantic Pacific International Rescue is training life-savers

Search and rescue charity has set up a base at Royal Albert Dock to deliver its on-water courses

Atlantic Pacific’s London courses are based in the Royal Docks

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Atlantic Pacific International Rescue officially opened its training facility on the edge of Royal Albert Dock near Newham Council’s Building 1000 this month.

But what does the charity do and what will be on offer there?

We sat down with co-founder and chief operating officer Kate Sedwell to find out.

how did it all begin?

“We started in the north-east coast of Japan after the 2011 tsunami.

“My co-founder, Robin Jenkins, and I used to work at the University Of The Arts London.

“I was head of international projects and he was part of the interior and spatial design team, which delivered academic courses.

“We had many Japanese students, so we had really good relations with Japan and used to send a lot of staff and students there, but there was a pause in that while the country recovered from the disaster.

“In 2014 we were asked to start sending students  and academics again to the north-east – where the tsunami had hit – to do an art project.

“We had no idea what was going to happen, but Robin went. He came back and said that they wanted him to build a sculpture in memory of everyone who had died.

“He said it was massively outside his comfort zone and thought it was inappropriate, because he hadn’t suffered any personal loss.”

Atlantic Pacific’s co-founder and chief operating officer, Kate Sedwell

so what was the alternative? 

“Robin said he really wanted to give Japan a lifeboat.

“My response was: ‘What? Where has this come from?’.

“He told me that a lot of people had drowned during the tsunami because there was no service to go and save them.

“People on the beaches could hear screams from the sea but weren’t able to help.

“Robin had volunteered with the RNLI’s Tower Lifeboat and had gone to a college in South Wales, which was famous for inventing that kind of inflatable boat.

“But when he asked people in Japan where their lifeboat service was, they told him the country didn’t have one.

“There is a coastguard, but people there have a different relationship to the sea – there isn’t a big leisure industry associated with it, so those getting into trouble are mostly in the fishing industry and they save one another.”

The charity trains people in the fundamentals of search and rescue

what was the next step?

“Robin came back to the UK and said that he would return to his old college and ask them if they would build us a boat.

UWC Atlantic came up with a very small RIB and UAL students designed our lifeboat in a box. 

“We used a 40-foot shipping container and they designed a crew changing room, a workshop and a boat to go in the end – it’s a one-stop shop for a lifeboat station.

“We sent the lifeboat to Kamaishi – a place that had been very severely damaged by the tsunami, which Robin had visited in 2014 – along with a team to train local people in how to operate it over there.

“This was the seed that started Atlantic Pacific and we still go back every year to deliver courses. It’s the first volunteer-run lifeboat service in Japan.”

what does the charity do today?

“We started working from UWC Atlantic’s base in Wales with students learning how to build boats and skills to tackle humanitarian disasters.

“What we realised while creating the lifeboat in a box is that there was nowhere in this country that you could go to train in search and rescue if you weren’t associated with one of the emergency services. 

“In 2017, it was clear the Atlantic Pacific project was becoming too big for us to work at UAL and commit to, so we took a leap of faith and quit our jobs to run the charity full time.

“Robin moved back to Wales to work on search and rescue boat building and we started to develop the London project.”

which is now up and running? 

“That’s right. We have a classroom and a workshop at Royal Albert Dock where we can deliver the courses that we now offer.

“We also have a workshop next door where we can tweak and maintain our fleet, which includes a brig that’s used for all our training – it’s currently moored at Royal Victoria Dock.

“Originally we were in Bermondsey, but we weren’t right by the water, so when we were invited to come and look for a home at Royal Docks, we did. 

“The water is very good for beginners – there are no tides or currents – it’s a safer environment.

“It gives you some stability to practise the slow manoeuvres, which are fundamental for being good at search-and-rescue at sea, before trying them in more challenging waters. 

“It’s a great location – well connected to our neighbour London City Airport, Heathrow and Gatwick, for people coming from Europe. Newham Council and the GLA have been really welcoming.”

Atlantic Pacific’s facility in Royal Docks

what does Atlantic Pacific offer?

“We work with young people in local schools and the reception has been really good.

“The curriculum is missing a trick in that it doesn’t empower young people to try out life-saving skills to see whether they would like a career in that sector. 

“It could be medicine or comms they find interesting, rather than being on the water – but this is a chance for them to discover that.”

“The world is changing and we’re only going to see more disasters – especially flood-related ones – and there aren’t enough people ready and trained to go and help.

“The London Ambulance Service, for example, needs more staff and the search and rescue sector at a global scale is massively under resourced. We need people ready to deploy.”

The charity runs a range of courses including Introduction To Medicine

what publicly accessible courses does Atlantic Pacific run?

“You can find full details of all our courses online, but we run a Casualty Care Course over three days, a Search And Rescue Fundamentals Course over four days and a Royal Yachting Association Powerboat Level 2 Course over two days.

“We also have a five-day Introduction To Medicine Course aimed at ages 16-20, which is designed for young people who are about to embark on medical or emergency response careers. 

“We work with instructors from the likes of the RNLI, IMRF and the Health And Safety executive to give people the best possible experience and grounding.

“We generally spend as little time in the classroom as possible so people get as much practice as they can. 

“This might be rescuing our ‘Dead Fred’ – a 70kg man overboard dummy – to practice pulling casualties into the boat or it might be learning to manoeuvre safely in tight spaces or tow.

“But it’s also important to learn practical theory. In life-saving situations, you want to know the right knots to use.”

Prices for Atlantic Pacific’s courses start at £375 per person.

The charity will aim to assist with costs if they are prohibitive for individuals.

Find out more about Atlantic Pacific here

Trainees work to rescue a ‘Dead Fred’ from the water

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Canary Wharf: How Pitchflix is connecting startups with investors from Level39

One Canada Square-based firm livestreams demo days and hosts in-person events for founders

Pitchflix CEO Shane Smith

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Pitchflix is a two-way street.

Put simply, the startup, based at Canary Wharf’s Level39 in One Canada Square, connects entrepreneurs with investors and investors with entrepreneurs – digitally and in person.

“It’s an attempt to oil the wheels and reduce friction,” said Shane Smith, the company’s CEO.

“When founders are trying to raise venture capital, we aim to connect them with an investor network to help them do that.

“If you’re trying to raise money for the first time as a business, that’s the toughest time for you, because you’re not on anybody’s radar.

“It’s also the toughest time for investors, because, on the basis that you’re new, there’s no history, no track record – no-one’s done any research on you.

“At that stage, both sides have a pretty tough time finding the right match.

“Given that lack of information, the most valuable thing investors have to go on is the founders themselves.

“The way to understand founders is, ideally, to sit down across the table and have a good conversation about what they’re doing.

“The problem with that, is the economics don’t stack up for the investors to arrange those conversations and physically sit in locations all over the world to have them.”

Shane founded Pitchflix to address the issue, building on a career that’s long focused on providing information to people and companies that need it.

“My background has been between technology, financial markets and research,” he said.

“I started as one of the founding team in London for what was, at the time, a small startup in the US called Bloomberg.

“I was hired to the London office originally, and I moved on from there to set up my own research business, initially in Paris, then brought it back to London.

“We ran that until 2009 when it got beaten up by the credit crunch.

“Then I switched focus to investor communications rather than research, gradually moving from large listed companies, primarily in Asia, down the scale to smaller businesses.

“Pitchflix is an exercise to connect those smaller companies with investors.

Pitchfix aims to increase the reach of demo days beyond a physical audience

“This is the most interesting part of the market, because startups are generally doing more interesting, innovative things – there’s quite a buzz at the smaller end because tomorrow’s mega corporations are being created today.”

The next best thing to sitting in a room with investors is video – how can we get a short piece from founders, even a couple of minutes, in front of them?” said Shane.

“Startups which have been through an accelerator programme will typically do a demo day at the end, where investors come to listen to founders present.

“Our approach is to help accelerators livestream their demo days so international investors can view them from wherever they are, overcoming the geographical obstacles. 

“There are firms who try to bridge that gap, but they typically operate in the corporate finance space where they are trying to broker those deals – we take a very different approach.

“We’re a media business – we help founders advertise themselves to an audience – we don’t get involved in the deals themselves.

“Pitchflix is a conduit that tries to remove friction in the connection and communication between the two parties.

“Investors might be conventional venture capital, corporate venture capital or companies looking to put money into early stage businesses.

“They might also be angel investors or angel syndicates.

“They all face similar problems and we’re trying to solve them.

“For example, if an investor decides to attend a demo day, they might only be interested in a specific sector, but this might involve sitting through pitches from 20 businesses in other fields just to see the one relevant one.

“That’s not a good use of their time.”

Founders’ pitches are hosted in video form on Pitchflix’s site

After livestreaming, Pitchflix hosts founders’ videos on its site, so investors can review them at their leisure.

“The next stage of the business was to turn that model on its head and have investors pitching to founders,” said Shane. 

“We wanted to do that because we’d observed that, while there are lots of demo day and pitch competition events all over London and the rest of the country, nobody was systematically hosting investors who could pitch to an audience of founders to tell them what they were looking for.

“We call them ‘Rev’ for reverse pitch series. We needed to find a bigger space to host them and we discovered Level39. 

“That’s where we put them on, every six weeks or so, and we have a lot of community members coming to them.

“We’re also based there. We started the business in 2019 and, as Covid restrictions, melted away, it was really hard to build a cohesive team and culture while working from home in spare bedrooms or at kitchen tables.

“We hired one person who did a fantastic job of getting up to speed from home, but we felt we needed more than that for the next people coming on board – our recent hires since we’ve been together in one place have been very quick getting into the business and are really productive.”

IN-PERSON

Pitchflix’s next Rev event is set to take place on February 27, 2024 at Level39 with further events in Singapore, Hong Kong and New York in the pipeline for March, April and later in 2024, respectively.

“Rev events are a very concise, efficient use of a founder’s time,” said Shane.

“For two hours attendees will sit and listen to up to 15 investors giving lightning, five-minute showcases of what they like to invest in and why.

“They’ll tell you how much they typically invest, whether they like to collaborate with others, whether they like to lead or follow, a lot of reference data about them, and you’ll get out of it and a sense of the personality and chemistry you might have with them.

“Is this an investor you think you can have a really productive five or 10 year relationship with?

“Are they someone you’d like to have a beer with?

“These are the kind of insights you’re not going to get unless you’re in a room with that person.

“After the presentations, there are audience questions and then there’s networking with some drinks.

“The idea for founders is it’s an opportunity to make themselves memorable, so that when they email the next day with their pitch, they’ll be on investors’ radars.”

Founders tickers for Rev events in London cost a nominal £20, aimed at ensuring those who have booked a place turn up.

At present, Pitchflix’s platform is free for both businesses and investors to use with the eventual aim of charging startups an affordable fee once the marketplace is consistently matching entrepreneurs with capital.

“This is very different from the brokering model, where those firms charge a retainer,” said Shane.

“We also don’t get involved with the production of the demo days themselves because there are tons of them happening.

“We’re just trying to make the process more efficient and extend their reach.

“Bloomberg started life as a business solving one problem – Mike didn’t have a crystal ball for the next 40 years, they were just trying to build a better mousetrap.

“There’s a sort of trend now that investors want to see how things will develop in the next five or 10 years, but you don’t need to.

“You just start with something that’s profitable, and then you explore, listen to your clients, be agile, nimble and develop.

“In our own investor presentations, we describe what we’re building and why it’s great for the market ecosystem. Have we got the full picture – no – but we’re listening.

“Very often you get the first signals about new and emerging stuff from entrepreneurs and what they’re talking about.

vWe’re recording that and analysing it will give you a pretty good indication of what’s coming down the road at 100mph, six months later.

“We have many ideas about how to develop Pitchflix and that’s something we’ll be looking at over the next few years.”

Find out more about Pitchflix here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How The Lord Nelson pub is starting a new chapter with Cara Venn

Bow-born licensee has taken over venue following a £220,000 refurbishment by brewer Heineken

The Lord Nelson on Manchester Road is set for its official reopening on February 24, 2024

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“It will be a very sports-led pub – a community hub – somewhere everyone can enjoy coming,” said Cara Venn.

“That’s what I want to bring to the Isle Of Dogs. We’ll be playing all the sports, with new screens installed showing Sky and TNT.” 

It’s a vision that fits well with The Lord Nelson’s history.

Built in 1855, linked to Bethnal Green’s Charrington Brewery, the pub once served as the headquarters of Millwall Rovers (now Millwall FC) who played their games at the neighbouring Lord Nelson Ground from 1886-1890 and used the boozer to change into their kit.

Fast forward 134 years, and Cara’s tenure is set to mark the latest chapter in the story of the pub that stands on the corner of East Ferry Road and Manchester Road.

Now owned by Star Pubs And Bars – part of Heineken UKThe Lord Nelson has spent the start of 2024 undergoing extensive refurbishment and is set to officially mark its reopening on February 24. 

Born and raised in Bow, Cara has moved in above the pub as its new licensee, building on a career she embarked on as a teenager.

“I’ve always worked in pubs since the age of 16, first as part-time jobs,” she said.

“I’m a bit of a workaholic – I’ve often had three jobs, working in offices and film studios – random stuff. 

“When Covid hit, I lost all my jobs. Then pubs started opening up – it was the only work available, so I thought I’d look at it properly.

Cara Venn, The Lord Nelson’s new licensee

“I had so much experience to build on and I ended up managing The Full Nelson in Deptford – which was a vegan bar serving cocktails and food. 

“That was great, but I left because I decided I wanted to join a chain company.

“You learn so much on the job, but if you join a bigger firm, you get training too and I wanted to understand every aspect of the industry, including back-of-house stuff.

“I wanted to do it properly and to find out about becoming a licensee. 

“Over the past four years I’ve been general manager for a number of pubs in London and now I’ve taken on one of my own.”

Cara’s CV includes time in charge of The Chandos in Brockley and the Three Compasses in Hornsey. She left that venue for Star’s Just Add Talent programme – which matches prospective licensees with pubs – and has presided over The Lord Nelson’s refit.

“The idea is you get your own pub, be your own boss – it’s like being a general manager, but you also get major support from Heineken and it felt like a natural progression for me,” said Cara.

“I’ve always wanted to run my own place and I’m ready to do it.

“I went for it and ended up getting The Lord Nelson. 

“They give you a list of all the pubs they have available in the country and, because east London is my home town, I thought this one would be ideal for me. 

“The pub is wet-led, which I think is a great place to get started and the plan is to take on some more pubs once I’ve progressed with this one. 

“This is going to be my baby. I wanted to go back to east London because it’s home to me and I’m passionate about the community.”

Cara has big plans for the venue and is eager to welcome locals old and new.

She said: “The refurbishment has gone really well – it was a tired looking pub and needed a lot of work.

“With Heineken investing £220,000, I feel like it’s a place people will be proud of and want to come into.

“As well as the sports, we’ll have a programme of continuous entertainment.

“I want to do quizzes, live music, burlesque nights – I feel like there will be an appetite for all of this. 

The Lord Nelson has had an extensive refit inside and out

I also want local people to come in and chat with me so I can listen to what they want.

“I want to do charity events and make it a fun pub that’s a proper boozer.

“It’s looking beautiful and I want it to be really, really busy, for everyone to come together here.

“I also have budgets to spend on hosting our own darts and pool teams – I want to sponsor local sports teams too, so get in touch.

“Living above the pub, it will be 24-7 – but this is my home and I’m really excited.”

While the pub has already opened for a soft launch, Saturday February 24’s opening party marks the start of a new era at the pub. 

“Everyone is welcome to come,” said Cara. It will already be a busy day with the Six Nations games taking place and Arsenal on as well. 

“Then, later on we’ll be having a live band called the Bear Pit – it’s going to be a big palaver.”

After that, the business is set to get into the swing of things with regular drinks offers including buy one, get a half free on Mondays and happy hour offers from Tuesday to Friday.

The venue also has a 24-seat garden, with Cara pushing for an outdoor screen in time for the warmer months.

“I can’t wait to see people sitting out there and having a good time,” said Cara.

“I can’t wait to welcome my new neighbours in.”

Find out more about The Lord Nelson here

The pub boasts a dart board, a pool table and a beer garden

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South Bermondsey: How The Pen Theatre provides a low-risk stage for performers

The Penarth Centre venue boasts 40 seats and is ideal for developing work or testing material

The Pen Theatre boasts a 40-seat auditorium and is available for hire

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There’s probably a half-baked line about The Pen being mightier than the Royal Court, where the latter is just about phonetically similar to “sword”.

But this isn’t the place.

This article should have gone through an editing process to knock it into shape and that sort of thing would almost certainly be left on the cutting room floor. 

But that’s also the point – I mention it here, because that kind of editing and development is one of the activities The Pen Theatre facilitates. 

“My background is in performance,” said MJ Ashton, the venue’s founder and director.

“I went to Rose Bruford College a few years ago, then started my own company – The Völvas – which was a feminist performance ensemble. 

“I toured that project for four or five years on the fringe circuits and played at various festivals and London theatres, so I experienced a lot of what was available for an emerging company.

“I’ve always felt strongly about theatres being accessible to artists and thought I’d love to run my own theatre so I could draw on my experiences and offer really cheap hire rates to performers.”

With her project having naturally reached its end and the pandemic closing the industry, that thought became more than an idea one day over a coffee with her partner, Jack Carvosso. 

The artist and photographer was looking at expanding his picture framing business, taking on a larger space at the Penarth Centre in South Bermondsey’s Penarth Street. 

A large unit had recently been vacated by a church and he was sure a third of it would do for his activities.

A similar space could be used by his friends’ business – artist-led publisher and bookbinder Folium – but what to do with the spare footage? 

“That was when MJ thought about creating a theatre,” said Jack, who has become the venue’s associate director.

“In that one meeting, we drew everything out on a napkin, then proposed it to the landlord and he loved the idea.

“The unit hadn’t been well maintained by the previous tenants, so we patched everything up, put in brand new wiring and started the journey to where we are now.

 “For me, it’s picture framing during the day and then, in the evenings, I help MJ with the theatre.”

Launched in January 2022, The Pen has hosted hundreds of shows over its first two years – offering performers a vital space to stage their first productions, hone works-in-progress, give fully realised pieces an outing or just experiment with an audience.

Jack Carvosso and MJ Ashton of The Pen Theatre

The venue has a maximum of 40 seats and provides box office facilities, technical equipment, a dressing room and green room, marketing support and front-of-house and bar staff.

Artists who want to put on shows apply to the venue, then go ahead if their proposal is accepted.

“We’re very inclusive,” said MJ. “We accept a lot of people’s applications – we invite them to come in.

“Some theatres ask for hundreds of pounds per night, but we run at cost and charge £56.50 per show.

“Then we offer a 70%-30% split on ticket sales in favour of the artist.

“This makes it affordable for artists to come in with new writing.

“It’s a low-risk space that allows them to perform – a platform that’s between a rehearsal space and a bigger theatre, where they can test their work.

“This can be good for getting reviewers in – it’s an opportunity for people to build a bit of a reputation before they start applying for larger venues. 

“We also offer free tech and dress rehearsals to keep costs really low because we know a lot of people don’t have much money.”

With the Edinburgh Fringe dominating the calendar, The Pen has carved out a role as an ideal test bed for shows before artists take them north to the proving ground of Scotland.

“We had about 65 shows over two months,” said MJ.

“The stress level was very high, but putting on shows at The Pen allowed them to try out their material before going up.

“The festival has really become the epicentre of our year – in August we quieten down, but then in September and October, we run a Fresh Off The Fringe season for acts that want to perform at a London venue after it has finished.”

With rehearsal space at the London Performance Studios in the same building, there’s a sense that The Pen is very much an integral cog in a larger machine of creativity and performance.

It’s a role both MJ and Jack clearly relish.

The Pen Theatre is located at the Penarth Centre in South Bermondsey’s Penarth Street

“When I was a performer, I thought I’d like my own space to put on anything I wanted,” said MJ.

“But now I have that, I’ve realised what I really enjoy is helping other people to develop their own stuff. 

“I’d feel a bit silly putting on my own shows – it would have been a bit egotistical to build this whole thing for myself.

“Perhaps I am surprised just how much I enjoy watching other artists develop, but I am rooting for everyone. It’s opened my eyes a bit to see what people can do. 

“We really want to create a warm comfortable environment for them and the audience so everyone can enjoy it.”

Jack added: “We watch every single show and I love it. The variety we see is just incredible. 

“Some are better than others, but it’s a great atmosphere here. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the performers and the audience having a good time.”

The Pen’s stage offers a growing pipeline of productions, with works for stage rubbing up alongside comics performing stand-up and even cabaret and scratch nights.

For MJ and Jack, having established the venue with no backing as a going concern, the next step will be to explore ways to grow and develop The Pen.

“At the moment we’re in a comfortable place,” said MJ. “We’ve made a profit and people are getting to know us.

“The next stage is for us to try and find some funding so we can hire people to work as programmers and manage the space. 

“We’d like to have a bigger team and to become a theatre that supports writers, directors and the production of shows.”

Jack added: “But to do this, we need funding. We want to pay people appropriately – we don’t want them working for free.”

The Pen Theatre is located about 20 minutes’ walk from Surrey Quays DLR, or 10 minutes from South Bermondsey station.

Find out more about what’s on at The Pen Theatre here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Stratford: How Awoke Plants is serving up peat-free greenery to east Londoners

Sioḃán Wall’s mini-garden centre can be found at View Tube on the edge of the Olympic Park

Sioḃán Wall, founder of Awoke Plants

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Coincidentally, Sioḃán Wall’s career has consistently featured the earth beneath our feet and the places that we live in.

Having studied German literature at university, she embarked on a career in logistics, working for DHL as it consulted on what to do with all the excavated matter from the forthcoming construction of Crossrail. 

A move into project management saw her transfer to Bechtel, directly working on the epic scheme she’d helped plan – shifting millions of tonnes of material, dug out for the Elizabeth Line’s tunnels, to help build Wallasea Island Wild Coast – an RSPB nature reserve covering the Crouch and Roach estuaries in Essex.

Following that, a job in the housing industry beckoned, as head of construction and logistics at Barking Riverside – the vast east London regeneration scheme on the banks of the Thames.  

“After nearly four years, I was made redundant and I really wanted to work for myself,” said Sioḃán.

Awoke Plants is my first little business and I opened it last year.

“My local garden centre – Growing Concerns, on the edge of Victoria Park – had just closed down and I’d been doing community gardening with the local Women’s Institute.

“We were all mutually disappointed by this because we felt there was a need for one. People still wanted to buy plants locally, get advice and enjoy browsing.

“Garden centres aren’t just about plants – you can get everything you need – gifts, cards, pots, tools and accessories.

“Outside London they are often day trip destinations – you get a lovely experience, cake in the cafe and so on. In the capital we miss a bit of that. 

“I started Awoke to learn the trade and switch over to gardening.

“I did a future gardeners course, sponsored by the London Legacy Development Corporation, which employs Idvere – a garden maintenance firm.

“That included work experience on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and really introduced me to horticulture as a career.

“It also allowed me to make contacts at Idvere, so I continue to work part-time for them – this winter I was out on the park.”

Sioḃán took all that experience and poured it into a small unit at View Tube on The Greenway in Stratford – a community of small businesses, housed in former shipping containers at the edge of the park.

Awoke Plants, in addition to a wide selection of grown specimens, sells seeds, pots, gifts and kids’ kits – pretty much anything the urban gardener might want available online or in person.

Awoke Plants boasts an extensive array of plants, products and gifts

Reopening its doors in March, the business sells troughs, baskets and upcylced containers of plants – all of which have been grown without peat.

“It’s a natural resource that can’t be replaced in our lifetimes,” said Sioḃán.

“It takes hundreds of thousands of years to make – it’s essentially rotted down mosses, leaves, vegetation and trees, that lived millions of years ago and decayed to form bogs, moorland or fens.

“For centuries humans have been draining the land, drying out the peat and digging it up to use in horticulture.

vBy doing this we’re taking something that absorbs and holds carbon and releasing it. 

“It’s currently hard to find plants which have been grown entirely without peat, but that’s what we offer here.

“And there are great alternatives. I’m using a mix of coia, which is chopped up bits of coconut husk, worm castings for nutrients, sand or grit and compost.

“All of these hold moisture and micro-nutrients, which help support a healthy root structure and growth period.

“In this area, gardening is all about how to decorate our small gardens and balconies with as much attention as we would give to our kitchens, dining rooms or bedrooms.

“There’s so much you can do. You can grow food, flowers or exotic plants in small spaces.

“The key elements are making sure you’ve got a container which will fit in the space and some light.

“Then, you just need to remember to water, feed and look after the quality of the soil.

“We can also fill our homes with houseplants.

“I’d like to encourage people to experiment. Some species will work on widow sills, for example. 

“If you’re thinking of growing vegetables, then summer leaves, micro-greens – seedling salad leaves, bean shoots and so on – only need to grow to one or two inches before they’re ready to harvest – they’re a really quick turnaround for salads and are packed with nutrition.

“They can be the most expensive things to buy in a supermarket, and they’re so easy to grow.

“If you do have some outdoor space, even if it’s small or north-facing, think about having flower boxes on the railings, or use a corner to do a rockery-type garden – a container with sedum or mosses, and low-growing plants that love shade.

“All of this is possible in London.

This potted specimen costs £9.99 at Awoke

“Not only do plants give you something to look at, they can be used to screen you off from tall buildings and they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

“They’re also generally good for your mental health and wellbeing.”

Sioḃán has big plans for her small garden centre, including expanding to a bigger site when the time is right.

“It was really exciting to open last year and it’s evolved since then,” she said.

“Once I’d got myself into the mindset, with my children now at school, I thought that I should just go for it. 

“Working for myself, the only limit is my self-belief in how far I can go.

“I really want to make my business meaningful for this area – there’s a lot of possibility and a lot of growth potential.”

Watch this space. 

  • Awoke Plants reopens to the public in March, 2024. In the meantime, orders can be collected from the garden centre or Bridget’s Cafe in E20. Bike delivery options are also available in selected east London postcodes for a fee of £5.  

Find out more about Awoke Plants here

Awoke Plants is based at View Tube near Pudding Mill Lane DLR

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Isle Of Dogs: How Ballet Nights is set to return for its first east London show in 2024

Gala platform for ballet and contemporary dance is set for February dates at Lanterns Studio Theatre

Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke of The Royal Ballet will perform

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“Our story continues” is the strapline for the latest evening of dance to come to Lanterns Studio Theatre on the Isle Of Dogs.

Building on three editions at the east London venue, which took place between September and November last year, Ballet Nights is set to return for a fourth iteration over two nights on February 23 and 24, 2024.

Having already set a predecent for drawing some of the best dancers in the world to the Island, the latest programme continues in similar vein with performers from the English National Ballet and Studio Wayne McGregor on the bill. 

But perhaps chief among the attractions will be Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke, both pincipal dancers at The Royal Ballet.

The pair will perform twice on each of the gala-style evenings, presenting Spring Waters Pas De Deux to cap off a packed first half and Balcony Pas De Deux from Romeo And Juliet to round off the evening. 

“It’s the format that makes the Ballet Nights concept special,” said Jamiel Devernay-Laurence, the shows’ artistic director and producer.

“For audiences who are unfamiliar with dance, it’s a really good way to get a taste of the very best things that are going on right now.

“For artists like Yasmine and Reece – who both dance together a lot at The Royal Ballet – to be coming to Docklands is a big deal.

“Audiences can expect many virtuosic lifts, throws and catches in their first performance before they take on the memorable and iconic choreography of Sir Kenneth MacMillan in the second.

Jamiel Devernay-Laurence will once again host the evening

“We listen to our audiences and with feedback that they wanted to see more of our headliners, I wanted to experiment with a snappy performance at the end of act one before the big piece at the end the night. 

“There is nothing more meaningful and romantic than the Balcony Pas De Deux – it’s exactly what people are ready for.”

Audiences will see a total of 12 performances, split into two halves over a period of two hours on each of the two forthcoming nights at Lanterns. 

These include two new works performed by resident pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel, who will also join Felicity Chadwick for 324a, set to music by JS Bach. 

“She was a new discovery in our September show,” said Jamiel.

“Here she returns for people to really experience what she can do, dancing the choreography of Joshua Junker from The Royal Ballet.”

The shows at Lanterns differ significantly from most other presentations of ballet.

Audiences sit on a level with the dancers and performances take place right in front of the spectators. 

Ballet Nights’ programmes feature classical styles alongside contemporary pieces offering ticket holders the chance to experience a wide range of movement and music on a single evening.

But the brand goes beyond the physical performances.

“For many startups in dance and other genres of the arts, there’s often a launch, but for things to continue in perpetuity is rarer,” said Jamiel.

“I want audiences to get used to the idea of Ballet Nights both as a series of performances, but also as a platform.

“We have various digital productions so people can see behind-the-scenes and get to know the artists via our podcasts. 

Felicity Chadwick is set to perform with pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel

“Ballet Nights doesn’t go away after the performances have taken place – it continues celebrating the artists.

“That happens before the show and also at our legendary after-party experiences where we meet the dancers and discuss what they do and how they do it.

“We also want to be launching new traditions as the premiere ballet event in this area. 

“One of those, which is on the next programme, will be the mystery act, dancing in a style unlike any of the other performers on the night.

“We are quite a versatile platform in that in a full show audiences will see world class stars, modern masterpieces, legacy classics, new voices and new discoveries.

“To meet the demand for longer versions of pieces from emerging voices, we will be launching our very first Spotlight Shows on April 26 and 27, which will feature duo Pett – Clausen-Knight. 

“They will be performing in the February show too, so that is a chance for audiences to see more of them.”

The fourth edition is also set to have a contemporary offering from choreographer and dancer Jordan James Bridge as well as a debut performance from new duo Cydney Watson and Liam Woodvine, brought together by Jamiel under his creative umbrella.

“That’s a brand new launch, birthed at Lanterns Studio Theatre through one of our professional development programmes,” he said. 

“They were identified individually and we’ve had some fantastic results putting them together, so they will be making their world debut as a duo here.

“Jordan is a real audience favourite, judging by the standing ovations and it’s really fantastic to have him back again.

“He’s so capable and talented and it’s a real honour to have him performing at Ballet Nights.

“Then we have Chloe Keneally, who hasn’t had far to come, from English National Ballet at London City Island.

“She’ll be our tutu ballerina, providing us with two pieces – Etoile Variation from Paquita and Aurora from act three of Sleeping Beauty.

Ballet Nights is starting to become a piece of the fabric of what Canary Wharf has as a dance offer. 

Duo Pett – Clausen-Knight are on the bill and will also feature in a forthcoming Spotlight Show

“With some of the world’s best dancers appearing, loyal audience members are now making the journey for the second or third time.

“But what I’m most keen on is that residents nearby come and give the show a go. 

“This is a one-of-a-kind format that doesn’t yet exist anywhere else in the world and it’s right here on the Island.”

  • Doors open for Ballet Nights at 6.15pm, with performances running from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. Tickets start at £60.

Find out more about Ballet Nights here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Lyll aims to reinvigorate news brands as channel for SME adverts

Norwegian startup comes to Level39 as it looks to grow investors alongside the publishers it works with

Lyll CEO Camilla Frydenbø

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The idea that the way things are at the moment is how they shall continue to be.

But the world rarely stands still, especially in the world of tech.

There’s a danger in this – in getting too comfortable with the prevailing winds, lest they all too rapidly change when one isn’t paying attention.

Innovation Norway has been running its Tech Executive Accelerator (TEA) programme at Canary Wharf’s Level39, more or less since the community launched in 2013.     

Back then, people talked of Big Data, with a few early adopters whispering about the blockchain.

Challenger banks emerged, crypto wallets proliferated and there was much talk of machine learning. Now it’s generative AI.

During this period, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) have seen social media become the dominant marketing channel for their products and services. 

But nothing in the digital sphere is guaranteed forever – the lustre of Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok and even LinkedIn, has started to tarnish, with the inevitable consequences of light regulation and a limited appetite or capacity for in-house moderation. 

So what of the future? Part of the answer may come from Norwegian startup Lyll – currently in Canary Wharf as part of the TEA’s latest cohort. 

Launched in June, 2023, the company aims to offer SMEs a simple, self-service approach to advertising on digital news sites and is spending six months here as it targets growth. 

While the column inches on these sites are often filled with discussions on the impact of and posts on social media, it’s perhaps easy to forget that much of the most well researched, potent and popular digital content is created by the news brands themselves, with millions of readers turning to them as trusted sources.  

“I’ve been working in marketing for 25 years and online newspapers are my favourite marketing channel,” said Camilla Frydenbø, CEO of Lyll.

“I have a lot of love for them and they are important for brand building, which companies need if they are going to grow. 

“But it hasn’t been very easy for SMEs to use this channel, because they typically have to talk to a salesperson.

“Most media businesses do not have self-service solutions, so many firms turn to social media because those platforms have made it easy to advertise and firms are welcome with any budget.

“Companies often perceive online news brands as expensive, so they don’t contact the salesperson as they feel like they need a big budget. 

“What we’ve done is create a platform that makes it even easier to advertise on these sites than it is to use social media.

“We think businesses will use these channels if they know they can place adverts on these sites with a minimum budget of £50, which most companies can afford.

“The price of an ad view is similar to what they pay on social media – that makes it competitive.”

Lyll currently has more than 5,000 news sites on its platform, spread across nine European countries – a demonstration, perhaps of the publishers’ desire to uncover new streams of revenue in a tough climate.

“Our slogan is: ‘For your growth and a free press’, because we also think in this world where everyone is talking about sustainability, if we don’t have the fourth estate we will all have a problem,” said Camilla.

“We see in countries where there are fewer journalists and news sites being read, you don’t get a high level of debate or a nuanced picture of what’s going on.

“We hope that it will be part of a business’ sustainability plan – how they choose to spend their marketing budget and what they are funding with it.

“We have more than 200 companies in Norway which have signed up to Lyll with an account, although not all are active yet.

“We see it takes a while between when people create an account and when they start advertising, but the interest is definitely there.

“Companies know they need to reach a wider, mass market and when they don’t get the effect they used to from Facebook, it’s a perfect storm because they are willing to listen now.

“If they want to be on TikTok, for example, they have to make videos three times a week, at least, and small firms may not have the resources to produce the coolest thing on the platform.

Lyll is spending time at Level39 in One Canada Square as part of Innovation Norway’s TEA Programme

“When it comes to LinkedIn, if you’re selling to consumers, then it’s not the right channel.

“Then you have women, primarily, using Facebook, and men on YouTube. That’s how the social media market is dividing right now.

“Going beyond this, bringing news sites into the marketing mix, will see firms continue their growth.”

That’s partly because the two streams serve different purposes.

Camilla said she would never encourage a company to abandon social, but spread marketing onto more than one channel.

She said: “It is important for businesses to always be better at brand building – creating something sustainable which gives them growth over time and makes them more profitable.

“A presence on national, regional or local news sites is how you do this.

“Firms need to be more patient with news sites.

“With social media, everything is so fast.

“Companies are always having to come up with new photos, videos, text – which is a little bit tiring. 

“If you are always chasing sales, doing special offers or discounts, then you will never succeed.

“Businesses that put most of their marketing budget into brand building are the ones that win the market, but you don’t do that in three months or six months.

“You need a plan which goes over several years. 

“We don’t say companies shouldn’t use social media, because we think they should. The best effect is when you use three to four channels with a single campaign.

“In Bergen, for example, we have a concert series. Until recently they were selling their tickets through Facebook. 

“But since that was declining, they wanted to try Lyll.

“They took their small budget and divided it between the two newspapers in the city.

“They told us they had never sold out faster than when they divided the budget. 

“Lyll can support what a company is doing on social media – their platforms are often more geared towards making ticket sales, but people also have to know there’s a concert on in the first place.”

Lyll’s idea will likely be welcomed by digital publishers, many of who have spent the years since the arrival of the internet attempting to thrash out viable business models.

Reach PLC, which has kept its sites such as mirror.co.uk and express.co.uk free to access, recently reported a 16% decline in digital revenues – albeit a collapse  largely blamed on Facebook’s decision to send less traffic to news brands.

Camilla said engagement with companies like Lyll could help.

“It’s been very valuable to be in London at Level39 on the TEA programme,” she said. 

“We said we were looking for investors and partnerships and we’ve had meetings with investors and big media companies.

Lyll has built a self-service portal for advertisers to access digital news sites

“The latter see that they have a need for a self-service solution but they have one concern, whether it will have an impact on jobs.

“Sales people are definitely still needed to serve large advertisers – Lyll is not built for their needs – but we think they can activate sleeping customers.

“These companies have huge customer bases that we can appeal to.

“In the end, if they don’t do anything about this problem, they can’t complain about advertising going to social media because, if it’s difficult for companies to buy space on these platforms, they won’t do it. 

“We make money by taking a small cut of the advertising spend – it’s programmatic advertising made easy.

“Another benefit is that while Google’s display network allows placement of ads on these sites, customers can’t choose where their ad appears. 

“They might be placed on strange websites or bad websites, even. These things happen and brand safety is very important.

“If you want your advert to appear on the Financial Times’ site, for example, and you think you’ll get that from Google, you’ll probably find as little as 3% of your budget will place it there and the rest could see it placed somewhere else.

“With Lyll, you get to be in front of the audience you want – you decide where your money is spent.”

As for the future, Lyll is very much eyeing expansion to London following its spell in Canary Wharf.

“The networking with the TEA programme has been fantastic,” said Camilla. “I live in Bergen, which is the second largest city in Norway but is still very small. 

“The investor pool is limited there in marketing tech.

“That’s why we wanted to come to London – here you have the best marketing people in Europe and the things we’ve been able to do, the little network we’ve been able to build – we’d have never been able to do this from Bergen. 

“I think expanding to London would be a natural step for us.

“When we get more funding, the next thing is to hire a salesperson and they would have to be an English-speaking person who can talk to media companies around the globe and try and get them into collaboration with us.”

While the future of media online remains uncertain, the plummeting revenues at X following Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform and its descent into a frequently toxic space which companies are keen to avoid, could well be a cautionary tale.

With brands eager for a safe place to reach people, perhaps Lyll will help reignite a channel that’s been looking for a fresh approach for some time.

Follow this link to find out more about Lyll

You can find out more about Level39 here or Innovation Norway here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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