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Bermondsey: How Disturbance at Ugly Duck gives a platform to artists

Event showcases marginalised and emerging LGBTQIA+ creatives in a former warehouse

Iranian Gisou Golshani is set to perform at Disturbance

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Iranian artist Gisou Golshani left their home in Tehran to escape the country’s repressive regime.

The 24-year-old came to London and will be part of this year’s Disturbance event, which champions LGBTQIA+ artists.

 It runs at Ugly Duck in Bermondsey from November 10-12, 2022 and Gisou will be drawing on their Persian heritage for a multi-sensory, immersive installation and performance.

We sat down with them to find out more.

the show

My performance will explore the story of a melancholic Persian bird, called the bittern, through an immersive film and sound installation and intuitive body movements.

I’m hoping the space and performance will allow audiences to listen introspectively, to reflect on the story of this bird, and to make their personal interpretations of the work.

their inspiration

I have been researching melancholia for the past few years, and recently came across the story of this semi-mythical Persian bird, which is somewhat looked down upon for its melancholia. I felt the urge to look into this melancholy from a new perspective.

the aim

I hope people will be inspired to learn more about Persian symbolism and mythology. 

I want viewers to feel encouraged to make their own interpretations about what they see, hear and feel.

There’s not only one way that you can interpret the work and every interpretation and thought that comes up during or after the performance is valid and worth thinking about. 

why Disturbance?

I attended the last showcase and was captivated by the performances. I thought it would be a great opportunity to test ideas in a new setting and get guidance from experienced professionals.

Ugly Duck’s space in Bermondsey

the challenge

The biggest for me is to believe in an idea that initially comes up. After some time, I find my flow and start working without doubting myself. 

Sometimes, it takes time to believe in a project or find purpose in what I want to do or what I think I want to do. 

But when I get myself immersed through having conversations with people or finding research material that interests me, I feel driven and stop questioning why I’m doing something.  

leaving Iran

I’ve known I wanted to do something creative since I was very young.

Growing up in Tehran, at some point in my teens, I felt it would be very difficult to push for original and provocative ideas, to be able to express myself in a society where there is so much surveillance and censorship. 

I visited London and it presented an opportunity for me to express myself more freely, as a creative queer Iranian. 

the protests

Initially, I found it strange that my residency and showcase with Disturbance was coinciding with protests in Iran.

I felt as if anything I might do during this time wouldn’t compare to people’s resistance in the streets. 

However, I feel so empowered and hopeful watching the feminist uprisings.

Beyond the story of the bittern, my performance is also about how mismanagement of the Islamic regime has caused exhaustion of Iran’s water resources. 

So I feel what I am investigating and researching during this residency is in direct dialogue with the current protests.

Ugly Duck creative director Deen Atger

CREATING A DISTURBANCE

“It’s something we started as a really small experiment during the pandemic, when LGBTQIA+ artists couldn’t continue their work and were in limbo,” said Deen Atger, creative director of Ugly Duck and founder of Disturbance.

That first event in October 2020 came about after he spent hours scrolling the internet and decided he wanted to find a way to continue sharing the creativity he saw online and happening at Ugly Duck.

It saw three performers and three video artists perform to an audience of 25 in person, and 250 through a live stream. 

The idea was to take artists out of their bedrooms and adapt their performances for the camera, to reach a wider audience.

This year will see the fourth edition of Disturbance take place and, with support from Arts Council England, it has evolved into a three-day event. 

It will include live performances at Ugly Duck’s Tanner Street space, a day of live streaming on November 11, 2022, and an online portal where people will be able to access work made during the workshops and films made during the performances.

The live streaming aspect has been developed with Rob Hall from the start and Deen said it was an artistic work in its own right.

“He doesn’t just film the show, he is also live editing and has a very strong artistic take on what the online viewer is seeing,” said Deen, who has also been working with set designers to help transform Tanner Street into something new and surprising for audiences. 

Since Ugly Duck took on the empty Victorian warehouse in 2012, the organisation has transformed the space into a thriving, creative hub where it has collaborated with more than 1,500 artists. 

This work continues, with Deen adding a development programme to this year’s Disturbance

It will include a residency and training in topics like how to talk about their work and how to make sure it’s accessible.

“A lot of the artists, especially the younger ones, have really good artistic training, but haven’t necessarily learnt how to go into a professional world,” said Deen. 

“I think it’s really important to help them with that so they can become less marginalised.”

Ugly Duck, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, had more than 120 applications for this year’s programme. 

The final 10 were chosen by a panel and will be mentored by creatives who have taken part in the programme previously – another way Deen is trying to grow their support system.

“We are very focused on elevating underrepresented voices – artists who are not always at the forefront of contemporary art,” he said.

“It is very important for me to make sure Disturbance is not just an isolated thing.

“I’m trying to develop an ecosystem, where artists come back as juries and speakers and mentors who are upskilling and still developing.

“It’s very much thanks to artists who took part in the first event, when we didn’t have much funding, that we got to where we are.

“So it’s very important for me to continue getting them involved.”

PART OF THE DISTURBANCE

Disabled, queer video artist Olivia Morrison presents Hug Me Properly following young, queer people on a night out as they discuss how their lives changed during the pandemic

Revisiting their marginalised queer experience of growing up in southern China, River Cao will create a series of self-narrative spaces to rethink the emotions of grief.

Non-binary trans-masculine person Orlando Myxx presents film The Plastic Drag, investigating how a new wave of diverse drag artists is redefining the art of drag and its subversive potential.

Talia Beale’s To Trudge In Zundon explores how film could subvert ideas about housing estates and addresses new voices of creative, queer kids who live in blocks of flats.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canary Wharf: How Alchemy Machines provides smart transcription services

AI driven platform is set to launch in November 2022 aimed at businesses in the legal sector

Alchemy Machines platform could make note-taking by hand a thing of the past

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Singer, martial artist, entrepreneur.

These are Dia Thanki’s passions but it’s in the third where our chief interest lies.

So it’s not Motown classics or her practising the graceful forms of Wing Chun Kung Fu that will fill this space, It’s her latest business venture.

Alchemy Machines, the company she founded and runs as CEO, is set to launch its first product in November following two years of development.

Based at Level39 – Canary Wharf’s tech community and workspace at One Canada Square – the idea for the business grew from a personal experience.

“I was involved in a car accident quite a few years ago,” said Dia.

“I was coming off the motorway, going downhill and there was a lot of traffic ahead – it was gridlocked.

“I stopped my car but there was a van going at top speed, which crashed into the back of my vehicle – leaving me with whiplash and chronic back pain.

“As a result I was having a lot of meetings with my personal injury lawyer, but the discomfort I was in meant I wasn’t able to focus on what was being said.

“I decided to look for an app that could transcribe voice to text, but the technology was generally very primitive at the time.

“It was then that I thought how wonderful it would be if meetings could be automatically transcribed accurately with who was speaking and when. 

“People could then read or listen back and there would be an audit trail.”

Dia had been exposed to the emerging area of artificial intelligence (AI) as a student, first at Cass Business School (since renamed Bayes Business School) and then later during a masters in management information systems at Cranfield University.

“Back then, no-one really cared about it – it was a research topic, but there were very few real-life implementations,” she said.

“But I was fascinated with its potential and my final year thesis was in the area of multi-agent systems.

“It was all about process modelling using software agents to be able to replicate real-world phenomena to convert them into a virtual world. 

“That’s when I began to think about the endless possibilities of a technology like AI.”

However, life took Dia in a different direction, as after graduating, a career as a singer beckoned and she eventually set up a business as the founder of label Diamanté Records.

After pursuing that course for a little over four years, Dia changed heading, going on to discover a strength in project management.

“That’s really my forte – starting with a concept for a web application or a mobile app and taking it from idea to a tangible product,” she said.

“In the process of doing that, I was working with developers, designers both onshore and offshore, globally for organisations such as BT, BUPA and Apple.

“Just before I set up Alchemy Machines, I was working for Tech Nation which is very well known in the tech ecosystem.

“I was its Future 50 programme manager – curating events for the brand and through that work I became fascinated with the world of startups.

“Then Alchemy Machines got a grant offer and there was a need to focus on the company full time and build a team.”

Alchemy Machines founder and CEO Dia Thanki

With machine learning having taken off in the intervening years, it was time for Dia to explore the creation of something that has been in the back of her mind since she sat in the room with those lawyers.

“I’d reached out to various computer scientists, people who had worked at Google and Amazon and senior researchers – had lots of coffees and built up my knowledge,” she said.

“I did a lot of different courses and then found some money to build a prototype, initially from Innovate UK, which is funded by the Government.

“The reason we chose to focus on the legal sector was that there seemed to be a demand, although the product we have developed could be as relevant in healthcare or financial services.

“Alchemy Machines solves the problem of unlocking workflow productivity for corporate professionals.

“The way we do that is to develop a voice intelligence platform that can transcribe sector-specific speech into text, and then also analyse those conversations and summarise them. It’s a feature-rich voice intelligence platform.

“People confuse us with an AI transcription company, but Alchemy Machines is much more than that.

“Given the high rates at which people leave jobs in the legal sector and everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, now is the time for a technology like this to really come to the fore.

“While there are other areas where this kind of technology has been prevalent for a while, that hasn’t really been the case in the corporate and legal worlds.

“I think that’s because they haven’t embraced innovation as fast, although in recent years they have been forced to do so, partly because of the consolidation that’s happening in the sector.

“Legal firms were some of the last to embrace email, for example, but they are now using cloud technology with many companies migrating – it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the market follows.

“People are very risk-averse in the sector.

“There’s a lack of understanding about AI machine learning and sometimes that triggers fear, although it can also trigger excitement.

“There are many offerings out there and it can be difficult for businesses to differentiate.

“But we have a clear focus, we know that being GDPR compliant, for example, is very important for companies in the sector and we have worked with Legal 500 firms to build feasibility scenarios and really test our platform before launch.

“It works like this – let’s assume there’s a dispute resolution case within intellectual property law.

“A group of lawyers – a senior associate, a trainee and a client – are having a virtual meeting to discuss the case.

“Normally, the trainee lawyer would be typing out or writing notes before producing a final version in consultation with the senior associate before it’s given to the client or stored in-house.

“That’s a huge waste of time – especially for trainee lawyers who want to get their hands on high-value casework and not spend their time on boring admin tasks.

“It might be useful for them for a couple of months as part of their training, but afterwards it becomes tedious admin work.

“With Alchemy Machines, all they would need to do would be to press ‘record’ when the Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting starts.

“The software then sits in the background and, for a one-hour meeting, it would take about 15 or 20 minutes to generate the report in our web application.

“There, the user will find the audio file, the transcription, the analysis and the summaries.

“That will include things like the ratio of who is speaking, the total number of people on the call and a sentiment analysis expressed as a percentage, based on whether mostly positive or negative words were used.

“The platform also tracks the duration of the meeting and the accuracy of the voice recognition itself and these are just the things we can measure now.

“I’m super excited for the launch because this wasn’t a product that was easy to create – it’s very complex because of the machine learning elements, but also the amount of time that’s gone into testing it with real-life users to ensure we’ve built something that’s simple, intuitive and valuable.

“The feedback has been phenomenal.

“I was speaking to a firm we’ve been trialling the platform with and they thought that our product was both more accurate and easier to use than a very well funded American competitor.

“Creating this product and this business has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life because it has demanded such a level of focus and resilience – and I trained as a martial artist for five years.

“There have been two really big challenges.

“The first is the same for any tech company selling solutions to large corporations and that’s establishing credibility.

“The second has been fundraising. There are still very few women seeking investment in businesses in general and especially in the tech and STEM sectors and that makes it tough.

“That’s slowly beginning to change and there are a few different initiatives that are encouraging girls and women to embrace technology and see the potential of it. 

“As a business, we have some key targets to try and attract more women to join the sector and one of our machine learning engineers is a woman, so it’s been a great experience to share this journey with her.

“I hope many more will come to work in tech for Alchemy Machines or others.” 

Dia will be speaking at LegalEx at 2pm on November 23, 2022, at Excel in Royal Docks. Alchemy Machines’ platform is set to officially launch next month.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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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 Laura Zabo makes jewellery from waste rubber bike tyres

See Laura’s pieces and others from Craft Central makers at its Open Studios and Winter Market

Laura Zabo wears her most popular necklace, the Curlywurly – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

When Laura Zabo moved to Tanzania in 2015, she was seeking change.

Her business in Hungary had failed and she needed a new passion.

What she found there were dirty old tyres. She loved them.

“Africans recycle everything and, one day, I was walking through the local Maasai market and found some brightly painted sandals made out of car tyres,” said Laura.

“They were so pretty and colourful and I found this a brilliant idea – that such an unwanted material could become so useful.

“I realised I wanted to show the world that we can recycle tyres and we have to, because we just have too much waste.”

She immediately started buying supplies and tools and learning how to transform the rubber into wearable objects such as belts and shoes – sometimes working 15 hours without eating.

“I just felt like: ’Wow, this is the mission of my life,’.” she said. “I was sure, with my creativity, that I could make pretty items people would want.”

By the time she moved to London, jewellery was her focus and she began selling at markets in Spitalfields and Greenwich and at craft events in between day jobs in marketing and hospitality.

It revived the entrepreneurial spirit she had first discovered aged eight – selling beaded jewellery at school – but which had been dampened by the failure of her homoeopathy business.

Earrings at Laura’s Craft Central studio – image Matt Grayson

“When that happened I was really depressed and was just surviving because I really didn’t know what I should do with my life,” said Laura

“I moved to Africa to reset and find something interesting that I could really dedicate my life to.”

After she discovered it, London called to her because of the freedom it offered.

“I come from a much more conservative country – the UK really has the vibe of opportunities,” she said.

“If you come here and believe in something, you can make it happen.”

The 43-year-old has lived across the capital including in Lewisham and Margate – she’s now on a boat in West India South Dock.

But when it came to her business she realised she needed a more permanent base and landed at Craft Central on the Isle Of Dogs’ Westferry Road in February.

“I was making from home before, but it was really uncomfortable, after so many years,” she said. 

“Sometimes I would finish working at midnight and the next morning there was rubber everywhere. I knew that if I had my own workspace, I could focus much more.

“I find the space at Craft Central so inspirational and I really like that the Isle Of Dogs is like a piece of countryside in London”

Her supplies mostly come from a tyre recycling firm but she often pops to Canary Wharf to collect supplies from NipNip’s bike servicing and repair shop at Westferry Circus.

You won’t find her pedalling though, as Laura isn’t a fan of cycling – or the cleaning required when tyres arrive.

“Everything is dirty and has to be sorted because each type of tyre has a different purpose,” she said.

“When I’m sorting them I get completely dirty and then the tyres have to be cut in half and soaked for a few hours in disinfectant before I start scrubbing.”

Laura with one of her creations – image Matt Grayson

Once they are dry, the inner tubes are ready for crafting into delicate necklaces and earrings but the tyres, which she uses for belts, have to be painted to make them perfectly black. 

Laura can make around 30 pieces a week and her biggest seller is the Curlywurly Necklace, which she said would be impossible to make from any other material.

Prices range from £12 for a pair of leaf earrings to £89 for her statement necklaces and Laura said it had been a conscious choice to charge as little as possible.

“I come from a very poor family and know how bad it is when you like something and you just don’t have money for it,” she said.

“I didn’t want someone to be unable to afford my pieces.

“Also, some customers are unsure how people will react if they buy recycled bicycle inner tube jewellery, so I don’t want the price to put them off.

“More sales means I can spread my message.”

It has been working. Sales have increased fourfold this year and Laura has been inundated with requests for collaborations and photoshoots.

“I am so happy people are valuing my items,” she said. “I really feel the buzz from every direction and like it is becoming something very popular. 

“Obviously, this is what I wanted when I started this business, but for many years people laughed at me when I told them my job was to recycle tyres and said I was not normal.

“Now it’s becoming an industry and it’s brilliant.”

Belts made by Laura – image Matt Grayson

Laura believes her success is down to a change in her mindset.

“I have read about 80 books since November about business and personal development and feel much more focused on my goals,” she said.

“I think once your way is clear, you feel more stable in your journey and good things happen more easily.”

Unlike many makers who guard their processes, Laura is now keen to share hers widely.

“My next call is to open a shop and teach my techniques to make people realise anyone can make money out of upcycling,” she said.

“It has been a game-changer in my life. When I craft, it is like meditation. 

“Even if you sell it very cheaply, the fact you created something and someone wants to buy it, will really change your life.

“Upcycling also teaches us what we throw away and that our main focus should be on creating instead of useless hobbies like shopping.”

Laura, who buys 95% of her clothes second hand, added: “I find fast fashion so useless and super stupid.

“People work so hard, then buy valueless items nonstop and it just doesn’t make any sense for me. I would love to inspire people to try crafting instead.

“I think every market should have one person who sells upcycled tyre jewellery.

“I hope to be the person who teaches them how to do that.”

Craft Central’s event takes place from November 19-20, 2022

SHOP LOCAL – CRAFT CENTRAL OPEN STUDIOS AND WINTER MARKET

See the work of Craft Central experts, including Laura Zabo,  up-close at Craft Central’s home at The Forge from November 19-20, 2022, 10.30am -5pm.

The charity will be hosting an Open Studios and Winter Market event, which is free to visit and includes Silphi ‘s Venetian coloured glass jewellery and Pon Studio’s playful homeware.

The gallery space will be full of items to browse and buy, including Frank Horn’s leather accessories, Sato Hisao’s pop-up cards and paper craft and other products such as home accessories, jewellery, fashion, prints, ceramics, stationery and textiles, from £2.50 to £500.

There will be drop-in, pay-what- you-can workshops from noon-4pm in badge making on the Saturday and Christmas decoration painting on the Sunday.

Also, Carb Club will host Paint Your Own Pieces ceramics workshops all weekend and, on the Saturday, Sarah Richards will run an upcycling DIY Christmas Jumper workshop for £15 adult, £10 child.

Both require pre-booking.

Read more: Discover Wilton’s Music Hall’s festive show for 2022

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Wapping: How Wilton’s take on The Wind In The Willows stays true to its source

Venue’s festive production for 2022 updates classic to a modern setting and moves Christmas

Author and playwright Piers Torday at Wilton’s Music Hall

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Piers Torday is no stranger to creating festive adaptations for the ancient boards of Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping.

The children’s author, best known for The Last Wild series, has brought John Masefield’s The Box Of Delights, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and last year Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Tale (rechristened as The Child In The Snow) to the east London stage.

November 2022, however, sees him go beyond renaming as he and the team retool Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows as a modern Christmas show, complete with strikethrough.

The Wind In The Willows Wilton’s takes the original book’s familiar characters, takes them out of the Edwardian period and carries them into the 21st century, with the plot also pulled further downstream into central London.

“We changed the name partly because it was irresistible not to, but also to reflect the fact that this is a slightly different version of the story from one that people may have seen before,” said Piers.

“It’s always been adapted in period dress, full Edwardian, with colourful waistcoats and police in uniforms – and I’ve much enjoyed those versions – but we wanted to bring things up to date a bit to reflect the world we live in and the audiences that we serve at Wilton’s.

“So we’ve not set it down the Thames in Cookham – where Kenneth Grahame lived – we’ve brought it downstream, where the river goes past Wilton’s, and into the heart of London and the City.

“It’s set now in 2022, Mole lives in Hyde Park and we’ve moved the Wild Wood to the financial district, and we’ve balanced the gender make-up so it’s not just chaps having a jolly good time.

“In doing that, however, we’ve remained completely faithful to the spirit of the book. 

“When it was written, the book was unbelievably modern – full of stuff about motor cars and the characters having very contemporary adventures.

“Increasingly over time those things have become nostalgic, and the spirit of the book is about being very current.”

In addition to altering some details of the setting, Piers has also shifted the timeline around to reflect the season.

Wilton’s festive show is and update of The Wind In The Willows

“The Wind In The Willows famously starts in spring, with Mole doing his cleaning, but in the book, rather madly, Christmas happens two-thirds of the way through,” he said.

 “We’ve rearranged it so that  Christmas takes place at the end – we’ve ordered the events more logically.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s still about four friends and I think most people can recognise themselves or their friends in the main characters.

“Toad Hall will still be taken over by the weasels but part of the fun is for audiences to see what we’ve done with it. 

“It’s been a huge amount of fun, putting it together – no-one has really updated the story before so it’s been the most brilliant opportunity and we’ve done it with lots of song and dance.

“The original book is actually full of songs woven into the story, so we’ve used quite a lot of those lyrics and written some to complement them.

“What many people also forget about this story is that it contains some of the most beautiful descriptions of the English countryside in literature.

“Kenneth Grahame wasn’t really a writer, as such;  he was someone who dabbled in writing and became famous through this book, but he definitely had a poet’s ear for describing our riverbanks, our natural flora and fauna. 

“It’s not very dramatic, but we’ve tried to honour that as we tell the story in the age of climate crisis, so it’s going to be full of real bits of nature.

“We’ve tried not to buy anything new, but to use everything, which is as sustainable and low-impact on the environment as possible. It will look spectacular, but it’s not going to cost the earth.”

For Piers, the task of adapting The Wind In The Willows was more than just about creating a festive show.

“I’ve always wanted to adapt it,” he said. “I write books about talking animals and I date my curiosity in that area to my parents reading me The Wind In The Willows.

“Some of the characters I’ve created myself are probably the result of numerous reiterations that started with Mole or Ratty.

“Even if they’ve not read the book, the audience will probably be aware of the idea of irresponsible Mr Toad, grumpy Badger in his sett or the very shy Mole blinking in the sunlight – it’s part of our national culture.

“To bring this London version of the story to life is a real joy.

“I think talking animals are very appealing because they allow children to experience adult emotions without feeling that they’re having to be little adults.

“In the story the animals live in houses of their own, they have their own occupations, they drive cars, they go to the shops, they go to court, so they do adult things – but there’s something enormously childlike about them too.

“They’re larger-than-life characters.”

The venue’s Christmas show is aimed at kids and adults alike

While The Wind In The Willows Wilton’s is not a pantomime, Piers said it had been written to entertain all ages, including some topical references – a challenge given the current political turmoil.

“When I started writing, the character of Toad was irresistibly like Boris Johnson, but those references have all gone, for the moment,” he said.

“It’s not a panto, so it’s not going to be full of up-to-the minute references to the latest thing or celebrity gossip – but it is a Christmas show and they always have an end-of-term-sketch feel about them

“You want to draw people together. It’s very different to working on a normal play. For many, especially young people, a Christmas show might be the only time they will go to the theatre with their parents. 

“It’s a family outing, so you have to try to include everyone and it’s Christmas so you have to remember people are there to have a nice time.

“To do that you have to have stories and jokes that operate on many levels.

“Children will see the show as a battle, a story with funny scenes of Toad getting cross and losing something, but there may also be references for adults about the cost-of-living crisis or whatever else is going on, to make them feel they’re included in the story too.

“While it’s absolutely terrifying to work on something like this because you can see how it’s received every night, it’s also a great privilege to see those responses. 

“Theatre is irresistible and thrilling because it is something that happens in the moment. That experience – when someone makes it work – is the most special one you can have.”

  • The Wind In The Willows Wilton’s runs at Wilton’s Music Hall from November 24 to December 31, 2022. Performance times are 7.30pm with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets start at £13.

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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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Greenwich: How Bureau offers space and connection for creatives on the Peninsula

Helen Arvanitakis on why Design District has dedicated buildings to freelancers and small firms

Design District director Helen Arvanitakis – image Jon Massey

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When I was a boy, on visits to my grandparents’ house, one of the highlights was an ancient bureau.

This may mark me out as a peculiar child, but this dark, mysterious piece of furniture, with its polished wood and an infinite number of drawers, nooks and pigeon holes, held a universe of possibilities and secrets.

In reality, it contained old gas bills and bits of unused string. I wasn’t to know.

I mention it because it shares some qualities with Bureau on Greenwich Peninsula – itself a multifunctional place of possibility.

Spread across two buildings at Knight Dragon’s Design District, the creative industries co-working space, membership club, bar and restaurant does many things – like that antique piece of furniture.

But its myriad spaces are anything but dark and mysterious, even if the pale grey fluting on one of the buildings has something of the roll top desk lid about it.

Instead both blocks, designed variously by Architecture 00 and HNNA, are light, airy and functional.

“It’s somewhere for freelancers, gig workers, start-ups and small businesses that want to stay small – it’s secure, professional and very good-looking,” said Design District director Helen Arvanitakis.

“To give it some context, these two buildings are occupied entirely by Bureau, with the interior design created by Roz Barr Architects.

“It was important for us to have a single company doing that because even though the two buildings look different, people should get the sense in both that they are still in Bureau.

“From the outside, one feels quite angular and macho with a lot of exposed concrete, while the other has an undulating facade with more exposed timber and windows that punctuate the walls, creating pockets of light throughout the building rather than big, open expanses.”

Access to Bureau comes at many levels, with day passes available for £15 plus VAT, covering use of a desk from 8am to 8pm.

Monthly hot desking costs £125, fixed desks are £230 and serviced studios start at £280 per desk, all plus VAT.

Helen said: “We do vet applicants to some extent, although we’re fairly relaxed.

“We broadly follow the government definition of the creative industries – which is a really wide group, everything from heritage, museums and galleries, through to fashion, advertising and so on.

“However, we’ve expanded that a little bit, because we’ve found that there’s real value for our members and tenants to have businesses that are on the periphery of the creative industry.

“For instance, we have a specialist in intellectual property law, and that comes up a lot in the sector – it’s something that adds value to the community.”

That word – community – is at the heart of the Design District project and Bureau is much more than a co-working silo with some interesting looking neighbours.

“As a member, the benefits include being in a professional environment with someone on reception and lots of spaces you can use within the buildings,” said Helen.

“There are phone booths, meeting pods, bookable rooms with big screens and all the kit for doing video-conferencing, presentations and so on.

“We also have a totally fantastic restaurant with a brilliant team of chefs, which is open into the evening as a full-on bar.

“Then we also have an events programme with a good mix of stuff designed to inspire people and to educate them on particular aspects of the creative industries.

“But there’s also a lot of interaction between Bureau and the tenants in the other buildings at Design District.

“We wondered when we were setting it up whether we would be able to achieve that, because the temptation is to hang out with Bureau members. 

“So we regularly host social events and work hard to introduce businesses and individuals where there’s cross-over.

“For example, one of our members is a company that designs beautiful books.

“They recently worked on a knitting guide written by Tom Daly and used a post-production company based at Design District as a venue to do the photography shoot with him.

“Having that proximity was really helpful. I know we can all do things remotely, but creatives work better collaboratively when they are face-to-face.”

Helen first worked on the Peninsula project in her capacity as managing director of product designer Tom Dixon’s studio.

It played a major role in kitting out the gallery space and the now (sadly) closed Craft Restaurant as well as some of the Upper Riverside apartment buildings.

She said: “I’d always enjoyed working with Knight Dragon and stayed in touch with them after I left Tom Dixon.

“I went on to work with lots of small creative firms on the business side.

“The reason Knight Dragon was keen for me to work on Design District was because of that experience, I had an insight into the sector and understood what would motivate those small businesses to take a particular space. 

“We have 14 buildings, soon to be 16. There’s one block where we’re looking for a tenant and a couple of smaller spaces, but the whole development is basically let.

“Bureau gives us that entry point for individuals and smaller companies.

“We offer a warm, welcoming environment and we’ve worked hard to fix our energy costs so we won’t be putting up our prices for the foreseeable future.”

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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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: Why M restaurant is serving up greens grown by Crate To Plate

Isle Of Dogs’ facility can produce all year round with 95% less water than traditional farming methods

M's Mike Reid and Crate To Plate's Sebastien Sainsbury
M’s Mike Reid and Crate To Plate’s Sebastien Sainsbury – image Matt Grayson

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It turns out there are two farms on the Isle Of Dogs.

Mudchute is filled with rare breeds and is a favourite spot for residents (and the occasional Wharfer) to take a restful stroll among the sheep and llamas.

The other, however, is much less obvious. 

Built inside three shipping containers sat in a brick-walled car park, just off Westferry Road, locals can easily be forgiven for not knowing Crate To Plate is there at all. 

But packed inside its metal boxes are racks of hyrdoponic tech, carefully calibrated to grow crops in nutrient-rich water under LED lights.

The business supplies restaurants in London and also grows produce at sites in Stratford and Elephant And Castle.

Its Isle Of Dogs containers make it, almost certainly, the closest producer of ingredients to Canary Wharf.

That means delivery times and mileage are negligible and Wharfers eating dishes created from its ingredients are consuming some of the freshest products available. 

One restaurant that’s making the most of the facility is recently opened M restaurant – located on the lower floors of Newfoundland tower.

M's Crate To Plate Salad, £7.50
M’s Crate To Plate Salad, £7.50

Owner Martin Williams and executive chef Mike Reid are both big on sustainability and cutting waste. The restaurant proudly works to assess and minimise its impact on the environment. 

The steaks it serves are carbon neutral, thanks to a partnership with charity Not For Sale, which offsets their impact through reforestation projects in the Amazon and helping to protect local people from modern slavery. 

Order M’s Crate To Plate salad as a side and you’ll be dining on leaves grown less than 20 minutes’ walk away, in the mix.

“It’s as fresh as it can be, as close from farm to plate as possible, and that’s so rare – it’s a privilege to have that in Canary Wharf,” said Mike, who did a degree in business and marketing before apprenticing as a chef and going on to work with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux Jnr.

“Sustainability has become more of a focus for us in the last five years and it’s always been part of my philosophy as a chef.

“You want to cook as sustainably as possible and use as many local ingredients as you can, which has always been a challenge at M because it’s a brand that showcases international food and flavours.

M executive chef Mike Reid in one of the containers
M executive chef Mike Reid in one of the containers – image Matt Grayson

“Now it’s about how we interpret that, about the relationships we have with our suppliers and building partnerships.

“Crate To Plate is probably the perfect example of that. We create dishes with their produce in mind and at other times they grow things speculatively. It’s very much a collaboration.

“I try to visit the farms as much as I can and the last time I was here they had the most beautiful wasabi flowers.

“Normally you’d only get them five weeks a year, but here they grow all year round. 

“It’s one of my favourite flowers to cook with, because the flavour is literally a punch in the face, but in the most subtle and beautiful way, and they’re gorgeous.

“To have that available all year long is incredible.

“You’re not beholden to the seasons, so you can keep dishes on the menu with ingredients that are not impacted by the weather.

Crate To Plate founder and CEO Sebastien Sainsbury
Crate To Plate founder and CEO Sebastien Sainsbury – image Matt Grayson

“From a chef’s point of view, we chase consistency more than perfection and Crate To Plate’s products are phenomenal.

“For me the flavour’s better too – there’s no pesticides, none of the nasties and the lettuce, for example is crispier and the taste fresher.

“It’s vegetables and herbs the way they’re supposed to be – whatever you’re tasting in the supermarket, times it by 10.

“When I first came to visit the farm I wondered if I was in the right place, but this is pure genius.”

Mike’s words will be music to the ears of Crate To Plate founder and CEO Sebastien Sainsbury.

Part of the dynasty that created the supermarket chain, he spent time as a banker with interests in hospitality, before turning to vertical farming in urban environments as a way to help tackle some of the world’s problems.

Crops are started as seedlings and then planted into vertical farms
Crops are started as seedlings and then planted into vertical farms – image Matt Grayson

  “When I was in banking in 2007, I did research on food security and population growth because it really concerned me where our food was going to come from,” said Sebastien. 

“If the number of people in the world kept on rising as predicted, it would mean the end of organic food 

“That remained in the back of my mind and in 2015 I was at Expo 2015 in Milan where I saw a hydroponic farm. 

“It’s not a new idea, it’s been around for thousands of years – think of the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon – and there are people doing it all around the world, but what’s changed is the technology.

“We don’t even use the term hydroponic any more, even since we installed the three farms on the Isle Of Dogs in 2020 – Crate To Plate is really ‘controlled environment agriculture’. 

“Every aspect of each plant’s growth, from the amount of light it gets to the light wavelength recipe, the nutrients in the water, the watering schedule, the ambient temperature, the humidity and even how long the lights are on or off – because plants need rest – is very closely monitored and regulated.

“It’s all automated, bar seeding, transplanting and harvesting and that’s just where we are today.”

The company’s model not only allows it to place farms close to its customers, minimising transportation, its technology means it uses approximately 95% less water than traditional farming methods. 

It hopes to cut that to 99% with newer root-misting systems – crucial in a world where natural resources are destined to become increasingly scarce.

The plants are then grown hydroponically and harvested
The plants are then grown hydroponically and harvested – image Matt Grayson

Crate To Plate can grow produce year-round to order and is unaffected by the weather. Its systems are not immune to problems, but these tend to be ones of maintenance rather than the lottery of droughts and floods.

“Farmers are suffering and they will suffer, but not because of us,” said Sebastien. “It’s because of climate change.

“We consume about 18million heads of lettuce a week in Britain and farmers supply about 90% of that, which means there’s still 1.8million being imported.

“In 2018, for example, we had the longest heatwave for 40 years and crops were all lost. Droughts are just as bad.

“With us, restaurants can give us an estimate of what they’ll need and we grow that for them, planting varieties that create less waste – flatter romaine lettuce, for example, for burgers so restaurants don’t throw out the middle of a baby gem. 

“Our head of farming, John Sticha, spent about four years doing research and development in a container in the US to find the right plants – we tried more than 220 varieties, a dozen Genovese basils and more than 14 different types of lemon basil.”

The company’s drive to improve is relentless, with new tech emerging all the time. Its next project is a plan for a bigger, fully automated farm in Royal Docks

“When I was a banker, I was on the right, but now I’m on the left – I’m all about social responsibility,” said Sebastien. 

“People laugh when I do nothing but talk about lettuce, which I knew nothing about five years ago. Being a vertical farmer is fun and it’s productive. 

“We’re growing stuff that people are loving – sometimes it blows my mind how positive people are about our produce. I’m not a young man any more, but I feel completely regenerated.”

With all that extra energy, who’d bet against a robot vertical farm in east London?

A Crate To Plate lettuce ready for the table
A Crate To Plate lettuce ready for the table – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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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 Northeastern University London is set to grow at St Katharine Docks

Expansion is on the agenda as seat of learning prepares to launch dually validated degrees in 2023

Northeastern University London is based at Devon House in St Katharine Docks
Northeastern University London is based at Devon House in St Katharine Docks

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“I want studying here to be filled with new experiences, meeting people and fun – a place which our students will remember as one where they grew intellectually, socially and personally and which allowed them to have choices,” said Rob Farquharson, CEO of Northeastern University London (NU London).

Founded in 2012 by the philosopher and writer AC Grayling as the New College Of The Humanities (NCH), the institution has been through a period of growth and development in a relatively short space of time – not least its arrival at St Katharine Docks.

In 2019 it was acquired by Northeastern University, an American seat of learning based in Boston, but with 11 regional campuses in the US and a clear mission to expand globally.

Then in 2020, NCH was first granted the right to award its own degrees and then to legally call itself a university – both after lengthy assessment processes.

Having outgrown its original premises in Bloomsbury, in 2021 it moved to Devon House – a modern warehouse-style building on the banks of the Thames overlooking Tower Bridge. 

It’s an apt location on the site of the historic Bull’s Head pub where it’s not impossible to imagine thirsty Brits finding refreshment as they prepared to emigrate to America over the Atlantic from the nearby docks.

Today, NU London’s presence represents fresh connection between the area and the US, as it looks to the future with the sensitive retirement of the NCH name.

Northeastern University London CEO Rob Farquharson
Northeastern University London CEO Rob Farquharson

“Boston and London are the two pre-eminent seats of higher education in the world,” said Rob.

“One of Northeastern’s key drivers is international expansion – being able to offer its students and staff a global experience.

“You have to connect with the world and understand it to make a positive impact and Northeastern doesn’t want to be constrained by a single location.

“We’re the first campus outside North America, but I can guarantee we won’t be the last. Northeastern wants to have a global student body and to give people the opportunity to study in different locations and experience different cultures – you need to have that physical presence on the ground to facilitate that.

“We moved to St Katherine Docks for more space and we’re just about to take another building here for use as office space so we can grow even further.

“We’ve added a lot of non-humanities, non-social science subjects to the ones we already teach – we now offer courses in business, engineering, chemistry and physics, for example. 

“There’s a big emphasis on artificial intelligence, partly because that bridges the history we have in humanities and the strengths Northeastern has in Boston, such as computer science and data science.

“At the moment we have about 1,200 students in London and we aim to have about 1,500 by the end of the year.

“In September 2023, we’ll be launching dually validated degrees, which we’re very excited about. It means students will be studying for degrees that are accredited in both the UK and the US.

“The structure for those at the moment is that in the second semester of the second year, students will have the option to study in North America – in Boston or at a West Coast campus, although it’s not compulsory.

The university boasts extensive facilities at Devon House
The university boasts extensive facilities at Devon House

“Students will also be able to do a fourth year in the US as their degrees tend to be four years and there will be an option to do a masters there too.

“One of the reasons we need more space is so we can create facilities such as wet labs for students who want to come over here from the US to study as part of their course. 

“We won’t be able to cover the full range of courses they have in Boston, but we do want to allow students to have some time in London and we want to be able to support them.”

At present, NU London offers undergraduate degrees, masters degrees and apprenticeship courses designed to help businesses develop their workforces.

NU London is also eager to play its part in the local community as it grows and expands its offering, whether that’s welcoming local residents on its degree courses or helping others gain new skills.

“We have students with us who are residents of Tower Hamlets, but we’re keen to get local people from all the boroughs around here and we want to be a valued member of the community,” said Rob.

“If anyone has any ideas how we can do that, then we’re more than happy to hear from them.

“One thing that we do is work with the GLA and the Department For Education to run free digital boot camps. These are open nationwide, but we’re particularly keen for local residents to join.

“The next one starts in January and it’s a 13-week programme for people aged 19 and over, to help them understand a bit more about the digital skills they may need for a career or a new or different job.”

The boot camp is run in partnership with cloud platform ServiceNow, which counts government agencies, prominent consultancies and major brands among its clients.

“We love being here at St Katharine Docks,” said Rob. “It’s a little oasis – close enough to the busy areas of the City, The Highway and Commercial Road if you want to go there, but quiet so you can study.

NUL moved to St Katharine Docks in 2021

“We feel we’ve become part of the community but hope to go further still.

“One of our key priorities is widening participation, to make sure that under-represented groups have the ability, the ambition and the understanding to be able to go to university.

“We have staff whose job it is to spread the word locally.

“They visit primary schools, secondary schools and colleges in Tower Hamlets and other boroughs to demystify university – especially for those whose family members have not been.

“We want them to know that they can come here, meet a diverse group of people and have choices.

“Some might want to make money in financial services while others might want to be social workers.

“What we want is to give them the ability to make those choices.

“Once they are here, we have a careers team that supports students from the practical side of things – writing CVs and interviews – through to clubs and societies.

“We’ve just launched an entrepreneur club, which will bring in recent graduates who have started businesses as well as people from funding organisations.

“We also have programmes which give students an idea of how businesses work. Your passion might be English Literature, but it’s useful to know other things as well.

“You may want to be an English professor, but that involves working at a university, which is a business that pays people and spends a budget – It’s about having that depth.”

NU London is set to host an open day for prospective students on November 26, 2022.

NUL is expanding its offering as it prepares to launch dual UK and US degrees

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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Canary Wharf: How money from BGC Partners’ Charity Day funds good causes

Having raised more than $192million between 2005 and 2021, we talk to one of the funded charities

Sadie Frost at the BGC Partners Charity Day - image James Perrin
Sadie Frost at the BGC Partners Charity Day – image James Perrin

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Each year financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald and its affiliates BGC Partners and GFI Group give away 100% of their global revenues to good causes.

The event is held in memory of the 658 friends and employees of Cantor and 61 Eurobrokers, who were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. 

Since 2005 – and not including this year’s efforts – Charity Day has generated $192million, distributed to more than 150 charities.

Celebrity patrons of these organisations are invited onto the businesses’ trading floors, including BGC’s offices in Canary Wharf’s Churchill Place to close deals over the phone and raise awareness of the causes they’re representing.

This year’s participants in London included football manager Sam Allardyce for Muscular Dystrophy UK, former footballer and pundit Rio Ferdinand for Wellbeing Of Women, TV presenter Amanda Holden for Battersea Dogs And Cats Home and Love Island presenter Laura Whitmore for Choose Love – an organisation that provides aid to and advocacy for refugees around the world.

But what does the day really mean to the organisations that participate?

For the Sir Hubert Von Herkomer Arts Foundation, which works to inspire and equip children with the tools they need to develop and pursue lifelong artistic passions, it’s a lot.

Its courses at after school clubs and in school holidays cover disciplines such as street art, photography, film making, music, sculpting, drama, songwriting and poetry.

They are all funded through donations and via fundraising events.

Two of its ambassadors – actor and producer Sadie Frost and actor Damian Lewis – attended BGC on its behalf this year, a day that is crucial to its ongoing operations.


Rio Ferdinand works the phones at the event - image James Perrin
Rio Ferdinand works the phones at the event – image James Perrin

“We get a huge amount in funding from it in comparison to what we get in grants,” said Debbi Clark, a professional photographer and co-founder and CEO of the foundation.

“We don’t know exactly how much we’ll be getting until the following year, but last year it was about a third of our total income of around £160,000.

“We did so many things with that money – we made a short film during Covid, a project that continued as we came out of the pandemic.

“We made a book and we also supported 80 children every day over the summer to help them discover the arts.

“We’ve run a music mentoring project that is supporting kids at risk from grooming and gangs, and that’s becoming a hugely successful programme.

“We also do a band jam for kids who can’t afford to buy instruments, that’s held every Saturday.

“We work on a grass roots basis, project-by-project, so having the money from the Charity Day is a massive help because it enables us to plan what we’re going to do.

“We work mainly with children in Camden, but have done a project in Deptford as well and last year we were able to support an extra 255 kids throughout the 12 months.

“All the money we receive goes on our projects so we can help disadvantaged and vulnerable children.”

The foundation is named in honour of the work of Sir Hubert Von Herkomer, an artist, playwright, actor, composer and film director known for his social realism and founding an art school in Bushey that encouraged students to ignore conventions and develop their own individual talents.

In 2011, Debbi and her husband, Mark Von Herkomer (Sir Hubert’s great grandson), set out to create a charity that celebrated his approach, resulting in the foundation.

Debbi Clark of the Sir Hubert Von Herkomer Foundation
Debbi Clark of the Sir Hubert Von Herkomer Foundation

“Our programmes give kids access to projects that they would never be able to afford to participate in otherwise,” said Debbi.

“For example, we do photography and Olympus sponsor us and send cameras so the kids get to use SLRs and different lenses.

“Our courses are free, so it’s giving kids opportunities that they should be getting at school but aren’t.

“I think that the arts are one of the most beneficial things you can teach, because it really does accelerate a child’s growth. In my opinion creativity empowers confidence and collaboration.

“They’re building new friendships and can say: ‘I’m a photographer’ working with proper equipment.

“It’s about putting them on the same platform as everybody else, so when they do leave school, they feel able to hold their own.

“All of this stuff is building up their confidence and putting them on an even keel.

“Four years ago they hadn’t seen a camera.

“Now they’re coming back with creative ideas – I’m really proud of them.

“I have always suffered with anxiety and I think that creativity saved me. When I did find my art, I felt free, it was a whole new world.

“Being able to be creative is so important for mental health and that’s why these donations matter. The arts are so important for the next generation – they give people freedom and that’s a beautiful thing.”

The foundation has also developed the McCrory Award in memory of its patron, the actor Helen McCrory, who died from breast cancer in 2021.

Laura Whitmore attends the event - image James Perrin
Laura Whitmore attends the event – image James Perrin

Debbi said: “We did this for my dear friend Helen, awarding three 14-year-old scholars funds to support them with one-to-one mentoring and a bursary to pursue their chosen field.

“On a wider level we’d love to expand what we do, but that means we need to find more funding.

“There’s a real need for the work we do. In Camden, for example, there’s a lot of knife crime and we see it first hand.

“We know which of the kids we see are at risk, the ones who are being groomed by gangs and we do everything we can to make sure everybody’s safe.

“Work like this opens up other avenues for people.

“A group who came for the first time two years ago were swearing and going outside for a smoke.

“We got some really cool people in to participate in their project and they became a bit empowered.

“The kids wanted to come to the sessions because they were really cool.

“Then they stopped swearing, they stopped being rude and started to have some respect for themselves and those around them.

“Some of those kids are now working in good jobs.

“I’ll be honest, it doesn’t work for everyone – but it does work and the money we get to do these projects is vital for that.”

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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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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Greenwich: How Made By Manos offers everyone the chance to make ceramics

Manos Kalamenios hosts taster and workshop sessions at his Design District studio space

Manos Kalamenios of Made By Manos on Greenwich Peninsula

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The world of ceramicist, alchemist and experimental creator Manos Kalamenios is filled with impossible things.

I was going to use the word littered, but thanks to a relentless focus on sustainability, there’s practically no rubbish in his bin.

His sink even has a filter that allows him to recover particles of clay for recycling in future projects.

And what projects they are. Made By Manos, his ground floor studio space at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula, is filled with finished pieces.

Its shelves are strewn with exotic vessels in bone china, porcelain and earthenware – pieces that light up and even ones made from ceramic foam, shaped and then solidified to give the appearance of a fossilised sponge.

There are improbably thin pieces, delicate as paper, and shards of material that seem perfectly solid until light shines through their translucent forms, radically altering their appearance.

When I arrive, the table is filled with ghostly white Christmas baubles which are just being removed from their moulds.

Everywhere there are trial pieces, innovation and work – either Manos’ own creations or those of his students. It’s much more than just a showroom.

Manos’ studio is on the ground floor at Design District

“Experimentation is paramount for me because it keeps me sane,” he said.

“It would drive me mad if I had to do the same thing for the rest of my life, so that’s why everything is different.

“Of course, if someone really likes something then I will make another one and I’m always happy to try new colours or textures. I never say no to anything.”

A Greek who grew up in Athens, Manos originally came to the UK in pursuit of his dream to become a chef at a Four Seasons hotel.

Working first in Greece, then Spain, he achieved his aim, cooking at the brand’s Canary Wharf hotel from 2003 to 2005.

But the long hours took their toll and he left hospitality, initially to live with friends in the Isle Of Man.

With the intention of pursuing a career as an artist (having never touched clay) he enrolled on a foundation course where he first encountered ceramics and a new passion. 

Further study led to a degree in fine art and then an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College Of Art as well as the chance to collaborate with an old friend.

One of the pieces Manos created for Lima

“When doing my MA, I met up with a man I used to work with at the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf – Robert Ortiz – who had become head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Lima, in Fitzrovia,” said Manos

“We decided to do this collaboration with the restaurant’s menu on my tableware and it was magical.

“When I was a chef I was always excited by using unusual plates, so it’s nice to see pieces designed for food and not the other way around.”

Having worked out of a studio locally, Manos saw a sign on the door of Design District – Knight Dragon’s project to fill a plot with workspaces created by numerous architects – and applied for a studio.

Manos removes a Christmas decoration from a mould

“In the past, I was making work for myself, for clients and commissions,” he said.

“But when I moved here, I found the potential was not just for me.

“My aim would be to see this place buzzing – I have the space to offer workshops, to teach and to help people with their projects.

“My tag line for Made By Manos is: ‘If you can’t find it, come and make it’.

“I want people who live or work locally to come because using clay is so nice, so relaxing – you can just get away from stress.

“It’s great to have something you’ve made or to give it as a gift – I want people to come here and to feel happy at that feeling of achievement.

“You can be a complete beginner, someone who has never touched the material before, and then leave with something you have made.

“For me, it’s amazing to pass something on and to give back to the community.

“This isn’t that old mentality of not sharing a secret glaze or something.

“I think you can only make progress by sharing what you know.”

Tiles made by participants on a taster session

Manos is constantly developing his own practice, blending ingredients in different ways to create new materials and approaches. 

His pieces have been widely exhibited and used, including pieces for Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights Festival in 2018, tableware for Tate Modern’s members club and work for Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts in Athens.

“About 99% of my work is slip casting, so I don’t have the mess with a wheel spraying the clay everywhere,” he said.

“I also find the wheel very restricting because everything you make has to be round.

“With slip, I have the ability to get any shape I want, any size, any height and any finish.

“I love lighting and working on a big scale – I also like collaborating, doing things outside my comfort zone with glass, jewellery and metal.

“My favourite is probably working with bone china – I’ve even found a way to make it into a foam by adding extra air.

“As a student I was taught air was imperfection and my instinct is always to go completely the other way. That’s the most exciting thing to do.

“When I was making the foam, I was told I was looking for trouble but once you know the limits you can adapt it to what you want.

“I was also told never to add glass and I wound up making pieces for James Dyson after doing that, so I think you should listen to your gut and go with it.”

For those who want to have a go themselves, Manos offers one-hour taster sessions at his studio for £30 per person, where small groups learn ancient techniques to hand-build vessels in stoneware clay. 

He also offers three-hour themed workshops for £80, where participants in groups of five work on specific projects such as building mugs or cups or making Christmas decorations such as paper porcelain baubles for the tree.

One-to-one coaching and mentoring are also available on an hourly basis as well as a firing service for people who have made pieces but lack a kiln to finish them.

Read more: How inhaling nitrous oxide can damage your spine

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: Why nitrous oxide use can lead to damage to nerves in the spinal cord

Queen Mary University Of London professor and students launch awareness campaign about risks


Nitrous oxide use is widespread in Tower Hamlets and east London
Nitrous oxide use is widespread in Tower Hamlets and east London

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How do you feel about your nervous system?

How do you feel without your nervous system?

Jokes might seem appropriate here – after all, this article is about laughing gas.

Nitrous oxide, which comes in canisters of various sizes, is sold ostensibly for use in the baking industry as a means of creating robust whipped cream.

You have to be over 18 to buy it, but there are few practical obstacles to obtaining large quantities. 

That’s perhaps why the gas is now also the most popular recreational drug for those aged 16-24. The effect of inhaling it – typically from a balloon – is described as a rapid rush of euphoria and a feeling of floating or excitement for a brief period.

Fits of giggles and laughter can also occur, hence the nickname.

Anyone walking around the Isle Of Dogs or east London will have seen multiple discarded canisters. It took me five minutes to find some to photograph for this piece.  

A quick search on Google reveals a number of “baking websites” that subtly embrace a new found source of revenue, offering text alerts for discounts on cream chargers and next-day delivery for those who need their ingredients quickly.

Users have little trouble getting their hands on the canisters locally and antisocial behaviour associated with its use led to Tower Hamlets Council bringing in a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) covering the whole borough last year. 

This allows officers to issue fixed penalty notices of up to £100 or launch prosecutions with fines of up to £1,000 for using the drug and engaging in behaviour such as littering, noise nuisance and vandalism.

Since the PSPO came into force in April 2021, there have been 125 enforcement actions taken by officers, including a man who was fined £400 in court after failing to pay a fixed penalty notice. 

The council says tackling use of the gas is a priority and that its enforcement officers regularly patrol the borough and take action against those using it.

It is also looking into boosting awareness around the dangers of inhaling the gas and the antisocial behaviour it can lead to.

Nevertheless, widespread nitrous oxide use continues locally. That may partly be because there’s a perception the gas is safe for recreational use. 

This ignores the very real danger of inhaling the stuff directly from a canister, which can lead to a spasm in the throat that stops the user breathing.

More worryingly, there’s emerging evidence that use of nitrous oxide is leading to spinal injuries. 

A steep rise in cases observed by Alastair Noyce, professor in neurology and neuroepidemiology at Queen Mary University’s Wolfson Institute Of Population Health, led him to launch a campaign this year to educate teenagers on the neurological risks of using the gas.

N20: Know The Risks is being led by students in the university’s Public Health And Preventative Medicine Society – supported by Professor Noyce – and has started to deliver sessions in Tower Hamlets through youth groups and housing associations.

Queen Mary University student Devan Mair is leading the campaign
Queen Mary University student Devan Mair is leading the campaign

Fourth year medical student Devan Mair, who is leading the campaign, said: “Our campaign focuses on the neurological dangers of taking nitrous oxide because they’re not very well known.

“This substance is a colourless gas which people inhale into their lungs.

The way it creates a high is to deprive a user’s brain of oxygen for a few seconds – it’s a very short high.

That in itself can create a risk, because people who do it a lot have been known to pass out and faint.

“The neurological risk is to do with the gas’ effect on the spinal cord – the clump of nerves running down the centre of the back that is connected to branches all the way around the rest of the body.

“Users of nitrous oxide risk damaging the myelin sheath – an insulating layer that forms around nerves made up of protein and fatty substances that allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells.

“Symptoms can include feelings of weakness, problems with balance, difficulty in walking or an inability to walk at all, constipation, urinary incontinence, pins and needles and in some cases a feeling like an electric shock going up the back.”

These problems stem from nitrous oxide’s ability to interfere with the body’s absorption of Vitamin B12 – a nutrient essential to a healthy myelin sheath. 

The rise in cases has become so severe that Professor Noyce and local colleagues in east London are now working with neurologists around the country to establish the first national guidelines on treating nerve damage linked to laughing gas.

He said: “We are seeing more patients than even a year or so ago, and often the cases are more severe. 

“We used to see people with tingling and numbness in their legs or difficulty walking, but this year we’ve had several people who literally can’t walk at all when they come to hospital.”

It’s cases such as those that have galvanised Devan and his fellow students into action.

“My motivation in getting involved is that I wasn’t aware of the risk until I was told about it – it’s something people simply don’t know,” he said.

“After school I did a gap year, working in special educational needs, so I got a taste for working with young people.

“We’re not here to lecture or scare anyone – we want to empower people with knowledge of the risks of nitrous oxide, to inform them if faced with the decision to take balloons, so they can make educated choices.

“If they’re presented with the evidence, they can make decisions for themselves. 

“Our campaign has two main ways of raising awareness.

“Firstly, there’s social media – we have accounts on Instagram and Twitter where we provide infographics aimed at young people to explain what’s happening and how to get help.

“We also run interactive sessions where we deliver activities in a fun and engaging way – we don’t do too much talking but get people involved to help them understand what could happen in their bodies and why the damage is taking place.

“We also give people cards with the acronym NERV on – ‘N’ for notice the symptoms, ‘E’ for emergency help, ‘R’ for replacement of vitamin B12 and ‘V’ for value your health.

“We need this campaign to constantly be there because the problem isn’t going away. We’d definitely like to roll it out over a wider area – it’s just students here at the moment, so it’s quite small – we would like to make it bigger.

“It’s definitely something that’s relevant. In June we had two days at an event in Tower Hamlets where we collected data from 246 people – 97% said it was the first time they’d heard about nitrous oxide causing spinal damage and 86% felt confident after our session that they could tell their friends about the risks.

“We feel what we do works, now we want to grow it to reach more people.”

Read more: Quiet Rebels invade the stage at The Albany

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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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