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Stratford: Why Sadler’s Wells East is looking to young dancers for its first production

Summer workshops set to help find participants for first show Our Mighty Groove by Uchenna Dance

Vicki Igbokwe is reviving and refreshing Our Mighty Groove at Sadler's Wells East
Vicki Igbokwe is reviving and refreshing Our Mighty Groove at Sadler’s Wells East – image Matt Grayson

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Baptism” is the word Vicki Igbokwe uses to describe the inspiration for her show Our Mighty Groove.

Apt then that a refreshed and revived version of the work has been chosen to anoint Sadler’s Wells East as the first production to hit the stage at the new dance theatre when it opens next year in Stratford.

This summer Uchenna Dance – the company Vicki runs as creative director – is looking to young east Londoners to get involved with a series of workshops, leading to some participants taking to the new stage with the professional cast in 2023. 

Our Mighty Groove is inspired by the night I was baptised at an underground house club in the USA,” said Vicki.

“I’d been travelling to New York every summer from 2008 for a few weeks, because I’d discovered house dance and I wanted to learn.

“On this particular night I had just finished a house class and the teacher said that to really understand and get into the spirit of these styles, you had to experience them in their natural habitat by going to a club.

“When I got to this club, I got stage fright – everyone was amazing.

“They weren’t all professional dancers, just people who could boogie. Some were trained but others were just people who had maybe grown up with the dance as part of their culture.

“All my self-esteem evaporated. I had my back up against the wall of this club for what felt like six hours.

“Any time anyone came up to me I’d wave them away, saying: ‘Oh, no, no, I’m from London’.

“I can laugh about it now, but on the night I felt that I couldn’t do what they were all doing.

“So I watched this cipher in front of me – a dancers’ circle – with one person in the middle, giving it large, and other people cheering them on.

“Then I saw a person in a  pink balloon hat and somehow I could tell they weren’t going to take no for an answer. They got closer and closer, and I was thinking: ‘Gosh, gosh, gosh’.

“They didn’t say anything, just extended their hand. There was just something about that person which made me peel my back off the wall and they led me into the cipher.

“I got into the middle with all these amazing people looking at me, and I thought: ‘Sugar. I’ve got to do something’.

“So I tried to remember some of the steps that I’d learnt in the dance class. I had four moves, so I just repeated them. I thought I probably looked like a robot.

“But the amazing thing was that everyone around me made me feel like Janet Jackson, shouting and cheering me on.

“Something just clicked in me and I went from feeling I couldn’t dance to total freedom in my body – I just had the best night ever. I was one of the last people to leave the club, still in my moment. 

An artist's impression of Sadler's Wells East in Stratford
An artist’s impression of Sadler’s Wells East in Stratford

“It felt absolutely liberating, I felt good within myself, and it was a life-changing moment, not just for me as an artist, but as a person – a human being and a woman.

“I realised that when we feel good, we do good. That when you empower someone, even if they’re going to struggle with what they’re trying to achieve, they’re going to have so much more energy if they have that support.

“So that’s why I call it a baptism – I felt like I’d been reborn.

“I came to New York that year one way and I left a completely different person – not in culture – but in confidence, not just for myself but also thinking how I could enable other people to experience their own versions of that.”

Dance was not the most obvious path for Vicki.

“I was supposed to be a barrister,” she said.

“My dad was a barrister and my mum was a councillor in the Labour Party. They were Nigerian, so the choice was lawyer, doctor, engineer or failure and the fourth was not an option.”

Vicki, whose father had died when she was a child, became a carer aged 14, looking after her mother, who had become seriously ill, plus her three younger sisters. 

She battled through GCSEs and began studying A-Levels with the aim of becoming a barrister, but realised she was following her parents’ dream rather than hers.

Instead she enrolled on a BTEC in performing arts at a college where she discovered it was possible to study dance at university.

“To this day I believe my mum – may her soul rest in peace – paid my teachers to only talk to me about law or possibly becoming a teacher,” said Vicki. 

“So I went on to study dance at Middlesex University and then did some performing with Impact Dance and producing with East London Dance.”

Not satisfied with popping and locking, exposure to house styles in London in 2006 set her on her current path – something more “feminine, graceful and elegant” – with elements of waacking and vogue.

Following her stateside pilgrimages, she set up Uchenna Dance – derived from her Nigerian name that means God’s will – left a full-time job in the 2009 recession and started making work.

Vicki set up Uchenna Dance in 2009
Vicki set up Uchenna Dance in 2009 – image Matt Grayson

“We worked very much as a community group for the first year and a half, not really doing shows,” said Vicki.

“We did lots of rehearsals – I was exploring my movement vocabulary – looking at how I could fuse West African influences and contemporary dance.

“Our first professional show was Our Mighty Groove in 2013, which was at Sadler’s Wells so it’s such a big deal to be the opening show of the new venue at East Bank.

“I’m really excited, first because it’s such an honour but also to be working with young performers.

“For me that makes it extra special – to work in dance, to be giving these young people the opportunity to get to know themselves better whether they want a career as a performer or not.

“Some of those taking part in the workshops will be among the first people to be in the new building, to touch it, to be on the stage and in the dressing rooms. That’s something which is really exciting.”

Uchenna Dance will be running four workshops for young people interested in taking part in Our Mighty Groove in November next year.

Youngsters wishing to take part must either be living or studying in east London and be aged 16-21 on August 31, 2023.

“Those taking part can expect an introduction to dance, to who we are and to the styles that we work with,” said Vicki.

“This includes club styles such as house, vogue and waacking, along with West African influences.

“But most importantly the workshops will be a space where people can come as they are to learn to be inspired, because we, as artists and teachers, will also be learning from them.

“There will be connection, meeting, making friends and also a bit of a journey.

“Sometimes we work with people who just say that they can’t do what we do – that they’re not good enough. 

“We say that they should start where they feel comfortable.

“What we’re really good at is pushing people past their comfort zones.

“They’re often surprised and ask how they did it, but it’s all in them.

“In terms of the final show, this won’t just be a five-minute slot for the young performers, they will be part of it from the beginning right through until the end.”

Uchenna Dance’s Our Mighty Groove workshops are free and take place on August 8, 14, 18 and 27 at various times.

Read more: How you can cool off in Canary Wharf’s Middle Dock

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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 Love Open Water has brought swimming to Middle Dock

Organisation uses NOWCA safety system to ensure bathers can dive into the crystal water confidently

Chess takes a dive into Middle Dock
Chess takes a dive into Middle Dock – image Matt Grayson

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Just as I arrived at Middle Dock in Canary Wharf to interview Chess Roffe Ridgard, she saved a life.

A smallish pigeon had fallen into the water and was having difficulty making it out. In seconds the bird was scooped up by Love Open Water’s head of development, brought to dry land and placed safely in the shade to dry off – the temperature was in the high 20s, after all. 

Later, without so much as a thank you, it flew off to wherever pigeons make their homes in east London.

That little bedraggled animal owes its continued existence to Canary Wharf Group and Love Open Water – a welcome unintended consequence of their project.

The two organisations – working in partnership with the Canal And River Trust, which is responsible for managing the docks – have teamed up to deliver a programme of swimming over the summer.

While these aren’t the first watersports sessions to take place in the dock, this is the first sustained access offered to the general public with a full complement of life guards, a booking system and expert staff on hand to offer tips, advice and point out the best spots to watch fish sunbathing in the depths. 

“I swam competitively as a pool swimmer in the Midlands when I was younger,” said Chess, who is heading up the initiative for Love Open Water.

“I’m a proud Mansfield girl and trained with Becky Adlington who was one of our golden girls in the 2012 Olympics.

“I’ll say it now, she was faster than me, but I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time.

“Then a kidney infection left me unable to train, so I found myself in the music industry.

“I used to work with a lot of famous DJs and bands, and I did that for a long time. Then I found open water swimming about five or six years ago and I’ve never looked back.

“It became so important to me to help other people, and for them to find a mental health boost from this sport.

“Having seen how it really brings joy to people’s lives made me want to become involved, so I quit my job in music and here I am.”

Middle Dock is eight metres deep in places
Middle Dock is eight metres deep in places – image Matt Grayson

With cold, deep water – typically eight metres to the bottom – safety is Chess and her team’s top priority.

Having operated at numerous venues, including east London’s Royal Docks, Love Open Water uses the NOWCA safety system to keep track of exactly who’s in or out and to provide insurance for those swimming.

“Love Open Water was set up to simply create safe spaces for people to swim outdoors,” said Chess.

“The idea is that by using this system we can open more blue spaces to swimmers of all abilities and build community hubs around them so there’s a real social aspect to what we do.

“That’s in contrast to swimming pools, which are very controlled and quite clinical.

“Love Open Water is about getting that community feel, about going out and enjoying the outdoors and the water.

“At Canary Wharf the distances available vary depending on how many safety staff we have working because that’s the key to everything we do.

“We have either a 300m loop, a 500m loop or a 600m loop that goes right to the end of the dock underneath the DLR bridge. 

“Before I came here I’d swum under a few aqueducts before, but never under a railway bridge with trains running on it.

“The staff at Canary Wharf Group have been absolutely phenomenal – they came up with the idea to activate the dock as part of the work they are doing to get more people in and on the water here.

“They were looking for people to help them to do that and, having put forward our ideas and shown them what we’ve been doing at our other sites, we were lucky enough to be chosen to work with them on this project.

Swimmers can opt for loops of 300m, 500m or 600m
Swimmers can opt for loops of 300m, 500m or 600m

“We hope that this is just the start – we have this trial for the first few months but we’d love to make sure it’s a facility that’s accessible to as many people as possible – we have big plans.

“We’d love to operate at this venue all year round – a million percent yes. 

“Cold water swimming is hugely beneficial for mental and physical health.

“We’ve run winter swimming at our London Royal Dock site for about 10 years, and we’ve seen the popularity of that go through the roof.

“During the pandemic we were only able to operate for a month and a half over the winter, but we saw our membership increase by 450% and swim attendance jump by 380%.

“Those are massive numbers and it shows just how important cold water exposure has become to people.

“It’s all been driven by programmes on the BBC – but we’re here to show people the safest ways to get in and out of the water and to help them understand about hypothermia and the risk of cardiac arrest.

“People need to know that jumping in and swimming off fast are two of the most dangerous things you can do regardless of the time of year or the temperature.

“When you’re immersed in cold water quickly everything tightens up and that puts additional pressure on your heart, so if you try and swim off quickly, you’re at a very high risk of cardiac arrest.

“Remember, don’t jump in, don’t swim off quickly and if you get into trouble, float to live, lie on your back, keep your head relaxed, focus on your breathing and call for help.”


Love Open Water's Chess Roffe Ridgard
Love Open Water’s Chess Roffe Ridgard – image Matt Grayson

Sessions at Middle Dock cost £8 (or £7 for a pack of 10) for unlimited time in the water. Participants must also be NOWCA members, which costs £15 a year.

Swimmers must wear brightly coloured caps or use a tow float so lifeguards can easily see them. Westsuits are not compulsory but are advised when water temperatures fall below 15ºC.

“Safety is very important to us, but we also hope swimmers will come away feeling that they’ve learnt something that they can use elsewhere at other venues or when they’re on holiday,” said Chess.

“All of our lifeguards are open water trained – this is beyond the level of those looking after indoor pools.

“We’d actually love pool lifeguards who are interested in working with us to come down and see us, because we provide that extra training for a job that’s in the great outdoors local to where they live.

“We’ll also offer a range of courses including a first-time dippers session in a couple of weeks so whether you’re a head-up breast-stroker or a front crawler used to bashing out lengths in the pool, you can come and swim here. 

“We can teach you all about sighting, turning round the buoys and swimming in a straight line – which seems to be the thing that eludes people most when they first hit open water.

“I’ll also be doing a front crawl masterclass, where I promise participants that I’ll blow their minds at least five times with the things they’re doing wrong in their stroke.”

Access to the water is via Mackenzie Walk in Canary Wharf
Access to the water is via Mackenzie Walk in Canary Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Anyone who lives or works locally will have seen rubbish floating in the docks and knowing that they’re filled from the Thames might make prospective swimmers think twice about taking the plunge.

It’s unrealistic to expect any body of open water to be completely free from floating debris – even outdoor swimming pools have to have filters – but that doesn’t mean the docks aren’t suitable for swimming.

With regular testing in place, the latest results show Middle Dock’s water rates “excellent” under the EU Bathing And Water Regulations 2013.

“The water quality here is absolutely incredible,” said Chess. “We run eight different sites around the UK and assist with 40 others and we have never seen quality this good.

“The Royal Docks are also very clean so we thought it would be good, but you can see down to the bottom and that’s incredibly rare with an industrial open water space like this.

“Rubbish really isn’t a concern in terms of health and I cannot stress that enough. When the tests are done, we look at the general water quality and the two things we’re looking for are e. coli and intestinal enterococci bacteria.

“Under the regulations for e. coli, for example, you can have up to 500 units found in the test water and it’s still considered safe to swim in.

“Here the reading was seven. That’s how exceptionally clean it is.

“That’s why it’s rated at the equivalent of a Blue Flag beach. We even challenge people when they come here. We have three unmarked bottles. 

“One is tap water, one is dock water and one is mineral water. You line them up and you just cannot tell the difference. 

“The clarity is amazing. Middle Dock is between five and eight metres deep and when you look down you can see absolutely everything.

“However clear you think it’s going to be, times that by 100 and you’ll still be surprised.

“When you look down, there’s old dock infrastructure, bits of pillar, green weed – but nothing that touches you – it’s all at the bottom. 

“When you get to the eight-metre bits, all you can see is darkness, like you’re looking into the night sky, with flashes of light reflecting off the bottom – it’s just stunning.

“One of my favourite spots is a place I like to think fish go to sunbathe and meet their future partners.”

Read more: Why Genomics England is moving to Canary Wharf

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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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Canning Town: How crime novelist Vaseem Khan found his success after 20 years

The Canning Town resident is set to participate in two events as part of Newham Word Festival

Writer Vaseem Khan is set to appear at Newham Word Festival
Writer Vaseem Khan is set to appear at Newham Word Festival

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Fair to say Vaseem Khan’s parents were not thrilled when he declared his intention to be a novelist.

They wanted their son, born in Newham Hospital, to concentrate on textbooks and have a “respectable career”.

“My father was a labourer in an industrial bakery and not an educated man,” said Vaseem, who now lives in Canning Town.

“He didn’t really understand the need for fiction books. I would get one treat a year, which was to go to the Newham Bookshop in Plaistow. 

“It is still there and run by the same lovely lady – Vivian Archer – and it’s been a wonderful journey for me to come back, 40-odd years later, and become really good friends with her and do events and things together.”

His thirst for fiction was fed through weekly visits to Plaistow Library with his mum, back when you could only borrow four books at a time. 

“The libraries were the instigator,” said Vaseem, who will be returning to two local libraries this month to give talks as part of Newham Word Festival.

“Without them I wouldn’t be a writer today. 

“In my teens, I fell in love with Terry’ Prachett’s Discworld series and thought: ‘This looks easy’.

So I wrote a comic fantasy, sent it to some agents and was duly rejected because – of course – it was terrible.

After that first novel I told my parents I wasn’t going to university – I was going to be rich and famous as a writer. You can imagine their faces.”

To keep them happy, the boy who had been born in one of London’s most deprived boroughs went off to one of the world’s best universities – the London School Of Economics – to study accounting and ended up becoming a management consultant.

“I’m glad I did, because it was through that career I got the chance to go to India and live there for 10 years,” said Vaseem. “If I hadn’t, I couldn’t be writing the books that have finally led to a successful literary career.”

His debut The Unexpected Inheiritance Of Inspector Chopra is about a retired detective in Mumbai who is landed with a baby elephant and the case of a drowned boy. 

It secured Vaseem a four-book deal (with Hodder And Stoughton) and went on to be a Times bestseller.

He has gone on to write The Malabar House Series, set in the 1950s and featuring India’s first female police detective.

The first book, Midnight At Malabar House won the CWA Historical Dagger and was shortlisted for Theakstons Crime Novel Of The Year.

“When the childhood dream finally comes true, you feel elation, relief and vindication that you haven’t wasted 23 years of your life,” said Vaseem.

“When I got the news I let out a sort of strangle shriek. It’s been a wonderful journey since, that I couldn’t have predicted at all.”

It had taken 20 years of gut-wrenching failure to get him there, labouring over six novels of different genres, all of which were firmly rejected.

“To climb the mountain and write a novel, which took about three years back then – and to get a whole bunch of rejections from different agents – was quite soul destroying,“ he said.

“But you have to pick yourself up off the floor, find a new idea and go with that.”

Vaseem finally hit on his winning ticket after being given the chance to work in Mumbai for a company building five-star, environmentally friendly hotels.

Swept away by the dazzling pace of change happening across India, his three-month visit turned into a 10-year stay.

“India was making the transition from being a sort of almost pre-industrial economy to the global near superpower that we think of it as today,” said Vaseem. 

“It was incredible to see and, yet at the same time, it was a country that had legacy problems, like incredible poverty, slums, caste prejudice and religious intolerance at times.”

Midnight At Malabar House by Vaseem Khan

When he finally returned to England to spend time with his mother who had cancer, he found his decade abroad turning into an idea for a book, capturing the good and bad of modern India.

Cautioned by his earlier failures, he didn’t rush, starting a job with University College London’s Department Of Security And Crime Science and taking years to complete a first draft. He was unsure if it would ever be seen in print.

However, that and future novels have gone on to be published around the world in numerous languages. 

Vaseem said they were modelled on the golden age of crime fiction, focusing on solving the puzzle rather than on slaughter, sex and swearing. 

“I believe most crime fiction readers have intellectual vanity,” he said.

“They believe they can solve the murder before you tell them the answers.

“That’s the kind of reader I’m catering for.”

He is not surprised crime fiction has become the world’s best-selling genre.

“It’s that whole idea of good versus evil,” he said.

“It’s the intellectual challenge of solving a murder from the comfort of your own sofa and following these dark deeds that other people are doing.

“That appeals to people of all colours, creeds and countries.”

An insomniac, he writes in the early hours of each day before heading to UCL where he has now worked for 16 years – a juggle requiring discipline.

“When I was younger  I would take years to finish a novel – now I have to deliver one every year,” said Vaseem who will release his third Malabar House book The Last Man Of Bombay in August, with a fourth already written.

”I have to be really organized to get my ideas down, do my research and plan everything meticulously in three months and then write 1,000 words a day.”

So how was it that Indian crime fiction that finally saw him fulfil his teenage dream?

“The publishing industry is very risk averse,” he said.

“They like to publish more of the same, which then makes it difficult for people coming from a different background like mine.

“I was one of the first people in the UK to publish a crime novel set in India – that’s started off a bit of a trend. 

“It takes someone to break down the idea that you can’t take risks and, hopefully, I’ve inspired a lot of other people to try and write those kinds of different books – the publishing industry is now more receptive to them.”

Sadly his mum didn’t live to see his success and his father has also passed. But Vaseem remembers taking him his first novel.

“I went to the old house, all excited to show him,” he said. “He took one look at it, upside down, and said: ‘Well, this is great, but now can you get me my kebab roll?’.”

Vaseem will be hosting talk and quiz Gandhi In Newham on July 12, 2022, at Manor Park Library and crime fiction panel The Perfect Murder on July 14, 2022, at East Ham Library.

Women MAKE Stories Mindfulness Workshop
Women MAKE Stories Mindfulness Workshop

ALSO ON AT NEWHAM WORD FESTIVAL

  • Women MAKE Stories  Mindfulness Workshop

Explore courage, what it means to you and how you can connect with it through a series of prompts and exercises.

Jul 16, 10.30am, Wonderful Things, anyone identifying as a woman

  • Story! Story! – Iroko Theatre 

An interactive, vibrant African show using drama, music, movement, songs and chants.  

Jul 16, 4.30pm, Custom House Library, ages 7+

Read more: How David Grindley is set to star in his own show

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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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Property: Last chance to buy at Upper Riverside on Greenwich Peninsula

Developer Knight Dragon eyes acceleration of delivery as deal signed with contractor Mace

Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside
Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside

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This moment represents something of a tipping point in the regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula.

There are still 20-odd apartments left in the Upper Riverside phase of Knight Dragon’s mammoth project, so for buyers this is a last chance to get in on one of the angular blocks set along the Thames. 

“That’s really been our focus for the last four years, with just over 1,000 properties and it’s very much an established community now,” said Kerri Sibson, chief operating officer at the developer.

“We launched the last building – No. 5 – just as we went into the first bout of Covid, so things stalled for a little while and then subsequently picked up.

“We have a few one-bed and two-bed homes available, so this is a last chance to buy.

“There’s a really strong sense of community across the five buildings at Upper Riverside, which is really lovely and, of course, that’s what you hope for – people who will occupy the space and make it what they want it to be.”

Homes at No. 5 Upper Riverside start at £487,500 with residents’ facilities including access to a co-working space, three gyms, multiple roof terraces and a 15th floor swimming pool.

For those who’d rather rent, No. 4 Upper Riverside offers studio, one, two and three-bedroom homes to let with starting prices ranging from £1,500pcm to £3,000pcm, a selection of contract options and the option to move in without a deposit.

“The rental operation has had a full year now and the rental market is booming, so that has performed really well for us and we’ve been really pleased,” said Kerri.

“Having that option is part of what we talk about all the time for the Peninsula, which is that you need diversity of product to keep your audience as wide as possible.

“If you have just one type of property, it quickly becomes a not very interesting place to be. Rental gives us a different clientele and it definitely feeds into our sales business.

“We haven’t been able to do it yet, but we might be on the cusp of seeing if we could do ‘Try before you buy’.

“I’d like the idea that we could have a rental offer which ultimately means that the money you’re spending on rent becomes a deposit and – although it sends our finance department into palpitations – it would be wonderful if we could achieve that.

“On the sales side, having Lower Riverside has always been the perfect counterpoint in terms of accessibility so we’re not just offering one price point.”

Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson
Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson

Knight Dragon’s approach to making sure the area it is creating appeals to buyers somewhat sets it apart.

The company has invested significantly in public space as well as an ongoing programme of art exhibitions and events, intended to attract visitors to the area and entertain the now circa 5,000 residents.

That includes the creation of The Tide – an elevated park complete with sculptures including a work by Damian Hirst.

Knight Dragon has also worked to help establish local businesses to serve those passing through, studying and living on the Peninsula, opening a diverse collection of commercial buildings at Design District in 2021.

“That’s been a great success for us,” said Kerri. “It was enormously stressful for all parties getting it launched post-Covid.

“We had businesses really excited and ready to move in and we were behind because everything had been closed for many months, but when it arrived it exceeded all out expectations.

“When we launched, we had a journalist from the BBC asking whether we were worried about people not returning to work, not coming into the office – but that’s hasn’t been our experience.

“We have such a great mix of tenants in the creative industries and they were just really desperate to get in, to collaborate and to feed off each other.

“I’ve been working on this project since Knight Dragon got involved and I’ve found that if you engage with the creative industries early on in any process, the product you come out with is so much more interesting and challenging than if you stick to a very traditional property route.

“You can end up with a very homogenised product with ‘Do Not Stand On The Grass’ signs. We didn’t want that here.”

Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames
Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames

With a total of nearly 17,500 homes in the pipeline, both residents and visitors can expect to see a ramping up of activity, as Knight Dragon prepares to announce the next phases of its project later in the year.

“We’re probably around the 30% mark in terms of completion, so there’s still an awful lot more to do,” said Kerri.

“We’ve just announced a partnership with construction firm Mace – which built Upper Riverside and The Tide – and there’s a big push forward in terms of momentum and speed of delivery. There are going to be lots of homes on their way very quickly.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve been very focused on place-making.

“The river bank, back in the day, was a desolate tarmac path that ran along the Thames, so we invested in The Tide to get people to enjoy the area.

“It was important for us that Greenwich Peninsula was not just about homes, but a balance between home and work and a place where people would want to spend time during the day.”

A show home interior at Upper Riverside
A show home interior at Upper Riverside

With Mace set to build 20 buildings as part of Knight Dragon’s 40-acre project, the exact shape of the final development cannot be set in stone.

“From an infrastructure point of view, it’s a constant game of moving things around,” said Kerri.

“When we started the project, the Silvertown Tunnel hadn’t been given the green light, so two of our buildings won’t be delivered because now that’s very much happening.

“It’s also absolutely our ambition to redevelop North Greenwich station, although we weren’t able to make our original plans for that site work.

“However, it’s important to remember, from a residents’ point of view, how well connected the Peninsula already is – London City Airport, for example, is a big plus for us.

“There’s a perception Greenwich is further away than it actually is, but once people are here they realise how well connected it actually is – just minutes from Canary Wharf and the City.”

Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula
Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula

Read more: How Urban Space Management wants to put homes on a bridge

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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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Bow: Read an extract from Tufayel Ahmed’s recently published novel This Way Out

Tower Hamlets-based journalist, editor and author tackles grief and coming out in his debut work

Tufayel Ahmed has published his first novel. This Way You
Tufayel Ahmed has published his first novel. This Way You

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Bow-based journalist, editor and author Tufayel Ahmed’s debut novel was published in July, 2022 – and to give readers a flavour, he’s kindly allowed Wharf Life to release an extract.

Based on his own experiences of living with grief and the South Asian and LGBTQIA+ communities in east London, This Way Out tells the story of Amar who finds love in the arms of Joshua.

There’s just one problem – he hasn’t told his strict Muslim Bangladeshi family that his partner is a man – and not a Muslim.

So, what better way to announce you’re getting married (and gay) than on your family’s WhatsApp Group?

The novel also tackles themes of loss, with Tufayel partly driven to write by the death of his mother after a long illness.

“In a lot of South Asian families, we aren’t taught to discuss or express feelings, so I didn’t really have a way to channel my grief,” Tufayel said.

“I ended up writing a similar story arc for Amar in the novel – he, too, is consumed by grief and falls into depression.

“Writing about his grief, putting my own feelings down on paper, was quite cathartic, and writing out the ways in which he might resolve his grief – such as therapy – was almost like a roadmap on how to deal with my own.

“I began seeing a therapist too, and between that and writing the novel, I really was able to, if not overcome grief, at least feel at peace with it.”

This Way Out is published by Lake Union and is priced at £8.99.

At the time of going to press it was available on offer with amazon.co.uk for £4.99 in paperback.

This Way Out is published by Lake Union

FROM THIS WAY OUT BY TUFAYEL AHMED

I haven’t been back home to Mileson Street for a few months. Not since last Eid. That was the last time the family were all together, huddled around the kitchen table eating korma and pilau. 

The kids were running around the house, showing off their new presents, and Oli smeared chocolate on his pristine new jumper. 

There is joy and electricity when we all reunite now that everyone is off in their own little worlds, with their own wives, husbands, children and households.  I didn’t eat all day before arriving at Dad’s that Eid, saving myself for Mina’s lamb samosas and Shuli’s prawn bhuna.

“You’re going to pass out if you don’t eat,” Joshua had said, waving a piece of toast with Nutella in my face that morning. 

Then he’d taken a mammoth bite of it right in front of me, teasing me with the irresistible crunch of a perfectly toasted slice of bread.

“I’m saving myself for later!” I cried out, standing firm. Eid is always a big affair in our family. Mina and Shuli usually split the cooking duties – whipping up industrial-sized batches of saffron-scented pilau with juicy, fall-off-the-bone pieces of chicken in it – and Amira always makes at least three different desserts. 

This Eid she made extra-gooey chocolate brownies, a banoffee pie, homemade rasmalai, and mango lassi to wash it all down.

We feasted until we could barely move, rice and meat threatening to return the same way it went down.  After our late lunch, we gathered in the living room for tea and dessert. I felt so noxiously full that even a bite of Amira’s banoffee pie would have tipped me over the edge.

“Do you remember when we were kids, shopping for Eid clothes in Green Street? One of you lot would always cry: ‘I don’t want to be dressed up like him’,” Mina said playfully, smiling at Asad as she basked in the memories. “You could never dress like your big brother: ‘He’s not cool!’ 

“Mum and Dad always had to make sure you two had different outfits. God forbid you matched. You were worse than us girls.”

“Well, he wasn’t cool,” Asad said, laughing at Abed. “He still isn’t. I had a reputation to uphold, okay?”

“Oh yeah, what’s that? As one of the bad boys of the estate?” Abed teased him back. “What was it you and your mates called yourselves? The Globe Town Krew? Yeah, you looked real hard tagging the side of the library!”

“Could never get your hair cut with him, either,” I said, joining in. “Remember his Beckham curtains? The barber had to spend an hour on them, and I’m just sitting there waiting for my No. 1 side and back.”

We all broke into laughter, reminiscing about the adventures of our youth – when our problems were trivial and life felt simple. As the evening wound on, the photo albums came out, as they always did when we got together. 

Photos of Mina, Abed and Asad as children, posing with long-slaughtered cows during a holiday in Bangladesh, before Amira and I came along. Photos of the five of us dressed up in garish outfits at Mina’s wedding. The suit I’d worn was too big. The trouser legs were twice the width of my legs. 

Abed, Asad and I all had all worn pinstripe black suits with hideous silver waistcoats. In our defence, it was the turn of the millennium and we were foolishly led to believe this was cutting edge.

“Amira, you were so chubby,” Mina said, pawing at a photo of Mum in hospital holding Amira just a day after she was born. Three-year-old me can be seen lying on her hospital bed, as if insisting I was still a baby, too.

“You two were the heaviest out of all of us!” Mina continued, looking between me and Amira in mock horror. “I don’t know how Mum did it.”

“Thankfully, not chubby any more!” Amira laughed, surreptitiously glancing over at Asad, who was starting to develop heft around his stomach, just like Dad.

“Oi, I’m not fat. I’m just big-boned!” he hit back.

The laughs continued well into the night, by which time we were ready for second helpings of food. 

Still, there was more than enough for everyone to take home containers of leftovers, which I savoured for days after. No matter how much I try, I can never replicate the taste of home.

As I walk down Globe Road, cutting through the children’s playground near our street, I revel in my childhood memories. Mileson Street is the next left turn, a tucked-away, homely cul-de-sac only a five-minute walk from Whitechapel High Street. 

No fewer than three blocks of flats stand in front of and behind our street, which is filled with modest three-storey semi-detached houses. 

Before Amira and I were born, the family bounced around estates just like this all around east London. For a time they lived adjacent to Victoria Park, tales of which I listened to with envy as a child. 

Then, when I came along, the council moved them into 18 Mileson Street – a real house, with a garden and a front lawn. Amira was next and the house was filled to capacity, but there was no need to move again.

As I turn the corner on to Mileson Street, I slow my pace to take in the old area. It looks much the same, and yet I feel like a stranger.

We were lucky to live on Mileson Street; despite the inner-city locale, high crime and poverty rates, our area always felt oddly safe and suburban. Everyone always looked out for each other. 

It was like a mini Bangladeshi village at times, especially in summer, when kids from across the estate would play football or hopscotch in the streets carefree, only being wrangled into the house at sunset.

The road looks the same as always, but now the kids we used to play with have kids of their own. Sometimes I hear about so-and-so from one of my brothers, who still keep in touch with some of the boys from the neighbourhood. 

But I never really formed the same friendships. For one thing, I didn’t like playing football every Saturday like they did. Also, I was never any good at football, so was never picked for any teams. The Spice Up Your Life dance routine, however, I knew inside out. I’ve taken the long way round, hoping that the walk will keep me calm, but as I get closer to the house, my stomach muscles tense. 

Stopping, I lean against a wall adjacent to the street and call Joshua. I want to hear his reassuring voice one last time before I cross the threshold, before I meet my family face-to-face. 

And maybe I will suggest he send out a search party if I don’t make it home tonight.

His phone rings several times. Each ring is shrill to my already ragged nerves. No sign of Joshua. I nearly give up, but then he finally answers and I sigh in relief.

“Hey,” Joshua says, his voice deep and calm.

“Hi…,” I reply a little shakily. “I’m here at my dad’s. Just getting ready to go in.’

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

“I don’t want to say it’ll be fine because you’ll shout at me, so I’ll just say I love you.”

  • I close my eyes and wish I could bottle up the comfort I find in his voice and take it inside the house with me. My heart swells in my chest. It is precisely what I need to hear right now

Read more: Discover David’s Play at The Space on the Isle Of Dogs

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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 David Grindley is set to star in his own play at The Space

The Island resident and original SpaceWorks member will stage a show from July 26-31, 2022

David Grindley is set to star in David's Play at The Space
David Grindley is set to star in David’s Play at The Space – image James Perrin

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Adam Hemming joined The Space in 2004, subsequently stepping up to the role of artistic director a couple of years later.

Not that it’s a competition, but David Grindley has been involved with the Westferry Road venue for longer than that – about 19 years, in fact. 

“I get a lot out of it,” said David, whose speech and movement is affected by cerebral palsy.

“It saved my life. When I was in a home, I was shut away a lot, but when I came here, I could do drama.”

Now the Isle Of Dogs resident has decided, as an original member of in-house company SpaceWorks, that he’s going to star in a production and that there’s really nothing Adam or anyone else can do about it – even if they wanted to. Actually, they’re complicit.

“This is the second play that we’ve done with David,” said Adam.

“The first was 2015’s The Man Who Found His Freedom, which was about a period in his life when he was in a care home and how he escaped to live a more independent life in east London. It was quite a hard-hitting drama.”

Whatever David’s Play turns out to be after the machinations of writing, rehearsal and devising, it won’t be that. Audiences are in for laughs.

“With this show we wanted to have a bit more fun,” said Adam.

“It’s a backstage comedy based on the last 10 years of David’s life – his time at The Space and the adventures he’s got up to since he’s been here.”

 Adam and David discuss the production
Adam and David discuss the production – image James Perrin

David’s disability hasn’t deterred him from consistently pursuing starring roles, something that’s key to the forthcoming show.

“The main thread of the story is that David is a part of our company SpaceWorks, where local people take part in creating theatre,” said Adam.

“At the end of each production we would talk about what we were going to do next, and David’s suggestion was always My Left Foot – I’d always shut him up.

“There are complications around staging My Left Foot, which was a book originally, then a film with Daniel Day-Lewis, but David was always suggesting it so that he could be the star of the show.

“In the end we decided that, rather than doing that production, we should create a play for David, which he could then star in, so that’s how it all began.”

David’s Play will be directed by Adam, David and deputy artistic director at The Space, Matthew Jameson, who all appear on stage as versions of themselves. 

“Nothing can go wrong,” said David. “I think we’ll feel better with the first night done, but I’m sure it will be alright – I hope people like it.”

Adam added: “It’s quite a rare thing to see someone like David on stage, but we’ve laughed a lot in creating the show and doing the read-through, so we’re hopeful people will find it funny.

“David keeps telling me off because I keep trying to do serious acting.”

The Space has raised cash to help put the show on – partly through a crowdfunding campaign – with David suggesting on the accompanying video that, should sufficient money become available, it would allow him to hire a better director than Adam.

The Space is still accepting donations for the show, although it’s unclear if this could affect Adam’s position.

In some ways, the fundraising efforts feel apt, given David’s own commitment to generating money for the charity that runs the theatre.

“I’ve worked on the box office, been on various committees and done a lot of fundraising,” he said.

“I recently did my annual sponsored walk across the Isle Of Dogs, which I’ve been doing for 10 years.”

David's Play is set to play at The Space from July 26-31
David’s Play is set to play at The Space from July 26-31 – image James Perrin

“David takes his fundraising very seriously and he’s very good at it,” said Adam.

“David has 24-hour care and this is one place where he can come without his carer and get involved in what’s going on.

“He’s seen more shows here than I have, but he’s also organised lunchtime music recitals as well as creating work like this – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

“David’s participation with SpaceWorks has helped to raise understanding about what someone with cerebral palsy is capable of.

“As a condition, it’s not that well-known, but he’s built up quite a good network of friends.

“He had a group of people go with him on his sponsored walk and then we had a barbecue fundraiser here before some other friends took him on to a pub quiz at The Ship – it was a pretty full-on day.

“The number of people supporting him during the day is a pretty good indication of how well-liked he is.

“One of the stories that we’ve used in David’s Play is about the year we decided to do a sponsored walk in Greenwich.

“I wasn’t with him that year and it turns out there are strict rules there about what you’re allowed to shake a bucket for.

“You have to have advance permission – it’s a bit different to the Isle Of Dogs.

“Anyway, some people asked David to stop and he didn’t take too kindly to that and in the end some mounted police became involved.

“Another story that’s featured is that there was an unfortunate incident where David fell down some stairs coming out of a pub so an ambulance had to be called and, on the way home, he asked the ambulance to stop outside The Space so he could get a drink before last orders.

“About 10 years ago David decided to stop drinking and hasn’t had a drop of wine since.”

David said: “My life has improved a lot since then. I don’t think I’d be here now if I’d carried on drinking.”

Created by David, The Space’s literary manager Mike Carter and the company, David’s Play is set to be performed at The Space from July 26-31, 2022, with shows at 7.30pm Tuesday to Saturday and 2.30pm on Sunday. 

Tickets for the shows cost £15 with 20% off for bookings made by July 12 (so get in quick).

Anyone who would like to donate to support the production or The Space can find more information here.

Read more: Discover Drag Syndrome’s Liberty Festival performance

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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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Leamouth: How Trinity Buoy Wharf could combine a river crossing with flats

Living Bridge would join agreed Hercules plan over the Lea to connect Newham and Tower Hamlets

An artist's impression of USM's Living Bridge idea
An artist’s impression of USM’s Living Bridge idea

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It starts with an idea. The concept of people living on bridges isn’t new – they’ve been doing that for hundreds of years all over the world.

But Urban Space Management’s (USM) “aspirational” suggestion for a residential crossing at Trinity Buoy Wharf, spanning the mouth of the River Lea still feels a little bit visionary.  

There’s something inherently attractive about inhabiting structures over water. Looking back, we have the historical romance of the Old London Bridge and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, for example. 

Flowing forward, there’s author William Gibson’s sci-fi vision of a jerry-built, self-governing shanty town clinging to the steel bones of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.

This imaginary leap into a near future – where a ribbon of infrastructure is repurposed by a passionate, vibrant community of squatters, reacting to the pressures of insufficient housing and oppression – is a flash of what necessity and collaboration might be capable of. It’s counter-cultural, haphazard and seductive.

USM’s plan for a Living Bridge has something of both examples.

It’s a functional proposal – a connection to Royal Docks for pedestrians and cyclists that would ensure a flow of traffic through the existing site. 

But it’s also the root of a future community, with around 70 properties suspended from the steel arch that would support the entire structure – brought to life in Cartwright Pickard’s illustrative designs. 

USM founding director Eric Reynolds
USM founding director Eric Reynolds

Access to the river would be preserved for taller vessels with a section of the bridge able to lift to allow safe passage.

Planning permission has already been granted for one crossing in the area – Hercules Bridge over the Lea on the northern edge of Ballymore’s Goodluck Hope development. 

If built, this would connect to both a footpath towards Canning Town station as well as to the Lower Lea Crossing flyover for access to Royal Docks.

USM is currently gathering feedback on a range of ideas to improve connectivity in and around Trinity Buoy Wharf, with a consultation running until July 20, 2022.

Its plans aim to help overcome barriers such as roads, rivers and railways to make journeys that are complicated now, simpler in the future.

USM founding director Eric Reynolds said: “Right from the beginning, I thought the problem for this whole bit of London was that it is disconnected from itself in every way. 

“Standing on the roof of the building that’s now occupied by Faraday Prep School at Trinity Buoy Wharf in the late 1990s, it was clear we should be doing something about this.

“Our outline planning application for the site allows us to build a bridge as a continuation of Orchard Place because it always seemed to me that the Lea should have more than a road bridge over it – there should also be something for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We should be connecting people, not just for us, but also for people living north and east of here – in Canning Town for example.

“They should see the river as part of their back or front garden, not something that’s just hidden away.”

A rendering of the Living Bridge by night
A rendering of the Living Bridge by night

The case for a second bridge becomes increasingly clear when future development is taken into account.

The Thameside West scheme is expected to deliver some 5,000 new homes just across the river as well as a new DLR station, a school and industrial and creative workspaces.

“One of the things we did achieve years ago was to persuade the DLR planners to leave a straight bit of track on that land to allow potential for that station,” said Eric.

“It didn’t make sense then, but, with thousands of homes and a new town centre coming, it does now.

“Regarding the bridge – it may be that we put homes on it, we don’t know yet. We think there are two good reasons for doing it.

Firstly it creates new land and a new opportunity for a community.

“Secondly, in doing that, it offsets the cost of the bridge – so there’s an economic and a social argument.

“The Living Bridge would also be a big signpost to the importance and value of the River Lea, which was a vital part of the transport of this area – a line of power and industry – before it silted up. It deserves that recognition.

“Imagine coming up the Thames and seeing this out-of-scale bridge, all lit up with people living inside it.

“I really think it would appeal to Londoners – every building along the river is worked so as many properties as possible have views of the water.

“Here it would be right underneath – with no risk of anyone building in front of or behind you.”

An artist’s impression of the Hercules Bridge proposal

But does an area that is already connected to Canning Town via London City Island’s bridge and, potentially the already agreed Hercules Bridge really need another crossing?

“At the moment, the existing bridge takes you to the top of London City Island but we have an awful lot of walkers, dog owners, cyclists, hikers and so on who come to Trinity Buoy Wharf and would really like not to have to go back on themselves,” said Eric.

“The Hercules Bridge gives people the chance to do something different – to walk round the edge of the Lea and follow the river north. 

“What the Living Bridge would do is to make it much easier to follow the Thames along the southern edge of Royal Docks as far as Barrier Park.

“It increases the potential for pedestrians and cyclists to reach these areas.

“It’s also in some ways an attempt to re-invent a community that was here in the past.

“There was a small fishing community and a school here, which was wiped away when local authorities decided that slum clearances were the thing to do.

“There also used to be a little ferry that took people across the Lea because the Thames Ironworks and Orchard Wharf needed to get their workers to work.

“During the Crossrail Works, the foundations for that ferry were found, so this has grown partly out of what we perceive as a respect for the past and an aspiration for the future.”

At present Trinity Buoy Wharf is a dead end for walkers and cyclists
At present Trinity Buoy Wharf is a dead end for walkers and cyclists

Read more: Genomics England set for relocation to Canary Wharf

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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 Genomics England is relocating to One Canada Square

Headquarters of government-owned genome sequencing business set to arrive in Canary Wharf in the autumn

Genomics England CEO Chris Wigley
Genomics England CEO Chris Wigley – image James Perrin

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Right, so this headline is a bit disingenuous. Genomics England doesn’t, in the course of its operations, alter anyone’s DNA.

In fact, it captures whole human genomes, sequences them and uses the data for both personal NHS diagnoses and wider research.

However, its arrival in Canary Wharf is part of a bigger picture as the estate continues to grow and diversify.

Tropes about steel towers full of bankers are outdated, lazy stereotypes that nevertheless persist.

But perception often lags reality, which in turn can lag big announcements.

Earlier this year, Canary Wharf Group unveiled a project with Kadans Science Partner to create a 750,000sq ft, 22-storey, wet lab-enabled building in the first phase of its development of the North Quay site next to West India Quay DLR.

The scheme is at the forefront of the estate’s emerging vision to bring more health and life sciences businesses and organisations to the area – creating a cluster to rival those in Oxford and Cambridge. 

However, the building is not set to be delivered until 2026 – these things take time.

Much quicker in the timeline, will be the arrival of Genomics England.

Announced last month, the government-owned business is expected to take up residence on the 21st floor of One Canada Square in the autumn. 

The Wharf is already home to Barts Health NHS Trust, the Medicines And Heathcare Products Regulatory Authority, Medical Defence Union, General Pharmaceutical Council, NHS Transformation Unit and NHS Digital’s London office.

The addition of Genomics England adds further weight to that group, making east London an increasingly attractive destination for those operating in the sector.

“If you look around us, we’ve got an incredibly rich health and life sciences community in Canary Wharf,” said Chris Wigley, CEO of Genomics England.

“When we were thinking about where we wanted to be, somewhere with those kinds of organisation, that vision, where we can bring people together easily was really exciting.

“It’s also very close to Whitechapel, where the Royal London Hospital is, and to many universities.

 “We have all the ingredients here to do something special.

“What we saw during the pandemic was that, when our whole system pulls together, we can really lead the world in pathogen sequencing, genome sequencing and clinical trials, and we want to keep that sense of collaboration.

“Of course, very pragmatically, as a government-owned company, value for money is something we have to be pretty serious about too.”

Genomics England was originally set up to sequence 100,000 human genomes

Genomics England was originally set up by the Department Of Health And Social Care to run the 100,000 Genomes Project, following an announcement by then prime minister David Cameron at the 2012 Olympics.

“That was only about a decade after the first whole human genome had been sequenced, which took millions of dollars and thousands of scientists,” said Chris.

“You used to have to sequence DNA base pair by base pair, and there are something like 3.2trillion of them so it took a very long time.

“With the various changes that have collectively been made around next-generation sequencing, you can now do the sequencing in under an hour – although for a clinical case where we have an actual patient, we’d do that 30 times because even if the process is 99.999% accurate, when there are 3.2trillion results you need to be able to spot those errors.

“With DNA the numbers are huge, but if we do it 30 times we can be confident we’ve picked up any inconsistencies.”

Having sequenced 100,000 genomes by 2018, Genomics England is now engaged in two main areas of operation.

Chris said: “The first big thing we do is that we partner with the NHS to use whole genome sequencing to diagnose and make good decisions about patient treatment.

“This is the first health service on the planet to offer this, so that’s a genuine world first for Britain, which is great.

“Those insights are most relevant if you’ve got cancer or rare diseases, because those are things that we know are principally driven by changes in your genome.

“If you’re looking at the DNA, you can spot all of these areas where each of us is individually different from each other.

“So we’ve now got a catalogue where you can look up those changes, so we can see that if you’ve got them in your DNA, you may have a rare disease or a particular aspect of a cancer, for example, which we can then do something about.

“The second big thing is that we can anonymise all the data, put it in a separate environment and make it available to researchers from academia, from pharmaceutical companies and from biotech firms.

“It is still very sensitive data, though, so we have this model where the researcher has to come into our environment to look at it.

“We sometimes talk about being  an aquarium, not a fish shop, where people can come in, study what we have, admire the fish and go away again.

“Crucially, they can’t take the fish with them – that’s how we protect the data.”

Chris says there are a number of reasons for Genomics England’s move -image James Perrin

Chris knows all about protecting data. With a background as a business analyst and diplomat, his CV includes the role of chief operating officer at tech startup Quantum Black – a machine learning and AI company.

“I often use the word career as a verb rather than a noun,” he said. “I’ve done a number of things.

“I had a small scale startup in web design mostly putting tartan on Scottish companies’ sites.

“I spent time at the BBC doing analog to digital transitions and setting up their radio player and iPlayer.

“Quantum Black was originally building applications to solve complex problems for a range of clients including in Formula 1 to help the cars win more races and then taking that approach to aerospace, offshore wind and other advanced engineering firms.

“Then we realised that the same techniques could be applied to banking or to life sciences. So we ended up with a third of our work for pharmaceutical companies, on drug discovery and clinical trials.

“It was lots of big data sets and complex models and then taking the outputs from them and explaining them in a way that humans could do something with.”

Having accepted the job at Genomics England just under three years ago, he’s now presiding over a period of growth and change.

“Throughout the pandemic we did a huge amount of research on Covid, working with the NHS, Health Education England and others, on how understanding our DNA might help us to understand Covid better,” said Chris.

“We’ve kicked off a bunch of other new programmes as well, so we’ve grown a lot in terms of numbers – we’re now about 500, and we have a space in the Sanger Centre in Hinxton – we’ve just opened another office in Leeds as well.

“We may also open a fourth location, but broadly we’re now thinking of ourselves as a national network of people across the whole of England.

“The base here in Canary Wharf will be the nerve centre.

“The way we’ve thought about the space here is less about banks of desks and terminals and more about collaborative space, community space, social space, and also library space for people coming in to do deep work.

“For a lot of our people it’s a new part of town with new things to explore.

“I think a lot of people have a vision of Canary Wharf from the early 2000s – but as we’ve brought more people over here, they can see it’s really changed.”

The move is also preparation for the increasingly central role that our understanding of DNA will play in our healthcare as time moves on.

“We’re gradually learning more and more about how our DNA affects our health,” said Chris.

“The first wave of discoveries was in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, – rare diseases caused by a single change in your DNA such as sickle cell anaemia, for example.

“We now understand that cancer is really a disease of the genome, where unregulated growth of DNA causes cell growth that we we call tumours. That helps us to treat it.

“Then, as new techniques have come in, like machine learning, we can start to understand more complex relationships between what’s happening in our bodies and what’s happening in our DNA.

“For example, a combination of 75 changes, when combined with external stimulus such as smoking or not smoking could explain why a certain disease occurs.

“We’re getting more and more into areas like infectious diseases and understanding how DNA, makes RNA, which makes proteins that do everything in our bodies, and how that causal chain has certain outcomes that we can understand.

“Then, hopefully, we can intervene when necessary.

“We’re just in the process of launching a programme at the moment that we’ve been working on for a number of years, where we’ll be offering to sequence the whole genome of new-born babies to look for about 250 different things.

“That’s in addition to the current heel prick test that looks for about nine. If there is something that is early onset and treatable then the NHS can immediately address that so the patient will get the best outcome.

“Of course, we think a lot about the ethics of what we do.

“Our fundamental belief is that we shouldn’t be making decisions about people’s care – the people whose data it is and whose lives it is should be doing that.

“Our job is to be completely transparent, to help people understand what we’re doing so they can make the right choices for them.”

Read more: Discover Liberty Festival in Deptford

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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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Deptford: How Drag Syndrome are changing perceptions at Liberty Festival

Lewisham-based three-day celebration features performances by disabled and neurodiverse artists

Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany
Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

An hour before we speak, performance group Drag Syndrome is named an Icon In The Making by TikTok.

Founder and creative director Daniel Vais is bubbling over with pride and is very clear that its aim is world domination.

The group, whose members all have Down Syndrome, is booked two years in advance and he said: “Society and culture have to know we’re here to stay. We’re not a fad.

“What these artists are providing is really extraordinary to culture. It’s valuable.

“We have been blowing up for the last four years, but it’s now reaching stardom where we have partnered with brands like Milk Makeup, Instagram, O2 Music – real movers and shakers.

“People with learning disabilities are leading campaigns now. “It’s about damn time.”

It quickly becomes clear he is the drag group’s biggest fan. In fact, he sees its members as examples of how we should all be living.

“People with learning disabilities make the world a better place,” said the 50–year-old. 

“They are magnificent people – much kinder. They go through so much and they have more compassion. I see them as gurus. 

“They are a leading example of the amazing human being and we have to learn from them. It’s very humbling to work with them.”

The group was born in 2018 from his company Culture Device Dance Project, which works with elite artists with Down Syndrome. 

They were invited to perform at LimeWharf in Hackney so he and dancer Sara Gordy went to check it out.

A drag artist was performing and Sara was bowled over and immediately wanted to try it. Drag Syndrome was born in that moment.

The group is made up of six drag queens and one drag king and had its first show at Vogue Fabrics Dalston (now VFD) a small, avant-garde queer space.

Drag Syndrome founder and creative director Daniel Vais
Drag Syndrome founder and creative director Daniel Vais

“It was magical, amazing, powerful, fresh, new,” said Daniel. “They loved it and they wanted another show. It was the best night ever because we understood we had created something amazing. 

“The second show sold out in minutes and then we were on ITV and since then we have been as busy as Rihanna and Beyonce.”

In four years the group has gone from performing to crowds of just 50 in east London, to 15,000 at Montreal Pride, where they were introduced to Canadian president Justin Trudeau.

They’ve appeared at Ru Paul’s DragCon, and featured in a video for Vogue alongside Lady GaGa and Billy Eilish.

During June they completed a European tour and, on July 23, will perform at The Albany in Deptford as part of Liberty Festival.

“Lewisham is the first place I came to when I arrived in London – so, personally, this is a very emotional gig,” said Daniel, who moved to the UK from Isreal.

“It is a top notch festival. The whole programme is super so we’re very grateful to be part of it.”

Every show is different, with lots of improvisation. Daniel said: “I work with the best artists. They blow minds. You see it in people before and after the show.”

They knew from the start the group would be a huge success and have intentionally done it all on their own to stay in control of the narrative.

“Everyone who understands art and culture and sees the show understands they are masters,” said Daniel.

“They are oozing star energy. They know they’re big stars but they are also very professional and some of them are adamant that they would like to achieve things in art and culture. They are ambitious. 

“They have very clear ideas about where to perform, where to appear and how to grow.”

There has been controversy. In 2019, a Republican congressional candidate in America declined to host the performers, questioning whether they could give their “full and informed consent.”

Daniel said they have to deal with constant negative comments, but know what they’re doing is opening gates for others.

“The negativity is a reflection of what people with learning disabilities go through every day,” he said. 

“I talk to the artists about it and they say: ‘This is how we grew up. People say whatever they think to our faces and that we’re not good enough, we are pathetic, stupid’. Unfortunately, they are used to it. 

“But we are coming, taking space and changing that.

“A lot of people with learning disabilities are learning from these artists to have boundaries and to understand it is not right to accept that somebody will think you’re stupid or you can’t do this or decide for yourself.”

Members of Drag Syndrome
Members of Drag Syndrome

Daniel said they answer their critics by being “capable as fuck”. 

He added: “Whatever the misconception is, we don’t fight it. We don’t have to answer to anyone. 

“They’re independent artists. They have international careers and the support around them from parents and siblings is amazing – that’s why it’s working.

“We take our space and don’t ask permission, we just do our thing. That’s what I wanted from this project and the artists did it. 

“They went from stage-to-stage, studio-to-studio and worked their arses off to achieve this success with no charity or support – no nothing. They have success because of their talent.”

Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany on July 23 at 6pm. The performance is free but booking is required. 

Joel Brown and Eve Musto in 111
Joel Brown and Eve Musto in 111

WHAT’S ON AT LIBERTY FESTIVAL – JULY 22-24, 2022

The free event is a celebration of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists.

Some events are drop-in and some need booking, but all allow audiences to leave, re-enter and move around.

There will be British Sign Language interpreted shows, audio-described installations and chill-out areas.

The festival is set to kick off with the unveiling of Freedom by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE in Deptford.

Across the three days, visitors will be able to book one-hour sensory walks with Mapping in Lewisham, exploring how the local environment is shaped by sound, smell and terrain.

Captioning Lewisham will be a trail of sound captions along Deptford High Street and 

Mixed Reality Hub (Deptford Lounge, various times) is a collection of digital art and virtual reality work by renowned disabled and neurodivergent artists.

  • Friday will see speakers at the Liberty Symposium (The Albany, 10.15am-6pm) explore topics such as how the media represents people with a disability. In the evening there will be an outdoor performance by Deptford’s Heart N Soul (Griffin Square, 6pm-8pm) and stand-up from Jess Thom Touretteshero (The Albany, 8.15pm)
  • Saturday will include the launch of Manifesto for 2.8million Minds (Lewisham Shopping Centre, 2pm-5pm), a project looking at how we can better support young people’s mental health.
  • Sunday will feature 111 (The Albany, 2.30pm) a physically integrated performance from paraplegic dancer Joel Brown and former principal dancer Eve Musto. Kat Hawkins will perform Object Permanence (The Albany, 4pm) exploring her relationship with assistive devices. 

Leave The Light On For Me (Griffin Square, 3pm and 5pm) will be a joyous outdoor look at climate change and justice and Who Plays Who (The Albany, 6.30pm) is a powerful satire by Stephen Bailey, exploring disabled actors navigating Hollywood casting.

Read more: Sun And Sea takes over The Albany with 10 tonnes of sand

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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 Festival14’s packed programme is a whole new approach

Event running July 21-24 promises more than 50 performances to help people discover the Wharf


Festival14 will run from July 21-24, 2022 across Canary Wharf
Festival14 will run from July 21-24, 2022 across Canary Wharf

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Grandmaster Flash. Live, in Canada Square Park. For free.

Those words alone are testament to the fact that Festival14 is something new for Canary Wharf.

The DJ and hip hop pioneer –responsible for the first expression of scratching ever released on a record – is set to mix among the towers as the headline act on the main stage on July 21, 2022. And that’s just the first night.

Running Thursday-Sunday, Festival14 is set to fill the estate with more than 50 performances encompassing comedy, theatre, dance, family activities and, of course, music.

our MUSIC picks for FESTIVAL14
- July 21 - Grandmaster Flash
8.15pm, free, Canada Square Park
- July 22 - House Gospel Choir
8.30pm, free, Canada Square Park
- July 23 - Ronnie Scotts Jazz Orchestra
time TBC, free, Canada Square Park
- July 24 - Sona
time TBC, free, Canada Square Park

The mostly free events will run daily between noon and 10pm at a diverse selection of venues designed specifically to encourage visitors to explore Canary Wharf.

“We’d seen the success of events like our Winter Lights festival, which takes place across lots of different parts of the estate and the amazing buzz people feel when they arrive for that,” said senior arts and events manager at Canary Wharf Group, Pippa Dale.

“So we wanted to create a similar feeling for Festival14 so that it’s very obvious when people get here that there’s something really exciting and new happening.

“People in Canary Wharf are often quite set on the places they know – the places they go to lunch, for example – so we’re hoping this will help them explore and discover different areas.”

Most of the performances at Festival14 will be free
Most of the performances at Festival14 will be free

In addition to the dozens of performances and activities, there will also be a street food market every day in Montgomery Square and special offers from some bars, restaurants and cafes for the duration.

Canary Wharf Group director of arts and events Lucie Moore said: “Moving forward, we’re looking at putting on larger scale events over shorter periods of time to bring as many people as possible to the estate but also to change perceptions about the area.

“Events and cultural activities have always been really important to Canary Wharf in terms of placemaking and, since Covid, they’re something people are looking at and talking about even more.

our COMEDY picks for FESTIVAL14
- July 21 - Milton Jones, Jessica Fostekew
7.15pm, £11, Westferry Circus Roundabout
- July 22 - Reginald D Hunter, Jo Caulfield
6pm, £11, Westferry Circus Roundabout
-l July 23 - Paul Sinha, Felicity Ward
6pm, £11, Westferry Circus Roundabout
Follow this link for bookings

“These events are a real team effort and we couldn’t be able to do them without the work of so many people across Canary Wharf Group’s teams. 

“The estate is now busy and buzzy and with the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, there’s the potential for even more people to visit.

“That’s an opportunity for us, in terms of events, because there are people who will come in from other areas who may not have done in the past.

“For Festival14 it will be really interesting to see what numbers we get in comparison to things like Winter Lights in past years.”

Events will take place from noon over the four days
Events will take place from noon over the four days

The full programme for Festival14 – a name inspired by Canary Wharf’s postcode, E14 – is still being finalised, with all updates expected online by July.  

Pippa said: “In contrast to previous years with our Tuesday night music concerts, we’ve booked some bigger acts.

“It’s a packed programme and, especially at the weekends, people will be able to listen from noon right through until 9pm or 10pm at night.

“Grandmaster Flash is our opening headliner and we think he will appeal to the audience that’s already here – a bit of nostalgia after a day in the office and a bit of a party.

our THEATRE picks for FESTIVAL14
- July 21 - 440 Theatre, Hamlet
1pm, free, Westferry Circus Roundabout
-l July 22 - The Canary Cabaret

7.30pm, free (ticketed), Crossrail Place Roof Garden
- July 23 - Mischief And Mayhem

5pm, free (ticketed), Crossrail Place Roof Garden
- July 24 - The Handlebards Romeo & Juliet
1pm, free, Westferry Circus Roundabout
Follow this link for bookings

“I’m really excited about having House Gospel Choir – they’re a group I’ve admired for a long time and we’ve been waiting for the right event to book them.

“They’re pretty local too, as is Hackney Colliery Band. We’re also really pleased to be able to host Sona on the Sunday, during her UK tour.

“The outdoor comedy at Westferry Circus also features some big names, so that’s ticketed because we have limited space and we’re expecting it to be very popular.

“We’ll be having open air theatre at that venue too with the return of The Handlebards who are fantastic and 440 Theatre who do Shakespeare plays in 40 minutes.”

The Handlebards are set to return to Westferry Circus
The Handlebards are set to return to Westferry Circus

There will also be a series of theatre performances at Crossrail Place Roof Garden – ticketed but free due to the capacity of the venue.

“Whenever we do anything we try to include the local community and local businesses and organisations around the estate,” said Lucie.

“We’re very fortunate to work where we are but we’re aware there are areas around us that need supporting.

“The Space has been operating up in the Roof Garden for years now and they were an obvious choice for us as a partner for part of Festival14 because they know that venue, we know what they do and they’ve put together a whole programme for us there.”

A range of kids activities will take place on the Saturday and Sunday, including dance music party Big Fish Little Fish Family Rave at Westferry Circus and puppetry in the form of Bus King Theatre: Marvelo’s Circus at Montgomery Square.  

“We’re really hoping, especially for families, that they will come and spend the whole day with us – do a workshop, have lunch and listen to some music,” said Lucie.

“We’ve really tried to cover a lot of areas and there will be one or two unexpected events too, such as a van that serves up takeaway poetry. We’re not finished yet.”

Here’s a little Grandmaster Flash to get you in the mood…

Read more: The O2 celebrates 15 years of gigs, events and performances

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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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