Riverscape

Hackney Wick: How Samskara at The Yard explores black masculinity

Lanre Malaolu’s work deals with the generational ties that can hold men back from emotional vulnerability

Lanre Malaolu's Samskara returns to The Yard from June 27
Lanre Malaolu’s Samskara returns to The Yard from June 27

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

I’m really starting to question what toxic masculinity means?” said Lanre Malaolu

“I think ‘masculinity’ is just ‘masculinity’ and it can’t be toxic by its nature, just like ‘femininity’ can’t be toxic. 

“Saying that is putting a taint on with a very broad stroke and going deeper is what I’m really interested in.”

The Hackney resident, writer, director and choreographer, accepts men aren’t as readily available to talk about their emotions, but he wants to know why.

“What is holding them back?” he said.

“What are the chains that we feel we need to hold? It’s a two-way street. Men feel that they need to be the breadwinner, protect and be the alpha to get along. 

“Why and where that has come from is what I’m interested in, rather than putting something under the broad stroke of ‘toxic masculinity’.”

His thoughts spill out in his show Samskara – an exploration of black masculinity, vulnerability, and the cycles of fatherhood.

It returns to The Yard in Hackney Wick from June 27 until July 23, 2022, following a sell-out premiere in 2021.

It is a fusion of storytelling, movement, hip-hop, dance and text performed by five actors who play four generations of black men named Silent Man, Father, Wisdom, Young Buck and Older.

Lanre wrote, directed and choreographed it and said: “I find with shows, I may think they’ve come from one idea but really it’s an amalgamation of different events, moments and emotions that I’ve experienced over and over again in my life and that I’m finally ready to talk about and channel into work.

“My father wasn’t consistently present growing up and we had a quite fractured relationship. 

“So I decided to sit down and really let him know how I felt.

“My voice was raised, my emotions were high because it’s been a crazy journey I’ve gone through growing up as a young boy into a man.

“I remember him listening, taking it in and then right at the end he apologised and said: ‘All I know is how my father was with me,’ and he started to speak about his upbringing. It was the first time I saw my dad as a son.”

Lanre drew on conversations with his father when writing the piece
Lanre drew on conversations with his father when writing the piece

Lanre began thinking about the generational cycles of fatherhood and what he wanted to pass on as a son and potential father.

He also began unpacking his interactions with other black men.

“There’s been conversations I’ve had with black men about black masculinity,” he said.

“There have been moments of no conversation, of walking down the street and nodding my head with another black man, something that is not really spoken about, but is so universally understood within the black male culture. 

“I started to think about what is behind that? There’s love, joy, a bit of fear and, at times, solidarity. I thought: ‘What if we explore all those things?’.

“I did a workshop in HMP Thameside prison some years ago where I was really faced  with the stark truth of what it is to be vulnerable as a black man. 

“The idea was to explore sensitivity and touch. Getting the men to do that in an environment that didn’t promote vulnerability in any way was a real challenge, but it also birthed moments of real honesty.”

Lanre believes there is an untapped pool of willingness to talk about emotions but men are held back.

He said: “Because of walking down the street and, at times, being seen as a threat, because of needing to be perceived as someone that is strong and has their shit together, we then put that armour up and people with armour are on battlefields and don’t talk about their emotions. So we condition ourselves not to.”

Working class Hackney in the 1990s was an environment full of men putting on a front. But Lanre found his way through.

“I wasn’t a street thug, but I knew those guys and I could have gone the other way,” he said.

“When you have low income, poverty and a government that doesn’t seem to care, then of course these things are going to happen.

“There were hard times, times of joy and you grow and learn and keep walking your way through. Faith was an important part of that.

“Not just religious, but faith that there’s always an ‘and’ never just a ‘but’. When I get pessimistic I always feel like there’s a way through.

“Hope is always there in these communities. It’s not just pain and struggle. You go into a Nigerian wedding, or a black party and the flow of joy, love and abundance is there.

“I want to make sure that I always talk about that. This show is going to have that because that’s what it means to be black and a black man. There’s so much joy.”

The show is Lanre's first work on stage with a full cast
The show is Lanre’s first work on stage with a full cast

He was “bouncing off the walls” as a kid, but found his joy through performing after his mum took him to the renowned Anna Scher Theatre school and he began booking jobs with the BBC and Channel 4.

In between classes, he and his friends would put on dance battles and Lanre co-founded company Protocol with the sole aim of performing at Breakin Convention.

They got their wish and more, when founder of the international hip-hop theatre festival Jonzi D “saw a spark” in them.

“They nurtured and cultivated it and then allowed us to kind of find our own continuous path,” said Lanre. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without that support.”

He went on to study at Drama Centre London, but left early to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and, as an actor, appeared at the Royal Court and in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks.

It was being chosen for The Old Vic 12 – a scheme to help developing artists ready to take the next step in their careers – which garnered him attention as an independent movement director and, five years ago, Protocol ended “with love” so he could focus on the opportunities coming his way.

“It turned out to be the best thing, because I needed that space to create my own strand as ‘Lanre Malaolu the artist’,” he said.

That has involved I Can’t Breathe, a response to the police killing of black man Eric Garner in 2014, Elephant In The Room in 2019, which explored mental and emotional health in black men, The Conversation, a 2019 short film on communicating racial experience to white partners, and The Circle, a 2020 documentary digging into the dynamics of brotherhood between black men.

Samskara is his first full-length show with a cast and he said it  “started without me knowing”.

 “I reached a point in my life where I was able to talk to my dad and then follow through with other black men in an honest way and just try and understand more,” he said.

“I didn’t interview him because I find that isn’t the best way to have valuable conversations with black men because that’s when the guards come up. 

“No matter what anyone says, you will be able to get more of the truth over a meal in Nando’s when the energy is right.

“I was watching, listening, seeing and mentally noting things and writing them down.

“I would be at my barbers where I’ve gone for 15 years and had so many conversations that I’m sure, in some way, have fed into the show.

“When the Samskara started to come together, I got these sharp, bursts of images and wrote them down.

“Then I started to think specifically about generations. I knew one character was going to be really young and think he could take on the world.

“One was going to be a father, one an older man who’s been weathered down. I started writing monologues for them, workshopped it for two weeks and, from that, it continued to build.”

Samskara runs at The Yard until July 23
Samskara runs at The Yard until July 23

He grew up a 15-minute walk from The Yard and said he was proud of how it had transformed over the years.

“They’ve changed and learnt and they’re really supporting artists to do their best work by giving space, really listening and putting their money where their mouth is,” he said. “I really respect and love that about them.”

He hopes Samskara will open up conversations and allow black men in the audience to see themselves in ways they haven’t been allowed to before. 

“I still have a lot of chains to break myself, but I am able to talk about my feelings and my emotions in a way that I wasn’t 10 years ago,” he said.

“Hopefully, I can say the same thing in another 10 years, because I’m a work in progress.

“Making the show has allowed me to really challenge myself whenever I have interactions with black men, because I know and understand the pain.

“I think it’s the fault of a lot of things. Eddie Marsden said something brilliant about how when young boys grow up, they think they can be superheroes. 

“Some men let go of that and some take it on and that’s what feeds into this feeling that they are able to have an upper hand on the female sex. It goes back to the things we are taught. That’s what this show is really about.

“What do we learn that we don’t even realize and how do we unpack and untangle and break those chains to move on? 

“How do we accept that things like vulnerability are ultimately the superhero strength for a man, a black man.”

  • Those aged 26 or younger can get £5 tickets on the door to all performances that are not sold out
  • There will be shows on July 15 and 22 for black men and ticketed banquets for the black community on July 1 and mixed audiences on July 7 to encourage conversation

Read more: How businesses are tackling sustainability at Reset Connect

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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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Royal Docks: How Reset Connect brings people together to fight climate change

Inaugural event at Excel will see sustainability pioneers like Canary Wharf Group inspire others

Reset Connect CEO and co-founder Duncan Reid
Reset Connect CEO and co-founder Duncan Reid

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Duncan Reid has been an events man his whole career.

It started at university in the 1990s, organising parties with DJs at the students’ union.

Then there was a strategic move into the business sector, conveniently leaving Friday and Saturday nights free for attending music events rather than putting them on.

In 2010 he joined Clarion Events – one of the largest companies organising conferences, shows and exhibitions in the world – rising to become MD and executive vice president of its energy division.  

“I was already managing the move away from coal, gas, oil and fossil fuel extraction – there were big things happening with carbon emissions,” he said. “Then the pandemic hit.”

With the events sector among the hardest hit, Covid meant many shows didn’t take place for two years, contractors were left without work and organising companies laid off staff.

For Duncan, it was an opportunity to take a step back and decide on a future direction.

“I started looking around for what I wanted to do,” he said. “Then I realised sustainability should be my focus and that it was important that we fast-tracked as much of this sector as possible.

“The two big challenges before the pandemic were that the pace of adoption was not fast enough and – the really big one – was that, even if a company wanted to roll out sustainability, whatever they wanted to do, there was a big funding gap.

“For example, if you were a company that made ready meals and you wanted to move to using electric vehicles with refrigeration to transport them, then that would be quite a hassle for a small business.

“Big corporates can have a sustainability strategy and can appoint someone to oversee it, but for small businesses it’s quite a challenge.

“Then if you’re a startup, it’s hard enough to get your idea off the ground let alone managing your impact on the environment at the same time.”

That led Duncan to the idea for Reset Connect – a new conference and exhibition that is set to get its first outing over two days at Excel in Royal Docks.

Taking place on June 28 and 29, 2022 – during London Climate Action Week – the event will see more than 100 exhibitors and sustainability partners showcase their services and more than 150 speakers discussing a very wide range of topics.

Canary Wharf Group – long a pioneer in environmentally friendly development and stewardship – will be represented by head of sustainability Sophie Goddard at a panel discussion, starting at 11.15pm on the event’s second day.

She, together with representatives of Sintali, Savills Investment Management, Hark Systems and Mitie, will seek to illuminate processes and technology that can be implemented now to fight climate change.

That’s just one session in a packed programme and the two-day event will also see opening keynote speeches from Doughnut Economics Action Lab co-founder Kate Raworth on the first day and World Wildlife Fund chief executive Tanya Steele on the second.

Reset Connect aims to help businesses become more sustainable
Reset Connect aims to help businesses become more sustainable

With the Elizabeth Line’s arrival shrinking the gap between Canary Wharf and Custom House (the station adjacent to the venue) to three minutes, Reset Connect is also easily accessible. 

“The idea is really to pool the learnings that the corporate sector has and to share them among peers to help everyone benefit,” said Duncan.

“It’s analogous to what’s happened in finance with technology.

People would queue up in branches of banks to withdraw money and then go to another bank to pay that money into someone else’s account 15 years ago.

Now there’s an app on your phone, you’re sending money to someone else and you don’t even think about it.

“This is where we’re at with sustainability – this is where we move away from carbon quite massively.

“It’s really easy for us to keep using oil but then we certainly won’t be here in 100 years.

“So we need to try to work out how we can reduce carbon emissions on a scale similar to the fintech revolution. 

“That is quite daunting, because a lot of the technology is in the early stages of development, but we need to do something major, quickly because the dial isn’t moving fast enough.”

That’s exactly the issue that Reset Connect will be addressing – how to rapidly shift away from a system that destroys the planet to one that allows humanity to go on and thrive. It’s no small ambition.

“The point of the event is to get people who are already doing things well to talk about what they do, how to speed up adoption, what funding they use and whether they borrow money or use assets to do it so others can learn,” said Duncan.

“Obviously it’s a work in progress and it’s a really complex area. One of the reasons it’s called ‘Reset’ is because part of the issue is about how you measure success. 

“In the past that has always been linked to a profit measure but over the next 10 years it will increasingly become about impact. It’s about asking how we measure it, what we put our money into and what we really value.

“People are already talking about this in the corporate world, as are shareholders and the startup community.

“People also want to know how they can invest their pensions and savings in these areas.

“Some businesses may say that because they’re not listed it won’t affect them, but it will affect everyone. At some point you’ll be part of someone’s supply chain and that means you need to be thinking about it.

“Then there are the big fossil fuel companies – there are lots of pension funds invested in them so it’s really complex.

“Do you take the money out or do you find a way to work with them to be better, because the danger is that they will carry on being bad if you don’t?”

The show will take place at Excel in the Royal Docks
The show will take place at Excel in the Royal Docks

Duncan said there was a real appetite not only to tackle these topics, but also to do so in person with Reset Connect bringing together businesses, activists and politicians.

“I think the thing we really missed during the pandemic was people coming together, face-to-face,” he said. 

“The analogy I use about events is that they are like a football match.

“You can watch it on TV but it is so much better if you go to a game with five of your mates – it’s a completely different experience. That’s why we try and make as much of our content free as possible.

“While Covid fast-tracked the adoption of video call technology, things are so much more productive when you can shake someone’s hand and see and feel the products they are selling first-hand.

“I think that, if we’re going to tackle some of the climate challenges we’ve got, then we’ll achieve more if we’re able to get round a table, meet at a stand or talk about it over a beer with someone you’ve unexpectedly met but share a common purpose with.

“A lot of it is about serendipity and also discovering the things you didn’t know, but really needed to. 

“Of course you can sit at home and google ‘cities’ or ‘city infrastructure’ and that will give you a load of information, some of which may well be very interesting.

“But it won’t be the same as having Sophie Goddard from Canary Wharf Group tell you about its partnership with the Eden Project and what their vision is for that.

“You might stumble across some details on page 25 of your search – but that’s not the same as having a leading developer telling you how it builds cities for the future, what that looks like and what the partnership between business and finance needs to look like to make it happen.

“At Reset Connect, you’ll hear from experts like the Mayor Of Copenhagen, for example, telling you what that city has done to become a world leader in sustainability.

“And all of this is just one stop away from Canary Wharf on the Elizabeth Line.”

  • Reset Connect’s exhibition is free for visitors to attend with registration. Access to the conference is via delegate pass. 

For startups, scaleups, not-for-profits, academic institutions and public sector organisations these start at £295 per person. Advance delegate passes cost £600.

Readers can get 25% off their booking at Reset Connect by using code WL25.

Duncan said in-person events were great for sharing ideas
Duncan said in-person events were great for sharing ideas

Read more: Why the Elizabeth Line is a game changer for events at Excel

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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 Rise Climbing is building a community at Caxton Works

The bouldering centre, gym and cafe aims to attract climbers old and new to its recently launched wall

Conor Skillbeck, left, and James Skinner of Rise Climbing
Conor Skillbeck, left, and James Skinner of Rise Climbing – image Matt Grayson

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Like its walls, there are many angles to Rise Climbing, which recently opened its doors at Caxton Works in Canning Town.

It’s a temple to the pure, clear cut challenge of reaching the top of something.

But its two co-founders have ensured that it’s filled with much more than bouldering problems, brightly-coloured plastic holds, plywood and crash mats. 

“One way we describe it is that we want it to feel like home, a place to relax and for people not to feel like they’re walking into someone else’s space,” said Conor Skillbeck.

“We want people to feel welcome, to drop all their stress and worries at the door whether they’re here to climb or just for a coffee.

“Most of the world isn’t like this – there aren’t many spaces where people aren’t being challenged.

“Everything tells you the world’s miserable and that you should be unhappy so we’ve created a space where people can have a bit of time off from that unhappiness.”

James tackles a problem at Rise
James tackles a problem at Rise – image Matt Grayson

The Rise project began with Conor’s friend James Skinner, who found himself working at a climbing wall after leaving his job in medical software. 

“I’d been climbing since I was 12 and it was something I’d always come back to,” said James. “I ended up sticking around and after working at the wall for a few years, I wanted my own place.

“I looked at all the things I was good at and all the things I was bad at, because good partnerships are with people who complement each other, and they can recognise where their skills overlap. I wanted Conor as a partner because he’s a do-er.”

James, who’d met Conor through climbing, wrote a business plan, put a picture of his friend on it and showed it to him.

After managing to convince him it wasn’t a joke, the two began to plan in earnest, seeking premises and deciding exactly what their own wall would be like. 

Conor, who’d worked as a model before embarking on a career in structural engineering, said that having recently married and, with the prospect of kids on the horizon, he felt that if he was going to do something like Rise, then the time had to be now.

After a lengthy search, they found a lofty unit in east London in an area with little climbing provision, giving them the opportunity to build both an extensive, two-level facility and a new community.

The sport is growing at a rapid rate and both James and Conor hope their wall will attract both veteran climbers living locally but, crucially, an influx of those new to the sport who just want to try it out.

To that end Rise is already starting to partner with local schools and is keen to grow its operation in that area.

“Everyone wants to get to the top of something – walking up mountains, for example,” said Conor.

“In a sense, it’s a completely pointless thing to do, because when you get to the top, you just come down to the bottom again.

“But when you walk along a street with kids, they will want to walk on the wall, just because they get to be on the top of something.”

James added: “It’s such a fundamental action. Any parent in here will tell you that their kids love climbing trees and that they can’t get them off the stairs. 

“So we have such an easy sell – a climbing wall combines all of those things in a single space.

“It makes it safer to do them because of the crash mats, but it also means there are easier and harder ways to get to the top.

“People can get better at doing that and when they discover this, that’s something they really want.

“For kids especially, it’s somewhere they’re encouraged to climb higher, when they’re usually told to get down.”

Conor and James recently opened the wall in Canning Town
Conor and James recently opened the wall in Canning Town – image Matt Grayson

It’s not just for the kids, of course. Conor said the ultimate thrill was still reaching the top hold on a bouldering problem for the first time – something touching the second-from-top could never live up to.

“We set 30 new problems every week and the sense of satisfaction when you get to the top is addictive,” he said.

“Not getting both hands on it can be a complete disappointment and frustration.

“It’s hard-wired into people and you see why they really love it. It’s also a sport people can do for many years.

“Two of the top climbers in the UK are in their 40s.

“There’s so much in terms of technique, flexibility and strength – people who are good make it easy for themselves.

“They find ways of positioning their bodies, so the hard move on a route becomes easier. It’s not just about being strong.

“I think there’s a pretty good correlation between how hard you’ve worked to finish a problem and how much satisfaction you get from reaching the top.

“Sometimes I’ve worked for six months to get to the top of one climb, and that feels way better than something you do straight away – it’s not necessarily how hard it is, it’s how much time and effort you put in.”

There’s also a shared joy among climbers in seeing others progress, develop and conquer the problems they’re tackling.

James said: “We had a guy come up to us and say that he did his first heel hook – not just using your foot to climb like a ladder or the stairs, but in an unexpected way – and he said it was really cool.

“He’d seen someone else do it and he’d asked them to explain it and then he’d had a go and said he would be able to use it on other problems.

“That was on one of our easier routes, but even with those, we want people to learn something, to progress. That feels great.”

It’s this sense of community, camaraderie and collaboration that Rise seeks to embrace and foster, with those who visit for a climb or just for a coffee.

“It’s one thing to build a place the way you want it – we did a good job,” said Conor.

“The toilets aren’t obtrusive and the changing rooms look really nice, but ultimately the space feels good when people are in it. That’s when it comes alive.”

Rise regularly changes its routes to keep things fresh
Rise regularly changes its routes to keep things fresh – image Matt Grayson

James added: “We want it full of happy people who leave feeling happier than when they first walked in.

“The temptation when you’re designing the space is to have holds on every single surface, but we wanted Rise to have a really nice flow to it.

“There are huge mental health benefits to climbing and we wanted our wall to take on board things other walls had done really well and build on them – that it would be a real break from your screen, with challenging problems that will take your mind off everything else.”

For all these reasons, Rise is working hard to become an open space where people can meet, share a slice of Armenian cake and have a chat.

“The idea behind our front desk is that it’s like a farmhouse kitchen, that it’s a relaxed environment where there’s less obvious separation between people who work here and those who have come to use the space,” said Conor.

“We don’t want Rise to be exclusively for climbers – it’s for anyone who wants to come and sit down, for the wider community.

“We’re also running open social sessions on Wednesdays from 6.30pm and a women’s social on Thursdays. 

“We’re passionate about climbing and lots of other people are too – ultimately that’s what will make it successful.”

There are myriad ways to climb at Rise, including single entry for £12 or £9.50 off peak (before 4pm on weekdays). Under 18s cost £8.50. Membership options are also available.

Rise will also be participating in the Caxton Works Open Day on July 9, running low-cost intro sessions.

Rise is spread across two levels at Caxton Works
Rise is spread across two levels at Caxton Works – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How Keyboards And Dreams offers flexible workspace in Canning Town

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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 Holly Loftus forges knives from her workshop at Cockpit Arts

Blades are created using an ancient Japanese process before Holly adds handles of local wood

Holly Loftus is based at Cockpit Arts in Deptford
Holly Loftus is based at Cockpit Arts in Deptford

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The unique patterns running along the blades made by Holly Loftus are created by hammering together layers of softened steel.

She likens the ancient Japanese process to making pastry.

“It’s like a croissant, but instead of layers of pastry and butter, it’s layers of steel that get laminated by folding them on top of each other over and over,” said the 33-year-old.

“I use heat and pressure and just literally smash them together and they fuse. It makes an edge that is really sharp and long-lasting.”

Like the knives she creates at Cockpit Arts in Deptford, Holly forged her career through sheer force.

She is the only woman she knows of working professionally in the male-dominated field and her hand-forged knives, which cost about £300, sell out every month.

When she happened upon the notion of bladesmithing in 2010, she was a community worker on holiday in America.

The Lewisham resident was both beguiled and baffled when she stumbled across a hobbyist knifemaker at work.

- See Holly’s work up close at Cockpit Summer Festival And Open Studios in Deptford from June 17-19, 2022. Entry is free and visitors will be able to meet a variety of crafters in their workspaces and talk to them about their processes.

“That was the first time that I really thought about knives being made outside of a factory and I remember grilling him about how he made them,” she said.

“It sparked an interest in me, but the first five years of the journey into making knives was only in my head. I couldn’t even figure out how to get started, because it was so alien to me.”

Her uncertainty deepened when she was unable to track down any professional knifemaking courses in the UK at the time.

Self doubt made her question whether she could leave her job, helping pensioners and homeless people, which she’d started as a teenager growing up in Dublin.

“I was excited about making knives, but it took a while for me to feel like I could just give myself permission to make something,” said Holly.

“A part of that was because I had done something I felt was socially useful and that transition has been difficult sometimes.”

Layers of steel are folded to create a very sharp edge
Layers of steel are folded to create a very sharp edge

She spent hours scouring internet forums and watching videos, but the nudge to take action only came when a friend bought her a one-day knifemaking course.

“I didn’t really think that I could ever figure out how to do it, because there are so many aspects, different tools and materials and that seemed mental to me,” she said. 

“On the course, we just forged a very basic knife, but I decided I was going to figure out how to start pursuing it.

“Before then it all seemed really abstract, so it took away that mental block I had.”

She still had a hard road to follow to turn it into a career.

“In the UK there’s no professional route into knifemaking,” said Holly. “There’s no apprenticeship, no school where you could go to learn it.”

The only vaguely related course she could find was a City And Guilds in forgework in Scotland. Six months later, she quit her job and headed up there.

“I didn’t make any knives, but that’s where I learned to forge using a hammer, which felt like a good foundation,” she said.

“When I passed, it was really satisfying and gave me the confidence to apply for work in the field.”

Holly spends about nine tenths of her time honing her blades
Holly spends about nine tenths of her time honing her blades

She landed a job with Blenheim Forge where she spent three years learning how to make their Japanese-influenced kitchen knives, using their workshop in her spare time to practise and refine her skills.

“I was really open with them about why I was there and that my plan was to make my own knives. I think they actually believed in me more than I did.

“Even though the forging course gave me a lot of confidence, sometimes when I was actually trying to make knives they were so bad it would knock me down.

“But Blenheim were really encouraging and, over those years, I got so much better.”

In 2020 everything changed. Holly applied for and won the Cockpit Arts/Newby Trust Craft Excellence Award, allowing her to move into the Deptford studios with a year of subsidised rent.

“Without that award, it would have been impossible to go full-time because having the workspace isn’t enough,” she said.

“There’s so much equipment that you need. Having that year meant I could set up properly and get better and get faster on my own.”

Today Holly’s knives are in such high demand that she only releases them in batches every month through a newsletter. 

Holly's knives are released in batches via online newsletter
Holly’s knives are released in batches via online newsletter

Each knife is handmade using steel from Japan and Sheffield and native wood supplied to her by tree surgeons.

“I have pieces from around where my workshop is or I have quite a lot from Hackney at the moment,” said Holly.

“The way I work means I can do things a factory never would because it would be really inefficient to have a tiny piece of a tree from a small street in London.

“But I can pick out those more interesting, unusual timbers and have enough for a few handles. 

“I like hardwoods like cherry and apple. They’ve often been felled because of a fungal species that creates these patterns in the wood.

“I put the pieces through a process that stabilises them by pulling resin through to fill the spaces. It means I can use these them even though they’re partially rotten.”

Holly usually has 30 knives at various stages in her workshop and said they were made to be comfortable for home cooks to use, especially women.

“Lots of women I speak to are afraid of how sharp they are and don’t trust themselves to be able to use a sharp knife,” she said.

Readers can see Holly at work during Cockpit Summer Festival And Open Studios
Readers can see Holly at work during Cockpit Summer Festival And Open Studios

“That’s something I really want to change, because it’s been so satisfying for me to become comfortable with them and I think having a really sharp knife changes how you feel about cooking, it makes it so much easier. 

“When I was growing up, the sharpest knife in my house was one of those plastic-handled steak knives and it was sliding about all over the place and made my whole experience of cooking stressful. I would just resort to choosing recipes without chopping – or use a blender.”

Holly said she was terrified of chopping a finger off when she first started bladesmithing, but after two years at Cockpit, she finally feels confident and is proud of what she has achieved.

“It’s amazing. Sometimes I have to really remind myself of that, because I can get so sucked into the details of really wanting to make the best work I can,” she said.

“I haven’t allowed myself to reflect on this before, but it feels important to, now. This is what I wanted and now I’m doing it.”

Read more: How chefs created From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island

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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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Royal Docks: How Little Hudson cafe at Royal Wharf was inspired by New York

Owner Nicola Micah talks banking, motherhood and serving up all sorts of dishes to east Londoners

Nicola Micah outside her cafe - Little Hudson
Nicola Micah outside her cafe – Little Hudson – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The concrete jungle is “where dreams are made of” according to Alicia Keys’ song New York.

But for Nicola Micah the Big Apple simply provided the inspiration for her Royal Docks reality.

The Londoner was living it up in Manhattan with her husband – banking by day and soaking up all the city had to offer by night

“We moved to New York in our late 20s and loved it,” she said.

“For me, the whole point of being there was to be in the centre of everything. 

“But we knew we wanted to start a family and I didn’t want to do it there. We knew we wanted to move back home.”

By 2019 she was back – running fledgling café Little Hudson around the corner from Thames Barrier Park and raising her newborn son.

It was a huge transition, but one Nicola makes seem as natural as breathing.

“In New York, brunch is such a big part of the lifestyle and I’ve always loved food – working in a bank wasn’t really me,” she said. 

“So I decided I was going to have a look into it and see if there were any units around.

“When I did, I quickly realised we needed to go for it because there were some available. 

“I knew if we waited we might miss out or other places might move in and then there would already be competition.

“Then I got pregnant, unexpectedly, and that really pushed us to do it. I could have moved back to the UK and got a job in banking, but I wanted to do something I really loved.”

Little Hudson is located in Starboard Way, Royal Wharf
Little Hudson is located in Starboard Way, Royal Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Nicola named Little Hudson to “bring a little slice of New York to Royal Docks” and juggles running it with raising her three-year-old son Rafi.

The café, in Starboard Way, is open seven days a week until 4pm with a staff of 10 and the menu is very much inspired by the brunch scene in Manhattan while also including some English classics.

Dishes include banana and caramel pancakes (£11), a brekkie bagel (£8) with scrambled egg, cheese, chives, turkey bacon or smoked salmon, and the popular ​​Hudson brekky plate (£12) with turkey bacon, two eggs, hash brown, Hudson beans, sautéed mushrooms and sourdough toast. 

Nicola said: “When we were planning I was thinking about what kind of place people would go to regularly, not just once every two weeks.

“I wanted to choose the best thing to do in terms of being able to survive.

“Our food is the kind people want to eat every day, because it’s not really greasy. I like to keep the menu fresh and change it every few months for people who come quite regularly.”

Royal Docks is no Manhattan – the population is still small – but Nicola said that was the draw for her.

“Before we went to New York we were living in the area, so we knew it really well but there was literally nothing there,” said the 32-year-old.

“Then they started developing it and all the flats were put up and I thought it was a great opportunity to open something related to food, because there’s nothing else around there.”

Nicola's food is inspired by her life in New York
Nicola’s food is inspired by her life in New York – image Matt Grayson

She and her husband left the area to move Stateside after he landed a role with financial services company Moody’s.

Data analyst Nicola had previously worked for Santander and HSBC and then found work with Citibank.

When they decided to return, Nicola used her financial skills to create a business plan, carried out market research to build her brand and organised the lease, all from across the pond.

She said of husband Salem: “I’m pretty sure he was freaking out inside, but he was really supportive of it and he always has been.

“When we opened, he was in between two jobs, so was able to help out a bit, which was great because our son had just been born.”

Nicola launched the café in September 2019 with her six-month-old strapped to her chest.

“My son has grown up in the café,” said the Beckton resident. “When everything was being put together, we set up a play area for him in the back and, when we first opened, I had just started weaning him, so he had avocado and bits from the menu, which was fun.”

Nicola is now pregnant again but setting up the business is not an experience she is keen to repeat.

“It was probably good that I was quite naive about the café beforehand,” she said. “I can’t even imagine being able to do it now while raising two children. 

“The beginning was so intense, getting everything right, getting the processes right.

“When you’re new, you really want to make sure that every customer is happy so that they come back.

“I didn’t realise how intensive it would be, but in hospitality if your main driver is to make lots of lots of money, then it’s not the best sort of industry for you.

Little Hudson serves up a range of dishes at Royal Wharf
Little Hudson serves up a range of dishes at Royal Wharf – image Matt Grayson

“Even though it’s stressful with ups and downs and a pandemic and everything, I actually genuinely do love it, especially now we’ve got a really supportive team and people who actually care about the business.

“That makes such a difference and we have a lot less stress now.”

Six months after opening, the UK went into lockdown and the café was forced to shut. It was a strange time for Nicola.

“Looking back it was actually quite nice, because I had my son so we were able to kind of spend that quality time together,” she said.

“But it was really upsetting shutting the café. 

“We kept the community involved by doing supply boxes with fruit and veg, milk, eggs, flour, yeast, bread and coffee.

“We delivered them to people’s doors using a little trolley.

“No-one in our area could get anything because we only have a small Sainsbury’s, so the queue would literally wrap around the whole development. 

“When we reopened, we actually had a lot of support then from people who bought from us. All those same customers came in, which was really nice.”

Nicola said lockdown also forced Little Hudson to launch on Deliveroo, which has prompted her to consider opening a dark kitchen.

“Delivery has just blown up since the pandemic, it is about 15% of the business.

“Sometimes, on weekends, we have to switch it off because it’s so busy already in the café.

“I didn’t think people would order brunch for delivery, but they do, especially at weekends.

“I’ve been thinking about doing some sort of delivery kitchen and maybe expanding other parts of the business as well to do more cakes for events and celebrations and expand the catering side.”

The café is open seven days a week until 4pm and has just launched a burger night on Fridays from 6pm-9pm. Nicola is also looking into holding live music events in the future.

So does she want to expand to another location now she is expanding her family?

“Maybe,” she said. “But I’ll wait a little bit until my next child is a bit older.”

Little Hudson’s interior – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How chefs created From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island

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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 Cryptoslate helps readers make sense of cryptocurrency

Co-founder and CEO Nate Whitehill talks WordPress, websites, coins and Canary Wharf

Nate Whitehill is co-founder and CEO of Cryptoslate
Nate Whitehill is co-founder and CEO of Cryptoslate

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How does one become a cryptocurrency millionaire?

Since Bitcoin emerged in 2009 and investment became possible, it’s a question that’s been either idly or actively present in an increasing number of minds. 

With a blizzard of coins now traded it’s a world of complexity where invention and innovation are pushing at the edge of what’s possible in terms of digital finance. Prices rise, crash and rise again.

Stablecoins lose their stability and you can be certain the next idea or gimmick is just around the corner.

For Nate Whitehill, this ever-changing story and the global thirst for information about it, has made him a millionaire in a different sense. 

An entrepreneur for the last 18 years, the 38-year-old grew up just outside Seattle. 

Encouraged by his grandfather and father to take business seriously, by 18 he was coding on the internet and starting ventures with his friends.

A WordPress user since 2006, by 2008 he was building blogs for corporations and discovered the joy of being able to work from anywhere remotely as well as blogging about his own endeavours. 

He then went on to create Highlighter.com – a platform for students and professors to annotate individual passages of text so they could have online discussions around particular words or phrases.

“We raised about $750,000 and ran that company until 2013,” said Nate.

“By 2015 I had really discovered Bitcoin in a serious way.

“My friend in Seattle told me to download Coinbase, and the price was about $270 for a Bitcoin.

“So very early on I fell down the rabbit hole – it’s more of a black hole in the sense that people who fall into the crypto space never escape – I was on it for life.

“As I got into crypto, I started spending a tremendous amount of time on websites like Coindesk, which are like data analysis sites.

“At the time I realised I could build a version of this, combining qualitative and quantitative elements, and have everything interlinked together in WordPress.

“So I stopped the consulting I was doing at the time and started building the site – this was in 2017 and we launched in December.”

Still in Seattle at the time, Nate as co-founder and CEO of Cryptoslate rode the bull market of 2017 as prices for cryptocurrency soared and an increasing demand for information saw his site grow to about 150,000 monthly visitors.

“At this time I was also taking a really strong interest in the global implications of this technology and where previous digital innovations had happened,” said Nate. 

“I could see it happening around the world, especially in places like the UK. 

“So I started researching international conferences which would be interesting to attend, but then I realised there was so much happening in London and Gibraltar.

“So, in February 2018 I flew over to London and then down to Gibraltar for a fintech conference.”

With so many coins in the market, Cryptoslate aims to provide greater depth for its readers
With so many coins in the market, Cryptoslate aims to provide greater depth for its readers

Having presented at the conference, Nate found the international blockchain scene to his liking and decided to relocate to London, moving to Canary Wharf and creating a UK entity to work alongside Cryptoslate’s US business.

He said: “I came here on the endorsement of Level39’s startup visa to join Canary Wharf’s tech community.

“My view was that it contained the best of what was happening in London in an area that’s quite unlike the rest of the city.

“I fell in love with Canary Wharf, with London and with Level39 specifically, when I saw this vision of what life could be like and the opportunities that would present themselves here.

“Since I have been here, all my hopes and dreams have been exceeded in terms of the network of people I have met, so in hindsight, it’s been the best decision I have ever made.

“Having been here a year and a half, I remain passionate about London in general and Canary Wharf as a place to live – I plan on being here a long time.”

In that time Cryptoslate has grown to attract more than a million monthly readers, with Nate aiming to raise $4million to expand its operation.

“We think of the site as a crypto-discoverability engine – we have a combination of news, data and a directory,” said Nate.

“Each day we cover anything from 10 to 15 stories, created by a team of writers mostly in the western European region, but also around the world. We cover issues our audience finds compelling.

“A lot of the time it will be stories about all of the bad events happening, like the hacks and the scams, because we really want to paint an accurate picture of what’s happening with cryptocurrency.

“We don’t think of ourselves as trying to sell ‘hopium’ – the idea people will feed nonsense to each other with the hope of making short-term gains through investment.

“Something that makes us unique compared with other coin sites is that we combine the qualitative and the quantitative to give readers a more accurate picture.

“When you go to a Cryptoslate article about Bitcoin, for example, you’ll not only see the content of the article, you’ll also see a press chart about what Bitcoin actually is, with the opportunity to click through and learn more about it from a qualitative perspective.

“We also do that with our directory of people, products, companies, places and events.

“We also have a strict conflict-of-interest policy, so any time a writer holds an asset they are writing about, they have to check a box and there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the article. The goal is always to be as transparent and honest as possible.

“I am not editorially involved, personally – I’m a step away – but we don’t discourage our writers from investing in crypto.

“In fact, we think that, if people are using the products, they have a better understanding of how to accurately depict them.”

Whether it's a bull or bear market, Cryptoslate is there to track it
Whether it’s a bull or bear market, Cryptoslate is there to track it

Cryptoslate is actively looking both for strategic investors and to hire writers in London as it grows. It gets about 90% of its revenue from advertising, while 10% comes from its subscription service.

Cryptoslate Edge offers greater analysis, longer stories and is designed to give global investors a better understanding of the market.

“We always try to discourage trying to tell anyone what they should buy, what is a good or bad investment decision, trying to be as objective as possible, but doing it in a more comprehensive way through CryptoSlate Edge,” said Nate.

“The idea behind cryptocurrency is to create an alternative financial system for the world, and that’s absolutely coming true.

“Increasingly the traditional financial system is figuring out ways that it can participate in the crypto economy.

“Just the other day Fidelity announced that it would be offering Bitcoin in pensions, for example.

“Increasingly the crypto industry is going to become part of our daily lives over the next decade.

“People will be using different decentralised protocols and crypto currencies without even realising.

“In the same way that someone may not understand how the internet works, but will use Facebook and Instagram, so it will be the same with crypto technologies over the next decade.

“In five years you could pay by scanning a QR code which connects to your Bitcoin wallet and that’s how you pay for something. These are just some of the things that will be huge for society.”

And Cryptoslate will be there to help its readers and subscribers navigate that future.

Read more: Cody Dock tests its rolling 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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River Lea: How Cody Dock’s new rolling bridge unlocks the project’s potential

Hand-cranked structure designed by Thomas Randall-Page allows the dock to be reflooded

The rolling bridge will transform Cody Dock
The rolling bridge will transform Cody Dock

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There can be few pieces of infrastructure in the world that so succinctly represent the story and future of a project in the way Cody Dock’s rolling bridge does.

Recently tested for the first time, it’s the culmination of years of work – an elegant, ground-breaking solution that’s at once simple, highly engineered and not insubstantially bonkers.

The Gasworks Dock Partnership (GDP) has, with the help of more than 11,000 volunteers, spent the last 13-and-a-half years working to clear and regenerate an unloved patch of industrial land on the River Lea – used for many years as a toxic tip. 

A major milestone in that project will be the re-flooding of the dock itself.

With the junk cleared and the polluted sludge beneath painstakingly removed, the GDP always knew it needed to sort out a solution to the crude dam that currently provides a bridge over the dock entrance, but also blocks access from the tidal waters of the river.

GDP co-founder and CEO Simon Myers had duly found an off-the-shelf rising bascule bridge from Holland that would do the job – bridging the gap and opening when necessary to let ships in.

Planning permission was applied for and granted. But then something happened.

Bridge designer Thomas Randall-Page
Bridge designer Thomas Randall-Page

“It always starts with a conversation in a pub, doesn’t it?” said Thomas Randall-Page, designer of Cody Dock’s rolling bridge.

“Somebody told me Simon was building a new bridge, that it was a product from Holland and that it wasn’t the most interesting thing.

“I didn’t have any work at the time – I’d just quit my job to set up my own practice and I approached Simon and asked if I could counter-propose something that people would come and visit rather than just walk across.

“He said that would be fine, because they already had planning permission for the other bridge and I was doing it for free.

“Then I went off to help my friend move her canal boat and spent two weeks going through locks and looking at all this amazing Victorian infrastructure – most of it counter-balanced and low energy.

“So I started to think about an opening bridge but one that worked in a way that had never been done before.”

The rolling bridge has now been finished and awaits its official launch
The rolling bridge has now been finished and awaits its official launch

The result was a model for a rolling bridge, produced in partnership with structural engineers Price & Myers.

Operated by a hand crank, the whole structure inverts on tracks, raising the footway high above any ships that want to gain access to the dock.

“In a way it’s the opposite of the bascule bridge, because that’s all hydraulic – like trying to lift something at arm’s length – so a lot of energy goes into it,” said Thomas.

“This one is a very balanced system with counterweights, so it’s going to be manual – you just turn a handle and wind it over.

“It will be quite slow, but people will be able to do it themselves and hopefully others will come to watch it open.”

While Simon and the GDP team were immediately attracted by Thomas’ proposal, they put it through a rigorous process of assessment to ensure it was something that would both work at scale and could be built within budget.

“We knew we were taking quite a big risk with something that’s untried – to our knowledge, this is the only bridge of its kind in the world,” said Simon.

“Thomas gave us what we needed to convince our board and we decided to re-apply for planning permission, although he had to wait five years for us to give him a call and say we’d found the money and were actually going to build it.

The bridge rolls on steam-bent oak, guided by metal teeth
The bridge rolls on steam-bent oak, guided by metal teeth

“That was about a year ago and he engaged Price & Myers to work on it, all knowing that there was a fixed budget that we simply couldn’t go over.

“From the outset, everyone was committed – there has been blood, sweat and tears poured into it, nobody has made any money but they all wanted to make it work. 

“That’s really humbling – it shows there’s a different economy at work, one where people do things because they are passionate and excited about them – when do you get the chance to roll a 12-tonne cube of steel by hand except on a project like this? 

“The bridge is the most significant structure here. The dock itself is important, but it’s no good if boats can’t get in and out – it’s a statement of intent that we are bold and ambitious here. 

“It’s our first really big commission, it puts a marker down and it raises our game – with 400 names of those involved in its construction engraved on it, it really is a bridge of the people.”

The structure rolls on a pair of tracks like a giant cog
The structure rolls on a pair of tracks like a giant cog

Thomas added: “I started designing the bridge seven years ago, so to finally see it in place is both surreal and great – really amazing,” said Thomas.

“It’s better than I’d hoped. Cake Industries, who fabricated it, have been really helpful. There’s been so much goodwill in the whole team – a really collaborative and open process.

“Everyone felt like this was a project we really have to get right. It’s something special.”

So there you have it – a £260,000 bridge that will officially open later this year and last for the next 125.

It’s both a testament to the whole project’s collaborative nature and a gateway to a future that’s looking especially bright at present, with a the construction of a new visitors’ centre and a wash block already underway. 

With repair of the dock wall progressing and pilings in place at its far end too, GDP can now plan to re-flood the dock, creating residential moorings and a dry dock facility on-site.

Cody Dock is always looking for volunteers and companies to help it achieve its aims – you can find our more here.

When fully inverted, the bridge allows taller ships underneath
When fully inverted, the bridge allows taller ships underneath

Read more: Artist creates pieces for Pride Month across 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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Poplar: How Take Stock Exchange want people to take time to stop and reflect

Storytelling company are set to bring You, Me, The World And This Moment to Poplar Union on June 19

From left, Olly, Anna and Nick of Take Stock Exchange
From left, Olly, Anna and Nick of Take Stock Exchange – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

After a two-year pause, it feels like the world is suddenly surging forward.

But are we ready to face the future when we’ve barely processed the past and are scrambling to keep up with the present?

Take Stock Exchange is offering a chance to reflect on this extraordinary moment in time, which we are all experiencing but in wildly different ways.

The community storytelling company, consisting of Nick Cassenbaum, Olly Hawes and Anna Smith, has been out in Poplar talking to older LBGTQIA+ men, gardeners and young people about what they are feeling as they try to get on with their lives. 

They will combine the stories with others from across London for You, Me, The World And This Moment a free event set to be held at Poplar Union on June 19, 2022, from 12.45pm to 3pm.

“Previously our projects have really been strictly location-based,” said Olly. “But this one is focused on the experience of the pandemic and of living right now. 

“We got the feeling that straight after lockdown people were going to be told: ‘Move on now. We have to get back to normal’.

“But we want to provide a space for people to reflect on this moment in time and experience what they need to.”

Anyone can get a ticket, go along to the event, share a meal, and watch a performance crafted from the stories the collective has gathered, accompanied by a live musician.

Nick said: “We believe the arts can be something everyone participates in and benefits from, one way or another.

“What that means for us is trying to talk to as many different people as we can, with as wide a range of experiences as we can. 

“Then we enable those people to reflect, to develop their own ideas, share them with other people and use that to help them move through their lives but also make that community stronger. I hope we’re going to see more work like this in the future.”

Drama graduates Olly and Nick met at Exeter University and formed the company in 2013. They wanted to do something involving the arts that had a direct impact on people’s lives.

They started with a grant of £250 for their first project You, Me, The World And Wanstead and have gone on to work on 12 large projects and numerous smaller ones across east London.

Of course, it’s not as simple as rocking up somewhere, putting on the kettle and sitting down for a heart-to-heart.

Anna joined as a producer a few years ago and is the one who finds the pathway into communities, organises the meet-ups and applies for funding.

In the past, they have worked with The Yard Theatre, Stratford Circus, Rich Mix, Culture Mile, The Barbican, Barnsbury Housing Association, Poplar HARCA, Poplar Union, Artsdepot and Vision Redbridge.

Anna said: “We always have one key partner in the area we’re working in that already has some connections to local groups. 

“We will start having conversations with people and perhaps get a tip-off about another group. It’s a lot of word-of-mouth and following that chain of people who know people. 

“It’s about embedding yourself, even though it’s for a short period of time, in a particular area and getting to know the connections and the networks that exist.”

The group reinforces this by always travelling to meet their subjects.

Anna said: “I think that allows people to feel comfortable enough to open up more than they would do if they were invited to a random conversation in an unfamiliar location.”

Take Stock Exchange have created You, Me, The World And This Moment
Take Stock Exchange have created You, Me, The World And This Moment – image James Perrin

Olly and Nick are the ones who then go out and talk to people and begin to build a sense of what conversations need to be fostered.

“A lot of the time we’re working in quite unpredictable situations,” said Olly. 

“Sometimes we’ll turn up to a place and we don’t know if there are going to be three people there or 30. 

“We don’t know if they are going to be happy that we’re coming or not. So we have to have quite a clear plan in mind, but then be really, really flexible. 

“One of the real strengths of the project is it allows people to have the experience they want. It reveals stories that want to be revealed. 

“These conversations are already bubbling, but perhaps haven’t been connected to one another or haven’t been shown to be part of a wider whole. “

Olly said he and Nick often spent hours discussing the conversations and how they related to each other and the wider world.

“The idea is that we build a dialogue through difference,” he said. 

“The end result is people get a little bit of an insight into the lives of people they share a geographic space with, but who they might not necessarily interact with in their everyday lives.

During lockdown they took their conversations to Zoom, launching a podcast to share the results. 

The trio also completed a location-focused project in Poplar during the pandemic and said it felt important to return.

The event will take place at Poplar Union – image James Perrin

Olly said: “Lockdown gave some a moment of calmness and peace but we were still in the midst of this really disorientating experience. 

“And we’re still not out of that. We’ve just moved to a different stage of it. 

“Giving people the chance to sit and reflect is something that has almost universally been appreciated at every workshop we’ve done.

“One of the most common things that we’ve heard is people saying: ‘I still I don’t know what to make of all this.

“I feel like my world has changed massively, but I still can’t really work out how’.

“We’ve heard that from primary school kids and much older people and every age bracket in between, from people in a variety of different circumstances. 

“Our job now is to take all that material and create stories that are based on these events and communicate them in a truthful, clear way. That’s the big challenge of this project.”

They began holding workshops for You, Me, the World And This Moment in the Spring after receiving funding from the Arts Council and Poplar Union. 

Nick said having the pandemic as the theme has enabled people to connect more quickly.

“When we’re focusing on location, people can tend to keep it very light and not go into the personal,” he said. 

“So there is learning here for us that I think will definitely filter into future projects.

Olly said: “When we first started doing this work, it was in response to the idea that despite the fact we live in a world that is seemingly more connected, people feel a sense of disconnection more and more. We were trying to remedy that. 

“Now, we live in a world that has been turned upside down by the pandemic. And that uncertainty is at the heart of this project. 

“The pandemic has been this unifying experience but everyone has had really diverse experiences within it that we’re trying to connect.

“So, in our own small way, we’re trying to reunite this part of London.”

Read more: Artist creates pieces for Pride Month across Canary Wharf

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Canary Wharf: How Lothar Götz’s works bring depth to Canary Wharf’s Pride Month

Artist’s three installations celebrate LGBTQIA+ culture and achievements across the estate in June

Lothar stands in front of part of his work Electro-Rainbow
Lothar stands in front of part of his work Electro-Rainbow

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People walking down the Riverside Steps from Westferry Circus may not notice them at all.

Those turning round or going up might take them for a pleasing geometric arrangement of brightly coloured shapes.

Few, it’s fair to say, will immediately associate the pink triangles with the Nazis’ persecution of gay and bisexual men and transgender women.

“They were made to wear pink triangles in the concentration camps,” said artist Lothar Götz, who created the artwork, titled Upbeat for Canary Wharf’s celebration of Pride Month in June.

“When I was in my 20s, we all discovered what happened in Nazi Germany.

“As a gay man, I would most likely have ended up in a camp and that was quite a daunting thing to understand.

“That was why in the 1980s we were wearing pink triangles as a reference to what happened. 

“I like pink as a colour, it’s important to me and very much linked to the gay identity and while I didn’t want to make a piece that singled that colour out, if people notice it as a reference that clearly celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community’s achievements then that is great.”

It’s that broad mission that spells out the scope of three works Lothar has created on the estate after being commissioned by Canary Wharf to mark Pride.

His other two pieces – Jump and Elector-Rainbow – can be found on the Reuters Plaza steps up to One Canada Square and in Crossrail Place.

Lothar sits surrounded by the triangles of his piece Upbeat
Lothar sits surrounded by the triangles of his piece Upbeat

All three use colours drawn from the Progress Pride Flag, a symbol created in 2018 that builds on the traditional rainbow to embrace the wider LGBTQIA+ community.

Forest Gate resident Lothar, who works from a studio in Stratford, first visited Canary Wharf as a student when only One Canada Square and a collection of comparatively low-rise buildings had been constructed. 

“That was long before I moved here – there were only a few tower blocks, but it’s always been an area that’s fascinated me,” he said.

“In those days it felt very artificial so it’s interesting to see how it’s becoming more and more lively all the time.

“When I first moved to London and saw Canary Wharf again, I couldn’t have dreamt that it might be a space where I could do a site-specific installation.

“When I was a child, growing up in Grünsberg in Bavaria, I didn’t know the word for being gay – it didn’t really exist there.

“Then later there was the idea of coming out and I didn’t know what that was either – gay culture was something that very much only happened in gay bars. 

“Moving from a provincial town to a city where you could go and actually meet people who were like you was fantastic – that this was normal was such a major achievement. 

“I got married six years ago at Chelsea Town Hall and I found it tough going down those iconic steps – it was so emotional. 

A Wharfer walks past Electro-Rainbow at Crossrail Place
A Wharfer walks past Electro-Rainbow at Crossrail Place

“That you have installations like this celebrating Pride, in places like Canary Wharf, which are associated with power and money  is quite amazing – it’s so important for the whole LGBTQIA+ movement.

“When I was shown the steps and places they wanted me to create pieces for, I honestly couldn’t believe it.

“That it would be possible for me to make work in celebration of Pride in these locations, where people would be going up and down, doing their business and it would be part of normality, well I found that very touching.”

Lothar began his career as a student of aesthetics before moving to London to study painting at the Royal College Of Art.

Inspired by a childhood love of building sites as Bauhaus-style dwellings were erected in the town he grew up in, his work has often related to, or been directly applied to, architecture.

“I found those bungalows especially interesting when they were not finished,” he said. “As soon as they were, they were just living spaces, not the abstract fantasy spaces I’d used them as.

Lotar sits amid his work Jump at Reuters Plaza Steps
Lotar sits amid his work Jump at Reuters Plaza Steps

“That has informed my later work, including the pieces I’ve created in Canary Wharf.

“I try to highlight the spaces themselves – the steps, for example, are not just functional. With the colours it’s a bit like the effect of a red carpet for a specific event – you change the space and it’s that quality that interests me.

“It’s similar to the way flags and bunting for the Jubilee change a village green into something different.”

Lothar said the quality of the pieces he produced for Pride was of fundamental concern to him.

“I always want to leave how people respond to my works pretty open,” he said. “I wanted to do a series of serious artworks that were somewhere in between being immediately identifiable as works for Pride and simply art in their own right. 

“I think that when you look at them, you notice that the colours are Pride colours, but it was also important to me to say that people aren’t just gay in June. 

“There are still hurdles in life for LGBTQIA+ people – perhaps not as many as there were but they are still there.

“I hope people pause and think a little bit, that I’ve created something that’s subtle. That’s why the darker elements are in the work.

“My work is abstract, but it always has stories behind it. Electro-Rainbow, for example responds to the large panels it is on – the architecture.

“But the kaleidoscope of the colours makes reference to club culture – the dancing, the lights and the colours – which has been very important in the history of gay liberation, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Lothar's Upbeat at Riverside Steps near Westferry Circus
Lothar’s Upbeat at Riverside Steps near Westferry Circus

Jump is about the jumps in progress that have been made – the steps it is on are quite big but they’re still dwarfed by One Canada Square above them.

“It’s a reminder that as a gay man I still need a safe space because it’s still a big thing to come out, but that there have been these jumps.

“My love and relationship have a completely different level of acceptance now than would have been possible when I had my first relationship.

Upbeat is really a response to the architecture and takes the pyramid on top of One Canada Square as one of its dominant elements.

“But again, you have those Progress Pride Flag colours and the lozenge shapes that are similar to the facade of Newfoundland and the blue and white lozenges on the Bavarian flag, which is where I’m originally from.

“That is an abstraction of the shapes the clouds make.

“With this piece, I wanted to describe the feeling you get when you step off the boat and walk up that stairway to Heaven. It’s very beautiful.”

  • Lothar’s works are on show in Canary Wharf until the end of June, 2022, as part of the estate’s wider celebration of Pride Month.

Read more: Find out how mudlark Nicola White makes art from her finds

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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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Blackwall: How The Greenhouse offers space and community to support startups

Joint project by The Trampery, Trilogy Real Estate and UWS is based at Republic in east London

Ahmet Emin Hondor wants to welcome more businesses to The Greenhous
Ahmet Emin Hondor wants to welcome more businesses to The Greenhouse- image Matt Grayson

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Nurturing young plants requires warmth, water and good quality soil to help them put down roots. That’s why so many seedlings thrive under glass in gardens up and down the country.

The Greenhouse At Republic in some senses does the same job, but it’s startup businesses being propagated rather than seedlings.

Located on the ground floor of the Export Building, the facility is a joint project between Trilogy Real Estate – the developer behind the whole Republic regeneration project – the University Of The West Of Scotland (UWS), which has a campus on-site and The Trampery.

The latter, which describes itself as “a purpose-led enterprise dedicated to making business a positive force in society”, operates  the facility, providing workspace for early-stage entrepreneurs and startups.

The Greenhouse aims to support local residents, Republic tenants, graduates of UWS and businesses seeking to have a beneficial impact on the world around them.

“Our main mission is to provide the workspaces as well as access to our network,” said Ahmet Emin Hondor, partnerships manager at The Trampery, who looks after the facility.

“We really value that connection because it creates a big synergy between different communities.

“Quite often we have very like-minded people, who care about the environment and social issues.

“They have purposes in their businesses and these have a social impact. 

“The more we have this, the more businesses like this come to us. That’s really valuable because people collaborate with each other.

“For example, if I have a charity in need of a creative service, we open that network to them and help them collaborate. 

“We also run programmes throughout the year to give the organisations based here what they need, and to introduce them to professionals who can support them.

“We have quite a range based here now – we have a lot of early stage entrepreneurs, but the industries are quite different.

“We have charities, a mental health app, a couple of marketing agencies, an organisation that’s aiming to save our soil, a couple of cosmetic brands who decided to create their own products because they couldn’t find what they were looking for in the market and a South African street food company.”

The Greenhouse At Republic offers flexible workspace
The Greenhouse At Republic offers flexible workspace – image Matt Grayson

Originally from Istanbul, Ahmet himself arrived at The Trampery via a career that’s seen him work in fashion, marketing, communications, consultancy and events.

“I decided I wanted to do something that would bring all those things together and that’s why I’m here,” he said.

“The Trampery is a very diverse organisation and it ticked a lot of boxes for me – I wanted to be a part of it. 

“Since I’ve joined I’m even happier, because it’s an organisation that really cares about people and giving back – that’s one of its priorities at all times.”

Those interested in taking up space at The Greenhouse fill out an enquiry form with The Trampery, which also runs workspaces at multiple locations including Old Street, Poplar and Hackney Wick. 

“We then follow up with applicants and find out all about their needs because they may be more relevant to a specific operation,” said Ahmet.

“If The Greenhouse is the right place for them, for example, then we invite them over here to give them a tour so they can grasp what we’re doing and understand the campus – we offer a lot of things here, it’s not just about the space itself.

“That also gives us an opportunity to have a chat with them and, quite often, after that, they become members.

“There are several different ways to join, of course, and we sometimes have people relocate from different sites.

“We also run incubator projects with UWS for students who are building their own businesses.

The facility includes a kitchen and breakout spaces
The facility includes a kitchen and breakout spaces – image Matt Grayson

“We have a few at The Greenhouse who are about to finish their studies and who are already starting on their business ideas.

“It’s very important to us that we can help these people connect to other businesses in our network who can help them thrive – lots of entrepreneurs will encounter the same problems and they can get help from each other in how to overcome them.

“People can share their experiences, their networks and their supply chains and benefit from each other’s deals where individuals might be lacking know-how.

“The differentiating factor at The Greenhouse compared to our other sites is the partnership with UWS and Trilogy, which brings with it a bigger network.

“When people join, however, they get access to our network and events across all of our sites including our second location at Republic.”

The Greenhouse is especially keen to hear from locally based businesses and entrepreneurs in Blackwall, Poplar and the surrounding areas.

A range of membership options are available including hot desk, fixed desk and Trampery Flex.

Suitable for businesses in the creative, retail, marketing, fashion, finance and social impact sectors, facilities include high speed internet, a members lounge, break-out areas, a library and a quiet space as well as complimentary bike hire, showers, changing facilities and unlimited tea and coffee.

Prices start at £110+VAT for Monday and Friday access. Fixed desks are £250+VAT.

Anne-Marie Payne of Chair Disco Collective
Anne-Marie Payne of Chair Disco Collective – image Matt Grayson

CASE STUDY: CHAIR DISCO COLLECTIVE

On Fridays we host an over-50s chair rave at a beautiful church in Hackney Wick with lots of people in wheelchairs and the Outward Housing Hub Club which bring neuro-diverse people who may be on the autism spectrum,” said Chair Disco Collective founder Anne-Marie Payne.

“Right now we’re opening with a Lizzo medley including her latest track About Damn Time.”

The Poplar resident created her exercise class concept back in 2017 and has since moved to running the operation as a collective with an emphasis on social engagement  and community building.

Having won a competition, the organisation is now based 15 minutes from her home at The Greenhouse as it continues to develop its chair-based exercise activities.

“I realised what was needed was new music,” said Anne-Marie. “So I put it to the test and that’s how we built this new way of exercising with a new spirit.

We put in bids for funding so we’re able to offer sessions free to inactive members of the community. 

“I was looking for a workspace because, after the pandemic, my main hustle shut down its office.

As a single mum, working from home in a tower block with no garden and not enough bedrooms, was hell on Earth.

“I was lucky enough to win a competition for space here and I love the vibe. I think of it as working-near-home because it’s close enough to pop back in an emergency.

“Right now we’re figuring out what our ambition is for the collective and whether we can run it as a social enterprise so paid-for sessions pay for free classes for those who need it.

“You’d be absolutely amazed how much people can benefit.

You can pretty much move all your joints from a chair and, when you’re really raving you can really boost your heart rate.

Read more: How Crossrail is transformative for Excel and London

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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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