View Notting Hill Genesis Properties

Deptford: How sculptor Dot Young uses her work to highlight environmental issues

Based at Art Hub Studios, the artist draws inspiration from Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai

Sculptor Dot Young at work in her studio
Sculptor Dot Young at work in her studio – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

What do a Nobel Prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist and a Scottish-born sculptor based in Deptford have in common?

Both felt overwhelmed by the raging environmental issues facing the world and decided to take action, no matter how small.

In the 1970s Wangari Maathai spoke of a hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire with tiny drops of water while larger animals disparaged it for being too small to help. It replied: “I’m doing the best I can”.

“That for me is what we all should do,” Wangari said.

“Be like the hummingbird. I may be insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain.”

She went on to help reforest swathes of Africa and founded the Green Belt movement.

Half a century later, Deptford creative Dot Young is celebrating Wangari’s story with a series of delicate relief sculptures and is seeking to make her own practice as sustainable as possible.

“I work in an industry that is quite environmentally impactful,” said the 58-year-old, who has been based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside for the last decade.

“It’s on the consciousness of makers, about how what we’re doing impacts the planet. I don’t use resin anymore and I’ve been experimenting with more environmentally friendly materials.

“As a sculptor, you can get caught up in lots of non-biodegradable plastics that aren’t really appropriate anymore.

“I also run a degree course in prop-making at the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama and I’ve been turning the focus to not ordering as much timber and using thick cardboards.”

Dot works from initial sketches before using polymer clay
Dot works from initial sketches before using polymer clay – image Matt Grayson

Her work on Wangari is part of her Natural Formations series, which celebrates habitats, the environment and activists.

She has based much of it on 19th Century illustrative prints from environmentalists and botanists.

She has crafted the reliefs from hard plaster or jesmonite, a more sustainable alternative to resin, and has been experimenting by casting with different papers.

Dot said to find eco-friendly methods we only needed to look back.

“I worked in Venice for a short period with the mask makers,” she said.

“The traditional Venetian mask is actually made from a woollen paper called carta lana, soaked into a plaster mould and coated in sermel gesso, another environmentally friendly, ancient material.

“This method eventually got usurped by Chinese vacuum-formed plastics.

“It’s really interesting when you turn the clock back and look at what things were made of, pre-industrial revolution.

“You find ways of making that can be reinvented in a contemporary style.

“I’m interested in experimenting in mixing dust with gum arabic.

“The possibilities are endless for looking at how you might develop a new material.”

Dot first became more conscious of eco issues through her project Chair, which tracked the history of an oak chair from the forest where the tree had grown, to the sawmill and then the furniture manufacturer.

“The only chair I could find that was fully made in Britain was from High Wycombe,” she said.

“It made me realise we don’t have a furniture industry in the UK anymore, which is very sad.

“Then I moved on to tracking other things, like hair extensions I bought in Dulwich, which I traced back to Chennai in India. 

“I was getting very aware of the globalisation of materials and doing the work to give people an idea that there was a responsibility around the objects we buy, of knowing where they come from, how they’re manufactured, if people have been exploited and their carbon footprint. 

“It actually got quite intense and depressing. The reality was very overwhelming.

“I could have become a political activist but I decided to go back to the studio, because I wanted to find a way to celebrate nature.”

Dot's pieces take as long as they take
Dot’s pieces take as long as they take – image Matt Grayson

Dot began looking at the work of people who had archived natural phenomena, such as Ernst Haeckel.

To capture them in 3D she started using a method she calls slow sculpting, allowing whatever time is required to complete each piece.

She believes that having this intense and intimate relationship with the work is communicated in the outcomes.

“I’d been doing a lot of sculptural installation work until then,” said Dot.

“It had been very conceptual and I was craving the technical challenge of traditional sculpture.

“I did some completely out-there pieces, inspired by 19th century cakes but really wanted to get more intricate, and I’ve always felt relief sculpture was something a little bit tangential to the rest of the sculpture area. 

“It’s all around London if you just look up and, historically, it’s a way of telling narratives used by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

“I really enjoy the technical challenge and creating stories within the work.”

Dot is based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside
Dot is based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside – image Matt Grayson

It is a stark contrast to her commercial work, which has included making heads of political leaders such as Barack Obama for Oxfam.

“That work can be really fun and I like working for organisations that are making a difference,” said Dot.

“But it is fast and furious and I have to produce it to a high standard.

“What I really love about the relief work is that I don’t put a time limit on it. It will take as long as it takes to get it right. 

“When you spend that time laboriously doing it again and again, it’s very meditative but it also speaks of slowing down and spending quality time doing something that’s hopefully, valuable.”

Each piece starts with lots of drawing and collaging to come up with a design, which is then transferred to a wooden board.

From there, Dot hand sculpts the design using polymer clay, which doesn’t dry out quickly – meaning she can spend several days or weeks on each piece.

Once the sculpting is finished, she makes a mould of the piece and casts it. She then sculpts out any imperfections and moulds and casts again.

“That makes it a very flexible process with lots more opportunities to add, take away and change it along the way and have a wider variety of outcomes,” said Dot.

“Sometimes it can be really frustrating. If it’s a really complex one, I do sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed if I can’t get it to work. 

“But I know from experience that I just have to walk away, leave it and then come back to it. 

“It’s definitely not a simple, linear process. Sometimes I do a drawing I think will work in relief, but then it doesn’t.”

“The work can’t just be decorative – I’m not really interested in that,” added Dot, who runs sculptural workshops and classes with Action For Refugees in Lewisham and has created experiential sculptural work for dementia-suffering residents in care homes.

“It’s got to have something that’s either powerful in its symbolism or be beautifully mathematical and geometric. 

“I love Islamic art because it relates to the universe and secret geometry.

“That’s been a big influence.”

Dot's croton seed sculpture honours Wangari
Dot’s croton seed sculpture honours Wangari – image Matt Grayson

Born in Edinburgh, Dot was introduced to the joy of objects and making by her father, a mechanical engineer, who was at the forefront of developing lasers.

After studying sculpture in Sheffield, she moved to London and was swept up in the 1990s era of shared housing, cooperatives and artist squats.

She then spent time in Africa, sculpting across Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and in the Tenganenge Sculpture village in Zimbabwe, which is another reason for her interest in Wangari Maathai.

Dot has already sculpted a panel inspired by the environmentalist featuring a croton seed, associated with the Kenyan reforestation programme and the African fabric associated with Wangari.

She is now working on a larger panel for the Craft In Focus event at Hever Castle in Kent (Sept 8-11, 2022), which will feature, hummingbirds, naturally.

“It will make a larger statement about her narrative – about how you can make a difference, no matter how small the effort you make,” said Dot.

“People that genuinely have an awareness of the environment are drawn to this work.

“There’s quite a limited audience when you’re doing really specialist installation pieces, whereas the work I do now is more commercial so I feel the audience is wider. 

“Communicating with more people means I have a bigger voice, which I’m really enjoying. 

“When people ask what it’s about then I really get to talk about the state of the planet and how my work is motivated by the concerns we have – but not in a negative way, kind of a celebratory way.”

Read more: How Unifi.id can help building owners cut carbon

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Greenwich: How GDIF is set to fill east and south-east London with performances

The 2022 edition of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival runs from Aug 26-Sept 11

GDIF will feature Charon, a zoetrope-like installation

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

“We’re opening this year with a truly amazing event – Spark – the creation of a Dutch artist called Daan Roosegaarde, it’s a complete reimagining of what an environmentally sustainable public celebration might look like,” said Bradley Hemmings, artistic director and founder of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival (GDIF).

“He’s taken inspiration from fireflies to create this wondrous moment, that audiences will see lying on their backs on the grass in front of the Queen’s House.

“They will be surrounded by myriad moving sparks in the sky – something very beautiful and very much echoing the magic of the natural world.

Sat in Festival.org’s offices at the Old Royal Naval College, Bradley’s obvious enthusiasm for GDIF is undimmed as he looks ahead to overseeing its 27th iteration. 

Taking place across an ever-evolving spread of locations in east and south-east London from August 26 to September 11, 2022, it promises 18 days of free arts performances selected to astonish, amaze, delight, amuse and challenge those attending.

“As always, this year’s GDIF is going to be characterised by a whole range of extraordinary and spectacular events, as well as performances taking place at a more local level,” said Bradley.

“The last two years have been difficult for everyone – certainly in mapping out, understanding and planning how things might transpire.

“We were incredibly fortunate to be able to deliver two festivals with a strong sense of confidence, so we’re incredibly proud of that.

“This year we’re in different territory, with new challenges and new contexts. We’ve always been a free festival and that’s something people can make the most of as we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

“It does put into sharp relief the power of a festival like GDIF – it is there for everyone, accessible, and we try to go the extra mile to make sure we attract people who might otherwise not attend the arts.

“For 2022, we’re going out to new sites, like Rathbone Market in Canning Town, Avery Hill Park in Greenwich as well as Thamesmead near Abbey Wood and Deptford, to bring performances to different areas.

“That’s one of the challenges of going outdoors, because for each site we have to create the theatre as there’s nothing on the ground.

“Of course there are venues we work at every year – Greenwich town centre for Greenwich Fair on August 27, for example, but actually discovering new sites and venues, as well as returning to places after a period away, is what keeps GDIF fresh and audiences awake and excited by what we’re doing.

GDIF founder and artistic director Bradley Hemmings

“For example, it’s great to be working with Tower Hamlets again  – we have a wonderful audio piece at Island Gardens called Final Farewell, that takes people on a journey through the streets and parks of the Isle Of Dogs.

“Then we also have a new production from Air Giants called Unfurl over in Bethnal Green Gardens, which features ingenious, soft robotic technology – people will walk in a garden of giant inflatables that come in a whole range of different colours and react to the public passing by.”

The problem when writing a preview piece about GDIF is the sheer depth and number of the performances it offers. 

With limited space, it’s hard to convey the often surprising blend of art, acrobatics, dance, circus, theatre and spectacle the festival offers – soaking the locations it touches in the unexpected to create memories that still echo many years after. 

In previous years I’ve watched an acrobat tussle with a huge robotic arm, seen a whole band swing on a giant chandelier suspended from a crane high above dancers in an imaginary ballroom and been charmed by two performers being silly with a stack of buckets.

Bradley is, understandably, at pains to select highlights given the embarrassment of riches on offer – a reflection perhaps of the fact that all the performances have the potential to be affecting in their different ways.

“We care deeply about all the events, although one of the things we’ve done is continue to work very closely with Flanders House in London and this year we’re focusing on Flemish circus,” he said. 

“There’s an amazing performance as part of GDIF 2022 called Follow Me, by a company called Be Flat, which will take people on a completely wondrous tour of a part of Thamesmead using acrobatics, Parkour and ingenious staging to draw the audience in. 

“They are incredibly skilled performers who will leave amazing images in people’s minds after it’s gone.”

The best thing to do, of course, is just see as many performances as possible and decide for yourself.

DIARY DATES

While there are far too many performances to list over the 18 days GDIF runs in east and south-east London, here are a few highlights that demand a place in the diary

Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula
Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula

Sept 3-4, 6pm, freeGreenwich Peninsula

Artist Stephanie Lüning will use mountains of rainbow-coloured foam to transform Greenwich Peninsula.

Bradley said: “This is a UK premiere, a very exciting, unpredictable event with a huge outpouring of foam as Stephanie controls the palette and how the colours behave.”

Charon will be at Limmo Peninsula

Sept 1-10, 8pm, freeLimmo Peninsula, Royal Docks

Originally created for the Burning Man festival, Peter Hudson’s kinetic installation is a 32ft-high zoetrope powered by volunteers.

Bradley said: “Audiences arrive at the artwork having gone on an immersive sound journey. This is an extraordinary piece sited right beside the River Lea with the figures appearing to move.”

Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford
Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford

Sept 7-10, times vary, £10 Here East, QEOP Multi-storey car park

This unapologetic response to rising Islamophobia uses verbatim speech from members of modified car clubs.

Bradley said: “This play by Zia Ahmed casts real people using their own words as they tell their stories, all while stripping down a car and putting it back together again.”

Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College
Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College

Aug 26-29, times vary, freeOld Royal Naval College

This work sees mosaics destroyed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine projected onto the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College.

Bradley said: “This is a project that really speaks to the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage since the February invasion, and shares with us this remarkable tradition of mosaic-making.”

Read more: Go for a dip in the dock in Canary Wharf

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How Unifi.id delivers tech that helps firms cut carbon in their buildings

Level39-based company’s real-time occupancy data designed to help reduce energy wastage

Unifi.id CEO and founder Paul Sheedy

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

“You cannot manage what you can’t measure,” said Paul Sheedy, the CEO and founder of Unifi.id.

“The one thing we focus on is giving clients the right measurement tools so that they can manage their buildings better.”

In the mouth of a lesser individual, technology designed to track building occupancy in real time and adjust systems such as lighting, heating and air conditioning accordingly might seem a little dry.

But Paul positively vibrates with passion when it comes to his specialist subject.

On the one hand there’s the engaging Irish lilt of a Dubliner and a glint in the eye.

On the other there’s a burning frustration and exasperation that more isn’t being done to tackle climate change and humanity’s continued overuse of resources.

He’s disarming, funny and deadly serious.

“We talk a lot about smart buildings,” he said, waving a hand to indicate the London skyline stretching out to the City and beyond as we gaze out of the 39th floor of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf.

“But 96% of buildings around the world are not smart.

“What we’re trying to do is deliver the things companies need to actually make them smarter.

“In most buildings, energy wastage is about 30% – just think of that in the wider context of cutting emissions and gas and electricity prices rising so quickly.

“My focus is all about using less energy and so lowering organisations’ carbon footprint very, very rapidly.”

Unifi.id's long range RFID cards are logged by its detectors
Unifi.id’s long range RFID cards are logged by its detectors

Based at Canary Wharf’s tech community Level39, Unifi.id has developed technology embedded in entry and exit swipe cards that allow its detectors to log employees as they pass key points in a building. 

Paul is quick to stress this isn’t about tracking the exact movements of individuals as they go about their day, but rather knowing who is in what general area at any given time and then using that data in a number of different ways.

“The lingering effect of the lockdowns is a good example,” he said. “Almost all buildings are being run as they were pre-Covid.

“Companies have all their cleaning staff, their restaurant staff and security staff in as though the occupancy was the same.

“But some buildings still have only around 2% of staff in on a Friday.

“That those buildings are being run in the same way is ridiculous.

“Before Covid, the way buildings were occupied was consistent, but now there’s not a single one that we run that has any consistency.

“Occupancy is so sporadic and it can be extreme on Mondays and Fridays.

“It’s criminal that all the lights are on, the air conditioning is cooling every floor, with only a fraction of the staff in.

“That’s why our technology can have an impact – the more we monitor, the better our predictive analysis gets. For example, we can see the effect of external factors. 

“We see that about 7%-12% fewer people come to the office on a Thursday if it’s raining.

“In contrast, rain on a Tuesday hardly affects anything and we think there’s a psychological reason for that because if you’ve been working from home on Friday and Monday, by Tuesday you’ll be feeling a need to return to the office despite the weather.

“On a Thursday, you might just think it doesn’t matter so much, especially if you’re working at home or off on the Friday.

“Then you have other factors such as train strikes, which can affect occupancy over an entire week.

“Occupancy detection also allows building owners working with us to tell the buildings in advance so they can adapt – keeping floors closed and turning down the air con, for example. 

“What we’re really trying to say to organisations is that they can adapt to this new way of working, but there will be consequences, so they may need to use hot-desking because certain areas won’t be open.”

The key for Unifi.id is giving organisations this ability to track change so they can adapt what their buildings are doing in real time, rather than simply guessing what’s happening.

Paul says energy is wasted in the vast majority of buildings
Paul says energy is wasted in the vast majority of buildings

“We think there will be a change,” said Paul.

“People working from home, paying for all the lighting and heating, will recognise that it would be cheaper for them to go to work, so it will get busier later in the year.

“In many sectors where there is flexibility, we already know what’s happening.

“Staff are seeing that it’s the right time to go back to work, socialise and interact with other people again.”

Greater numbers back in buildings makes Unifi.id’s technology even more relevant, given its obvious safety benefits.

Should a building catch fire, for example, knowing exactly how many people are in it and where they are is potentially life-saving information for the emergency services.

“This is something I’m particularly passionate about, because back in Dublin when I was a child, we had 48 of our neighbours die in a dance hall fire – they couldn’t get out of the building,” said Paul.

“What we want to do for the London Fire Brigade and for the tenants of buildings is to bring in a new policy where, in real time, if something does go wrong, the emergency services and building managers know the occupancy of the building.

“That means they can monitor the evacuation of the building and could save firefighters’ lives if they then don’t need to go in.

“Also we look at how many people in a building have mobility issues and where they are, so efforts can focus on getting them out safely.

“People don’t always do sensible things when it comes to an evacuation. 

“We have mechanisms in place where, if we can see people heading the wrong way, a completely automated communication is sent to their mobile to tell them where to go and what to do to get to the ground floor, even if that’s to avoid a certain evacuation route.”

Paul created Unifi.id following the success of Symphony Retail AI, a company he co-founded that analyses loyalty card transaction data to better understand the behaviour of shoppers.

Originally conceived to create beacon technology – the idea of sending messages from companies to people’s phones based on their location and profile – his firm switched its focus to property when it eventually became clear in the advertising world that this was a non-starter.

“I hate to admit failure, but I will,” said Paul, who has been based at Level39 since it launched as a tech accelerator hub in 2013.

“The world was convinced that beacon technology was going to be the next big thing in advertising, but it never happened.

“No retailer anywhere in the world ever made it work to detect the right customer at the right time to send them the right offer.

“In reality it didn’t work because it didn’t think about the individual and what they would have to do. 

“So now we focus on making technology that isn’t dependent on people doing certain things to make it work – the more you do that, the better your product is going to be.

“It’s more difficult for the company, but hey, I wouldn’t get out of bed if I didn’t know it was going to be a challenging day ahead of me.

“I enjoy squeezing the grey matter and the brains of brilliant people I work with to find what piece of physics we can break, bend or enhance.

“So we transformed into a proptech company, delivering simple essential data to those managing buildings so they can make them more efficient and better for the environment.

“Over the past two years, it’s not been a great time to be working in occupancy technology, so a lot of what we did in 2020 was to go back to our clients and say: ‘This will end, tell us what we could do to be even better after Covid’. 

“With their responses, my tech team sat down and we just worked relentlessly on building new solutions, working out what the next steps would be.

“We saw that the market was moving from card-based access control to apps.

“But we know this doesn’t make sense because people don’t tap in and out so much using an app, whereas the RFID technology in our cards  means we automatically detect people walking into or out of a building or past our detection points.

“We realised that the way to get around this was to develop a facial recognition system. 

“We only hold the vectors of a face in the camera, and only when an employee of the company walks in or out of the building – this would be detected and put in the database of who is in the building.

“Then we’d mesh that with 3D counting cameras – with these, we don’t know who you are, but we do know how many people pass them, so in reality we have absolute accuracy on the usage of each floor of a building.

“This means that if we do have an evacuation, for example, we know the numbers of people on each floor and we can detect them as they enter each stairway, so we can see the flow and quickly identify where there might be blockages or problems and allow the fire brigade to get to them.

“We really believe that this will become a global system, which will go into major cities around the world, like Dubai and New York.

Paul is clear that Unifi.id’s technology cannot be used to monitor the exact position of employees – this isn’t about tracking who’s at which desk and how many trips they take to the toilet in a day.

He said this would not only be an invasion of privacy on an ethical level, but also that such data would not be very useful.

“We have been careful with every client that we will never be a Big Brother solution – we’re only detecting people as employees or visitors who are allowed access to a particular floor of a building,” he said.

“Secondly, we will never put our technology into places like toilets or cigarette-smoking areas. If an employer wants to do that, they will be doing it without our technology. That’s not what this is about.

“One of my key points is that it should be actionable data, which would deliver the best solution, not just collecting data for the sake of it.

“The world isn’t taking climate change seriously enough.

“We’re failing on every single metric and we have to realise this isn’t about governments – its about organisations and individuals making the right choices on every single thing they do. We have to contain energy with every single device we use. 

“What the UK does have is an amazing ecosystem of accelerators for technology companies and a lot of them are now focused on proptech. 

“We’re now working in collaboration with a lot of those companies and, because we’re working with them, this country is now at the forefront of this sector going forward. 

“We work with people on LED lighting and automated building management systems and by using our data, businesses can rapidly cut energy wastage now.”

Read more: How Ultimate Performance helps its clients achieve their goals

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How Ultimate Performance works to help its clients meet their goals

Wood Wharf-based personal training business offers relentless focus and commitment

Ultimate Performance's Mike Turnbull assists in a lift
Ultimate Performance’s Mike Turnbull assists in a lift – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Ultimate Performance (UP) might look a bit like a traditional gym.

Descend into the brand’s Wood Wharf facility underneath the 10 George Street residential tower and you’ll find ranks of high-end Atlantis fitness machines in serious red, white and black livery, shiny lines of silver dumbbells awaiting the firm grip of sweating clients and a scarlet trackway ready for a pounding from those pushing sleds.  

But this business is a very different animal.

This is “where the excuses stop and the results begin” – according both to the writing on the wall of the facility and more subliminally from the TV screen beside the street-level entrance, which broadcasts an unrelenting carousel of before and after pictures of the bodily changes achieved by its clients.

Founded in 2009 by personal trainer Nick Mitchell, UP has grown from a one-man band in east London, to operating 21 gyms in four continents. 

It only offers in-gym or online personal training, meaning its clients only work out at its facilities on a one-to-one basis for hour-long sessions with their trainer present.

“Our motto is: ‘Producing results not promises’,” said Wood Wharf UP gym manager Mike Turnbull.

“We always aim to give clients a significant return on their investment.

“Nick’s founding idea was to change the personal training industry for the better and to make sure the clients were getting the best out of it.

“People who train with us get serious value for money.

“They sign up for results – whether they want to achieve a certain bodyweight or look – and we’re going to say that with the programmes that we have, designed over more than 10 years, we know we can deliver.”

The internet is awash with surveys suggesting people often fail to achieve the fitness goals they set themselves – one by Bodybuilding.com found only 27% had done so within a year with only 40% getting halfway there when left to their own devices.

UP’s approach is squarely aimed at addressing that challenge, although with a price tag of £5,650 for a 12-week, 36-session package, access requires a significant financial outlay.

The justification for that bill comes in the sheer intensity of approach from UP.

Ultimate Performance's Wood Wharf gym
Ultimate Performance’s Wood Wharf gym – image Matt Grayson

“Our programmes are very much backed up by science, so we know we can deliver,” said Mike.

“First of all at a consultation, we break down the layers to find the true reason a client has come to us.

“That’s different for every person – it might be to get a six-pack, to be able to perform 10 pull-ups or just to feel healthy again. 

“We want to understand their vision so we can project-manage to help them achieve their end goal.

“We’ll take a full set of measurements, photos and conduct an intense assessment on the gym floor so we get a real profile of their starting point.

“Then we’ll know what to do to build their training programme.

“It will also allow us to set nutritional guidelines – how many calories a person is going to need – breaking that down to fats, protein and carbohydrates, so we can find the calorie deficit necessary to help achieve their goal.

“From a scientific point of view, that’s the guarantee – the harder part is coming in with the right mindset and being able to follow the plan. 

“That’s where our trainers come in to try to find the right solutions to any problem, to guide people and help them stay accountable.

“We have a messaging system where clients can contact our trainers at any time as a support network to keep them going.”

This holistic approach offers clients a clear plan to achieve their goals, although UP is clear that the effort has to come from them.

The brand’s regional manager for London and Amsterdam, Matt Milles, said: “We’re serious about what we do to achieve results.

“For us, it’s about going the extra mile with everything we do. 

“That includes how we approach nutrition – we offer packages to help time-poor people – how we train clients in the gym itself, the level of support and service we give outside the gym and the amount of time and money we invest into making sure that every aspect of our operation works, whether that’s the personal training product itself or the technology behind it.

“Even if we’re doing something well, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, but ask ourselves how we could do it better.

“However that doesn’t mean our clients have to be athletes – we train clients from every single background you can imagine.

“We have complete beginners, people who want to get in shape ahead of a holiday or a wedding, or sports people who want to build muscle.

“People usually come to us because they want to achieve a physical goal, but they find there are also lots of mental health benefits to exercise.

“Our clients talk to us about how much more confident they feel and the benefits to their relationships with their family and work colleagues.

“They’re more energised – they’ve got more energy to spend with their kids and such things are priceless.”

Ultimate Performance's Matt Milles
Ultimate Performance’s Matt Milles – image Matt Grayson

Mike and Matt have been with UP for about seven years, having both worked as personal trainers before joining.

“Working in commercial gyms is tough,” said Mike.

“It’s finding your feet, building a client base – you’re out there on your own, wanting to be the best, but not sure how to get there. 

“At UP, you have a mentor and a team and there’s a lot of support.

“You’ll be looking after your clients, but we’re always working to understand how we can improve our programmes – you have to be a certain level of trainer before you walk through the door.

“Then you get to concentrate on that job because you don’t have to do the marketing or the sales – you just focus on the training and helping your clients get the most out of it.

“That’s the best bit of the job – seeing the person in front of you changing and working towards their goals is super-rewarding.

“As a manager, my role is to look after and train the trainers and to oversee the programmes.

“We have multiple team meetings every week to discuss where we can improve.

“That’s all to make sure we’re delivering a very high quality of service to everyone.”

Having recently opened, UP’s Wood Wharf gym is currently seeing about 100 clients per week, but has capacity for at least 400 as it looks to grow its customer base locally.

“As a trainer myself, joining UP was like going from playing Sunday football to the Premier League,” said Matt. 

“It was a massive difference in terms of the results we achieve but also the amount of effort we put in.

“Our clients are generally very successful at what they do, but that can mean their health and fitness has taken a back seat. 

“That might be because they have a career and a family and that’s understandable. 

“We’re here for when they realise they need to make a change and, instead of going into a commercial gym and spinning their wheels with no progress, this is a place they can come where they know they will get results.

“As long as they are prepared to do what they need to do, they can be confident we’ll cross all the Ts and dot all the Is to make that happen.

“You might see your trainer for three hours a week, but we’re in touch with our clients every day outside those sessions – that really makes the difference. 

“I really think that’s the big secret and the reason we achieve the results that we do – because we go the extra mile. That comes from experience.”

Ultimate Performance is open daily with early morning and evening sessions available most days.

Trainers work one-to-one at Ultimate Performance
Trainers work one-to-one at Ultimate Performance – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover open water swimming in Canary Wharf

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Leamouth: Nashville Meets London returns with fresh acts and a new East End venue

Two-day festival of emerging USA and UK country talent arrives at Trinity Buoy Wharf, partly by boat

Shy Carter will headline the first day of Nashville Meets London

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Nashville Meets London (NML) is back in the East End with a fresh line-up of country talent from the UK and the USA in a new location.

Taking place at Trinity Buoy Wharf on August 24 and 25, 2022 (plus a river cruise on August 19), the festival promises cutting-edge sounds and a good ol’ country welcome.     

“One of the key things we’ve proved is that NML seems to be a taste-maker for identifying artists, particularly from the US, who are about to break in the UK, Europe and beyond,” said Peter Conway who co-founded the festival.

“Russell Dickerson, for example, has gone on to become a major artist and Laura Elena is now massive in America and her profile is very wide in Europe too.

“For this year, we’ve got headliners in Shy Carter and the young Priscilla Block, both of whom have a huge fan base already. 

“We always want to break a new artist too and we have Manny Blu playing exclusively for us both at the opening night party and in a major slot on the Wednesday.

“He’s really starting to make waves in America and all his socials are growing exponentially. 

“On the UK side, we’re delighted to be offering The Wandering Hearts who are based in Hackney and are one of the top three country bands over here. They’re a stunning act and we are predicting great things for them.”

Shy – the main act on the first night of the festival on August 24 – is full of excitement when we connect on zoom between London and Tennessee.

He’s primarily worked as a songwriter, having been discovered by Nelly and his manager Courtney Benson, before going on to create a string of hits with other artists. 

Now the 37-year-old is making a name in his own right on the country scene and can’t wait to take the stage in London.

He said: “I put so much time into being in studios, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to get in front of an audience and see all these different people who come out and really appreciate the music.

“I really engage with the people when I do my shows – I walk into the crowd, get a handshake and make up a song with that person’s name.

“I do a lot of freestyle, it’s real free and a lot of fun, and anything can happen. I sing some hits, some new songs, and it’s really heartfelt.

“Something about being on stage just makes me feel good – if there are people out there, it makes me feel even better. 

“If they’re moving to something you’ve created, it’s one of the greatest experiences and one of the best feelings I’ve had in this life. It’s party time and it also helps me as a songwriter.”

Shy has worked with a plethora of artists, including co-writing Someday, a No. 1 hit for Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, and songs for the likes of Keith Urban, Jamie Fox, Jason Derulo, Billy Currington and Charlie Puth.

Born and raised in Tennessee he was “always around music” at home and in church, learning his first chords as a child and developing a love for r’n’b before recording his first song aged 16 at a home set-up in a friend’s apartment. 

He said: “I was addicted to the process – hearing my voice on a CD. From then on I continued making music all the time and tried to find a way to make music my career.

“Now it’s a real blessing to put my own soul and my own flavours into the music. It’s good to write for others, but this lets me be a little bit more myself.

“I don’t think it really matters, but I’d say my music is country because the songs are no different to the ones I’ve written for artists in that genre.

“As a person of colour, my songs might sound a little blacker – but that’s what I’m trying to do, to bring country music to people who don’t normally listen to it. At its heart, it’s storytelling.

“Being on stage makes me a better writer because it helps me to see what songs people connect with most.”

Day tickets for Nashville Meets London cost £34 and can be booked here.

  • A selection of VIP packages are also available for Nashville Meets London. The Festival VIP Ticket costs £150 and includes entry for the festival on both days at Trinity Buoy Wharf, access to the VIP backstage area and the VIP bar from 2pm and access to the meet and greet area.

The Premium Nash Pass costs £200 and includes all of the above, plus a ticket on the NML River Cruise and entry to the invitation-only Opening Night Party at Pizza Express Holborn on August 22, which will feature performances by Juna N Joey, Kaitlyn Baker, Robbie Cavanagh and special guests.

  • Ticket holders for Nashville Meets London can travel directly to the festival via Uber Boat By Thames Clippers as a special request stop at Trinity Buoy Wharf has been arranged. Journeys on the river bus service must be booked in advance to take advantage of this offer. 

–––––––––––––––––––

Nashville Meest London's DJ Hish
Nashville Meets London’s DJ Hish

THE LINE-UP – NASHVILLE MEETS LONDON

Aug 19, doors 6.45pm, £45-£560

Billed as a “voyage down England’s longest river” this trip along the Thames sets off from Bankside Pier for an evening of music hosted by Absolute Radio Country presenter Matt Spracklen. Expect performances by Kyle Daniel, Vicki Manser and a set by DJ Hish (pictured).

Manny Blu is set to perform on Day One
Manny Blu is set to perform on Day One

Aug 24, doors 4pm, from £34

The first day of the festival at Trinity Buoy Wharf will see performances from Sarah Darling, Manny Blu (pictured), Ruthie Collins, Arbor North and Matt Hodges. Shy Carter will headline the first night, with music selected by DJ Hish between sets. 

–––––––––––––––––––

Priscilla Block is set to headline Day Two

Aug 25, doors 4pm, from £34

The second day of the festival, now enjoying a renaissance following a two-year break, will be headlined by Priscilla Block (pictured) with artists Kyle Daniel, Candi Carpenter, The Wandering Hearts, Tebey and Essex County also taking to the stage in east London.

–––––––––––––––––––

Peter Conway co-founded Nashville Meets London

REFRESHING THE FESTIVAL

Cut a slice through Docklands culture over the last 40-plus years and you’ll find Peter Conway woven through the rings of the tree.

His CV includes stints at the Half Moon Theatre, a decade as principal arts officer at Tower Hamlets Council before going on to arrange music events at Cabot Hall – a former venue in Canary Wharf in a space now occupied by Boisdale.

After that was closed for redevelopment, he went on to run Blackheath Halls on the other side of the Thames, before returning to Canary Wharf in 2000 to programme outdoor music events on the estate, creating the Canary Wharf Jazz Festival and more recently Nashville Meets London in 2016 – relocated to Trinity Buoy Wharf for 2022.

“It was a moment of serendipity in Nashville in 2015,” said Peter.

“I bumped into Jeff Walker of AristoMedia and from that meeting came the idea for the festival – an event to promote the best of emerging country music talent in both Nashville and the UK.”

Sadly, Jeff died suddenly later that year, but his daughter Christy Walker Watkins and son-in-law Matt Watkins, who worked with him, joined forces with Peter to make their vision for the festival a reality.

After four years in Canary Wharf’s Canada Square and a two year break due to Covid, NML is back at a new venue in east London.

“This is a kind of new beginning for the festival – we’ve got a great person supporting us in terms of Eric Reynolds at Trinity Buoy Wharf,” said Peter.

“We’re using the Chainstore as the main venue and the building it’s attached to as a VIP area and artists’ dressing rooms. 

“Then you have the wonderful terrace outside that looks over the Thames and the Lea where we’ll be having food and bars. 

“Each day there will be shows running from 5pm to 11pm with non-stop music – we want people to come down and experience the joy of country music, get converted and help us on our journey to build and develop this festival into a much bigger event over the coming years.

I’m very keen to foster a sense of country community and to make this a real East End event.” 

Read more: Trinity Buoy Wharf consults on plans to put flats on a bridge

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Hackney Wick: How Women Of The Wick creates places for women to be heard

Discover Sara Kärpänen’s platform for marginalised voices via podcasts, workshops and events

Women Of The Wick founder Sara Kärpänen
Women Of The Wick founder Sara Kärpänen – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

I believe we all have a story to tell and the voice to tell it,” said Women Of The Wick founder Sara Kärpänen.

“Sometimes we need other people to provide a safe space to share our stories. Social media isn’t always the best platform to show our vulnerabilities or experiences.”

Women Of The Wick (WoW) provides that space for marginalised voices to be heard through podcasts, workshops and events.

This autumn, Sara will be bringing many of those stories together in a new magazine that will go out across the Wick.

It will be the culmination of a storytelling programme funded by Foundation For Future London.

“It came about from the need to offer alternatives to the current media platforms or institutions that exist within the area and beyond,” said Sara.

“I want to help give creative entrepreneurs storytelling tools so they can use their voices and more unconventional business methods.

“The parts of ourselves we hide are often like superpowers.

“Those are the stories that connect us with other people, and potentially help someone who’s struggling with the same thing. 

“I have realised that many professional writers still either lack the confidence or find that they need more peer-to-peer support and a safe space to share their stories, or are just generally interested in gaining insight into their writing.”

Before she moved to London, Sara had her own successful career as a cultural journalist back home in Finland.

But it left her feeling “burned out and uninspired”. It was a visit to Hackney Wick that brought her back to life.

“I walked into this warehouse space in 2013 and shouted out ‘I’ve come home’,” said the 35-year-old.

“I had such a strong feeling of belonging, from the first instant I looked around. 

“There was this sense of freedom and access to different types of spaces and support from the community.”

Sara says she has a strong attraction to Hackney Wick
Sara says she has a strong attraction to Hackney Wick – image Matt Grayson

She was only meant to be visiting London as part of an internship with The Finnish Institute.

But after wrapping up her master’s in visual culture back home, she left Finland for good and moved to her own live-work space in Hackney Wick.

At first, she worked as a freelance artist doing public works commissions with a local architects’ practice and then began writing again for an online publication, where she realised the need for more feminist spaces and media.

“I have always been someone who’s fought for equal rights and I feel very strongly about gender inequality,” she said.

“I think it is my duty to tackle the inequalities that exist in the creative industry.

“It took me quite a while to gain the type of networks that I currently have and I wanted to offer some of the skills and networks I have gained along the way to other people whose first language isn’t English or who have moved to London.

“Also, I find elevating other women’s voices and visibility helps me overcome the feeling that other women take away from what I have got.

“It’s a counterwork to that societal pressure that we should be enemies instead of sisters supporting one another.”

WoW was born in 2019 from a residency at creative space Grow Hackney during which Sara started a podcast.

“I wanted to capture, document and share beautiful stories from the women that had somehow contributed to making the creative communities that Hackney Wick and Fish Island are known for,” she said.

“I wanted to facilitate a space where individual stories could be heard but also create a strong sense of community and belonging – the kind I once felt when I moved to the area.

“Quite quickly I was commissioned by the Foundation For Future London to capture more stories from women within east London.

“I realised this work was needed – not just a podcast.

“I wanted to create other ways to facilitate spaces for women to come together, be vulnerable and talk about everything from sex to social media and the highs and lows of being an artist, mother and woman today.”

Sara runs monthly workshops with WoW
Sara runs monthly workshops with WoW – image Matt Grayson

In the first year, that mission led to a panel discussion on Art, Sex and Gender, raising money for LGBTQIA+ charity Galop UK, a queer poetry night and the two-day festival Heal Her, focused on storytelling and eco-feminism.

“I feel very strongly that feminist issues are also trans and gay rights – we’re all on the same front line against the patriarchy,” said Sara.

When lockdown hit, she began a series on Instagram Live with local artists from their studios explaining their work processes and collaborated with organisations like Grow Hackney to do a book club and talks.

Today, WoW facilitates monthly workshops for freelancers at Hackney Bridge and works with partners across London, including Foundation For Future London, Economy Of Hours (Echo), Stour Trust, BMW Foundation, and Creative Land Trust. 

The podcast How To Occupy Space continues, and sees Sara interview artists, activists and architects such as Juliet Can, founder of Stour Trust and Arab artist Tamara Al-Mashouk.

Last year Sara launched a second podcast, Girl Get A Real Job, to talk about how we can reduce the current pay gap in the creative industries and normalise conversations about money and financial resilience. 

Guests have included Selina Flavius, author of Black Girl Finance and Kaiya Shang, editor at Scribner.

In the autumn she will be launching a new programme focused on the topics discussed.

Sara also works as programme coordinator at Echo

Sara also works as programme coordinator at Echo – image Matt Grayson

“Hosting a space where experiences can be shared and people can be authentically themselves is incredibly powerful,” said Sara, whose day job is programme coordinator at Echo, where members trade the skills they have for those they need.

“The reason I find podcasting so accessible is that it’s another way to share our stories and journeys with others, as well as writing and public speaking. 

“All these things are really under the big umbrella of storytelling, which keeps coming up as a central theme for everything that we do.

“It is a key component in branding and more businesses are becoming aware that storytelling is at the core of their practice and they need to communicate that effectively to others.

“That’s led me to do workshops for businesses or entrepreneurs who want to expand their vision of what they can do with purpose-led storytelling strategies.

“Since MeToo and the so-called third wave of feminism, there has been more importance placed on personal storytelling and women’s experiences.

“But there’s still so much to do. It’s great there is interest there, but it needs to be more than just ticking a box. 

“If a voice is given to people or representative groups, then we are on the right track.”

Sara said the key to good storytelling was realising there was no wrong way to do it.

“Write as you would speak to your best friend, is the best advice to anyone who wants to have their voice heard,” she said.

“We all have a story within us and are powerful beyond belief.

“You need to trust in that voice. It doesn’t have to be polished.”

To give people the confidence to speak out, Sara has everyone who attends a WoW workshop or programme agree to a safe space commitment.

“Everyone agrees that there’s a non-judgmental space and we have zero tolerance of racism or misogyny,” she said.

“We are here to cheer each other on and this is a space where we can share those vulnerabilities – the highs and lows of being an artist.”

Read more: How The Shipwright offers a communal, collaborative approach to theatre

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Deptford: How The Shipwright houses theatre, creativity and performance

Founder Joseph Winters explains how his company, live, eat and develop work together in London

Founder of The Shipwright, Joseph Winters

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

After only a few years navigating the London theatre world, Joseph Winters felt he was going in circles.

“The magic of going to the theatre and sharing a space and imaginative act with lots of other people had been lost,” said the 27-year-old.

“It had become quite similar wherever we were

“You could go to the Almeida, Donmar, Young Vic or the National, walk into a foyer and box office that looked the same, a bar that probably sold relatively similar beer and a room often painted black where actors went in and out of a separate door. 

“Being an audience member was increasingly a retail experience rather than communion around a piece of art.”

Working as resident director at the Almeida sparked the desire to run his own theatre and being manager of Fortismere Music Centre gave him the skills to do it. 

But, as a freelancer, his discontent grew as he realised he was being forced to battle for work with his fellow creatives and then torn away from them just as they found their rhythm.

“I had this desire to build something where I would have ongoing relationships and wouldn’t feel the sharp severance of opening night,” said Joseph.

“I wanted to find a new way of relating to my own generation.”

Residents of the house include Olivier Award-winning actor Hiran Abeysekera
Residents of the house include Olivier Award-winning actor Hiran Abeysekera

So, in 2020, he founded The Shipwright, a communal theatre based in a 500-year-old house in Deptford, where the team, live, eat, create and perform together. But it’s not just any old building.

The Master Shipwright’s House, built in 1513, is one of the few remaining parts of the Royal Dockyard.

He landed there after directing Rupert Everett in play Rush written by Willi Richards, co-owner of the historic building.

“They invited me over,” said Joseph. “We were rehearsing in a dingy room down the road and, when I saw it, I thought: ‘Why aren’t we rehearsing here?’

“There was this amazing day, when we stopped a rehearsal, and had dinner together and didn’t talk about the play at all. The next day, it was so much better.

“That’s when I realised my idea of a communal theatre wouldn’t just be a nice thing, but that the work would get better.”

Willi invited him to move in and take the leap but, just as he did, the first lockdown arrived.

“It felt like a disaster and then immediately we realised we had to build a 200-seat auditorium in the garden,” said Joseph.

“We did it with immense imagination and goodwill from a lot of people.

“Everybody we knew needed something to do during that small window in October – it was all hands on deck and it was done for not a lot of money.”

They opened with opera Dido And Aeneas and sold out. The production was lit with desk lamps, costumes were made out of whatever the company could find.

“It looked ravishing and it captivated everyone’s attention,” said Joseph.

“Audiences came, and that was the most exciting moment – when we knew we’d built something that was going to continue to work, something that relied less on physical production and more on audience imagination.”

The Shipwright’s production of Dido And Aeneas

The company followed it with a festival of punk cabaret, stand-up, classical music, new and old plays, arthouse film and children’s storytimes led by a drag queen.

Joseph said he realised Deptford audiences were up for risks.

He said: “As an artistic director you are basically saying: ‘I think this is interesting – do you?’. 

“Theatre in itself is just a machine for encouraging conversations.

“First, between us and other artists, then between artists in the rehearsal room and ultimately between artists and the audience.”

Since that first flush, Emma Halstead has come in as executive director to help create a more formal structure, but still with the aim of finding the most exciting people to work with.

This summer The Shipwright welcomed a queer cinema collective from Nairobi and, on August 30, will host a world premiere of Bertie Baigent’s new opera based on Paradise Lost.

Joseph said: “Everybody joined in and, if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have worked.

“The thing that is so magical about the space is that, when people come to join us, they are part of the life of the house. 

“Willi and Chris and everyone who lives and works here is at dinner every night talking and working things out. 

“The one thing you need to do for young artists is encourage them and the owners have been the most supportive people.

“Willi is absolutely with us – always – and I talk to him all the time about the logistics and why we make work.”

So far everything has been done on a shoestring. This “fraught” move has been made a success through collective effort.

“You start a company and you think it’s going to be lounging around, staring into the eyes of beautiful actors,” said Joseph.

“In fact you spend a lot of time fundraising, begging people to work with you, thinking about toilets. 

“There’s often moments when I realise I haven’t had a day off for months. It’s exhausting but also incredibly nourishing.

“That said, when I step out of my bedroom in my pyjamas and someone says: ‘I’ve got a new sketch for the costumes,’ I do think: ‘What have I done?’.

“It’s an experiment to see whether this makes the work and our lives better. We’ve delivered a much more varied, diverse programme and more performances than I was expecting.”

The garden structure was made from leftovers from the house restoration
The garden structure was made from leftovers from the house restoration

These waves of change have been noticed. The John Hodgson Theatre Research Trust recently gave the company £1,000 to start developing work.

In September it premieres ​​The Gretchen Question by Melly Still and Max Barton, which dissects the climate emergency and is a headline commission for We Are Lewisham

Joseph said The Shipwright would always remain a place for the people. It runs a pay-what-you-can system, the bar is stocked with locally brewed beers and all staff get at least the London living wage.

“We don’t spend our money on lavish sets, but we pay the bar staff properly,” he said.

“We are in a hostile environment because of the pandemic and global financial situation and I think it will be vital for us to keep asking how the creative community will look in the future.

“Collective living is the way to go. Ages nine to 60 live here in lots of different ways. Once you have lived like this the benefits are overwhelming.”

The performance area in the house’s garden

MEET THE OWNER

For Willi Richards and Chris Mažeika, allowing a theatre company to run in their home wasn’t a big step.

They took their giant leap in 1998 after glimpsing the Master Shipwright’s House over a wall.

“It really is one of the most remarkable houses in London,” said Willi.

“But it was in a very sorry state with floors missing, barely any windows – the garden was a car park. It felt very vulnerable but I could see it was magnificent and wanted to repair and restore it.”

They had only just moved into a modern, minimalist home they’d spent two years building in Deptford. But they gave it up and spent another two years negotiating to buy the former home of master shipwright Joseph Allin.

“It was an incredibly long process, but when you fall in love with something it holds you quite tight,” said Willi.

He and Chris were already heavily involved in the theatre.

Originally from Wales, Willi has worked at RADA since 1992, now teaching there part-time in between his voice training work, writing and directing.

They began filling the house with events straight away and Willi sees The Shipwright as the latest incarnation of the “creative commune”.

 “It’s wonderful having your own entertainment on site – you walk out of the kitchen door and there’s a performance going on,” he said.

“I love it, because it feels like living inside a theatre.

“The rhythm of eating, meeting and creating together is very potent.

“I try not to stick my oar in or interfere too much because I am an old hand and this is a new generation thing.”

The couple keep some rooms private and Willi said it was a delight seeing the mix of people who visited their home.

“It’s a real privilege to welcome people into this extraordinary space,” he said.

Read more: How Just Vibez is set to take over Greenwich Peninsula

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canning Town: How the Bamboo Bicycle Club helps its customers build their rides

Fast-growing material offers natural cushioning, offered by the business via kits and workshops

James Marr of the Bamboo Bicycle Club at Caxton Works
James Marr of the Bamboo Bicycle Club at Caxton Works

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

James Marr was working in rural Wales as an engineer when he encountered the problem that would lead to the creation of the business he’s now run for 10 years in east London.

“I was doing a lot of commuting and I was really uncomfortable on my bike,” he said.

“I decided I needed a frame that would absorb more of the vibrations from the road and be a bit more pleasant to ride.

“I’ve always been someone who just gets on and does stuff and a bicycle gives you that ability.

“I’ve always cycled – it gives you a lot of freedom, and I really enjoy that.

“I’ve always tried to fix things and build things myself, so I thought I’d make my own bicycle.”

Having lived in the USA and seen people riding bikes with bamboo frames he began researching the material and found it to his liking.

“That’s where I got the original idea,” he said. “Bamboo bikes are about 120 years old now – they’ve been around for a while.

“Technology has obviously progressed in terms of how you build bikes over time and that’s made making your own much more accessible.

“You’re able to create something really decent now, so I thought I’d build one.

“I told my best mate Ian McMillan about it, and he joined in.

“We used to meet up at the weekends – we’d have some beers and build our bikes.

“That was really the inception of the Bamboo Bicycle Club.

“We really enjoyed building them and riding them – it was enjoyable and sociable and our mates asked if they could come and build with us as well.”

Build workshops take place in Canning Town every month

Initially the idea was to open up the club as a social project with James and his friend keeping their  jobs in engineering while continuing to build and teach others at the weekends.

But the idea snowballed and James quit his job to run the business full-time.

He relocated operations to Caxton Works in Canning Town in 2020 after years in Hackney Wick, mostly because rents in the area were becoming prohibitive for a firm like his that needs a significant amount of space.

It’s necessary because the spirit of the original club still forms the spine of the business.

“We don’t sell finished bikes – only kits and building sessions in our workshops,” said James.

“Over the years it has been a temptation to sell finished bikes, but it was that early feeling I got when I rode the bike I’d built which is really key.

“I remember that when I rode it, me and my mate were giggling, because we just couldn’t believe that we’d built these bikes and were riding them for the first time.

“They were functional, they worked, and they definitely planted the seed of what could be achieved. That initial spark from riding them was unique.

“The first one I built was pretty shit, but it made me realise what I’d done wrong.

“When I’m teaching others, the first thing I say is: ‘Make mistakes, but just embrace that and learn from them – it’s a process’.

“This is something that’s not allowed in our society that much – you don’t go to work to make mistakes – but trying to give things a go and learning from doing them is what I believe in and that’s what we do here.”

That’s, of course, because the other thing the club does is build a lot of bikes and sell a lot of kits so people can make them at home.

“Our home-build kits are our biggest growth area,” said James. “We now do a lugged frame with pre-moulded components – it’s the Ikea of bike building.

“You get the bits in a box, slot all the bamboo into them and you’ve got yourself a bike.

“It moves away from the possibility of compromise, but it gives people the ability to use their hands and learn some techniques.

“It takes a few hours instead of the 70 you’d expect using a cottage industry method.”

James assists a client with his build
James assists a client with his build

There’s a sense, however, that James prefers custom builds – clients who want to get their hands a little dirtier by using flax and resin to join the lengths of bamboo into frames that will suit their needs and desires.

“When you have that combination of materials, the frame becomes a bio-composite and it’s a lot more interesting,” he said.

“The initial concept was to build a certain bike a certain way, but some of the bikes we’ve built are completely bizarre.

“Loads of people build crazy bikes with us in the workshop and we also do custom kits that we ship all over the world.

“People build mountain bikes out of bamboo and that just shows how robust and versatile a material it can be.

“We’ve done loads of BMX and stunt bikes as well.

“Everyone is following the same general blueprint here but each bike is different and unique. It’s down to the individual who is building it.” 

A lugged frame from the Bamboo Bicycle Club
A lugged frame from the Bamboo Bicycle Club

Visitors to the Canning Town workshop can see all sorts of machines created from bamboo including tricycles, electric variants and rides with oversize chunky backbones.

The business also sells a wide range of add-ons from gear and brake packs to the simple addition of water bottle holders.

“If you’re into bikes, you know there are hundreds of different types and variations,” said James.

“Basically a bamboo bike is just a bicycle, no different from any other, that you use or may have used regularly.

“The only difference is that you can customise it, create something you want and it’s a lot more accessible.

“If you want to build a custom bike from other materials, you’re talking tens of thousands of pounds, so bamboo bikes are quite affordable to build.

“From a ride perspective it’s also a lot more comfortable because the material naturally absorbs impact.

“We’ve done a lot of work with universities researching bamboo because there’s huge under-investment and naivety about it in the western world.”

Frame build kits start at £410, while one-day frame building workshops, which run once a month and must be pre-booked, start at £695.

Bamboo can be used to make a wide range of bikes
Bamboo can be used to make a wide range of bikes

Read more: How Just Vibez is set to take over Greenwich Peninsula

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Blackwall: How Gelato A Casa offers refreshment with a Greek twist at Republic

Dessert restaurant near East India DLR station serves layered gelato and a range of sweet treats

Bitter chocolate and sour cherry gelato at Gelato A Casa
Bitter chocolate and sour cherry gelato at Gelato A Casa

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

This might be the perfect time to be writing about Gelato A Casa.

As the UK endures another heatwave – an increasingly common occurrence – what better establishment to showcase than an independent business that predominantly trades in edible products served below freezing.   

Gelato A Casa opened a year ago at the Republic campus in Blackwall and is the brainchild of directors Theo Alatas and Elvira Govosti.

Having met in Athens, the couple decided to relocate to London, moving to the Isle Of Dogs six years ago. 

“We met nine years ago and very quickly became a couple – we had similar outlooks on life,” said Elvira. 

“We both wanted to pursue something more than what we had in Greece.

“We came to the UK to see what we could do with our skills in advertising, sales, construction, organisation and project management. 

“Covid was one of the things that sparked the creation of our own business – we thought we wanted to do something with our lives that we were passionate about.”

Gelato A Casa directors Theo Alatas and Elvira Govosti
Gelato A Casa directors Theo Alatas and Elvira Govosti

The couple decided to combine a love of food with connections to a gelato business in Greece, by opening a hospitality business primarily focused on sweet, frozen refreshments.

“This comes from our culture, the way we grew up – you can go to a restaurant at midnight for a steak or whatever in Athens,” said Theo.

“Hence the concept of the dessert restaurant. We’re open all the time – from 8.30am until 9pm every day.

“We were looking for somewhere with a nice exterior so people could sit down and enjoy our food.

“Republic is a lovely development that’s full of small gems that people need to find. Even though we lived in Crossharbour for five years we never knew about it.

“The biggest challenge for us at the moment is to say to the people that this is who we are, this is what we do and that they can have a lovely experience. 

“We serve eastern Mediterranean flavours and we have a wide variety of options.

“Back in the day our grandparents would take us to pastry shops with desserts rich in syrups and spices – this is how we grew up – and now we’re serving those same flavours here.

“The idea is to serve those desserts, but to also bring the tastes into the gelato we sell as well.

“We want people to come and try as many different flavours as they like, for free.

“There are two categories – customers who are already aware, because they come from these cultures and others who are new to them.

“It’s very interesting describing the flavours and telling the stories of how they came to be developed. 

“For us, growing up and eating these desserts was another level of happiness.

“The ultimate goal of this shop is to be exactly the same as those our grandfathers and grandmothers took us to when we were children. 

“That way, people can bring their families here and have those hand-made desserts that they will remember in 30 or 50 years.”

Gelato A Casa is located at Republic near East India DLR
Gelato A Casa is located at Republic near East India DLR

The couple had no experience in the hospitality industry when they decided to set the business up, but see this as an asset.

“We are both passionate about food, good quality and finding the best ingredients,” said Elvira.

“The desserts we make are something you would serve your friends at home, not just something to sell and earn money.

“We like to feel proud about what we serve to our customers.

“When our amazing friends created their gelato laboratory in Greece we were among the first people to experience it.

“There’s nothing like it in the UK, so we thought we should find a way to work with them and to share it with the world.

“The response was: ‘Wow’. If you do things honestly and are hospitable when people come through the door you can really stand behind what you’re doing.

“We have approached the business as though we were inviting people into our home – we want to make it as safe and as comfortable as possible for families and everybody else to enjoy.”

Cadif gelato at Gelato A Casa
Cadif gelato at Gelato A Casa

Gelato A Casa offers an extensive array of flavours including kadaif, bitter chocolate and sour cherry, banofi and even bubblegum.

“Pastries include baklava, ravani and terkenlis brioche chocolate alongside savouries such as Feta pie and the sesame-coated koulouri.

“We serve food that we miss from our country and that’s what people appreciate the most,” said Theo.

“We get people who are trying these things for the very first time and have no idea what they’re all about and others who say that we have done the impossible by putting these flavours into gelato.

“It’s also lovely that we’re here because the walls surrounding Republic were originally to protect the East India Company’s docks to stop thieves stealing from the sugar and spice warehouses.

“We want people to come through the walls for a taste.”

Located just across the bridge from East India DLR, Gelato A Casa also sells coffee including another Greek favourite.

“Coffee freddo is not a thing in the UK,” said Elvira.

“People usually have it warm and if you want an iced coffee then you’re pretty much out of options unless you have a latte from a chain which is usually really acidic and milk-heavy.

“We serve it because it’s complementary to the other flavours we have here.

“What we’ve discovered is that not everyone is very adventurous with what they want to try, but here people can sample as many flavours as they want.

“Then they get that confidence and when they discover something, that becomes their favourite.”

Theo added: “It’s important to realise the difference between ice cream and gelato. Ice cream is what you buy from the supermarkets, with an expiry date of two, maybe three years, and it’s as solid as a brick.

“Gelato is made from milk – we have our own machinery to pasteurise it ourselves – and then we buy the fruits from producers, and it needs to be eaten within a few days.

“Some of our flavours are seasonal because the variety of ingredients we’re able to source changes.

“We think we have a great product and we’d love people to come and try it.”

Gelato A Casa also offers savoury food and coffee
Gelato A Casa also offers savoury food and coffee

Read more: How Just Vibez is set to take over Greenwich Peninsula

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Greenwich: How Just Vibez is ‘a everybody ting’ for the people of Greenwich Peninsula

Two-day festival is a celebration of soca music and the work of the late Brixton hip hop pioneer TY

Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula
Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

There’s a fair bit going on at Greenwich Peninsula over the warmer months with events and pop-ups scheduled by developer Knight Dragon, all with the aim of bringing life and entertainment to the area.

There’s mini golf from artist Yinka Illori, table tennis from artist Camille Walala and JeeYong Lee’s new installation at Now Gallery – Maiden Voyage – all running into September.

Also on the horizon is Just Vibez – a sonic rather than specifically visual attraction – set to take over a slice of land beneath the columns of raised public park The Tide.

Running over two days – August 13-14, 2022, from 1pm to 8pm, this free musical festival marries a line-up of DJs and MCs with dancercise and street food in a celebration of soca, hip-hop, afrobeats and reggae.

“Just Vibez is a collective of DJs, musicians, artists, different types of creative people, and we have crew in the UK but also in Singapore, Australia, Brazil and Toronto – our main goal is trying to put on events which will entertain or ‘edutain’ people,” said Mark Chan Poon, one of the movement’s coordinators.

“We run authentic Caribbean and African-American pop events, but it’s not just for that community, it’s to open up and be welcoming for all communities to enjoy.  

“For us, ‘edutaining’ means entertainment where people also get to learn something, such as facts about the countries where the music comes from, or about their culture.

“For example, with the kids, we don’t just have a colouring corner, we have Caribbean heroes they can colour-in, so they learn a little bit while being entertained by the music. They party, but with a bit of education as well.”

Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez
Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez

Mark, originally from Trinidad And Tobago, came to the UK via New York and Costa Rica.

He said: “Music’s always been a big part of what I do and through that music I’ve had lots of collaborations in urban music, Latin music and hip hop.

“We’re stronger together, so we wanted to pull this together as a crew rather than all of us doing our own things individually.

“Out of that desire came Just Vibez for the UK, but I’m not the only person organising it.

“It’s been going loosely for more than 20 years, but probably a little bit more formally over the last seven or eight.

“I guess there are really three kinds of events that we put on. The most straightforward is the club nights with various DJs playing.

“That’s adults only and probably takes place three times a month in London but also in Australia, Singapore and other places.

“We also do special events such as one for the F1 racing in Singapore – any excuse for a party. 

“People may not know us or the music, but some people have even travelled to the Caribbean for the first time after hearing it.

“Finally there are the family-friendly days like the ones we’re doing on Greenwich Peninsula.

“We encourage people to bring kids, nieces, nephews, as well as their older relations so that we have babies of maybe a few months up to people in their 90s.

“We try to programme the day so that it runs a bit more kid-focused at the start, with entertainment for them, such as bouncy castles, face-painting and colouring – even making a carnival costume – then later it will be the full-on carnival vibe, and similarly we do this for hip hop as well.”

Just Vibez features soca and hip hop
Just Vibez features soca and hip hop

Just Vibez at Greenwich Peninsula will have two different themes on the Saturday and Sunday.

The event will open with Caribbean Vibez – The Soca Summit featuring UK soca artists such as Trini Boi, Joocie, Scrappy, Sun Divas, Miss Desire, Batch, Pahjo and One The Band.

“This will be up-tempo calypso from Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada and so on,” said Mark. “Of course, there’ll be dancehall and reggae too.”

This will be followed by CelebrateTY on the Sunday – an event to mark what

 would have been the 50th birthday of Brixton-born rapper, TY. 

The line-up will include long-time collaborators Shortee Blitz, Billy Biznezz, DJ Croc and DJ Mr Thing as well as a live stream from Maseo of De La Soul and a set from DJ Sarah Love.

“Ty was a UK hip hop legend who passed from Covid in 2020,” said Mark.

“We thought it would be a nice opportunity to have a good outdoor event, where a lot of his peers and collaborators could come out and perform – or just be there to celebrate. He was a great pillar of the hip hop community in London.

“On the Sunday we’re doing special T-shirts for TY, a limited edition of about 200 – get one there and then never again. His mum and sister will be coming as well.”

Mark said one of the core principles of Just Vibez was its mission to attract and entertain as many different people as possible.

“One of our lines is that Just Vibez is a ‘everybody ting’,” he said. “That means everyone is welcome to be there and that’s really the main thing about it.

“Some events may be quite closed to their own communities, because, if you don’t know the culture or the language, you would feel quite out of place – but that’s not the way we do things.

“We also encourage people from our community to invite their neighbours, who may feel it’s not their culture, so that they can have a taste of that.

“We’ve done a lot of events in Brixton over the last 10 years, but some people were very sceptical at the start. Now they come often.

“For example, there was an English gentleman I spoke to a little while ago who discovered soca music at our event in Greenwich in 2019.

“He’s in his late 60s and joined Instagram just to follow us and now he comes to so many events and brings many of his family and friends who have never heard this type of music before.

“That’s really satisfying to me – he even came to our special event to mark the arrival of the Windrush and also drove out to one of our events at Lingfield racetrack. That’s really nice to see.

“With Greenwich Peninsula, people might know The O2 but some don’t know about other things that happen there, so, by us doing these events, our followers will find other things too.

Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez
Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez

“We’d done events at places like the Royal Festival Hall and the National Portrait Gallery – cultural icons around London. 

“So we were very flattered to be asked to do one on Greenwich Peninsula and now to come back again.

“We hope people will come for us, but also that they will check out all the other things on offer during the summer too.”

In addition to a few surprise guests over the course of the two days, visitors to Just Vibez can expect a selection of street food to keep audiences fuelled for the dancing.

Those visiting the event can also find refreshment at Design District Canteen – a nearby food court or at the wide selection of restaurants on offer within The O2.

Read more: Sadler’s Wells East set to run summer dance workshops

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life