The Silverton

Tower Hill: How the Tower Of London is set to fill its moat with a wildflower meadow

Transformation will be open to the public with access to the plants via pathways or a giant slide

A Yeoman Warder enjoys the flowers during a trial for Superbloom in 2021
A Yeoman Warder enjoys the flowers during a trial for Superbloom in 2021

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They say never work with children or animals, but what about plants? It is an equally anxious experience according to Rhiannon Goddard, project director of Superbloom at the Tower Of London’s moat

The project will see the space, created in the 13th century to keep people out of the Tower, welcome visitors later this year.

The moat is being transformed into a wildflower meadow to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and a team of 100 people have been working since November to preserve the architecture of the site and prepare it for new wildlife.

The sowing of 20 million seeds is now underway and due to be completed in mid-April. Rhiannon said it would then be a waiting game to see if they bloom as planned.

“You have no idea what’s happening beneath the earth and just have to wait and pray that Mother Nature does her thing,” said the 46-year-old, who is head of public engagement projects at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP).

The aim is to create a vibrant sea of flowers, including ​​poppies, sunflowers, gypsophila, cornflowers and cosmos, which will evolve from June to September and attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies and seed-eating birds.

The public will be able to enter the moat via a giant slide or walkway and experience the garden up close throughout the summer. 

It is the first stage of a permanent transformation of the space into a new landscape aimed at attracting wildlife and creating a permanent Jubilee legacy.

Historic Royal Palaces head of public engagement Rhiannon Goddard
Historic Royal Palaces head of public engagement Rhiannon Goddard

“We are really excited about that because the Tower isn’t a biodiverse space at the moment,” said Rhiannon.

“We really want to be able to create something that is quite special in the heart of the city that everyone will be able to enjoy.

“We are hoping to attract lots of bees, bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies because they are all pollinators.

“During last summer’s trial beds, we were amazed to see how many arrived just for a tiny little plot.

“So we really hope to up the biodiversity from that really low-value grassland we had before to a high-value habitat.”

Planning for the project started three years ago with landscape architects Grant Associates, with Professor Nigel Dunnett from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture brought in to create the special seed mixes.

But a lot of work had to be done before they could be sown.

“The moat is a really historic place and has only been grassed over since 1845,” said Rhiannon.

“There is a lot of archaeology there so as custodians of this wonderful place we had to be really mindful of what had happened in the past.

“There used to be a more grand entrance in the west called Lion Towers, which is just ruins now and a lot of the foundations are under the moat.

“There was another tower in the north that got bombed in the Second World War and the foundations are under that as well.”

Soil delivered to the Tower, ready for Superbloom
Soil delivered to the Tower, ready for Superbloom

Items such as a lion’s skull and the skeletons of a Medieval woman and child have previously been found at the Tower and archaeological trial pits were dug to make sure nothing unexpected would be disturbed.

“There are lots of things that we have unearthed in the moat over the years and we know there’s a lot more,” said Rhiannon.

“This time we have found lots of medieval coins, which will go into our collection and possibly be displayed in the future.

“We also put in 2.4 km of new drainage as part of this project and wherever we have dug we have had archaeologists watching every move in case something was uncovered.

“Obviously I didn’t want to find anything amazing down there because it would have really delayed us.”

Once digging was completed, 10,000 metric tonnes of subsoil and topsoil was brought in to create the best conditions possible for the seeds.

“I have never learned so much about the composition of soil,” said the Stratford resident.

“It’s absolutely astounding to me the lengths you can go to to make sure your blooms will come up perfectly, by controlling the nitrogen levels and fertility of the soil.

“They actually have to be quite low for these sorts of hardy annuals.”

The soil, recycled from a sand and gravel quarry near Sevenoaks in Kent, was carefully mixed with compost and finely grained before being transported to the tower.

“The logistics of getting that amount of soil into the moat and making sure it all came in a timely fashion has been the biggest challenge,” said Rhinannon.

A special conveyor belt was constructed so it could be loaded at a compound on Tower Hill and then tipped onto dumper trucks waiting below.

It was then spread across the 14,000 sq metre moat to create a terrain designed to have movement and flow.

An artist's impression of the slide into the moat
An artist’s impression of the slide into the moat

The space was then divided into grids so the seeds from Sheffield-based social enterprise Green Estate could be sown over three weeks from the end of March.

“We have had to think hard about that too,” said Rhiannon. “We don’t want to start at one end and finish at the other, because we want it all to bloom simultaneously.

“It is designed to look nice in June, right through to September, so the garden will gradually get higher and higher and always look fresh.

“It will be very colourful and change quite dramatically as the season goes on, with different waves of flowers coming through. There will be something new to look at every couple of weeks.”

The flowers are expected to start blooming by the end of May, just before the Jubilee celebrations on June 2-5. Rhiannon said she would be on tenterhooks until then.

“We have temporary irrigation on standby in case we have a very dry spring, but hopefully the seeds should just do their thing,” she said. 

“I think I’m going to become quite obsessed with the weather forecast over the next few months and we will all have our fingers crossed hoping it is kind to us.

“I can’t wait to stand down there and see some flowers rather than just the soil because it will be such a relief that we have managed to pull it off.”

It is the biggest project the Stratford resident has worked on for HRP and includes the rebuilding of a permanent ramp at the start of the moat to make it fully accessible to wheelchair users. 

There will also be quiet mornings for families with autistic children as well as visually described tours.

All visitors will be able to move amongst the flowers on a compacted gravel pathway with volunteers on hand to answer questions, with a plant identifier app being developed for the event.

Tickets will have timed slots with a maximum of 750 people allowed down to the garden every 30 minutes.

Rhiannon said: “The moat is surprisingly large once you get down there, but we are working with local businesses and transport to make sure it is a really lovely experience and not overcrowded. 

“We want everyone to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of the garden.”

Adult tickets for Superbloom start at £12 and do not include entry to the Tower.

Pathways laid out as Superbloom works continue
Pathways laid out as Superbloom works continue

Read more: Faraday Prep School offers supported place to Year 2 or 3 pupil

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Isle Of Dogs: How The Sushi Co has ambitions to spread throughout the UK

Brand intends to open 13 takeaway restaurants in 2022 serving sushi made to order without the chill

Sushi from The Sushi Co on the Isle Of Dogs
Sushi from The Sushi Co on the Isle Of Dogs – image Matt Grayson

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When branches of The Sushi Co have swept the nation, with outposts in every major city and restaurants every couple of miles in London, remember that it all started on the Isle Of Dogs.

The business opened its first restaurant and takeaway at the eastern tip of Westward Parade opposite Crossharbour DLR in January and already it’s one of three locations in the capital. 

Targeting rapid growth, with plans for at least 13 restaurants this year, its owners believe they’ve spotted a gap in the takeaway market and they’re moving fast to claim it as their territory.

“We already had a background in food, running pizza franchises,” said Sam Reddy, who oversees operations on the ground for The Sushi Co.

“We’d seen the trend for sushi and initially we thought we’d become franchisees but we decided to create our own brand instead. 

“Doing that gives you a lot more freedom – you are able to determine the quality of everything and you can make decisions much more quickly.

“Personally, two years ago, I’d never even tried sushi so we had to do a lot of research. We ate in so many places, we must have tried every brand in London.”

Peng Zheng and Sam Reddy of The Sushi Co
Peng Zheng, left, and Sam Reddy of The Sushi Co – image Matt Grayson

That included eating at the restaurant of Peng Zheng, whose food impressed so much that The Sushi Co approached him to join the project. 

“Peng has designed the whole menu from scratch,” said Sam. “He’s our head chef, so while we’re good at building the sites, finding the best suppliers and investing the money where it needs to be, he can concentrate on creating the right food.

“We told him our idea – to create a UK-wide brand – and he really liked it.”

Part of the reason for that is a shared commitment to the quality of the food. Walk into The Sushi Co’s Isle Of Dogs branch and you’ll see a chiller cabinet with a selection of drinks and a couple of cheery signs explaining that the kitchen hasn’t run out of food, but that all dishes are made to order.

“When we were doing our research, we realised there were lots of brands storing products in the fridge,” said Sam.

“But that’s not sushi. It should never be stored that way and you shouldn’t eat it chilled. It should be eaten warm and freshly made.

“That is what we do. It’s not instant, customers have to wait five or 10 minutes. But because they want to eat good quality sushi, they’re happy to do that.

“Whether a customer has come to the restaurant to collect the food, or it’s being given to a delivery driver, it’s all made and served to order.

“Top sushi restaurants would never put their products in the fridge, so why would we?”

While the first restaurant has some seating for diners to eat in, The Sushi Co has primarily been conceived as a takeaway and is available through Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat. 

Sam said: “Our main target is that customers should receive food from our restaurants in under 25 minutes.

“Our focus now is on scaling up because there’s nobody else in this market in terms of delivering fresh sushi. There are some independent restaurants, but we want to grow quickly.”

The Sushi Co is located on Westward Parade
The Sushi Co is located on Westward Parade – image Matt Grayson

With an eye on maximising accessibility, Peng and the team have developed a menu rich in sushi and sashimi but that also includes a range of poke bowls, gyoza dumplings and hot meals as an alternative to the core dishes.

“Some people think sushi isn’t for them, but it is for everyone,” said Sam.

“To be honest, I had that feeling two years ago, but not anymore and that’s because I experienced it.

“When people see that it’s raw, some wonder if it’s safe to eat, but our brand follows the highest standards of food hygiene.

“We think we’ve developed a really good product, quite different to pre-prepared boxes you might buy at the supermarket and now we just really want people to try it.

“Once people come to us, they will realise how much better sushi that hasn’t been chilled really is. 

“The feedback from customers has been really great – in the end you can’t build a business if the product isn’t right.”

All of the brand's sushi is made fresh, never chilled
All of the brand’s sushi is made fresh, never chilled – image Matt Grayson

As for the future, The Sushi Co plans to roll out branches across London first, with slightly larger outposts in big cities across the country being an ambition for the future.

Food-wise, having found its feet, there are also plans afoot to collaborate with chefs on signature dishes on a regular basis.

The brand serves an extensive range of sushi including nigiri, uramaki, hosomaki and futo maki as well as selection boxes. Hot dishes include the likes of curries, noodle dishes and soups.

“Personally I really like the prawn katsu, which is fried in breadcrumbs,” said Sam. 

“But I also really enjoy the rolls we offer, many of which come with special sauces that we also make in-house.

“I really like to eat sushi, but my wife doesn’t, so having that variety on the menu is very important because it means we offer something for everyone.

“Not every takeaway business does this but we think it’s essential.

“There’s still a lot to learn for us on this brand, of course, but the first two branches have been really, really successful and we’ve just opened the third so we’re very excited about the future.

“I really believe you can’t get the quality of food that we’re serving in any other fast food takeaway.

“Of course you can go to an expensive sushi restaurant, but many of our dishes are only £10-12 and we use top quality ingredients.”

The Sushi Co is trading on the Isle Of Dogs and in Chiswick and Holborn with branches in Woodford and Lewisham set to be open by May 9.

Expect to see quite a few popping up over the coming years.

The restaurant does have space to dine in
The restaurant does have space to dine in – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Market Hall Canary Wharf set to open on April 7, 2022

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Canary Wharf: Why Market Hall Canary Wharf is set to take the estate by storm

Venue at Cargo off Adams Plaza will feature eight food traders and is set to open on April 7, 2022

Founder and chief executive at Market Halls, Andy Lewis-Pratt
Founder and chief executive at Market Halls, Andy Lewis-Pratt

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Unusually, this is a story that starts with retirement.

At the age of 49, having worked extensively in commercial property and run a big public company, Andy Lewis-Pratt decided he hated what he was doing, resigned and headed to the Algarve with his wife and daughter.  

“I had no intention of doing any kind of work ever again,” he said.

“I burnt all my suits and it was one of the most cathartic moments of my life.”

But after five years of Yoga, tennis and golf, boredom was setting in.

Coupled with a desire to see their daughter educated more effectively than ex-pat life allowed, the family decided to return to the UK.

“Being retired in your 50s in Portugal is great because you find people like yourself – the average age of retirees like me out there was 42 and we had lots of fun,” said Andy.

“But it’s not fine in the UK – I was bored out of my skull, so I started googling some ideas about what I might do before we left.

“Then one of my friends asked if I’d been to this market hall in Lisbon. It was in an old fruit market and it was fantastic.

“There were lots of different restaurants – all kinds of food from all over the world – and communal seating.

“You could get what you wanted, when you wanted it and there were bars too that were full of life. I just loved it.

“Then, about five years ago, I’d travelled to the UK for an ‘old farts’ reunion where I saw an old friend who was CEO of a big property agency and I asked how many market halls there were in London.

“He told me that, while there was street food, there wasn’t anything like the one in Lisbon.”

Market Hall Canary Wharf will be based in the Cargo building
Market Hall Canary Wharf will be based in the Cargo building

From those seeds of an idea, Andy swung into action and put a team together, researching the business in Europe and New York. 

Convinced this was no passing fad, he raised finance and launched Market Halls with its first location in Fulham in the old ticket office next to the station.

“People loved it, we made lots of mistakes of course, but then we opened our second site at Victoria which was in an old ticket hall that had become a nightclub on two floors,” said Andy.

“I was nervous of that because my old retail background said don’t put anything on the first floor. 

“But it had a big roof and so we created a roof terrace and it was an unbelievable success, almost from the moment we opened its doors, it was full all of the time.”

The venue will have two bars and eight food traders
The venue will have two bars and eight food traders

A third site at Oxford Street also proved successful but, at twice the size of Victoria, proved unwieldy and has now been altered to fit the latter’s template. 

The original site in Fulham has also closed, more a recognition that to reach its best, the business is dependent on office workers.

Which brings us to Market Hall Canary Wharf – set to officially open on the ground floor of Cargo, off Adams Plaza, on April 7. 

“If I’m honest I was reluctant to come here,” said Andy. “I was a bit reticent as to how traditional City suit types would take to my cool venture with independent traders. 

“But my colleagues had told me the area had changed. I read up on it and I had to learn that my impression was wrong. 

“I spent time on the Wharf and realised it was ready for Market Halls – that’s why we took the lease on the space four months before lockdown.”

Wharf favourite Black Bear Burger will be returning to the estate
Wharf favourite Black Bear Burger will be returning to the estate

So, having overcome the “interesting journey” to get to the point of opening and with the pandemic receding, what can Wharfers expect from the latest hospitality venue to hit the estate?

“Market Hall Canary Wharf is a slightly more premium offering than our sites at Oxford Street and Victoria, but the concept is the same,” said Andy.

“We have eight independent traders that serve bloody good food and that’s their only job.

“As a business, we do everything else – we provide standardised kitchens – so the cost of entry is very low for them.

“There’s no deposit and they don’t have to worry about paying a quarter’s rent up front – we just take a percentage of their turnover every week.

“We look after the clearing of the tables, the dishwashing, the promotion of the venue and we operate the bars. 

“They just do what they’re good at, which is making great food with all the hassles taken away.

“We have a long list of people who want to be in our venues but they need to show their quality and that they can serve food fast and consistently.

“In Canary Wharf, the lunchtime trade will be big and that’s 45 minutes. If you can’t cook your food in seven minutes, you’re probably not going to have many customers coming back.”

Diners can expect Mexican cuisine from DF Tacos
Diners can expect Mexican cuisine from DF Tacos

Visitors to Market Hall Canary Wharf will be free to order from any of the traders and bars, with buzzers given out so diners know when their food is ready.

The opening line-up of eight restaurants includes Le Bab’s modern gourmet kebabs, Baoziinn’s dim sum and Chinese dishes, Mexican cuisine from DF Tacos, Malaysian roti canai from Gopals, fried chicken from Chick Chick Crew and Italian food from Pasta Evangelists.

There will also be Japanese flavours from Inamo Sukoshi and a welcome return to the Wharf by Black Bear Burger, which used to serve up fine patties at Giant Robot before its closure due to the pandemic.

Andy said: “This is a starting place for some with us and growth ground for others, so I’m particularly excited about opening up here.

“People ask me why I do it. I’m not young any more, but I go to the gym and I feel 30, even when I’m not.

The Canary Wharf venue will have dim sum by Baoziin
The Canary Wharf venue will have dim sum by Baoziin

“I’m not a foodie, but I love seeing people having fun – joy is the word we keep using – I like to see people having a bloody great time, and that’s why I do this.

“I get real enjoyment in seeing people smiling, laughing and having a blast.

“The great thing about Market Halls as a concept is that you can come here by yourself, in pairs, in a group of 10, 15 or 20 – it doesn’t matter.

“You can arrive any time, eat what you want to eat and there’s no grumbling about who’s going to pay the bill because mostly everyone has paid for themselves. 

“You can come and choose what you like, when you like and then just concentrate on enjoying yourself.”

And here’s a little music, appropriate for stepping into the hall of the food court king…

Read more: The Pearson Room reopens with a new team and fresh flavours

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Leamouth: Faraday Prep School seeks pupils to apply for supported place

Fishmongers Faraday Award covers up to 100% of fees at Trinity Buoy Wharf-based independent

The Fishmongers Faraday Award application deadline is April 18

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Children in Years 2 or 3 who show academic promise are being encouraged to apply for the Fishmongers Faraday Award by April 18.

The scheme, now in its fifth year, is open to candidates who would not otherwise be able to afford an independent education and covers up to 100% of school fees for one place at Faraday Prep School at Trinity Buoy Wharf in Leamouth.

Funded by the Fishmongers’ Livery Company, the award may also contribute to the cost of after school clubs, the school bus and school trips. The current scheme will support a place for a child to attend Faraday from September 2022. 

“This is a fantastic opportunity to join a growing and exciting prep school for those who might not otherwise be able to attend,” said head Lucas Motion.

“We want the children who receive it over the years to reap the benefits of what we offer here at Faraday.

“We’re a small, independent school, with just over 100 children. All of our systems are geared around individual attention so that we can really nurture, inspire and give children more support when they need it, and provide some stretch and challenge where they need that.

“We have small class sizes, with an average of 14 children.

“From Reception all the way up to Year 3, we have a teacher and a teaching assistant in each class, so we have a high ratio of adults to children to support that ethos.

Faraday Prep School head Lucas Motion with two of his pupils

“We put a lot of emphasis on high-quality interaction between staff and children, and having smaller class sizes really helps us to move them along.

“In terms of our vision and our values, they are all around nurturing children and delivering a good value education.

“I would also mention our broad and creative curriculum, which sets us apart and is certainly unique to Faraday.

“We teach much of the National Curriculum alongside a core knowledge curriculum and we have five specialist subjects, which are taught from Reception all the way up to Year 6 – French, music, dance, drama and sport.

“For example, we have a dedicated specialist sports teacher who is with the children all through their time at the school so they have the benefit of that – it’s a great model to help inspire them.

“An emphasis on high-quality English and Maths is always essential, and I think that, for that reason in primary, sometimes, the more creative subjects can take more of a back seat, but we’re committed to keeping them in the timetable throughout.”

Average class sizes at Faraday Prep School are 14 pupils

Lucas, who was born in Hackney and now lives in Leytonstone, arrived at Faraday in January this year, having previously held the post of deputy head at its sister institution – Maple Walk Prep School in Harlesden.

He said: “I came across when the previous head, Claire Murdoch, became head at Maple Walk, so essentially we swapped over. That’s made the transition quite smooth and natural because the values and ethos of the two schools are the same. 

“Faraday is in an unusual situation – our playground is on a bend of the River Lea – but a real highlight in my first term here has been reaching out to the community at Trinity Buoy Wharf – it’s such a collaborative and creative place.

“I want to continue the work Claire has done here, because she’s done an amazing job. I want to build on that.

“We’re currently a one form entry school except in our current Reception class, where we have two – we’re on a journey of growth – and I feel really excited about where that might lead.”

Selection for the award will be based on interview and references.

Children will be asked to provide their most recent school report and will be asked to undertake a range of activities and assessments.

Appointments to visit the school before applications are made can be arranged. Help with filling out the means testing element of the application is also available.

Those who would like more information can call the school on 020 8965 7374

The school is based at Trinity Buoy Wharf in Leamouth

Read more: How JP Morgan and The Sutton Trust are boosting social mobility

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Canary Wharf: How JP Morgan and The Sutton Trust boost social mobility

Creation of £4.8million endowment fund finances Opportunity Bursaries for disadvantaged students

Cecil Peters of JP Morgan – image Matt Grayson

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Canary Wharf’s architecture can seem impersonal – impenetrable edifices of glass and steel, containers for businesses and institutions rather than buildings on a human scale.

But it’s important to remember those vast floorplates are populated by people – individuals with needs, desires, ideas, frustrations and aspirations. 

The word ‘company’, after all, can be defined as a commercial firm, or as simply being with others.

 In recent years, there’s been an increasing realisation among large organisations that it would both be wise and morally right for them to populate themselves with a much more diverse range of individuals.

The idea is that both they and wider society will benefit from the fresh ideas that brings, while the prosperity delivered by their activities will spread to communities and areas it never reached before.

Such sentiments are at the root of JP Morgan’s partnership with The Sutton Trust to offer Opportunity Bursaries to students for at least the next decade. 

The scheme has seen the Canary Wharf-based investment bank donate £4.8million to the charity to create an endowment fund, managed on a pro bono basis with the growth used to fund the awards.

The first cohort of 51 students from low income backgrounds recently received awards of between £3,500 and £5,000 – cash that will be put towards facilitating a wide range of experiences and projects aimed at boosting their life skills alongside their studies and improving their long-term job prospects. 

They also have the option to work with a mentor from JP Morgan as part of the scheme.

The bursaries are awarded annually to applicants in the UK with the aim of assisting 350 over the first decade.

Around 60% will go to black and minority ethnic students to reflect the additional barriers they face in society.

“We truly believe that we need to create a more inclusive and diverse community,” said Cecil Peters, head of advancing black pathways, EMEA, at JP Morgan.

“Not a lot of people from under-represented communities would think they could get to an organisation like JP Morgan, because they just don’t aspire to do the things that other people do.

“When I was 17 or 18, I never thought I could be with JP Morgan in a role like this.

“But through experiences I’ve got to learn what exists. We think it’s important to give people exposure and experiences that enable them to compete in a world where they might not have seen the opportunity or had the ability to take it.”

Without doubt, JP Morgan would be delighted if some of the recipients wound up working for the bank in future, but it’s not doing this for itself. 

“Some of the students may be interested in banking and want to work in our sector, but for a lot of them it’s about how we can help them get to where they want to go in their careers and their lives,” said Jess Ferguson, head of international employee engagement and volunteering, global philanthropy, who jointly oversees the project with Cecil.

“Out of the 51 in the first cohort, there’s one doing film studies, lots of people doing law and psychology – a whole range of different disciplines. They all have varied ambitions for what they want to achieve in their lives. One wants to work in humanitarian law and we heard from someone else who wants to be the next Sir David Attenborough.”

Jess Ferguson of JP Morgan
Jess Ferguson of JP Morgan

In February 2021, the Sutton Trust launched some research into how university students needed to have essential life skills as well as their academic qualifications, recognising that those skills were really important to employers.

“It found that some students were not accessing opportunities to enable them to get those essential life skills. 

“It identified a gap between individuals from affluent backgrounds and those from more socially disadvantaged, working class backgrounds in terms of things like participation in societies, work experience placements and study abroad trips.

“So, as partners with the trust, we started discussing with them how we could help address those issues.”

JP Morgan intends to finance as many bursaries as the fund’s growth allows.

“Every person you can give an opportunity to is now able to compare themselves with and compete with someone from a more affluent background, said Cecil.

“It means that when they go looking for a job they can talk about experiences they’ve had beyond their studies, that they worked with the UN or went trekking abroad to do research.

“The bursaries are also an opportunity to create a perception within each student’s community about what can be achieved, hopefully elevating the aspirations of those around them.

“If you’re the first person in your family to go to university, and you do really well, you’re going to pull other people with you. That’s what we’re trying to do.

“Without money it’s hard to access those extra experiences, tough to commit to going half way round the world to do something.

“These kids are smart – I was talking to a young woman at the launch event and she was homeless when she did her A-Levels. She got into Cambridge to do law. These people are the cream of the crop and they have had to fight to get where they are.

“The one thing they don’t have is money, so instead of giving them access to courses, for example, we wanted to give them what they’re missing to help level the playing field.

“It’s about creating equity.  Everyone has different needs.

“Black and minority ethnic communities are just as under-served as poor white communities, but they also have the obstacles of racism to deal with.

“So for JP Morgan it was important for us to make sure there was space so they can get those opportunities as well.

“It’s a learning curve and a jump into the unknown for both us and The Sutton Trust. There are no measurable targets – we gave the money freely and willingly and invested it for them to make this work.

“Sometimes you have to do things that way – we give these students lived experiences, but there’s no way of knowing what the impact will be until they’ve lived them.

“The return for us is to hear their stories, not just next year, but in 10 or 15 years. We want to know where they’ve got to career-wise, because they’re just at the start.”

“I feel very proud of what we get to do, because we’re changing people’s lives for the better, and that is exciting,” added Jess.

“One of the ways we’ll stay in touch with them is through the mentoring scheme. We made it optional, but at least 34 of the 51 students have taken up the offer and we’ve had some more who have expressed an interest in it.

“It’s one-to-one matching with a volunteer from JP Morgan – some have come to us and said they’d like someone who works in cyber security or communications, for example.

“What we hope is that the mentor is able to help the young person think about their goals and ambitions for the future – what steps they may be able to take to get there.

“They can also help with things like articulating and reflecting on the skills they’ve got through the experiences funded by the bursaries and how to articulate that to future employers or to themselves. Mentors provide that impartial sounding board.

“It’s the first year, we’ll learn a lot and we will listen to the students’ feedback, but we’ve seen the benefits in our other mentoring programmes.”

James Turner of The Sutton Trust
James Turner of The Sutton Trust – image Matt Grayson

THE CHALLENGE OF MOVING THE DIAL ON SOCIAL MOBILITY

Social mobility in the UK isn’t in a good place. There’s much debate about where the nation actually sits in the developed world, but we’re either vying with the USA as the least socially mobile country or squarely in the bottom half of the rankings.

“The Sutton Trust was set up 25 years ago by Sir Peter Lampi with the aim that every young person should have the same chances to get on in life no matter what school they go to or where they live,” said James Turner, the charity’s CEO.

“We work with almost 10,000 young people every year to help them get into university, onto the best apprenticeships and get jobs in some of the most competitive sectors. 

“We also work to shed light on social mobility and make sure it remains at the top of the agenda, whether that’s with employers, universities, schools or the Government.

“We’ve known for a long time that barriers to social mobility don’t end at 18.

“Getting into university is a great start but poorer people may not go on to have the same success in their careers as their better-off counterparts. 

“We know from employers that education is necessary but not sufficient, so we’d been thinking about ways to address that when we had the conversation with JP Morgan, an organisation that has a deep commitment to social mobility.

“The idea was that we would use these bursaries to support students to do extra things – taking part in clubs, societies, internships, years abroad – to help them develop their skills and confidence, so putting them in a better position in the job market.

“The applicants had to put forward a case – what they would do with the money, why it was important to their employability, their academic work and why they wouldn’t be able to do what they wanted to without it.

“We had 400 applications, which we reviewed alongside JP Morgan and we interviewed the most promising ones – it was a very difficult process to get it down to 51 because of the high quality of applicants.

“The projects students applied for were a real mix – some were about travel, some for training courses, to boost their skills, and others looking to become social entrepreneurs in the UK.

“We really hope this first group will come back and talk to the next cohort to help shape future applications.

“As a project this is the first time we’ve been able to give bursaries like this and it really moves on what we’re doing in a substantial way because of the varied activities they are funding.”

CASE STUDY: HEATHER FERGUSON

In every respect, this is the most important part of this article.

Heather Ferguson – no relation to Jess – is one of the 51 successful applicants for a bursary.

She is 19 and from the small town of Wigton in Cumbria, just north of the Lake District and is currently studying psychology at Durham University.

A qualified gymnastics coach, she recently coached children at a summer school at the university. This is what the money means to her.

“I want to be a researcher – my interest is to explore how we can make children happier in schools via their physical wellbeing, as a way of improving their mental health,” said Heather.

“I didn’t have the best time in primary school, so, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I wondered what I could do to fix the problem.

“Of course, it wasn’t just me that experienced that – a lot of children go through a lot worse.

“But a school is meant to be a safe place. Children spend five, six or even seven hours a day, five days a week there and I feel we have this time where we can really make a difference and shape their lives.

“I’m a young carer myself. When I was at home, I’d have to look after my disabled mother and that’s still the case now.

“When we have kids in school, we have time to help them and make a difference.

“Physical activity is a lot more than just becoming the next Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis – it’s more about keeping ourselves active and how we can introduce children to different types of physical activity in a fun way that will also improve their mental and physical health.

“In 2018 I applied for The Sutton Trust summer school, which they offer each year, and I got onto that and went to Durham University for a week.

“That’s how I wound up studying there.

“I was in the trust’s alumni network and that’s how I heard about the Opportunity Bursary. At the time, I’d just applied for the MITACS Globalink Research Internship.

“It’s a competitive research post in Canada, and they run it each year, and they take high-achieving undergraduates.

“It’s a great experience to get onto, but I realised that if I did, I would need a little money to support me and to buy a suitcase and things like that.

“So I applied for the bursary to cover things like travel costs, was selected for interview and got accepted.

“Going for the internship was already a great experience because you had to write a CV and an application, which will be very helpful when I apply for a masters and a PhD.

“I’ve been matched with Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is a U15 university – a bit like the Russell Group in the UK.

“I’ll be looking at how children regulate their positive and negative emotions, a perfect project for me, working for three months over the summer.

“I can see from chats I’ve already had with the professor there that there will be other opportunities opening up too including the chance to work alongside a PhD student.

“It’s an opportunity to develop so many research skills along the way.

“I’m just so grateful to have been awarded this bursary and to the Sutton Trust for helping me get into Durham.

“I wouldn’t be able to go to Canada without it. If there is an emergency with my mum, I might have to go home and I don’t have money lying around for a plane ticket.

“This takes the worry out of that – it provides me with the extra security I need to go there and take part.

“I come from a low income background, my siblings and I were on free school meals for a time.

“I’m not looking to be in a job where I just make as much money as possible – I’ve always thought that if you have a roof over your head and you can have the odd holiday here and there, then that’s enough. 

“I want to be in a job that makes a difference. Research is the area that will do that for me, helping children in schools. That will pay me more than money ever could.”

Read more: How Brookfield Properties Craft Award boosts creativity

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Property: How Berkeley Group’s Poplar Riverside transforms a slice of east London

Head of sales and marketing Doug Acton on how 20 years of regeneration will create and urban resort

An artist's impression of the first phase of Poplar Riverside
An artist’s impression of the first phase of Poplar Riverside

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“I call it an urban resort,” said Doug Acton, head of sales and marketing at Berkeley Group and the man responsible for driving the success of its Poplar Riverside development.

“It’s close to nature and it has facilities such as a gym, a pool, a spa, a cinema room, shops, bars and restaurants.

“It could almost be a self-contained little town, but it’s open to everyone – somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf.”

To describe Poplar Riverside as ‘tucked away’ is both accurate and somehow inappropriate.

Officially launched in June last year, the development covers a 20-acre site, will take around two decades to build and will see about 2,800 homes delivered in the East End.

This is major regeneration by Berkeley division St William – a project that will also provide a new 2.5-acre public park, a couple of bridges across the Rvier Lea, 500m of riverside walkway, 90,000sq ft of commercial space. The list goes on and on.

But take the 20-minute stroll over to the site from Canary Wharf to the soft tranquillity of Leven Road on a sunny day and you’ll find it’s something of an oasis, albeit one where the concrete superstructures of its first phase have quietly risen.

The waters of the Lea flow lazily past as cranes perform their slow-motion ballet. There’s something happening here and it’s only just begun.

Head of sales and marketing at Berkeley Group, Doug Acton
Head of sales and marketing at Berkeley Group, Doug Acton

“When people come here, they’re really excited about the regeneration story – they can see it’s a part of this massive growth corridor that’s happening along the river,” said Doug.

“They can see the potential with our investment in things like the bridges – how that improves the connectivity to Canning Town station.

“The challenge for us is getting more people to come here. Once they see it, they know it really is a transformation, that it’s a step change.”

And “step” is the right word, because Poplar Riverside is a scheme of many levels.

There are the public parks and walkways themselves and, of course, the river, all framing the buildings.

Then there are raised podium gardens for residents, underground parking and private balconies lining the pointed elevations of the brick-clad blocks.

It’s partly the attraction of these features that have seen buyers purchase about 100 of the 156 homes at the first building in the first phase of Poplar Riverside – Calico House. 

The next to go on sale will be Porter House, which is right on the river and is expected to hit the market in July.

That will be followed by Bowline House and Sisal House, which all together complete the first phase with 643 properties.

 Construction of the first phase of Poplar Riverside
Construction of the first phase of Poplar Riverside

“With Porter House we’ll be launching three-bedroom homes for the first time to go alongside the studios, one and two-bedroom homes available,” said Doug.

“It’s right next to the Lea so many will overlook the river and enjoy views across the London skyline.

“They will also benefit from the Leven Banks park, which includes a children’s playground, so it’s an exciting block to release.

“One of the things we’re really good at as a company, having learnt from projects like Royal Arsenal Riverside in Woolwich and Kidbrooke Village in Greenwich, is that you would never know, as a resident, that construction is going on.

“We commit to the landscape nice and early, not as an afterthought, so people moving in can enjoy it.

A range of properties are available at the development
A range of properties are available at the development

“We’re also constantly speaking to our residents to get feedback and find out what they want and what they don’t.

“One of the things we’re creating at this development is the Riverside Club – 16,000sq ft of facilities that will help foster community here.”

Laid out over two floors that includes a co-working space, a cinema room, meeting rooms and a games room as well as a residents’ lounge, a spa, steam room, sauna, salt room and a 20m swimming pool.

“We also have The Great Room,” said Doug, who was recruited by Berkeley from the luxury hotel industry to help it deliver the kinds of facilities normally found at such resorts at its residential property developments. 

“It’s somewhere to work, play and meet just so people can have that strong sense of community.

“We’re really keen to create that feeling of togetherness and that goes for families as well – it’s not just for adults.”

All apartments at Poplar Riverside feature outdoor space
All apartments at Poplar Riverside feature outdoor space

The homes themselves feature floor-to-ceiling windows, underfloor heating, Bosch appliances in the kitchens and Italian terrazzo worktops.

All have some form of outdoor space and the two-bedroom show home features a jack and jill main bathroom, effectively offering both bedrooms en suite facilities.

“There’s mood lighting in the bathrooms and good storage comes as standard,” said Doug.

“There’s even a nod to the golden age of industry with the taps and that’s a theme we’ve carried throughout the properties.

“The principal bedroom has built-in wardrobes and there’s an option to have those in the second bedroom too.

“We know storage is really important, so we’ve also put full-height cupboards in the kitchens to maximise the use of space.”

Properties currently on sale at Poplar Riverside start at £410,000. The earliest completions are expected in the second half of this year. 

The Poplar Riverside sales and marketing suite, which includes a two-bedroom show apartment, is open for viewings.

An artist's impression of open space at Poplar Riverside
An artist’s impression of open space at Poplar Riverside

Read more: How Republic is placing future talent at the heart of its campus

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Stratford: How The Gantry hotel’s head chef combines his roots with travel

Why Salvatore Coco is willing to go the extra 332 miles to get the right flavours for its restaurant

Head chef at The Gantry, Salvatore Coco
Head chef at The Gantry, Salvatore Coco

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

All head chefs want to make great food. But Salvatore Coco is literally willing to go the extra 332 miles.

That’s how far it is from his job as executive head chef at The Gantry hotel in Stratford to Wageningen University in the Netherlands. 

“I recently discovered a professor there who had grown vanilla – one of the first times that’s successfully been done in Europe,” said Salvatore. 

“There are a lot of problems with the vanilla trade – it’s a money business. So when I heard about this I fell in love because it is such a unique product.

“That’s why I’ll be travelling to Holland to bring back a bit of the vanilla to use at The Gantry.

“It isn’t on sale because it’s just for research, but I persuaded the professor to give me some. It’s like gold for me.”

The Italian native will be using his foreign treasure to create an ice cream and a dark chocolate brownie dish that will feature on the new spring menu at Union Social, the hotel’s first-floor restaurant.

But he has also been looking much closer to home for his inspiration.

“Just in front of the hotel is a small set of seven beehives in East Village run by the locals,” said the 36-year-old.

“They produce a very small quantity of honey, only about 30 jars a year and I was able to meet them and get half.

“It’s a beautiful product created just a few steps away and tastes amazing.

“I have used it to create a Greek-inspired dessert, which uses filo pastry, ricotta cheese, cinnamon, orange, all the ingredients that were available during the time of Homer, which pair perfectly with this local honey.”

Union Social at The Gantry
Union Social at The Gantry

Like many Italians, Salvatore grew up in the kitchen watching the family matriarch cook.

“As a kid I would always spend time close to my grandma and was fascinated seeing her make focaccia and pasta,” he said.

“The first dish she let me cook was prawn spaghetti for my grandfather. It was so bad, tough and salty.”

By the age of 13, however, he was working in a professional kitchen at a local restaurant in his native Sicily, doing everything from pot washing to working the grill.

Next came a tourist resort where the 18-year-old Salvatore was in at the deep end.

“It had room service and three restaurants, but I was so passionate about my job that after a couple of months they left me running the kitchen by myself,” he said.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but I survived and it didn’t put me off.”

Stints at hotelier school and as a chef de partie in a Sheraton hotel followed, before he landed in London and was seduced by the capital’s eclectic culture.

“The plan was to stay a couple of years, but I never left and I became a British citizen in 2019 and don’t think I will ever go back,” he said.

“You get such a variety of food here. Places like France, Italy, Spain are focused on their own food – but here there are all sorts of cuisines. For a chef, it is like a candy shop.”

The Gantry's food reflects Salvatore's travels
The Gantry’s food reflects Salvatore’s travels

His big break came when he bagged the role of head chef at the Pestana Hotel in Chelsea.

“But when the pandemic hit, it closed and Salvatore was out of a job. He returned to his roots, taking a job at Park Lane Kitchen, a small deli and rotisserie near where he used to live in Battersea.

“It was really strange but kind of nice, like going back to when I started out 20 years ago,” said Salvatore.

“The owner didn’t know I was a head chef. I just started working and after a week he was really impressed so I told him.

“It was a funny moment. It wasn’t stressful at all working there and I loved it.”

But when The Gantry came calling, he could not resist the chance to unleash his creative side.

“The general manager told me he didn’t want to have the normal international food other hotels have, like the club sandwich and Caesar salad,” said Salvatore.

“He wanted the menu to be personal to me and be created with fresh ingredients on a daily basis. 

“That’s hard to find in the hotel business and, while it was a big challenge, the menu is based on my travels, which is something I’m really passionate about so it was easy, in a way.”

A dessert at Union Social

Diners at Union Social can expect dishes such as a dessert made with crystallised violet petals Salvatore found while visiting Toulouse, a Jack-In-The-Green salad based on a mythological figure he discovered in Scotland and a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb from Kent. 

“I’m not competitive with other chefs at all,” said Salvatore.

“I just do my own thing. Of course, the food has to be tasty but it is about sustainability and the exclusivity of the food. 

“It has to have a story behind it because I’m very interested in culture and history. I call it food with a soul.

“I don’t want to just make food with a Michelin Star which looks pretty and tastes nice but has no character. 

“I’m not a fan of fancy decorations, just simple food that has value behind it. That’s really important and the main reason behind my cooking.”

Like a surgeon, Salvatore said he is “always on call” and has moved 10 minutes away from the hotel in Stratford in case of any kitchen emergencies.

“My private life is zero at the moment,” he said.

“But if you don’t have a passion for this job you can’t do it because it is so many hours.

“You cannot just be selfish and narrow-minded because otherwise, you don’t go very far. But you need to explore your own creativity and, in a way, be single-minded.

“I remember taking a boat in Thailand and the wife of the captain was cooking some noodles on board. 

“I was amazed at how easy it was for her to combine ingredients and make something that tasted amazing. 

“Sometimes you go to restaurants with a full brigade of chefs and the food doesn’t taste that good. 

“I’ll always remember that because it really made me think a lot about how food is passion.” 

Read more: The Pearson Room reopens with a new team and fresh flavours

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Canning Town: How Keyboards And Dreams is a workspace created (almost) by accident

How serial entrepreneur Jonathan Fren landed his latest business at Caxton Works in east London

Keyboards And Dreams creator Jonathan Fren
Keyboards And Dreams creator Jonathan Fren

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Black swan” is the image  that comes to mind when trying to sum up Jonathan Fren.

That’s because the entrepreneur appears calm on the surface but there’s a sense he’s working busily beneath.

The founder of Canning Town co-working space Keyboards & Dreams, is something of an anomaly.

When we sit down to chat, the mellow-voiced hipster seems exactly the sort of person who would own an easygoing office complex in Caxton Works, where members are surrounded by plants and stripped back decor.

He said it all came about “by accident” but I’m not sure that’s the right word.

“I randomly came across the development about three years ago and was interested,” said Jonathan. “I liked the vibe of what they were doing with independent businesses and I liked the architecture of the space.

“I thought it would be a cool place to have a community. It’s a very residential area and, with Keyboards & Dreams, I wanted to create a living room that people could go to when they’re not working from home.”

This is not the first business the 32-year-old has owned. It isn’t even the second or third. 

Jonathan has never totted up the companies he’s run, but I have. It’s 11.

The first, Magivend, he started when he was 10 after seeing some sweet machines for sale at Exchange & Mart.

“My parents were always entrepreneurs, and supported me,” said the Northampton native. “I bought three machines and put them in our local health club — they paid for themselves in a month, so I kept buying more and putting them around town.”

By the age of 12, he had 32. By 13 he was “bored” and bought tyre sealant franchise Nopunctures.

Part of the workspace at Caxton Works
Part of the workspace at Caxton Works

Despite its success, nine months later he gave it up as “the need to be face-to-face with businesses as a 13-year-old was difficult”.

There was no stopping him now though – at 14 he left school with no formal qualifications and became the youngest person to attend the Open University, studying robotics under a special arrangement with the council. 

“I wasn’t allowed to ever meet my tutors as staff weren’t vetted for working with under-18s,” said Jonathan.

“And I only spent two weeks actually preparing for the exams as I was too busy learning about the internet.”

He started taking apart websites and learning how they worked, building CaribGo, a revolutionary webmail client but said he was beaten to the punch by Gmail.

At 16, he moved to Barbados to run a watersports business, but within months realised his passion lay in cyberspace.

“I’d gained some great contacts online, and spent the next few years travelling and building things for clients like Barclays Bank, General Motors, and Oxfam,” he said.

“None of them knew my age – it was my most closely guarded secret. But of course I’d have told them if they’d ever asked.”

The rest of his CV includes co-founding identity management service ProfileBuilder, face-to-face networking platform PowerMeeter, fashion designer finder Osmoda and magazine It’s Rude To Stare.

Some only lasted months but by 2016 he seemed to have found a more secure footing in Clerkenwell, spending four years running tech company Rebel Minds.

Exhausted yet? So was Jonathan.

Keyboards And Dreams is located at Caxton Works in Canning Town

“By then I was 25 and I was finding it all really stressful,” he said.

“The company I had created had become something so different from what I started. 

“I ended up with 20 employees in central London doing things I just didn’t believe in. We ended up being an agency just making websites for clients.

“I wanted to do super awesome things and have products that I really believed in. I tried to pivot it first, but I was in this really bad place and ultimately decided to shut it down.”

He said making all his staff redundant was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my working life”.

The phoenix from the flames was his office block nestled among the jewellers in Hatton Garden.

During the five years the tech company existed, Jonathan had acquired more floors of the building and the first Keyboards & Dreams evolved naturally.

The site can cater for up to 95 members
The site can cater for up to 95 members

“We had a really cool space and I’d always had lots of friends interested in it,” said Jonathan.

“Initially I just rented it to them for their tech companies and then to more and more people and eventually it became this great co-working space.”

He managed the building remotely for a few years while travelling through Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and San Francisco and had no intention of launching a second site. But then he discovered Canning Town. 

“I didn’t know much about the history of the area when I started, but now I can see that in three or four years it is going to really go up,” said Jonathan. 

“At the moment we are a little bit in sleepy mode, but so much has happened just in the year we have been at Caxton Works.”

These days Jonathan lives in Poland with his Yoga instructor girlfriend, but moved back to the capital to get the unit ready for launch in November 2020.

He said: “We had a waiting list of about 60 people but then Covid rules changed and we ended up with 10 members. It was a lot less people than I expected, but I didn’t want it to be an empty building, I wanted it to be used.”

Today, the site has about 25 members and space for another 95.

But Jonathan is confident it will take off and he has just launched Yoga space Wonderful Things in the unit next door.

“The concept is to create a really modular space that is not just about working but enabling people to do whatever they’re doing,” he said.

“We have podcast spaces, private desks, open-plan spaces, storage, meeting rooms, a photography area, lots of different spaces to enable people to do lots of different things. I’m super optimistic.

“Throughout Covid we have had lots of people drop out, but also people joined. Clerkenwell has been used throughout the pandemic. 

“With Canning Town we have had nowhere near the number of people walk through the doors I expected, but I think that’s part of being a new place in a new area.”

So was this really all by accident? Like the black swan, it seems more like effort rewarded.

Read more: See James Cook’s typewriter art at Trinity Buoy Wharf

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Wapping: How baths and art intersect at the Bickerton-Grace Gallery at Stirling Eco

Grace Of London set for exhibition alongside Lisa Izquierdo at dealership on The Highway

Anne-Marie Bickerton of Bickerton-Grace Gallery
Anne-Marie Bickerton of Bickerton-Grace Gallery – image Matt Grayson

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I hope you’re sitting comfortably, because this is going to take some serious attention. In Wapping there’s an electric motorcycle dealership called Stirling Eco.

Its founder and CEO is a man called Robert Grace. 

Professionally he rose to prominence as an expert tiler and mosaic artist working at the very top of the interiors profession.

That culminated in Grace Of London, which creates decorative baths inlaid with precious metals, Swarovski crystals and the like, for those whose luxury bathing habits far exceed the means of most – think up to £100k a tub. With me so far? Good.

Robert met photographer and artist Anne-Marie Bickerton when she came to shoot one of his baths with a ballerina in it. Inspired, she created a painting based on the images she’d taken, then came up with the idea of cutting it into pieces to share the art.

In collaboration with Robert, they decided to take that idea – calling it Sentiment – and involve other artists, creating the nucleus of what’s become the Bickerton-Grace Gallery.

Its physical space, based at Stirling Eco on The Highway, has an ever-evolving display of work by the 100 artists in the Sentiment project, including Anne-Marie herself.

From March 25-April 8, however, it will host a joint exhibition of work by painter Lisa Izquierdo and some of Robert’s baths.

Robert and Lisa will display their work together
Robert and Lisa will display their work together – image Matt Grayson

Anne-Marie said: “With the Sentiment collection, an artist sends us a work, which we divide into 1,000 pieces, mount on 24-carat gold leaf and stitch a gold thread through – that’s all about connection.

“They can then be purchased, potentially connecting 100,000 people with this installation. We also invite the artists to exhibit in our space and it’s an incredibly diverse group – we have classical artists, street art, acrylic painters, pretty much everything.

“Then you have all the collaborations I do with Robert and the pieces in the Sentiment collection themselves.”

The electric bikes aren’t just a backdrop. Stirling Eco prides itself on offering artistic makeovers for its rides, some in collaboration with Sentiment artists. 

Much of the space, which is free to visit, is adorned with artworks large and small.

Anne-Marie, for example, uses the walls to create vanishing pieces that are painted over shortly after creation, with digital versions deleted and only limited edition prints surviving.

It’s an environment that feels less about selling two-wheelers and more about unbridled creativity.

“Running a gallery is really interesting,” said Anne-Marie. “I get so inspired by the other artists that are on board and it’s a bit of a love project really, because I get connected to every one of them.

“Art is an emotional response – it grabs you or it doesn’t, and it’s very personal. 

“It’s like a fire in your tummy – I really like that but I can’t explain it, like a buzz of energy – it’s a nice feeling.

“The idea of Sentiment is that if you see a piece by an artist but can’t afford it, you can still buy a piece of something they’ve created.

“With Lisa, her pieces are very dramatic, beautiful big oil paintings, and they tie in really nicely with what Robert makes – they complement each other without clashing and that’s why we’ve brought these two artists together.

“Visitors will see their work together, but also work by other artists as well.”

THE ARTISTS IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Robert with one of his baths
Robert with one of his baths – image Matt Grayson

Grace Of London – The words of Robert Grace

“I did an apprenticeship as a ceramic floor tiler and I’ve always had an artistic background, which set me aside from my peers,” said Robert.

“I pretty much won every award that was available as a City and Guilds apprentice, and by the age of 25 I was abroad fixing mosaic domes in palaces.

“I’d worked for pretty much all the royal families in the world.

“Towards the end of my tiling career, I was getting older and I was trying to think how I might use my brain rather than my brawn.

“The idea to create the baths came when a client asked me what colour she should paint her bath – it was in a £60,000 bathroom and I just thought I could create something that would turn the interior from a stunning one to a spectacular place.

The exhibition will take place at Stirling Eco
The exhibition will take place at Stirling Eco – image Matt Grayson

“She painted her bath in the end, but I went back to my workshop and thought about creating some samples.

“Then, with the the help of top refurbishment firm Grangewood, I launched them with a week-long exhibition. 

“They cost from about £50,000 but the customer is getting 35 years of experience and something that’s unique and hand-cut. I’ve made some for more than £100,000. The last one I did had over 40,000 pieces of glass.

“The bathtubs are a good match with Lisa’s art because her work is astonishing, really beautiful and also the kind of piece you could include as part of an interior design.

“It’s subtle, the colours are well-chosen and the textures are beautiful.

“I’ve worked with some of the finest interior designers in the world and, to be really good in that world, you have to understand how light falls, shapes and colours what’s in a room.

“One of the most important things is to understand how to place and decorate with pieces of art themselves.

“I’ve always been artistic and creative and this is an extension of that.”

  • Robert will show three baths at Bickerton-Grace Gallery as part of the exhibition, including the black and white Harlequin
Lisa, pictured with one of her paintings
Lisa, pictured with one of her paintings – image Matt Grayson

Lili – The words of Lisa Izquierdo

“The pieces I’ll be showing at the exhibition will be the from my Essence Of Woman collection,” said Lisa, who lives and works near Manchester.

“There are no faces, it’s more about texture, movement and dynamic. I’ve always had an interest in art. When I was very young – aged six – I would draw these elfin-like, elongated silhouettes with wings.

“I think I was inspired by strong women in my life who brought me up, like my mum and my sister.

“I have six collections, all on different subjects, but painting these images was a real way to escape when I was struggling – painting is meditative, a lovely, expressive way to cocoon myself in my little studio and put it all on canvas.

“Everyone goes through bad times and you wouldn’t appreciate the good without that.

“It was tough in my 20s, I started modelling when I was 13 and at 15 I went to Madrid on a contract and then Tokyo for a year. On the one hand I got to travel the world and it taught me a lot of lessons in life. 

Lisa will be showing pieces from her Essence Of Woman series -
Lisa will be showing pieces from her Essence Of Woman series – image Matt Grayson

“But I was in an environment at a very young age that was horrible and it scarred me. That’s why I don’t paint faces, because it’s drilled into you that you need to be a certain way.

“There were eating disorders, drug addictions – you see it all – it was exploitation of very young girls. Even now at 46, I have to be OK with eating. 

“Those experiences are part of what makes me the artist I am today.

“For me art is the release. I get really lost in painting. Sometimes I can be in the studio until four or five in the morning.

“I’ll go home, sleep and go back to the studio and discover what I’ve created, whether it’s an abstract piece or a painting of a man or a woman.

“I hope people feel uplifted when they see my work. I want it to be thought-provoking too and to feel some positive energy – it’s a bit hippy, but then that’s what I am.”

  • Lisa, who signs her work Lili, will show a selection of her oil paintings at the exhibition. 

Read more: See James Cook’s typewriter art at Trinity Buoy Wharf

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Leamouth: Typewriter artist James Cook set for Trinity Buoy Wharf exhibition

Workshops will also be on offer for those who want to have a go at typing out their own pieces

James Cook will be showing his artwork at Trinity Buoy Wharf

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When I was a young child, my parents gave me an old typewriter to play with. I loved hitting the keys, hearing that distinctive, hypnotic clacking sound, twisting the knob that made the roller revolve. 

But I couldn’t really comprehend what it was for. Even though this was the 1980s, by the time I came of age to make marks on paper, computer keyboards had already replaced the old mechanical machines with their inky ribbons and staccato rhythms. Fun for a kid – a relic of a bygone age, perhaps – but nothing more.

It’s fortunate James Cook didn’t have that experience.

While studying A-Level art in 2014, he developed an interest in inventive ways to make marks, drawn to David Hockney’s iPad paintings.

“Then I came across Paul Smith, who had used typewriters,” said James. “What really caught my attention was his story.

“Born in 1921, he suffered with cerebral palsy his whole life. At the age of 11, his parents gave him a typewriter because he couldn’t hold a pencil.

“But, instead of writing, he ended up creating drawings, which was his passion. He only learnt to speak and walk as an adult, but at the age of 11 he was already creating these amazing pictures – drawings of the Mona Lisa and it fascinated me that it was even possible to do such a thing.

“Immediately after I had read about him, I started trawling around charity shops trying to find a typewriter – at first without much success.

“Then an elderly couple in one of the shops overheard that I was looking for a typewriter and told me that they had one belonging to the man’s late mother.

“It had been sitting in the attic for about 40 years, not being used, and they suggested that I could come round and collect it.”

After a few squirts of WD40, James got the mid 1950s Oliver Courier going and began to experiment.

“I was lucky I picked that typewriter up and that I didn’t give up straight away,” he said. “As time has gone on, I’ve discovered that there are some models that just don’t work for this kind of work.

“But what I had was a very expensive, very mechanically precise machine. If this hadn’t been the case I might not have stuck with it.”

They include landscapes and portraits
They include landscapes and portraits

Perseverance paid off however and James now makes his living generating work on his collection of 40 typewriters, painstakingly using them to tap out artwork, either from life or photographs.

It’s exacting work, with drawings typically taking between a week and a month to complete.

“Usually the typewriters have 44 keys, so I have those parameters to work within and choosing the characters to use is one of the most interesting parts of making these drawings,” said James.

“I’ve been doing this for about seven years now, mostly part-time, and more recently full-time, and I’ve learnt by trial and error which particular character works.

“If I’m drawing a portrait, and I need to recreate someone’s skin complexion, most people want to be seen in the best light, so even skin tones require a character that has a large surface area, like the ‘@’ symbol.

“That’s also good for shading, which can be achieved by hitting the key more softly.

“If someone has dimples or freckles, then I might use some asterisks, because it’s a much sharper mark, whereas the underscore is a perfect shape for drawing horizontal lines in an architectural drawing, like the bottom of a window sill, or doing brickwork.

“Achieving curves is very difficult, especially if you’re working across multiple sheets, because they all have to line up.

“Typewriters inherently want to go from left to right so they’re great for straight lines, but not so good for verticals and curves.

“So what I’m doing is using my left hand to ever so slightly twist the paragraph lever by a minuscule amount while I’m typing to create a curve, like the roof of The O2, for example.

“I can’t think of any other way of drawing that requires you to use both hands in this way. Your right hand is on the keys and your left hand is responsible for making sure you stamp that mark on a very precise point.

“Once it’s been made that’s it, there’s no way of undoing it – I won’t use Tippex so mistakes become part of the drawing.

Every drawing is made by painstakingly typing to make marks
Every drawing is made by painstakingly typing to make marks

From April 1-10, the largest ever exhibition of James’ work ever gathered together is set to be held at Trinity Buoy Wharf, with many of the pieces created at the east London location in Leamouth. Entry is free.

“Visitors will see the biggest collection of my work to date,” said James.

“It’s mostly pieces from London locations, usually drawn on site with views of places like Greenwich Park, the Thames Path and Trinity Buoy Wharf itself.

“What’s also important for the work is to add a second layer of information, so the drawings are not just about piecing together various characters, they also contain concealed messages or hidden lines of text.

“I’ve often done that more recently when I’ve been working on location and I’ve spotted something, or when a thought pops into my head, especially if it’s the middle of winter.

“I did some of the drawings in January and it was pretty cold outside, so a lot of the messages are me complaining how cold it was.”

James draws many of his pieces on location
James draws many of his pieces on location

Every weekday during the exhibition, James will be hosting free workshops for those who’d like to try creating their own typewriter art.

He said: “When people look at my art, usually it’s not enough, they want to know how it’s made.

“The idea is these groups of about five will get to sit in front of a typewriter and have a go.

“It won’t be creating finished masterpieces, but hopefully we’ll have some fun and it will be a start. 

“They can bring along pictures to inspire their typing or I can provide them for reference.”

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