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St Katharine Docks: How Dockside Vaults delivers premium event space underground

Former Medieval banqueting experience has been reimagined as a blank canvas for all kinds of uses

Dockside Vaults is located at Ivory House in St Katharine Docks

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The legacy of global trade has left its mark across east London in vast spaces created to handle the wealth of cargo that once flowed up the Thames.

There were huge docks to safely berth the ships, wharves to unload them and warehouses to store and protect the goods and commodities.

The ongoing regeneration of Docklands has seen this infrastructure repurposed in myriad ways – as housing, accommodation for yachts, bars, hotels, restaurants, watersports centres and many more.  

With many of the spaces being of a significant size and well connected to the rest of London, several have been reimagined as events venues.

The latest of these to launch is Dockside Vaults, a 10,000sq ft underground space beneath Ivory House in St Katharine Docks.

Built in 1852, the building is the only original warehouse still standing in the area and is today filled with residential apartments and restaurants at ground level.

Apt, perhaps, that its brick vaulted basement, which was once used to store imported barrels of wine is once again being used for hospitality and entertaining, having been the site of a Henry VIII-themed Medieval banqueting experience for decades.

“Funnily enough they were doing an immersive show long before the likes of Secret Cinema and those theatre concepts,” said Ben Gamble.

“The banqueting started in the 1970s with a fine dining, silver service dinner – but by the time it closed it certainly wasn’t that.

“It had become a tourist trap – all you could eat and drink for £30.”

SPECIAL OFFER - 50% OFF VENUE HIRE
Dockside Vaults is offering Wharf Life readers 50% off venue hire for events of 50 to 450 people that are booked and held before the end of 2023 – perfect for last-minute festive celebrations. The venue still has some availability before Christmas 2023. T&Cs apply. 

Go to docksidevaults.com for more information or to book
Ben Gamble, owner of Dockside Vaults

The space, however, was what interested Ben.

Having initially locked on to a career as a fighter pilot with the RAF, a shortage of training places prompted a rethink and he fell into the events industry after landing a job with the London Film Museum, having hawked his CV around the capital in search of gainful employment.

After establishing it as a venue for corporate shindigs at County Hall on the banks of the Thames, he left to start his own events business shortly after its relocation to Covent Garden.

“Having been involved with the owners to launch that and at a point I was just about to be earning good money, I handed in my resignation to start by own business,” he said. 

“During my time at the museum I’d met a lot of events companies and had realised they were the ones with the big clients, big budgets.

“It seemed, as venue finders, all they would do is come round with the client and talk about the blooming obvious, which of course is not how it is at all.

“But I’d built up enough contacts, spoken to a few of them and told them I was thinking of doing my own thing.

“I asked them if they would trust me to find their venues.

“So that was the initial idea – it seemed like there was a gap in the market.

“I realised that everyone had been everywhere, so there was a need for a company that specialised in finding venues that had never been used before. 

“So that’s what I did for seven years and then the pandemic shut down the industry.”

The venue is in St Katharine Docks

His company, Shout About London, worked across the capital often as a pioneer at venues such as Southwark Cathedral, the Archbishop Of Canterbury’s private library and at the Leadenhall Building, making a point of aiming to be the first company to bring clients into a space.

Gradually the business shifted to representing venues for longer periods of time and working with well-known institutions such as the V&A to create events around new exhibitions or attractions. 

The evolution continued as Ben’s firm shifted into creative production and wound up managing several venues exclusively in the run-up to Covid.

“I actually signed a lease with a nightclub in January 2020 in London Fields, which was bad timing for me – it’s no longer there,” he said.

“Then the pandemic happened, so I went to UCL and did an MBA for two years.

“With hindsight, it was a perfect use of my time as I’ve been able to employ that knowledge in my new events and venue consultancy Nylon Pie, and now Dockside.”

The 450-capacity venue opened in September and features 10 alcoves all joined by an expansive central concourse, which can be used for events with 50 guests or more. 

The venue is a blank canvas for clients to use

“I first saw the venue when I started Nylon Pie and I really liked the space,” said Ben.

“It was still full of mediaeval gear for the banquets so it needed emptying and modernising. Now it’s 10,000sq ft of premium event space with 150-year-old exposed brickwork.

“Tower Hill is synonymous with the old and the new – you have the Tower Of London and Tower Bridge with The Shard in the background.

“We’re from the same period as Tobacco Dock but we’ve got large TVs at the end of each of our alcoves and lighting where the colours can be changed at the touch of a button. 

“Having great audio and visual tech is important and we have in-house microphones if people want to do speeches, too.

“The idea is that everything is plug-in and play.

“Of course, if you’ve got a big budget, we can do projection mapping on the brickwork and go all out – but if you don’t, we can operate on a minimum spend basis at the bar.

“We’re a cashless venue, but we’re also the largest venue in London to take payment in Bitcoin.

“So far we’ve done about 20 events including screenings of things like the Rugby World Cup – we had 450 South Africans here for the final. 

“First and foremost we’re a corporate events space, however, and we’ve worked with Identify – one of the best events management companies in the UK – on a two-day conference. 

“That showed a good use of the space, for smaller immersive events with 150 to 200 people.

“The alcoves can be used as breakout spaces and can easily be given a personal touch with branding, signs or logos.

“We’re also keen to be a part of the local community – not a closed door – and we’d love people to get in touch.” 

Find out more about Dockside Vaults here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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