Discover Komoto Group

Rotherhithe: Why UK Wallball is launching courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

Organisation’s CEO wants facility to be used as an urban playground to help boost Londoners’ activity

The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre
The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Sunlight streams down onto the freshly minted wallball courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.

I bounce the rubber ball and slap it vigorously with my hand.

My opponent steps in, makes an easy return, I dash forward striking the yellow sphere deftly into the bottom right hand corner of the wall, where it bounces back into the court and lands stone dead. The point is mine.

I lose all the other points, of course, but then my opponent is founder and CEO of UK Wallball and a former European No. 1 singles champion. So I don’t feel too bad.

Dan Grant and the governing body for the sport he runs are on a mission to get as many people as possible outside, active and bouncing balls against walls.

Installed in partnership with British Land, the two UK Wallball courts on the Rotherhithe Peninsula will be free to use (if you’ve brought your own ball) and can be turned to any number of game variations following their forthcoming launch on May 12, 2022.

Dan said: “Wallball is a simple, accessible sport where you hit a ball against a wall with your hands. Lots of people will have done it at school – called it pat-ball, Eton Fives, one-wall handball – there are lots of different names for it, but ‘wallball’ is the one they play around the world.

“This is the one wall version and it’s the international standard.

“Basically, you have one big rectangle marked out on the wall and one big rectangle on the floor. The main thing is – all you need to do is hit the ball with either hand so that it hits the wall and lands in the court.

“It can bounce once before it’s hit again and then you rally away until it either bounces twice or it goes out.

“The way it’s scored is that you get a point for each rally won on your serve – if you lose the rally then it’s your opponent’s serve. Games are usually played up to 11, 15 or 21 points.

“The easiest way to think of it is that it’s like playing squash against one wall – but there’s no line to hit it above, so you can hit it low and kill the ball.

“For the service, the ball has to hit the wall and land in the back half of the court and then it can land anywhere in the box.

“There’s also a blocking rule – if I hit the ball and then don’t move, I’m a legitimate obstruction that the other player has to try and get around.

“You can’t rugby tackle the other person out of the way – it’s a non contact sport – so they have to get round you to get the ball back.”

UK Wallball CEO Dan Grant pictured at the new courts

Having travelled the world playing the game Dan subsequently trained as a doctor, so his interest in promoting sport goes beyond pure publicity and is firmly rooted in the physical and mental benefits of outdoor activity. 

“Our aim at UK Wallball is to try to get as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible active.

“In cities where grey space is increasing and green space is disappearing, we think people should use walls for things like this.

“There are official rules, but our motto is: ‘Any wall, any ball, anytime’. We don’t care how people use the courts, so long as they are being used.

“If people want to invent their own rules, they absolutely can. This whole space at Surrey Quays can be used for a lot of other things – not just traditional wallball.”

The Rotherhithe installation is the first multi-court facility for free use in the country.

Alongside the two playing areas is a third space where those waiting to have a go can hang out, spectator searing and a vending machine selling balls and gloves.

Dan said: “Last year, we did our first proper community court at Bankside, which was also a really vibrant installation.

“That was us working with the Jack Petchey Foundation to target young people in London.

“When it went up it got a lot of media traction, which was awesome. I think a lot of people during the pandemic realised exercise in the open air was a pretty good thing, and that wallball is cheap too – in fact, if you have your own ball, it’s free.

“Off the back of that, British Land, which is regenerating the area around Surrey Quays and Canada Water, saw it, thought it was pretty cool and got us down to find out if they could do something for the community here.

“I persuaded them that they should and so we’ve installed the courts.

“We got our artist back – Dan Gurney – to make them look great. I really like his geometric approach. It works really well in an urban space.

“When you do this kind of thing, you want the courts to feel like they belong, so the design is inspired by both the greenery and the docks on the Rotherhithe peninsula.

“We’ll also have posters telling people how to play and how the design of the courts fits into the local area.

“The way we think of it is as an urban amphitheatre – yes, we want it to be used for wallball, but other sports and arts organisations can get in touch with us and use the space as well.

“It’s also that street to elite philosophy – I want a kid who’s played on these courts, hasn’t had to pay for anything apart maybe for a couple of quid for a ball and then for them to go on and play for Team GB. That would be really cool.”

A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own
A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own

Dan, who works as a doctor in emergency medicine and medtech, believes wallball could be the next big thing in the UK – something he believes would be beneficial to the health of the nation should urban environments embrace it. 

“Everything we’ve learnt over the last few years suggests it will catch on in the UK,” he said.

“It’s already big in Ireland, Spain and the Basque Country – it’s huge in the USA. In New York there are 2,500 courts. Wallball is taking off here too. 

“We’ve started working with schools over the past couple of years and the kids love it. It’s not just sport either – when we put a court in a school we can give them a blank canvas and they can design it, so there’s a creative element there too.

“Our ethos is that it’s not super-serious. 

“Of course, there are pathways for GB Juniors to go straight to the top, but if you just want to turn up and play, that’s fine too.

“I feel like if the kids are enjoying it, then that’s good for all of us.

“As a doctor I’m interested in prevention. We know that if you’re just active and walking around, then that’s really good for you.

“As you travel you see people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds have the worst outcomes in terms of health. So, having an urban space that feels safe and fun is much better than the alternative.”

The UK Wallball courts at Surrey Quays are set to launch on May 12, 2022, from 1pm-3pm.

The courts will be in place on an ongoing basis.

Read more: APT in Deptford seeks trustees to sit on its charity board

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

Canada Water: How Canada Water Dockside fits into regeneration plans

Art-Invest’s scheme to build offices on the edge of the water will see work at town centre’s heart

An artist's impression of how the office development might look
An artist’s impression of how the office development might look

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Art-Invest is doing something a bit unusual – at least in the context of the ongoing regeneration of Docklands, east and south-east London. 

The German developer recently received outline planning permission from Southwark Council for a scheme covering the former Decathlon store (now temporary events venue Dock X) on the edge of Canada Water.

But while rolling cranes onto such sites isn’t exactly out of the ordinary, the fact that it intends to build offices, is.

Art-Invest’s plans for Canada Water Dockside cover a chunk of land either side of Surrey Quays Road, including the now defunct Hawker House, adjacent to the 53 acres that developer British Land is currently engaged in regenerating. 

It’s a missing piece in the redevelopment of the area – a site originally earmarked for housing – that enjoys a lengthy stretch of dock edge and connects the British Land project with buildings already completed beside the Tube station.

Art-Invest’s plans are for a series of three buildings housing about 1.5million sq ft of space alongside community facilities and places to eat and drink at ground floor level. The scheme also promises to bring up to 10,000 jobs to the area.

“Back in 2019, there was an opportunity to get involved in this particular site, and we were very aware of what was happening in the area with British Land,” said Luka Vukotic, development director at Art-Invest.

“Given that the whole area was going to change from a residential district to a proper town centre, we thought it would be quite remarkable to help with that wider vision.

“What really attracted us to it was that it was already established, with existing communities all around it.

“As we were starting to consult with people, we realised how strong they were and how much local identity there already was. In addition, we were really attracted by the green and blue spaces of this place – its parks and its docks. 

“With British Land coming forward with a town centre, our scheme needed to be more than just a residential building with a boring ground floor.

“We wanted to create office space with lower levels that everyone could use – both occupiers and local communities.”

Art-Invest development director Luka Vukotic
Art-Invest development director Luka Vukotic

While many had questioned whether people would return to workplaces following the pandemic, Art-Invest remains confident that its plans have a place in the evolving way businesses and organisations operate.

“A lot of existing offices will become less attractive in the coming years for a number of reasons, some technical and some social,” said Luka. 

“We’re convinced we’ve got a really special location, so it’s now about how we make something really remarkable out of this opportunity.

“We want to help build this new town centre and to create the offices of the future. 

“What’s really helped us in this process was talking to the local community – I personally had more than 150 meetings with community stakeholders, local businesses, local residents and local groups. 

“We realised that people really like the idea of a town centre as a place to socialise – to have a drink and some food and to enjoy it.

“So then we asked people what they wanted to see and they said they would like so many things – a food hall, restaurants, local shops, a community centre, a health hub, a bike repair shop. They told us what they thought was missing.

“That allowed us to think about our buildings in a different way – instead of having a large reception area for the offices on the ground floor, we thought it would be amazing to make that space vibrant, to create streets and squares there, before looking at what’s above.”

The next round of consultations focused on what the office buildings themselves might be like.

“That’s when we started thinking about the urban green factor, with external space and terraces, and how we make this a car-free place, a zero-fossil fuel development,” said Luka.

“It’s how we’ve begun to develop the vision of what the office of the future will be. 

“That’s very different from the old thinking, where developers created these super buildings where you can spend the entire day without leaving.

“We thought it would be much nicer to deconstruct the building and ask what’s needed that’s not already there – then you can create a relatively simple development that plugs into the existing grid of facilities and amenities.

“We ended up with a planning application that has been really well received by the local community.

“That wasn’t surprising to us because of all the work we’d done.

“Now we’ve got the go-ahead, the next five to seven years are going to be really exciting, where we can actually put a lot more thought into what this development is going to be like – to bring more colour to what we have already shown.”

An artist's impression of how the ground floor of Canada Water Dockside might look
An artist’s impression of how the ground floor of Canada Water Dockside might look

Art-Invest is working with BIG Architects on the scheme, which will have an eye firmly on sustainability, aiming to create a net-zero development entirely powered by electricity.

“The office of the future is not the building itself, it’s the environment you’re creating,” said Luka. 

“Workplaces will be spaces where you come maybe three or four times a week, but not somewhere you’d come to sit at a desk for the whole day.

“When it comes to the buildings, we think that the look and feel of office blocks needs to change – they should be more welcoming. 

“Our intention is also to have lots of terraces. A lot of people complain about the weather in the UK, but I think for most of the year you can actually work outside, depending how cold it is

“We use the terrace quite extensively at our office for about eight or nine months of the year.

“Fresh air is very important to us – Canada Water has some of the cleanest air in London and we want to create buildings with opening windows, not sealed boxes that don’t feel very human.

“In the future, offices will also be places where you might come to meet other people and to do other things in addition to work that you wouldn’t necessarily do at home.

“That’s why we think Canada Water has a lot to offer – you can do all sorts of activities within a 500m radius. 

“For example, Decathlon are our next-door neighbours and with everything the area has to offer there’s an opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyles.

“When we engaged with Decathlon, we realised its vision aligns with what we’re trying to achieve in terms of healthy living, active transport, and so on.

“That’s why we have a partnership with them and have set aside a £200,000 fund to encourage health and wellbeing in Canada Water over the next five years.

“This is a grass-roots project, supporting what’s already here. 

“We are strong believers that we don’t need to create a place here – there’s already a place here – we just need to see if there’s something missing or if we can help with something that’s already in existence.

“I’d really like to thank everyone who’s been involved in the processes over the last couple of years – all those who have worked with our teams, but also all the stakeholders, the community and Southwark Council who will be engaging with us to make this a success.

“We feel that Canada Water is going to be the start of an amazing journey in the years to come.”

Art-Invest hopes to start construction in 2023 with its buildings coming in phases. Residents can expect some spaces to open by 2025 or 2026.

Read more: How crypto exchange CoinJar offers investors choices

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life