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Canary Wharf: How The Cocktail Club offers Wharfers a place to party

Founder JJ Goodman talks drinks, growth and swinging lights at the new Cabot Square venue

Founder of The Cocktail Club, JJ Goodman
Founder of The Cocktail Club, JJ Goodman – image Matt Grayson

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The lights dangling over the bar at The Cocktail Club in Canary Wharf’s Cabot Square tell a story all of their own that dates back to the brand’s creation in a Covent Garden basement in 2008.

There’s something of the showman about founder JJ Goodman and almost the first thing he does when I turn up for our interview is to energetically swing each pendant by its metal shade out into the bar above the heads of customers.

“We had similar lights at Covent Garden and one night we swung them and the place went off,” he said. “It’s been a thing ever since.”

That’s why you’ll see staff throwing the light fittings around at the Canary Wharf branch.  While the company JJ founded is now part of emerging hospitality giant Nightcap PLC – which also owns The Adventure Bar Group and Barrio Familia – this simple anarchic act is a reminder that there’s personality woven through the links of the chain.

Bartenders get to pick the music and each branch gets a bespoke interior, the Wharf’s being heavy on stained glass, graffiti and low lighting.

The drinks it serves combine theatre with precision – a mixture aimed at pleasing both serious drinkers and those up for a heady party.

Old favourites – Mojitos and Espresso Martinis, for example – cost £9.75, while more complex creations are about £13.

These include the likes of the Truffletini – a blend of rum, coffee liqueur, tonka bean syrup and espresso with a chocolate truffle sat on the side of the glass.

It’s a menu that in many ways encompasses JJ’s history as a bartender.

The interior of the Canary Wharf branch
The interior of the Canary Wharf branch – image Matt Grayson

“I’ve been a barman since I was about 16 in my old home town of Worcester,” he said. “I made my first cocktails when I was 17 – it was a Grasshopper.

“There was a shitty little manual on the back of the bar where I worked so I decided to learn to make a few drinks.

“If someone wanted something interesting, I’d make a drink full of sugar and covered in umbrellas and that was good fun.

“Then I got into the Flair world – spinning bottles, all of that. I started entering and winning competitions.” 

But JJ was serious too. Moving to London he immersed himself in the bar industry, going on to win the Cocktail World Cup in 2008. 

That was the same year he and business partner James Hopkins featured on and won BBC’s The Restaurant and opened the Covent Garden Cocktail Club.

The TV show connected the pair to chef Raymond Blanc and Dragon’s Den investor Sarah Willingham, who became the founder and CEO of Nightcap in 2021 – now The Cocktail Club’s parent company.

“We’ve got 18 branches now alongside the other brands and I think we’ve stumbled on a really nice home for ourselves at Canary Wharf,” said JJ.

“In due course we’d love to bring the rest of Nightcap’s crew to the party.

Finished drinks at the Cabot Square venue
Finished drinks at the Cabot Square venue – image Matt Grayson

“The area has evolved so much and so quickly in the last couple of years. In terms of hospitality, you now have the top operators in the country and arguably Europe, here. 

“We’ve found a brilliantly engaged audience, and if you’re really passionate about what you do, you want to be in the mix, shoulder to shoulder with the best guys out there.

“I’m excited for everyone in Canary Wharf to come, check us out and let their hair down.

“There’s a lot of madness going on in the world, and I promise we’re a fabulous little escape for them, as many times a week as they fancy it.

“We stand out from everybody else on the high street – there are plenty of places where you can go and have a quiet drink with your mates or that after-work catch-up with someone you haven’t seen for a time. We’re never going to compete with that.

“When you create a space with such high energy and fuel it with enough booze, you’re going to make new memories. People will leave their inhibitions at the door.

“So I feel like you should be able to come in here in whatever you want to wear, with whoever you want to come in with.

“We’ve got a really broad demographic as well – it’s a place where you can have a giggle, have some fun, and that’s encouraged by our staff.”

It’s also encouraged by the menu which starts with familiar drinks and delivers a twist.

“We wrote it post-lockdown,” said JJ.

“We looked at our top six classic best-selling cocktails, including the Old Fashioned and the Martini, and we chose to take each of those on a journey.

“So, we’ve got the house classic, then we’ve got the top shelf, where we experiment with more premium brands, and then we’ve got the theatre section, which we championed in the years before Instagram.

“If you love a Mojito, you can go on a journey of discovery, with fabulous variations on something that you know and love and trust.

A bartender creates a drink at The Cocktail Club
A bartender creates a drink at The Cocktail Club – image Matt Grayson

“I think trust is really important when you’re charging people £10-£14 a drink – you really have to deliver something great.

“So what we chose to do is present the menu in such a way that people can feel comfortable travelling through a few variations on something they already love.”

Like every business, The Cocktail Club faces staffing pressures and is addressing that through education.

“We launched the Nightcap Bar Academy this year at a facility in Camden with another one on the way in Shoreditch,” said JJ.

“The idea is that we can take people with limited experience and show them the way we like to work. 

“Lots of young people have missed out on being exposed to nightlife due to the pandemic and I really feel for them.

“What we can do is educate them on the style of service we give so they can see a career in this industry.

“Being behind the bar is my happy place and I really miss it loads.

“But we strive for very high standards and I’m a bit rusty so I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself, although I’d love it.”

That said, JJ can’t suppress his anarchic edge completely, slapping lampshades and ordering shots for everyone behind the bar, all the while keeping a careful eye on the quality of the drinks going out.

This is carefully choreographed wildness and it’s great. 

One of The Cocktail Club's infamous swinging lampshades
One of The Cocktail Club’s infamous swinging lampshades – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How The Wickers helps fight knife crime in east London

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Kerb’s West India Quay operation has gone social

Street food business sets up not-for-profit to help traders start and grown their operations

Wandercrust founder Gavin Dunn is running Kerb Social Enterprise

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Buy a meal from a street food trader at Kerb On The Quay and you will be doing much more than filling your stomach, from now on.

A year ago, Kerb made a radical change. 

After nine years of running markets across London that championed food startups – including the popular West India Quay spot – the business decided it needed to do more.

So it set up a not-for-profit social enterprise arm and hired Gavin Dunn, founder of pizza company Wandercrust and graduate of its own Inkerbator programme, to run it.

“I’ve always been really passionate about the ethos of Kerb – of breathing life and vitality into otherwise quiet areas of London and supporting a really diverse ecosystem of great foods from around the world,” said the 49-year-old, who is managing director of the company Kerb Social Enterprise.

“When I saw the job on LinkedIn, I felt pretty well placed to apply.”

Kerb already knew Gavin had experience with street food and his own consultancy in business development and HR, but its managers were impressed to find out he also had an extensive background with social enterprises and charities.

Gavin said it meant his experience perfectly matched the extremely niche role.

“There’s not that many food-based social enterprises so, not to blow my own trumpet, but I knew as soon as I saw the role it was quite nailed-on for me,” he said.

The first step in creating the new company ecosystem was “engaging” and, over the last 12 months, Gavin has worked to find more charity partners across four areas – youth unemployment, ex-offenders, refugee support and homelessness.

The aim is to discover hidden talent among the most disadvantaged communities in London to join its programmes and help diversify the street food scene.

“That early stage of the ecosystem is really important to me,” said Gavin.

“I went through the Inkerbator programme but was absolutely fortunate enough to have been able to afford my own pizza truck. 

 “I had a certain level of privilege to be able to set up Wandercrust while running my consultancy. 

“I’m well aware that early stage presents such a barrier to individuals in being able to pursue their dream of running their own food businesses.

“We’re reaching out to these charities to see how we can remove those barriers, work with them and offer support to get them onto our Inkerbator programme and trading at our markets.

Meatstop founder Benjamin Page began barbecuing aged 11. He now serves burgers, made from the finest ingredients and graduated from Kerb’s Inkerbator in October

“That’s where we are really plugged in to parts of London that we otherwise would have overlooked in the past.”

The new era, which dawned as Kerb began celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2022, relies heavily on its West India Quay market.

It restarted in March and is now where all Inkerbators must cut their teeth every Wednesday from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

Full Kerb members trade at the site every Thursday from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

So far this year it has produced 23 graduates, including The Yeast Brothers, who have now opened their own restaurant in Deptford.

The last cohort graduated in October, so the Wednesday market is paused for now, but will return in 2023 with a fresh set of traders for Wharfers to try.

“We take a lot of time and care to make sure the businesses that come through the programme have the best experience possible and we can rely on West India Quay for that,” said Gavin.

“Canary Wharf is the home of London’s markets, and street food markets are the original business incubators, where people shared ideas and practices.

“It’s really nice to have brought it back to Canary Wharf this year and long may it last. 

“We choose to do it there because of the crowd. The customers love it and recognise its value and you can feel it at an Inkerbator market.”

The Woolwich resident still remembers the buzz of trading there for the first time in 2016 with Wandercrust, which now trades in Greenwich.

“There’s nothing like it really,” said Gavin. “It’s excitement but you are anxious and you can still feel that at Inkerbator markets now.

“It means I know exactly how new businesses owners coming on to the programme feel.”

He also knows first hand the world of opportunities the programme can open up.

“One of the main benefits I found at Inkerbator was just this development of a network of like-minded creative, food-loving small businesses. It enables that collective spirit,” he said.

“It feels incredible for me to now be responsible for it and help rebuild it after the pandemic.”

Sadish Gurung, left, and Subash Gurung, both worked in IT before launching Nepalese food business Filili which serves up Momo bite-size dumplings, below. They graduated in October

Kerb, which also runs markets across London and a successful event catering arm with food service group Compass, shut down most of its activities over 2020 and 2021.

During that time it received 750 applications for Inkerbator.

Its team research and chat to each one, but also scout and approach businesses to invite, to ensure they are finding the best.

Those offered a place go through the coaching stage of the ecosystem, followed by six weeks of trading at West India Quay.

Once the incubating stage is complete and traders have graduated into full members, the accelerating stage kicks in.

Many go on to trade at the Thursday market at West India Quay and Kerb also offers regular networking events to its 100-plus members, some of whom have been with the business since its inception.

“It can be a lonely place, being a food business owner,” said Gavin. “So being part of a collective really helps to get everyone’s creative juices flowing.”

Becoming a social enterprise was a big change but Kerb was already working with charities such as Food Behind Bars to find potential members.

“We’ve worked with a guy called Marcus who had the idea of setting up a Caribbean pie and mash business,” said Gavin.

“I first met him in Brixton prison and now he’s working with us to gain work experience to help get him work in hospitality, but also to hopefully one day get onto our Inkerbator programme to set up his own street food business.”

It also works with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) and one of its founders is on Kerb’s advisory board. 

One of the most popular traders at the Quay is Oshpaz, which was set up by Uzbekistan refugee Muzaffar Sadykov after he was referred by TERN and completed Kerb’s Inkerbator programme in February 2019.

Transforming into a social enterprise means the company now has more money to invest in its work with these charities as there are no shareholders or dividends.

“If you buy a bowl of plov from Muzaffa, not only will the the money go straight to him, but any pitch fee he pays Kerb is reinvested back into supporting early stage food businesses to help them grow through the Inkerbator,” said Gavin.

Kerb partnered with both charities and new partner homeless charity The Connection at St Martin In The Fields, to launch its first big move for the new social enterprise in the summer.

It partnered with McCain for initiative Streets Ahead offering free workshops to 100 less advantaged people. 

“We’re already seeing individuals that The Connection has worked with referred to us and we’re supporting them either into work or talking about how they would go about setting up their own food businesses,” said Gavin.

Jan Manrique from RiceON.LDN serves Korean bulgogi and graduated from the Inkerbator in March

“We’re always looking for new partners and more support and we would like to do a lot more because there’s so much food talent out there and individuals that would love the opportunity to do it.

“But there are still a lot of barriers in the way, which we’re working really hard to remove.”

Gavin said next year was going to be a big one for Kerb.

“There’s loads of things in the pipeline that we’re excited about,” he said.

“Not least, working with all of the charities I’ve mentioned and removing those barriers to entry into food entrepreneurship for individuals who are just leaving prison or have refugee status. 

“It really does feel as though we’re in a unique position – we’ve got so much to offer.”

He added: “I’m passionate about supporting small, independent businesses and have yet to come across a business that is better at doing that than Kerb.

“It’s a privilege to be able to be the person doing this for Kerb. 

“It’s had such success over the first 10 years and I’m determined to make the next 10 years equally as successful and ground breaking.”

He hopes West India Quay will continue to embrace its new traders as they diversify and hopefully extend the number of days they trade there next year.

“We’ve had such amazing support from the customer base,” said Gavin. 

“It hasn’t been as busy this year because with hybrid working not everyone’s in the office all the time.

“But what we have seen is real support from people who want to make sure that we remain there.

“People tell us they plan their days in the office around market day and some people come over and order 30 different meals to take back and make it into an office event.

 “Kerb’s remit has always been to breathe life into spaces, to bring some colour, diversity and flavour to an area that might otherwise be less vibrant. 

“I really think we’ve done that at West India Quay but also in the wider Canary Wharf area. You see so many more small food businesses there now and I like to think Kerb played a small part.”

Read more: How In2Sports offers inclusive space for all to play

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canary Wharf: How In2Sports provides facilities for the whole community

Charitable trust runs Wood Wharf venue, which includes a sports hall, gym and The Training Room

In2Sports director Callum Wear
In2Sports director Callum Wear

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Harbord Square has got a secret.

If you’ve walked through Wood Wharf, past the buildings to the east of its green oblong of grass, you may have spotted In2Sports’ red and blue logo in the brightly lit unit on corner of Brannan Street. 

But that space, with its orange chairs and Mars vending machine is merely the tip of an iceberg. It’s all about what lies beneath.

Walk through its glass doors, descend a level and you’ll find an expansive relaxation area, complete with a pool table, ping pong, a bar, bikes, seating, sports memorabilia and tables made from old vaulting horses.

It’s a charming enough space on its own, but this too is just an appetiser.

What In2Sports is really sitting on is a full-size, purpose built sports hall, complete with changing facilities, fitness studio space and even a crossfit-inspired gym.

Some of the facilities will be used part-time by the neighbouring primary school, when it opens, with the remainder of the timetable available for clubs, businesses and individuals looking for functional, affordable space.

The main sports hall at In2Sports in Wood Wharf
The main sports hall at In2Sports in Wood Wharf

“In2Sports is an indoor sports arena that caters for a wide variety of needs, with the ability to deliver a wide array of opportunities for people to be able to participate in sports and leisure activities at every level,” said Callum Wear, In2Sports trustee.

“It’s a place for anyone and everyone to have fun, play sports and then there’s the social side of it as well, which is a very important feature.

“Rather than just coming in, playing your sport and then leaving, players can relax and mingle with like-minded people, share their victories and talk about their next game strategies.

“It might be cricket, football, netball, volleyball, dodgeball or any smaller-sided counterparts to outside games that can be played indoors.

“We will always be evolving to accommodate new trends and demands.

“Our ambition is to become the home for anybody, any club or association that has a need to deliver sports and leisure activity programmes in this area.

“We don’t have an alliance with or allegiance to anyone, and we will work with a wide variety of people.

“Success for us is about participation – people walking out of the door and saying they’ve had a fantastic time.

“Having a fun place with an electric atmosphere is what we want.

In2Sports’ crossfit-style gym area

“That’s the name of the game. If you’re not having fun playing sport, you’re not going to achieve to the best of your ability. 

“When you’re here, you might be playing table tennis, but you might be playing with your football team or talking about the game or your next opponent – we want there to be constant activity around you.

“It’s a place that keeps people entertained and involved socially – sharing experiences with people is key.”

In2Sports is structured as a charitable trust and following a £9.99 registration fee, the sports hall can be hired for between £120 and £160 per hour depending on timing.

Quarter and half-court hire are also available and there’s a 40% discount for local residents with disabilities, those on benefits, who are senior citizens or who are full-time students. 

In celebration of its opening, In2Sports is currently offering all courts at off-peak prices.

Flexibility is central to the organisation’s model, with The Training Room perfectly summing that up.

“It’s certainly not just a bar and it’s a bit more than a clubhouse,” said Callum. 

“It could be the space where you could come for a small community workshop, for presentations, talks, speeches, birthday celebrations or just a place where people can relax after a game and have a drink with friends. 

“We’re a licensed venue, but you can also have health drinks as well, such as smoothies. It’s warm and welcoming.”

Callum knows a thing or two about welcoming Wharfers. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to the UK and, while working as an analyst on a financial project management system, met and became friends with accountant Chris Bennett.

The two discussed various ideas but both loved the idea of collaborating on a business related to sports and after about a year and a half of discussions created Play On Sports, launching in 2004.

Stretching to an eventual 50,000sq ft of space on the Wood Wharf site, it all began with a guaranteed 18 month lease.

In the end, Play On stayed until 2014, relocating its operations to Whitechapel when they had to make way for building works as Canary Wharf Group began the regeneration of the area.

The Training Room can serve many functions at the venue

“It’s great to be back in Canary Wharf – everyone has welcomed us back and people have been so supportive,” said Callum.

“I think Canary Wharf Group sees the benefit to the community that we bring and hopefully we’ll be contributing to the vibrant hub the estate has become.

“Now it’s full steam ahead – we have opened and it’s time to develop relationships with businesses and organisations around here and to tell the community that we’re here and we’re available for them to enjoy.

“This isn’t just a facility for corporates, it’s a place for anyone to use and play. 

“We’re ideally located, less than a 10-minute walk from the Jubilee and Elizabeth Line stations and there are good bus services along Preston’s Road too.”

In addition to The Training Room and the sports hall, In2Sports is also offering monthly memberships or access on a pay-as-you-go basis to its gym.

“It’s a crossfit-style training room, which is a really inclusive form of exercise,” said Callum.

“Everyone can engage with it because you’re only competing against yourself. 

“Then we also have our studio space which would be ideal for Yoga, Pilates and so on. 

“We’re also working with various charities so they can use it to achieve their goals and they’ll be utilising that space to get people up and active.

“We have a can-do, all inclusive approach to delivering sports. This is not your square-boxed sports hall, so if someone wants to host a sports activity, we will try to deliver it.

“This is very much a community project, the In2Sports charitable trust is for the benefit of everyone – corporates, social clubs and children.

“We like to work with organisations who are using sports to break down barriers, to give people that self-esteem, that self-confidence and to keep people playing sports on a sustainable basis so that they can have fun and feel better.”

One of the changing rooms at In2Sports

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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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Canary Wharf: How Alchemy Machines provides smart transcription services

AI driven platform is set to launch in November 2022 aimed at businesses in the legal sector

Alchemy Machines platform could make note-taking by hand a thing of the past

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Singer, martial artist, entrepreneur.

These are Dia Thanki’s passions but it’s in the third where our chief interest lies.

So it’s not Motown classics or her practising the graceful forms of Wing Chun Kung Fu that will fill this space, It’s her latest business venture.

Alchemy Machines, the company she founded and runs as CEO, is set to launch its first product in November following two years of development.

Based at Level39 – Canary Wharf’s tech community and workspace at One Canada Square – the idea for the business grew from a personal experience.

“I was involved in a car accident quite a few years ago,” said Dia.

“I was coming off the motorway, going downhill and there was a lot of traffic ahead – it was gridlocked.

“I stopped my car but there was a van going at top speed, which crashed into the back of my vehicle – leaving me with whiplash and chronic back pain.

“As a result I was having a lot of meetings with my personal injury lawyer, but the discomfort I was in meant I wasn’t able to focus on what was being said.

“I decided to look for an app that could transcribe voice to text, but the technology was generally very primitive at the time.

“It was then that I thought how wonderful it would be if meetings could be automatically transcribed accurately with who was speaking and when. 

“People could then read or listen back and there would be an audit trail.”

Dia had been exposed to the emerging area of artificial intelligence (AI) as a student, first at Cass Business School (since renamed Bayes Business School) and then later during a masters in management information systems at Cranfield University.

“Back then, no-one really cared about it – it was a research topic, but there were very few real-life implementations,” she said.

“But I was fascinated with its potential and my final year thesis was in the area of multi-agent systems.

“It was all about process modelling using software agents to be able to replicate real-world phenomena to convert them into a virtual world. 

“That’s when I began to think about the endless possibilities of a technology like AI.”

However, life took Dia in a different direction, as after graduating, a career as a singer beckoned and she eventually set up a business as the founder of label Diamanté Records.

After pursuing that course for a little over four years, Dia changed heading, going on to discover a strength in project management.

“That’s really my forte – starting with a concept for a web application or a mobile app and taking it from idea to a tangible product,” she said.

“In the process of doing that, I was working with developers, designers both onshore and offshore, globally for organisations such as BT, BUPA and Apple.

“Just before I set up Alchemy Machines, I was working for Tech Nation which is very well known in the tech ecosystem.

“I was its Future 50 programme manager – curating events for the brand and through that work I became fascinated with the world of startups.

“Then Alchemy Machines got a grant offer and there was a need to focus on the company full time and build a team.”

Alchemy Machines founder and CEO Dia Thanki

With machine learning having taken off in the intervening years, it was time for Dia to explore the creation of something that has been in the back of her mind since she sat in the room with those lawyers.

“I’d reached out to various computer scientists, people who had worked at Google and Amazon and senior researchers – had lots of coffees and built up my knowledge,” she said.

“I did a lot of different courses and then found some money to build a prototype, initially from Innovate UK, which is funded by the Government.

“The reason we chose to focus on the legal sector was that there seemed to be a demand, although the product we have developed could be as relevant in healthcare or financial services.

“Alchemy Machines solves the problem of unlocking workflow productivity for corporate professionals.

“The way we do that is to develop a voice intelligence platform that can transcribe sector-specific speech into text, and then also analyse those conversations and summarise them. It’s a feature-rich voice intelligence platform.

“People confuse us with an AI transcription company, but Alchemy Machines is much more than that.

“Given the high rates at which people leave jobs in the legal sector and everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, now is the time for a technology like this to really come to the fore.

“While there are other areas where this kind of technology has been prevalent for a while, that hasn’t really been the case in the corporate and legal worlds.

“I think that’s because they haven’t embraced innovation as fast, although in recent years they have been forced to do so, partly because of the consolidation that’s happening in the sector.

“Legal firms were some of the last to embrace email, for example, but they are now using cloud technology with many companies migrating – it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the market follows.

“People are very risk-averse in the sector.

“There’s a lack of understanding about AI machine learning and sometimes that triggers fear, although it can also trigger excitement.

“There are many offerings out there and it can be difficult for businesses to differentiate.

“But we have a clear focus, we know that being GDPR compliant, for example, is very important for companies in the sector and we have worked with Legal 500 firms to build feasibility scenarios and really test our platform before launch.

“It works like this – let’s assume there’s a dispute resolution case within intellectual property law.

“A group of lawyers – a senior associate, a trainee and a client – are having a virtual meeting to discuss the case.

“Normally, the trainee lawyer would be typing out or writing notes before producing a final version in consultation with the senior associate before it’s given to the client or stored in-house.

“That’s a huge waste of time – especially for trainee lawyers who want to get their hands on high-value casework and not spend their time on boring admin tasks.

“It might be useful for them for a couple of months as part of their training, but afterwards it becomes tedious admin work.

“With Alchemy Machines, all they would need to do would be to press ‘record’ when the Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting starts.

“The software then sits in the background and, for a one-hour meeting, it would take about 15 or 20 minutes to generate the report in our web application.

“There, the user will find the audio file, the transcription, the analysis and the summaries.

“That will include things like the ratio of who is speaking, the total number of people on the call and a sentiment analysis expressed as a percentage, based on whether mostly positive or negative words were used.

“The platform also tracks the duration of the meeting and the accuracy of the voice recognition itself and these are just the things we can measure now.

“I’m super excited for the launch because this wasn’t a product that was easy to create – it’s very complex because of the machine learning elements, but also the amount of time that’s gone into testing it with real-life users to ensure we’ve built something that’s simple, intuitive and valuable.

“The feedback has been phenomenal.

“I was speaking to a firm we’ve been trialling the platform with and they thought that our product was both more accurate and easier to use than a very well funded American competitor.

“Creating this product and this business has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life because it has demanded such a level of focus and resilience – and I trained as a martial artist for five years.

“There have been two really big challenges.

“The first is the same for any tech company selling solutions to large corporations and that’s establishing credibility.

“The second has been fundraising. There are still very few women seeking investment in businesses in general and especially in the tech and STEM sectors and that makes it tough.

“That’s slowly beginning to change and there are a few different initiatives that are encouraging girls and women to embrace technology and see the potential of it. 

“As a business, we have some key targets to try and attract more women to join the sector and one of our machine learning engineers is a woman, so it’s been a great experience to share this journey with her.

“I hope many more will come to work in tech for Alchemy Machines or others.” 

Dia will be speaking at LegalEx at 2pm on November 23, 2022, at Excel in Royal Docks. Alchemy Machines’ platform is set to officially launch next month.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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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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Isle Of Dogs: How Laura Zabo makes jewellery from waste rubber bike tyres

See Laura’s pieces and others from Craft Central makers at its Open Studios and Winter Market

Laura Zabo wears her most popular necklace, the Curlywurly – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

When Laura Zabo moved to Tanzania in 2015, she was seeking change.

Her business in Hungary had failed and she needed a new passion.

What she found there were dirty old tyres. She loved them.

“Africans recycle everything and, one day, I was walking through the local Maasai market and found some brightly painted sandals made out of car tyres,” said Laura.

“They were so pretty and colourful and I found this a brilliant idea – that such an unwanted material could become so useful.

“I realised I wanted to show the world that we can recycle tyres and we have to, because we just have too much waste.”

She immediately started buying supplies and tools and learning how to transform the rubber into wearable objects such as belts and shoes – sometimes working 15 hours without eating.

“I just felt like: ’Wow, this is the mission of my life,’.” she said. “I was sure, with my creativity, that I could make pretty items people would want.”

By the time she moved to London, jewellery was her focus and she began selling at markets in Spitalfields and Greenwich and at craft events in between day jobs in marketing and hospitality.

It revived the entrepreneurial spirit she had first discovered aged eight – selling beaded jewellery at school – but which had been dampened by the failure of her homoeopathy business.

Earrings at Laura’s Craft Central studio – image Matt Grayson

“When that happened I was really depressed and was just surviving because I really didn’t know what I should do with my life,” said Laura

“I moved to Africa to reset and find something interesting that I could really dedicate my life to.”

After she discovered it, London called to her because of the freedom it offered.

“I come from a much more conservative country – the UK really has the vibe of opportunities,” she said.

“If you come here and believe in something, you can make it happen.”

The 43-year-old has lived across the capital including in Lewisham and Margate – she’s now on a boat in West India South Dock.

But when it came to her business she realised she needed a more permanent base and landed at Craft Central on the Isle Of Dogs’ Westferry Road in February.

“I was making from home before, but it was really uncomfortable, after so many years,” she said. 

“Sometimes I would finish working at midnight and the next morning there was rubber everywhere. I knew that if I had my own workspace, I could focus much more.

“I find the space at Craft Central so inspirational and I really like that the Isle Of Dogs is like a piece of countryside in London”

Her supplies mostly come from a tyre recycling firm but she often pops to Canary Wharf to collect supplies from NipNip’s bike servicing and repair shop at Westferry Circus.

You won’t find her pedalling though, as Laura isn’t a fan of cycling – or the cleaning required when tyres arrive.

“Everything is dirty and has to be sorted because each type of tyre has a different purpose,” she said.

“When I’m sorting them I get completely dirty and then the tyres have to be cut in half and soaked for a few hours in disinfectant before I start scrubbing.”

Laura with one of her creations – image Matt Grayson

Once they are dry, the inner tubes are ready for crafting into delicate necklaces and earrings but the tyres, which she uses for belts, have to be painted to make them perfectly black. 

Laura can make around 30 pieces a week and her biggest seller is the Curlywurly Necklace, which she said would be impossible to make from any other material.

Prices range from £12 for a pair of leaf earrings to £89 for her statement necklaces and Laura said it had been a conscious choice to charge as little as possible.

“I come from a very poor family and know how bad it is when you like something and you just don’t have money for it,” she said.

“I didn’t want someone to be unable to afford my pieces.

“Also, some customers are unsure how people will react if they buy recycled bicycle inner tube jewellery, so I don’t want the price to put them off.

“More sales means I can spread my message.”

It has been working. Sales have increased fourfold this year and Laura has been inundated with requests for collaborations and photoshoots.

“I am so happy people are valuing my items,” she said. “I really feel the buzz from every direction and like it is becoming something very popular. 

“Obviously, this is what I wanted when I started this business, but for many years people laughed at me when I told them my job was to recycle tyres and said I was not normal.

“Now it’s becoming an industry and it’s brilliant.”

Belts made by Laura – image Matt Grayson

Laura believes her success is down to a change in her mindset.

“I have read about 80 books since November about business and personal development and feel much more focused on my goals,” she said.

“I think once your way is clear, you feel more stable in your journey and good things happen more easily.”

Unlike many makers who guard their processes, Laura is now keen to share hers widely.

“My next call is to open a shop and teach my techniques to make people realise anyone can make money out of upcycling,” she said.

“It has been a game-changer in my life. When I craft, it is like meditation. 

“Even if you sell it very cheaply, the fact you created something and someone wants to buy it, will really change your life.

“Upcycling also teaches us what we throw away and that our main focus should be on creating instead of useless hobbies like shopping.”

Laura, who buys 95% of her clothes second hand, added: “I find fast fashion so useless and super stupid.

“People work so hard, then buy valueless items nonstop and it just doesn’t make any sense for me. I would love to inspire people to try crafting instead.

“I think every market should have one person who sells upcycled tyre jewellery.

“I hope to be the person who teaches them how to do that.”

Craft Central’s event takes place from November 19-20, 2022

SHOP LOCAL – CRAFT CENTRAL OPEN STUDIOS AND WINTER MARKET

See the work of Craft Central experts, including Laura Zabo,  up-close at Craft Central’s home at The Forge from November 19-20, 2022, 10.30am -5pm.

The charity will be hosting an Open Studios and Winter Market event, which is free to visit and includes Silphi ‘s Venetian coloured glass jewellery and Pon Studio’s playful homeware.

The gallery space will be full of items to browse and buy, including Frank Horn’s leather accessories, Sato Hisao’s pop-up cards and paper craft and other products such as home accessories, jewellery, fashion, prints, ceramics, stationery and textiles, from £2.50 to £500.

There will be drop-in, pay-what- you-can workshops from noon-4pm in badge making on the Saturday and Christmas decoration painting on the Sunday.

Also, Carb Club will host Paint Your Own Pieces ceramics workshops all weekend and, on the Saturday, Sarah Richards will run an upcycling DIY Christmas Jumper workshop for £15 adult, £10 child.

Both require pre-booking.

Read more: Discover Wilton’s Music Hall’s festive show for 2022

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canary Wharf: Why M restaurant is serving up greens grown by Crate To Plate

Isle Of Dogs’ facility can produce all year round with 95% less water than traditional farming methods

M's Mike Reid and Crate To Plate's Sebastien Sainsbury
M’s Mike Reid and Crate To Plate’s Sebastien Sainsbury – image Matt Grayson

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It turns out there are two farms on the Isle Of Dogs.

Mudchute is filled with rare breeds and is a favourite spot for residents (and the occasional Wharfer) to take a restful stroll among the sheep and llamas.

The other, however, is much less obvious. 

Built inside three shipping containers sat in a brick-walled car park, just off Westferry Road, locals can easily be forgiven for not knowing Crate To Plate is there at all. 

But packed inside its metal boxes are racks of hyrdoponic tech, carefully calibrated to grow crops in nutrient-rich water under LED lights.

The business supplies restaurants in London and also grows produce at sites in Stratford and Elephant And Castle.

Its Isle Of Dogs containers make it, almost certainly, the closest producer of ingredients to Canary Wharf.

That means delivery times and mileage are negligible and Wharfers eating dishes created from its ingredients are consuming some of the freshest products available. 

One restaurant that’s making the most of the facility is recently opened M restaurant – located on the lower floors of Newfoundland tower.

M's Crate To Plate Salad, £7.50
M’s Crate To Plate Salad, £7.50

Owner Martin Williams and executive chef Mike Reid are both big on sustainability and cutting waste. The restaurant proudly works to assess and minimise its impact on the environment. 

The steaks it serves are carbon neutral, thanks to a partnership with charity Not For Sale, which offsets their impact through reforestation projects in the Amazon and helping to protect local people from modern slavery. 

Order M’s Crate To Plate salad as a side and you’ll be dining on leaves grown less than 20 minutes’ walk away, in the mix.

“It’s as fresh as it can be, as close from farm to plate as possible, and that’s so rare – it’s a privilege to have that in Canary Wharf,” said Mike, who did a degree in business and marketing before apprenticing as a chef and going on to work with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux Jnr.

“Sustainability has become more of a focus for us in the last five years and it’s always been part of my philosophy as a chef.

“You want to cook as sustainably as possible and use as many local ingredients as you can, which has always been a challenge at M because it’s a brand that showcases international food and flavours.

M executive chef Mike Reid in one of the containers
M executive chef Mike Reid in one of the containers – image Matt Grayson

“Now it’s about how we interpret that, about the relationships we have with our suppliers and building partnerships.

“Crate To Plate is probably the perfect example of that. We create dishes with their produce in mind and at other times they grow things speculatively. It’s very much a collaboration.

“I try to visit the farms as much as I can and the last time I was here they had the most beautiful wasabi flowers.

“Normally you’d only get them five weeks a year, but here they grow all year round. 

“It’s one of my favourite flowers to cook with, because the flavour is literally a punch in the face, but in the most subtle and beautiful way, and they’re gorgeous.

“To have that available all year long is incredible.

“You’re not beholden to the seasons, so you can keep dishes on the menu with ingredients that are not impacted by the weather.

Crate To Plate founder and CEO Sebastien Sainsbury
Crate To Plate founder and CEO Sebastien Sainsbury – image Matt Grayson

“From a chef’s point of view, we chase consistency more than perfection and Crate To Plate’s products are phenomenal.

“For me the flavour’s better too – there’s no pesticides, none of the nasties and the lettuce, for example is crispier and the taste fresher.

“It’s vegetables and herbs the way they’re supposed to be – whatever you’re tasting in the supermarket, times it by 10.

“When I first came to visit the farm I wondered if I was in the right place, but this is pure genius.”

Mike’s words will be music to the ears of Crate To Plate founder and CEO Sebastien Sainsbury.

Part of the dynasty that created the supermarket chain, he spent time as a banker with interests in hospitality, before turning to vertical farming in urban environments as a way to help tackle some of the world’s problems.

Crops are started as seedlings and then planted into vertical farms
Crops are started as seedlings and then planted into vertical farms – image Matt Grayson

  “When I was in banking in 2007, I did research on food security and population growth because it really concerned me where our food was going to come from,” said Sebastien. 

“If the number of people in the world kept on rising as predicted, it would mean the end of organic food 

“That remained in the back of my mind and in 2015 I was at Expo 2015 in Milan where I saw a hydroponic farm. 

“It’s not a new idea, it’s been around for thousands of years – think of the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon – and there are people doing it all around the world, but what’s changed is the technology.

“We don’t even use the term hydroponic any more, even since we installed the three farms on the Isle Of Dogs in 2020 – Crate To Plate is really ‘controlled environment agriculture’. 

“Every aspect of each plant’s growth, from the amount of light it gets to the light wavelength recipe, the nutrients in the water, the watering schedule, the ambient temperature, the humidity and even how long the lights are on or off – because plants need rest – is very closely monitored and regulated.

“It’s all automated, bar seeding, transplanting and harvesting and that’s just where we are today.”

The company’s model not only allows it to place farms close to its customers, minimising transportation, its technology means it uses approximately 95% less water than traditional farming methods. 

It hopes to cut that to 99% with newer root-misting systems – crucial in a world where natural resources are destined to become increasingly scarce.

The plants are then grown hydroponically and harvested
The plants are then grown hydroponically and harvested – image Matt Grayson

Crate To Plate can grow produce year-round to order and is unaffected by the weather. Its systems are not immune to problems, but these tend to be ones of maintenance rather than the lottery of droughts and floods.

“Farmers are suffering and they will suffer, but not because of us,” said Sebastien. “It’s because of climate change.

“We consume about 18million heads of lettuce a week in Britain and farmers supply about 90% of that, which means there’s still 1.8million being imported.

“In 2018, for example, we had the longest heatwave for 40 years and crops were all lost. Droughts are just as bad.

“With us, restaurants can give us an estimate of what they’ll need and we grow that for them, planting varieties that create less waste – flatter romaine lettuce, for example, for burgers so restaurants don’t throw out the middle of a baby gem. 

“Our head of farming, John Sticha, spent about four years doing research and development in a container in the US to find the right plants – we tried more than 220 varieties, a dozen Genovese basils and more than 14 different types of lemon basil.”

The company’s drive to improve is relentless, with new tech emerging all the time. Its next project is a plan for a bigger, fully automated farm in Royal Docks

“When I was a banker, I was on the right, but now I’m on the left – I’m all about social responsibility,” said Sebastien. 

“People laugh when I do nothing but talk about lettuce, which I knew nothing about five years ago. Being a vertical farmer is fun and it’s productive. 

“We’re growing stuff that people are loving – sometimes it blows my mind how positive people are about our produce. I’m not a young man any more, but I feel completely regenerated.”

With all that extra energy, who’d bet against a robot vertical farm in east London?

A Crate To Plate lettuce ready for the table
A Crate To Plate lettuce ready for the table – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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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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Canary Wharf: How money from BGC Partners’ Charity Day funds good causes

Having raised more than $192million between 2005 and 2021, we talk to one of the funded charities

Sadie Frost at the BGC Partners Charity Day - image James Perrin
Sadie Frost at the BGC Partners Charity Day – image James Perrin

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Each year financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald and its affiliates BGC Partners and GFI Group give away 100% of their global revenues to good causes.

The event is held in memory of the 658 friends and employees of Cantor and 61 Eurobrokers, who were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. 

Since 2005 – and not including this year’s efforts – Charity Day has generated $192million, distributed to more than 150 charities.

Celebrity patrons of these organisations are invited onto the businesses’ trading floors, including BGC’s offices in Canary Wharf’s Churchill Place to close deals over the phone and raise awareness of the causes they’re representing.

This year’s participants in London included football manager Sam Allardyce for Muscular Dystrophy UK, former footballer and pundit Rio Ferdinand for Wellbeing Of Women, TV presenter Amanda Holden for Battersea Dogs And Cats Home and Love Island presenter Laura Whitmore for Choose Love – an organisation that provides aid to and advocacy for refugees around the world.

But what does the day really mean to the organisations that participate?

For the Sir Hubert Von Herkomer Arts Foundation, which works to inspire and equip children with the tools they need to develop and pursue lifelong artistic passions, it’s a lot.

Its courses at after school clubs and in school holidays cover disciplines such as street art, photography, film making, music, sculpting, drama, songwriting and poetry.

They are all funded through donations and via fundraising events.

Two of its ambassadors – actor and producer Sadie Frost and actor Damian Lewis – attended BGC on its behalf this year, a day that is crucial to its ongoing operations.


Rio Ferdinand works the phones at the event - image James Perrin
Rio Ferdinand works the phones at the event – image James Perrin

“We get a huge amount in funding from it in comparison to what we get in grants,” said Debbi Clark, a professional photographer and co-founder and CEO of the foundation.

“We don’t know exactly how much we’ll be getting until the following year, but last year it was about a third of our total income of around £160,000.

“We did so many things with that money – we made a short film during Covid, a project that continued as we came out of the pandemic.

“We made a book and we also supported 80 children every day over the summer to help them discover the arts.

“We’ve run a music mentoring project that is supporting kids at risk from grooming and gangs, and that’s becoming a hugely successful programme.

“We also do a band jam for kids who can’t afford to buy instruments, that’s held every Saturday.

“We work on a grass roots basis, project-by-project, so having the money from the Charity Day is a massive help because it enables us to plan what we’re going to do.

“We work mainly with children in Camden, but have done a project in Deptford as well and last year we were able to support an extra 255 kids throughout the 12 months.

“All the money we receive goes on our projects so we can help disadvantaged and vulnerable children.”

The foundation is named in honour of the work of Sir Hubert Von Herkomer, an artist, playwright, actor, composer and film director known for his social realism and founding an art school in Bushey that encouraged students to ignore conventions and develop their own individual talents.

In 2011, Debbi and her husband, Mark Von Herkomer (Sir Hubert’s great grandson), set out to create a charity that celebrated his approach, resulting in the foundation.

Debbi Clark of the Sir Hubert Von Herkomer Foundation
Debbi Clark of the Sir Hubert Von Herkomer Foundation

“Our programmes give kids access to projects that they would never be able to afford to participate in otherwise,” said Debbi.

“For example, we do photography and Olympus sponsor us and send cameras so the kids get to use SLRs and different lenses.

“Our courses are free, so it’s giving kids opportunities that they should be getting at school but aren’t.

“I think that the arts are one of the most beneficial things you can teach, because it really does accelerate a child’s growth. In my opinion creativity empowers confidence and collaboration.

“They’re building new friendships and can say: ‘I’m a photographer’ working with proper equipment.

“It’s about putting them on the same platform as everybody else, so when they do leave school, they feel able to hold their own.

“All of this stuff is building up their confidence and putting them on an even keel.

“Four years ago they hadn’t seen a camera.

“Now they’re coming back with creative ideas – I’m really proud of them.

“I have always suffered with anxiety and I think that creativity saved me. When I did find my art, I felt free, it was a whole new world.

“Being able to be creative is so important for mental health and that’s why these donations matter. The arts are so important for the next generation – they give people freedom and that’s a beautiful thing.”

The foundation has also developed the McCrory Award in memory of its patron, the actor Helen McCrory, who died from breast cancer in 2021.

Laura Whitmore attends the event - image James Perrin
Laura Whitmore attends the event – image James Perrin

Debbi said: “We did this for my dear friend Helen, awarding three 14-year-old scholars funds to support them with one-to-one mentoring and a bursary to pursue their chosen field.

“On a wider level we’d love to expand what we do, but that means we need to find more funding.

“There’s a real need for the work we do. In Camden, for example, there’s a lot of knife crime and we see it first hand.

“We know which of the kids we see are at risk, the ones who are being groomed by gangs and we do everything we can to make sure everybody’s safe.

“Work like this opens up other avenues for people.

“A group who came for the first time two years ago were swearing and going outside for a smoke.

“We got some really cool people in to participate in their project and they became a bit empowered.

“The kids wanted to come to the sessions because they were really cool.

“Then they stopped swearing, they stopped being rude and started to have some respect for themselves and those around them.

“Some of those kids are now working in good jobs.

“I’ll be honest, it doesn’t work for everyone – but it does work and the money we get to do these projects is vital for that.”

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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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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Canary Wharf: How the Boisdale Music Awards act as a showcase for the venue

Event celebrates the breadth and quality of talent that graces the Cabot Square restaurant’s stage

Boisdale Music Awards hosts Jools Holland and Yolanda Brown

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Boisdale Of Canary Wharf recently hosted its annual music awards, with a roster of 14 honours for individuals and groups presented.

While the event recognised the talents of the winners and brought together a diverse crowd in celebration – where else can you see Black Sabbath’s guitarist casually chatting with actor and crooner Hugh Laurie? – it perhaps best served to draw attention to the breadth and quality of the artists Boisdale regularly draws to its stages in Canary Wharf and Belgravia

Effervescent owner Ranald Macdonald plus hosts Jools Holland (patron of music for Boisdale) and boisterous jazz saxophonist YolanDa Brown, presided over the proceedings including awards for the following:

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath at the awards

Tony Iommi

Lifetime Achievement Award

As co-founder and the only constant member of ground-breaking heavy metal band Black Sabbath, Tony’s contribution to music alongside Ozzy Osborne, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler is well documented.

 Their work includes genre-defining releases such as their eponymous first album and its follow-up, chart-topper Paranoid, named for the song that remains their only UK top 20 single.

Having lost the tips of two of his fingers in an industrial accident at the age of 17, he was inspired to keep playing after listening to a recording of guitarist Django Reinhardt.

After being told the gypsy jazz great was only using two digits having been injured in a fire that left two of his fingers paralysed, Tony redoubled his efforts, going on to make musical history himself. 

He said: “Getting this award feels lovely. I’ve got five lifetime achievement awards now, but it’s  great – I think any recognition is fantastic, I love it.

“Music is a different way of life now to when we started. I’d always say, get a lawyer and then get going, to those beginning a career now. 

“My real advice though would be to love what you’re doing, enjoy it and then whatever else comes is a bonus. You have to enjoy what you do.

Paranoid the song was on the second album – we’d had the first one, which was in the charts for a long time and then we did Paranoid, which went to No.1.

“It was a throwaway single but it got to No. 4 – we didn’t have enough songs for the album and the producer said we needed another one, just a short track.

“I came up with this idea, then we played it and recorded it in a few minutes and that was that.

“The whole thing about this business is about believing in what you do. I have always believed in what we do and that’s why we’ve been around a long time. It’s because we don’t change from what we love.”

Cleveland Watkiss performs at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf

Cleveland Watkiss 

Jazz Artist Award

Hackney-born singer and composer Cleveland was named best jazz artist for 2022. Having studied at the London School Of Singing and subsequently at Guildhall School Of Music And Drama, his career took off in the 1980s as a member of the Jazz Warriors with the likes of Courtney Pine and Dennis Rollins.

He has since gone on to work with a diverse and varied collection of artists including The Who, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis and Robbie Williams, to name just a few.

Cleveland said: “It’s always good to feel that your art and your work is appreciated. These awards are really encouraging, they give you a lift – especially in these tough times.

“It’s my wish and desire to keep performing and this award is just more encouragement to keep doing what I do.

“You know that saying – give people their flowers while they’re alive? Well not everyone gets those flowers, so I want to dedicate this to some of the people who inspired me coming up.

“There were a few people who passed away during the pandemic including my aunt, whose funeral I wasn’t able to attend because of Covid. She was like a second mother to me.

“She was one of these people who regardless of the situation would have a positive outlook on life. She was always encouraging us when we were growing up.

“I lost my father when I was nine and I stayed with her as a kid.

“She was always inspirational and, even though she suffered with illness, she’d lift you up.

“There’s other people too like Ray Carless, a fantastic tenor saxophonist in the community in Hackney where I grew up.

“He recently passed away but he was such an icon in terms of the work he did in east London and beyond.

“He was a hugely celebrated musician who played in some of the most iconic jazz bands in the UK. We’d be here all day if I sat here and named them – top artists like Adele and Elvin Jones.

“Ray was a big inspiration to me when I saw what he was doing. I watched him at Ronnie Scott’s when I was in my late teens and I thought: ‘Wow, if he could do that, playing with one of the greatest musicians in the world – Elvin Jones, who played with John Coltrane – then maybe I could too’. 

“I want to dedicate this to people like that – people who never really got their flowers when they were alive.”

Gina Larner belts out new single Heavy Heart

Gina Larner

Best Up And Coming Artist

Brighton born singer songwriter Gina is set to release her first and, as yet, untitled album later this year. 

She said: “It feels really good to win. I sang Heavy Heart, the first single from my new album, which should be out in a few weeks.

“I sing and write Americana and country pop.

“People often see the pink hair and assume punk, but I’ve just loved Americana and country since I was a kid – I really like Stevie Nicks, KT Tunstall and Kacey Musgraves and I listen to a bit of Dolly Parton too.

“I’ve been writing for a long time – don’t get me wrong, my songs were shit originally, 14-year-old me did not write bangers – now, hopefully, 24-year-old me is writing better songs.

“I like to think what I write is very honest – that’s what I aim for.

“I’ll be back at Boisdale supporting KT Tunstall when she plays here on November 11.”

KT Tunstall is set to perform at Boisdale on November 11

3 DIARY DATES FOR BOISDALE OF CANARY WHARF

Oct 25-29, 9pm, from £24

Audiences can expect jazz-funk and r’n’b from The Blackbyrds, who are set to play five nights at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf in October. Assembled in the mid-1970s in Washington DC by legendary trumpeter Donald Byrd, their output has been sampled by everyone from De La Soul to Massive Attack.

Nov 3, 9.30pm, from £49

The UK Queen Of Soul is set to bring her velvety vocals back to Canary Wharf. Known for hit singles including My One Temptation, Breathe Life Into Me and Where Is the Love, audiences can expect a track or two from her critically acclaimed album Gospel, released in 2020.

Nov 11, 9.30pm, from £75

Known for Suddenly I See and Big Black Horse And The Cherry Tree, the Scottish singer-songwriter returns to Cabot Square with support from award-winner Gina Larner.

Read more: Quiet Rebels invade the stage at The Albany

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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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Canary Wharf: How Fairgame is set to revolutionise competitive socialising

CEO Richard Hilton says the funfair-themed venue will feature games, street food and cocktails

Fairgame does give some cuddly bears away as prizes - image by Matt Grayson
Fairgame does give some cuddly bears away as prizes – image by Matt Grayson

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Fairgame is something fresh.

While competitive socialising has been around for a while in Canary Wharf, it’s almost as though Electric Shuffle and the brightly coloured minigolf by Craig And Karl, were gateway drugs.

This new venue, set to officially open on October 4, 2022, is a pure sugar rush of grown-up silliness.

Overseen by a cheerful, furry pink bear, who may have been to a few too many illegal raves in the 1990s, Fairgame is a vast, 20,000sq ft funfair-themed bar, playground and street-food hangout.

There are cocktails, pizza, nine games to try and Prosecco-infused candy floss.   

The venue’s owners have taken spaces once occupied by Davy’s, The Limehouse and The Merchant and knocked through to make a massive space with a terrace stretching down Fishermans Walk. 

Don’t worry too much about finding it, though. Helpfully there’s a five-metre rubber duck sat in the dock right outside.

That, in itself, is a statement both of location for the venue, but also of wider intent for Canary Wharf.

What better way to let London know the direction the estate is headed, than by pointing the way with a giant yellow duck?

Like the dock its aquatic landmark sits in, however, Fairgame is more than just the ersatz glamour of a dodgy funfair.

Behind the fun is a serious operation run by some big names and the activities are scrupulously honest.

Fairgame’s co-founders include Paul Campbell of Hill Capital Partners, who sits on the boards of Hawksmoor, The Alchemist and Blacklock, and music industry lawyer Andrew Myers.

But it’s Gymbox founder and now CEO of this new venture, Richard Hilton, who takes me on at Gopher Broke, the venue’s update of Whac-A-Mole.

Fairgame co-founder Richard Hilton aims his water gun - image by Matt Grayson
Fairgame co-founder Richard Hilton aims his water gun – image by Matt Grayson

“Fairgame is a revolution,” said the Watford-born entrepreneur.

“We want people who come here to feel elated. That goes for our staff too – it’s vital they enjoy what they’re doing to create that environment.

“When I was a little kid, I used to love going to the funfair.

“It would come round once a year and my parents would take me. The games were magical – the chance to win a prize. 

“When you transition to being a parent yourself you realise it’s really expensive and the experience is a bit grotty, but there’s still something magical about the games – you can’t help but love playing them and that’s what I want people to feel, here in Canary Wharf.”

While there’s a whiff of nostalgia about Fairgame – its tagline is that it’s the funfair “exactly like you don’t remember” – the games aren’t fixed or charged individually, they’re played purely for the pleasure of competition, although cuddly bears are given as prizes for those who do especially well.

“We’ve genuinely reinvented them,” said Richard.

“Every game has tech in it so people will be playing really slick games and competing.

“You can play in groups of two, five, 10, 15 or even 100 – which is great for a corporate day out – the number is unlimited.

“You’ll be able to see how you’ve done in individual games through our leader boards and overall, once you’ve played all nine.

“We incentivise people with the bears, but really it’s the joy of beating the people you’re with that you’re playing for.”

Players pay £13 per person, which gets then 75 minutes to tackle each of the nine games at the venue, twice.

Packages that include food and drink are also available.

There are nine games in total, which participants play twice - image by Matt Grayson
There are nine games in total, which participants play twice – image by Matt Grayson

Playing is not mandatory, however, and Wharfers are free simply to visit the venue for cocktails at the Bumper Bar or dishes from on-site vendors Burger And Beyond, Rudy’s Pizza Napoletana and Dos Mas Tacos.

Its terrace gets the sun in the evening and Fairgame plans to install covered seating and heaters for comfort.

Inside, visitors will find plenty of flashing lights, two bars, semi-private booths, a private events space, a candy floss and sweets bar and all the pun-tastic games. 

Fairgame has reimagined and re-branded a multitude of classics such as Lawn Of The Dead, inspired by crown green bowling, Pantry Pandemonium – a game where missiles are thrown to knock targets off shelves and Circus Freak, where contestants try to accurately aim a water gun to raise a clown’s head faster than their opponents.

It’s the variety that Richard thinks will be key to the venue’s success.

“I don’t have a favourite – I love them all,” he said. “That was the joy in selecting them – I chose the ones I enjoyed the most and was best at.

Final Furlong – our roller derby – is great and we also have one called Dunk The Junk, which hasn’t been made since the 1970s.

“You have to try and get as many balls as you can into these rubbish bins, but the lids keep opening and closing so you have to time it just right. I love it

“The majority come from the USA, but one – Phoney Island – our version of a duck shoot, comes from Oldham and is made by a guy who just takes joy in creating games. 

“They all test different abilities – shooting, throwing, hitting – the idea was to do something more stimulating than having a venue dedicated to one thing. 

“The reason funfair games are great is the variety, and nobody else has thought about putting them together like this in a circuit.”

Richard himself has history as an entrepreneur.

Having started out in the advertising world, he spotted Crunch while working in New York and created Gymbox in 2001 for the London market. 

Fairgame's five-metre high duck is outside the venue in the dock
Fairgame’s five-metre high duck is outside the venue in the dock

“I saw something in the States and wondered why nobody had done it in Britain,” said Richard, who sold most of his shares in 2016, while remaining a director of the company. 

“I was going to retire, but realised I was too young.

“My wife definitely wasn’t ready for me to give up work, so I began to look into something called competitive socialising.

“If I go out, I’m quite happy sitting in a pub and talking to a  friend, but the younger generation want a bit more. 

“So I had a go on one of the golf concepts but found it a bit repetitive.

“That’s where the idea for Fairgame came from.

“The reason we picked Canary Wharf for the first one is that it’s a really interesting area and now that Crossrail is here, it’s even more accessible.

“There’s the business community but with Wood Wharf and the areas around the estate, there’s a large residential population too.

“You’re getting brands like Hawksmoor and Patty&Bun that I don’t think would have opened a decade ago – it’s evolving and changing.

“I live on the other side of London and it’s not what I thought it would be. 

“That’s thanks to Canary Wharf Group – there’s a vision for the place and it’s going to get even better, especially now its five minutes from Liverpool Street and 13 from Tottenham Court Road.

“It’s an exciting journey when you think what it was like even five years ago and it’s great to be a part of it.”

Players of dunk the junk attempt to get balls into bins
Players of dunk the junk attempt to get balls into bins

Read more: How The PA Show Canary Wharf is bringing a community together

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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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Canary Wharf: How The PA Show Canary Wharf aims to bring a community together

Mash Media’s boutique event is set to be held at the East Wintergarden on Wednesday, November 2

The event will be hosted at Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden

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“Community” is the word on the lips of Lisa Farnfield.

As Mash Media sales director, she’s responsible for organising the first PA Show Canary Wharf, which is set to take place on November 2 at the East Wintergarden in Bank Street – and she’s determined to make it a place of connection as well as business. 

Mash runs The PA Show at Excel – a nationwide gathering of those working as personal, executive and virtual assistants or office managers – which is gearing up for its 12th edition when it returns to Royal Docks in March.

Building on the success of this year’s show, the company decided to try something new in the interim.

“The PA Show Canary Wharf will be an intimate event for those working in the sector in London, that we’re holding due to popular demand,” said Lisa.

“It’s boutique – a way for people to come and meet suppliers, connect with like-minded people and learn from the great content we’ll be putting on.

“The East Wintergarden is a great venue, exactly the right size, and it has great facilities at the heart of Canary Wharf.

“There will be two theatres on the day, one focused on tech and the other on personal development.

“Speakers include Abigail Jones, an EA at Instagram, Lauren Bradley, founder and lead trainer at The Officials, Abigail Barnes founder and CEO at Success By Design Training and Sarah Howson and Marianne Whitlock – co-founders of Strategic PA Recruitment.

“It’s a chance for people to brush up on their skills and to come together – especially as being a PA, EA or VA can be an isolated position.

“The show is just in the run-up to Christmas and it will have a really special feel to it.

“We’ve got corporates and companies coming along – venues, restaurants, bars, hotels – a lovely selection of high quality businesses.

“Our focus will be the PA community and we’ll be running some great activities during the show, such as speed networking and a prize draw. 

“We’ll also be inviting everyone who attends to after-show drinks so that our visitors and exhibitors can wind down together and connect.

“That’s what people want and it’s our job as an organiser to tune into that – to make sure we have the right content and the right suppliers.

“Our experience with this new style of event will also feed into the main flagship show in March – our all-singing, all-dancing gathering of the sector nationally.”

Mash Media’s Lisa Farnfield – image by Matt Grayson

Visitors to the East Wintergarden will get access to The PA Show Passport allowing them to get stamps from exhibitors to qualify for a goody bag and entry into a prize draw. 

Prizes include a £500 gift card from passport sponsor Harrods Corporate Services and Eastbourne Tennis corporate hospitality tickets for four from Keith Prowse.

Exhibitor slots at the show have nearly sold out, with only a couple remaining.

Lisa, who used to live and work in Docklands, said: “I think that’s about location – being in Canary Wharf has drawn people’s attention.

“Live events are back and people want to go to them. It’s not just about putting on a show, it’s about putting on an experience.

“There’s so much change in this area, it’s important for people to know what’s coming up. 

“We want people to say: ‘Wow, that was a great experience’ – that’s our main aim with this more intimate show, a very select group of exhibitors and a layout that allows people to stay connected throughout the event.

“On a personal level, I’m thrilled to be back in Canary Wharf.

“There’s a real community here, not just for those who work here, but among those who live locally.

“It’s really meaningful to come back and deliver something like this here.”

Lisa said planning for this event had also informed how Mash will evolve the main PA Show when it returns to Excel from March 1-2.

“Because it takes place in spring it will have a different feel, but it will be a more intimate experience,” she said.

“We’ll be having five theatres but also more activities to attract a wider, larger audience.

“It’s about what we can do to make sure there’s a real buzz on the show floor. 

“Throughout there will be exhibitors that really pull people in and we’ll have the PA Passport and speed networking – some of the things we’ve developed for this smaller show.

“We’re always striving to ensure the layout and ingredients that go into the show are both as good as they can be so we deliver something that people want to return to again and again.”

  • PAs, EAs, VAs, office managers and those in similar roles can attend The PA Show Canary Wharf – sponsored by South Western Railway – for free.
  • Registration is essential for entry. Theatre sessions cost £42 including VAT. Visitors can get 10% off through Wharf Life with code 1009.

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

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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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