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Canary Wharf: How The Felix Project’s Santa Stair Climb will help feed Londoners

Challenge will see participants scale 48 floors of One Canada Square to raise cash for the charity

The Felix Project’s first Santa Stair Climb will take place in November 2023

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What links green Father Christmas hats, One Canada Square and the distribution of unwanted food to people in need?

The answer is the Santa Stair Climb in Canary Wharf on Sunday, November 19, 2023, and anyone can take part.

As part of its ongoing partnership with Canary Wharf Group, food rescue charity The Felix Project is challenging people to a sponsored walk up a total of 1,031 steps at One Canada Square to reach the tower’s 48th floor. 

With early-bird registration just launched, there are 1,000 places up for grabs at £25 per person, with each individual given a fundraising target of £300. 

Participants receive a personalised green shirt and Santa’s hat to wear during the challenge, with ascents expected to take just over half an hour on average.

“I’ve been training for it, but I’m not sure I’ll be doing it that fast,” said Tanya Mitchell, director of income generation and marketing at The Felix Project.

“But I will complete it, even if it takes me an hour.

“We’ll have staggered start times between 10am and 2.30pm with 100 people in each wave so the stairwell doesn’t get too busy.

“Participants are asked to arrive an hour beforehand and we’ll be running activities in the lobby with a warm-up and an MC overseeing things.

“We’ve also been gifted the use of the 48th floor for the day, which has the most outstanding views over the London skyline from near the top of the third tallest building in the UK.

“They really are exceptional and this is a rare chance to see them.

“We’re hoping to raise as much money as possible, but we’ve set ourselves a target of £300,000 for this first event.

“That would equate to us being able to make and distribute 870,000 meals to Londoners.”

Participants will take on 48 floors of stairs at One Canada Square

For those who don’t know, The Felix Project is the largest charity of its kind in the capital, collecting food that would otherwise be wasted and redistributing it via a network of organisations to those in need.

“Right now it’s estimated that there are 1.2million people in London living with food insecurity or in food poverty – about 20%,” said Tanya.

“Through our own research with YouGov, we looked at people on low incomes earning an average salary of £20,000 and it’s shocking that one in 10 of them has only £2.95 a day to spend on food.

“We work with more than 500 food suppliers, rescuing produce from farm gates, grocers and the hospitality industry to supply really good, nutritious, fresh meals.

“We operate through four depots in London, taking that food in hour-by-hour, day-by-day, six days a week, 12 hours a day to help serve the needs of more than 1,000 charities and organisations in the capital.

“What that £300,000 would mean is that we’ll be able to pick up thousands of tons of food, take it into a depot, sort it and then immediately get it out to hundreds of organisations where it will be given to people in need of a good meal.

“Here in Tower Hamlets – one of the most deprived boroughs in the country – we work with 90 organisations through out Poplar depot.”

The Santa Stair Climb is the flagship event in The Felix Project’s long-term partnership with Canary Wharf Group, which was announced earlier this year.

There are up to 1,000 place up for grabs with successful climbers rewarded with views across London from Canary Wharf’s tallest tower

“We started off by launching The Green Scheme, which means we’ve been able to go out to the retailers and hospitality businesses on the estate to collect food that would otherwise be wasted, from them,” said Tanya.

“An army of volunteers takes it from those businesses to community organisations to distribute five days a week.

“It’s a pivotal relationship for us because while we want to fight hunger in London, we also want to fight food waste and there is complete sympatico between us and Canary Wharf in its commitment to sustainability and its aim to reach net zero by 2030. We’re part of that solution.

“The Santa Stair Climb is a first for Felix and CWG – it’s exciting and exhilarating to be planning an event for 1,000 people and we want it to be a hero event for London.

“Originally, in the 1800s, Santa’s costume was green so we’re re-appropriating that for the event.

“I can’t wait to see 1,000 people all in green climbing those stairs and we really want to thank CWG and everyone involved for giving us this exclusive opportunity.

“The 48th floor isn’t normally open to the public, so this is a very special event. 

“The 1,000 slots will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and I’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone who is considering entering – it’s going to be a fabulous event, a really magical day.”

Those keen to take part can go to santastairclimb.com for more information or scan the QR code at the bottom of this page.

The Felix Project’s director of income generation and marketing, Tanya Mitchell

For those unable to participate, there are many other ways to get involved with The Felix Project, which last year delivered some 29million meals to those in need and is expecting to distribute 30million this year.

People working in Canary Wharf or those living locally can still volunteer for the Green Scheme.

Roles include drivers, co-drivers and walkers to collect food from businesses on the estate and deliver them to community organisations.

Volunteers are also needed at The Felix Project’s Poplar kitchen and warehouse to prepare ingredients, portion and package meals for onward delivery.

Tanya said: “Last year we had 8,500 people step up to the plate to help us in our efforts to defeat food waste and hunger in London.

“We are an organisation that’s powered by volunteers and we are so grateful to them because demand for our services is rising.

“We anticipate that we will rescue 13,000 tonnes of food this year, but the UK wastes 3million tonnes – only 7%-8% is currently rescued, so we can always do more.

“Just before the pandemic, The Felix Project was distributing around six million meals a year. Now it’s five times as many.

“The other change is that now key workers are accessing the community organisations we supply like food banks and community pantries. It’s a big problem. 

“Ultimately it is our mission not to exist and we are part of conversations with organisations that are working with the government to address the issues of food insecurity and poverty.”

Find out more about the Santa Stair Climb or sign up here

Read more: How Wharf Wellness is set to fill Canary Wharf with calm

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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 Circle Collective helps young people find jobs with experience

CEO and founder of the charity and social enterprise Turly Humphreys talks aspiration

Circle Collective’s Canary Wharf branch is located in Jubilee Place, Level -1

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‘Intensely practical’ is the best way to describe Circle Collective.

Sure, to people strolling through Jubilee Place it’s a striking shop filled with neon, skateboards and the kind of clothing you don’t really see elsewhere in Canary Wharf.

Aside from the inventory, a chic customer picking up a new look will likely not find too much different in the retail experience.

Knowledgeable, youthful staff will be on hand to offer information on the products and then collect payment at the till – pretty much like any other store on the estate.

But Circle Collective isn’t like any other shop on the Wharf.

It’s the public facing tip of a much larger mission that the customer will, wittingly or unwittingly, have played a role in.

Go behind the scenes and you’ll find a vast space dedicated not to stock, but to skills.

That’s because the shop is a social enterprise that exists in symbiosis with a charity of the same name, entirely dedicated to giving young people work experience and finding them employment.

Having recently opened its third dual site at Canary Wharf, founder and CEO Turly Humphreys said it would be impossible to have one without the other.

“It’s two organisations that have to work together,” she said.

“A lot of organisations have asked whether you need both because they are usually only interested in the training. 

Circle Collective founder and CEO Turly Humphreys

“But the magic of what we do is that we do an employability course and it’s wrap-around. Participants get real work experience related to all aspects of the shop alongside mentoring and really practical information about things like how to do an interview and write a CV.

“We work with corporate partners and take them into workplaces so they can see a real working environment. We get them ready for that, building confidence and resilience.

“It’s about constantly pumping them with sensible information and, when necessary, telling them some really strong home truths – that the bus wasn’t late, they were.

“This is not volunteering – their shifts in the shop are treated like a job. If they come in and they’re not on time, for example, then they’re taken to one side and the implications are explained to them.

“That might be an increased risk of shoplifting because we’re short-staffed, which is obviously not acceptable.”

Circle’s focus is on preparing young people for the realities of work and then supporting them into paid, permanent employment with its programmes typically lasting between five and eight weeks.

So far, it’s helped more than 1,000 into jobs in myriad fields.

Turly said: “We believe that any young person who wants to work deserves a job.

“We’re generalists – we’ll take any young person aged 16-25 who wants to work and is eligible to do so – recruiting them through job centres, social media and walk-ins. 

“They can’t be in education or training but we welcome people straight from school alongside graduates from university.

“They might be refugees or neuro-diverse  – we’ll work with anyone.

“Then they become a peer group, work together and support each other.

“My aim for Canary Wharf is to match the people on our programmes to vacancies on the estate.

“That will be a challenge because there are lots of companies here and those jobs are not all gathered at a single point, so we need to collaborate with HR departments and businesses so they can understand the benefit of hiring from a diverse pool of people who want to work.

“It’s about companies realising that there’s a real benefit to diversity and that you can hire people for many jobs such as front-of-house in hospitality without them needing three years of experience.”

Turly started the charity and social enterprise after being inspired by her son’s sporting activities – initially looking at that as a way to help young people.

“He was 16 and a sports scholar at the time – playing cricket, rugby and football all around the country,” she said.

“Once young people were on the pitch, it didn’t matter what anybody’s background was.

“So I started by trying to get more people into sport, but then I went to a job centre and saw how disillusioned the young people were – the lack of ambition they had.

“It was so sad because they never expected to do better than their parents – to own a house, for example.

“I come from a commercial background and I’ve always run my own business. I had a flagship store for corporate printing in the Strand, then I had a studio in Tottenham Court Road.

“I looked at those young people in the job centre and thought: ‘This isn’t rocket science’.

“I got some of them into the shop, some of them into the office and, out of those first nine recruits, I got seven of them into work.

“I’m still in touch with them today.

“One lad’s father was a farmer and there wasn’t enough for another income on the farm, so I got him a job as a welder, which was perfect.

Circle Collective stocks a range of clothing and skateboards

“Then there was a lovely girl who had hearing problems. 

“I managed to send her on an away week and she came back much more confident. She’s been running a big bingo hall now for years.

“None of it was especially complicated – it was all about being practical. That’s the ethos we still run Circle Collective with. 

“I work on partnering with the corporates and run the shop and we have Matthew Lewendon who has a charity background and is our director of operations who handles the charity – it just works.”

Circle’s Back Your Future programme is very much tailored to individuals and features one-to-one mentoring sessions, work experience in the shop, motivational workshops, a chance to meet employers and access to job vacancies.

“But it’s more than that – once brought into the fold, the charity offers ongoing support to those it finds jobs for as long as they need it to ensure everything is going to plan.

“The aim is that participants feel they belong to a community they can rely on.

“First we sit down with them and find out if they have any barriers to work and to identify any transferable skills they have – which many do,” said Turly.

“So they start off with the charity and then they have an induction on the shop floor, where health and safety and safeguarding is explained to them.

“They get a sheet with a list of things we teach them and on the first day they’re taught cash handling and taking credit cards, at the till.

“Then they’re taught how to approach customers and learn product knowledge – they may have to go and research that.

“When they first come to us and say that they want to work in a shop or in an office – it’s our job to teach them about all the different sectors and how they might find roles within them.

“We use the shop to give them experience in relevant areas.

“If somebody’s creative, for example, we often get them involved in merchandising – we aim to use the skills the young people have got, whether it’s handling websites or using their creativity.

“One girl we had came from prison and she’s now doing merchandising in Primark, which is exactly what she wanted to do.

“Then I’ve got a lad who was a refugee, hardly spoke English and was homeless – he’s now a chartered accountant.

“We have a graduation every year and you can’t bottle the atmosphere.

“The young people come back, get a certificate and they all do a fashion show.

“The corporate supporters come and everybody’s in tears.

“At first nobody wants to talk, but then someone grabs a microphone and they all thank everybody.

“It’s wonderful. It’s about getting people into work, but it’s so much more than that.”

Circle needs both funding to continue its work and a larger pipeline of corporate partners to help it find roles for the young people it supports.

“The people who come to us often have a lack of career advice, work experience or role models and may also be suffering from anxiety and mental health issues,” said Turly.

“There’s also a lack of awareness of the realities of work, which is why it’s so important to take them into workplaces where they can hear from people doing the jobs.”

Turly said Circle would love to hear from businesses locally who can help with similar visits or provide entry level jobs in and around Canary Wharf.

The organisation is also looking for sponsors to help it continue its work.

The other aspect to Circle that is of benefit to Wharfers is the shop itself, with all profits fed back into the charity.

“It’s thanks to Emma Warden and Jane Hollinshead at Canary Wharf Group that we’ve been able to open here.” said Turly.

“The shop is like bringing Shoreditch to Jubilee Place – we stock a mixture of retro brands and vintage clothing including some high-end pieces from labels like Burberry.

“One of our trainees asked if we could do skateboards so we wrote a business plan and I gave him £200, which he turned into £400. 

“Now everyone who comes on our programme is taught how to build a skateboard. We’re not a specialist skate shop but we do sell boards and if people need their bearings fixed then they can come in.

“We also have a lot of skate clothes that people can buy and four of our staff are skaters.

“We also stock products that are locally made and would like to find more makers who want to sell through us.

“What we say to buyers is that when they shop with us in store or online, they are really supporting the community.

Circle Collective’s Alex Emerson-Arfstrom

CASE STUDYAlex Emerson-Arfstrom

There’s a real sense when you visit Circle Collective that people who wind up in its orbit keep coming back for more.

Alex Emerson-Arfstrom is a good example – finding his way onto one of its programmes and then returning to work part-time at the organisation while studying.

He said: “When I left college I was looking for work.

I took  a gap year, but the catch was I didn’t have much experience on my CV outside of projects – I didn’t have any work experience.

“My friends referred me to a place called Circle Collective and I started off as a trainee on its Back Your Future programme.

I was there for about two months, getting some basic retail experience in the Dalston store.

“I was born in Haringey – I’ve lived there my whole life.

Then I received a job offer, but this was the place I wanted to be, so I’ve been here for six months on a kickstart scheme, training people like myself and using the skills I had learned. 

“I was inspired by the training and became a supervisor myself, to train young people.

“I was working part-time and then I got into university to study cyber security. It’s way more than just working in a shop.

There are so many opportunities we can give young people.

“They can shadow the staff here and build their skills – there are so many areas to get involved with – administration, IT and customer service.

“I’ve been here for about two years now, and it’s very rewarding when people get jobs – they’ve done their training, get employment and come back and talk to me about how they feel.

I do keep in contact with a lot of them and seeing their confidence grow over time is amazing.

“I wasn’t the most confident person at the beginning.

My preconception was that it was going to be very structured, but it was a much wider spectrum of things I was taught.

“On my second day I was helping to create a social media project, and then I was going out to stores, talking to people.

There’s such a wide range of things to get involved with.

“I’ve gained more skills than I can count from Circle.

It gave me the opportunity to do some really great IT work – hands-on experience. It’s been great that they have shown that trust in me.

“I’d always been a creative person and the programme allowed me to spend time working with social media and that turned into managing websites, setting up deals with brands and designing things on the IT side.

“While I’d always had an interest in cyber security before I came to Circle Collective, what the organisation has done is allowed me to develop those skills such as managing its website.

“I’m not sure what I will do in the future but it will be within the cyber security sector – it’s such a broad area.”

Circle Collective’s Angela Brown

STAFF SPOTAngela Brown

I’m the partnership manager at Circle Collective,” said Angela Brown.

“As an organisation we can educate, encourage, support and create some fantastic fresh talent for an organisation.

“At present we have a particular focus on equality, diversity and disability and how corporates can embed that within their operations.

“At present, we feel businesses are doing it but maybe not as authentically as they could be.

“For example, we’re currently working with Landsec who will be taking on young people as kickstarters.

“I’m working with them to ensure that those young people are understood and supported by their managers as businesses are often used to graduates or people who come from a certain background.

“It’s really important that everyone is talking the same language so the young people have a chance to shine. 

“I’ve been with Circle Collective for five years and am currently training as a therapist which I feel plays into my current role.

“There’s a therapeutic element to what we do and I think young people need that kind of support to take the pressure off their coaches.”

Read More: Why there’s only weeks left to see Punchdrunk’s The Burnt city

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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 volunteering for the Green Scheme can help fight food poverty

Canary Wharf Group and The Felix Project launch long-term partnership to get food to those in need

Canary Wharf Group and The Felix Project have teamed up to battle food waste and feed those in need

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Volunteers needed…

That’s the simple message from Canary Wharf Group (CWG) as it officially launches a long-term partnership with The Felix Project – a charity that rescues surplus food and distributes it to vulnerable people through front line organisations, schools and community initiatives.

Together they have unveiled the Green Scheme – an ambitious project to provide more than 1,000 meals a week through around 10 local organisations, saving some 500kg of food that would otherwise have gone to waste. 

To achieve that, they are  looking to recruit as many as 1,500 people to ensure food is collected from retailers, restaurants and office kitchens on the Canary Wharf estate before transporting it to where it needs to go.

“What CWG is looking to achieve is really more than just having a positive impact in the buildings on the estate,” said Jane Hollinshead, managing director of people, culture and customer service at Canary Wharf Group. 

“It’s about how we fit into the wider ecosystem in terms of being a responsible business. 

“We’d had some conversations with The Felix Project about just doing some simple volunteering – that was really a corporate social responsibility thing.

“But this was at the time when the cost of living was really beginning to spiral out of control and there were huge issues around food waste, so I went over to see their warehouse in Poplar and it struck me what a natural partner Felix would be for all of the things that we. as an organisation. value.

Flash Back: How The Felix Project arrived in Poplar

“I thought that if we were to create something more strategic with them, then the reach we would get through their operations would be exponentially greater than if we were doing things on our own.

“From their side, our position as a landlord opens up opportunities for Felix because they are able to meet our customers, many of whom have surplus food at the end of the day – whether they are retailers or restaurants in offices. 

“It’s a really symbiotic partnership – we both bring things to further each other’s purposes.”

While CWG and Felix are still exploring the full extent of what may be possible through their collaboration, the Green Scheme is the immediate priority.

Retailers including M&S, Joe Blake’s and Waitrose have already signed up, with support also coming from the likes of Morgan Stanley and Barclays.

From left, Canary Wharf Group CEO Shobi Khan, The Felix Project CEO Charlotte Hill and CWG managing director of people, culture and customer service
>> “Our purpose is to bring people together to enhance lives now and in the future,” said Canary Wharf Group CEO, Shobi Khan. “Through partnerships like this, we aim to ensure Canary Wharf is more than just a place to live or work, but a place where you can be connected to the local community and can have a positive social impact.


“The business community at Canary Wharf has a big part to play in making The Felix Project a success and indeed some of our local companies are already on board, including Morgan Stanley and Barclays. 

“With such a concentration of retail and office businesses on the estate, a key part of our role as partner will be to introduce the charity to our wider community and bring the scale that’s needed to have a real, lasting effect on local people’s lives. 

“We have so many people who can play their part, whether they work, live or regularly visit here – I urge anyone willing to spare a couple of hours to sign up to volunteer and help us get surplus food to those who need it most.”

The partners are now keen to attract more businesses and, crucially, volunteers to drive the project forward.

“For the Green Scheme, we will act as the hub,” said Jane.

“That makes sense because we can keep the food fresh on the estate and then get it out faster than if it were sent to a warehouse first. 

“It’s also about bringing the individual volunteers out to the organisations that we and Felix are supporting.

“What happens is that the food is collected from the retailer or office restaurant by the volunteer who then delivers it. 

“We wanted that to be done in a sustainable way so it will be either on foot, by bike or via a dedicated electric van that we’ll charge up in our car parks.

“We are looking for anyone at all to volunteer for the Green Scheme – you might work or live in or near the Canary Wharf estate, or be a visitor.

“There are no boundaries when it comes to this kind of activity and we see it as a really good way to build relationships with the local community.

“We want as many people to help as possible – all volunteers have to do is to pass a health and safety induction and be able to carry a takeaway delivery service-style rucksack.”

CWG is clear. This latest initiative is very much looking beyond the borders of the estate in a bid to get as much of the community involved as possible.

Charlotte and Shobi load the dedicated electric van with surplus food
>> “In the UK, 4.7million people are struggling with the cost of food,” said Charlotte Hill, CEO of The Felix Project. “This is an issue we cannot afford to ignore and the situation is critical as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies. Many Londoners are trying to feed themselves on less than £3 a day.



“We’re thrilled to partner with Canary Wharf Group as they’re in the unique position to be able to convene the hundreds of businesses, retailers, employees and residents on the Estate to tackle this issue together, meaning we’ll have a much greater social impact than we would otherwise. 

“They have the access and logistics that we need to make the scheme a success at a time when the need is so high, and are committed to the same long-lasting, sustainable and meaningful change that we built our charity for.”  

“I think the benefit from the volunteers’ perspective is that they will be achieving something that’s meaningful,” said Jane. 

“That comes back to what I increasingly see from our own employees and customers. 

“When people come to their workplace, they want to feel they are doing something that really has value.

“When you have this huge cost of living crisis and you have in-work poverty – people who are relying on food banks even though they have jobs – then a partnership like this fulfils a purpose that is twofold. 

“Firstly, it’s reducing food waste, because there is so much that would otherwise be thrown away. 

“Secondly, because of the significant challenges the UK has faced over the last few years, food poverty is also coming through as an immediate crisis.

“The next generation particularly want to feel that they work for organisations that share their values. Part of that is having an impact in the community and a strategy for that.

“Here we are delivering something that works for our people and has benefits for CWG and our customers but also for the Felix Project and all the people and organisations it helps.”

While the Green Scheme itself is an ambitious project, Jane said it only represented the start of the collaboration between Felix and CWG – something that would grow in the months and years to come.

Volunteers will deliver food direct from Canary Wharf to the organisations supported by the Green Scheme

“We want to see how we can use the assets that we have as an organisation and explore how else we can help the charity,” she said.

“We’re looking at working with our office clients to see whether we can help them create a more diverse group of volunteers down at the Poplar depot.

“We’re talking to Morgan Stanley – which has a very effective volunteering strategy – about how that best practice can be shared.

“We’re also investigating how we can encourage people who are experts in their particular sector such as sustainability or professional services to volunteer their time to help the organisation.

“There’s a contribution of expertise, so it’s not just about the Green Scheme. It’s really about sharing knowledge and asking how we can involve our supply chain. 

“Can we make use of small businesses locally to help them deliver what they are doing, for example?

“The partnership is very much about setting out our stall to the outside world as an organisation – what our values are and what we stand for.”

Those interested in volunteering with the Green Scheme should sign up online to find out full details of the project.

Read more: How Padium is set to bring padel tennis to Canary Wharf’s Bank Street

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Limehouse: How St Anne’s Limehouse plans to open the building to everyone

National Lottery Heritage Grant funding is crucial for plans to put in a lift and covert the crypt

St Anne’s Limehouse is working towards a £7million refurbishment

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St Anne’s Limehouse has a long history of welcoming and protecting the people of east London.

Completed in 1727 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the towering white structure is home to a diverse congregation under current rector, the Rev Richard Bray. 

But the church also has a long history as a place of refuge for all, with its crypt converted into a bomb shelter for local residents in the 1940s during the Second World War.

Today, that partly refurbished space offers a place for the homeless to sleep in safety.

However, the church and Care For St Anne’s (CfSA) – the charity whose mission is to conserve and celebrate the building’s architectural heritage – have ambitious plans to go much further.

In addition to restoration and refurbishment, they want to open the building up to a wider audience with a scheme that should see its doors flung wide beyond the timings of services and its regular Friday and Saturday opening hours.

To that end, CfSA recently received some £613,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to launch its Hawksmoor 300: A Landmark For Limehouse campaign. 

This is money it will use to move forward with an application for a further £2.9million National Lottery Delivery grant from 2025, as part of a £7million scheme to remodel significant chunks of unused space and improve access to the building by 2030.

The plan is to clear and open up its crypt

“This project will infuse our historic building with fresh life for future generations, establishing it as the East End’s biggest, most accessible and welcoming community space,” said Rev Bray. 

“We look forward to welcoming many of our neighbours into the renewed building before too long.”

There are really three parts to the project, as outlined to me by CfSA chair Philip Reddaway on a recent tour of the building – the steps, the crypt and the garden.

“There are a number of things we intend to do,” said Philip.

“First of all, there’s no step-free access to the church, which really doesn’t work in this day and age.

“Our plan is to install a lift from the crypt level to the nave and up to the gallery, which is a major project in itself. In terms of the building, the other big thing is the crypt.

CfSA chair Philip Reddaway

“Part of it was cleared and refurbished in the 1980s with funding from the London Docklands Development Corporation.

“While that part is being used, it’s mainly for the church itself and we want to create a flexible, multi-use space – rather like Christ Church Spitalfields – that we can open to the wider community.

“That’s one of the things you have to demonstrate to get the Lottery funding – that it’s a project that will benefit and be used by a wide range of local people.

“At present, there are still more than 100 bodies buried in the crypt in walled off family tombs dating from the 18th century.

The crypt was used as a bomb shelter during the Second World War

“You had to be rather grand to be interred here rather than in the churchyard, but as part of this project those spaces will need to be cleared and the remains reburied.

“That’s a complicated process and there are lots of specialists involved to ensure all the correct procedures are followed.”

The unconverted space is also littered with decades of detritus – the dumped ephemera of operation, placed out of sight and out of mind.

A further challenge for the renovators is the extensive network of blast walls and facilities left over from its time as a wartime bomb shelter. 

These include ancient toilet cubicles and a pair of sick bays for Londoners to use while the explosives rained down outside.

“When we carried out our consultation, we found some people thought the church had been deconsecrated because the doors were often shut when no services were taking place,” said Philip.

“We now have a team of volunteers opening up on Fridays and Saturdays to help change that.

“But it’s not just being physically open, it’s about building on the things we already do – creating all sorts of partnerships with local organisations.

There are even 1940s toilets still in place left over from the war

“We’re working with Queen Mary University, the Museum Of London Docklands, Whitechapel Gallery and the Building Crafts College in Stratford.

“Queen Mary’s history department, for example, spent time finding out more about the lives of the people buried in the crypt and gave a presentation about some of them.

“Sadly, but inevitably, this was one of the great shipbuilding areas of London, and several buried here were involved in the slave trade and we have at least one major slave trader buried here. 

“We don’t walk away from that and I would like to see a permanent exhibition putting it in context.

“Another interesting finding was two brothers – John and Samuel Seaward – who lived near my home on Newell Street.

“They were maritime engineers who were involved in pioneering the first transatlantic steam ships – big cheeses in their field at the time.

“Queen Mary’s engineering department used their story as inspiration for a project with Cyril Jackson Primary School in Limehouse that saw 10-to-11-year-olds build boats in the spirit of the brothers, to help them learn basic engineering principles, with a view to building a working boat that can sail on one of the local canals.”

The church wants to make the space available for flexible use

In addition to opening a cafe in the crypt, another of the ambitions for the Hawksmoor 300 project will be to update the church’s grounds.

“We want to create something called the Remembrance Garden to commemorate the waves of migrants who have come through Limehouse over the years,” said Philip.

“From the Huguenots, the Jews, the Chinese, all the way through to the Bangladeshi community, we want to have different parts of the churchyard planted to reflect the people who have settled here so there’s something that’s relevant to all of them.

“We’re working with a great charity called Groundwork, who are specialists in this kind of thing, as well as with pupils at Cyril Jackson to create this.

“The churchyard is lovely – dog-walkers love it – and it’s one of the biggest green spaces in the area, but it is under-utilised and we want people to come here and enjoy it.”

CfSA is now embarking on a fundraising campaign to raise a further £3.5million in addition to the £3.5million anticipated from the Lottery. 

This latest drive comes off the back of another successful project, that will see the church’s massive stained glass window removed, restored and put back in place.

Detail of St Anne’s’ east window, which is set to be restored

During the 12 months or so that it’s absent from the massive arch in the church’s east wall, a replacement window by artist Brian Clarke will occupy the space before it finds a new home, hopefully in the East End.

Then, following more than £100,000 worth of work, the original window will return to pride of place, its panels cleaned and the extensive buckling of the metal frames rectified.

“Inside, the church requires quite a lot of cosmetic attention, which has to happen to tackle the legacy of water getting in and things like that,” said Philip. 

“But when the window returns, it will be another wonderful asset to the building opposite the fully restored organ that plays beautifully.”

Anyone interested in getting involved with the project in a fundraising or volunteering capacity can find out more online via the charity’s website here.

Read more: How WaterAid uses dragon boats to raise money

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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: Why Craft Central’s director is reaching out to the local community

Jo McLean says she’s excited to play her part in building the makers charity back up after Covid

Jo McLean has taken over as director of Craft Central
Jo McLean has taken over as director of Craft Central

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

For the last two years it has been heads down at Craft Central to keep things ticking over.

The creative charity on the Isle of Dogs had to bring in outside funding for the first time as the effects of the pandemic took hold.

But there is a new director at the helm – Jo McLean – who is ready to build the organisation back up and is looking around her to find its future direction.

“I took the job because I was really excited by the idea of a creative hub,” said the former professional musician, who knits and silversmiths in her spare time.

“I’m very much driven by community engagement. I think artists should sit at the heart of communities and be a really great resource for them. I see the potential for that to happen at Craft Central.”

A classically trained French Horn player, Jo spent 12 years touring internationally before packing away her instrument and starting a career in arts organisations.

“My first proper job was at Cove Park, an artist residency centre in Scotland,” said the 52-year-old.

“I was in charge of a capital project bringing in more accommodation and supporting the visual arts and crafts residences. That was when I first got interested in design and craft.”

A graduate of the Royal Northern College Of Music in Manchester, Jo lived in Scotland for 25 years working for organisations such as Uz Arts and The Touring Network and overseeing the creation of her own home, which gave her a new appreciation of architecture and buildings.

“I’ve always been really interested in good design and craft,” she said.

“So that’s kind of where my path into this area has come from.

Craft Central is based at The Forge on Westferry Road
Craft Central is based at The Forge on Westferry Road

“I’ve led organisations across all genres of arts, from performance through to visual arts, theatre, literature and lots of consultancy work as well around organisational development, which is, I suppose, where my real interest lies.

“This job brings together my two passions, which is great.

“It’s been a turbulent few years and the charity wanted somebody who was going to come and build up the organisation again and I have the skills to do that.”

It was love as well as work that brought Jo to the capital as she met her husband, a Londoner, and they tied the knot a few years ago.

“We had a long-distance relationship for quite a long time and decided we needed to come together,” said Jo, who recently dusted off her French horn to play on a new album by The Bluebells’ of Young At Heart fame.

She first moved to London just before the pandemic to work for Clod Ensemble, based on Greenwich Peninsula, but returned to Scotland after a year. When she saw the role at Craft Central she knew it was her chance to move down here for good.

“I was ready for a challenge, said Jo, who now lives in north London. “I’ve done organisation internally in CEO type roles but this role was very much building based, which I’d never done.

“The pandemic has left its financial mark on the organisation. 

“It’s always been self-sustaining, but the next couple of years are slightly trickier in terms of how we make the business model work as well as it used to.

“All the parts are there, it just sort of needed an architect to put them all together and help everybody to make it work, which is what hopefully I’ll do.”

She had never set foot in the area before, but had heard of Craft Central from friends who have studios there.

Formed in 1970, the arts organisation spent 40 years in Clerkenwell, but in 2017 moved to The Forge on the Isle Of Dogs – one of the last buildings from the golden age of shipbuilding in the area. 

Located on Westferry Road, it was built in 1860 for CJ Mare And Company and constructed the keel for battleship HMS Northumberland.

It fell into decline in the 1900s, but was restored and transformed into studios and workspaces used by Craft Central, by the construction of a virtually freestanding two-storey birch plywood structure within the existing Flemish bond brick walls.

“I was blown away – it’s a stunning, incredible building,” said Jo, who is currently hunting for a facilities manager to help take care of the site.

“What I really liked about it is there’s a connection to the west coast of Scotland, which has a really rich shipbuilding heritage and I’ve been told that a lot of Scottish people moved to the Isle Of Dogs for the shipbuilding industry down there. 

“So being in that sort of very heavy industrial building feels quite comforting to me.”

The Forge's studios are home to more than 70 makers
The Forge’s studios are home to more than 70 makers

With around 77 makers based there, the studios are almost full, but Jo is concerned about the effect the cost of living crisis will have this autumn.

“Artists are going to be really hard pushed to afford the luxury of having a studio,” she said.

“I am anticipating people will have some very difficult decisions to make and I’m thinking about how we can make sure that we have a full space and keep the business model working.

“Our rent review will be due next year and I’m sure the utilities will go up. We are going to have to face some harsh realities about increases to our costs. 

“I’m going to do my very best to make sure we don’t pass those on to our studio holders, but it will largely depend on whether we can find some support to help us.”

The pandemic already saw bosses seek outside funding for the first time, from the Foyle Foundation and Garfield Western Foundation. Jo said more would be needed this year to make the figures work.

“My ambition is that in two years we won’t be relying on any sort of trust, foundation or public funding in order to operate as a centre for craft, but we would be looking for funding to run programmes with the community,” she said.

Jo is hoping to forge relationships with companies in Canary Wharf and beyond to help spread its work further into the Island.

“Craft Central isn’t just about the building – it’s going to be really important to take the brand beyond that,” she said.

“I’m trying to find as many places to connect to as I can, locally and more widely. I’ve inherited a really fantastic team and we’re looking forward to the future.

“For a while its been head-down, let’s hold this together and the team did a fantastic job of that. Going forward, it’s our ambition to be much more embedded in the community. 

“Ways we can work with residents and local groups is going to be a definite focus.”

 Jo already plans to register Craft Central as an Arts Awards venue to help broaden its work with young people.

“I think it’s really important that we engage with children,” she said. 

“Craft isn’t taught so much in schools any more and I think a part of what we can offer is a window into another world for young people.

“We want to work more with older people, because the motor skills associated with craft are a recognized benefit in ageing as well.

“There are so many benefits associated with art of any type, but particularly in craft. It connects you to yourself.”

Craft Central's makers work in a range of different areas
Craft Central’s makers work in a wide range of different areas

Read more: How Canary Wharf’s Junior Board is shaping the estate

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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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Isle Of Dogs: Why the Massey Shaw fireboat is seeking new volunteers

Historic vessel lying in West India South Dock looks to ensure its stories continue to be told

Massey Shaw is currently moored at West India South Dock
Massey Shaw is currently moored at West India South Dock

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This is not the story of the fireboat Massey Shaw. How could it be?

Just to stand on the deck of this remarkable craft at her berth in West India South Dock is to feel her planks and steel plates quietly pulse with the decades of history they’ve absorbed.

It would be possible to fill this space many times over without coming close to bottoming out the sheer depth of material associated with this remarkable boat.

It might be the part she played saving goods worth many millions of pounds just a year after coming into service by blasting down the walls of a warehouse with the power of her main jet to stop a fire in its tracks at Colonial Wharf in Wapping. 

It could be the more than 500 lives she saved as part of the flotilla of little ships launched to help rescue British servicemen from the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940 – ferrying soldiers from the land to larger craft and herself taking about 100 back across the channel, making three trips despite the danger of the sea and enemy fire.

Or it may be the part she played in the desperate firefighting effort during the Blitz.

Massey in full flow

But these stories – and many more – are best told by those who know, the volunteers who are working to keep her shipshape and who hope eventually to open her to the public as a museum ship.

Built in 1935 by J Samuel Whites at Cowes on the Isle Of Wight for £18,000 (more than £2million in today’s money) she served the London Fire Brigade from launch until 1971.

After a decade in the wilderness, in 1982, the Massey Shaw And Marine Vessels Preservation Society embarked on a project to restore her and to sail her once again to Dunkirk for the first time since the 1960s.

Today, after much passion, a sinking, restoration work, vandalism, repair and renovation, she lies by the entrance to West India Docks, sharing space with the 1920s steam tug Portwey and the Dockland Scout Project. 

From there, the Massey Shaw Education Trust, as the society has become, intends to use its 40th anniversary year to raise awareness of its work, the vessel herself and the opportunities available for those who might like to get involved with the ongoing  project.

Rescuing troops from Dunkirk

Trust CEO David Rogers – himself a former firefighter, albeit a land-based one – said: “We’re a completely voluntary organisation and we’d really like to engage with a wider audience including people who are in Docklands.

“Perhaps they’ve seen this black and red boat that looks a bit strange – we often get questions about what she is and what she does.

“So one of the things we want to do is to get more volunteers of all ages who can come along and support us in our plans for the boat.

“We’ve had her for 40 years, but we see ourselves as custodians and we now need people to take her forward for the next 40.

“This boat has a unique history and we want to help people understand it and to help shape it whether they’re involved in the fire service or not.

“We want people to come and be trained so they can run the engines, operate the boat and man her pumps so she can appear at events. 

“But we also have a big archive that we’ve built up over the years, so we need people with IT skills to help organise and digitise that.”

Massey Shaw Educational Trust CEO David Rogers
Massey Shaw Educational Trust CEO David Rogers – image Matt Grayson

Currently the team are working towards getting Massey Shaw ready to once more cross the channel in 2025.

“We’re part of Dunkirk Little Ships, which celebrates the journey made by those boats in 1940 to save troops from the beaches,” said David.

“The crews who went over during the war were all volunteer firemen and fortunately they all came back safely, but some of the soldiers they rescued had been badly injured.

“We’d especially like young people to take part in our next trip, to learn the skills that were taught back in the 1930s, which are needed to operate the boat so future generations can continue to enjoy and learn about her.

“Volunteering is a great deal of fun – over the 40 years I’ve been involved, I’ve met some fantastic people and I’ve always enjoyed it.

“It’s great when visitors come onto the boat, especially if they have stories to share about individuals who perhaps served on Massey Shaw or were associated with her. 

Massey's 'monitor' which shoots its main jet
Massey’s ‘monitor’ which shoots its main jet – image Matt Grayson

“Also, the opportunity to go out on the boat, to show people what she can do and what it was like in its early days gives you a real buzz. We’re here to prove she can still do the job she was built for.”

Descend into Massey Shaw’s engine and pump room and you can see exactly what he’s talking about.

The beating heart of the vessel is her two main engines that require constant maintenance to both propel the boat and to power its firefighting equipment, capable of pumping enormous amounts of water to where it’s needed.

David says the main brass cannon on deck – called ‘the monitor’ – is capable of pumping 13,000 litres of water every single minute with enough force to propel the whole boat along when in full flow. 

“Last year we had an open day and the pump was running and the harbour master ran up the dock and said it was just fantastic – that he’d never seen anything like it,” said David.

“That’s the reaction we want – people clap and cheer because it’s such a great thing to see. We’re hoping to hold another open day to raise greater awareness of what we’re doing on August 14 and we’re very keen to attract new visitors.

“Beyond that we’re working to get Massey Shaw ready for Dunkirk in 2025 and we have an Arts Council application in to become an independent museum.

“Then we want to find somewhere we can have a link to the shore so we can display our archive.

“We’re also looking to partner with other local organisations and companies so we can expand and move forward from here.”

The Massey Shaw Education Trust is actively seeking new volunteers, partnerships and funding for its activities.

One of Massey's two main engines
One of Massey’s two main engines – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How Terrible Thames takes Horrible Histories onto the river

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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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Deptford: Why Art In Perpetuity Trust is seeking up to five new trustees

Charity aims to build resilient organisation for the future to operate studios and gallery space

APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees
APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees

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We are practising ‘artist-led’ as a reality, not just terminology – we are living and breathing creative independence and that’s something we strive for in perpetuity, just as our name says.”

In a nutshell, that’s APT, as described by its administrative director, Sarah Walsh.  

The Art In Perpetuity Trust operates from, and indeed owns outright, a former textile warehouse on the banks of Deptford Creek, a complex that houses 42 artists’ studios, a thriving gallery, a performance space and a working sculpture garden off Creekside. 

But it’s much more than just a landlord, it’s a potent, creative community and, following a period of evaluation and reflection during the pandemic, the charity that runs it is reaching out to recruit new trustees to help it continue to deliver its mission, namely to support creative thought and artistic vision both in the studio and the wider world.

APT administrative director Sarah Walsh
APT administrative director Sarah Walsh

“APT was set up 20 years ago by a group of artists who were looking to find new studios after they were forced to move from their previous home,” said Sarah. 

“They made an arrangement with the guy who was selling the building to slowly purchase the freehold over a period of time and then transformed the legal structure of the organisation into a charity.

“It’s not just a studio complex, it’s a space for interaction, for the exchange of ideas – it’s a community and it’s been created that way purposefully to provide support for those who have left education and want a space that isn’t isolated but alongside their peers.”

Now APT is seeking up to five new trustees to bolster the charity’s board who will work alongside the committees of artists resident on-site that drive its activities and direction.

Sarah said: “We are looking for people who can provide a range of skills and experience in five areas to ensure we remain a resilient organisation for the future.

“We’d like an artist or curator with an excellent industry profile, a legal expert with understanding of charity, property and employment law, someone with public sector experience and knowledge of local communities in south London, a trustee with a background in fundraising and income generation and a financial professional with a knowledge of the charitable sector.

APT owns its own building outright in Deptford
APT owns its own building outright in Deptford

“Trustees bring different voices, skillsets and experiences to the table that we can use to help build partnerships, communicate what we’re doing and maintain our resilience as they govern the charity.

“We have a unique structure here – the committees of artists don’t work independently, we all work in unison to run APT together.”

Trustees meet six times a year in addition to attending the charity’s AGM. Attendance at various private views and events will also be expected.

Sarah said: “As an organisation we’re always thinking about diversity, equality and inclusion and that includes the way in which we recruit trustees. 

“It’s important to us to be accessible and transparent and to reach out as widely as possible to attract a range of people who can represent APT successfully. 

“We’re a little nugget in Deptford with the most wonderful community – anyone coming in as a trustee will experience that.”

  • The deadline for applications to become a trustee is May 30, 2022

WHAT THE TRUSTEES SAY

  • “Being a trustee means you can see the direct impact and valuing of your skills and experience to make a positive difference to the lives of others in the local community. It opens up a whole new world of networks and creative possibilities on your doorstep.”

Jenny White, co-chair, APT Trustee

  • “Being a Trustee allows you to contribute your skills and knowledge to the development of an organic and creative organisation. You gain valuable experience being part of the  contemporary art scene and wider Deptford community. Besides, it’s fascinating to be engaging with artists and their diverse practices.”

Ann Gilmore, co-chair, APT Trustee

APT's gallery space on Creekside in Deptford
APT’s gallery space on Creekside in Deptford

Read more: Canada Water Market launches at Deal Porter Square

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Deptford: How Kath’s Place in Friendly Street is much more than a charity shop

Discover the work of the Kath Duncan Equality And Civil Rights Network in Lewisham and beyond

From left, volunteers Chloe Allen and Stewart Lendor with co-founders Barbara Raymond and Ray Barron-Woolford

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It may look like just another charity shop but Kath’s Place in Deptford is bigger on the inside.

Step through the Tardis-like entrance and you will find a growing mechanism for social change. 

Opened in October 2020 during the pandemic, the shop in Friendly Street houses the We Care food bank, a food pantry, a book swap library, a baby bank and a vintage clothes shop as well as serving tea and coffee and hot meals to take away for those in need.

Money from the sale of second-hand goods is used to feed the 3,000 people who use its services and the hub provides support for anyone who needs it, including the homeless, single parents, refugees and low-income families.

Word of its work has spread as far as Japan and Chile and inspired others to open similar operations.

Co-founder Ray Barron-Woolford believes its method of support will spread worldwide, as food demand and energy costs increase.

“What we do isn’t about creating dependency, it is about supporting people,” he said. 

“We do debt counselling, help if their fridge breaks down, if they need school uniforms. If they are homeless and have been given a flat, we get volunteers to help decorate.”

Kath’s Place charity shop on Friendly Street

All the projects are run by a team of 200 volunteers, headed up by Ray, as co-founder of We Care Community Hub and CEO of the Kath Duncan Equality And Civil Rights Network.

He draws no salary and puts all profit back into the organisation.

“My work isn’t about me, it’s about the people we help,” said the Deptford resident.

“It’s about empowering people to help themselves when councils and governments fail. 

“It is about generating income through our work that self-funds all our different projects, so we don’t have to spend all our time fundraising and so people don’t feel they are getting something for nothing or accepting charity.”

We Care Community Hub achieved charity status last year, but doesn’t receive any funding and has to buy almost everything it distributes.

It receives about five tonnes of food a year through the Fair Share scheme from supermarkets, but Ray said that was only 10% of what it needed. 

He visits up to 15 different supermarkets daily to buy the rest at the cheapest prices.

A mural of Barbara Raymond and Kath Duncan unveiled for International Women’s Day

“When you are buying in volume, saving a few pence on each item, it adds up to a whole other item you can buy for someone,” he said.

The We Care food bank is by referral only, as it already helps people from eight boroughs and cannot cope with more.

The We Care food pantry has 1,374 member households, including 784 children and 78 pets.

Members pay £1 a year and then £5 every time they access it and can have packages tailored to their requirements, such as vegan or Halal.

“It’s tragic we have to exist,” said Ray. ”We are all uncomfortable with it. But if we didn’t exist people would be dead.”

Ray understands because he has lived it. “I was a gay, homeless man who went through the care system and got lucky in property and that made me rich,” he said. 

“But I have never forgotten all those people who helped me out from when I was poor and living on the streets of London. So I’m paying back for all those people who had faith in me.”

Ray lived on the streets of London for 18 months before making his fortune running estate agency Housemartins in Surrey Quays, specialising in housing gay men. But he walked away after one eye-opening exchange in 2014.

“I was coming out of my office and saw two men in suits going through the bins on the council estate opposite,” he said. “I asked why and they said: ‘We have jobs so we can’t get any benefit, but it’s five weeks until we get paid and we can’t get a loan’. 

“I thought it was madness so that’s when I linked up with Barbara Raymond and decided we had to do something about it.

“We set up We Care at that moment and that led me to selling my company and becoming totally committed to tackling poverty as a full-time activist.”

Barbara, 86, had arrived in London as part of the Windrush generation and, in 1976, opened what Ray described as the “first food bank” from her home in New Cross, which still runs today.

She and Ray became instant friends and today she chairs We Care Community Hub.

The initial food bank ran from 2014-16 at a base in Deptford until the rent went from £7,500 to £32,500 and it had to shut.

This disused phone box on Deptford High Street in now the world’s first 24/7 community hub with info for those fleeing domestic violence, who are lonely or have mental health issues, are homeless and want help or ar in need of emergency food or legal aid

“We couldn’t get charity status at the time because you needed cash to have a charity registration,” said Ray.

“So we went underground and were running the business from people’s homes in the holidays and at Christmas.

“Then Covid hit and everyone was panicking. MPs vanished, the council went into lockdown and we had elderly people in their homes that couldn’t leave and people couldn’t get to them to feed them.

“We set up the buddy system that we learned through Aids in the 1970s, and that allowed us to feed 5,000 people. 

“Then someone who we had helped died and left us the £5,000 we needed to get the charity registration.

“It was sad we lost that person, but they ensured our work could continue.”

Kath’s Place opened in October 2020 after a coffee shop went bust and Ray put up the money to rent the space.

He named it after former Deptford resident Kath Duncan who he discovered he had a startling affinity with.

“She is the most important civil rights activist of the past 100 years, lived in Deptford and was gay like me,” said Ray.

“We wanted to carry on her work. It’s important to us everyone knows about her.”

A mural was unveiled on the side of the charity shop for International Women’s Day depicting Kath and Barbara, who Ray said were “extraordinary women”.

“The mural is about instilling pride in our community and hopefully inspiring other women and showing that all of them deserve recognition,” he added.

It has not been touched by graffiti and neither has the shop or a disused telephone box that volunteers recently transformed into a 24/7 community hub.

Situated under the rainbow bridge in Deptford High Street, it is for anyone who needs it and contains information on local support, a book swap library and access to a scheme providing free tea and coffee.

“When you are in crisis you don’t know where to start,” said Ray. “Most people go online and what they find is national or closed.

“Having a space which is only local organisations, with their opening times, where they’re based and how you access them, is quite unique.

“When we opened the phone box everyone said it would be trashed. We knew it wouldn’t be. 

“We are already the only place in Lewisham with black shutters because all the others have been covered in graffiti.

The charity shop is the base for all the work carried out by the We Care Community Hub

“Ours isn’t, because our work is so cutting edge and inclusive that everyone knows someone who uses our projects and wouldn’t do anything to undermine our work.”

It’s not an idle boast. Ray’s mission to change our society has travelled not just through the borough but across the world.

A Kath’s Place hub has opened in Marbella with plans for more in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Venezuela and Chile and he has been interviewed by Japanese television about the phone box.

“Instead of a McDonalds on every high street, there should be a Kath’s Place,” said Ray. “We are in talks to open in Redhill, Brighton, Liverpool and Kirkcaldy.

“Demand for this support is only going to increase because, even if you are working and have a good income, energy prices are going through the roof.

“Climate change will undermine the food supply, so access to food and water is going to be a huge issue.

“The need for projects like ours to come up with sustainable models that aren’t dependent on handouts is the way forward.

“I think the Kath Duncan Network will be as famous in 10 years as Oxfam because what we do is unique and we haven’t forgotten what we are about.

“Our charity shop is cheap, which is how they are meant to be.”

We Care Community Hub chair Barbara Raymond

Ray has written about the work he does in the books Food Bank Britain and Last Queen Of Scotland, a biography of Kath Duncan and play Liberty, which has been optioned by Netflix.

He also found volunteers to make short film, Feeding Lewisham, during lockdown, which he said won 15 international awards and helped inspire people across the globe to copy the charity’s work.

But Ray said there would always be opposition. “A woman came in recently and said: ‘I’ve just paid £1.2million for a house nearby and don’t expect to have a foodbank as a my neighbour. When can you move?’. 

“I told her I had been here long before her and we’re not going anywhere. We still get that kind of bigotry and ignorance.

“You have to be realistic and accept that there are people who are horrible. 

“But there are also extraordinary people who do extraordinary things – Lewisham is a really empowering place to come from.”

Read more: How JP Morgan is boosting social mobility with The Sutton Trust

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East London: East End Community Foundation’s unveils Life Chances drive

Charity seeks to raise £5million to tackle issues in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and the City

East End Community Foundation chair Bronek Masojada – image Matt Grayson

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“When I was approached about joining the East End Community Foundation, I thought it answered a problem that I’d had as a CEO,” said Bronek Masojada, who has spent the last 28 years at the helm of insurance firm Hiscox.

“There is a lot of desire among staff at companies to get involved in charitable activities close to where they work and that’s great, but the question then is what, precisely?

“The answer to that question is a navigation service for organisations that identifies what those needs are, which are the most effective charities to support and how to make sure any donation is put to good use.

“I’m not going to pretend to understand what the needs of individuals are in deprived areas – nor do my colleagues.

“That navigation service also needs to show how staff can be involved to a limited extent because, from my experience people’s desire to play a part is much greater than the reality when dates are in the diary and free time and weekends have to be given up to do that. 

“The EECF provides a service that addresses all those issues, for anybody who would like to try to make a difference – a clear solution to a clear problem.

“The fact it also gives away a substantial amount of its own money every year means the team has every incentive to make sure it is done so effectively.”

Bronek joins EECF as chair, having taken over from Canary Wharf Group’s Howard Dawber towards the end of last year, his arrival coinciding with the launch of the charity’s Life Chances Campaign to raise and distribute £5million to help deprived communities in east London recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The money will be distributed to organisations in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and the City with the three aims of improving the wellbeing and employment prospects of young people, tackling digital exclusion and reducing poverty and isolation among older people. Pledges of £750,000 have already been made.

Bronek said: “About £2.5million will go on the first of these, about £1million on the last and the balance on digital connectivity.

These areas all slightly overlap – what drives elderly isolation is lack of digital connectivity in today’s age, not just access to things like iPads, but the competency to use them.

“It’s not just about giving people a bit of kit, but also providing support.

“My mother and my mother-in-law in South Africa are both big silver surfers, because they are driven to enjoy connectivity with their children and grandchildren, and that’s fantastic.

“My mother has been self-isolating, but probably speaks to my children more often than me, through digital means.

“It will be the same for people in east London – if you can’t get out because of Covid, you should still be able to connect with people.

“Zoom and other platforms are free, if you know how to use them. There is some reticence.

“I can remember when I put my grandmother in front of a Space Invaders game,  she just froze, but nowadays you don’t have that choice.

“Life Chances is trying to address real needs. The average salary in Tower Hamlets is £80,000 a year but the average household income is £25,000. That’s understandable, but pretty extraordinary when you think about it.

“What we’re trying to do is to appeal to the people and the firms that employ them in the area to help those who are resident locally.

“I recently read youth unemployment in London is four times the national average and Life Chances is about helping people into work.

“Not everyone’s going to be an investment banker – I get that – but firms like Hiscox and employers in Canary Wharf need a huge range of skills and capabilities.

“Clearly good educational achievements make things easier, but even for those who don’t have them we can make a real difference by helping them get entry-level jobs.

“I have friends in the insurance industry who grew up within earshot of Bow Bells, but who have done unbelievably well.

“These companies do offer people who are smart, even partly educated, the ability to rise through the ranks and that’s what they want.

“It was a surprise to learn about the disparity between income versus household income. It’s pretty apparent if you travel through the four boroughs and listen to what’s going on. 

“I was also surprised when the EECF’s CEO, Tracey Walsh, told me there were 5,000 charities and community groups active in those areas – that gives you a sense of the size of the challenge and the need for navigation.

“If there’s a corporate wanting to get involved, how do you find and pick an organisation to support? Which are effective and which make a difference?

“Often that choice is made because of individual connections, partners or friends, but to my mind that’s not the best way to choose a charity.

“The EECF applies rigour – groups have to apply for grants. They have to explain what their outcomes are going to be and then assess whether their aims were achieved or not. That’s a powerful process.

“The other thing about the EECF is that some of the grants are quite small in monetary terms – £2,000 or £5,000, for example – but they can make a real difference to a particular community group or charity.

“It’s hard for big companies, who might want to give say £50,000 – which is the top level we ask organisations to commit to – and to then break that down into grants themselves. Hiscox, for example, wouldn’t be able to do that.

“EECF is a well respected organisation. It’s seen as independent, fair and transparent and those are great things to build on. It has its own money to give away and full credit to Howard and Tracey for building that up. 

“My ambition is to continue the work they and the other trustees have been doing for many years and make the Life Chances Campaign a success.

“We don’t need a revolution – there’s a very clear plan of how we can make a difference and improve people’s lives.

“It’s a good programme and, if we can just deliver on that, then that’s a job well done.

“The more successful we are with Life Chances, the more we may have to increase staff numbers and so on, but that’s an outcome rather than a goal.

“I think that the other thing we’d like to move to with the campaign is to say to those getting grants that we’ll give them a certain amount each year for the next three years, so they can plan rather than having to put their energies into constant fundraising.

“An ambition has also got to be to augment the million or so we give away every year.

“If we can get to the £2million mark every year for the next five, that would be pretty awesome.”

For Bronek, the decision to become chair of EECF follows on from a long line of extramural activities undertaken while working at Hiscox, including the position of deputy chairman of Lloyds Of London for seven years.

“I’ve always thought that a business and a person succeeds if they are involved in more than one thing,” he said. 

“The beach is really very nice to relax on, but you have to have something to relax from – when you’re there all the time, it’s no longer relaxing.

“I feel the idea of stopping work and allowing the skills and knowledge that I’ve managed to accumulate to dissipate would be a waste. My hope is I can use them instead to make a beneficial and positive impact on the wider community.

“In terms of the difference I can make, clearly there’s the day-to-day governance of the organisation and I’ve had a fair experience of that.

“Hiscox was a lot smaller when I started there in 1992 and I’m used to us going into new countries, opening offices with no staff and then, slowly, over a decade building a physical presence and a good business.

“The fact that EECF has a dozen staff is really great, because it’s small, it’s informal – you don’t manage an organisation like that the way you manage a UK business like Hiscox, which employs well over 1,000 people.

“I also have a reasonable address book and I’m not scared to go and ask people for things, so I can help the team with the opening doors part of fundraising.

“They then have to close the deal, but I know that the hardest thing when you’re raising money is knowing who to talk to and then actually getting to speak to them.

“Even if they say no, that’s better than not talking to them, because you’re building awareness.

“Of course, there’s no certainty that we will succeed with the campaign, but it’s my view that it’s always better to try and to fail rather than not to try at all.”

Organisations that would like to support the Life Chances Campaign or charities and community groups interested in applying for EECF grants can find out more at the foundation’s website.

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Poplar: How Felix’s Kitchen is cooking thousands of meals for those in need

Food charity is looking for more volunteers and donations so it can help feed more people

Staff and volunteers portion up meals at Felix's Kitchen
Staff and volunteers portion up meals at Felix’s Kitchen – image Matt Grayson

Felix’s Kitchen does an incredible thing. Recently opened on an unassuming industrial estate in Poplar the 4,400sq ft facility is ramping up production with the aim of eventually producing 6,000 meals a day using surplus ingredients from supermarkets, wholesalers and restaurants – most of which would be thrown out as they near their sell-by date.

Those meals are then distributed to people who need it for free, via a network of organisations and charities across London. 

People are hungry in the capital and cannot afford to buy food. The hard work of staff and volunteers at the kitchen goes some way to addressing that, but The Felix Project – the largest food redistribution charity in London, which operates the kitchen – expects a spike in demand in the autumn as furlough comes to an end and potential benefit cuts bite.  

It’s 2021. The UK was the fifth largest economy in the world in January.

That such organisations exist at all is a damning indictment of those managing our society.

That more and more people are expected to need their services is a shameful failure of that governance.

But there are mouths to feed right now and those doing the hard practical work to achieve that end deserve our support and admiration for spending their time on this planet compassionately helping others. 

Head of Felix's Kitchen Leon Aarts
Head of Felix’s Kitchen Leon Aarts – image Matt Grayson

Take Leon Aarts, for example. Having “rolled into hospitality by accident” at age 19, the Dutchman became a chef, rising through the fine dining world to win Michelin stars before moving to London to start a high-end food wholesale business for top restaurants in the capital. 

A change of direction followed in 2008 when he decided to close that business and create a charity with an initiative that saw diners pay 15p extra in a restaurant to feed a child in a developing country. 

He went on to cook for thousands of migrants in the camps at Calais. 

Just before lockdown, he set up Compassion London to cook for those without food in the capital as the pandemic hit, eventually using Wembley Stadium to produce around 5,000 meals a day.

The team create meals out of donated food
The team create meals out of donated food – image Matt Grayson

Having joined up with The Felix Project, right now he’s in Poplar, cooking with 12 staff and a group of volunteers as head of Felix’s Kitchen – located next door to parent charity’s latest warehouse and distribution centre.

“It’s terrible that people live in food insecurity, but we can’t let anyone go hungry while those who have the resources are figuring it out – whether that’s the Government or companies,” said Leon. 

“I think we can solve this problem if we work together and it’s a disgrace that so much perfectly good food goes to waste.

“The Felix Project gets surplus food from more than 500 businesses, whether that’s small shops or Amazon, Hello Fresh and Ocado. 

“It’s really good produce, often close to its ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date, which means you can’t sell it any more. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. It’s then distributed to almost 1,000 charities all around London who give it to people who live in food insecurity.

“For example, many workers just before Covid were made redundant – people who were living from pay cheque to pay cheque. 

“You can see, as you drive round east London, that so many people fall outside the system, and we allow it to happen – with ridiculous wages, not giving people any sense of security. 

“Many people in the capital get paid really, really, well, but a lot of people don’t – it’s almost impossible to live in London on a wage of £7 or £8 an hour.

“A few weeks ago I had a charity kitchen doing what we do here and, in talking with The Felix Project, we found funding to create this purpose-built kitchen in Poplar – we’re building up to do 6,000 meals a day, but it takes time.

“I have very experienced chefs, so they look at what comes in and they make meals out of it. We always try to do a variety – it’s crucial we do both nutritious and delicious meals.

“That’s very important to me because when people are not in a very good state, they tend not to eat so well – if you have mental health challenges, eating is not at the top of your list of priorities and they don’t even realise it, so we will be working with nutritionists to help us improve what we produce. We always make sure that there’s protein, whether meat, vegetarian or vegan.

The meals are then distributed to charities
The meals are then distributed to charities – image Matt Grayson

“We’re also guided by the surplus we have – one of our remits is that no food should go to waste, which is a very interesting challenge.

“Right now we are actively looking for volunteers, especially local people, because we serve the local community.

“Also, if local companies have surplus food, then they should get in touch with us because we don’t want any food to go to waste

“We can put it to good use, re-purpose it and give it to the people who need it. We have the resources for that – warehouses, where we can collect the food, sort it and turn it into meals.

“We get black crates from Amazon, for example, that have all different things, and we separate it out. If you’re a small business, then give it to us rather than put it to waste.

“Bigger companies that produce food for supermarkets often have a lot of waste – often it’s not their own fault. For example, if it’s going to be good weather, a firm might make a lot of barbecue packs and then it rains and suddenly they don’t sell anything. But if they don’t put it in the bins and bring it to us we can do something with it. 

“We talk to our suppliers, of course, to ask if they have any of a particular ingredient but we’re especially short of staples – rice, pasta, tins of tomatoes – that sort of thing.”

The Felix Project was created in 2016 by husband and wife Justin and Jane Byam Shaw, inspired by the compassion of their late son Felix, who died suddenly from meningitis in 2014. 

You can find out more about the charity and volunteering in east London online at thefelixproject.org.

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