The Silverton

Little Nan’s moves to a bigger and better location in Deptford

Owner and granson, Tristan Scutt talks about opening 2.0, Flat Butcher and Aunties Ballroom

Image show Aunties Ballroom at Little Nan's 2.0 with a comedy gig in full swing under a disco ball in the shape of an anchor
Little Nan’s new space includes Aunties Ballroom, seen here in full swing

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Tristan Scutt is surrounded by his brain at Little Nan’s 2.0 and he’s all the happier for it.

He first opened Little Nan’s Bar 11 years ago as a pop-up tribute to his late Little Nan Jojo.

Using her furniture and crockery for the decor, he took over a pop-up space behind The Bunker Club in Deptford Broadway.

Success blossomed as customers fell for cocktails in teapots, a wealth of knick knacks and Tristan’s genuine passion for ’80s and ’90s memorabilia.

Then, after several locations, he found Little Nan’s a home at Deptford Market Yard.

Three it’s spent the last eight years occupying as many as four richly decorated railway arches.

Now, however, a fresh chapter has started.

Having endured three years of precarious leases and a reduction in space, following the arrival of new managing agents, Tristan has taken the decision to move on – well, actually just up the road.

Head along the railway line from the existing bar down Resolution Way and, just beyond Villages Brewery, a new wonderland has been created.

Under much larger arches, Tristan has created essentially four venues in one. 

Image shows Little Nan's owner and grandson Tristan Scutt, a man with a pierced chin in a dark blue shirt decorated with playing cards
Little Nan’s creator Tristan Scutt

four venues in one

“First of all there’s Little Nan’s 2.0, which has Flat Butcher above it – a space that can be hired, inspired by Pat Butcher from EastEnders,” said Tristan.

“Then there’s the Grown Grandkids Play Den with air hockey, table football and arcade games.

“Aunties Ballroom is on two levels with a custom-made glittering anchor to celebrate Deptford.”

If that sounds a lot, it’s because it is.

Four times bigger than the Deptford Market Yard space (and with four extra toilets), Tristan has one setting when it comes to interior design and that’s just to go for it.

Everywhere there are display cabinets packed with things.

Fabrics and colours clash amid a riot of leopard print, neon and fake ivy.  

Image shows entry to a brightly lit bar with animal print rugs and neon signs inside
The entrance to Little Nan’s 2.0 in Resolution Way, Deptford

extreme maximalist kitsch at Little Nan’s

“It’s an expression of extreme maximalist kitsch,” said the founder and grandson who has an MA in fine art from Goldsmiths.

“Our decor is nostalgic – there are a lot of nods to Deptford history including the anchor plus cabinets filled with memorabilia and toys. 

“It’s a reference to Deptford Vintage Market, where many of the items were sourced.

“It’s also a celebration of local stores from back in the day like Abstracticus, the Second Time Round shop in Lewisham Way and Aladdin’s Cave.

“I hope it’s somewhere people will feel at home.

“They’ll have seen what we can do over the road and here we can do even more of it and on a longer term basis.

“Anything too empty scares me.

“Our AirBnB holiday home is like this in Weymouth and my flat is like this in Deptford – this is really how I live.

“When I look back at photos of the original pop-up I think it was a little simpler – perhaps I was worried 11 years ago how people would feel.

“Now it’s just: ‘Go for it’.

“I love stuff, I’m a massive EastEnders fan and I’m addicted to Deptford Market, so this is a great reason for me to trawl all the local shops and the stalls to fill the venue.”

Image shows a room at Little Nan's 2.0 filled with ornaments, toys and vintage furniture
Little Nan’s 2.0 is packed with toys, vintage furniture and memorabilia

pleasing the customers at Little Nan’s

“Our cabinets are obviously full of things I like, but I’m also always looking at and listening to what our customers are into,” added Tristan.

“Initially all our cocktails were named after members of the Royal Family.

“Then I realised not everyone was quite as big a fan of the Windsors as I was, so we changed things.

“We have got rid of our Prince Andrew, although we still have a Prince Harry, which dates from before the whole book thing.

“It feels nice to have created these new venues. It’s been a mad couple of months and we’ve had some great guys doing the build.

“My mate, Matt Sargent, has made all the fabrics and then I’m responsible for the rest of the decor.

“Weirdly, it’s been a calming process. 

“I think after what has been a stressful couple of years this has wound up being such a great move for us.

“You always have to turn stuff into positives and, perhaps, this was the kick we needed to find a better space.

“That’s why it feels great. We’d never have been able to do what we’ve done here in our original units.”

Image shows actor Pam St Clement who played Pat Butcher in EastEnders visiting the venue
When Pam St Clement (Pat Butcher) visited Little Nan’s

Little Nan’s 2.0 is up and running

Excited to welcome guests, Tristan has been slowly opening sections of the new venue while the build has been going on.

This is partly, I suspect, because he can’t resist sharing the new spaces.

Extended facilities go deeper than the bathrooms and entertainment areas.

2.0 will have room for a proper kitchen and there are plans to invite chefs in for pop-up collaborations in due course. 

While Aunties Ballroom can be set out as extra hospitality space, it also lends itself to performances beneath the rich satins, silks and quilts that coat its walls. 

“We’ve now had our first event there – a comedy night called Your Friend And Mine hosted by poet and comedian Jack Scullion, which went really well,” said Tristan.

“We especially want the ballroom to be multi-purpose.

“There’s no static furniture so we can have it set up in so many different ways. It can be used for performances or decked out with tables and chairs.”

Image shows a lit cabinet filled with playing cards, toys, records and a bust of Pat Butcher in the style of Queen Victoria
Little Nan’s 2.0 is filled with nostalgic items including a bust of Pat Butcher as Queen Victoria

whole venue hire

“Here, all of our spaces can be opened up and used as one or sectioned off,” said Tristan.

“People can hire the whole thing or, for example, we might have Little Nan’s open and a workshop up in Flat Butcher. 

“I’m excited to see how people use the space over the summer and how it evolves. 

“It’s the start of a new chapter and I think we’re really ready for it. It’s 11 years since Little Nan’s started and it feels good to be doing this in Deptford.

“We’d been looking for a new space for a while. It’s been an opportunity to really think about what we’re doing after 11 years of Little Nan’s.

“Before the eight years in Deptford Market Yard, we’d done the pop-ups.

“Our new location is a nod to everything we’ve done before.

“It’s all that we have learnt about how to put on really good events for customers’ birthdays, hen-dos and other celebrations.

“That’s what we’ve done under these two huge arches.

“With the move, we wanted to have somewhere we could really spread our wings and express what we want to do and that’s what we’ve done.

“We know our customers love our outdoor space and we have that here as well, but we have so much more inside too.

“I’m really excited to see people come in.”

With things in a fluid state as the venue gets fully up and running, the best place for updates is Little Nan’s Instagram feed, which can be found @littlenansbar.

Stay tuned for news of opening hours and future events.

Image shows a richly decorated space with different coloured fabrics and cabinets of 80s and 90s objects
Aunties Ballroom is on two levels and can be configured in many different ways as there is no fixed furniture

key details

Little Nan’s 2.0 is located in Deptford’s Resolution Way.

Hours are subject to change as things get under way, but the venue is currently open Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm-12.30am.

Find out more about the new site here

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Deptford: How Baldr CrossFit is creating a safe space for everyone to exercise

Gym in Deptford’s Childers Street sees David Caetano and Ben Wilson offering multiple options

David Caetano, pictured, and his partner Ben Wilson have launched Baldr CrossFit

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We wanted a name that represented bravery, humility and honesty,” said David Caetano, co-founder of Baldr CrossFit in Deptford’s Childers Street.

“It’s named after the Norse god Baldr because I lived in Norway for about four years and my mum is still there. 

“Everything Baldr does is good, but he doesn’t brag about it, so it’s representative of what we’re trying to create here.”

The virtuous son of chief deities Odin and Frigg, is a firm favourite in Asgard in contrast to the deceptive Loki and bombastic Thor, often because of his calm sweetness – not perhaps the most obvious allegory for the sweat and grind of a south-east London CrossFit gym.

But Baldr’s whole reason for existence is to do things differently.

“Above all, this is an inclusive space,” said David, who founded the gym with his partner Ben Wilson, opening the doors earlier this year.

The Deptford gym has a wealth of of equipment for members to use

“People come in, see the Progress Pride Flag hanging in the window and feel comfortable. This is a place for everyone.

“I came to London from Portugal at a time where there was still stigma around being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Here, there was anything and everything.

“I became comfortable with my sexuality about three years ago but what I’d noticed was that, when you go to gyms, there wasn’t always representation there. Some do have it and, as soon as I’d walk in, I’d feel safe.

“At Baldr, because we’re LGBTQIA+ we’re more outspoken about this and so people are happier being themselves, speaking about their partners and things like that.

“I really felt there was a need to create something within fitness to change the conversation so we’re not talking in terms of men and women, but about individuals.

“The way we do that is to get away from CrossFit’s weights for men and women and just talk about percentages when we come to the bars and levels of resistance.”

Baldr is located around 10 minutes’ walk from both Deptford and New Cross stations and offers a range of classes for up to 10 people.

Alongside its core CrossFit offering these include weightlifting, gymnastics and Capacity, a barbell-free class designed to improve an individual’s ability to recover from high intensity exercise.

Monthly memberships start at £159 for three classes a week. There are also drop-in packages starting at £20 for a single class as well as small group and one-to-one personal training.

Baldr also offers free trial sessions to new clients so they can get a feel for what the gym offers.

“CrossFit is all about functional movement,” said David.

“Every time you squat, you’re sitting on a couch. The idea is that everything you do in the gym can be transferred to the world outside.

“What we’re trying to do with our programmes is to hit those functional movements so that when you’re 80, you can get off a chair without having to roll over or needing someone to help you.

“We constantly vary the sessions across seven areas of exercise so people will never get bored. The idea is an all-round one so members can say they can lift weights, run a mile and do a certain number of pull-ups.

“We keep the group training small, so we have 10 max in a group, and this makes sure that everyone gets attention in the session, and they get a little bit of personal training in a group setting too.”

The gym is located in Deptford’s Childers Street

With Ben, who works for Deutsche Bank looking after the business side of operations, it’s an offering squarely within David’s area of expertise.

“I was always into fitness and wanted to be good at everything,” said David.

“I originally came to London to study architecture, but sitting in front of a computer all day wasn’t really what I was looking for.

“I started doing CrossFit and then decided to train as a coach – that was about seven years ago.

“After working at my first gym and helping to run it for a few years, I joined Third Space in 2019, working in Canary Wharf. 

“The CrossFit gym taught me a lot about running a small fitness business, while working at Third Space enabled me to look at the bigger picture – the language we use in classes and the impact this can have on members. 

“I was also able to take a lead and get involved with developing new coaches and instructors, so that experience was really key for this project.

“Ben’s background is in business, finance and accounting, so he handles that side of things whereas I’m on the product side, looking after coaching, development and what we deliver for our members.

“This is perfect because it means we don’t cross over when we’re working together.

“We live close by and were aware there was nothing like this in Deptford, so we started looking to see if there was a space up for rent.

“Then Ben put together a business plan, looking at the area and why Baldr might be needed here – asking what the brand is and what its target audience will be.”

The pair found a space vacated by a fashion manufacturer and set about kitting it out with gym hardware, gender neutral toilets and, of course, the big pride flag.

The gym has been conceived as a safe space where all are welcome

The dream for Baldr is to expand with gyms in a number of parts of London and perhaps beyond.

David said: “We would like to have several locations so that we can attract people living in different areas. 

“We are aware gyms can be quite intimidating, especially for people not always comfortable with their sexuality, so we like to chat with them and point out it’s their space, their workout and that we’re here to support them.

“We want to make sure that everyone has a good experience in the community and make sure they get that one-to-one experience in a group setting.

“We are loud and proud, so if you need a space like ours, then we are here for you.”

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Deptford: How artist Alice Gur-Arie digitally paints her photographs to create her work

Based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside, Alice has just released a second digital book of her pieces

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Alice Gur-Arie has always been creative.

“I’ve been writing since I could first hold a pencil and dabbled in various things when I was a teenager in school,” said the artist, currently based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside, Deptford. 

A career as an advertising creative and then manager of agencies saw her work first in her native Canada, then North America, Europe and India.

“I’d done what I set out to do – to work internationally in a multi-country environment and I was successful,” she said. 

“I wanted to go back to my creative roots – that was 10 years ago – and so I got myself a little studio in Deptford and started to take pictures. 

“I also had a lot of photographs from my travels – but I didn’t want to be a straight photographer.”

Instead, Alice taught herself to paint her photographs digitally with the aim of creating something new.

The body of work she has created is varied and extensive, with images that are colourful, monochrome, three dimensional, two dimensional, photographic and almost entirely abstract.

Red from Alice’s Love On The Rocks series

“I never change the composition of the original photograph – it is what it is, it’s like a canvas,” she said.

“When choosing the ones to paint, I have a vision in my head – sometimes I achieve that and sometimes I can’t.

“Sometimes I can do it in several different ways – it’s always possible to repaint images.

“Each time I create an image, it goes back to being a writer, because I’m telling a story. There’s no absolute point where they’re finished.

“I just have to ask whether I’m satisfied with it and whether it says what I want it to say.”

The word, perhaps, for Alice’s creativity is “instinctive”. She looks at a photograph or a collection of objects and imagines what they could become.

“I have a series called Love On The Rocks,” she said.

“I took the images in Iceland – it was cold and raining while I was taking photos and my husband said he was going for a walk.

“There was a volcanic hill behind us and I took pictures of him as he walked along the ridge. He couldn’t see it, but I could see the outline of a woman in the shape of the hill. 

“For another series, I’d always wanted to do something with layered hills.

“In Portugal I got to a summit and just saw this amazing vista in front of me.

Eastern Hunt from Alice’s series The King’s Lodging

“So I started snapping away and, after I’d painted them digitally, I realised there was a romantic story in there, so I called the series The King’s Lodging.

“Each piece within it has its own title and the idea was to tell a story by displaying them together so the viewer could create the narrative in their head.”

Alice’s latest project has been to create a second digital book of her work, based on the Chinese Zodiac.

“I have a friend – John Vollmer – who is an Asian scholar,” she said.

“He sent me a picture of a snake from some archive in celebration of the year of the snake and I thought we could do a better job.

“We started collaborating for the year of the horse – I painted a photograph of the animal and he wrote the text. I wrote a story to go with it and once I’d done that I knew I wanted to do all 12 animals.

“It took a number of years, but the result was my first book Twelve: Shengxiao Zodiac Creatures In Art And Words featuring 32 images and 12 short stories. 

“Then John told me about five, which is an important number in Chinese philosophy. That led me to create Five: Wuxing Elements In Art And Words with a foreword by him.”

Alice’s latest digital book features 81 artworks, about 25% of which were made specifically for the project. 

Rebirth from Alice’s series The King’s Lodging

“While there are no stories in the book, I have written a poem for each of the elements. I want readers to really respond to the art in Five.

“I love landscapes and seascapes and ‘seeing’ is important to me. I want people to see things in a different way – familiar, but unfamiliar.

“It’s fantastic to have people look at and talk about your work because they see things in it that you don’t.

“For example, I made a piece from a photograph of the tailpiece of a stringed instrument and people saw a boat in the final work.”

While the majority of Alice’s work is created digitally, she also creates sculptures, including recent pieces using found objects.

Nightlife In Blue

“I don’t like sitting at a computer all day long, but my paintings don’t get made if I don’t do some of that,” she said.

“I’ve always loved working with my hands and I have an idea that I will also make collages from my finished digital paintings.

“With the wall hangings, I had some different kinds of rope and just started to play.

“The fairy stones – ones you find that have natural holes – are from the Mediterranean and Ramsgate.

“I’d had them for years, having collected them, and I thought I’d do something with them that has different textures.

“I’m fascinated by texture in all my work. I try to make a big thing of that in my paintings because we live in a world that’s anything but flat.

“First, it’s about the photography. I have to go out and take the image. If I didn’t do that, you wouldn’t have the picture.

“Then the paintings sit within a range – a set of dimensions.

“That means I can achieve results that are more photographic while others are more in the middle or much more abstract.

“I often strive for the sweet spot between those two things that combines them both, but sometimes the painting won’t let me go there.

“They take varying amounts of time – it really depends on the picture and on me.

“I have a painting from India that took me 10 years because I kept going back to it.

“It wasn’t saying to me what I wanted it to say, so I put it away and would bring it out every couple of years and try again until it was finally complete.”

Alice’s works are available for sale online.

Noon At Beach Point

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Deptford: How Quiet Rebels at The Albany highlights structural racism in Britain

The new play’s co-writer and co-director, Julie McNamara, on highlighting stories of abuse

Quiet Rebels is written and directed by Hassan Mahamdallie and Julie McNamara

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“We really have to push back now because we’re living so close to a dystopian future.”

These are scary words from Julie McNamara, but ones that ring true when you consider the Nationality And Borders Bill passed into law in April.

“It allows the Government to strip individuals of their British citizenship without warning or reason. And no-one seems to be talking about it.

“It’s shocking what’s happening in this country right now,” said Julie, who has co-written and co-directed play Quiet Rebels with the aim of exposing ingrained racism in our society.

“It’s set to run at The Albany in Deptford from November 9-11, 2022.

“I can’t believe while we were picking the navel fluff from our bellies, they put something in law about revoking your UK citizenship for any reason and there is no recourse to appeal,” she said.

“How is this happening in our lifetime – and how are we not revolting?”

Quiet Rebels was inspired by her own family’s traumatic experience with the Home Office, which tried to deport her nephew back to Jamaica after two decades.

“It was the hardest time for us as a family,” said the 62-year-old. “Troy has been with us for 21 years, with my niece all that time, and they have four children. 

“We had to prove they were in an enduring relationship several times over in four different cases and also that it would be unduly harsh for the children to have their father removed to Jamaica.

“The shocking and obscene language I heard at court just absolutely blew my mind. 

“We spent five years and an awful lot of money fighting like hell. We finally won on October 28, 2020, in the Royal Courts Of Justice.”

The stories of real life couples such as Margaret Chapman and Astley Roy helped inspire the story

Their battle was the catalyst for a project with Hassan Mahamdallie, an internationally known senior policy maker and writer of The Crows Plucked Your Sinews, a play about the impact of British imperialism on Somalia.

Julie, founder of disability arts company Vital Xposure, based at Hackney Empire, kept being told she should work with him and went to hear him speak about his report for Arts Council England – The Creative Case For Diversity.

“He quoted this beautiful poem by Langston Hughes – Harlem: A Dream Deferred and I knew then he was the kind of thinker I would love to work with,” said the Hackney resident.

They spent four years developing Quiet Rebels, gathering stories from women who had been spat at, verbally abused and hounded just for marrying men of a different race.

That included Julie’s niece Sophie.

“For me, the impetus has been to try and wake audiences up to what is happening around us, right here, right now, in our own courts,” said Julie.

“I wanted to start hearing from white women who fell in love with brown and black men.

“We went back to the Windrush years and said: ‘Is this where it began?’.

“We know black communities have been established in these islands for a long time, but you go back and think: ‘Alright, where has this nonsense come from?

“When did the racism really set in and why are we going back to a rising right?’.

“It’s embedded in British politics, the monarchy and the class system.”

Joe Conteh and Lottie Bell on stage in Quiet Rebels

Hassan comes from a mixed heritage family and his mother’s story is at the heart of the play.

“She was a working class secretary and met and fell in love with a young guy who came from Trinidad,” said Julie.

“Her mother was appalled and totally against the relationship.

“One day she put her daughter’s husband’s books out in the garden and burned them, which I think is such a fascist statement.”

They also spoke to a woman who was hounded out of Hull after raising her mixed heritage children there.

“She said this is the most racist country she’s ever lived in and she has lived in rural France, Greece and South Africa,” said Julie.

“She talked about the violence that she had received on the streets, the terrible fear she had for her children. In the end, she was so frightened that she left and went to Australia.

“There are common themes that run through all their stories about the racism they experienced, being spat at on the streets, called n-lover, whore, slag.”

The Albany co-produced and staged an early version of the play in development in 2019 and the duo knew they were onto something. 

“That show was only about 35 minutes long but the Q&A went on for over an hour and a half and in the end we got chucked out,” said Julie.

“It revealed a great appetite for this work, for the stories we’ve touched on.

“One of the very common comments was it was refreshing to have white perspectives on the Windrush stories because there’s been so much black trauma staged repeatedly in British theatres and we’ve seen so much spilling out on our screens that it’s actually hugely wounding.

“It’s one of the reasons that we have so many young black people overpopulating prisons and mental health systems – because of the pain and the violence of systemic racism.

“It’s getting worse and permissions, it seems to me, have been given since Brexit, so people are becoming more hostile.”

The play will run at The Albany from November 9-11

Julie said the white women who married men of a different colour were part of the cornerstone of building the multicultural societies we have today. 

“It’s because of who they were and the love that they had for these men,” she said.

“We met some amazing people and some ordinary people and one of the things we discovered about each of them was that they were all quiet rebels.

“Perceived as rebels not by us, but by their parents or local communities or peer group.

“The only crime was they fell in love. Is that a crime?”

Today’s version of the play takes the stories of four women – Margaret Chapman, Mary Khan, Elizabeth Grogan and Yvonne Ali – and sets them inside a racist future where Conservative MP Enoch Powell, who famously believed someone was only British if they were born here, became prime minister. 

Clips of the women speaking open the show and snippets are spoken again by the actors.

The cast is made up of mixed heritage actors Joe Conteh and Deni Francis, Pickles ‘Wayne’ Norman, Lottie Bell, an actor with a hidden disability, and Fiona Whitelaw, who shared her experiences of being a “white pariah”.

Her husband worked as a black detective in the Metropolitan Police and his experiences of racism helped inform the character of the detective.

Fiona leads the audience around the world, narrating what she can see as a form of integrated audio description.

The play also contains pre-recorded sign language and creative captioning is at the heart of its design.

“I didn’t want traditional audio description with people set apart with headsets on,” said Julie.

“That annoys the hell out of me, because I feel like that’s a new kind of apartheid line.”

 The plot follows an investigation into the murder of a white women who married a black man.

As a convicted race-traitor with four children, she has served time for miscegenation.

“It’s set in 2028, but the language you hear has come out of the mouths of politicians from this country in the last few years and from the Royal Courts Of Justice,” said Julie.

“Some people have complained about it, and quite right too, but we stand by it because I think it needs hearing. I feel this is a really important piece of work.”

Julie is appalled some of the “nonsense” they came up with for the play is now coming true.

“When we began writing this, we thought it was so dystopian – but we’re already living it, we have caught up with it,” she said.

“In this country, we didn’t have miscegenation laws, but the president of Hungary was saying recently: ‘We are not a nation if we are mixed’.” 

Julie said events surrounding the Queen’s death also reflected  issues in the play.

“We’ve been shut down and we’re not allowed to peacefully protest – somebody was arrested for saying: ‘Who elected him?’ at a proclamation for the King,” she said.

“Why we’ve got the monarchy now, I do not know. It’s so out of date. 

“You look at it and think: ‘Wow, your own son and his mixed heritage wife have had to leave this country because they feel so uncomfortable about the racism inside the monarchy’. Isn’t that a statement in itself? 

“One minute we were watching this extraordinary wedding that gave a sense of hope and then it all unravelled in front of us.”

Quiet Rebels is also based on stories of love tinged by hate but Julie said the aim was to use them to open up conversations between families, friends, generations and communities about their experiences of racism.

“Some people come to the play hoping it’s going to be a story of romance and love and undoubtedly love is at the heart of the show,” she said.

“But there’s an awful lot we have to fight through and it’s about waking audiences up to the rise of this structural racism in England, which is bleak and needs dismantling.”

Transcripts of the interviews and from the court case will form part of an information pack they are building to go alongside the play.

Julie said she wanted the conversation to continue even after the run ended.

“The play has an open end – you’re left with questions,” she said.

“But it does end with a more positive moment as nobody would want to leave it like this – so what happens next?”

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Deptford: How The Yeast Brothers blend youth and experience in their business

Pizza restaurant at Artworks Creekside uses secret blend of flour and time to create signature dough

Rafael Pinto and Ale De Menezes are The Yeast Brothers
Rafael Pinto and Ale De Menezes are The Yeast Brothers – image Matt Grayson

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They say you are what you eat. Well, layers of Deptford life are folded into the pizza at The Yeast Brothers.

Firstly, the sourdough base is made by catching the wild yeast in the air around the Artworks Creekside and fermenting each ball of dough for 48 hours.

“The dough is the main thing,” said co-founder Rafael Pinto, 25. “We don’t like to talk about what goes into ours – it’s secret – but we mix different types of flour so it is very light and crispy at the same time.

“It’s all about the fermentation. If you leave it to over-ferment it’s not going to be nice and we have to control the temperature and hydration overnight. It’s a science.”

The next layer is their background. Bermondsey resident Rafael and co-founder Ale De Menezes, 43, both hail from São Paulo in Brazil, but left their homeland’s traditions behind to mix Italian style with their own modern take, which includes vegetables from Deptford and chorizo from Spain.

“Pizza is a very big thing in Brazil,” said Rafael. “They say it’s the best in the world. The Italians would disagree with that, I’m sure.

“It’s a different style because they don’t use a long fermentation like the Italians. They make the dough in the morning for that night. 

“Here, the long dough is very important to us. We like to be patient and let it grow by itself and don’t try to push it.

“It makes it easier to digest because you use less yeast but, of course, without the yeast we would be nothing.”

Hence The Yeast Brothers. Except they’re not actually related. Not by blood anyway.

Ale has been friends with Rafael’s father since they were teenagers in Brazil and it was he who introduced the youngster to pizza making in Deptford.

Ale creates a base
Ale creates a base – image Matt Grayson

“When my dad knew I was coming to London, he contacted Ale to help me,” said Rafael.

“Ale used to work in TV production in Brazil and made pizzas but it wasn’t his main job. 

“A few years back he went to live in Australia and started working in a kitchen making pizza. When he came to London, he kept doing it.”

When Rafael arrived in London, fresh from culinary school in Brazil, Ale helped him settle in and get a job at Wandercrust at The Duke pub in Deptford.

It was here that the ingredients of The Yeast Brothers began slowly fermenting.

“Ale was the master who taught me everything I know about pizza and we sort of became brothers for life,” said Rafael.

The duo worked at Wandercrust until April 2021 when the business moved to Greenwich, building on their shared love of pizza and dreaming of their own operation.

The Brazilian duo offer a range of flavours
The Brazilian duo offer a range of flavours – image Matt Grayson

It was lockdown that gave them the push to roll out their own dough.

“During the pandemic, it was just us in the kitchen not talking to anyone but the drivers, so it gave us time to talk and come up with the concept and choose our identity,” said Rafael.

“Ale’s the most hard-working guy I know, so I knew he would be the best partner for me.

“I feel like the pandemic helped because otherwise, it would have taken a lot longer.”

Money to make the dream a reality was tight, but then the team from Deptford Bus approached them with “the perfect opportunity” – a space and some equipment to get them started.

They traded there until December last year but once again were left stranded when the business closed.

Again, Deptford came to the rescue when the team from Artworks approached them with a space.

Hopefully now settled for a while, they are concentrating on developing their menu which offers up classic pizza flavours and some surprises.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven – image Matt Grayson

“We used to do Neapolitan pizza, which is popular in London, but we thought we could do something different,” said Rafael.

“People who make it tend to follow the traditional techniques but we use a different flour and folding method and try to expand our ingredients – charcuterie from Spain, cheeses from France and not just Italian products.

“For us to actually have an impact we had to have the classics, because that’s what people look for.

“So we use tomato and mozzarella from Italy, but we try to mix it up as well. We do a pizza with Montgomery Cheddar from England and chorizo from Spain.”

His favourite is the burrata and nduja pizza and they also offer four vegan options – a truffle pizza  and a weekly special.

“I feel like eventually we’re gonna get rid of some of the classics and try to have more unique flavours,” said Rafael.

It’s a very competitive market and there are so many different styles as well. You have the cheap pizzas, the Domino’s, and the more artisanal ones.

Served up, the finished pizza
Served up, the finished pizza – image Matt Grayson

“I feel like we are in the high end of pizzas now in terms of quality and prices.”

They are also adding another layer to the business with a van featuring a wood-fired oven.

The duo have just used it for a stint at West India Quay as part of the Kerb Incubator programme and will now be heading to the street market at the Gherkin in the City.

Rafael said he couldn’t see the business leaving Deptford though – they love the neighbourhood so much and are enjoying experimenting with how they do things there.

Their wives take turns to help out in the restaurant at weekends and they have been adapting their hours and menu as they go along based on what customers want.

“We’re still figuring out when is best to be here but enjoying it all,” said Rafael.

“I don’t remember once having an argument with Ale – we are pretty chill.

“We know how to respect one another, that everyone has their moments and how to give one another space.”

So how does this bubbling, almost-finished business compare to their Deptford pizza past?

“It’s just us in the kitchen like it was before, but it’s great, because here the customers can see the pizzas being made and we get to see them eating it,” said Rafael.

“That’s what we’re here for – to see their faces when they enjoy the food.”

Pizzas at The Yeast Brothers – image Matt Grayson

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Deptford: How sculptor Dot Young uses her work to highlight environmental issues

Based at Art Hub Studios, the artist draws inspiration from Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai

Sculptor Dot Young at work in her studio
Sculptor Dot Young at work in her studio – image Matt Grayson

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What do a Nobel Prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist and a Scottish-born sculptor based in Deptford have in common?

Both felt overwhelmed by the raging environmental issues facing the world and decided to take action, no matter how small.

In the 1970s Wangari Maathai spoke of a hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire with tiny drops of water while larger animals disparaged it for being too small to help. It replied: “I’m doing the best I can”.

“That for me is what we all should do,” Wangari said.

“Be like the hummingbird. I may be insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain.”

She went on to help reforest swathes of Africa and founded the Green Belt movement.

Half a century later, Deptford creative Dot Young is celebrating Wangari’s story with a series of delicate relief sculptures and is seeking to make her own practice as sustainable as possible.

“I work in an industry that is quite environmentally impactful,” said the 58-year-old, who has been based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside for the last decade.

“It’s on the consciousness of makers, about how what we’re doing impacts the planet. I don’t use resin anymore and I’ve been experimenting with more environmentally friendly materials.

“As a sculptor, you can get caught up in lots of non-biodegradable plastics that aren’t really appropriate anymore.

“I also run a degree course in prop-making at the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama and I’ve been turning the focus to not ordering as much timber and using thick cardboards.”

Dot works from initial sketches before using polymer clay
Dot works from initial sketches before using polymer clay – image Matt Grayson

Her work on Wangari is part of her Natural Formations series, which celebrates habitats, the environment and activists.

She has based much of it on 19th Century illustrative prints from environmentalists and botanists.

She has crafted the reliefs from hard plaster or jesmonite, a more sustainable alternative to resin, and has been experimenting by casting with different papers.

Dot said to find eco-friendly methods we only needed to look back.

“I worked in Venice for a short period with the mask makers,” she said.

“The traditional Venetian mask is actually made from a woollen paper called carta lana, soaked into a plaster mould and coated in sermel gesso, another environmentally friendly, ancient material.

“This method eventually got usurped by Chinese vacuum-formed plastics.

“It’s really interesting when you turn the clock back and look at what things were made of, pre-industrial revolution.

“You find ways of making that can be reinvented in a contemporary style.

“I’m interested in experimenting in mixing dust with gum arabic.

“The possibilities are endless for looking at how you might develop a new material.”

Dot first became more conscious of eco issues through her project Chair, which tracked the history of an oak chair from the forest where the tree had grown, to the sawmill and then the furniture manufacturer.

“The only chair I could find that was fully made in Britain was from High Wycombe,” she said.

“It made me realise we don’t have a furniture industry in the UK anymore, which is very sad.

“Then I moved on to tracking other things, like hair extensions I bought in Dulwich, which I traced back to Chennai in India. 

“I was getting very aware of the globalisation of materials and doing the work to give people an idea that there was a responsibility around the objects we buy, of knowing where they come from, how they’re manufactured, if people have been exploited and their carbon footprint. 

“It actually got quite intense and depressing. The reality was very overwhelming.

“I could have become a political activist but I decided to go back to the studio, because I wanted to find a way to celebrate nature.”

Dot's pieces take as long as they take
Dot’s pieces take as long as they take – image Matt Grayson

Dot began looking at the work of people who had archived natural phenomena, such as Ernst Haeckel.

To capture them in 3D she started using a method she calls slow sculpting, allowing whatever time is required to complete each piece.

She believes that having this intense and intimate relationship with the work is communicated in the outcomes.

“I’d been doing a lot of sculptural installation work until then,” said Dot.

“It had been very conceptual and I was craving the technical challenge of traditional sculpture.

“I did some completely out-there pieces, inspired by 19th century cakes but really wanted to get more intricate, and I’ve always felt relief sculpture was something a little bit tangential to the rest of the sculpture area. 

“It’s all around London if you just look up and, historically, it’s a way of telling narratives used by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

“I really enjoy the technical challenge and creating stories within the work.”

Dot is based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside
Dot is based at Art Hub Studios in Creekside – image Matt Grayson

It is a stark contrast to her commercial work, which has included making heads of political leaders such as Barack Obama for Oxfam.

“That work can be really fun and I like working for organisations that are making a difference,” said Dot.

“But it is fast and furious and I have to produce it to a high standard.

“What I really love about the relief work is that I don’t put a time limit on it. It will take as long as it takes to get it right. 

“When you spend that time laboriously doing it again and again, it’s very meditative but it also speaks of slowing down and spending quality time doing something that’s hopefully, valuable.”

Each piece starts with lots of drawing and collaging to come up with a design, which is then transferred to a wooden board.

From there, Dot hand sculpts the design using polymer clay, which doesn’t dry out quickly – meaning she can spend several days or weeks on each piece.

Once the sculpting is finished, she makes a mould of the piece and casts it. She then sculpts out any imperfections and moulds and casts again.

“That makes it a very flexible process with lots more opportunities to add, take away and change it along the way and have a wider variety of outcomes,” said Dot.

“Sometimes it can be really frustrating. If it’s a really complex one, I do sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed if I can’t get it to work. 

“But I know from experience that I just have to walk away, leave it and then come back to it. 

“It’s definitely not a simple, linear process. Sometimes I do a drawing I think will work in relief, but then it doesn’t.”

“The work can’t just be decorative – I’m not really interested in that,” added Dot, who runs sculptural workshops and classes with Action For Refugees in Lewisham and has created experiential sculptural work for dementia-suffering residents in care homes.

“It’s got to have something that’s either powerful in its symbolism or be beautifully mathematical and geometric. 

“I love Islamic art because it relates to the universe and secret geometry.

“That’s been a big influence.”

Dot's croton seed sculpture honours Wangari
Dot’s croton seed sculpture honours Wangari – image Matt Grayson

Born in Edinburgh, Dot was introduced to the joy of objects and making by her father, a mechanical engineer, who was at the forefront of developing lasers.

After studying sculpture in Sheffield, she moved to London and was swept up in the 1990s era of shared housing, cooperatives and artist squats.

She then spent time in Africa, sculpting across Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and in the Tenganenge Sculpture village in Zimbabwe, which is another reason for her interest in Wangari Maathai.

Dot has already sculpted a panel inspired by the environmentalist featuring a croton seed, associated with the Kenyan reforestation programme and the African fabric associated with Wangari.

She is now working on a larger panel for the Craft In Focus event at Hever Castle in Kent (Sept 8-11, 2022), which will feature, hummingbirds, naturally.

“It will make a larger statement about her narrative – about how you can make a difference, no matter how small the effort you make,” said Dot.

“People that genuinely have an awareness of the environment are drawn to this work.

“There’s quite a limited audience when you’re doing really specialist installation pieces, whereas the work I do now is more commercial so I feel the audience is wider. 

“Communicating with more people means I have a bigger voice, which I’m really enjoying. 

“When people ask what it’s about then I really get to talk about the state of the planet and how my work is motivated by the concerns we have – but not in a negative way, kind of a celebratory way.”

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Deptford: How The Shipwright houses theatre, creativity and performance

Founder Joseph Winters explains how his company, live, eat and develop work together in London

Founder of The Shipwright, Joseph Winters

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After only a few years navigating the London theatre world, Joseph Winters felt he was going in circles.

“The magic of going to the theatre and sharing a space and imaginative act with lots of other people had been lost,” said the 27-year-old.

“It had become quite similar wherever we were

“You could go to the Almeida, Donmar, Young Vic or the National, walk into a foyer and box office that looked the same, a bar that probably sold relatively similar beer and a room often painted black where actors went in and out of a separate door. 

“Being an audience member was increasingly a retail experience rather than communion around a piece of art.”

Working as resident director at the Almeida sparked the desire to run his own theatre and being manager of Fortismere Music Centre gave him the skills to do it. 

But, as a freelancer, his discontent grew as he realised he was being forced to battle for work with his fellow creatives and then torn away from them just as they found their rhythm.

“I had this desire to build something where I would have ongoing relationships and wouldn’t feel the sharp severance of opening night,” said Joseph.

“I wanted to find a new way of relating to my own generation.”

Residents of the house include Olivier Award-winning actor Hiran Abeysekera
Residents of the house include Olivier Award-winning actor Hiran Abeysekera

So, in 2020, he founded The Shipwright, a communal theatre based in a 500-year-old house in Deptford, where the team, live, eat, create and perform together. But it’s not just any old building.

The Master Shipwright’s House, built in 1513, is one of the few remaining parts of the Royal Dockyard.

He landed there after directing Rupert Everett in play Rush written by Willi Richards, co-owner of the historic building.

“They invited me over,” said Joseph. “We were rehearsing in a dingy room down the road and, when I saw it, I thought: ‘Why aren’t we rehearsing here?’

“There was this amazing day, when we stopped a rehearsal, and had dinner together and didn’t talk about the play at all. The next day, it was so much better.

“That’s when I realised my idea of a communal theatre wouldn’t just be a nice thing, but that the work would get better.”

Willi invited him to move in and take the leap but, just as he did, the first lockdown arrived.

“It felt like a disaster and then immediately we realised we had to build a 200-seat auditorium in the garden,” said Joseph.

“We did it with immense imagination and goodwill from a lot of people.

“Everybody we knew needed something to do during that small window in October – it was all hands on deck and it was done for not a lot of money.”

They opened with opera Dido And Aeneas and sold out. The production was lit with desk lamps, costumes were made out of whatever the company could find.

“It looked ravishing and it captivated everyone’s attention,” said Joseph.

“Audiences came, and that was the most exciting moment – when we knew we’d built something that was going to continue to work, something that relied less on physical production and more on audience imagination.”

The Shipwright’s production of Dido And Aeneas

The company followed it with a festival of punk cabaret, stand-up, classical music, new and old plays, arthouse film and children’s storytimes led by a drag queen.

Joseph said he realised Deptford audiences were up for risks.

He said: “As an artistic director you are basically saying: ‘I think this is interesting – do you?’. 

“Theatre in itself is just a machine for encouraging conversations.

“First, between us and other artists, then between artists in the rehearsal room and ultimately between artists and the audience.”

Since that first flush, Emma Halstead has come in as executive director to help create a more formal structure, but still with the aim of finding the most exciting people to work with.

This summer The Shipwright welcomed a queer cinema collective from Nairobi and, on August 30, will host a world premiere of Bertie Baigent’s new opera based on Paradise Lost.

Joseph said: “Everybody joined in and, if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have worked.

“The thing that is so magical about the space is that, when people come to join us, they are part of the life of the house. 

“Willi and Chris and everyone who lives and works here is at dinner every night talking and working things out. 

“The one thing you need to do for young artists is encourage them and the owners have been the most supportive people.

“Willi is absolutely with us – always – and I talk to him all the time about the logistics and why we make work.”

So far everything has been done on a shoestring. This “fraught” move has been made a success through collective effort.

“You start a company and you think it’s going to be lounging around, staring into the eyes of beautiful actors,” said Joseph.

“In fact you spend a lot of time fundraising, begging people to work with you, thinking about toilets. 

“There’s often moments when I realise I haven’t had a day off for months. It’s exhausting but also incredibly nourishing.

“That said, when I step out of my bedroom in my pyjamas and someone says: ‘I’ve got a new sketch for the costumes,’ I do think: ‘What have I done?’.

“It’s an experiment to see whether this makes the work and our lives better. We’ve delivered a much more varied, diverse programme and more performances than I was expecting.”

The garden structure was made from leftovers from the house restoration
The garden structure was made from leftovers from the house restoration

These waves of change have been noticed. The John Hodgson Theatre Research Trust recently gave the company £1,000 to start developing work.

In September it premieres ​​The Gretchen Question by Melly Still and Max Barton, which dissects the climate emergency and is a headline commission for We Are Lewisham

Joseph said The Shipwright would always remain a place for the people. It runs a pay-what-you-can system, the bar is stocked with locally brewed beers and all staff get at least the London living wage.

“We don’t spend our money on lavish sets, but we pay the bar staff properly,” he said.

“We are in a hostile environment because of the pandemic and global financial situation and I think it will be vital for us to keep asking how the creative community will look in the future.

“Collective living is the way to go. Ages nine to 60 live here in lots of different ways. Once you have lived like this the benefits are overwhelming.”

The performance area in the house’s garden


For Willi Richards and Chris Mažeika, allowing a theatre company to run in their home wasn’t a big step.

They took their giant leap in 1998 after glimpsing the Master Shipwright’s House over a wall.

“It really is one of the most remarkable houses in London,” said Willi.

“But it was in a very sorry state with floors missing, barely any windows – the garden was a car park. It felt very vulnerable but I could see it was magnificent and wanted to repair and restore it.”

They had only just moved into a modern, minimalist home they’d spent two years building in Deptford. But they gave it up and spent another two years negotiating to buy the former home of master shipwright Joseph Allin.

“It was an incredibly long process, but when you fall in love with something it holds you quite tight,” said Willi.

He and Chris were already heavily involved in the theatre.

Originally from Wales, Willi has worked at RADA since 1992, now teaching there part-time in between his voice training work, writing and directing.

They began filling the house with events straight away and Willi sees The Shipwright as the latest incarnation of the “creative commune”.

 “It’s wonderful having your own entertainment on site – you walk out of the kitchen door and there’s a performance going on,” he said.

“I love it, because it feels like living inside a theatre.

“The rhythm of eating, meeting and creating together is very potent.

“I try not to stick my oar in or interfere too much because I am an old hand and this is a new generation thing.”

The couple keep some rooms private and Willi said it was a delight seeing the mix of people who visited their home.

“It’s a real privilege to welcome people into this extraordinary space,” he said.

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Deptford: How Drag Syndrome are changing perceptions at Liberty Festival

Lewisham-based three-day celebration features performances by disabled and neurodiverse artists

Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany
Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany

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An hour before we speak, performance group Drag Syndrome is named an Icon In The Making by TikTok.

Founder and creative director Daniel Vais is bubbling over with pride and is very clear that its aim is world domination.

The group, whose members all have Down Syndrome, is booked two years in advance and he said: “Society and culture have to know we’re here to stay. We’re not a fad.

“What these artists are providing is really extraordinary to culture. It’s valuable.

“We have been blowing up for the last four years, but it’s now reaching stardom where we have partnered with brands like Milk Makeup, Instagram, O2 Music – real movers and shakers.

“People with learning disabilities are leading campaigns now. “It’s about damn time.”

It quickly becomes clear he is the drag group’s biggest fan. In fact, he sees its members as examples of how we should all be living.

“People with learning disabilities make the world a better place,” said the 50–year-old. 

“They are magnificent people – much kinder. They go through so much and they have more compassion. I see them as gurus. 

“They are a leading example of the amazing human being and we have to learn from them. It’s very humbling to work with them.”

The group was born in 2018 from his company Culture Device Dance Project, which works with elite artists with Down Syndrome. 

They were invited to perform at LimeWharf in Hackney so he and dancer Sara Gordy went to check it out.

A drag artist was performing and Sara was bowled over and immediately wanted to try it. Drag Syndrome was born in that moment.

The group is made up of six drag queens and one drag king and had its first show at Vogue Fabrics Dalston (now VFD) a small, avant-garde queer space.

Drag Syndrome founder and creative director Daniel Vais
Drag Syndrome founder and creative director Daniel Vais

“It was magical, amazing, powerful, fresh, new,” said Daniel. “They loved it and they wanted another show. It was the best night ever because we understood we had created something amazing. 

“The second show sold out in minutes and then we were on ITV and since then we have been as busy as Rihanna and Beyonce.”

In four years the group has gone from performing to crowds of just 50 in east London, to 15,000 at Montreal Pride, where they were introduced to Canadian president Justin Trudeau.

They’ve appeared at Ru Paul’s DragCon, and featured in a video for Vogue alongside Lady GaGa and Billy Eilish.

During June they completed a European tour and, on July 23, will perform at The Albany in Deptford as part of Liberty Festival.

“Lewisham is the first place I came to when I arrived in London – so, personally, this is a very emotional gig,” said Daniel, who moved to the UK from Isreal.

“It is a top notch festival. The whole programme is super so we’re very grateful to be part of it.”

Every show is different, with lots of improvisation. Daniel said: “I work with the best artists. They blow minds. You see it in people before and after the show.”

They knew from the start the group would be a huge success and have intentionally done it all on their own to stay in control of the narrative.

“Everyone who understands art and culture and sees the show understands they are masters,” said Daniel.

“They are oozing star energy. They know they’re big stars but they are also very professional and some of them are adamant that they would like to achieve things in art and culture. They are ambitious. 

“They have very clear ideas about where to perform, where to appear and how to grow.”

There has been controversy. In 2019, a Republican congressional candidate in America declined to host the performers, questioning whether they could give their “full and informed consent.”

Daniel said they have to deal with constant negative comments, but know what they’re doing is opening gates for others.

“The negativity is a reflection of what people with learning disabilities go through every day,” he said. 

“I talk to the artists about it and they say: ‘This is how we grew up. People say whatever they think to our faces and that we’re not good enough, we are pathetic, stupid’. Unfortunately, they are used to it. 

“But we are coming, taking space and changing that.

“A lot of people with learning disabilities are learning from these artists to have boundaries and to understand it is not right to accept that somebody will think you’re stupid or you can’t do this or decide for yourself.”

Members of Drag Syndrome
Members of Drag Syndrome

Daniel said they answer their critics by being “capable as fuck”. 

He added: “Whatever the misconception is, we don’t fight it. We don’t have to answer to anyone. 

“They’re independent artists. They have international careers and the support around them from parents and siblings is amazing – that’s why it’s working.

“We take our space and don’t ask permission, we just do our thing. That’s what I wanted from this project and the artists did it. 

“They went from stage-to-stage, studio-to-studio and worked their arses off to achieve this success with no charity or support – no nothing. They have success because of their talent.”

Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany on July 23 at 6pm. The performance is free but booking is required. 

Joel Brown and Eve Musto in 111
Joel Brown and Eve Musto in 111


The free event is a celebration of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists.

Some events are drop-in and some need booking, but all allow audiences to leave, re-enter and move around.

There will be British Sign Language interpreted shows, audio-described installations and chill-out areas.

The festival is set to kick off with the unveiling of Freedom by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE in Deptford.

Across the three days, visitors will be able to book one-hour sensory walks with Mapping in Lewisham, exploring how the local environment is shaped by sound, smell and terrain.

Captioning Lewisham will be a trail of sound captions along Deptford High Street and 

Mixed Reality Hub (Deptford Lounge, various times) is a collection of digital art and virtual reality work by renowned disabled and neurodivergent artists.

  • Friday will see speakers at the Liberty Symposium (The Albany, 10.15am-6pm) explore topics such as how the media represents people with a disability. In the evening there will be an outdoor performance by Deptford’s Heart N Soul (Griffin Square, 6pm-8pm) and stand-up from Jess Thom Touretteshero (The Albany, 8.15pm)
  • Saturday will include the launch of Manifesto for 2.8million Minds (Lewisham Shopping Centre, 2pm-5pm), a project looking at how we can better support young people’s mental health.
  • Sunday will feature 111 (The Albany, 2.30pm) a physically integrated performance from paraplegic dancer Joel Brown and former principal dancer Eve Musto. Kat Hawkins will perform Object Permanence (The Albany, 4pm) exploring her relationship with assistive devices. 

Leave The Light On For Me (Griffin Square, 3pm and 5pm) will be a joyous outdoor look at climate change and justice and Who Plays Who (The Albany, 6.30pm) is a powerful satire by Stephen Bailey, exploring disabled actors navigating Hollywood casting.

Read more: Sun And Sea takes over The Albany with 10 tonnes of sand

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Deptford: How Sun And Sea is set to transform The Albany into a beach

We sit down with the composer, librettist and director of the sandy opera to find out more

The Albany will be transformed into a beach for the show
The Albany will be transformed into a beach for the show

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A crowded beach, the burning sun, bright bathing suits and sweaty brows.

Sunbathers begin to sing languid songs of early morning flights, half-eaten sandwiches and plastic bags floating silently below the waterline. 

Sun & Sea is an afternoon at the seaside, witnessed from above.

Audiences watch from the balcony as the mundane evolves into an urgent exploration of our relationship with the planet and the threat of climate change.

The show stunned audiences at the 2019 Venice Biennale and makes its UK debut at The Albany from June 23-July 10, 2022, co-presented with LIFT and Serpentine. 

Ten tons of sand will be used to transform the stage for the “durational performance”, which unfolds on a loop over several hours.

The performers will include local singers and 13 vocalists taking on the role of beach-goers enjoying the sunshine. 

We sat down with composer Lina Lapelytė, librettist Vaiva Grainytė and director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė to find out more.

why a beach?

Rugilė: The image of a singing beach came while touring with our first opera Have a Good Day!

We were actively waiting for another idea. I was shooting my documentary film essay Acid Forest, which involved a birds-eye view. People were looked at from above as if they were animal species coming to one “cage” in a strange forest. 

This inspired an angle from above on another “zoo”. A beach is the place where the fragility of bodies is exposed. It made us think about the parallel with cosmic bodies, the fragility of the planet Earth. 

The visual, textual and musical layers of Sun & Sea are inseparable and make this work complex. However, in this complexity, we seek simplicity.

Lina: The idea to perform on the beach came gradually. We were looking for a situation that would allow for different individuals to coexist, a place to reflect society. 

The beach is the place where everyone becomes kind of equal under the sun. Swimsuits unify people – they get exposed to the planetary body that heals and is dangerous at the same time. 

At the beach, people mix up – you can meet a university professor, a banker and a hairdresser. It’s a place where their thoughts can meet too. 

We wanted to have a collective voice – a choir, that is driven by different attitudes, different thoughts – however, united by the time and place.

why climate change?

Lina: The work is labelled as climate change opera, but we wouldn’t rule out this being the second episode of Have a Good Day! that we sometimes, ironically, call an ode to capitalism. 

While Sun & Sea puts the joy of consumption on the sandy beach, my personal approach is through body politics: the parallel between the body of a human and the body of Earth.

Rugilė: Passive lying around, the lazy burning away of time and the body – this is the surface of the work. People are only resting, but the axis that holds the whole mosaic of the opera together is a sun which is getting hotter and the exhausted Earth. 

The message about the inevitability of consumption, which we developed in our previous collaborative work, is now delicately incarnated in ecological themes.

Vaiva: The opera consists of smaller sub-topics that can be found as fragments in the libretto of Sun & Sea. These themes are related to the pleasures of consumption, time, climate change, boredom in everyday life, pollution, tourism, the interconnection of hedonism and the apocalypse, skin care, depression, nutrition and technology.

why an opera?

Lina: Opera reflects the Gesamtkunswerk – a total work of art. However, we feel the term can be off-putting sometimes as people expect a traditional treatment of voices and stage. 

We try to challenge the term – to use the potential the genre can offer.

From left, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainytė
From left, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainytė

how long have you been friends?

Vaiva:  Since teenage times. We all grew up in Kaunas in Lithuania, so share a very similar collective memory of certain topography. 

Lina and I used to hitchhike and hang around in underground concerts, while me and Rugile studied in the same photography school. This is the core of our collaborative practice. 

Rugilė: Another level of friendship started when we realised how closely our ideas resonated while thinking about our first piece. 

Lina: It is also an intellectual friendship – we share some viewpoints and have similar feelings towards many things.

how long did it take to create?

Rugilė: The piece was developed during a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2016, then presented as a micro-opera at the gallery Palermo in Stuttgart with a premiere in full the following year. 

In 2018 the artists presented the German version in Dresden and the work was selected to represent Lithuania at the Venice Biennale – where the English and durational version was developed.

what impact has Covid had?

Vaiva: As the piece was touring during the pandemic, sanitation breaks, masked audience members, peeping from above, observing unmasked holiday goers, made the beach look like an idyllic postcard from the past. 

The lyrics from the libretto, originally referring to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökulls, which has brought all travelling into paralysis, suddenly sounded like a reflection of the current situation. The connotations of the piece change and closely coexist with current events.

Singers perform lying on their backs
Singers perform lying on their backs

has the show changed for the UK?

Rugilė: Sun & Sea is a mix of fiction and documentary, so the show is always shifting. The musical and textual layers are fixed, the colour palette is fixed but the local beachgoers and choir members bring their natural habits to the beach. 

We ask them to avoid acting, but to do whatever they like and feel comfortable doing on a real beach.

is the local choir new for London? 

Lina: Integrating the local choir has always been important. It does not happen everywhere, but we try. 

Integration of local people started in Venice with not only the choir but also solo singers, some of whom continue to tour.

does lying down affect the singers?

Lina: It is a challenging position to sing in, no-one gets to learn this in music schools, but the people we  work with are embracing these kinds of challenges. 

It’s not just lying down – it’s also occasionally sand landing in your throat while you sing, or a naughty dog taking over your aria, or children freestyling when you need to focus. The piece is life more than a performance.

The durational performance runs on a loop
The durational performance runs on a loop

talk to me about the viewpoint

Rugilė: The audience is looking down to the beach from above, focusing on peculiar species, living on the sand down below. 

Usually, we tend to use this perspective to observe bugs or other smaller animals than us – this creates some sort of hierarchy. 

Balconies frame the beach from all directions and it helps to close the potentially superficial perspective of the sea and the sky. 

Lastly, the angle from above allows the audience to see the singers lying and singing in a frontal position.

what should audiences take away?

Vaiva: The piece has lots of sub-messages and different overtones. It’s both light, bright, joyful, deeply sad, and sorrowful.

It’s up to each audience member to pick up on certain aspects. Therefore Sun & Sea is based on a dissonance – the feeling of catastrophe lurking in the air is wrapped in a contrasting sunny surface. Darker and ironic lyrics are interwoven with pop melodies. Micro stories of the characters told from the “I” perspective allow viewers to connect to the beachgoers emotionally, rather than intellectually. 

Even though the opera-performance is climate crisis-themed, it doesn’t suggest any solutions, but rather allows audience members to enter the realm of pure melancholy, and embrace the feeling of the end.

Read more: Discover Samskara at The Yard theatre in Hackney Wick

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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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Deptford: How Holly Loftus forges knives from her workshop at Cockpit Arts

Blades are created using an ancient Japanese process before Holly adds handles of local wood

Holly Loftus is based at Cockpit Arts in Deptford
Holly Loftus is based at Cockpit Arts in Deptford

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The unique patterns running along the blades made by Holly Loftus are created by hammering together layers of softened steel.

She likens the ancient Japanese process to making pastry.

“It’s like a croissant, but instead of layers of pastry and butter, it’s layers of steel that get laminated by folding them on top of each other over and over,” said the 33-year-old.

“I use heat and pressure and just literally smash them together and they fuse. It makes an edge that is really sharp and long-lasting.”

Like the knives she creates at Cockpit Arts in Deptford, Holly forged her career through sheer force.

She is the only woman she knows of working professionally in the male-dominated field and her hand-forged knives, which cost about £300, sell out every month.

When she happened upon the notion of bladesmithing in 2010, she was a community worker on holiday in America.

The Lewisham resident was both beguiled and baffled when she stumbled across a hobbyist knifemaker at work.

- See Holly’s work up close at Cockpit Summer Festival And Open Studios in Deptford from June 17-19, 2022. Entry is free and visitors will be able to meet a variety of crafters in their workspaces and talk to them about their processes.

“That was the first time that I really thought about knives being made outside of a factory and I remember grilling him about how he made them,” she said.

“It sparked an interest in me, but the first five years of the journey into making knives was only in my head. I couldn’t even figure out how to get started, because it was so alien to me.”

Her uncertainty deepened when she was unable to track down any professional knifemaking courses in the UK at the time.

Self doubt made her question whether she could leave her job, helping pensioners and homeless people, which she’d started as a teenager growing up in Dublin.

“I was excited about making knives, but it took a while for me to feel like I could just give myself permission to make something,” said Holly.

“A part of that was because I had done something I felt was socially useful and that transition has been difficult sometimes.”

Layers of steel are folded to create a very sharp edge
Layers of steel are folded to create a very sharp edge

She spent hours scouring internet forums and watching videos, but the nudge to take action only came when a friend bought her a one-day knifemaking course.

“I didn’t really think that I could ever figure out how to do it, because there are so many aspects, different tools and materials and that seemed mental to me,” she said. 

“On the course, we just forged a very basic knife, but I decided I was going to figure out how to start pursuing it.

“Before then it all seemed really abstract, so it took away that mental block I had.”

She still had a hard road to follow to turn it into a career.

“In the UK there’s no professional route into knifemaking,” said Holly. “There’s no apprenticeship, no school where you could go to learn it.”

The only vaguely related course she could find was a City And Guilds in forgework in Scotland. Six months later, she quit her job and headed up there.

“I didn’t make any knives, but that’s where I learned to forge using a hammer, which felt like a good foundation,” she said.

“When I passed, it was really satisfying and gave me the confidence to apply for work in the field.”

Holly spends about nine tenths of her time honing her blades
Holly spends about nine tenths of her time honing her blades

She landed a job with Blenheim Forge where she spent three years learning how to make their Japanese-influenced kitchen knives, using their workshop in her spare time to practise and refine her skills.

“I was really open with them about why I was there and that my plan was to make my own knives. I think they actually believed in me more than I did.

“Even though the forging course gave me a lot of confidence, sometimes when I was actually trying to make knives they were so bad it would knock me down.

“But Blenheim were really encouraging and, over those years, I got so much better.”

In 2020 everything changed. Holly applied for and won the Cockpit Arts/Newby Trust Craft Excellence Award, allowing her to move into the Deptford studios with a year of subsidised rent.

“Without that award, it would have been impossible to go full-time because having the workspace isn’t enough,” she said.

“There’s so much equipment that you need. Having that year meant I could set up properly and get better and get faster on my own.”

Today Holly’s knives are in such high demand that she only releases them in batches every month through a newsletter. 

Holly's knives are released in batches via online newsletter
Holly’s knives are released in batches via online newsletter

Each knife is handmade using steel from Japan and Sheffield and native wood supplied to her by tree surgeons.

“I have pieces from around where my workshop is or I have quite a lot from Hackney at the moment,” said Holly.

“The way I work means I can do things a factory never would because it would be really inefficient to have a tiny piece of a tree from a small street in London.

“But I can pick out those more interesting, unusual timbers and have enough for a few handles. 

“I like hardwoods like cherry and apple. They’ve often been felled because of a fungal species that creates these patterns in the wood.

“I put the pieces through a process that stabilises them by pulling resin through to fill the spaces. It means I can use these them even though they’re partially rotten.”

Holly usually has 30 knives at various stages in her workshop and said they were made to be comfortable for home cooks to use, especially women.

“Lots of women I speak to are afraid of how sharp they are and don’t trust themselves to be able to use a sharp knife,” she said.

Readers can see Holly at work during Cockpit Summer Festival And Open Studios
Readers can see Holly at work during Cockpit Summer Festival And Open Studios

“That’s something I really want to change, because it’s been so satisfying for me to become comfortable with them and I think having a really sharp knife changes how you feel about cooking, it makes it so much easier. 

“When I was growing up, the sharpest knife in my house was one of those plastic-handled steak knives and it was sliding about all over the place and made my whole experience of cooking stressful. I would just resort to choosing recipes without chopping – or use a blender.”

Holly said she was terrified of chopping a finger off when she first started bladesmithing, but after two years at Cockpit, she finally feels confident and is proud of what she has achieved.

“It’s amazing. Sometimes I have to really remind myself of that, because I can get so sucked into the details of really wanting to make the best work I can,” she said.

“I haven’t allowed myself to reflect on this before, but it feels important to, now. This is what I wanted and now I’m doing it.”

Read more: How chefs created From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island

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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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