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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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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.”

Read more: How Unifi.id can help building owners cut carbon

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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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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

MEET THE OWNER

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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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

WHAT’S ON AT LIBERTY FESTIVAL – JULY 22-24, 2022

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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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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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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- 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: 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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Deptford: Why Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard wants to make a name for itself

Bar and restaurant run by brothers Ari and Landi Mucaj is keeping its focus on quality drinks

Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat
Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat – image James Perrin

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Deptford Market Yard’s arches are typically filled with magic. It might be the ramshackle ephemera of Little Nan’s, the slick seafood of Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim or the wholesome cafe cuisine of Dirty Apron.

All of theses businesses pulse and buzz with the passions of the people behind them. It’s why the area draws ever increasing numbers of people seeking independent places to hang out.

It’s also why Bluethroat’s owners thought their idea could work.

Brothers Landi and Ari Mucaj had been talking about starting a business together since 2013.

“I’ve lived in Deptford since 1997 and I’ve worked in many central London bars,” said Ari.

“I started working as a kitchen porter and then got a job as a chef, which I did for about three years.

“I’d finish work about 10.30pm and then go behind the bar and wash glasses for fun. I fell in love with being behind the bar and that’s what I’ve done ever since.

“I’ve worked mostly in central London in places like the Cuckoo Club and Chinawhite and I ran the bar at Maddox for about six years.

“Every time Landi would come to see me in central London he would always say: ‘We should do this ourselves’.

“That was really my plan all along, at least for the last 10 years, trying to save up and do it.”

In 2018 Ari quit his job and teamed up with Landi, who had been in Deptford himself since 2001, to look for premises.

Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard
Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard

“We were searching and then we thought, what better place than Deptford?” said Landi.

“We’d seen a lot of changes in the area over the years, so when we saw an opportunity here, we thought it would be the best place to build something.”

The brothers took one of the larger brick arches at Deptford Market Yard, more or less next to the train station itself, and set about doing just that.

“Instead of doing it somewhere else, we thought it’s just around the corner, we can walk home and it’s the perfect place,” said Ari.

“We found this fantastic space here – it was a shell when we got it and we’ve built it from scratch.

“It took about a year to build it – we didn’t know anything about doing that so the fact we have this location and that we’ve created it from scratch is crazy, but it feels amazing.”

Landi added: “I fell in love with it really – the whole experience of setting up a business. It’s had its ups and downs and it probably took us longer to open than most other places, but we learned a lot in the process.”

Landi Mucaj pours a drink
Landi Mucaj pours a drink – image James Perrin

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan. Just days after Bluethroat opened its doors, the first national lockdown came into force and they slammed shut.

Like many hospitality businesses, the brothers have since been riding a rollercoaster of uncertainty, most recently closing at Christmas as the responsible thing to do, despite the lack of official government direction to do so.

With restrictions lifted, however, both Ari and Landi can’t wait to run their cocktail-focused establishment unfettered. 

“This is the first chance we’ve had to run in a normal market, there’s been a lot of opening and closing,” said Landi.

“Our plan remains very much the same and it’s about refining our formula.

“Firstly, we’re really passionate about our drinks, delivered with great service. We’re also a very good restaurant.

“We are a place where people can come and chill out and have some really good cocktails.”

Bluethroat also serves food
Bluethroat also serves food

Walk into Bluethroat  and that focus is unmistakeable. The bar’s shelves are laden with spirits, ready to be whipped into a multitude of alcoholic concoctions.

“This is where my brother’s experience comes in,” said Landi. “We have about 11 drinks on our menu, all of which we’ve created for Bluethroat.

“There are boozy ones and lighter drinks, some that are bitter, fruity, bitter, sweet and sour – something for every taste.

“We are constantly working on the list and evolving it, but we really enjoy asking customers what they like and then building something for them.”

Bluethroat – named for a small member of the thrush family with a distinctive blue collar and a powerful song – also develops seasonal drinks, with two of its four spring specials already in hand.

“Customers will always find something new,” said Landi. “We’re getting ready to launch one made with Haku Vodka from Japan. 

“We just love the taste of this spirit, made completely from rice, and we mix that with a bergamot liqueur and blackcurrant to make a sweet drink with a hint of spiciness. We think people are really going to like it.

“The second cocktail we’ve created for our spring menu is based on whisky with a fig liqueur and mulberry syrup. 

“We make pretty much all our own syrups in the bar using a range of techniques such as sous vide and hot and cold infusion.

“The drink has a creamy taste and we also infuse the whisky with violet leaf to give it a beautiful aroma when you’re drinking it.”

Ari added: “When we opened, I gave Landi a crash course and now he’s a genius behind the bar. One of our challenges since opening has been finding bartenders with experience.

“But I think local bars are taking over in terms of quality – you can find cocktails that are as good here or in places like Hackney, as you will get in Mayfair.

“I worked in central London for 20 years and the quality here is no different. 

“You are seeing people who are going out locally to get this, instead of making the journey in.”

Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard
Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard

While its extensive collection of bottles, rich brown hues and speakeasy vibe mark Bluethroat out as a haven for drinkers, the brothers hope that its food offering will be a welcome surprise for those ordering.

“We change the dishes all the time, but we serve Mediterranean and modern European food,” said Landi.

“There’s always something new, but we love seafood. There are a lot of Italian influences because our chefs are from Italy.”

Ari added: “We serve a lot of fish – black cod, king prawns and salmon – and we do specials every week.

“I think people are a bit shocked that the food is as good as it is because of the way the bar looks.

“We started off serving smaller plates, but we’ve extended the menu because people wanted more food.” 

The primary focus remains the liquid though, and, having worked widely on the city’s bar scene, Ari is keen to build the bar’s reputation in the capital.

He said: “Ultimately we want to be known as one of the best cocktail bars in London. That’s our ambition. 

“We’re taking things slowly and we haven’t really promoted ourselves yet. We wanted to grow organically and for people to find out about us that way.”

Bluethroat is open Weds-Sun. Cocktails typically cost between £10 and £11. Small plates are £6-£11 and bigger dishes around £14. 

Read more: New team at The Pearson Room deliver fresh flavours

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Deptford: How Dirty Apron went from student dinners to supper clubs and a cafe

Deptford Market Yard venue puts community at the heart of its menu

Suzie Pennington of Dirty Apron
Suzie Pennington of Dirty Apron – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Croissant crumbs surround Suzie Pennington. But, when you run a cafe called Dirty Apron, a bit of mess and chaos is part of the fun.

“There was a show on at The Albany, so we’ve had loads of kids descending on us,” she said as we sit down to chat about her operation.

The 18-seater venue has been part of the Deptford Market Yard community since November 2016 – more or less when the arches first started opening up – and Its customers are very much at the heart of what the business does.

“A lot of the other vendors that opened with us were from food trucks, so were one-dish orientated,” said Suzie.

“But we’re more like a classic cafe with specials, a soup of the day and a brunch that changes as tastes change.”

Dishes draw inspiration from the season, feedback from regulars and what the local greengrocer has on offer.

“We like classics with a twist, “ said the 38-year-old.

“Not just British but European and Asian and we try to keep all our mains under £10 to make sure the cafe is affordable for the length and breadth of Deptford folk.

“We’re not faddy but, if there is a trend that looks interesting, and our customers ask for it, we will make it because we like to have a two-way relationship.

“We plan the menu around what our customers’ favourites are and speak to the regulars and see if they want anything revisited.”

The Anglo-Indian said her love of cooking started during her childhood in Essex.

“My mum cooked loads of Indian food growing up and I learned how to make lots of dishes quite young,” said Suzie.

“I was about eight when she first told me to make what I wanted from the fridge.

“She also ran a nursing home and I would hang out in the kitchen and learn how to do a lasagne or a roast.

“So I have always been around food and professional kitchens and got the interest and love from there.

“She’s really proud of me. One of the good things about having a cafe is everyone knows I run one so all my friend’s parents talk to me about it.

“Everyone is always interested and I love talking about food and Deptford and I really think everyone secretly wants to open a cafe.”

Dirty Apron is located in Deptford Market Yard
Dirty Apron is located in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

The seeds of her own venture were planted when Suzie met co-founder Holly Williams at Bournemouth University.

“I studied sports science and Holly was doing animation. We met on the ladies football team. I think I tackled her and that’s how we became friends. 

“We both just had a love of food and, when we weren’t in lectures, we would go to the local supermarket and try and do student dishes on a budget for the team and make them as exciting as possible.

“We would do big extravagant roasts and lasagne. It was a chance to cater for numbers and was really fun and this working relationship kicked off naturally.”

After graduating they both moved to London and, when the supper club wave hit, they decided to jump on board.

“We would meet up at the pub and organise these themed events over a bottle of wine,” said Suzie. 

“It picked up some traction and it was when we did an Orange Is The New Black-themed event and 200 people came to this church hall in Limehouse that we knew we were on to something.”

The cafe's interior
The cafe’s interior – image Matt Grayson

Next came a six-week stint at Brick Lane Market where they cooked “way too much food” and it was a “bit of a slog”.

But rather than taking a breather, they Googled small festivals and booked every available pitch at events in the south under £100. 

“Every weekend for one summer we were somewhere different, “ said Suzie. “It was exhausting but by the end, we decided we were up for the challenge.”

That meant getting proper kitchen experience, so Suzie ditched her job in public health and spent two years at Riley Rocket on the Kingston Road, working her way up to become manager.

When Holly saw the arches in Deptford were being developed and rented, the duo decided it was time to take the plunge.

Suzie said the name Dirty Apron summed up their humour and was a nod to classic greasy spoon cafes. 

Over the years they have built up a family of loyal regulars, one of whom has even written a poem in tribute to the £5 coffee and bap deal.

Holly, who now lives in Brighton, manages the business side of things and New Cross resident Suzie takes charge of the cooking and supplies, which come from Tony’s Daily on the High Street, Bread Bread Bakery in Brixton, Ruby’s Of London in Greenwich and Alchemy Coffee Roastery in Wimbledon.

Food at Dirty Apron
Food at Dirty Apron – image Matt Grayson

Suzie said: “Our main food is hearty brunches and we always have a vegan special, meat special and a soup of the day.

“We do a curried cauliflower, spinach and sauteed halloumi wrap served with fresh mint yoghurt and a really good tofu scramble with heavily spiced peppers and onions and lovely sourdough and salad and homemade relish.”

In winter, they serve up meat and vegan pies but, now the warmer weather is finally appearing, warm salads with ingredients such as quinoa, roasted broccoli, salsa verde and beetroot will be appearing on the menu.

“I love going out for food and cafe culture to get inspiration,” said Suzie. 

“I go to all of the places around here and we are all really good friends, that’s one of the nice things about Deptford.”

The area’s social calendar is also a pivotal part of her planning.

“When the London Marathon goes past we know that we’ll need six people a day to cope with the demand and when Amal the doll came through recently I have never seen anything like it,” she said. 

“There were tens of thousands of people. So you have to look at the schedule for what’s going on in Deptford and tailor the rota for the occasion.”

Dishes are developed with customers in mind
Dishes are developed with customers in mind – image Matt Grayson

Suzie loves to bring people together and has collaborated with Villages Brewery, creating a 150cm sausage roll for their harvest festival, with plans to hold events for the New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival and for Lewisham London Borough of Culture 2022.

“When summer hits, capacity at the cafe will double because of the outdoor seating. 

“We are very lucky because it’s very rare in London to get such a large off-road space,” said Suzie. 

“It means we don’t have to hurry people. Food can take a while because sometimes we can be a 40-seater restaurant, but people can sit in the sun, have a coffee and enjoy themselves.

“Because it is one room and an open kitchen I’m good at spotting if someone needs someone and everyone does the same – there is lots of communication and chat and customers can basically talk to us from their table. There’s that real dynamic vibe.

“A lot of our customers are regulars so they get to know each other. 

“I’ll often be having a conversation with someone on table six and someone from table five will chime in and then they end up talking to each other and then someone else will come and join in.

“Before you know it the whole place is involved in the same conversation, which I think is just the best thing about working here.”

Dirty Apron is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9.30am-4pm.

Read more: How The Rattle is investing in crazy at Tobacco Dock

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