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Rotherhithe: How Rotherhithe Playhouse is embracing new traditions this Christmas

Founder Phil Willmott is putting on The Christmas Wife and the Wizard Of Oz at theatre’s new home at The Hithe

Rotherhithe Playhouse’s Phil Willmott – image by Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Declarations that it is “The most wonderful time of the year” are being blasted at us from all angles.

That perfectly trimmed TV turkey, the handmade centrepiece online, families decorating in matching Christmas jumpers.

Fomo is more rampant than ever, but with the shadow of Covid just over our shoulders and the cost of living crisis in our faces, do we really need to embrace it?

Phil Willmott from Rotherhithe Playhouse knows no-one wants to be Scrooge, but thinks it’s important to highlight that we don’t have to be Stacey Solomon either.

The theatre, which launched in summer 2020, is marking its second festive season with The Christmas Wife – a dark comedy offering couples the chance to pause and reflect.

Showing from December 15-30 at the theatre’s new home in The Hithe, it is an adaptation of Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, which tells the story of a wife whose perfect Christmas starts to unravel due to one bad decision.

It will be tempered against family favourite The Wizard Of Oz, also showing December 15-30, 2022, which launches a new scheme offering up to four free childrens’ tickets with a paying adult.

I sat down with Phil to find out more about the plays and the theatre’s plans for 2023.

The Christmas Wife is set to play at Rotherhithe Playhouse

why this play for Christmas?

We’re all about getting people to go to the theatre who haven’t been much.

There’s a great tradition in this country of doing theatre for families and children at Christmas and I wondered if it might be possible to present slightly intelligent plays that could be a Christmas night out for adults. 

I looked for something that would be thrilling and entertaining and The Doll’s House is one everyone has heard of, but not many people have seen.

why rename it?

The original is set during Christmas and I have upped the ante slightly on the angle of providing the perfect Christmas and how the pressure makes the wife start to buckle.

Often men don’t take responsibility for the perfect Christmas, they just expect it to be there and don’t see the hard work. 

I had seen The Doll’s House and liked it, but when I read it again, I realised there was so much more to it.

It’s extraordinary how this was written about a Victorian couple but we could so easily be eavesdropping on any modern house.

There are the same kind of money worries, the same stresses and strains that come about when a family is thrown together so intensely in the festive period.

what’s the aim?

It shows that the struggle to get through Christmas is a sort of universal thing. It pulls on your heartstrings and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

Perhaps if we opened up the discussion a bit more there wouldn’t be the pressure to recreate the mystique of the perfect family Christmas with an elaborate dinner and a beautifully decorated house.

If it was more collaborative, there would be a shared responsibility for it.

what happens in the play?

The character is the perfect housewife, during the perfect Christmas. She’s got the perfect husband – he’s just been promoted – and perfect children. 

They are having a party and the house looks gorgeous, but to pay for it, she gets the equivalent of a payday loan. 

She didn’t quite make the payments back and due to a series of coincidences, the guy who organised the loan ends up at their house.

She becomes terrified her husband will find out and about the repercussions. Will he stand by her and be sympathetic? 

We see what she decides to do and what that says about their marriage.

is that a common scenario today?

I did some research and the main reason people divorce is money.

The main time the cracks begin to show is at Christmas.

So there’s a sort of double whammy of creating this amazing time, not spending too much, but also not being a Scrooge.

is it more stressful this year?

Yes. We are in the middle of an economic downturn and there is still the pressure to create the perfect Christmas.

You’re also worried about whether you’ve had the heating on too long. 

My elderly parents are certainly thinking twice about it.

The pressure has doubled down and you find yourself thinking: ‘What if it isn’t a great Christmas?‘ or ‘What’s wrong with me?

Why aren’t I happy like the rest of the world?’. In fact, the rest of the world is thinking the same.

The festive season is very strange like that. Coming in, you should be happy and making a fresh start. Also, 10 years ago who knew we all had a credit rating?

Suddenly it’s something you have to worry about. We are confined by something that’s almost entirely artificial and has been sort of forced on us.

what are you like at Christmas?

I’m a gay man in a relationship, so we don’t really have those same pressures, and we’ve often just taken ourselves off for a nice weekend or something. 

But I remember seeing it in my parents when I was growing up and looking back, I see things I didn’t understand as a kid. 

My grandma had quite severe, MS and my granddad was her main carer, but somehow on Christmas Day, he produced dinner for 12. That must have created a great amount of stress.

As kids we took it for granted.

what causes the stress?

Everyone wants their children to have the most magical Christmas.

Then there’s the pressure for the extended family to come together and siblings might not get on, but because its Christmas, you have to.

Very few people are motivated by just pleasing themselves at Christmas.

how has the Playhouse evolved?

After last Christmas, we took a break to think about how to do things better.

We used to set up a theatre in a different venue for each production, but decided it would be good to have a home, so people know where we are.

This is the second production in our new home at The Hithe. It’s a hub for startup businesses  and we’ve got one of the biggest studios upstairs.

We wouldn’t normally be able to afford it, but I approached them and made the case – because the owners are tuned into our philosophy of lifelong learning and trying to keep theatre alive, they have let us have it for just under market rent.

Rotherhithe Playhouse’s home at The Hithe

why did you want a home?

We used to move around because, as Covid lost its grip, there were lots of institutions and buildings, which needed to show the public they had opened again – a play was a good way of getting people through the doors.

That’s become less useful now and it’s more useful for the community to know there’s a place where every school holiday, there’ll be something for kids for free.

If people choose, they can come back and see some of the greatest plays ever written with tickets you can afford.

does the future feel more secure?

I think so. We’re very reliant on people’s goodwill and it’s taken a little while to build that up. We had a good momentum but then disappeared for six months so we need to build up the audience members again. 

This project is not entirely make-or-break, but if we can’t turn the corner with a production of The Wizard of Oz, then we are doing something wrong.

We’ll sit down at the end of this and look very carefully at the box office figures and hopefully, the books will tell us people are enjoying coming and we should continue. 

I suspect we will carry on. There’s enough interest in the project that we can keep building it. The ultimate goal is to get everyone paid properly and make it sustainable.

is The Christmas Wife a gamble?

Yes. Will people exhausted from work want to see it? I don’t know. The other reason I decided on The Wizard of Oz is that’s such a well-known title and hopefully, the 50 seats will fill themselves. 

It will be an added bonus if people come back for the drama, which will have 30 seats.

is it still a minimalist set?

Yes. I don’t want to do those great, long lumbering, stodgy productions with bits of scenery cranking about.

At its heart, this is about an audience sat around in a semicircle, with very good actors telling a story very clearly and carrying people along with it. 

is it hard to find actors these days?

The arts are still decimated after Covid, so many people have left the profession because there was no work and a lot of them have stayed in permanent jobs. 

There’s a shortage of actors who want to give up long-term stable employment to take a short-term contract.

We try to keep rehearsals and performances outside of office hours so it’s possible to maintain your survival job and also practice your craft.

do you still have a day job?

Yes, I’m still also a professional journalist, but this has become more my main job, although it doesn’t pay like it.

It wouldn’t operate without a high level of focus on my part. 

I’d like to delegate more, but you need a certain calibre of person that you are happy to leave things to.

We are so open to anyone getting involved. Even if you don’t have any experience and would like to volunteer,  we will teach you.

plans for 2023?

It is quite dependent on how people react to these plays. 

The only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that every holiday and half-term I want to do a piece of kids theatre where the tickets are free for kids so that they don’t just go to the theatre a couple of times during their childhood. 

I want it to be something they can do regularly so that it demystifies the process and it makes it feel natural and comfortable.

Read more: Greenwich Theatre villain takes the panto reins

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canary Wharf: How Clays is set to blast into Canary Wharf with its target shooting game

Virtual clay pigeon shooting venue is preparing to open its doors at Credit Suisse’s One Cabot Square

An artist’s impression of how Clays Canary Wharf will look

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“We know the game is the thing that captures you and why you want to come, but once you’re there we want people to feel that they don’t want to leave,” said Jon Calabrese, operations director at Clays.

The virtual shooting venue is set to open its second branch in Canary Wharf in December, following the success of its debut in Moorgate. 

The new bar will be located overlooking West India North Dock on the ground of One Cabot Square – a building it shares with Credit Suisse – and is set for an official launch in January.

It will offer 90-minute digital clay target shooting for groups of up to 22 people in semi-private or completely private pegs.

With five games to choose from, it’s the latest in a succession of hospitality businesses in Canary Wharf to put competitive socialising at the heart of their operation.

First Electric Shuffle opened with a 21st century take on shuffleboard and then the vast Fairgame joined it this year, with its nine funfair-themed games. 

It’s a trend that’s here to stay as people look for venues that offer other attractions besides food and drink.

“The foundation of what we’re doing is the target shooting game and the quality of that experience is really important to us,” said Jon.

“We wanted to make it as authentic as possible and it’s incredible.

“Clay target shooting is great and I would encourage anyone to go and try it.

Clays operations director Jon Calabrese

“What we wanted to do was to create something immersive in the heart of London that would reflect that experience.

“Players use real guns that have been decommissioned with all of our technology that tracks them and delivers accuracy to within less than a millimetre.

“The clays within the game are subject to wind, aerodynamics and gravity and players stand in front of a three by four-metre screen.

“It’s honestly as though you’re standing in the English countryside and we control the sound and images so we can adapt to the weather outside.

“In autumn, for example, you’ll see leaves falling. We’ll keep working on the experience to make it even better.”

Clays, which was founded by CEO Tom Snellock in 2019, is expanding its operation following the warm reception customers have given its Moorgate branch.

Jon said coming to Canary Wharf was an obvious decision for the business.

“I grew up in north-east London and I’ve been coming to the estate for about 20 years,” he said.

“Even then on a sunny day it was absolutely alive.

“I think there’s this perception with Canary Wharf that’s it’s very much a business district, and at the weekend it’s dead, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“There are incredible residential hubs locally, shopping areas, amazing hospitality operators here and the Elizabeth Line has just come in. 

“I think it’s one of the fastest moving parts of London and with the density of people here it’s a no-brainer. It’s almost better to ask: ‘Why wouldn’t you want to be here?’.”

While the game is central to Clays’ appeal, there’s more to the venue than blasting away at virtual targets.

As the son of celebrated bartender Salvatore Calabrese, Jon has a pretty robust background in hospitality but initially spent time pursuing a different path.

Having embarked on a career in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, he joined the Met after a former girlfriend’s father – who happened to be on the murder squad – turned Jon’s head with stories of his work.

But, having worked as a police  officer in Newham for three years, the world of restaurants, bars and hotels proved irresistible and quite a contrast to his time wearing a uniform.

One of the pegs at Clays’ Moorgate branch

“When I came to hospitality in 2009, it was anarchy – chaos,” he said.

“People would work hard and be rewarded with management roles – then they’d have to work out how to do them.

“That meant often you’d either get people with authoritarian approaches or micro managers because they’d have imposter syndrome, which was weird.

“At Clays we have a career tree approach that means we will give people the skills and knowledge they need to be a departmental expert and to hone your craft.

“We won’t hinder you if you want to move between departments and try different things either.

“Ultimately we want to grow a business with culture, consistency and expertise so we can deliver on customers’ expectations at a very high level of quality.

“We want people to come to Clays for the game, but then to stay for the food and drink they’ve enjoyed alongside that experience.

“On the drinks side we use techniques such as clarification to produce crystal clear liquids we can pour like a coke but that have an amazing taste and mouth feel.

“That means we can maintain our rapid speed of service without sacrificing quality.

“These are the kinds of things you only see in small artisan bars.

“Our cocktails are signatures and what is important for us is the quality of ingredients and that our drinks reflect the British countryside using produce grown and created in this country wherever possible”

Players use real decommissioned shotguns to play

Wharfers can expect tipples such as Clay Burst, a sweet and sour pink gin creation, Jack’s Orchard, combining the taste of toffee apples with a whisky kick, and the Precision Punch, a banana spiced rum cocktail.

Food-wise, Clays will serve a menu created by culinary director Roger Olsson formerly of The Dorchester, The Ritz and Pied A Terre.

Dishes include Sweetcorn Ribs with paprika salt and a lemon and chilli dip, Cobble Lane Charcuterie and “KFC” tempura cauliflower as well as Loaded Breads topped with Middle Eastern, Indian and Italian flavours.

Jon said where possible Clays would use produce for the UK with a focus on sustainability, quality and provenance.

“We know the farms where our vegetables are grown and our meat is produced and the boats that catch our fish,” he said.

“You’ll find old favourites like scotch eggs and the calamari is melt-in your mouth.

“Everything is made in-house – it’s about elevating the calibre of the experience.

“Next year we’ll be installing an outdoor terrace so guests will walk in through green foliage, an outdoor bar and past heated tables.

“Then the venue itself is on several levels.

“There will be a tree house where a DJ will play, a reception desk with living moss under a glass top, a bar with a 3D scene that plays on the English countryside and the pegs themselves.

“The main bar is at the far end of the venue and looks over to West India Quay. There are also three pegs that can be closed off privately with bi-fold doors for private parties when needed.”

Clays is taking bookings from December 13 online.

The Canary Wharf branch has eight pegs with off-peak bookings for small groups starting at £30 for an hour’s play.

Peak rates for groups of six to 22 cost £70 for 90 minutes of play.

Jon and the team have developed the drinks menu at Clays

Read more: How British Land is set to build a new town centre at Canada Water

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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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Canada Water: How British Land is building a new, 53-acre town centre for Rotherhithe

As the first concrete cores rise, we take a snapshot of the mammoth mixed regeneration project

An artist’s impression of British Land’s new bridge over Canada Water

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Before we begin our walk across the 53 acres that British Land (BL) is regenerating on Rotherhithe peninsula, Roger Madelin indulges in a raspberry croissant at Canada Water Cafe (only £2.70 for those who fancy a treat).

The place is packed. Local residents are meeting, chatting and working at tables. It’s the kind of image developers like to mock up on computers to show the thriving neighbourhoods their schemes will hopefully create.

It’s also cause for Roger to reflect on the fact that BL has a very rare opportunity at Canada Water – a project it describes as a chance to “build London’s first new town centre in 50 years” at the heart of a mature, expectant community. 

Carpeted with mostly suburban housing in the first flush of Docklands regeneration, the area is already home to residents, increasingly attracted by its close proximity to both the central London and Canary Wharf, thanks to the Jubilee line, but also to east and south London via the Overground.

Roger tells me it’s within 45 minutes of more places in the capital than anywhere else.

As joint head of Canada Water at BL, there’s a glint in his eye as he talks about the firm’s ambitions for the area.

Having spent 29 years at developer Argent overseeing the projects across the country such as Brindleyplace in Birmingham and the rebirth of King’s Cross in north London, there’s a sense that he couldn’t quite resist this one.

“BL noticed I was leaving Argent and asked if I wanted to come and run Canada Water,” he said.

“At first I was sceptical, I didn’t want to do a residential development, which is what I thought it would be.

“But then I came down here and realised it would be an opportunity to build a new town centre – what an extraordinary privilege.

“Then you get to ask what that is and I think it’s about health, environment and sustainability.

“Everyone in the world should regard urban places as very important and I think both Canada Water and Canary Wharf can be exemplars for how to reposition areas as urban centres.”

British Land’s joint head of Canada Water, Roger Madelin

While Canary Wharf continues its transition from pure business district to a place that’s home to companies, residential housing and a potent blend of leisure and hospitality attractions, Canada Water is still in the first chapter of its journey.

Concrete cores are rising on the first of its new buildings, which will include a new leisure centre for the area and social housing on the site’s eastern periphery. 

But these first structures are very much the vanguard in what will be a transformation of a plot that includes the whole of Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, the old Harmsworth Quay Printworks and connects Southwark Park with Greenland Dock and Russia Dock Woodland.

“With the planning permission we have, we can create a new urban centre,” said Roger.

“We have the ability to flex from 3million sq ft of commercial space to 4million – likewise we can build a minimum of 2,000 homes or a maximum of just under 4,000.

“Similarly, we can build up to 1million sq ft of retail and leisure space – we may not do that, but it will be a substantial amount. With the current shopping centre and leisure park, the area has about 350,000sq ft.

“As an overview, we’ll have about 35 new buildings, 20 acres of new public space and a 3.5-acre park.

“Many of our buildings will be five storeys high to protect the view of St Paul’s from Greenwich, so this will be on a human scale and I think that will attract people.

“The development I was involved with at King’s Cross has more people going there at weekends than to work during the week.

“There are dozens of places around London that are teeming with people on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s great for people that live in them, but we also want people living outside to come here and enjoy themselves.”

British Land intends to preserve The Printworks building as a cultural venue

That attitude has doubtless been bolstered by the success of event and music venue Printworks, which has seen Harmsworth Quays’ immense press halls regularly fill with revellers enjoying some of the very best electronic music in London.

While originally conceived as a temporary use for the vast building in partnership with Broadwick Live, the plan is now to preserve the venue as part of the overall scheme, enclosing and enlarging the existing building and creating a park next to it.

“I credit my wife entirely for the decision to explore retaining the whole building,” said Roger.

“She and I walked round here in the summer of 2015 and she immediately saw the amazing opportunity it presented and asked what we were going to do with it.

“I said the assumption was that we would knock it down because it looked a bit harsh but she said we shouldn’t because nothing like it would get built again.

“Today, of course, you’d start with that assumption because of all the embodied carbon in the building.

“That was a little in my mind at the time, but not as much as today, when the view is where possible you don’t touch existing buildings.

“So, after three years of investigations – drilling, digging and studying – we’re pretty confident it was built a lot better than we even hoped, so we have applied for planning permission to keep it and extend it.

“If that’s successful, we’ll aim to be opening it by the end of 2025 – an amazing cultural venue to complement the others in the city.

“We already know the acoustics are extraordinary, whether it’s an electronic music event or a BBC Prom, both of which have been hosted there.”

Another artist’s impression of how The Printworks could look

This article is, naturally, far too short to do justice to the extent and depth of BL’s Canada Water project.

Even a brief walk to its borders reveals the sheer scale of the project, with plans for a new pedestrian bridge across Canada Water itself, which will also include work to boost wetland habitats and see the water level pumped up.

Already there’s been space made for charitable endeavours, work to help boost startups and a facelift for Surrey Quays Shopping Centre itself, including wallball courts and a new climbing wall.

Then there’s investment in a modular building for TEDI-London – a new higher education enterprise co-funded by King’s College London, Arizona State University and UNSW Sydney and focused on engineering – that was erected in only six weeks.

While some of these are temporary benefits, they significantly add to the buzz of the area and provide a flavour of BL’s direction of travel as the wider project continues to unfold.

“If we could do something here with applied engineering higher education, that would excite me,” said Roger.

“How we deal with the world always involves engineers sorting stuff out and I think, in the UK, the sector has had a bad rap in the past. 

“The other things I think are crucial is what we do with the new high street, which will be along Deal Porters Way – what it means to build a space like that now and how we create the public spaces and routes to the amazing parks, docks and woods that are already here.

“We want to make it so that if you have nothing on your agenda for the weekend and you want to stay in London, then you’ll just go to Canada Water and all the amazing stuff that’s there.

“King’s Cross is great – I think this will be bigger, better and greener from a public space point of view.”

An artist’s impression of the first phase from Canada Water station

Read more: Discover the 2022 Greenwich Theatre panto

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Creative Virtual’s Gluon software is next level for chatbot tech

Founder and CEO of the Cannon Workshops-based company, Chris Ezekiel, talks global growth

Creative Virtual founder and CEO Chris Ezekiel – image Matt Grayson

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All in all, 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for Chris Ezekiel and Creative Virtual – the company he founded on the Isle Of Dogs in November 2003. In 12 months time, he and his colleagues will be celebrating its 20th birthday.

But before that happens, there’s the small matter of becoming a father for the second time and – business-wise – the firm is set for a major release of its V-Person software, named Gluon.

The software is the platform that has allowed Creative Virtual to grow into a global concern, from its base next to Canary Wharf at Cannon Workshops

From there, housed in the honey brick of the Grade II listed former cooperage beside West India Quay, Chris and his team compete with the likes of Microsoft, IBM and Google in the field of conversational artificial intelligence (AI).

Together, they have built a business with global reach, servicing clients across the world including the likes of HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group – one of the firm’s first clients and still a customer today. 

In 2022, Creative Virtual has operations in the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, Singapore and in India. It’s a Docklands business trading with the world.

“We’re still independent, which is a bit unusual for a tech company in the fast-paced world of AI,” said Chris.

“I always started it for the long-term, and over the years we’ve had quite a few offers to purchase the company, which I continue to refuse.

“I’m just enjoying it and we’re competing in that area we’re operating in – conversational AI is all the rage now.

“For me, it’s about working with incredible people who are passionate about innovation, creativity and technology – some things are more important than money.

“We don’t have investors so what we do isn’t linked to their short term goals.

“While Elon Musk has recently bought Twitter, I reflected the other day that he could not buy Creative Virtual. It’s great to have that independence.”

The company’s position comes through its success developing and implementing chatbots for clients. 

These might be used by a firm’s customers, employees or its customer services personnel as a resource to assist clients.

Gluons hold quarks together at a subatomic level so they can become atoms and ultimately everything in the universe

With almost 20 years in business and numerous accolades – among them a Queen’s Award For Industry in 2017 – Chris said the company continued to prioritise innovation, investing its profits to grow.

“It was always the dream to become a global company,” he said. “But you don’t often get a chance to step back and consider what you’ve built.

“We pride ourselves on having a really quirky, passionate team – a really eclectic mix of individuals. It also allows us to be adaptable and to work in markets all around the world.

“Travelling to these different locations really brings it home and having the fantastic customers we do really helps. 

“Being able to explore creativity and innovation with those companies and partners has been amazing over the years. It’s what keeps us going.”

That ongoing drive has resulted in Gluon, which Chris said would be the foundation of Creative Virtual’s work for many years to come.

It’s aptly named after an elementary particle that holds quarks together to form subatomic particles such as protons and neutrons – the basis for atoms and ultimately everything in the universe.

It’s also a reflection of the Creative Virtual founder and CEO’s love of physics.

“I have a picture of Richard Feynman above my desk with his quote that you should not fool yourself and that you’re also the easiest person to fool,” said Chris.

“That’s something I always focus on because it’s really important to keep things in perspective, to keep them real.

“With Gluon we’re very excited because, while we do small software releases every month or so and major ones roughly every 12 months, this is the kind that only comes along once every four years.”

Gluon as software bears some similarities to gluon particles in that they both connect elements to create something of greater complexity and function.

Gluon is designed to work within the composable enterprise system

“First of all, the new software allows us to integrate our system with lots of other systems at a large enterprise,” said Chris.

“That might include CRM systems and data management systems, for example. 

“There’s a lot of buzz around AI and we’ve seen chatbots that use machine learning as a black box without any control over the responses the system is giving.

“We’ve always taken a different path, combining AI with humans overseeing the system, and Gluon will make that easier.

“The way we’re combining those two elements is unique in the industry and Gluon makes it super easy for organisations to use.

“The way it’s configured and the reports that come out of it make it really efficient and also controllable.

“There’s also a lot of interest in something called the ‘Composable Enterprise’ which is all about plugging systems together.

“Gluon fits perfectly into that to become a key piece of the jigsaw.

“We intend to launch in the early part of next year. We already have a test version available and have done 50 demonstrations so far.

“The feedback has been incredible. We sell direct to customers, but we also work through some partners in the world and everybody’s been unanimous in their positive responses.

“It’s a great way to develop, because the feedback is very specific.

“Taking our time is very important, because we’ve been able to listen to what people are saying while we are developing the software.

“We can be more flexible with our customers because we don’t have pressure from investors.

“It’s funny for me on a personal level, because people wondered whether having a 16-month-old now and another on the way in February would change my view about the company and whether it would be time to sell – but it hasn’t one little bit.

“I am often asked how difficult it is to separate the business from my personal life, but my view is that you should give up doing that because it stresses you out.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to build it into your life – it is your life and you have to find a way to do that.

“Having a supportive group of people around you, both inside work and outside, and having some hobbies and interests is essential. I snowboard and watch West Ham to relax.

“But at the end of the day business is business, you shouldn’t take it too seriously.

“That might sound odd from someone who has to pay all the bills and make sure the people who work for me can pay their bills – but knowing there are more important things in the world keeps me level-headed.

“It’s a balance and as long as you can say overall you’re happy with that balance, then you’re in a good place.

“That’s why I can’t imagine retiring.”

Read more: Discover the 2022 Greenwich Theatre panto

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How The Cocktail Club offers Wharfers a place to party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We wrote it post-lockdown,” said JJ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is carefully choreographed wildness and it’s great. 

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

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

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

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

Wandercrust founder Gavin Dunn is running Kerb Social Enterprise

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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

A year ago, Kerb made a radical change. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During that time it received 750 applications for Inkerbator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greenwich: How photographer Lorenzo Garrido is helping people capture the area

Born in Greenwich, the 28-year-old leads small groups of snappers in tours to take in the best sites

Lorenzo’s tours cover major sites in Maritime Greenwich

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Photographer Lorenzo Garrido never leaves his Greenwich home without a camera. He has thousands, perhaps millions, of photographs to show for it.

Most – from his childhood holidays right through to the eerie days of empty lockdown streets – sit undeveloped and unseen.

They have taken a back seat to his career, which has seen him photograph the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and shoot campaigns for brands such as USC.

But while he is yet to fully showcase his collection to the world, he is about to start sharing the expertise he has gleaned from creating them.

The 28-year-old has launched a business, Greenwich Photo Tours, offering others an insight into favourite spots on his home turf and the best ways to capture them through a lens.

“I walk around with my camera all the time,” said Lorenzo.

“If I’m just stepping out of the house to have a stroll, or whatever, I’ll always have my camera with me. 

“Greenwich is such a beautiful, picturesque space and, when I researched, I found nobody was doing a tour like this here.

“I wanted to take my expertise from my day job and bring it into a community space and put the two areas of my life together.”

Born and raised in Greenwich, he first began capturing images as a child.

Greenwich-based photographer Lorenzo Garrido

“My dad bought me a Polaroid camera when I was like 10 years old and straight away I was pretty obsessed,” said Lorenzo.

“I have a vivid memory of taking it on a Year Seven trip to France and shooting some pictures.

“I started doing street photography when I was about 16 and it opened up into this whole other world – that this could actually be your job.

“I just kind of stuck at it and went with it.”

Photography wasn’t a course option at his college, but Lorenzo studied art and design instead and just kept on clicking.

Despite his obsession with taking photographs and having his own darkroom at home, Lorenzo said most of the photos he takes in his spare time never see the light of day.

“I have a lot of work that I can’t even remember,” he said. “Heaps of negatives and undeveloped rolls of film that I have from over the years and I have no idea what’s on them.

“I’m just sitting on an insane amount of photographs.

“I’m sure they would serve some purpose to someone down the line, perhaps when they’re trying to look back at what it was like in the mid 2000s.”

Lorenzo said it was hard to find the time to organise his archive alongside his busy career.

He went freelance full-time in 2016 and has built up a name for himself in the music and fashion industries – mostly by word of mouth.

“I think being a Londoner, you have circles of friends that you grew up with and you get referred and brought in on jobs and then, if it goes well, you get more jobs,” he said.

“I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve not really had to chase work much or really rely on using things like social media.”

The tours cover a range of styles including street photography

In fact, search online and you won’t find much evidence of his commercial work, as he prefers to operate discreetly.

But recently he has shot a documentary at the Dr Martens factory in Northampton and was waste-deep in a lake in Snowdonia to shoot a campaign for brand USC.

One of his biggest clients is Sony Music.

“I do a lot of album artwork and press shots, headshots,” said Lorenzo.

“You do end up rubbing shoulders with a lot of people but I avoid name dropping at all costs, so I’ve probably just taught myself to push it all down.”

When nudged he does reveal a pretty big name though.

“I was on a job with Cristiano Ronaldo last week and he turned out to be a nice guy,” he said. 

“The other 95% of the time, people have diva behaviour but I just keep my head down”.

He is now adding another string to his bow with the launch of his tours, created with support from Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency (GCDA).

Customers will be taught the basics such as how shutter speeds, apertures, depth and exposure can affect a photograph.

Lorenzo will also give guidance on how to alter composition using techniques such as angles perspective.

He will then lead clients on a route around Greenwich, starting at Borough Hall and ending at the market.

“There’s no end to the different types of characters that are about during the weekend,” said Lorenzo.

His most visited spot – the Old Royal Naval College – will also be included.

“It’s hands down my favourite,” he said.

“Especially this time of year when the autumnal light is  low and gold and dances around.  You can’t really take a bad picture there.”

Lorenzo is confident he has explored every part of Greenwich but said it still holds his interest and probably always will.

“I wanted to keep the tour very specific about the local community where I live because Greenwich is just such a beautiful place,” he said.

“It hasn’t been touched by gentrification too much so it’s kind of old school and I’m a bit of an old soul so I think that kind of works out.

“But London is always changing. When it does, you can rediscover it, which is pretty cool.”

Canary Wharf viewed from Greenwich Park

THE NITTY GRITTY

The two-hour tours are for those with their own digital or film camera.

They run every Saturday from 11am-1pm and cost £60 per person with a maximum of four people per tour.

The three-mile route starts at Borough Hall clock tower in Greenwich High Road and skirts around the market so people can try out street photography.

Next it will head to the Cutty Sark and along the riverside to the Old Royal Naval College.

Here the focus will shift to architectural photography and composition and clients will have five minutes to wander around.

Then it will be over to The Cutty Sark pub for river views before heading up Maze Hill and through the park to the observatory for a hill-top lesson on landscapes.

From there the tour will head back down into town for more street photography at the market.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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Canary Wharf: How In2Sports provides facilities for the whole community

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

In2Sports director Callum Wear
In2Sports director Callum Wear

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Harbord Square has got a secret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In2Sports’ crossfit-style gym area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Training Room can serve many functions at the venue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the changing rooms at In2Sports

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Blackwall: How UWS’s London campus at Republic wants to tap into the community

University Of The West Of Scotland looks to connect with local businesses and organisations

The University Of The West Of Scotland's London campus is located at Republic in Blackwall
The University Of The West Of Scotland’s London Campus is located at Republic in Blackwall

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“This area is lively – a part of the regeneration of London – it’s fun and it’s got far more going on than other parts of the capital so I’m really glad we came here,” said Lucie Pollard, director of the University Of The West Of Scotland’s London Campus.

UWS’s southern base arrived at Republic in Blackwall just as the pandemic was beginning and is finally getting a chance to settle into its new home, following the various lockdowns.

“Where we were before, near London Bridge, students said that they didn’t like being in an office block,” said Lucie.

“But the buildings here don’t feel like that at all and having the other universities here with us makes it a really exciting place – almost a multi-versity.”

UWS’s roots date back more than 100 years to its foundation in Paisley and the university is well-known in Scotland, recently being named Higher Education Institution Of The Year for 2022 at The Herald Higher Education Awards.

“That’s the Oscars of Scottish higher education, so it’s very important for us institutionally,” said Lucie.

“We’re a really innovative organisation, which goes back to our roots in terms of supporting the local community and businesses – creating degrees that allow students to take up employment easily and also welcoming more mature students than any other university.

“Creating a London campus in 2015 was all about bringing that space we occupy in Scotland to the capital, growing our international reputation and providing a place for students from overseas who want to study here.

“We have people from around 60 different countries studying at this campus and they have so much to offer. It’s our aim to be more community-facing, to work with local authorities and businesses based here.

“I believe that will be of great benefit, because our students have so much knowledge, so many skills and languages and an understanding of cultural nuances from their varied backgrounds. 

UWS London Campus director Lucie Pollard
UWS London Campus director Lucie Pollard

“That means they can be a real asset to the local community, whether that’s working with businesses or doing voluntary work here.

“I’m really keen for them to have work experience in different firms and we’d love to talk to organisations locally to create micro-placements.

“That could be two weeks or six weeks – it really depends on the project.

“We’re especially interested in talking to small and medium-size businesses who may want help with projects – it means our students will gain far more in terms of understanding the strategic work that companies do, than they will from a placement at a much larger firm.”

 UWS’s London campus offers a range of courses including undergraduate degrees in business and health studies, an extensive selection of business, education and administration-focused masters qualifications and, from April next year, PhD programmes.

“We also offer courses with Continuing Professional Development (CDP) accreditation, especially in AI and data analytics because those are areas where people need to upskill,” said Lucie, who spent nearly two decades working in various roles at the University Of Greenwich, before making the move to UWS in 2017.

“There are a lot of people in business who have risen over the years and suddenly realise there’s a whole load of tech that they have limited understanding of and need to find out about fast.

“They can do that very quickly by plugging into CPD. We’ve also identified the areas of sustainability, equality and diversity, where there’s a similar need.

“Those courses could be delivered digitally, in person or a mixture of the two.

“Our university strategy up to 2025 was launched in January 2020, just before the pandemic, and it was all about hybrid teaching.

“Covid became a real catalyst for us – we’re making the best use of technology.

“We’ve invested in new digital platforms for the students and we’ve got a huge digital transformation project that’s ongoing.

The university has space in Republic's Import and Export buildings
The university has space in Republic’s Import and Export buildings

“We find students are very discerning about what they want on campus.

“We don’t want everything to be online because we’re not the Open University. 

“Our students want some things online so they can access them wherever they are, but they also want things on campus that are really authentic and immersive.

“After all, you don’t want to spend money coming in and then just listen to someone reading out a Powerpoint slide. It’s also vital to build a network of contacts who will be with you for a very long time.

“On an operations level, moving to an institution where the other campuses are 400 miles away was an interesting challenge.

“I’m not sure why we didn’t use Teams before Covid, but having that now has been really refreshing – it’s so easy to jump on a call and be in a virtual meeting.

“The pandemic has made tech more responsive.”

Responding to people’s needs is very much the guiding principle at UWS, as its staff work to provide the best experience possible for those taking its courses.

“When I was at Greenwich, I’d been an academic and I’d worked in the more professional service areas,” said Lucie.

“I do finance, I do HR and I understand students’ needs.

“So to work at UWS where students always come first is really rewarding. We really do feel passionately that we are here for those who are taking our courses.

Courses at UWS are delivered via hybrid teaching – a mix of face-to-face sessions and online
Courses at UWS are delivered via hybrid teaching – a mix of face-to-face sessions and online

“My daughter watches Gordon Ramsay – although I don’t know why – and he always makes it clear that the most important person is the customer. We have the same philosophy here.

“That makes a real difference to your mindset – you spend your time thinking that the student is more important than the vice-chancellor – and it really does work.

“Communication is really important too, so we make sure that we’re really clear to students that we know what it means for them to come here – the challenges involved in relocating to a different country – and making sure it’s a welcoming space.

“We recently held our graduation ceremony and that’s always great because you get to see the end result – the students come up and tell you about the great experiences they’ve had.

“UWS is somewhere they get to meet people from lots of different backgrounds, where they get supported by the staff in London, but can also tap into the research that’s happening in Scotland.

“It’s a journey – they’ve typically come over from another country and that can be daunting. Then they find support among new friends and almost become part of a new family.

“We hope during their time with us that they get the knowledge, skills and expertise they need to go out and make a huge impact in the societies they want to work in.

“I’m old and spent years in one institution before moving to another.

“Now people move jobs every year or every three years, and they need to be world-ready to work in this country, the US, Australia or their countries of origin.

“Having those skills is really important.”

With lockdowns and Covid restrictions in the past, UWS is bedding into life at Republic and seeking to forge new links with local businesses.

“One of the ways we can do that is though our CPD programme,” said Sadiq Islam, business manager for the university’s London Campus.

“We’re keen for our name to be known as widely as possible and, by building relationships through our CPD courses, we’re able to create partnerships for student placements by engaging with those companies.”

He said UWS was currently offering a subsidised Help To Grow Management Course – a 12-week programme aimed at senior leaders in small and medium-sized businesses to help their organisations thrive and grow.

The Government covers 90% of the cost of the course which involves 50 hours of training and one-to-one mentoring, delivered on a flexible basis, both online and face-to-face.

Firms, which must have been operating for more than a year and have five or more employees, then pay a fee of £750.

The university has students from around 60 different countries
The university has students from around 60 different countries

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Bermondsey: How Disturbance at Ugly Duck gives a platform to artists

Event showcases marginalised and emerging LGBTQIA+ creatives in a former warehouse

Iranian Gisou Golshani is set to perform at Disturbance

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Iranian artist Gisou Golshani left their home in Tehran to escape the country’s repressive regime.

The 24-year-old came to London and will be part of this year’s Disturbance event, which champions LGBTQIA+ artists.

 It runs at Ugly Duck in Bermondsey from November 10-12, 2022 and Gisou will be drawing on their Persian heritage for a multi-sensory, immersive installation and performance.

We sat down with them to find out more.

the show

My performance will explore the story of a melancholic Persian bird, called the bittern, through an immersive film and sound installation and intuitive body movements.

I’m hoping the space and performance will allow audiences to listen introspectively, to reflect on the story of this bird, and to make their personal interpretations of the work.

their inspiration

I have been researching melancholia for the past few years, and recently came across the story of this semi-mythical Persian bird, which is somewhat looked down upon for its melancholia. I felt the urge to look into this melancholy from a new perspective.

the aim

I hope people will be inspired to learn more about Persian symbolism and mythology. 

I want viewers to feel encouraged to make their own interpretations about what they see, hear and feel.

There’s not only one way that you can interpret the work and every interpretation and thought that comes up during or after the performance is valid and worth thinking about. 

why Disturbance?

I attended the last showcase and was captivated by the performances. I thought it would be a great opportunity to test ideas in a new setting and get guidance from experienced professionals.

Ugly Duck’s space in Bermondsey

the challenge

The biggest for me is to believe in an idea that initially comes up. After some time, I find my flow and start working without doubting myself. 

Sometimes, it takes time to believe in a project or find purpose in what I want to do or what I think I want to do. 

But when I get myself immersed through having conversations with people or finding research material that interests me, I feel driven and stop questioning why I’m doing something.  

leaving Iran

I’ve known I wanted to do something creative since I was very young.

Growing up in Tehran, at some point in my teens, I felt it would be very difficult to push for original and provocative ideas, to be able to express myself in a society where there is so much surveillance and censorship. 

I visited London and it presented an opportunity for me to express myself more freely, as a creative queer Iranian. 

the protests

Initially, I found it strange that my residency and showcase with Disturbance was coinciding with protests in Iran.

I felt as if anything I might do during this time wouldn’t compare to people’s resistance in the streets. 

However, I feel so empowered and hopeful watching the feminist uprisings.

Beyond the story of the bittern, my performance is also about how mismanagement of the Islamic regime has caused exhaustion of Iran’s water resources. 

So I feel what I am investigating and researching during this residency is in direct dialogue with the current protests.

Ugly Duck creative director Deen Atger

CREATING A DISTURBANCE

“It’s something we started as a really small experiment during the pandemic, when LGBTQIA+ artists couldn’t continue their work and were in limbo,” said Deen Atger, creative director of Ugly Duck and founder of Disturbance.

That first event in October 2020 came about after he spent hours scrolling the internet and decided he wanted to find a way to continue sharing the creativity he saw online and happening at Ugly Duck.

It saw three performers and three video artists perform to an audience of 25 in person, and 250 through a live stream. 

The idea was to take artists out of their bedrooms and adapt their performances for the camera, to reach a wider audience.

This year will see the fourth edition of Disturbance take place and, with support from Arts Council England, it has evolved into a three-day event. 

It will include live performances at Ugly Duck’s Tanner Street space, a day of live streaming on November 11, 2022, and an online portal where people will be able to access work made during the workshops and films made during the performances.

The live streaming aspect has been developed with Rob Hall from the start and Deen said it was an artistic work in its own right.

“He doesn’t just film the show, he is also live editing and has a very strong artistic take on what the online viewer is seeing,” said Deen, who has also been working with set designers to help transform Tanner Street into something new and surprising for audiences. 

Since Ugly Duck took on the empty Victorian warehouse in 2012, the organisation has transformed the space into a thriving, creative hub where it has collaborated with more than 1,500 artists. 

This work continues, with Deen adding a development programme to this year’s Disturbance

It will include a residency and training in topics like how to talk about their work and how to make sure it’s accessible.

“A lot of the artists, especially the younger ones, have really good artistic training, but haven’t necessarily learnt how to go into a professional world,” said Deen. 

“I think it’s really important to help them with that so they can become less marginalised.”

Ugly Duck, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, had more than 120 applications for this year’s programme. 

The final 10 were chosen by a panel and will be mentored by creatives who have taken part in the programme previously – another way Deen is trying to grow their support system.

“We are very focused on elevating underrepresented voices – artists who are not always at the forefront of contemporary art,” he said.

“It is very important for me to make sure Disturbance is not just an isolated thing.

“I’m trying to develop an ecosystem, where artists come back as juries and speakers and mentors who are upskilling and still developing.

“It’s very much thanks to artists who took part in the first event, when we didn’t have much funding, that we got to where we are.

“So it’s very important for me to continue getting them involved.”

PART OF THE DISTURBANCE

Disabled, queer video artist Olivia Morrison presents Hug Me Properly following young, queer people on a night out as they discuss how their lives changed during the pandemic

Revisiting their marginalised queer experience of growing up in southern China, River Cao will create a series of self-narrative spaces to rethink the emotions of grief.

Non-binary trans-masculine person Orlando Myxx presents film The Plastic Drag, investigating how a new wave of diverse drag artists is redefining the art of drag and its subversive potential.

Talia Beale’s To Trudge In Zundon explores how film could subvert ideas about housing estates and addresses new voices of creative, queer kids who live in blocks of flats.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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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