BelEve aims to help girls and young women achieve their dreams

Co-founders Marsha and Chyloe Powell talk inspiration from their mother, love and possibility

Image shows two women with black hair, the one on the left in a black jacket and white top and the one on the right in a white button up shirt. They are, Chyloe, left, and Marsha Powell of charity BelEve
Chyloe, left, and Marsha Powell of charity BelEve

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Marsha Powell grew up in Brockley with the flashing light on top One Canada Square visible from her bedroom window.

Despite starting her career with only GCSEs on her CV, she made it to the estate, working in HR for the Financial Services Authority (now the Financial Conduct Authority) for more than 13 years.

“I’d done work experience in human resources and it was my dream to work in that sector,” she said.

“When I joined the FSA aged 19, I decided that was what I wanted to do and, through hard work, I was afforded that opportunity.

“I made sure I had good mentors and cheerleaders and I went back to college, did my degree and a masters, and that put me in a good place educationally on the career path.

“I also had two children at that time.

“I became an HR business partner, living my dream, and supporting people like Andrew Bailey – who’s now the governor of the Bank Of England.

“I was working at 25 North Colonnade in Canary Wharf and it was at the time when the FSA was being separated from the Bank.

“I had to decide whether I wanted to stay or go as my role was moving to the City.”

It was also a period of great tragedy in Marsha’s personal life.

BelEve, inspired by a tragedy

“My mother, Delores Diana Hay, had been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer and, about 10 weeks later, she passed,” said Marsha.

“My sisters, Chyloe, Rochelle and me had been talking about developing a mentoring programme for girls before my mum died, and her death gave me the opportunity to be bold.

“I had a bit of money to try something and two children – a daughter aged 10 and a son aged five.

“For me, it was either do this now or never.  

“That’s how BelEve was born, on my dining room table – I just used all my transferable skills and started it with the help of my sisters.

“We keep our mum’s name alive through our organisation, and through our pain has come purpose.”

Working with girls and young women aged eight to 22, the charity has supported more than 20,000 people, offering support, education, guidance and positive solutions.

It aims to offer opportunities to those it works with, intending to boost their confidence, self-esteem and skill sets as well as giving them access to inspirational role models to help unlock their full potential.

Image shows an image of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, a stainless steel-clad office block below a blue sky.
Marsha grew up with the light from One Canada Square blinking in her window

core values

“We founded the charity because we wanted to use all the core values our mum taught us such as sisterhood and love,” said Chyloe, BelEve’s chief finance officer.

“We teach the girls that if they can lead themselves first, then they can have confidence and have all the attributes which they need to lead others around them.

“I worked in fashion for 12 years.

“Then, like Marsha, when we found out mum was ill, it changed my perspective on things.

“When she passed away, I realised that what I was doing was not meaningful – anyone can buy clothes.

“I felt I needed a bit of a break to process what had happened.

“We were all really young and it was challenging to navigate life without someone who had been our anchor.

“It got to a point where I wasn’t really enjoying work any more, so Marsha suggested I should just leave and join her.

“We grew up in south-east London and we work mostly in Lewisham, Southwark and Greenwich.

“We know that deprivation is high in these areas, so we wanted to offer something that wasn’t a cost to the parents – that young people could get free of charge.

“Our programmes are free to young people and we get funding through sponsorship or donations.

“BelEve is about feeding back into the local ecosystem of our community.

“We wanted to make sure that young people were not stuck because of their beginnings, to give them options and opportunities.

“About 80% of the girls we work with are black or from ethnic minorities and we want them to see role models that look like them – you can’t be what you can’t see.

“In Brockley where we grew up there’s an affluent part and an area with an estate.

“We want to assure the girls and young women we work with that starting on the estate side doesn’t mean you can’t cross over to the area with the coffee shops.

“Often those we work with are the first in their families to go to university and get high paid jobs – which has an impact on everyone. We want that effect to be systemic in those families.”

from HR to CEO at BelEve

For Marsha, who runs the charity as CEO, BelEve is about generating those opportunities as well as helping those it works with see themselves in roles at large firms and organisations.

She said: “I worked in HR for a long time and diversity and inclusion has long been a thing.

“But for some organisations it was a quota – a top-down, rather than bottom-up approach to that commitment.  

“I do think the George Floyd situation and the emergence of Black Lives Matter was a big shift in that space.

“I think a lot of white execs were suddenly thinking they had a lot of responsibility – that they couldn’t say they were supporting diversity when they weren’t actually doing much about it.

“Has it changed the way that organisations recruit? I think younger people are very committed to it.

“For example, I’ve been to so many panels where people openly say they are autistic or have ADHD.

“People would never have talked about that in a workplace before, but now it’s accepted and we’re working in a diverse space where we can employ anyone and can get the best from them.

“Ultimately it’s always about the bottom line and difference always brings profit.

“At BelEve, everything we do is centred around love because, when you have a sense of belonging, then anything is possible.

“We deliver workshops in primary and secondary schools. We also deliver mentoring and what is important to us is that girls get an opportunity to experience true role models.

“If you want to work in the city, then you need to meet the women who work there.

“I have got a good network and a lot of that has come from my time working in Canary Wharf.

“It’s about creating opportunities and experiences for girls to see how they can create career prospects, which can ultimately improve their life chances.

“That is all very big, but it is doable with the right support, the right network, the right opportunities and experiences. I use myself as a blueprint.”

transformative possibilities

“We are selling hope, possibility and transformation,” added Marsha.

“We’re always looking for women who are prepared to give time and share their experiences.

“Luckily for us we have a good array of people who want to give back to the next generation.

“The most beautiful thing is when you see a young girl who is displaying low confidence coming to a workshop and blossoming like a flower or a butterfly.

“That change is so rewarding.

“I’m not even thinking about the business side, I’m thinking about the lives that we’ve touched – the girls whose prospects have altered dramatically through our intervention.

“We had an event in March and one of the girls stood up and spoke on stage.

“She said that she’d joined BelEve at 14, was very shy and not even thinking about university.

“Now, at 19, she’s going to Cambridge, and that’s because she had a mentor through our organisation.

“She’d had so much opportunity because people around her made her believe she could do it.”

seeing the results

Chyloe added: “One of our success stories is partnering with the Civil Service who contacted us because they’d seen women from black and ethnic minorities weren’t getting through their assessment centres. 

“We built a programme and have seen six girls find roles that way and that’s when I think we’ve done a good job.”

As a charity, BelEve is always looking for fresh support and partnerships to expand and grow its activities. 

“The support we get from our donors and partners is very much appreciated,” added Chyloe.

“We have a campaign at the moment where we want to support at least 50 girls aged eight-15 on a summer programme and offer it for free.

“It’s called the Summer Of Love and we ran it last year. It was a huge success, with workshops, activities and trips for three weeks.

“A lot of those on last year’s programme are now a part of our community so it’s something we want to do again.

“We’re asking people to donate £25 and £250 gets each girl three weeks of non-stop summer activities.”

key details: BelEve

You can find out more about BelEve’s programmes and workshops here including ways to donate or get involved as a company.

Read more: East Bank director Tamsin Ace on collaboration in Stratford

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AGL Airsoft in Aldgate offers targets and thrills aplenty for groups

Founder and director Peter Fernandes talks hospitality, weapons and building a business

A man holding an Airsoft air rifle aims his weapon at green and red LED targets at AGL Airsoft in Aldgate
Competitors at AGL Airsoft shoot digitally-enabled LED targets

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It all started at a shoe repair shop in Camden.

In 2016, Peter Fernandes was helping out in the family business while his dad recovered from a knee operation.

There, he spotted a niche.

While the area was busy, there was a notable lack of places to buy toys for kids.

So he started selling remote controlled cars and helicopters from the front of the shop. It went OK. 

“They were doing alright, but I went to one of my suppliers and he had cheap, spring-powered BB guns in bright colours,” said Peter.

“They sold like hot cakes. Slowly, I started getting into Airsoft, which is more advanced. 

“Those guns look more realistic and fire plastic pellets.

“They’re powered by electricity or gas and can be fixed if they break.

“They’re next level. You can get replicas of lots of different kinds of weapon and I wanted a place to test them – but we only had a tiny corridor behind the shop.”

Images shows AGL Airsoft founder and director Peter Fernandes, a man wearing a black T-Shirt with a diamond earring
AGL Airsoft founder and director Peter Fernandes

first steps towards AGL Airsoft

Eventually Peter rented a basement space, creating two firing lanes with targets so that customers as well as himself and staff could try out the weapons.

“It was really fun and we started putting up leader boards,” he said.

“Then people who were just passing would come in and try it out. From there it was about finding new targets and creating packages.

“We got really good feedback, put some videos on social media and it went viral. We were doing something new for Airsoft and it was really popular. 

“We were fully booked at weekends – I wanted people to have great experiences, but we only had space for two lanes, so we knew we needed somewhere bigger and better.”

A man in a black shirt aims a Glock-style weapon at lit targets in the Aldgate facility
Airsoft weapons are modelled after real guns but shoot non-lethal plastic pellets

Airsoft as competitive socialising

Airsoft weapons are typically used for recreation in a similar format to paintball, albeit significantly less messy.

The 6mm projectiles they fire are non-lethal, with an honour code system used to determine who has been shot during a game.

What Peter and the team at AGL Airsoft have done is to take those weapons and combine them with digitally enabled target systems to test the accuracy and speed of the shooter.

It’s essentially a competitive socialising experience.

That mission has massively expanded at its second site, just off Commercial Road in east London.

AGL’s facility boasts target lanes, a fully-equipped shop for Airsoft enthusiasts (selling guns, clothing and accessories), a sniper alley for long-range competitions, digital simulators and, perhaps most crucially, a “close quarters battle” arena.

The latter offers a fast-paced experience aimed at delivering a high-intensity game as players move around the arena to shoot lit targets.

A man in a brown coat aims a large brown sniper rifle with a huge scope at targets
A range of experiences are available including a sniper lane

skills and aim

“It’s all about reaction times and accuracy,” said Peter.

“We’re the first facility in London and probably the UK to have the LED targets – the plan is to open more branches and perhaps offer franchises in the future, then to grow internationally.

“With our latest location, we wanted somewhere towards the City, that was also close to Canary Wharf and Shoreditch, so we could accommodate large bookings and work with corporate clients.

“AGL is something new and it’s great for team-building. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of competitiveness, but anyone can do it.

“We get bookings from all types of people, every age and every gender.

“I think deep down we’re all big kids and we all have that competitive spirit.

“Growing up I always liked gaming and testing my skills and reflexes. 

“Here we have leader boards and people who play can see exactly how well they’ve done against the party they are with and everyone else.

“Airsoft isn’t about violence, it’s actually a really great way to make and deepen friendships.

“For groups that come here, we offer food, drink and the games, which gives everyone a lot to talk about – especially the day after in the office.”

A woman points an Airsoft gun at the camera
A wide range of Airsoft weapons are available to try at AGL Airsoft

AGL Airsoft: Suitable for all

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve never shot any kind of gun before.

“Our staff are really good and they’ll teach you how to hold the weapons, how to stand and give tips on ways to improve.

“They all play the games a lot and each one has their favourite – they all test different skills.

“For example, the first game played on the lanes is usually about accuracy.

“Players are asked to shoot 20 targets in as much time as they like.

“But they only get 25 shots. Time only comes into play if the score is perfect. 

“Next comes a time trial where you’ll have 30 seconds to see how many targets you can hit.

“If you miss, they just stay lit until you shoot them successfully.

“Then there’s a game with two different colours, where you have to only shoot the red targets that flash up.

“With all of these games, if players are doing well, we can increase the difficulty so there’s always a challenge.

“I knew the Aldgate venue would be fun, but I didn’t realise how much until we opened. What we want now is to be fully booked with everyone enjoying themselves.”

Image shows the AGL Airsoft Aldgate bar
AGL Airsoft’s facilities include a fully stocked bar. The venue also serves food

key details: AGL Airsoft

AGL Airsoft’s Aldgate branch is located just off Commercial Road on Gower’s Walk close to where Shadwell and Whitechapel meet the City.

The closest station is Aldgate East, but the facility is within east walking distance of Tower Gateway DLR and Whitechapel station, which is three minutes on the Elizabeth Line from Canary Wharf. The facility is open daily from noon until 11pm. 

Prices for five games start at £40 per person and £30 for 30 minutes on the venue’s digital simulator.

Gun rental, pellets and eye protection are all included in the price where appropriate.

AGL offers a range of options for groups and corporate clients including party packages, VIP experiences and full venue hire.

Those interested can email aglcontactus@agl-airsoft.co.uk for more information 

Find out more about the Aldgate location here

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Far East Consortium Dragon Boat Race generates charity funds

Docklands Sailing And Watersports contest raises money for the East End Community Foundation

A team competes in the Far East Consortium Dragon Boat Race, flailing paddles at the waters of Millwall Outer Dock
Teams competed on the waters of Millwall Outer Dock on the Isle Of Dogs

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The developer behind Consort Place on the Isle Of Dogs hosted an event this month at the Docklands Sailing And Watersports Centre to raise much-needed funds for local charities. 

Far East Consortium (FEC) – which recently welcomed the first residents to Aspen, the tower at the heart of its scheme – organised a Dragon Boat Festival on the waters of Millwall Outer Dock this month.

Teams from the developer and its partners – including Knight Frank, NHBC, Hawkins Brown, Dorsett Hospitality International, The Media People, Dex Construction, TP Bennett, Kohler, McBains, JRL, HTA and BB7 – did battle on the water with paddles and sweat, for glory, medals and a trophy.

Consultancy firm WSP won the day, with its team – Stroke Of Genius – topping the podium. All proceeds from the event will go to the East End Community Foundation (EECF), which gives grants to charities across the local area.

Two dragon boats race in front of Far East Consortium's Aspen At Consort Place tower in east London
The teams competed in front of FEC’s Aspen At Consort Place Tower (centre)

grants for good causes

“FEC is a patron of our Life Chances Campaign, which means it has committed £60,000 so far and is hopefully going to come on board to support this for the next three years,” said EECF campaign director Sally Bateson.

“It’s all about creating lasting change.

“We’ve been looking to raise more money so we can give bigger grants over longer periods of time to support the grassroots organisations we work with who don’t have the resources or profile to find the funds themselves.”

Image shows a woman with brown hair in a green dress – CEO of the East End Community Foundation, Tracy Walsh
Tracy Walsh, CEO of the East End Community Foundation

where the Far East Consortium money goes

EECF CEO Tracy Walsh added: “We focus on youth unemployment and wellbeing, pension poverty and isolation and digital inequality – we put a lot of money into these areas.

“For example, with unemployment, young people might feel like big organisations aren’t for them but they will go to a less glamorous youth club next door.

“We’re funding a person to tackle the problem in those settings.

“We are also providing money for a lot of holiday programs to aid wellbeing – giving young people food, physical activity and safe places to be.

“With pension poverty, we’ve invested about £80,000 to train front line workers to help older people claim benefits that they are entitled to.

“It’s been nine months and we’ve already seen £400,000 of money go to people who are eligible for it.

“There’s millions of pounds of unclaimed Pension Credits and we thought we should do somthing to help people get it.  

“On digital equality, we’re now working in primary schools to help connect low income families.

“They get 12 months free broadband, a laptop and training on how to stay safe online and help their kids with homework.

“We’ve connected more than 600 so far and we want to boost that figure by 200 by the end of the year.

“In Tower Hamlets we were just shocked by how many homes don’t have any digital connection – it’s around 50,000.

“We’ve got the highest level of child poverty in the UK here and the highest level of pension poverty. If organisations all do their own thing, the impact can be diluted.

“What we’re saying with Life Chances is that if we all work together, it’s easier to make a difference and also easier for the charities, who only have to apply to one funder rather than dealing with lots of different ones.”

Image shows a man in a black baseball cap and T-Shirt with orange Far East Consortium logos – it's Bruno Almeida Santos, FEC's development director
FEC development director Bruno Almeida Santos at the even

Far East Consortium: a question of values

Far East Consortium development director Bruno Almeida Santos said the company’s involvement with the EECF and donating to its Life Chances Campaign was really about the business’ core values.

He said: “We’ve been trying to arrange this event for three years, so we’re very pleased that it’s happened and that we could attract these organisations to see the work of the foundation.

“Hopefully we can make this a tradition, especially as it’s a dragon boat race and we’re a Hong Kong developer.

“It’s very important for us as a company to support the EECF. I think some organisations do things as a tick-box exercise but we want to do way more than that.

“This isn’t about our obligations to an S106 agreement, but actually contributing to the foundation, including the joy of losing to the children who were racing as part of one of the teams.

“You know, when you see the smiles on their faces, that you’re making a difference because it’s a day they will never forget.

“Hosting it at the Docklands Sailing And Watersports Centre was a case of the stars aligning.

Racers relax with barbecue and drinks at Far East Consortium's Dragon Boat Race on the Isle Of Dogs
Teams enjoy a well-earned break at Far East Consortium’s Dragon Boat Race at the Docklands Sailing And Watersports Centre

“It’s one of the best settings to view Aspen – our flagship development in London – from and to bring everyone together here. 

“It’s been under construction for five years and it’s been a challenging scheme with the pandemic, but we’ve managed to crunch the numbers and overcome the issues. 

“I think a lot of that has actually been on the human side, with people working together to resolve the problems.

“It’s been about communication and working together and this is about celebrating that as well as supporting those around us.

“Actually being on the ground with the EECF means you get a completely different experience – you get to see the outcome of that support and we’re really, really happy about that.

“We’ll have to do the race again with even more people.”

In addition to hosting a raffle, all proceeds raised on the day, including ticket sales have gone towards the foundation’s work.

“The day also provided plenty of scope for networking and team building for participants.

“It felt really great,” said Lovisa Claesson, graduate consultant at WSP and a member of winning team “Stroke Of Genius”. 

“To be honest we all worked within different areas of the business, so didn’t really know each other before the contest. But we got the women in the front and the men following.”

10 people pose in celebration of winning the Far East Consortium Dragon Boat Race
Winning team Stroke Of Genius

key details: Far East Consortium’s Aspen At Consort Place

Homes at Aspen At Consort Place by Far East Consortium – just off Marsh Wall – are available now. Prices start at £550,000.

The EECF is also based on the Isle Of Dogs and offers a wide range of ways for companies to get involved with good causes locally – including supporting its Life Chances campaign.

Find out more about the development here

Find our more about the work of EECF here

Read more: East Bank director Tamsin Ace on collaboration in Stratford

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University Of Sunderland grants Jonathan Ganesh honorary degree

Docklands Victims Association co-founder and president recognised for his supportive works

Images shows a man, Jonathan Ganesh, flanked by a woman and another man all in academic gowns, smiling at the camera
Jonathan Ganesh, centre, is presented with an honorary fellowship by University Of Sunderland chancellor, Leanne Cahill and vice-chancellor David Bell

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It was Friday, February 9, 1996.

In Germany, a group of physicists had just managed to create a single atom of the superheavy element Copernicum for the very first time.

They’d fired zinc particles at a piece of lead in a particle accelerator to synthesise the substance, which lasted just 0.24 milliseconds before its radioactive decay. 

With an international team, the breakthrough was a triumph of collaboration and cooperation – an expression of the extraordinary things humans can achieve when working together for the good of the species.

Image shows members of the crowd clapping at the university's graduation ceremony
The ceremony took place at Southwark Cathedral

a tragedy in Docklands

But that same day is remembered in east London, throughout the UK and beyond for a very different reason.

At just after 7pm, the IRA detonated a massive bomb on the Isle Of Dogs at South Quay, killing two people, injuring more than 100 and causing £150million of damage.  

For Jonathan Ganesh, a law student and promising boxer, who was working as a security guard in the area at the time, it changed everything.

But despite suffering life-altering injuries and the challenges of recovery, the east London resident has been determined to forge something positive from his horrific experience.

As co-founder and honorary president of the Docklands Victims Association (DVA) he’s been a tireless champion for those affected by that atrocity.

He’s also been heavily involved in offering support to and standing in solidarity with all those affected by acts of terror around the world.

Constantly looking to help those around him, more recently he accepted a Pandemic Response Medal for his work as an NHS responder, delivering food and medication to local residents.

On Wednesday, June 12, the University Of Sunderland In London, which is based at South Quay, awarded Jonathan an honorary fellowship at its graduation ceremony in Southwark Cathedral – recognising his work alongside the achievements of hundreds of students collecting their degrees. 

A University Of Sunderland In London student in a mortar board and gown celebrates receiving her degree
The University Of Sunderland In London also awarded hundreds of students degrees at the event

praise from the University Of Sunderland

Vice chancellor of the University Of Sunderland, Sir David Bell, said: “We are delighted to honour Jonathan in this way and this is truly an inspirational moment for us as an organisation.

“We know, for people who become victims, it’s hard to rebuild their lives.

“But Jonathan is the most wonderful example of someone who has not only done that, but has actually helped to support literally thousands of people to rebuild their lives through the work he has done, not only in this country but around the world.

“I hope our graduates will follow his example and do things that will make the world a better place.” 

South Quay has gone on to great prosperity with office blocks and some of the tallest residential towers in London rising on the strip of land directly opposite Canary Wharf.

Apt then, that one of the organisations now based there is making this award.

University Of Sunderland In London students celebrate by throwing their mortar boards in the air at Southwark Cathedral
Students celebrate receiving their degrees at the event

a fitting tribute

“I’m quite overwhelmed, actually,” said Jonathan after the ceremony.

“This award from the University Of Sunderland In London is a fitting tribute to all of the victims – especially Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, who lost their lives.

“This is recognition for me but also for the DVA and the work we do in Tower Hamlets and globally.

“This has been a day I’ll never forget. I’m happy to receive any awards, but this is something special. 

“We plan to do a lot more work and help as many people as we can here and around the world.

“We successfully managed to secure a pension for the IRA’s victims from the Government as it was unfair to leave these people with no financial support when those from other countries such as America were receiving money.

“It’s very touching for the university to recognise us locally and that what we do has global reach extending out from here.”

Image shows Alan Hardie and Jonathan Ganesh celebrating his honorary fellowship
Jonathan Ganesh with University Of Sunderland In London director Alan Hardie, left

the University Of Sunderland In London’s full citation

Before an assembly of students, their relatives, staff and guests, University Of Sunderland in London director Alan Hardie gave the following address:

Chancellor, vice-chancellor, and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am privileged to present Jonathan Ganesh for the conferment of an Honorary Fellowship.

Our honorary guest today was born in Westminster in the late 1960s to an Irish mother, who worked as a chef, and a human rights lawyer father from Sri Lanka.

Jonathan spent his early childhood in County Limerick, leaving him with a deep connection to Ireland.

At the age of seven, he moved back to the UK, settling in the Docklands area.

Following his father’s ethos that “no education is ever wasted”, in the mid-1990s, Jonathan was studying law at college while working as a security guard in South Quay.

On February 9, 1996, though, Jonathan’s life changed forever as a result of the horrific IRA bombing of the South Quay Plaza building – which he described as “like being hit by a meteorite”. 

Despite facing life-altering injuries and a daunting mental and physical recovery, Jonathan was determined “to turn something bad into something very good”. 

Coming together with fellow survivors and their relatives, the need for ongoing support for bombing victims was clear and, in spring 1996, the Docklands Victims Association was formed.

For nearly 30 years, as the association’s honorary president and co-founder, Jonathan has led efforts in supporting and providing resources for victims and those affected by terrorism, in London and worldwide. 

The association has also lobbied government leaders to keep the rights of victims of terrorism on the agenda, as they can too often be forgotten once the media limelight fades. 

As a long-term Docklands resident, Jonathan remembers the South Quay area in the 1990s when it was mainly deserted docks.

Since then, he has witnessed its transformation into a commercial hub.

With the University Of Sunderland In London’s opening, in 2012, being praised by Jonathan for “enhancing the area’s social fabric and helping it thrive further”.

With a strong desire to support his local community during the pandemic, Jonathan became a volunteer NHS responder in 2020, collecting patients from hospital and delivering food and medication to local residents, which included fellow victims of terrorism. 

In recognition of these efforts, Jonathan received a Pandemic Response Medal in September 2023 – to which he can now add an Honorary Fellowship from the University Of Sunderland In London.

Chancellor, vice-chancellor, and distinguished guests, I present Jonathan Ganesh for an Honorary Fellowship.

Find out more about the university here and the Docklands Victims Association here

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The Upper Lofts are unveiled at Canary Wharf’s 8 Harbord Square

Open-plan, top-floor apartments go on sale at New York-inspired Wood Wharf residential building

Image shows the view from a terrace at 8 Harbord Square, overlooking The O2 and Greenwich Peninsula
The Upper Lofts sit on the top floor of 8 Harbord Square

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The residential properties contained on the lower levels of 8 Harbord Square are a brave, bold statement.

Presented almost completely open-plan (you do get walled off bathrooms), they recall Docklands’ warehouses with more than a nod, stylistically, to the red-brick structures of New York’s Meatpacking District.

But while the flavour is of industrial buildings cleverly converted for residential use, the 11-storey tower is newly built, meaning it comes with none of the hassle or dodgy bodges that can plague refurbishment projects.

Instead, the exposed concrete ceilings, black metal framed windows and cast iron radiators are all carefully thought-through design statements contained within a thoroughly modern structure.

Image shows a space dressed with a green sofa, marble table and various green and blue soft furnishings
The apartments offer a completely open-plan design with industrial details

Capping the whole thing off, developer Canary Wharf Group has now launched a pair of apartments on the building’s top floor.

The Upper Lofts, both priced at £1,950,000, feature internal living space of 1,400sq ft and feature wrap-around terraces of more than 1,000 sq ft. 

Properties feature fully-fitted kitchens with stainless steel units and counter tops as well as Siemens appliances.

Bathrooms come with free standing baths, double basins and black-framed, walk-in showers.

Image shows a stainless steel kitchen in one of The Upper Lofts at 8 Harbord Sqaure with a marble table and breakfast bar in the foreground
The 8 Harbord Square homes come with fully fitted stainless steel kitchens

a singular offering at 8 Harbord Square

Canary Wharf Group director of residential sales, Melanie Conway, said: “The expression ‘one-of-a-kind’ is sometimes overused, but in this instance, The Upper Lofts represent ‘two-of-a-kind’ apartments not seen before in London. 

“Their positioning within 8 Harbord Square and the wider Canary Wharf estate gives them views of iconic surrounding landmarks, which previously you would only have seen from some of our tallest residential buildings.

“With vast wrap-around terraces and totally open plan living spaces, they have been designed to take advantage of these views and the natural light that floods the spaces, giving residents the most incredible sunrises and sunsets. 

“8 Harbord Square marks the final building in our residential portfolio on the estate, meaning it’s the last opportunity to own a piece of the Wharf’s rich history and to be a part of the incredible transformation that has taken place here.”

Image shows chairs and coffee tables in The Upper Lofts show apartment
Residents are free to configure and dress their apartment however they like

an emerging neighbourhood

Part of Canary Wharf’s Wood Wharf development, 8 Harbord Square is the final building in Canary Wharf Group’s scheme to feature homes for private sale.

Further residential projects will fall under its wholly-owned subsidiary Vertus, which boasts an extensive portfolio of homes to live in via all-inclusive rental deals.

Wood Wharf itself is rapidly becoming established as an area to visit with restaurants such as Dishoom, Hawksmoor, MMy Wood Wharf, Emilia’s Crafted Pasta and Roe attracting a steady stream of visitors.

Third Space recently opened a new site locally, adding Hot Yoga, Reformer Pilates and a new 20m swimming pool to its Canary Wharf offering, while creative companies such as Qube, Vow Studio and Broadwick also now call the neighbourhood home.

The Cube, a competitive socialising experience is set to open nearby, while Harbord Square itself now boasts a vet, GP surgery, convenience store and a sports hall and gym complex for residents to investigate. 

Image shows a terrace at 8 Harbord Square with views of the Canary Wharf skyline in the background
The Upper Lofts feature wrap-around terraces with views over London

key details – 8 Harbord Square

The Upper Lofts at 8 Harbord Square are both priced at £1,950,000.

Other properties in the 82-apartment building start at £770,000 for an 801sq ft home or £990,000 for 1,037sq ft. 

Find out more about The Upper Lofts here

Read more: How Third Space has expanded its offering at Canary Wharf

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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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Cody Dock set to create heritage centre for Newham on the Lea

Grant of £1.6million will see historic boat refurbished and used as the roof of a glass-walled structure

Computer generated image shows a glass walled structure with a blue and red boat as its roof - Cody Dock's planned heritage centre
An artist’s impression of the new heritage centre at Cody Dock

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The Cody Dock project has many facets to it.

Central to its plans are the twin aims of returning what was an abandoned industrial wasteland to community use alongside efforts to boost and study the local ecology.

But there’s also Gasworks Dock Partnership’s mission to preserve and celebrate Newham’s rich heritage – a project that recently received a massive shot in the arm.

In 18 months’ time, walkers along the River Lea cutting through Cody Dock will find a singular structure in front of them. 

Beside the rolling bridge and The Growing Space – now used to rear much of the project’s plant life – a new heritage centre will be created.

Lighting Up The Lea has won a £1.6million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which will see a glass walled pavilion built on the site covered by a rather unusual roof – a former Welsh lifeboat.

The vessel is not, however, just a convenient lozenge of timbers and iron to protect visitors from the elements.

It boasts a remarkable, historic link to Newham, making it perhaps the most appropriate of structures to help protect the history of the area.

Image shows two men with red hair in front of the mahogany panels of the Frederick Kitchen at Cody Dock
Simon Myers, left, with son Tom who is leading the restoration of the boat at Cody Dock

arrival at Cody Dock

“Just before the Olympics in 2012, we were approached by a bunch of West Ham football fans who knew that the club was going to move to the London Stadium in Stratford,” said Simon Myers, Gasworks Dock Partnership and mastermind of the Cody Dock project. 

“They knew the club originated at the Thames Ironworks, which once owned land at the mouth of the River Lea when its managing director, Arnold Hills, helped found a football club to help improve the health of its workers.

“The fans had bought a boat that had been built by the company, thinking that the London Legacy Development Corporation would agree to use it as part of a museum next to the new stadium dedicated to the history of West Ham and the Ironworks.

“However, they weren’t successful in securing funding or a site – even though it was a good idea – and they approached us initially just to store the boat.

“Years passed and nothing really happened except a second boat turned up that in an even worse state than the first.

“Eventually they offered them to us for scrap.”

Image shows the Frederick Kitchen, a stripped down wooden boat sat on supports, as work continues
The Frederick Kitchen, part of the way through her restoration

scrap, or something else?

However, Simon and the team were not about to simply discard the craft. Instead, a plan was slowly hatched to show off at least one of the craft in all its glory and preserve it for future generations.

“My thought was that, if we’re going to do something with these boats, it’s because we want to tell their story,” said Simon. 

“It’s not about getting them in the water – we’ve got plenty of boats here for that. So why not restore one, turn it upside down and use it as a roof of a structure with glass walls?

“That way people will get to see the exterior of the boat from outside and the interior when inside.

“You’ll have this beautiful cathedral ceiling and see all of the internal structure.”

The Frederick Kitchen, named in honour of a former lifeboat master, is not just an elegant architectural solution.

Having won funding to carry out a feasibility study – a precursor to the £1.6million award – the Gasworks Dock Partnership engaged in an extensive programme of research into her history.

It turns out, she may have been the very last vessel to leave the Ironworks, which closed in 1912.

A computer generated image of people in a glass-walled building with the boat as its roof
An artist’s impression of the interior of the heritage centre

an important history

“There’s a glass plate image owned by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich that shows her sitting in a dry dock all by herself in 1913,” said Simon. 

“We think she may have been the last to leave – we do know she was one of a string of five boats that weren’t finished when the works closed, although she was completed and became a Watson class lifeboat stationed at Beaumaris from 1914 to 1945.

“The closure marked the end of major shipbuilding on the Thames.

“Her hull is made from Honduran mahogany with a steam-bent interior frame of oak with a keel of solid iron that runs along her entire length and weighs as much as the rest of her put together.

“She’s really the pinnacle of timber shipbuilding – designed at the crossover between pulling and sailing vessels and motorised craft, so she has some adaptations including an encased propeller to avoid it being fouled by nets and rigging, which wouldn’t want if you were engaged in a rescue.

“A few years after she was launched, new technologies came in with the use of plywood and then fibreglass and plastic.

“She was the last of her kind.”

A crane holds the former lifeboat as she is moved to a special shed for refurbishment works
The boat is brought into a special shed, ready for refurbishment

a grant for Cody Dock

The full grant will be used over three years, with 18 months to prepare the ground for the new structure and restore Frederick Kitchen to her former glory – the latter project being headed up by Simon’s son, Tom.

The money will also cover a rolling programme of events centred around Newham heritage  with the space eventually used to host quarterly exhibitions.

“For a long time now, in addition to the ecology, which is really special, we’ve felt that one of the selling points of this area is the heritage of the Lea,” said Simon.

“One of the things that’s always struck us is that, apart from the House Mill, Newham doesn’t have any museums – certainly not ones that reflect the wider heritage of the area.

“There’s such a rich seam of history here, whether it’s the Lea as a boundary between the Danes and the Saxons or how the land on the east bank was part of Essex rather than London and all the implications of that.

“Then there’s the arrival of industry, which saw the local population increase from 4,000 to around 250,000 in about 50 years.”

Two people work on the woodwork of the Frederick Kitchen
Tom supervises as renovation work continues

a rich seam of exhibitions

“Frankly we would need an Amazon-size warehouse to cover all the heritage we have and we reckon we could go for 30 years without repeating a topic with quarterly exhibitions in our multi-functional, multi-purpose structure,” added Simon.

“The likes of West Ham and Tate & Lyle have fantastic archives that are not on show to the public so it would be amazing to feature pieces from those collections.

“We have so many plans. It will take 18 months to restore the boat and we’ll be re-landscaping the site of the building at the same time.

“We’ll be doing outdoor exhibitions for Lighting Up The Lea during that period as well as working with the community and participants on our education programmes to gather more stories and local history.

“When our heritage programme launches, our plan is that one quarter will be dedicated to ecology, one to social heritage, one to industrial heritage and the last to miscellaneous aspects of history.”

Image shows a general view of Cody Dock on the River Lea under a rainbow with a toothed rolling bridge made of iron and a large wooden sculpture of a figure
Cody Dock boasts myriad facilities including a rolling bridge

key details – Cody Dock

The Cody Dock project has a wealth of opportunities for volunteers to get involved, with activities including the restoration of the Frederick Kitchen, cleaning up the River Lea and studying the area’s ecology. 

Find out more about the project here

Read more: How Third Space has expanded its offering at Canary Wharf

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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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Leah Sams shoots and launches fashion collection in Canary Wharf

The artist, illustrator and founder of Power Of Women recently unveiled her clothing designs

Image shows a selection of brightly coloured dresses and shirts on a rail from Leah Sams' Paradise Collection
Leah Sams has launched The Paradise Collection in Canary Wharf

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Leah Sams’ Paradise Collection from Power Of Women perhaps typifies the changing face of Canary Wharf.

It’s tech, it’s fashion, it’s illustration, it’s female-led and it’s been created and launched on the east London estate. 

Having swapped theatrical costume and set design for art and illustration during the pandemic, Leah found success selling digital works as non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The move into tech came after her husband Jack also changed career, leaving the performing arts world to fight fires and discovering his colleagues’ passion for crypto assets.

“He showed my artwork to them, which is very female-orientated and empowered, and these burly men were saying they would buy it,” said Leah, who moved to the UK from Malaysia to study theatre arts at university.

“That was the rabbit hole that started my career in the digital art world.

“At the time I started selling NFTs it was a very male space – less than 10% were female collectors or artists.

“I launched a very female-focused collection of works and they sold out within three hours and made more money than I did in a whole year selling on Etsy. 

“At the time a lot of artists saw it as a way to make a living, often for the first time as digital creators.”

Image shows artist, illustrator and Power Of Women founder Leah Sams, a dark haired woman in glasses with gold earrings wearing one of her orange dresses
Artist, illustrator and Power Of Women founder Leah Sams

Leah Sams – the power of tech…

Leah’s success led to an exhibition at Adidas’ flagship London store as well as collaborations with the likes of Manchester City FC.

Much of the hype has gone out of the NFT market.

But Leah is certain the tech that makes it work – an immutable record of the provenance and authenticity of a work stored on a blockchain to identify the owner of a piece – will continue to become an increasingly important part of our digital world.

“A lot of the people who came into NFTs to make a quick buck have all left,” said Leah, who lives on the Isle Of Dogs.

“But what you’re left with is interesting people building interesting things, and that’s great, because it’s now easier to sift through and find amazing pieces.

“The is definitely not perfect, but the people who are working with this technology truly believe that it is going to be part of our everyday lives.

“When we first had the internet, there a lot of sceptics and all sorts of companies building websites, but from that emerged the likes of Google and Facebook and all these goliaths.

“Provenance and authenticity are very important in the traditional art world, so having a public, digital record of works that cannot be changed is going to be really useful.

“The future is that NFTs will be rebranded – the technology will be there but in the background and it’s really important with regard to things like copyright that artists understand where the world is heading. 

“At the moment we’re seeing cryptocurrency, AI, blockchain and NFTs all intermingling.

“It’s a really exciting space to be in because it’s the precursor to things that come next.”

Image shows a picture of a woman in eastern clothing by artist Leah Sams
Leah’s is an artist creating digital work, prints and now clothes

thinking differently

“Right now, just as in the traditional art world, there are a few artists making a mint in the digital space,” said Leah.

“Others are diversifying their income, but NFTs have significantly changed people’s attitude towards digital art – that it should be respected and people should be paid fairly for it.”

The launch of The Paradise Collection and Leah’s move into fashion, however, has more to do with a desire to keep creating than to find fresh markets for the things she makes.

“As we had a bit of money to invest, I thought we could just do the same old thing or we could do something different,” she said.

“This felt like it was a different iteration of what I’ve been working towards.

“All of my artwork has had a concentration on representation, culture and diversity – fashion has also been a huge part of that because of my history in theatre and costume.

“I’ve also always been drawing fashionable women, so this has been a dream since I was a kid, to be doing something with clothes.”

a learning curve

“A friend of mine in the NFT space – Shreya Bhan – who started her career in fashion said that, when I was ready, we could do something together,” added Leah.

“She’s guided me through it and it’s been fascinating to see the correlation and some similarities with the work I was doing in costume with the pattern cutting elements, use of silhouettes and how fabric falls on the body.

“Lots of people have bought my artwork, but there’s something different in buying an wearing a garment to something that lives on a screen or a wall as a print.

“I feel like my customers are wearing my pieces and that’s quite a responsibility to have, which is why it’s been a long process to fine-tune and curate the collection.

“Designing on fabric is very different from working on an iPad – it’s been a huge learning curve.

“I started off with a budget and  had to figure out how to create a diverse line that worked financially but was also an extension of a brand that had only existed as artworks before.

“Now it’s coming into the physical world, how do you represent it and how do I link it back to my art?” 

Image shows a pink shirt with green foliage print, available from Power Of Women for £75
Pink Berry Unisex Shirt, £75 from The Paradise Collection

Leah Sams – The Paradise Collection

Comprising unisex shirts, wrap dresses and tiered dresses, The Paradise Collection features three vibrant prints on cotton as well as colourful designs on a trio of silk scarves.

But, tying in with Leah’s wider brand, there’s more to the pieces than their physical existence.

“Each piece has a chip that I’ve sewn into it, which can be scanned with a phone,” said Leah.

“I hope I will always make sustainable collections and the point of the chips is that people can own the garment on the blockchain, see where it’s come from, what it’s made of and how to care for it.

“But it’s also have a connection to me – the person who’s made it, so that it means more than something you buy from a big brand.

““It’s been a dream since I was a little girl to design my own clothes.

Image shows a phone scanning a chip in one of Leah Sams' garments
Garments all contain chips that owners can scan for more information, including care instructions

“To be able to launch my own collection of garments, 20 years on, is both surreal and empowering. 

“Every aspect of this collection from the colour of each button, to the digital experience that comes with each garment, has been designed with love and care. 

“I hope that anyone who wears a Power of Women garment will feel like they are wearing a piece of art.

“I think what’s also important is that I can always update the digital experience any time.

“It feels personal that people can have a connection to me via the Web3 space where The Paradise Collection was born – what I’ve created so far and all the work I’ve done to make that happen.”

Image shows a turquoise dress with a chilli plant print from The Paradise Collection
Turquoise Chilli Tiered Dress, £95 from The Paradise Collection

an east London creation

“I chose to launch the collection at Grind in Canary Wharf’s Market Halls because it’s where I do a lot of my drawing,” said Leah.

“I have a studio at home on the Isle Of Dogs, but this is where I choose to get away from that. 

“Since creating Power Of Women in the Web3 space, I’ve met a few London artists, so we have sketching and coffee gatherings and it felt really right to have our launch party there.

“I also wanted to showcase that there are creators here.

“The Canary Wharf community is enriching and the more we can showcase that, the more we will all benefit from it.

“All of the professional shots for the collection were done at The Vow Studio in Wood Wharf. It was the perfect location to do that and taking everyone for lunch locally after was just lovely.

“There’s something about birthing this collection here because there is an entrepreneurial aspect to doing that – Canary Wharf has a corporate reputation but there’s also a residential side to it that’s more community based.

“Launching here and celebrating all the people who have worked just felt really right.

“I get where the estate’s reputation comes from but I think things have shifted. It’s more of a place to hang around now and it’s very exciting.

“I love the buildings and all of the greenery.

“I have been very unapologetic about my art and I don’t want to be apologetic about my fashion.

“I’ve created pieces that are bold and colourful and I hope people will look at them and thing they’re something a bit different.” 

Image shows a red and green silk scarf with a crab print, part of Leah Sams' Paradise Collection with a price of £25
Crab Silk Scarf, £25, from The Paradise Collection

key details – Leah Sams

The Paradise Collection from Power Of Women by Leah Ibrahim Sams is available to buy online with prices starting at £25.

Leah’s other artworks including NFTs can also be viewed and purchased via this link

Find our more about Leah Sams’ Paradise Collection here

Image shows a woman wearing an orange and blue wrap dress falling to below her knees from Power Of Women
Orange And Blue Jungle Wrap Dress, £105 from The Paradise Collection

Read more: How Third Space has expanded its offering at Canary Wharf

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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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Principal Tower in Shoreditch has only four apartments left for sale

Popular residential scheme on the border of the City and east London has a few homes still available

Image shows a tall residential tower block with three volumes and curved corners – it's Principal Tower in Shoreditch
Principal Tower is located in Shoreditch on the edge of the City Of London

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Right now, Principal Tower sits in a series of liminal spaces – physical and temporal.

The Shoreditch development is both in the City and part of a hip east London neighbourhood.

To the west, slabs of glass encase office workers.

Across the road are bars, restaurants, dives, clubs and destinations.

It’s both the urban bustle of Liverpool Street for the Elizabeth Line and the counter-cultural edge of Shoreditch High Street Overground.

As a residential project, it’s right on the cusp of being sold out too, with only four homes remaining.

There’s a one-bed, a two-bed and a three-bed with prices starting at £1.28million.  

Then there’s the penthouse on the 48th floor – a three-bed, three-bath duplex arranged over some 2,855sq ft of space with a decent size terrace.

That will set you back £9.9million. 

All boast outdoor spaces and are contained within a Foster + Partners tower set back a little from Shoreditch High Street and Worship Street.

Part of the wider Principal Place scheme – which boasts commercial premises let to Amazon – the structure shoots up some 50 storeys from the street with rounded corners and fins offering a modern take on Art Deco and 1950s futurism.

Amid the more angular shapes of the City, it’s something of a maverick, standing out against the severe geometry of the nearby office blocks and suggestive of a more welcoming, hospitable function.

That’s one reason, perhaps, that only a quartet of properties are still available from a complement of 299.

It’s a singular building in an enviable location, unafraid to plough its own furrow.

Its boldness is similar to that of Christopher Murray, co-founder and managing director of Concord London, the joint venture partner responsible for Principal Tower alongside Brookfield Properties.

Image shows Concord London co-founder and managing director Christopher Murray, a man with short mousy blonde hair in a striped shirt
Concord London co-founder and managing director Christopher Murray

Principal Tower, a joint venture…

Christopher said: “When we were asked to get involved, it was obviously a great location to live.

“There are still great restrictions on building houses in the City itself, so we thought this was a missing product in the market – that people would be happy to live just up the street.

“Shoreditch is a cool neighbourhood – trendy and edgy.

“Blue collar nights and white collar days.

“It has great food, great restaurants and rooftop bars. 

“From our point of view, the project was a no-brainer.

“We focused on building a tall residential tower with western and eastern elevations that offer unparalleled views.

“People can see the major London landmarks such as the BT Tower, the London Eye and St Paul’s.

“We wanted a mix of sizes but with large spaces and a similarly generous approach to communal areas and amenities. 

“It’s gone down really well, with the vast majority of properties now sold.

“Some buyers wanted to hear about the City, others about Shoreditch.”

Image shows a dining table and chairs in front of windows through which can be seen the City Of London skyline
Principal Tower’s penthouse is still available

subtle curves, looking sharp

“The design was absolutely key – the tower had to be a gateway, a node announcing that you’re entering a different part of London and we think it has quite a lot of presence,” added Christopher.

“It’s the first building that has been entirely designed by Foster + Partners.

“They didn’t do residential interiors before this but on our tower it’s everything from the hinges to the door handles and the flooring.

“There’s an exactness about it, from the mirrors to the matching patterns on the marble and how the flooring lines up with the skirting boards.

“They’ve thought about everything – how the doors open, how they close and what they sound like.

“The beauty in the design is that it’s equally possible to just leave it be or to put your signature on it.

“The style doesn’t presuppose anybody’s taste.

“The apartments themselves are all about daylight with open-plan designs.

“Every home has a terrace and some have more than one – again of a generous size. 

“We’re not a cookie cutter developer and large properties are hard to come by.

“In the end, this is high-end housing that, because of its location, has a broad audience.

“I look at the competition and I know I’m biased, but I can tell you that this really is the best. 

“I can be pretty self deprecating about our buildings – I’m very honest – but when it comes to Principal Tower, it’s a home run.”

Image shows the side of Principal Tower with other commercial blocks in the background
Four properties are still available at the development

a wealth of amenities

The tower has an obvious appeal for City workers or those who simply want to benefit from the Square Mile’s amenities alongside the buzz of Shoreditch.

However, the proximity of the Elizabeth Line at Liverpool Street makes it an equally appealing prospect for Canary Wharf workers. 

Also, with London rapidly moving eastwards, direct connections to Royal Docks and Stratford look like increasingly attractive assets.

Residents’ amenities include an infinity pool, a spa, sauna and gym overlooking Principal Place.

There’s also a cinema, lounge space and a 24-hour concierge service that promises five-start hotel-style service.

Christopher said: “This really is the last chance to buy here.

“There’s already a very good vertical community in the building – there’s a feeling of belonging.

“People are respectful of the building and of each other.

“Neighbours speak to neighbours. Residents see it as a special place and it’s a great environment.

“The person on the door will know your name as you enter the beautiful two-storey lobby and then we have super fast lifts to get people to their homes.

“There’s also parking down below which is accessed by a car lift – it’s like something from James Bond.”

Image shows a living room with curved glazing offering views across London
Properties at Principal Tower feature curved corner glazing

a proud moment

“While we’re keen to sell the remaining apartments, there will be a touch of sadness when it’s done because it’s been such an amazing journey,” said Christopher.

“Working with Brookfield on this has been a great experience and that’s not because they’re Canadian like me.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve built and we’d love anyone who is interested to come down and take a peek.

“We especially want people to see the penthouse, which hasn’t been available all that long and really is an incredible space.

“At 3,000sq ft it has stunning views with floor-to-ceiling windows and beautiful outdoor space. 

“I’ve been in the property business for a very long time but I can’t think of another space like it.

“It has a modern vibe but there’s the Art Deco style to it too. It’s unique.

“As a company we think a lot about the apartments we create – some things work in plan form but not in reality and there’s nothing worse than getting it wrong. 

“Some developers have a formula-based approach, which works fine in the commercial space because development can be quite repetitive – it’s less emotive.

“But for residential every village in London is different, every borough is different, there are varied creeds and politics. 

“People want different things so it’s about not just knowing your customer but knowing where they are and why they will come to you.

“We have staff on-site every day and we’d love to show you around.”

Image shows a glass and stone staircase in Principal Tower with a gravel bed and plants in pots under it in front of a full-height window
Foster + Partners also created the interior finish for Principal Tower

key details – Principal Tower

There are currently four properties available at Principal Tower in Shoreditch High Street.

Prices for a one-bed start at £1.28million and the penthouse is on the market for £9.9million.

Find out more about the tower here

Read more: How Third Space has expanded its offering at Canary Wharf

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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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East Bank director Tamsin Ace on collaboration at Stratford campus

How Sadler’s Wells East, London College Of Fashion, UCL East, BBC Music Studios and V&A East are coming together at the cultural hub

Image shows Tamsin Ace, a woman with curly blonde hair in a black denim jacket in front of buildings at Stratford's East Bank
East Bank director Tamsin Ace

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East Bank is, arguably, the final great piece in Stratford’s Olympic legacy jigsaw.

Comprising significant bases for five totemic institutions, it’s set to be fully open by the end of 2025 – 13 years after the 2012 Games put east London in the global spotlight.    

Building on the successes of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – including all the former sports venues and the extensive residential and commercial regeneration that has taken place locally – East Bank delivers something different for the area.

Even if just one of the London College Of Fashion, the V&A, the BBC, Sadler’s Wells and UCL had chosen to create a new base in Stratford, it would have been seen as a triumph for the architects of the Games.

That all five are committed to the project gives East Bank a kind of cultural and educational heft that hasn’t been seen in the capital for decades.

With four of the organisations sitting proudly overlooking the park on the edge of the River Lea and UCL a short walk away, the concentration of is palpably powerful.

Image shows a sculpture of the Earth hanging inside a large concrete atrium at UCL East on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
UCL East is now fully up and running

greater than the sum: East Bank

There’s a wealth of potential for collaboration and interaction between the five, but the project isn’t leaving things to chance and happenstance.

Tamsin Ace arrived as director of East Bank in September last year – more or less at the same time the London College Of Fashion began welcoming staff, students and visitors to its new campus.

With UCL East also fully open and Sadler’s Wells East set to launch later this year, it’s her job to help maximise interaction between the organisations for the benefit of all – cementing the cultural legacy of the Games.

“My role is to support and enable all these institutions to come together and to make sure they build on each other’s ideas and resources, while also thinking about how they can connect better,” she said.

“It’s a gift, because all of these partners want to be here and to connect.

“They all want to put down roots and have a home in east London, to listen and learn from the amazing heritage and history of the creative communities that have been in this area long before East Bank was even a twinkle in London’s eye.

“To do that I have the full support of the project’s board, which is made up of the principals of the five main partners.

“I’ve got a pass to all of the buildings so I can work from any of them and also understand their programmes and the different ways they work.

“We have creative working groups to discuss opportunities and plans, so my job is to have my ear to the ground, to know what everyone’s thinking and planning.

“It’s also to be out in the community, being really visible, talking to people and hearing what their priorities are so I can help create links.”

Image shows a computer generated picture of the London College Of Fashion, V&A East, BBC Music Studios and Sadler's Well's East at East Bank
An artist’s impression of how East Bank will look when work is finished

cultural programming

Having studied drama at university, Tamsin initially headed for the classroom after realising that acting and “being a Spice Girl” weren’t really for her.

But life as a teacher wasn’t right either and she wound up working for small arts centres instead.

“I was engaging with children and young people and through that found out about this kind of role – developing ways to get different audiences involved and to unlock and learn from their creativity,” she said.

“I love it when the magic comes together and something you hadn’t thought possible is created.”

After more than a decade doing just that at the Southbank Centre – “implementing festival methodology to create the feel of a bustling port city at arts venues by programming around central themes” – and roles at the Museum Of The Home in Shoreditch and at the London College Of Fashion, she’s come to East Bank to help fulfil its 2012 legacy promise.

“All five of our institutions have got public-facing programmes and my job is to connect the dots,” she said.

“We’re all talking all the time. It’s about collaboration, sharing resources and ideas, and it’s also about embedding ourselves in the community.

“It’s also about being open with our priorities and aims, and properly connecting with people who are living and working here.

“Over the last seven years, the organisations have all been building links with key partners such as schools to build programmes that respond to the needs and values of the people locally.

“Ultimately, we want visitors, students and staff to be able to navigate East Bank’s five buildings and understand how they connect to each other.

“In 10 years’ time I would love to see large-scale programming across all of the organisations that builds on their amazing creativity and skills.”

Image shows a curved concrete staircase at the London College Of Fashion in Stratford
Students and staff are already enjoying the London College Of Fashion’s new base

a new hub for creativity

“I think this place can be as successful as the Southbank Centre – there will be enough for everyone here – but I think they are two very different offers,” added Tamsin.

“There’s a magic about coming to this part of the city with its busy, bustling shopping experience at Westfield and then East Bank for culture and creativity.

“I think if we get the local story right and have a programme that is relevant to the community then we’ll get the world right too.

“Tourists will come because they want to feel they are part of events that really do mean something.”

While University College London and the London College Of Fashion are up and running, something of a watershed moment is coming for the project with the opening of Sadler’s Wells East later this year.

“That will be the first of our cultural partners to have an offering as part of the night-time economy and it will be really exciting to see how the evening shows and workshops change this space,” said Tamsin.

“Sadler’s Wells has also got its hip-hop academy opening, so we’ll have 16 to 19-year-olds learning and practising on-site.

“The building has been designed with an outside and inside feel, so we’re hoping people will get the idea of dance tumbling out into the public realm and people will come to see the next generation of dancers performing or warming up.

“I’m really excited about this summer because this is the time we’re really starting to build that  excitement and buzz – that East Bank is a place you can come and bump into amazing art and ideas.

“It’s a bit of a taster of what’s to come as we build and grow towards total opening by the end of 2025.

“It’s exhilarating and I can’t wait to see how it feels when all five organisations are open. 

“You might be walking from UCL over to the Stratford waterfront and know you’ve got a BBC orchestra rehearsing in one of the studios, a big exhibition at V&A East, dancers performing on the community dance floor outside Sadler’s Wells East and a fashion show being cooked up at the London College Of Fashion. 

“I want everyone who comes here to feel that same sense of excitement and pride we all felt around the 2012 Games themselves.”

Image shows a dancer dressed in black interacting with a staircase ahead of Greenwich + Docklands International Festival in Septemeber
Greenwich + Docklands International Festival is set to come to Stratford in 2024

coming up at East Bank

This summer is when things really start to happen at East Bank in 2024.

Activities kick off with the Great Get Together on June 15 – a free community event at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with activities spanning music, dance, arts, sports and, naturally food.

Then, there’s the UCL Festival Of Engineering on July 15, a celebration of 150 years of advancements in technology, problem solving and creating things.

July will also see London College Of Fashion students present their work, with an exhibition at the East Bank campus, while V&A East will unveil its Made In East London commission – artworks that will be displayed on its exterior.

August is all about the hip hop, with breaking sessions at Sadler’s Wells East scheduled for 3, 5-8 and 9-10. 

Then, September 7 sees the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival pitch up at neighbouring Stratford Cross with its Dancing City programme.

Find our more about the campus here

Read more: How Third Space has expanded its offering at Canary Wharf

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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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Magician Ben Hart gears up for astonishment at Wilton’s Music Hall

Illusionist prepares to dazzle audiences at a pair of London dates at the Wapping venue in July

Image shows magician Ben Hart, a man with short dark hair covering one eye with a brightly coloured peacock feather
Magician Ben Hart began performing magic as a child

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As he’s a magician, it is – of course – impossible to completely trust anything Ben Hart says.

It’s a grey day in London when I call him on a cruise ship in Mykonos where he’s performing.

He assures me the weather is equally crap off the Greek island.

Maybe it is, maybe he just wants to make me feel better.  

Making people feel things is Ben’s trade.

At 16 he was awarded The Magic Circle’s Young Magician Of The Year in 2007, having started practising tricks as a kid.

One of 300 members of the organisation’s Inner Magic Circle, his career since leaving school has seen him perform all over the world.

He’s been a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent: The Champions as well as teach the likes of Tom Cruise close-up illusions for the latest Mission Impossible.

He’s set to appear at Wilton’s Music Hall in his latest show, Jadoo, with performances on July 15 and 16, 2024.

While we chat about his return to London, he casually mentions he’s just been helping Russell Crowe and Rami Malek accrue skills.

These have been used in their forthcoming movie Nuremberg, for a scene where US military psychiatrist Lt Colonel Dougals Kelley shows Hermann Göring a coin trick.

Images shows a man in a white shirt with sand running through his fingers from an unseen source above
Ben aims to astonish his audiences

Ben Hart – teaching the teacher

“I really enjoy teaching other people,” said Ben.

“Part of my work is consulting, and it wouldn’t be possible for me to be a performer if I wasn’t still teaching because the process really teaches me.

“These people are titans – I’ll be showing them a simple piece of magic and suddenly I’ll see something I didn’t expect – weaknesses or strengths that I can incorporate into my own work.

“With movies, I’ve been really interested in when people blink.

“Actors rarely do it because their faces can take up so much space on a screen that movement can be a big statement that might not be necessary.

“In my own work I’ve realised that I blink all the time – even when I’m doing something sneaky, which is a bit of a tell.

“That’s the kind of lesson you learn. Then, when I’m designing work for other magicians, their creativity informs what I’m doing in a symbiotic way.

 “Any artist has to collaborate at some level.

“By tradition, magic is very solitary and that’s detrimental to it as a form.

“By collaborating, I’ve broken down some of the self-inflicted barriers I’ve made for myself.”

Image shows Ben with his fingers steepled, surrounded by light bulbs
Magician Ben Hart says he finds it easier to interact with an audience when there’s a script

Ben Hart – an outsider

Nevertheless, Ben paints himself as a an outsider.

On the cruise ship he tells me he goes for breakfast with his cap pulled down: “The audience is a bit too captive.

“There’s nothing worse than being famous and having an audience that can’t leave.

“They just want to chat but, like any performer I rely on my scripts and I don’t like environments where I can’t do that”.

It’s part jest, but also part truth.

He paints a picture of a man “trapped” by his own talent and early success – at once fascinated by the research and plagued by the ideas for tricks that will take years to realise or perhaps will never be performed.

Should we take him at face value, or is his apparent honesty all part of the patter?

Image shows Ben Hart with symbols painted on his hands running sand through his fingers
Ben says he aims to unlock people’s sense of wonderment through his performances

why magic is a painful process for Ben Hart

“Making new work can be quite a painful process,” he said.

“What happens is, you think of an impossible idea – anyone can do that – and then you do research to see how you can edge yourself closer to that becoming a trick.

“That process for me now takes longer and longer – it can be years.

“There’s usually no light bulb moment.

“A magic trick is a synthesis of compromises – magic is not possible, so you have to make accommodations and work out how the audience can see them as I want.

“It’s also a process that’s difficult to talk about, because the magician’s canvas is the bit nobody sees – that they shouldn’t even be aware of.

“My job is to host an evening of entertainment – all of my choices are about making sure the audience’s experience is amazing.

“I’m not interested in how hard it is to fool them, it’s more about getting them to a place where they can go on the journey.

“I’m like a tour guide who can take them somewhere where they might be able to experience something amazing. 

“As a magician I want to reveal to the audience a feeling of astonishment which is already inside them.

“Everyone knows we’re capable of feeling wonderment, but it’s infrequent that we get to do it. I create this environment.”

That’s exactly what audiences at Wilton’s can expect when Ben takes the stage, albeit with limited props.

Image shows Ben wearing a white suit jacket with his wrists crossed in shadow play
Ben says he insisted on performing at Wilton’s Music Hall as it’s his favourite venue in London

a special venue

“It’s really one of my favourite venues in the whole world,” said Ben.

“I’ve been lucky enough to perform all over the place, but having a venue that’s old and full of atmosphere is incredible – I really love it.

“It’s also a very good venue for magic in terms of audience sight lines.

“Because it’s so stripped back, there can’t be any feeling that there are people hiding anywhere.

“My show is rooted in storytelling and I hope the magic I do has a bit more power behind it than people might have experienced before.

“I have stripped back all the cheesy Paul Daniels stuff. 

“There are no sequins – I don’t insult the audience’s intelligence by getting them to think that a box is empty or anything like that.

“Coming at it from a contemporary stance, I’ve managed to create the kind of magic show you might have seen 100 years ago, but you would seldom see now.

“Almost everything I do depends on objects borrowed from the audience, so they know they’re legitimate – not fakes. 

“I think magic is an incredibly direct and creative form.

“I can get a gasp of amazement from an audience within 60 seconds of the show starting and that’s amazingly efficient theatre.

“The audience goes on a sort of magical rollercoaster during the show – it’s like a theme park level of emotion.

“An object you thought was there, isn’t, or that something isn’t what you thought it was.

“Magic is a kind of mind-hacking, really playing with people’s perceptions and how they remember things – it’s fascinating stuff.

“It reminds us that you can’t trust everything in the world.

“Magicians can hold a lot of emotional power, which can be neglected.

“We need to remember we’re all living in an illusion and this is a magical thing.”

creating new tricks

As for the future, Ben says he has at least 10 tricks that he’s continuing to slave over, although that number just represents the ones where there’s a chance of completion.

“There are loads of things I’d love to do in front of an audience,” he said.

“Most are miles away from being finished.

“I’ve also got a list of stuff I’ve been working on since I was a kid, which I don’t think will ever be performed.

“I’d especially love to do a version of an old Indian street magic trick called the Mango Tree Illusion.

“A seed is planted and – over the course of a 30-minute show – it grows into a tree, complete with fruit.

“The magician then cuts the mangoes off so people can see they’re real.

“The traditional secret is to swap out the trees when the audience isn’t looking.

“There have been many takes on it and I’ve been working on mine for years but whether I’ll ever solve it, I don’t know.”

key details: Ben Hart at Wilton’s Music Hall

Ben Hart: Live is set to be performed on July 15 and 16, 2024, at Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping.

Both shows start at 7.30pm and last 90 minutes plus an interval.

Tickets start at £12.50.

Find out more about the show here

Read more: How The Body People brings movement to East Wick And Sweetwater

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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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