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Rotherhithe: Author Tom Chivers shares an extract from his latest book London Clay

The Rotherhithe-based writer offers thoughts on his first non-fiction work and a slice of the text

Author Tom Chivers grew up in south London
Author Tom Chivers grew up in south London

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Recently released, London Clay is Tom Chivers’ first foray into non-fiction.

Billed as a “lyrical interrogation of a capital city, a landscape and our connection to place”, its 464 pages host a heady blend of historical research, reportage and personal memoir that promises to change the way its readers view urban areas.  

A published poet as well as an author, publisher and arts producer, south London-born Tom has lived in Rotherhithe with his wife and children since 2014.

He said: “I grew up on the River Effra, literally over it because it’s subterranean, and that made me realise there’s a whole world beneath the streets.

“When I was 17 I wrote a very long and bad poem called Effra, which was an attempt to reflect the lost rivers in writing and, ever since then, I’ve been interested in trying to capture the history and atmosphere of London – its speed, aggression and that underlying sense of violence one feels in the city.

“I wanted to show that strange dissonance between the London of high finance and the London of poverty and grime as well as the new London that’s rising above us now.

“My way in was the lost rivers – some of them are still flowing, but many are untraceable so you’re looking for fragments or remnants. I’m interested in the natural landscapes of London so I started looking at the geological foundations of the city. 

“The premise of London Clay is a series of walks, but it’s trying to understand how the deep city of geological strata has determined the history of the city, and also how we feel about it and approach it today.

“It’s not a traditional guidebook – firstly, each journey tries to get under the skin of the place and immerse readers in that weird landscape, trying to unpeel the surface of the city.

“Secondly, I would genuinely love it if people felt inspired, both to go to the places that I write about, but actually more so to go to places that they know, that they live in or maybe work in, and use that same method of starting with the geology.

“The extract here features my journey to the River Lea and, because I’d never been there, discovering this extraordinary landscape – the developer’s dream of London City Island, Bow Creek Ecology Park and the absolutely amazing Trinity Buoy Wharf populated by artworks all about immersing us in deep time – the perfect place to end my journey across the city.” 

London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City by Tom Chivers is published by Doubleday and costs £20 in hardback.

Detail from the cover of London Clay by Tom Chivers
Detail from the cover of London Clay by Tom Chivers

FROM LONDON CLAY

>> I arrive in Limmo to the music of screeching tyres: a silver hatchback flooring it out of the western roundabout of the Lower Lea Crossing.

Burnt rubber.

Mudflats.

Tidal swill.

>> I had crossed the river to get here, to walk the final stretch of the Lea, on an empty train from Rotherhithe, before trekking through the former maritime ‘hamlets’ of Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliffe, Limehouse and Poplar – now one continuous development from the Tower Of London to the Lea.

The river is where it ends.

‘To start again. With a wiped slate’.

>> Leamouth: Limmo: Limbo. The purgatorial energies of the place are overwhelming. Ruined dock walls stand in the shadows of half-built towers, open to the wind; sales and marketing suites for future homes; concrete flyovers sunk into alluvial swamp; the brine-stink of Bow Creek, as the Lea is called down here, where the channel loops back on itself in a series of hairpin bends. 

The Lea once formed the border between Wessex and the Danelaw and it still feels like frontier land – London’s Wild East. On the near side, the Saxon kingdom of Alfred (urbane, Christian); on the far bank, the great heathen army of the Vikings under Guthrum. The earliest canalization of the Lea may date to this time, when in AD895, Alfred ordered the draining of its lower reaches to prevent the Viking fleet reaching the Thames from their base in Hertford. In the middle of the roundabout a giant figure surveys the traffic heading across the Lea – the three legs and disembodied face of Allen Jones’s Aerobic (1993) – a rusting, sheet-metal Matisse whose feet are barbed like arrowheads, like something dredged from the water.

>> I find a bench by Bow Creek and carefully disinfect my hands with antibacterial gel before wolfing down a shop-bought sandwich. A couple in matching Lycra stop for a photo, their beaming selfie framed by an island of green wilderness on the opposite bank, where dense vegetation spills over the steel revetments at the water’s edge. Storm clouds are gathering to the north as I cross to the island by a modern footbridge. 

The bridge spans the creek just below the nine-lane flyover of the A13 and also runs parallel with an abandoned single-track railway built in 1848 to carry goods between Canning Town and the East India Dock. The railway bridge is now covered with graffiti and rendered inaccessible by forests of weeds and nettles at either end. Nevertheless, I notice that a nylon hiking tent has been pitched on the empty trackway directly above the freezing tidal water. 

A fourth crossing – an ornamental pipe bridge carrying gas into London from the Beckton works – is remembered by a solitary brick pier on the east bank. The tent shakes violently in the wind gusting downstream.

Tom's work is billed as a 'lyrical interrogation of a capital city'
Tom’s work is billed as a ‘lyrical interrogation of a capital city’

>> The island across the water, I discover, is not wilderness at all but a carefully managed ecology park squeezed, ingeniously, on to a teardrop peninsula inside a loop of the creek. A branch of the Docklands Light Railway splits the narrow bar in two such that the park appears, in places, to be merely an extension of the railway verge. The geography is hair-raising. 

As I move along the island, deserted trains rush past on an elevated viaduct to the southern shore, where they appear to launch, unmanned, back across the creek, soaring like rollercoaster cars above the Lower Lea Crossing. The DLR track extends a dead-end railway siding marked on old maps and aerial photographs – the only visible feature of an otherwise muddy, contaminated wasteland. During the construction of the park in 1996, traces of mercury were detected in the ground, leading to the addition of an extra 40cm of topsoil. 

Where the Olympic Park struggles to contend with the vast scale of the Lea Valley, the Bow Creek Ecology Park has the benefit of intimacy; it takes around 10 minutes to complete a circuit on footpaths brimming with red clover and ox-eye daisy. Locals appear alone or in pairs: a jogger by a reed-filled mere; two women sharing a spliff in a shady bower beneath the railway embankment. Small white butterflies explode from bushes as giant bumblebees stumble, nectar-drunk, amid the wildflowers. I disappear into the undergrowth for a piss and for a moment, in the darkness between trees, I could be almost anywhere but here.

>> An information board tells me how the park’s wetlands are fed by groundwater from a borehole sunk into the mud to a depth of twelve metres. A pump is used to regulate the levels in two ponds connected by a weir. Every September, an area of meadow is deliberately inundated ‘to mimic the natural flooding of a river floodplain’. Here, as Sid observed, the natural is artificial – a simulacrum of the real thing. But the human is also part of nature; we are hustling at the edge of the frame, observers of a world to which we, too, are subject.

>> I follow the path out of the park and along Bow Creek. In this corkscrew geography, the east bank is now west, and across the mudflats another peninsula emerges. In shape it is an inverse facsimile of the first, a little larger perhaps; but in place of the dense foliage of the ecology park it is crammed with towering modern apartment blocks. The sheet metal revetments have been capped with brand-new concrete blocks and stainless-steel railings on which two men in matching polo shirts are leaning.

>> In truth, there is nothing ‘flat’ about the mudflats of Bow Creek. They swell and heave with the submerged ruins of innumerable wharves and slipways, timber piles and river stairs – here folding and unfolding like a satellite image of mountains, here fractured by deep gashes filled with rubble, nails, car tyres, rusting exhausts, chicken wire, road signs, aluminium cans, traffic cones, shopping trolleys, waste pipes and, a little upstream, a large steel litter bin. 

Everything that could have fallen into the creek has done; and everything that has done is covered in the same claggy, grey liquor. It is hard to resolve this hazardous, post-industrial topography with the upmarket development on the opposite bank. Unlike the upper reaches of the Lea, Bow Creek remains defiantly tidal. It is a dynamic environment that cannot easily be tidied away.

>> I cross a footbridge spanning the creek and City Island appears, as it is designed to, like a miniature version of Lower Manhattan. The name is a marketer’s invention – a place that is dense with history now reduced to its simplest forms. Island. City. City. Island.

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Canary Wharf: How Urban Greens salads are all about depth, flavour and taste

Recently opened in the West Wintergarden, the brand believes it’s found a gap in the market

Urban Greens co-founder Houman Ashrafzadeh
Urban Greens co-founder Houman Ashrafzadeh – image Matt Grayson

While alone in offering frisbees, Kaleido isn’t the only new salad game in town. It’s also not the only company to bill itself as delivering something fresh.

Following the success of its first branch in St James’ Park, Urban Greens has opened a second in Canary Wharf, filling space opposite Obica in the West Wintergarden with leafy plants and plenty of pickled and blanched ingredients.  

The brand is the brainchild of co-founders Houman Ashrafzadeh, Rushil Ramjee and Ioannis Divas. The three met while studying and remained friends as their separate careers flourished. 

“We weren’t business partners to begin with,” said Houman. “But we’d always explore food places together – we’ve always had a big interest in it.

“I grew up in Sweden, Rushil in South Africa, although he’d also lived in London for a long time, and Ioannis in Greece. We would travel to South Africa and other places together and spot these amazing places for food.

“We always had the entrepreneurial spirit in us and, although we had successful careers in the corporate world, we knew that we wanted to do something of our own. A couple of years ago, one thing that came to our minds – London has always been, for us, an amazing place with the best restaurants that you can find on the planet.

“But when it came to the healthy fast food side of things, we always thought it was lagging behind. 

“We discovered that in Scandinavia and the US a lot of food brands were doing things that we couldn’t even find here. 

“So we started looking into different brands to get some inspiration and we spotted that, when it came to salads, there was a huge gap – no-one was doing them properly.

“You could find salads that had been around a long time, but these were plain ingredients in a bowl with a bit of dressing chucked in.

“They were nothing special, just very traditional, boring salads, which didn’t excite us. People would have them because they were considered healthy, but there was something missing.”

Serving up salad at Urban Greens
Serving up salad at Urban Greens – image Matt Grayson

It took the trio about two years to formulate their business plan, working between Athens, London and Stockholm, slowly creating the concept, discussing the menu and eventually negotiating with a landlord to open their first site in 2019.

Rushil and Houman left their jobs to concentrate on running Urban Greens in the UK with Ioannis taking a more passive role.

“It felt scary at first, because we were leaving very steady jobs – very predictable and comfortable lifestyles – doing something that was in a new industry for us,” said Houman.

“Our approach was that, we may not have experience, but we know what good food is, what good service is – we know what we like when we go to a good place. We wanted to try to implement those things in our own business.

“We launched in July 2019 and it started picking up really quickly. People would come in and try it and be very pleasantly surprised from a taste point of view, but also by the whole concept.”

That reaction may very well be down to Urban Greens’ tireless approach to creating a core menu of balanced salads that all offer something out of the ordinary.

“Our salads are not side salads – our portions are quite big,” said Houman. “It’s also impossible to replicate our salads at home because every flavour is elevated – we don’t have any plain ingredients.

“Each salad has a few elements in common – they all have a base such as cabbage marinated in olive oil and salt. 

“They all come with one form of protein. That could be quinoa or red rice, for example. 

“Then you have something pickled but not just a plain pickle – we add flavours to it. Our carrots are pickled with ginger so that enters the salad.

“Not everything can be pickled, as that would be overpowering, so we add other ingredients but again, we don’t just put cauliflower or broccoli in a bowl – we blanch them to take away that harshness. 

“They still add crunch – we don’t boil them – it’s the elevation of taste and flavour that comes with it. There are always vegetarian and vegan options.”

Urban Greens' Canary Wharf branch
Urban Greens’ Canary Wharf branch – image Matt Grayson

Core dishes include the Jakarta with tempeh, seasame marinated glass noodles, pickled carrots, edamame, bean sprouts, coriander, toasted peanuts and seasame seeds and the Beef Saigon with Irish pulled brisket, glass noodles, blanched broccoli, pickled cabbage, edamame, bean sprouts, fresh mint and toasted peanuts.

“The funny thing is I never get tired of the Beef Saigon or the Seoul Chicken because they both come with a really nice spicy dressing,” said Houman. 

“But we always try to encourage our customers to get out of their comfort zones and to try something new.

“The prices vary – the vegan ones start from £7.85, the ones in the middle are £8.85, and the premium ones are £9.95.

“When you visit Urban Greens, everything you see is the result of decisions we have been taking consciously – we are in control of it, involved in every little part of the business.

“After we opened our first store we were approached by quite a few landlords and Canary Wharf approached us.

“We took a look into it and, although neither of us had worked in Canary Wharf – we had worked in the City – we definitely thought that it was one place we wanted to move to as an expansion, but it came much sooner than we had anticipated when we were starting up in the beginning.”

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Royal Docks: Hyrox debut at Excel will be UK first for the emerging fitness race

Co-created by German Olympian Moritz Fürste, the event will see thousands compete at the venue

Hyrox co-founder Moritz Fürste
Hyrox co-founder Moritz Fürste

It’s fair to say Moritz Fürste has a bit of a soft spot for east London.

The German won the second of his two Olympic Gold medals for hockey at the 2012 Games in Stratford, celebrating victory in Canary Wharf – although he can’t remember exactly where. The party was obviously a good one.  

 But what do you do after you’ve reached the pinnacle of success in your chosen sport? 

In Mo’s case, the answer is to team up with global sports event expert Christian Toetzke and advertising and marketing specialist Michael Trautmann to create something new. Then spread it all over the world.

Hyrox is that thing and it’s set to arrive for the first time in the UK at Excel in Royal Docks on September 25 with sister events in Birmingham on October 30 and in Manchester on January 29 as its fourth season progresses. But what exactly is it?

“Hyrox is a new sport that doesn’t fit into any existing category,” said Mo. “The idea was not just to create an event, it was about founding a complete new sport in the world. We’re pretty convinced that we’ve discovered a field where there is a niche not used before.

“Go back 10 years and people would go to the gym, but they were often basketball players, football players or whatever.

“Nowadays more that 50% of the people that go the gym say that fitness is their sport, so that was the founding idea of our company. We had this thought of a competition, a race for those people.

“People want to show their skills and what they’ve learned. Fitness people are often very competitive, but there’s no obvious way to showcase what you’ve got.

“Of course, there are very cool sports like Crossfit, which is like for the top 0.1% of the fitness world. Then there are obstacle races, which are cool, but they’re not meant to be competitive – they’re more about completion.

“Hyrox is a mass participation event for fitness, just like triathlon is a mass participation event for endurance. Essentially it’s a combination of fitness and running, so that’s why I call it a race.”

Participants complete eight, 1km runs during the race
Participants complete eight, 1km runs during the race

The format is comparatively simple – eight separate exercises separated by eight 1k runs. The aim is to complete the whole course in the fastest time possible.

“The exercises are always the same,” said Mo. “The eight workouts after each run are always in the same order and they are doing 1km on a SkiErg, which is like a vertical rowing machine, then a sled push, where you have to push it over 50 metres of carpet.

Next you have to pull the sled back, then there are some burpee broad jumps for 80 metres in total and 1km on a rowing machine followed by a farmers carry with kettlebells.

“Then there are the sandbag lunges, with the weight on your back for 100 metres. The whole thing finishes with 75 or 100 wall balls.

“It’s always the same workout, because we are convinced that successful sports all over the world don’t change their logic every year. I think that people want to get better at what they do.

“The first question people ask when you finish a Marathon is what time did you finish in? Everybody can compare it, and then the next time you start you can compare it to your own time.”

Burpees are also part of the challenge
Burpees are also part of the challenge

Mo himself completed the course in an hour and 20 minutes – about 15 minutes quicker than the average men’s open race time – and holds the current Hyrox office record. 

With events held across Europe and the USA, the current world record stands at 55 minutes while Mo said the slowest recorded time was “by a really nice guy in Chicago” who did it in three hours and 25 minutes. 

With around 3,000 competitors at each event, a battalion of judges keeps watch over each event to ensure nobody is cheating. Those flouting the rules get a warning, a second warning and are then disqualified. 

The UK represents a significant expansion for Hyrox, which will hold 35 events worldwide this season. Competitors compete for a place at the World Championships, where those with the very best times vie for the title.

“We’re excited to be in the UK, because the UK is a massive fitness market,” said Mo.

“The percentage of people signed up to gyms there is so much higher than the rest of Europe, except for Scandinavia for some reason.

“It’s very interesting to see the amount of money that’s spent in that area. People who do stuff like that buy the best shoes they can possibly get, because even the worst runner doesn’t want their shoes to be any worse than they already are.

“London is the biggest city in Europe, so we’re more than excited to get over to Excel. 

“The biggest difficulty for us, regarding the UK events and introducing Hyrox to a new market is that people think it’s not accessible from a strength and performance perspective – that’s so far from the truth.

“We have a 99% finish rate – 99 out of 100 who start, finish the course. It is tough, really tough, but it is accessible – everybody can do it.

“There’s not a workout where people keep telling me that they couldn’t move the sled – we haven’t seen that, ever. It’s on a carpet, it’s tough, but you will finish it. That’s really important for us to explain from the beginning.

“Also, if they don’t want to do it by themselves then they can do it in the doubles competition, because there’s the mixed option where you share the workload.”

The sled push is followed by the sled pull
The sled push is followed by the sled pull

Prospective individual participants can register for the standard men’s and women’s races or the pro men’s or pro women’s competitions for £74 per person.

Single sex or mixed doubles registration costs £129, with spectator tickets available for £10, including a £5 gift voucher for use at Hyroxworld.

“Training for Hyrox is very tough and you have to run, so endurance is very important but, at the same time, you have to be a complete athlete and training for that is healthy,” said Mo. “It’s not like doing a marathon which is very hard on your feet and calves.

“Not a single muscle gets bigger than it should be – you don’t have to run 42k – it’s eight times one and that’s a big difference.

“Running 8km is one thing, but running eight singles is a completely different ballgame.

“I really think Hyrox has the potential to be an Olympic sport one day. It’s the perfect competition missing from the fitness world.

“Many people have been waiting for this kind of race to show up. Will we be at the Olympics in five years? Probably not. In 10? I don’t know, but I think that’s the path we should aim for.

“If not in the Olympics, at least making it that big and, if that doesn’t work out, we’d like to grow it to something like the Triathlon World Series or the Marathon World Series and have it known as this huge world fitness event or race that people like to attend.

“In Germany we have about 450 gym partnerships – places that pay a small licence fee for a year to use the name and the workouts, which is a very cool offline marketing tool for us and allows people to train.

“I know that we have 18 partnerships in the UK so far and counting. That’s something we’d like to expand as Hyrox continues to grow.”

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Wapping: How Wapping Wicks scented candles grew from a passion into a business

Sara-Jane Cross turned a lockdown hobby into a brand by mixing oils with soy and coconut wax

Wapping Wicks founder Sara-Jane Cross - image Matt Grayson
Wapping Wicks founder Sara-Jane Cross – image Matt Grayson

It started off with making gifts for family. Trapped at home in lockdown, Wapping resident Sara-Jane Cross decided to try a new hobby. She sent away for a kilo of wax on the internet and all the ingredients necessary to make her own scented candles, got melting and posted the finished products off.

“I made seven different ones,” said Sara-Jane. “My mum said they were amazing and that I should sell them. 

“My boyfriend came up with the name – Wapping Wicks – and we started in November because I’d decided I needed to hit the festive market, which is huge for candles. I started making one called Christmas Frost in batches of six.

“There are all sorts of secret ingredients in it, lots of spices – a combination of orange, pine wood and cloves. It just smells like Christmas and it completely took off. At that stage I had no website and it was a bit out of control. I was making candles at 11pm to keep up with demand.

“I’d come home from work, do the deliveries in the pouring rain and spend the weekends making as many as I could.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own business – to be honest I didn’t know whether people would buy them, but the orders kept coming in through Instagram so I created a website when I couldn’t go north over Christmas and after that I was in a lot more control.”

Sara-Jane, who is originally from just outside Chester and moved to east London eight years ago, has spent the time since developing her range, which now includes many different scents, wedding favours and even candle-making kits for those who want to give the craft a go themselves.

“I really want to see where it goes, where I can take it,” she said. “I use soy and coconut waxes and was passionate from the start about making sure I wasn’t using paraffin.

“I feel like there’s a gap in the market for natural wax so I’m going to see what this Christmas looks like because September to

March is the sweet spot in terms of sales – generally people buy candles when it’s colder weather.”

Sara-Jane, who works in the insurance industry when she’s not making candles, uses recycled jars for her products and donates 10% of the profits she makes to charity.

“I’ve raised money for Action Medical Research and the Countess Of Chester NHS hospital where my nan passed away so I wanted to give something back to the nurses there,” she said.

“I’ve also supported local charities including East London Cares, which tackles loneliness among the elderly. People have sent their ideas in via Instagram about who we should support.”

Some of the products in the Wapping Wicks range
Some of the products in the Wapping Wicks range – image Matt Grayson

So far, Sara-Jane’s range of products includes Pomegranate Kuro, Winter Frost, Pomelo Breeze, Velvet Peony, Rosewood and Seashore. She also produces limited editions and is always looking to develop new scents.

“A lot of the ones I’ve come up with have been based on feedback I’ve had from people,” she said. 

“Seashore, which features vanilla, coconut and amber, reminds me of the seaside and being by the river in Wapping. 

“I’m working on one at the moment for friends, which has peppermint and eucalyptus, and my brother has decided he’s into candles so I think there’s a bit of a male market out there – I haven’t got a masculine scent at the moment.

“It’s all about experimenting, just finding something that smells amazing.

“The black and white branding is just me – I love it – and I do a bit of art, sketches of buildings, which are all monochrome too. I’ve done some of Wapping and I definitely want to combine the candles and those images in the future.”

That’s a move that’s likely to go down well with Sara-Jane’s core customer base which has seen strong sales locally. 

“Some people order 10 at a time and give them out to family, especially customers who are living in Wapping,” she said. 

“A lot of my customers come back and you see orders coming from the same housing development after one person has bought some.”

Sara-Jane delivers her candles in Wapping
Sara-Jane delivers her candles in Wapping – image Matt Grayson

With strong sales in her first year, Sara-Jane said she would ultimately love Wapping Wicks to turn into her full-time activity, but for now she’s content to keep making her candles from home.

“You have to be really precise,” she said. “You measure out the wax, the scent, which is a blend of different types of oils.

“Then you melt the wax using a bain-marie, as if you were melting chocolate, until it gets to about 65-70 degrees centigrade. You take it off the heat and wait for it to cool down to about 55 degrees and then you add the scent, stir it in and pour it into the containers you’ve prepared.

There’s a little sticker on the bottom of the wick that holds it in place and a centring piece for the top to keep it straight.

“I have to use sellotape when I’m making my bigger candles because they have three wicks.

“Then you have to let the wax set for a couple of days – I always have lots of candles standing around in my house at different stages of the process.”

Prices for Wapping Wicks candles vary, starting at £14 for Seashore or Winter Frost. A three-wick Pomelo Breeze candle costs £26.

Local customers can get 10% off their next order by returning jars to Sara-Jane for recycling. 

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Property: Why Alex Neil believes estate agency must be international and local

Matteo Congedo, regional manager for Canary Wharf and Docklands, talks service, sales and lets

Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo
Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo – image Matt Grayson

First established in 1984, when much of Docklands was still a derelict industrial wasteland, estate agency Alex Neil has stood the test of time, embracing the challenges of regeneration while growing and nimbly evolving to serve its ever-changing market.

Walk through the doors of its Canary Wharf and Docklands branch on Westferry Road and beneath the grey and copper of its branding you’ll find a business marketing properties in 65 different countries via 94 online portals – the kind of reach that would have been impossible 37 years ago.

“When we represent a vendor or a landlord, we do the very best we can to make sure they get maximum visibility in terms of marketing,” said regional manager Matteo Congedo.

“Because of Brexit and the fluctuations in the value of the pound, people overseas have seen that as an opportunity to invest in London and Canary Wharf is seen as one of the best places to be, so we’ve invested heavily in marketing all the properties we have internationally. That’s not something many agents can offer in London.

“But we also like to have a local presence – for example, we send out 300,000 printed supplements in the areas we cover as well and that reaches a different audience.

“We’re a modern agency, but that means using a range of different methods to make sure we cover as wide a demographic as possible. 

“One of the mistakes agencies make in terms of marketing is that they think one thing is going to work and they invest all their time and effort in that – social media, for instance. But what about people who don’t look at those platforms?

“What we’ve seen with video tours of properties during the pandemic, for example, is that because people are potentially committing themselves to a home for 30 years, they’re not going to do that if they only see it on a screen.

“It’s not like buying something on Amazon where if you don’t like it you can send it back. So during the pandemic we made sure we could continue physical viewings, equipping our staff with PPE, minimising time wasted.”

Operating from three locations in addition to Canary Wharf – Chiselhurst And Bromley, Bow And Bethnal Green and Rotherhithe And Bermondsey – the company covers Docklands, Kent, Essex and east and south-east London, marketing properties both to buy and rent.

Matteo said: “The sales market is very interesting at the moment because the only two things people were thinking about a couple of months ago were buying a place and working from home.

“At that time, because of the restrictions, buyers didn’t really have much opportunity to do anything else. With the easing, we’ve seen a bit of a drop in terms of viewings but a rise in terms of the quality of applicants – more serious buyers.

“Before we had people who were just looking around because there wasn’t much else to do.

“Now, as society opens up to other things – you can see family or friends you haven’t seen in a long time – those people who weren’t seriously committed to buying are doing those activities instead, rather than  searching for a property.

“That’s good for owners, because the time between putting a property on the market and getting an offer has fallen as a result.

“The way I see it, the average age of Canary Wharf residents is likely to drop. 

“Over the past year, families have started to be more open to other areas.  This area is great to live in but potentially doesn’t offer as much in terms of schools as some others. That’s what’s driven a lot of families to move to the outskirts of London.

“But, if you want to live in a cool place, walking distance to the office and the amenities of Canary Wharf and you want to be able to do lots of activities then it’s the place to be.

“I’m a true believer that Canary Wharf won’t struggle. Yes, over the past 15 months we’ve been through a lot and we’ll need a bit of time to adjust, but what Docklands offers is unparalleled compared to any other place in London. 

“People don’t want a long commute, especially if they’re working in financial services or for a big company where they’re doing very long hours in the office.

“The last thing you want to do after that is to go on a depressing journey on the Tube. It’s dark and dingy, especially in winter – an increasing number of people want to live close to work. 

“Also, what the buildings here offer in terms of facilities is very attractive – you have cinema rooms, swimming pools, concierge services and business hubs. The lifestyle here is completely different to how it was 20 years ago. 

“In terms of what’s popular, the older developments are really holding their ground because they offer a very large floorplan and that’s what people want. Then there are a lot of youngsters attracted by the new developments.”

Matteo says the rental market will book in September – image Matt Grayson

Matteo said the rental market locally had been through a rollercoaster of a year with the pandemic initially seeing tenants leaving the area but predicted a recovery would follow widespread return to offices.

He said: “We’ve seen Canary Wharf Group move into the build-to-rent market – a prime example being the Newfoundland building, which is just across the road from our office – that’s evidence of the demand for package deals where those renting pay a fixed price with bills included.

“We’re dealing with the Circus Apartments at Canary Riverside, which is another build-to-rent scheme  of 46 apartments, all offering luxury living because that fits with the calibre of people the area is attracing at the moment. 

“When people were not allowed in the offices, we did see a migration away but things are picking up and I think we’re going to have a boom around September when a large proportion of Canary Wharf workers are expected back in the office.

“That’s what we’re preparing our team for. It’s reassuring because there’s a huge buy-to-let market locally with many investors putting money in from abroad.”

Matteo was also keen to stress that, while Alex Neil is very much a company that looks outward, its heart is firmly in the communities it operates in, donating a percentage of its fees to a chosen charity each year and welcoming collaboration with local organisations.

He said: “Estate agency is a people business. The agent should be someone embedded in the community – it’s very important that every viewing we do, every person we speak to, we give the best possible level of customer service because you never know who you’re dealing with.

“The tenant of today could be the buyer or the landlord of tomorrow. Because we’ve been here such a long time, we have people who perhaps began renting through us but are now looking to buy and are looking only through us because they have an expectation – they know we’re going to do the best we can.

“In the industry, you see a lot of pop-up shops, businesses that start up and then close down after a couple of years because they don’t really offer a service. We’ve been established since 1984 and that says a lot.

“This year both me and the firm’s director David Hatch will be running the London Marathon to raise money for Guy’s And St Thomas’ Kidney Patients Association. We’d love to raise as much money as possible. As a company we try to do as much for charity as we can.

“An estate agency should be part of its community –  a point of contact if you need anything. 

“For example, we just bought a greenhouse for a girls school in Chiselhurst so they can grow plants. It’s about giving something back to people locally.”

Call 020 7537 9859 or go to alexneil.com for more information about properties in the area or to pledge your support for Matteo and David’s efforts in the forthcoming London Marathon

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