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Royal Docks: Why the Excel expansion will have an impact way beyond east London

Venue CEO Jeremy Rees explores the plans’ impact locally and across the whole of the capital

Excel CEO Jeremy Rees
Excel CEO Jeremy Rees – image Matt Grayson

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Jeremy Rees is in a buoyant mood. The bustle of the main boulevard is a welcome sight for the CEO of the Excel centre beside Royal Victoria Dock as crowds of delegates attending events arrive and depart. 

But the fact that the venue is set to host 60 exhibitions this autumn – a 50% increase on a typical year – isn’t the reason for his upbeat demeanour. It’s the future. 

Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), which owns Excel, recently won planning approval from Newham Council for its expansion plan. 

Its proposal will see floorspace at the venue increase by 25% including 25,000sq m of event space, a high end convention space, meeting rooms and catering facilities. 

The plans, which will now be referred to the Mayor Of London for consideration, also include a substantial investment in greenery along the dock edge and a new park to the east of the site.

Jeremy said: “It’s extremely exciting and it’s been a long time in the planning. The idea is to extend Excel to the east, across the car park that’s there at the moment, so there’ll be a continuous, long, straight space.

“It will be double-decked – downstairs will be a flat floor events space and upstairs will be a proper modern convention space.

“The world has moved on in the last five years and customers’ expectations have shifted.

“What they want are extraordinarily good, modern facilities that are intimate, but can open up to really large spaces for 2,000 to 3,000 people for a banquet or a presentation.

“There are a good number of European events that can’t be hosted in the capital at the moment but, if we build it, they will come.

“London is an incredibly strong proposition for events and it always has been.

“As we come out of the pandemic, I think the same sorts of influences we have seen in previous recessions will mean people will focus their spend on top cities and events, where they know they can get a fantastic return on their investment.

“London is super-accessible, it’s worth coming, we’ve got an amazing cultural proposition and we’re trading now.

“European and American tech companies, for example, want to be back and operating but their expectations have shifted a bit.

“At Excel the boulevard is shared space with halls either side.

An artist's impression of how the expansion will look
An artist’s impression of how the expansion will look

“The advantage of the expansion is that exhibitors can own it completely, while everything else continues to operate.

“That means that, if you’re very particular about your branding – a big IT company, for instance – you can have a bright, modern space where you can control the entire environment.

“When you look at demand analysis across London and the UK, we don’t have sufficient congress space, and Phase Three will provide that in spades.

“It will bring brand new events, delegates and exhibitors to London and that’s part of a virtuous circle for the city. If you are hosting world class events you will have senior management teams from world class companies coming over for them.

“They will see London is fantastic and start to have conversations with promotional agencies, asking how they can get their roots and foundations into the city.

“So this project isn’t just about events, it’s about their far wider economic impact, about driving London forward and having a fit-for-purpose convention and exhibition centre here.”

An artist's impression of how the expansion will look
An artist’s impression of how the expansion will look

Excel also hopes the expansion, which could be open by 2024 if work is allowed to start next year, will have a similarly positive effect on its immediate surroundings.

“The Royal Docks is an enterprise zone and a big regeneration area and we all feel collectively that, if you can be a good neighbour and you can create value, then everyone wins,” said Jeremy.

“We have been talking with Newham Council and the GLA about how we can invest more in the local infrastructure, what we can do to improve the dock edge and the walkways and to make sure the landscaping is welcoming and engaging.

“In times past I’m not sure Excel has always been that welcoming to the community – it’s just been about exhibitions. There’s a chance for us to build more spaces that are generally increasingly used. 

“We have 700m of south-facing dock edge and one of the commitments I’ve made is to have, over the next couple of years, a series of exciting events and attractions that feed in more strongly to Excel as a destination where you can come as a family, a local resident or a delegate who’s flown in for a pharmacy congress and wants to have a nice evening.

 “We want to be both inward and outward facing and we’ll be announcing some really brilliant developments over the next 12 months.

“With Crossrail services coming, when the Elizabeth line starts running to Custom House, there will be an increasing opportunity for people to pop in.

“It will transform the way people use London and that connectivity means Canary Wharf, for example, will be three minutes away, so companies there will be able to use Excel as their convention centre.

“It goes both ways – the interdependence of the two will be quite powerful. Events that historically required a commitment of time to come here will now need only minutes.

“It will also open up people’s living and working arrangements locally.

“Having the Mayor Of London based at The Crystal in Royal Victoria Dock will also shine a light on the area.

“There’ll be a lot of investment partners, cultural partners and many others who wouldn’t have thought about living here, who will see it, view it, and actually be quite surprised about the opportunities the area presents and how they might fit into it.

“It’s a real vote of confidence in Royal Docks that that’s happening.

“Before 2000 Excel didn’t exist. Since then there have probably been between 45million and 50million people who have visited the place, it was a venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games and more recently served as a Nightingale Hospital and a vaccination centre.

“The events we host have an enormous economic benefit for London and we are increasingly thinking in a developmental way – that we’re more than a venue.

“If we can take that strategic leap we can have an even greater positive impact in the future.” 

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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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