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Sweheat Sauna in Royal Docks plans growth for the summer

Royal Victoria Dock installation is at Expressway, next to City Hall and is owned by Victoria Maddox

Four women in bathing costumes chat on wooden benches in a sauna
Women enjoy a sauna in “Dunck” at Royal Docks

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Sadiq Khan has another four years as Mayor Of London and doubtless, a long list of things to attend to from his base at City Hall at The Crystal in Royal Docks.

One way to tackle that stress might be to pay a visit to near neighbour Sweheat Sauna, a mostly open-air installation just outside Expressway on the edge of Royal Victoria Dock.  

While Sadiq’s popularity has won him a record third term in office, demand for Sweheat’s services is also growing with a second sauna and a plunge pool both set to arrive on site in mid-June, boosting capacity from its existing 12-seat facility. 

There’s also talk of a hot tub, should Sadiq prefer to support a growing business by immersing himself in a warmth beyond that of the London electorate.

The whole installation is the work of sauna activist and entrepreneur Victoria Maddox.

Having discovered a passion for the waterways of east London while working at the Alfred Le Roy cocktail barge in Hackney Wick and as a gardener at ecological regeneration project Cody Dock, she had her first wood-fired sauna in a converted horse box on the banks of the River Lea. 

“It was called Warmth and was owned by women who wanted me to get naked before wrapping me in a bundle of leaves – it was 100ºC, right on the edge of the river,” said Victoria. 

“Working at Cody Dock was quite a different environment from where I live in Croydon – it broadened my horizons a lot.

“There we were, taking saunas and throwing buckets of cold water over each other.”

Image shows Victoria Maddox, a blonde woman with blue eyes who owns Sweheat Sauna
Owner of Sweheat Sauna, Victoria MAddox

on a journey

Hooked, she joined the owners and helped take the sauna to Brighton in 2018.

Its success and the growing interest in wood-fired sauna, led her and others to create the British Sauna Society – originally a Facebook group that became a not-for-profit organisation in 2020 aimed at developing and promoting sauna culture in the UK.

Before this, however, Victoria had already acquired the sauna that stands in Royal Docks today for her first company, Nature Spa.

“Dunck” started life as a horse sauna in Nottinghamshire – built in Germany to aid the animals’ recovery after races.

But with its four-legged clients less than keen,  it had become a toasty hangout for stable hands and was up for sale on eBay. 

Once bought and converted for human use over the pandemic, Dunck entered service touring to Warleigh Weir near Bath, the town of Glastonbury, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Dorset.

Spells at Community Sauna Baths in Hackney Wick (where Victoria was a founding board member) and the New Docklands Steam Baths in Canning Town followed before relocation to Royal Victoria Dock when Sweheat opened up 10 months ago.

“We are an arts and culture facility – our sauna can be used as an amphitheatre – a crossover between a space to relax and a place of entertainment,” said Victoria.

“We have a wonderful list of events, but in between that, what I like to do here is to get people to enjoy their natural experience close to the lovely water of the dock – there’s an energy that makes everything so much more relaxed here.

“It’s grounded and it’s not pretentious. Social pressures should be off when we’re in the sauna, so I tell people when they come in that it’s not about endurance, it’s about enjoyment – that they should make themselves at home.

“There’s even a kettle, so they can make a cup of tea.

“People do chill out and have conversations – then, after 90 minutes, it’s done and they feel a million dollars.”

Two men sit on a bench in in the Royal Docks facility wearing bathing shorts and sauna hats
Sweheat Sauna is about more than getting hot in a wooden box

free and healthy

Bathing costumes are required  at Sweheat, although clothing optional sessions are also offered.

“That first sauna with Katie Bracher and Warmth at Cody Dock changed everything – none of the other saunas I’d had before this really did it for me,” said Victoria.

“It gave me a different perspective – seeing people I worked with running around naked.

“Having a sauna session is an investment in health and wellness, primarily because it de-stresses you.

“Secondly, and what most people don’t understand about sauna is that it’s a sweat-bath – it’s about detoxing your body and cleaning it from the inside out.

“Sweating pushes the muck out, so you couldn’t get any cleaner, even if you were to sit in a bath for hours, or have a really hot shower. 

“Sauna is the cleanest you’ll ever feel – have a sweat-bath and a really good scrub down. Your skin will feel amazing for days.” 

An image of the outside of Sweheat Sauna showing a green wall and a tree with a blue sign for the facility
Sweheat Sauna is located at Expressway near Royal Victoria Dock

experience and events at Sweheat Sauna

Sweheat, which is run by Victoria and her son Aron Rogers, offers the simple combination of saunas in Dunck and a cold water plunge.

Clients are invited to repeat the process as many times as they like during a 90-minute session. 

Located close to both watersports centre WakeUp Docklands and Love Open Water’s swimming facility at the western end of Royal Victoria Dock, it naturally complements their cold water offerings. 

Beyond that core, however, the facility offers a programme of events aimed at allowing people to experience different aspects of sauna culture.

These include a Full Moon Sauna Ceremony which combines the core offering with guided meditations, performances, live music and nature immersion.

Mythic Sauna features storytelling, while German-Style Sauna is for enthusiasts of aufgass, a practice that uses essential oils and traditional towel wafting.

There are specific sessions for men and women and Queer Tales For Queer folks – billed as an evening of sweat, relaxation and storytelling.

“Our standard price is £20, which is affordable when compared with a meal or a night in a the pub,” said Victoria. 

“Taking a sauna will get you some fantastic health benefits and you’ll feel amazing afterwards.

“I feel Sweheat is a bit anarchic – we’re doing something different and it’s all about how we interact with each other socially.

“We’re also right next door to the Mayor Of London. 

“Saunas make people shelve their ego a bit and allow them to connect more on a human level – participants can forge bonds of friendship and trust that might otherwise be a struggle to create.

“This is the first sauna I’ve operated on my own and it feels fabulous.

“Every day is perfect for a sauna.

“In Britain we have this mindset that you can’t do anything unless the weather is good.

“But sauna really liberates you when you’re very hot and then step out into the elements. It’s magical.” 

Three women in bathing costumes immerse themselves in a blue swimming pool of cold water at the east London installation
Cooling off after a session in the sauna at Royal Docks

Key details – Sweheat Sauna

Sweheat Sauna is located on the edge of Royal Victoria Dock beside Nakhon Thai restaurant on land belonging to Expressway.

Standard sessions cost £19.99 for 90 minutes of sauna and cold plunging.

Events start at £24.99, with booking for all available here.

The sauna is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 4.30pm-10pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am-10pm.

Sessions at 8.30pm are clothing optional, with clothing required at all other times.

Find out more about the sauna here

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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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Royal Docks: How Roxanna Lyssa is serving up Good Vibes at Royal Victoria Dock

Cafe at Expressway aims to offer customers more than just Perky Blenders coffee and hot toasties

Perky Blenders X Good Vibes at Expressway
Perky Blenders X Good Vibes at Expressway – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

If Sadiq Khan is looking for a London-made caffeine fix near his new base at The Crystal by Royal Victoria Dock, then he’s in luck.

All he needs to do is pop next door to Expressway and visit the hatch at Perky Blenders X Good Vibes.

The takeaway cafe serves coffee roasted up the road and is a collaboration between a Walthamstow-based roastery and entrepreneur Roxanna Lyssa.

You’ll see her behind the counter most days serving up lattes, toasties and cakes, and following in the footsteps of her grandma who served coffee and tea to dockers in the 1930s. We lured her away from the grinder to find out more.

past vibe

I stepped away from a 15-year career to re-evaluate where I was going and got a part-time job as a barista with Perky Blenders.

Six months later, in November 2019, a franchise opportunity came up, so I put together a business pitch for Good Vibes. We launched in June 2020

I worked in visual merchandising and product management for Lacoste UK previously, which was a fantastic part of my life and I acquired so many transferable skills. I started that career on the sales floor and progressed to head office.

But after 15 years, I wanted to go back on the frontline and do something on my own. I just wasn’t sure what. 

A coffee shop was never in mind, but life seemed to push me in this direction. I got into coffee because I love the product. 

My background really helps with what I do now. Small details all add up to the overall impact. I appreciate the importance of storytelling.

I hope that, when we’re engaging with our customers, they feel part of the journey and understand what we sell and why we sell it. 

Roxanna Lyssa of Good Vibes
Roxanna Lyssa of Good Vibes – image James Perrin

Perky vibe

Because they knew me and my background they trusted me to establish the coffee shop under my own brand identity.

As long as I serve the coffee to their standard and respect their brand guidelines, they’ve let me run with it. 

present vibe

I’m pleased to say that, two years down the line, we’ve created a community and I do think we’ve got good vibes.

We’re known for being that authentic, open-minded spot where people can be themselves and talk about what they want or order whatever kind of coffee they want. We’re not going to judge.

 It’s not just been about the coffee and the food, it’s also about the people. I love interacting and chatting and seemingly that’s my strong point. I’m known for my banter.

Royal Docks vibe

I wanted to drive culture and I could really see the potential for that in the Royal Docks with all the regeneration that’s happening here. 

I grew up in east London but hadn’t been here before, so when I found out you can come to the docks and ride a cable car, go open water swimming or try wakeboarding it blew my mind. It was pretty surreal to find that in London.

Good Vibes has just embedded itself in that. We do offers for the swimmers and for the wakeboarders because we want to be seen as part of the framework across the dock – we’re all in this together.

The cafe serves up Perky Blenders' speciality coffees
The cafe serves up Perky Blenders’ speciality coffees – image James Perrin

coffee vibe

In the office I was a person who had their own ground coffee and French press on the desk.

I’ve always loved and respected coffee and now, doing this, I think I’ve found a bit of mad scientist in me.

There are so many variables that you can control or manipulate in order to determine the end product – the temperature of the water, the extraction time, the grind size.

We sell a range of up to six different blends or single origins at a time. We also do drip coffee so we serve incoming blend on our espresso.

But then we’ll feature single origins or coffee-of-the-month blends on our drip coffee.

The venue offers a range of food options
The venue offers a range of food options – image James Perrin

food vibe

We are supplied by The Bread Station in Hackney and Cakesmiths in Bristol. We sell croissants – almond, chocolate, raisin and buns – cinnamon, cardamom, hazelnut and vegan cakes – banana chocolate, carrot cake, blueberry Bakewell and chocolate brownie. 

For lunch we’ve become known for our toasties. We use organic sourdough bread and fillings like chilli jam and spinach, tuna melt, chicken and avocado. I do really good homemade guacamole. 

The secret is choosing the right ingredients and making it with love, care and also consistency.

I’m a stickler for guidelines, because I was setting rules for the whole country at Lacoste. Customers getting what they expect to receive is so important to their experience. 

We also do Brick Lane bagels with fillings including vegan cream cheese and, going into winter, we’ve added jacket potatoes and soups from Leyton-base Zuppe in flavours like sweetcorn and coconut chowder, smoky roasted tomatoes and peppers and red lentil dhal.

natural vibe

I try to avoid any sort of artificial colours, flavourings, emulsifiers and additives. You won’t get a caramel latte in my coffee shop. 

I’m really against anything artificial and what’s good with a food and drink business is that you can encourage wellbeing through what people consume. You can educate people and advise them on how they can enhance their wellness.

Sweet treats from Cakesmiths at Good Vibes
Sweet treats from Cakesmiths at Good Vibes – image James Perrin

caring vibe

During lockdown I had a lot of residential customers coming over who would sometimes spend 30 minutes chatting to me because they were trapped in their flat all day without anyone else to see.

It’s not just physical wellness you can help through a coffee shop – it’s also mental health because that small transaction and a few minutes can actually change someone’s mindset. 

You can make someone feel better about themselves or you can take them away from the stress of the phone or their computer. 

I’ve really tried to build a coffee shop that is more than just a cafe – to make it a place where people can come to connect.

personal vibe

I’ve definitely suffered with anxiety in the past. Being in the corporate world with higher responsibilities, you do get to a point where things just become too much. It built up over time. 

I think there was a point where my to do list was three A4 pages and it was never going to be completed. 

I never had a feeling of accomplishment. Now, when I’ve made a lovely cup of coffee and handed it over, I do feel a sense of achievement.

I don’t know what changed, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to slow down and find myself, because I started working there when I was 18.

It was my first job and I’d always been Roxy at Lacoste. 

Suddenly, 15 years later, I was like ‘Who is just Roxy?’. I think I’ve found her now and Good Vibes is my happy place.

spreading vibe

We do wellness workshops with Yoga and meditation called Vibe And Flow. I’m due to start an event series from November, which is exciting, because it goes back to that idea of creating a culture. 

Expressway has got 200 businesses in it, so the range of people that I get to meet and collaborate with is unreal and I’m just trying to connect those dots. 

We also spread the love by selling products from my customers like Beinsense in Royal Docks and England Preserves in Bermondsey.

Going into Christmas I run a campaign called Give The Gift Of Local.

future vibe

All my costs have gone up significantly this year. I got through Covid and thought ‘I can survive anything’.

But then we came into this year and people are spending less money and we have fewer customers. It then makes operations very difficult because I’m running a very tight ship. 

But I’m still here, still working. I’ve got myself going in the right direction and I just want to try to grow the community aspect and collaborate with the people that I’ve got to know to see how we can all try and do better with what we’ve got. 

My brand tagline is: ‘Make waves to change the tide, not dominate the ocean’. I was never trying to come in and take over or be on top of anyone or be better than anyone.

Good Vibes is about trying to change direction for people, show them a different way and just contribute to something positive.

Read more: Discover east London firefighter Stephen Dudeney’s book

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Royal Docks: How Expressway offers industrial and office space to business

Royal Victoria Dock-based facility provides studio and growth space for small, expanding companies

An image of Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson
Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson – image Matt Grayson

For drivers cruising down into the southern slice of Royal Docks via the long, graceful curve of the Silvertown Way flyover it would be entirely possible to miss something extraordinary taking place beneath the smooth asphalt caressed by the rubber of their tyres.

But, turn right at the bottom onto the switchback of North Woolwich Road, and the hive of activity beneath the arc of the carriageways becomes increasingly apparent, a crescendo as the height of the units rises, culminating in a main entrance.

This is Expressway, a comprehensive revitalisation of the old Waterfront Studios Business Centre. General Projects, the company that bought the space in 2018, hasn’t so much updated the existing real estate as reinvented it, punching a fresh entrance through the wall to Royal Victoria Dock and installing a coffee shop serving Perky Blenders’ products to open it up to the public and fuel occupants of its studios and industrial units.

Outside, dark grey paint has refreshed the structure, while indoors, whites, greens and stencilled lettering alongside a profusion of plywood and real plants lend its communal spaces and corridors a light, airy feel. There’s no plastic foliage nonsense here, just a friendly welcoming atmosphere replete with community notice board and plenty of puns around the word ‘way’.

It’s a visual expression of the light-touch authenticity that’s at the core of General Projects’ scheme.

Studio space at Expressway in Royal Docks – image Matt Grayson

Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson said: “When the company was founded, the serviced office market was popping up all over central London, but what became apparent to us was that when you got further out, to areas such as Acton in the west, Croydon in the south, Haringey in the north and Royal Docks in the east, there wasn’t that same provision of space. 

“There were lots of blue carpet, white light offices but not much in the way of amenities or service for what we call steady growth innovators – hard working small businesses such as craft brewers, accountants, recruitment consultants and fashion designers.

“These aren’t the kinds of companies that are looking to raise £50million from venture capitalists. They’re looking to hire a couple of people who they trust, who will feel ownership of that business and will like going to work. Hyper-talented one-man-bands growing to five person firms.

“So when we were looking for locations as a company, we were hunting an incumbent sense of community.

“I’m not the figurehead of Expressway – it’s made up of the people who have worked here the longest. As a company, we’re just here to provide nice space for people and exactly the things that they want and not more than that because we know value is the most important part of our product.”

In addition to private office studios, typically 350sq ft, the facility boasts communal showers, cycle spaces, meeting rooms and a co-working space as well as industrial units of between 1,000sq ft and 7,000sq ft.

“We think this is London’s first truly serviced industrial space,” said Jacob. “We can provide spaces fully furnished or fitted at a basic level with services connected and wireless and wired internet connections included. It’s really up to the business. It’s also about supporting local people – around 50% of the people who work here live within 15 minutes’ walk.”

Key to Expressway’s offer is the importance it places on developing its community of businesses, whether that’s assisting firms in navigating through the choppy economic waters of Covid-19 or helping support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“I’m incredibly proud of how we acted through the pandemic,” said Jacob. “It was a time when there was fear in every email. 

“As soon as it was clear Covid-19 was becoming a problem we set up the Expressway Genius Bar for our tenants, staffed full-time by a colleague of mine.

“His job was to understand and be the guy to go to on everything from VAT deferment to furlough, the Coronavirus Interruption Business Loan Scheme, grant funding and the bounce back loans.

“The aim was to communicate with all of our tenants and stand between them and the complexity of accessing assistance and money.

“We helped more than 60 businesses get more than £600,000 of grant funding and that really helped. We’re currently at 92% occupancy and I hope people here would talk about us favourably as an owner-operator.” 

Expressway’s industrial units – image Matt Grayson

General Projects is also working to create a circular model where Expressway, in partnership with the council-run Newham Workplace and the Royal Docks Team, hosts the Youth Incubator programme.

“Fostering small and local businesses is at the core of everything we do,” said Jacob. “We have a number of initiatives but this programme in particular offers 17 people aged 18-30 free membership of Expressway. Newham has very high levels of youth unemployment but, when you have that, you can also have very high levels of entrepreneurship.

“Our incubees get skills seminars, development support, social media marketing advice, guidance on accounting for small businesses and on how to raise funds. 

“They also get free, relevant mentoring – we’re not experts in any of those areas but we have an on-site network of 162 small and medium-size businesses that have all been down those roads, have trodden those paths and completely understand and empathise with the challenges. 

“Expressway acts as a social brokerage to match businesses with young people on the programme and we welcomed our second cohort at the end of March.

“What I would really like to see is someone go round the full circle, coming to the incubator, growing from a single person business and taking space from us and then in turn becoming a mentor. 

“I want as large a number as possible of our existing tenants to remain with us and for Expressway to be a place that feels lived in as well as worked in, for it to continue to be a space where genuine experiences happen.” 

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