“New climbers are always surprised by the warmth of the climbing community – spend an evening on the mats and, if you’re ready for a chat, after an hour you’ll have made a bunch of friends,” said Sara Petersen, manger of London Climbing Centres’ (LCC) Canary Wall.
Located near Westferry DLR station under a series of railway arches, the facility offers an extensive range of bouldering walls including one outdoors.
There’s also a training room, a Yoga studio, a cafe and a gear shop on-site.
Bouldering is a sub discipline where climbers take on short, often demanding challenges using holds on walls that are less than four metres high.
Deep crash mats underneath provide safety instead of ropes and harnesses, allowing complete freedom of movement.
Fitness-wise, climbing offers a comprehensive all-body workout helping to build strength, flexibility and endurance.
Then there’s the mental challenge of working out the best ways to move to reach the top.
The complexity of the challenges, which are typically colour-coded and graded for difficulty, also has another benefit.
“In bouldering, climbs are trickier, both physically and mentally, to complete than in roped climbing,” said Sara.
“That’s why we call them ‘problems’. You’ll need to rest and assess each climb before tackling it, which is when conversations with those around you typically strike up.
“Usually you’ll end up working out the problem together.”
To help foster that community Canary Wall, which opened its doors in August 2020, offers a calendar packed with social climbs, induction sessions and friendly competitions.
“For work colleagues and businesses, the centre also offers social events, team building and corporate membership deals.
Sara said: “We’re always thrilled to introduce climbing to those who’ve never tried it before.
“It’s always so exciting to watch someone discover their new favourite sport during their first ever climb and know that we’ve helped grow the community just that little bit more.”
First-time climbers receive a discount card that can be used to claim 50% off a second visit and half price shoe hire, a five-entry pass for £47 including shoe hire and 10% off climbing shoes at LCC shops.
Monthly memberships cover access to all walls run by LCC with prices for off-peak deals starting at £55.
Punch card packs are also available with £240 for 20 climbs, bringing the price down to £12 per session.
Canary Wall, which is located on Trinidad Street in Poplar, is open weekdays 6am-11pm and 9am-9pm at weekends.
Along with her colleagues, her role is to help the health club’s members take the steps they need to get where they want to go.
“Our message for 2023 is all about training for life,” said Clare. “It’s the idea that everything you do in the gym supports what you do outside it.
“At Third Space we provide facilities where you can train every part of your body.
“But it’s not just the physical, it’s also about training the mind and about the restorative side of things.”
Billed as the largest luxury health club in Europe and spread over three floors of the building that houses Waitrose in Canada Square, Third Space Canary Wharf isn’t short on space or amenities.
There are free weights, a swimming pool, a climbing wall, saunas, steam rooms, ranks of cardio machines, a combat zone, weights machines and a vast Crossfit-inspired training area called The Yard.
That’s before you even get to the hundreds of classes every week – all included in the monthly membership. So how best to navigate such a wealth of options?
“The best thing you can do if you’re coming into training or returning to the gym, is to get as much guidance as possible,” said Clare, who trained as a dancer before embarking on a career in the fitness industry.
“You’ll see people on social media promoting crazy workouts and doing 30-day challenges. They can be great as a gateway into fitness but they are only ever the start.
“You want to be training to make your life easier, whether that’s with the aim of climbing a mountain or just running after your kids in the playground.
“In my classes I use the example of my mum. She’s retired and she loves hiking.
“She was struggling on the hikes to get over stiles, so I’ve given her barre exercises and Pilates for strength, flexibility and stability.
“It’s about working out why you want to train – whether your goals are aesthetic or fitness related. I think having longer term goals really helps.
“They make you realise you don’t need to go hell for leather – you don’t want to start with a marathon if you’ve not been running before.
“It’s the same with any type of training – pace yourself, get expert guidance and speak to the instructors for advice.
“They will be able to suggest classes that will help.
“For example, a high intensity class will be very fast-paced with larger movements designed to switch on the bigger muscles.
“Adding in something like a Pilates class can help by focusing on the lesser muscles in the body that help with posture and general alignment.
“It’s more of a holistic approach to help maintain a balanced body and avoid injury.”
Then there are the mental health benefits, derived from both intense exercise and slower disciplines.
“People who train regularly can expect to feel like they have more energy,” said Clare, who practises circus skills including the trapeze, outside work.
“The endorphins it creates give you a natural mood boost and help minimise pain.
“Training makes you feel better about your life, yourself, better in your body on a mechanical level, a bit brighter, stronger and fitter.
“Walking up the escalator on the Tube won’t leave you puffing at the top.
“There’s something about lifting a weight that’s heavier than the one a week before, when you feel connected to your breath doing Yoga or when you go swimming and you can do more lengths than the time before.
“We lead such busy lives, especially in London – having the space to concentrate on one thing is really important.
“My favourite Yoga practice is actually Yin – it focuses on the softer, slower aspects of the discipline, with long held postures that are quite meditative.
“It’s good if you just need that little bit of space in your day – you can come into our studio, it’s warm, we dim the lights, we have calm music, and we’re creating that relaxing atmosphere.
“It’s like a haven – a third space away from work and home life where you can come in and only focus on yourself.
“Of course, one of the other great things about Third Space is the community.
“Members meet other members and become friends, whether that’s through attending classes or just chatting in the sauna.
“One of the things we’ve learnt during the pandemic is that people need other people – isolation isn’t good for humans at all.
“It might simply be that you’re in a class, finding it tough, look to your left and right and feel that sense of connection – something that spurs you on.
“As a teacher, it’s really beautiful when I see this happening, or when people come to a class and then end up chatting a bit more and hanging out afterwards.
“We’ve also launched Hyrox classes that are aimed at equipping members with the skills to compete in those competitive events.
“Members can do those individually, just like the event, or they can team up with a partner and the classes are the perfect place to find someone to do that with.”
Health and fitness clubs are, at their root, about maintenance and change.
Nobody joins a gym to see their body deteriorate or their performance decline.
We want to stay in condition and see steady progress towards our goals.
Similarly, people expect their clubs to provide that – they have the right equipment, classes, facilities and staff to help them get to where they want to be.
Members at Third Space in Canary Wharf will pay £220 per month from January 2023 for access to Europe’s largest luxury health club.
The task of ensuring the Canada Square facility consistently meets their expectations falls to general manager David Burrow.
“We are constantly upgrading – there are always new things coming onto the market, so it’s about asking how we can use them and whether it’s right to have them,” he said.
“We get loads of feedback from our members and we use that to consider what to do next so we can offer an even broader range than what’s already here.”
The club is currently in the midst of a major update that’s seen it refresh the decor and equipment in its free weights and weights machines areas.
It’s halfway through upgrading its vast cardiovascular training areas and is already looking forward to the crowning glory of the project, which will be the remodelling of its changing areas, saunas and steam rooms.
David said: “We started with free weights, which we have completely refurbished with new flooring and lighting.
“We have all-new equipment from a company called Eleiko, who are the best in the industry and a firm we’d already been working with in our Olympic weightlifting areas.
“As part of this project we took the opportunity to review what equipment we had, what was best in class and what we wanted to acquire.
“So for our pin-loaded machines we have replaced our offering with products from a company called Pulse.
“It’s an English firm who have been brilliant where we’ve wanted modifications.
“Their machines feature a digital read-out, which gives users a guide to their range of motion alongside feedback.
“That’s what most people are looking for – members can see how they’re performing, how they can do better and get reassurance that they’re using the machine correctly.
“Of course our staff are always on hand to help people with any of the equipment on the gym floor.
“We think Pulse’s machines are great for people at all levels – you can sit on one even if you’re brand new to fitness and be confident that what you’re doing is correct.
“Many people who join a health and fitness club will be slightly nervous, but having the ability to know that they can just plug the pin in, push or pull the equipment and see that their range of movement is correct, is very comforting.
“Our aim is to make everything as simple as possible for advanced athletes or complete beginners.
“The idea is that people can use it without needing to speak to someone or to watch dozens of YouTube videos, so the focus is always on the exercise.”
This philosophy underpins everything David and the team at Third Space do.
While the update will see major changes and improvements to the club, many will be barely perceived directly by members – designed instead to create an overall sense of wellbeing in the gym and its facilities.
“Next year we’ll be upgrading the changing rooms, which is pretty much the biggest thing you can do with the club still open,” said David.
“We’re changing the lighting completely, which is one of the things members probably won’t notice.
“It will be linked to the circadian rhythm – it will change throughout the day so the amount of illumination will feel right to people in a way they can’t quite quantify.
“With a club like this there’s a great amount of work that goes on in the background to create the correct atmosphere.
“The carpet is also being ripped out and we’re having a beautiful new floor.
“Again, it’s something people will walk over, but we’ve spent six months testing products to ensure people won’t slip and that it can be cleaned effectively.
“We’ve gone to enormous lengths to find the right flooring because once it’s down it’s impossible to replace.
“There’s been a huge amount of cooperation between our designers, architects and operations people to make sure it’s fit for purpose.
“It may look beautiful on day one, but we’re interested in day two, day 200, day 2,000 – can it cope with the footfall and trolleys with towels rolling over it every single day.
“That’s why we test and test and test until we’re certain.”
David has been working in the fitness industry for nearly a quarter of a century which has included building his own business in the Netherlands and stints at director level for big chains.
He came to Third Space six years ago, attracted by the opportunity to do the job he loves.
“For me it’s about the day-to-day interaction and operation,” he said. “When this job came up it was quite an easy choice.
“The challenge of a club this big is unique – there’s nothing else that’s the same.
“I’ve worked in incredible clubs for incredible companies, but there’s no club like this – the range of products, the range of offerings and the challenges that creates.
“I love that I have the opportunity to build and grow this club and I’m extremely lucky to work with the most incredible group of colleagues I’ve ever worked with.
“Members join this club because it has all the toys, but they stay because of the people – the atmosphere really is amazing.”
The upgrade should make it even easier for Third Space to foster that atmosphere with lighting that can be controlled via Bluetooth across the club.
The new cardio area features top of the range Technogym equipment and an updated layout with a more open-plan design.
“The project also features new Woodway treadmills and an upgraded Wattbike studio.
“Personally I’ve reached an age where I like to mix my exercise sessions up,” said David.
“I do a static cardio day, a strength stability day – something like TRX – and some kind of Hiit-based session. Those three will be locked in and then I will do something I feel I need.
“That might be something strength-based, followed by a steam room or sauna.
“Sometimes it’s about that balance between physical and mental health – asking what is right for me at that moment?
“As you mature, you learn to listen to your body more and I’ve definitely got better at that.”
In addition to the remodelling of the floors in the changing rooms, the upgrade also includes new showers, steam rooms and saunas to help members relax and refresh themselves after their workouts.
“It’s the ultimate part of the whole project and it will come in at the beginning of next year,” said David.
“We’ve got high budgets and a high number of members who all, quite rightly, have high expectations.
“That means we have to deliver an experience to them while the work is going on that is acceptable, while totally renovating the facility.
“That is a challenge but one I am confident we can meet – a lot of research and preparation goes into getting things right here – everything should feel great without people knowing exactly why or realising how much work there is behind it.
“It’s not just about chucking new equipment in – we’d never do things that way.
“Then, after everything is finished, and with Wood Wharf opening in due course, it will be about asking how the two Canary Wharf sites complement each other to offer even more.
“There’s always something that needs considering, updating or improving – but I love it.”
If you’ve walked through Wood Wharf, past the buildings to the east of its green oblong of grass, you may have spotted In2Sports’ red and blue logo in the brightly lit unit on corner of Brannan Street.
But that space, with its orange chairs and Mars vending machine is merely the tip of an iceberg. It’s all about what lies beneath.
Walk through its glass doors, descend a level and you’ll find an expansive relaxation area, complete with a pool table, ping pong, a bar, bikes, seating, sports memorabilia and tables made from old vaulting horses.
It’s a charming enough space on its own, but this too is just an appetiser.
What In2Sports is really sitting on is a full-size, purpose built sports hall, complete with changing facilities, fitness studio space and even a crossfit-inspired gym.
Some of the facilities will be used part-time by the neighbouring primary school, when it opens, with the remainder of the timetable available for clubs, businesses and individuals looking for functional, affordable space.
“In2Sports is an indoor sports arena that caters for a wide variety of needs, with the ability to deliver a wide array of opportunities for people to be able to participate in sports and leisure activities at every level,” said Callum Wear, In2Sports trustee.
“It’s a place for anyone and everyone to have fun, play sports and then there’s the social side of it as well, which is a very important feature.
“Rather than just coming in, playing your sport and then leaving, players can relax and mingle with like-minded people, share their victories and talk about their next game strategies.
“It might be cricket, football, netball, volleyball, dodgeball or any smaller-sided counterparts to outside games that can be played indoors.
“We will always be evolving to accommodate new trends and demands.
“Our ambition is to become the home for anybody, any club or association that has a need to deliver sports and leisure activity programmes in this area.
“We don’t have an alliance with or allegiance to anyone, and we will work with a wide variety of people.
“Success for us is about participation – people walking out of the door and saying they’ve had a fantastic time.
“Having a fun place with an electric atmosphere is what we want.
“That’s the name of the game. If you’re not having fun playing sport, you’re not going to achieve to the best of your ability.
“When you’re here, you might be playing table tennis, but you might be playing with your football team or talking about the game or your next opponent – we want there to be constant activity around you.
“It’s a place that keeps people entertained and involved socially – sharing experiences with people is key.”
In2Sports is structured as a charitable trust and following a £9.99 registration fee, the sports hall can be hired for between £120 and £160 per hour depending on timing.
Quarter and half-court hire are also available and there’s a 40% discount for local residents with disabilities, those on benefits, who are senior citizens or who are full-time students.
In celebration of its opening, In2Sports is currently offering all courts at off-peak prices.
Flexibility is central to the organisation’s model, with The Training Room perfectly summing that up.
“It’s certainly not just a bar and it’s a bit more than a clubhouse,” said Callum.
“It could be the space where you could come for a small community workshop, for presentations, talks, speeches, birthday celebrations or just a place where people can relax after a game and have a drink with friends.
“We’re a licensed venue, but you can also have health drinks as well, such as smoothies. It’s warm and welcoming.”
Callum knows a thing or two about welcoming Wharfers. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to the UK and, while working as an analyst on a financial project management system, met and became friends with accountant Chris Bennett.
The two discussed various ideas but both loved the idea of collaborating on a business related to sports and after about a year and a half of discussions created Play On Sports, launching in 2004.
Stretching to an eventual 50,000sq ft of space on the Wood Wharf site, it all began with a guaranteed 18 month lease.
In the end, Play On stayed until 2014, relocating its operations to Whitechapel when they had to make way for building works as Canary Wharf Group began the regeneration of the area.
“It’s great to be back in Canary Wharf – everyone has welcomed us back and people have been so supportive,” said Callum.
“I think Canary Wharf Group sees the benefit to the community that we bring and hopefully we’ll be contributing to the vibrant hub the estate has become.
“Now it’s full steam ahead – we have opened and it’s time to develop relationships with businesses and organisations around here and to tell the community that we’re here and we’re available for them to enjoy.
“This isn’t just a facility for corporates, it’s a place for anyone to use and play.
“We’re ideally located, less than a 10-minute walk from the Jubilee and Elizabeth Line stations and there are good bus services along Preston’s Road too.”
In addition to The Training Room and the sports hall, In2Sports is also offering monthly memberships or access on a pay-as-you-go basis to its gym.
“It’s a crossfit-style training room, which is a really inclusive form of exercise,” said Callum.
“Everyone can engage with it because you’re only competing against yourself.
“Then we also have our studio space which would be ideal for Yoga, Pilates and so on.
“We’re also working with various charities so they can use it to achieve their goals and they’ll be utilising that space to get people up and active.
“We have a can-do, all inclusive approach to delivering sports. This is not your square-boxed sports hall, so if someone wants to host a sports activity, we will try to deliver it.
“This is very much a community project, the In2Sports charitable trust is for the benefit of everyone – corporates, social clubs and children.
“We like to work with organisations who are using sports to break down barriers, to give people that self-esteem, that self-confidence and to keep people playing sports on a sustainable basis so that they can have fun and feel better.”
Set over three floors, it boasts more than 100,000sq ft of training space including a climbing wall, swimming pool, boxing ring and pretty much every piece of exercise equipment you can call to mind.
Regular readers of Wharf Life will already be familiar with the hundreds of classes it offers every week, with everything from Yoga and Pilates through to the epic Yard WOD set in its purpose-built CrossFit-style training area.
The club recently launched its autumn campaign, offering memberships with no joining fee, encouraging Wharfers to see its extensive facilities as an extra benefit to heading into work, as more and more people transition back to regular commuting.
Elite personal trainer at Third Space Canary Wharf, Stephanie Whitehead, said the benefits to exercising this way were clear.
“Training at the gym is very different from training at home,” she said.
“During lockdown, because I’m a trainer, I could be very resourceful and come up with great workouts using just one kettlebell and that would be great fun.
“But we don’t have to do that anymore. The difference here is, firstly, the environment. This isn’t working out on a mat on your kitchen floor.
“Here, you’re in amazing surroundings with people doing really cool things. You’re somewhere else and focused – you’re ready to train.
“Secondly, it’s all the equipment. You’re not limited by what you have at home.
“If you haven’t been in a gym for a while, that can seem overwhelming – which is why having the input of a personal trainer is really important.
“Suppose, for example, you’re coming into the office a few days each week.
“We can put a programme together for you that fits that, tailored to maximise what you get out of each specific visit.
“Each trainer will have a different style and a different approach, but it’s our job to give you that clarity, structure and focus.
“It also prevents you just doing the things that you are good at, which can create imbalances in the body.
“My approach would be to work with a client on an all-round programme based on the number of days they are coming in to make sure all of their muscle groups are getting involved and we’re working on their whole body.
“For example, I’ll do strength training, but in terms of conditioning, I’ll always try to throw in bigger, full-movements like thrusters or squats.
“That way you get better results and the client gets more bang for their buck.
“I’d say a minimum of three visits a week is a good idea because that is just enough to build habit and consistency and it’s achievable.”
Stephanie has worked in the industry for more than a decade and has been a trainer at the Canary Wharf club for eight years.
She is also assistant fitness manager there, meaning she mentors new personal trainers as well as working directly with clients.
Having discovered a passion for fitness at university while studying psychology, she went on to compete in CrossFit before developing a career on the gym floor.
That broad background means she is well-placed to understand the benefits training can have on her clients’ mental health as well as their physical state.
“A lot of my clients would say they have very stressful jobs – lawyers who work really long hours, or bankers who might deal with mistakes involving millions of pounds – really high levels of pressure to deal with,” said Stephanie.
“Firstly, coming to the gym is a distraction and, secondly, it’s a complete break with everyday life.
“I always say to people that this is a place where they can leave work behind – one hour, which is just for them.
“No work, no phone if they want – just the training.
“Exercise is an outlet – a lot of my clients have a little vent at the beginning of their session and then forget the minutiae of the day.
“There’s also that feeling of achievement – getting that personal best on the 2k row or lifting heavier than ever before.
“With consistency and discipline you will see results and that’s what’s so rewarding about it.
“It’s positive reinforcement and it’s just different from the feeling you get from, say, buying a nice pair of shoes.
“That can be great, but it wears off quite quickly, whereas the feeling you get from achieving in the gym, whether it’s building muscle or losing body fat, means you get fitter and stronger.”
Over the pandemic, many people will have naturally lost the habit of going to a gym and may be nervous about their ability to return to regular training.
Stephanie said the best remedy was simply to start exercising, but not to worry about attaining a certain level of fitness before getting back in the gym.
“Personal trainers are not like drill sergeants – we’re not going to go crazy at the beginning,” she said.
“Personal training is very tailored, so each individual client will have a different ability level. We’ll assess that in the beginning and we just go from there.
“Every single person, no matter what strength or fitness level they’re at will certainly see progress by the end of a few months.
“It might be that that they’re moving better or they feel less out of breath. They might be stronger or feel better.
“But there’s definitely no minimum standard to start coming to the gym – any time is a good time to start.
“My tip would always be to increase frequency.
“If you’re going only once a week and progress seems slow, then going up to three times will be of benefit.
“It’s also important to not just do that same movements over and over. That’s where a personal trainer can really help.
“Personally, I like having a certain amount of pressure.
“That’s why I compete in CrossFit, because having that constant challenge to improve gives me a limitless reservoir of drive and motivation.
“My training philosophy has always been to push myself and, within their own limits, that’s how I work with my clients too.”
In addition to its Canary Wharf club, Third Space operates in the City and at Marylebone, Islington, Mayfair, Moorgate, Soho and Tower Bridge.
Other incentives include discounted personal training sessions, two complimentary guest passes to the club worth £50, a meal from Natural Fitness Food, 10% off at The Pearson Room and a 25% discount off the member’s first treatment or massage at the Third Space’s Canary Wharf Spa.
Descend into the brand’s Wood Wharf facility underneath the 10 George Street residential tower and you’ll find ranks of high-end Atlantis fitness machines in serious red, white and black livery, shiny lines of silver dumbbells awaiting the firm grip of sweating clients and a scarlet trackway ready for a pounding from those pushing sleds.
But this business is a very different animal.
This is “where the excuses stop and the results begin” – according both to the writing on the wall of the facility and more subliminally from the TV screen beside the street-level entrance, which broadcasts an unrelenting carousel of before and after pictures of the bodily changes achieved by its clients.
Founded in 2009 by personal trainer Nick Mitchell, UP has grown from a one-man band in east London, to operating 21 gyms in four continents.
It only offers in-gym or online personal training, meaning its clients only work out at its facilities on a one-to-one basis for hour-long sessions with their trainer present.
“Our motto is: ‘Producing results not promises’,” said Wood Wharf UP gym manager Mike Turnbull.
“We always aim to give clients a significant return on their investment.
“Nick’s founding idea was to change the personal training industry for the better and to make sure the clients were getting the best out of it.
“People who train with us get serious value for money.
“They sign up for results – whether they want to achieve a certain bodyweight or look – and we’re going to say that with the programmes that we have, designed over more than 10 years, we know we can deliver.”
The internet is awash with surveys suggesting people often fail to achieve the fitness goals they set themselves – one by Bodybuilding.com found only 27% had done so within a year with only 40% getting halfway there when left to their own devices.
UP’s approach is squarely aimed at addressing that challenge, although with a price tag of £5,650 for a 12-week, 36-session package, access requires a significant financial outlay.
The justification for that bill comes in the sheer intensity of approach from UP.
“Our programmes are very much backed up by science, so we know we can deliver,” said Mike.
“First of all at a consultation, we break down the layers to find the true reason a client has come to us.
“That’s different for every person – it might be to get a six-pack, to be able to perform 10 pull-ups or just to feel healthy again.
“We want to understand their vision so we can project-manage to help them achieve their end goal.
“We’ll take a full set of measurements, photos and conduct an intense assessment on the gym floor so we get a real profile of their starting point.
“Then we’ll know what to do to build their training programme.
“It will also allow us to set nutritional guidelines – how many calories a person is going to need – breaking that down to fats, protein and carbohydrates, so we can find the calorie deficit necessary to help achieve their goal.
“From a scientific point of view, that’s the guarantee – the harder part is coming in with the right mindset and being able to follow the plan.
“That’s where our trainers come in to try to find the right solutions to any problem, to guide people and help them stay accountable.
“We have a messaging system where clients can contact our trainers at any time as a support network to keep them going.”
This holistic approach offers clients a clear plan to achieve their goals, although UP is clear that the effort has to come from them.
The brand’s regional manager for London and Amsterdam, Matt Milles, said: “We’re serious about what we do to achieve results.
“For us, it’s about going the extra mile with everything we do.
“That includes how we approach nutrition – we offer packages to help time-poor people – how we train clients in the gym itself, the level of support and service we give outside the gym and the amount of time and money we invest into making sure that every aspect of our operation works, whether that’s the personal training product itself or the technology behind it.
“Even if we’re doing something well, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, but ask ourselves how we could do it better.
“However that doesn’t mean our clients have to be athletes – we train clients from every single background you can imagine.
“We have complete beginners, people who want to get in shape ahead of a holiday or a wedding, or sports people who want to build muscle.
“People usually come to us because they want to achieve a physical goal, but they find there are also lots of mental health benefits to exercise.
“Our clients talk to us about how much more confident they feel and the benefits to their relationships with their family and work colleagues.
“They’re more energised – they’ve got more energy to spend with their kids and such things are priceless.”
Mike and Matt have been with UP for about seven years, having both worked as personal trainers before joining.
“Working in commercial gyms is tough,” said Mike.
“It’s finding your feet, building a client base – you’re out there on your own, wanting to be the best, but not sure how to get there.
“At UP, you have a mentor and a team and there’s a lot of support.
“You’ll be looking after your clients, but we’re always working to understand how we can improve our programmes – you have to be a certain level of trainer before you walk through the door.
“Then you get to concentrate on that job because you don’t have to do the marketing or the sales – you just focus on the training and helping your clients get the most out of it.
“That’s the best bit of the job – seeing the person in front of you changing and working towards their goals is super-rewarding.
“As a manager, my role is to look after and train the trainers and to oversee the programmes.
“We have multiple team meetings every week to discuss where we can improve.
“That’s all to make sure we’re delivering a very high quality of service to everyone.”
Having recently opened, UP’s Wood Wharf gym is currently seeing about 100 clients per week, but has capacity for at least 400 as it looks to grow its customer base locally.
“As a trainer myself, joining UP was like going from playing Sunday football to the Premier League,” said Matt.
“It was a massive difference in terms of the results we achieve but also the amount of effort we put in.
“Our clients are generally very successful at what they do, but that can mean their health and fitness has taken a back seat.
“That might be because they have a career and a family and that’s understandable.
“We’re here for when they realise they need to make a change and, instead of going into a commercial gym and spinning their wheels with no progress, this is a place they can come where they know they will get results.
“As long as they are prepared to do what they need to do, they can be confident we’ll cross all the Ts and dot all the Is to make that happen.
“You might see your trainer for three hours a week, but we’re in touch with our clients every day outside those sessions – that really makes the difference.
“I really think that’s the big secret and the reason we achieve the results that we do – because we go the extra mile. That comes from experience.”
Just as I arrived at Middle Dock in Canary Wharf to interview Chess Roffe Ridgard, she saved a life.
A smallish pigeon had fallen into the water and was having difficulty making it out. In seconds the bird was scooped up by Love Open Water’s head of development, brought to dry land and placed safely in the shade to dry off – the temperature was in the high 20s, after all.
Later, without so much as a thank you, it flew off to wherever pigeons make their homes in east London.
That little bedraggled animal owes its continued existence to Canary Wharf Group and Love Open Water – a welcome unintended consequence of their project.
While these aren’t the first watersports sessions to take place in the dock, this is the first sustained access offered to the general public with a full complement of life guards, a booking system and expert staff on hand to offer tips, advice and point out the best spots to watch fish sunbathing in the depths.
“I swam competitively as a pool swimmer in the Midlands when I was younger,” said Chess, who is heading up the initiative for Love Open Water.
“I’m a proud Mansfield girl and trained with Becky Adlington who was one of our golden girls in the 2012 Olympics.
“I’ll say it now, she was faster than me, but I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time.
“Then a kidney infection left me unable to train, so I found myself in the music industry.
“I used to work with a lot of famous DJs and bands, and I did that for a long time. Then I found open water swimming about five or six years ago and I’ve never looked back.
“It became so important to me to help other people, and for them to find a mental health boost from this sport.
“Having seen how it really brings joy to people’s lives made me want to become involved, so I quit my job in music and here I am.”
With cold, deep water – typically eight metres to the bottom – safety is Chess and her team’s top priority.
Having operated at numerous venues, including east London’s Royal Docks, Love Open Water uses the NOWCA safety system to keep track of exactly who’s in or out and to provide insurance for those swimming.
“Love Open Water was set up to simply create safe spaces for people to swim outdoors,” said Chess.
“The idea is that by using this system we can open more blue spaces to swimmers of all abilities and build community hubs around them so there’s a real social aspect to what we do.
“That’s in contrast to swimming pools, which are very controlled and quite clinical.
“Love Open Water is about getting that community feel, about going out and enjoying the outdoors and the water.
“At Canary Wharf the distances available vary depending on how many safety staff we have working because that’s the key to everything we do.
“We have either a 300m loop, a 500m loop or a 600m loop that goes right to the end of the dock underneath the DLR bridge.
“Before I came here I’d swum under a few aqueducts before, but never under a railway bridge with trains running on it.
“The staff at Canary Wharf Group have been absolutely phenomenal – they came up with the idea to activate the dock as part of the work they are doing to get more people in and on the water here.
“They were looking for people to help them to do that and, having put forward our ideas and shown them what we’ve been doing at our other sites, we were lucky enough to be chosen to work with them on this project.
“We hope that this is just the start – we have this trial for the first few months but we’d love to make sure it’s a facility that’s accessible to as many people as possible – we have big plans.
“We’d love to operate at this venue all year round – a million percent yes.
“Cold water swimming is hugely beneficial for mental and physical health.
“We’ve run winter swimming at our London Royal Dock site for about 10 years, and we’ve seen the popularity of that go through the roof.
“During the pandemic we were only able to operate for a month and a half over the winter, but we saw our membership increase by 450% and swim attendance jump by 380%.
“Those are massive numbers and it shows just how important cold water exposure has become to people.
“It’s all been driven by programmes on the BBC – but we’re here to show people the safest ways to get in and out of the water and to help them understand about hypothermia and the risk of cardiac arrest.
“People need to know that jumping in and swimming off fast are two of the most dangerous things you can do regardless of the time of year or the temperature.
“When you’re immersed in cold water quickly everything tightens up and that puts additional pressure on your heart, so if you try and swim off quickly, you’re at a very high risk of cardiac arrest.
“Remember, don’t jump in, don’t swim off quickly and if you get into trouble, float to live, lie on your back, keep your head relaxed, focus on your breathing and call for help.”
Sessions at Middle Dock cost £8 (or £7 for a pack of 10) for unlimited time in the water. Participants must also be NOWCA members, which costs £15 a year.
Swimmers must wear brightly coloured caps or use a tow float so lifeguards can easily see them. Westsuits are not compulsory but are advised when water temperatures fall below 15ºC.
“Safety is very important to us, but we also hope swimmers will come away feeling that they’ve learnt something that they can use elsewhere at other venues or when they’re on holiday,” said Chess.
“All of our lifeguards are open water trained – this is beyond the level of those looking after indoor pools.
“We’d actually love pool lifeguards who are interested in working with us to come down and see us, because we provide that extra training for a job that’s in the great outdoors local to where they live.
“We’ll also offer a range of courses including a first-time dippers session in a couple of weeks so whether you’re a head-up breast-stroker or a front crawler used to bashing out lengths in the pool, you can come and swim here.
“We can teach you all about sighting, turning round the buoys and swimming in a straight line – which seems to be the thing that eludes people most when they first hit open water.
“I’ll also be doing a front crawl masterclass, where I promise participants that I’ll blow their minds at least five times with the things they’re doing wrong in their stroke.”
Anyone who lives or works locally will have seen rubbish floating in the docks and knowing that they’re filled from the Thames might make prospective swimmers think twice about taking the plunge.
It’s unrealistic to expect any body of open water to be completely free from floating debris – even outdoor swimming pools have to have filters – but that doesn’t mean the docks aren’t suitable for swimming.
With regular testing in place, the latest results show Middle Dock’s water rates “excellent” under the EU Bathing And Water Regulations 2013.
“The water quality here is absolutely incredible,” said Chess. “We run eight different sites around the UK and assist with 40 others and we have never seen quality this good.
“The Royal Docks are also very clean so we thought it would be good, but you can see down to the bottom and that’s incredibly rare with an industrial open water space like this.
“Rubbish really isn’t a concern in terms of health and I cannot stress that enough. When the tests are done, we look at the general water quality and the two things we’re looking for are e. coli and intestinal enterococci bacteria.
“Under the regulations for e. coli, for example, you can have up to 500 units found in the test water and it’s still considered safe to swim in.
“Here the reading was seven. That’s how exceptionally clean it is.
“That’s why it’s rated at the equivalent of a Blue Flag beach. We even challenge people when they come here. We have three unmarked bottles.
“One is tap water, one is dock water and one is mineral water. You line them up and you just cannot tell the difference.
“The clarity is amazing. Middle Dock is between five and eight metres deep and when you look down you can see absolutely everything.
“However clear you think it’s going to be, times that by 100 and you’ll still be surprised.
“When you look down, there’s old dock infrastructure, bits of pillar, green weed – but nothing that touches you – it’s all at the bottom.
“When you get to the eight-metre bits, all you can see is darkness, like you’re looking into the night sky, with flashes of light reflecting off the bottom – it’s just stunning.
“One of my favourite spots is a place I like to think fish go to sunbathe and meet their future partners.”
It’s a temple to the pure, clear cut challenge of reaching the top of something.
But its two co-founders have ensured that it’s filled with much more than bouldering problems, brightly-coloured plastic holds, plywood and crash mats.
“One way we describe it is that we want it to feel like home, a place to relax and for people not to feel like they’re walking into someone else’s space,” said Conor Skillbeck.
“We want people to feel welcome, to drop all their stress and worries at the door whether they’re here to climb or just for a coffee.
“Most of the world isn’t like this – there aren’t many spaces where people aren’t being challenged.
“Everything tells you the world’s miserable and that you should be unhappy so we’ve created a space where people can have a bit of time off from that unhappiness.”
The Rise project began with Conor’s friend James Skinner, who found himself working at a climbing wall after leaving his job in medical software.
“I’d been climbing since I was 12 and it was something I’d always come back to,” said James. “I ended up sticking around and after working at the wall for a few years, I wanted my own place.
“I looked at all the things I was good at and all the things I was bad at, because good partnerships are with people who complement each other, and they can recognise where their skills overlap. I wanted Conor as a partner because he’s a do-er.”
James, who’d met Conor through climbing, wrote a business plan, put a picture of his friend on it and showed it to him.
After managing to convince him it wasn’t a joke, the two began to plan in earnest, seeking premises and deciding exactly what their own wall would be like.
Conor, who’d worked as a model before embarking on a career in structural engineering, said that having recently married and, with the prospect of kids on the horizon, he felt that if he was going to do something like Rise, then the time had to be now.
After a lengthy search, they found a lofty unit in east London in an area with little climbing provision, giving them the opportunity to build both an extensive, two-level facility and a new community.
The sport is growing at a rapid rate and both James and Conor hope their wall will attract both veteran climbers living locally but, crucially, an influx of those new to the sport who just want to try it out.
To that end Rise is already starting to partner with local schools and is keen to grow its operation in that area.
“Everyone wants to get to the top of something – walking up mountains, for example,” said Conor.
“In a sense, it’s a completely pointless thing to do, because when you get to the top, you just come down to the bottom again.
“But when you walk along a street with kids, they will want to walk on the wall, just because they get to be on the top of something.”
James added: “It’s such a fundamental action. Any parent in here will tell you that their kids love climbing trees and that they can’t get them off the stairs.
“So we have such an easy sell – a climbing wall combines all of those things in a single space.
“It makes it safer to do them because of the crash mats, but it also means there are easier and harder ways to get to the top.
“People can get better at doing that and when they discover this, that’s something they really want.
“For kids especially, it’s somewhere they’re encouraged to climb higher, when they’re usually told to get down.”
It’s not just for the kids, of course. Conor said the ultimate thrill was still reaching the top hold on a bouldering problem for the first time – something touching the second-from-top could never live up to.
“We set 30 new problems every week and the sense of satisfaction when you get to the top is addictive,” he said.
“Not getting both hands on it can be a complete disappointment and frustration.
“It’s hard-wired into people and you see why they really love it. It’s also a sport people can do for many years.
“Two of the top climbers in the UK are in their 40s.
“There’s so much in terms of technique, flexibility and strength – people who are good make it easy for themselves.
“They find ways of positioning their bodies, so the hard move on a route becomes easier. It’s not just about being strong.
“I think there’s a pretty good correlation between how hard you’ve worked to finish a problem and how much satisfaction you get from reaching the top.
“Sometimes I’ve worked for six months to get to the top of one climb, and that feels way better than something you do straight away – it’s not necessarily how hard it is, it’s how much time and effort you put in.”
There’s also a shared joy among climbers in seeing others progress, develop and conquer the problems they’re tackling.
James said: “We had a guy come up to us and say that he did his first heel hook – not just using your foot to climb like a ladder or the stairs, but in an unexpected way – and he said it was really cool.
“He’d seen someone else do it and he’d asked them to explain it and then he’d had a go and said he would be able to use it on other problems.
“That was on one of our easier routes, but even with those, we want people to learn something, to progress. That feels great.”
It’s this sense of community, camaraderie and collaboration that Rise seeks to embrace and foster, with those who visit for a climb or just for a coffee.
“It’s one thing to build a place the way you want it – we did a good job,” said Conor.
“The toilets aren’t obtrusive and the changing rooms look really nice, but ultimately the space feels good when people are in it. That’s when it comes alive.”
James added: “We want it full of happy people who leave feeling happier than when they first walked in.
“The temptation when you’re designing the space is to have holds on every single surface, but we wanted Rise to have a really nice flow to it.
“There are huge mental health benefits to climbing and we wanted our wall to take on board things other walls had done really well and build on them – that it would be a real break from your screen, with challenging problems that will take your mind off everything else.”
For all these reasons, Rise is working hard to become an open space where people can meet, share a slice of Armenian cake and have a chat.
“The idea behind our front desk is that it’s like a farmhouse kitchen, that it’s a relaxed environment where there’s less obvious separation between people who work here and those who have come to use the space,” said Conor.
“We don’t want Rise to be exclusively for climbers – it’s for anyone who wants to come and sit down, for the wider community.
“We’re also running open social sessions on Wednesdays from 6.30pm and a women’s social on Thursdays.
“We’re passionate about climbing and lots of other people are too – ultimately that’s what will make it successful.”
There are myriad ways to climb at Rise, including single entry for £12 or £9.50 off peak (before 4pm on weekdays). Under 18s cost £8.50. Membership options are also available.
Rise will also be participating in the Caxton Works Open Day on July 9, running low-cost intro sessions.
Kate Maxey is singularly well placed to recognise and relish the importance of depth at a gym when it comes to enjoying exercise and building fitness.
Growing up, much of her life was about hockey. Her exceptional level of skill and talent with stick and ball led her to represent England up until the end of her time at Loughborough University on a scholarship to play the sport.
“It was pretty full on,” said Kate. “But I loved it and it was a massive part of my life and my friendships.
“My older sisters played, so that’s probably why I got into it and it was what my life was about for a long time.
“But then I got to the point of wondering whether it was really what I wanted to do – did I want to play hockey forever?
“Then it hit me – I loved the sport, but in training for it I was always made to do stuff for my performance on the pitch, not necessarily the things I wanted to do for my own fitness, lifestyle or stress relief.
“That’s when I decided to explore different things. It was a journey – I could have given it all up and not done anything at all – but exercising was such a part of me.
“That’s when I got into personal training and found that what I wanted to do was to inspire other people to find what works for them in terms of fitness.
“Having become a personal trainer, I then started taking classes – something I especially love because they’re a bit like hockey, a team activity.
“That’s my big thing, helping create a lifestyle for people and supporting them in finding something they love to do, whether that’s in a class setting or in the gym.
“I still play hockey now to a good level and I really enjoy it, but it’s more a social thing – I had to find what I love and training people is what I want to do.”
Today, that journey has led Kate to the position of strength and conditioning master trainer at Third Space in Canary Wharf, overseeing more than 50 group exercise instructors.
Her role includes responsibility for developing that team and the classes it delivers as well as coaching group sessions herself.
“Fitness shouldn’t be seen as something you just do if you’re an athlete,” she said.
“If you hated sport at school, that doesn’t mean you can’t go to the gym and find something you love doing.
“Classes are about teamwork – everybody in the room might have different motivations but they’re all trying to achieve something, they have that shared aim.
“At Third Space we design the sessions so anyone can come along and get the best workout for them. The camaraderie and the class environment really helps motivate people.
“Everyone’s doing the same things at the same time – you might not know anything about them, who they are or what they do – you’re all just there to look after yourselves, to get fit and maintain it and nobody is judging what anyone else is doing.
“That’s the fantastic thing about my job – you get so many different dynamics.
“Some people will come into class and they’ll want to sit at the back and not want too much attention, because they just want to do their thing.
“Others will be more competitive and they’ll use that to motivate themselves. Both are absolutely fine.”
While the extensive class list at Third Space – which includes everything from spinning to weightlifting, crossfit, combat and Yoga – presents a multitude of possibilities for members, Kate said the true attraction of the club lay in the breadth of the range of services it offers and how they complement one another.
“Third Space offers everything in terms of facilities, but that in itself can be daunting,” she said.
“So the best advice I can give when someone joins a place like this is: ‘Talk to someone’. There are staff all around with all the personal trainers and academy and class instructors and that might seem intimidating.
“But this is our world. Everyone has had their own journey to get here and we all, without exception, want to help members.
“When people are new to a gym, over the first couple of months, the most common thing they do is to absolutely smash themselves five days a week.
“Then their body starts to break down, the stress becomes too much and they can get injured. That’s why you need help.
“Workouts are a stress on the body, but we’re experts in managing that and allowing people to find what they love doing and what they need to do.
“Personal training can be especially great for that. A good PT can help you with the things you don’t enjoy so much and that will help you avoid injury and perform better in the activities you love.
“They can create a plan for you that will help you develop strength so you get stronger and condition your body.
“Then with classes I’d suggest trying a range of things.
“You might go along and absolutely hate it, but it’s only 45 minutes of hell, and then you’ll know – you can cross it off the list and try something else if it’s not for you.
“First it’s about safety – members can use classes to learn how to move correctly.
“You often see people writing down what they’ve done so they can replicate it again on their own.
“Then classes like Yard Strong, for example, allow people to try things they might not have done before, which is always exciting.
“It has 10 stations with exercises like log bars and farmer carries – exercises that leave people feeling they’re really accomplished something.
“For members who want to get stronger, classes like these are there for them to lift in a safe environment with a knowledgeable instructor who can help them develop and keep an eye on their technique.
“In a class like that it’s more about working in partnership with the trainer.
“The important thing is that for every class you can stay within your own zone – you can interact as much as you like.
“Likewise, if someone has suffered an injury or is restricted in what they can do, it’s our job to adjust what we’re offering to include them, to provide alternatives so they will still get something from the class.
“We will always strive to go above and beyond what’s on offer elsewhere so every person who comes to Third Space achieves what they want to and is able to train with us.
“That’s why, for me, this is the ultimate gym.
“You have your home, which is your first space, your place of work which is your second space and then we’re your Third Space.
“Then within that there are so many spaces at the club, whether you’re a member who wants to find a quiet corner, put their headphones on, do their workout and not be seen or whether it’s a member who wants to take part in a big class in The Yard.
“The great thing about Third Space is that you have the facilities to do all those things, whether it’s taking part in a dance class, going for a swim, using the climbing wall or doing a treadmill class. It’s about what you want.
“Then what’s key is finding something that is sustainable for you and that you enjoy.
“That way you can make good habits, build slowly over time and achieving those goals becomes so much easier.
“Here, you can come and know there’s always someone who is there to help you get through your workout and make the most of it.”