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Greenwich: How Bureau offers space and connection for creatives on the Peninsula

Helen Arvanitakis on why Design District has dedicated buildings to freelancers and small firms

Design District director Helen Arvanitakis – image Jon Massey

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When I was a boy, on visits to my grandparents’ house, one of the highlights was an ancient bureau.

This may mark me out as a peculiar child, but this dark, mysterious piece of furniture, with its polished wood and an infinite number of drawers, nooks and pigeon holes, held a universe of possibilities and secrets.

In reality, it contained old gas bills and bits of unused string. I wasn’t to know.

I mention it because it shares some qualities with Bureau on Greenwich Peninsula – itself a multifunctional place of possibility.

Spread across two buildings at Knight Dragon’s Design District, the creative industries co-working space, membership club, bar and restaurant does many things – like that antique piece of furniture.

But its myriad spaces are anything but dark and mysterious, even if the pale grey fluting on one of the buildings has something of the roll top desk lid about it.

Instead both blocks, designed variously by Architecture 00 and HNNA, are light, airy and functional.

“It’s somewhere for freelancers, gig workers, start-ups and small businesses that want to stay small – it’s secure, professional and very good-looking,” said Design District director Helen Arvanitakis.

“To give it some context, these two buildings are occupied entirely by Bureau, with the interior design created by Roz Barr Architects.

“It was important for us to have a single company doing that because even though the two buildings look different, people should get the sense in both that they are still in Bureau.

“From the outside, one feels quite angular and macho with a lot of exposed concrete, while the other has an undulating facade with more exposed timber and windows that punctuate the walls, creating pockets of light throughout the building rather than big, open expanses.”

Access to Bureau comes at many levels, with day passes available for £15 plus VAT, covering use of a desk from 8am to 8pm.

Monthly hot desking costs £125, fixed desks are £230 and serviced studios start at £280 per desk, all plus VAT.

Helen said: “We do vet applicants to some extent, although we’re fairly relaxed.

“We broadly follow the government definition of the creative industries – which is a really wide group, everything from heritage, museums and galleries, through to fashion, advertising and so on.

“However, we’ve expanded that a little bit, because we’ve found that there’s real value for our members and tenants to have businesses that are on the periphery of the creative industry.

“For instance, we have a specialist in intellectual property law, and that comes up a lot in the sector – it’s something that adds value to the community.”

That word – community – is at the heart of the Design District project and Bureau is much more than a co-working silo with some interesting looking neighbours.

“As a member, the benefits include being in a professional environment with someone on reception and lots of spaces you can use within the buildings,” said Helen.

“There are phone booths, meeting pods, bookable rooms with big screens and all the kit for doing video-conferencing, presentations and so on.

“We also have a totally fantastic restaurant with a brilliant team of chefs, which is open into the evening as a full-on bar.

“Then we also have an events programme with a good mix of stuff designed to inspire people and to educate them on particular aspects of the creative industries.

“But there’s also a lot of interaction between Bureau and the tenants in the other buildings at Design District.

“We wondered when we were setting it up whether we would be able to achieve that, because the temptation is to hang out with Bureau members. 

“So we regularly host social events and work hard to introduce businesses and individuals where there’s cross-over.

“For example, one of our members is a company that designs beautiful books.

“They recently worked on a knitting guide written by Tom Daly and used a post-production company based at Design District as a venue to do the photography shoot with him.

“Having that proximity was really helpful. I know we can all do things remotely, but creatives work better collaboratively when they are face-to-face.”

Helen first worked on the Peninsula project in her capacity as managing director of product designer Tom Dixon’s studio.

It played a major role in kitting out the gallery space and the now (sadly) closed Craft Restaurant as well as some of the Upper Riverside apartment buildings.

She said: “I’d always enjoyed working with Knight Dragon and stayed in touch with them after I left Tom Dixon.

“I went on to work with lots of small creative firms on the business side.

“The reason Knight Dragon was keen for me to work on Design District was because of that experience, I had an insight into the sector and understood what would motivate those small businesses to take a particular space. 

“We have 14 buildings, soon to be 16. There’s one block where we’re looking for a tenant and a couple of smaller spaces, but the whole development is basically let.

“Bureau gives us that entry point for individuals and smaller companies.

“We offer a warm, welcoming environment and we’ve worked hard to fix our energy costs so we won’t be putting up our prices for the foreseeable future.”

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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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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Greenwich: How Made By Manos offers everyone the chance to make ceramics

Manos Kalamenios hosts taster and workshop sessions at his Design District studio space

Manos Kalamenios of Made By Manos on Greenwich Peninsula

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The world of ceramicist, alchemist and experimental creator Manos Kalamenios is filled with impossible things.

I was going to use the word littered, but thanks to a relentless focus on sustainability, there’s practically no rubbish in his bin.

His sink even has a filter that allows him to recover particles of clay for recycling in future projects.

And what projects they are. Made By Manos, his ground floor studio space at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula, is filled with finished pieces.

Its shelves are strewn with exotic vessels in bone china, porcelain and earthenware – pieces that light up and even ones made from ceramic foam, shaped and then solidified to give the appearance of a fossilised sponge.

There are improbably thin pieces, delicate as paper, and shards of material that seem perfectly solid until light shines through their translucent forms, radically altering their appearance.

When I arrive, the table is filled with ghostly white Christmas baubles which are just being removed from their moulds.

Everywhere there are trial pieces, innovation and work – either Manos’ own creations or those of his students. It’s much more than just a showroom.

Manos’ studio is on the ground floor at Design District

“Experimentation is paramount for me because it keeps me sane,” he said.

“It would drive me mad if I had to do the same thing for the rest of my life, so that’s why everything is different.

“Of course, if someone really likes something then I will make another one and I’m always happy to try new colours or textures. I never say no to anything.”

A Greek who grew up in Athens, Manos originally came to the UK in pursuit of his dream to become a chef at a Four Seasons hotel.

Working first in Greece, then Spain, he achieved his aim, cooking at the brand’s Canary Wharf hotel from 2003 to 2005.

But the long hours took their toll and he left hospitality, initially to live with friends in the Isle Of Man.

With the intention of pursuing a career as an artist (having never touched clay) he enrolled on a foundation course where he first encountered ceramics and a new passion. 

Further study led to a degree in fine art and then an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College Of Art as well as the chance to collaborate with an old friend.

One of the pieces Manos created for Lima

“When doing my MA, I met up with a man I used to work with at the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf – Robert Ortiz – who had become head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Lima, in Fitzrovia,” said Manos

“We decided to do this collaboration with the restaurant’s menu on my tableware and it was magical.

“When I was a chef I was always excited by using unusual plates, so it’s nice to see pieces designed for food and not the other way around.”

Having worked out of a studio locally, Manos saw a sign on the door of Design District – Knight Dragon’s project to fill a plot with workspaces created by numerous architects – and applied for a studio.

Manos removes a Christmas decoration from a mould

“In the past, I was making work for myself, for clients and commissions,” he said.

“But when I moved here, I found the potential was not just for me.

“My aim would be to see this place buzzing – I have the space to offer workshops, to teach and to help people with their projects.

“My tag line for Made By Manos is: ‘If you can’t find it, come and make it’.

“I want people who live or work locally to come because using clay is so nice, so relaxing – you can just get away from stress.

“It’s great to have something you’ve made or to give it as a gift – I want people to come here and to feel happy at that feeling of achievement.

“You can be a complete beginner, someone who has never touched the material before, and then leave with something you have made.

“For me, it’s amazing to pass something on and to give back to the community.

“This isn’t that old mentality of not sharing a secret glaze or something.

“I think you can only make progress by sharing what you know.”

Tiles made by participants on a taster session

Manos is constantly developing his own practice, blending ingredients in different ways to create new materials and approaches. 

His pieces have been widely exhibited and used, including pieces for Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights Festival in 2018, tableware for Tate Modern’s members club and work for Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts in Athens.

“About 99% of my work is slip casting, so I don’t have the mess with a wheel spraying the clay everywhere,” he said.

“I also find the wheel very restricting because everything you make has to be round.

“With slip, I have the ability to get any shape I want, any size, any height and any finish.

“I love lighting and working on a big scale – I also like collaborating, doing things outside my comfort zone with glass, jewellery and metal.

“My favourite is probably working with bone china – I’ve even found a way to make it into a foam by adding extra air.

“As a student I was taught air was imperfection and my instinct is always to go completely the other way. That’s the most exciting thing to do.

“When I was making the foam, I was told I was looking for trouble but once you know the limits you can adapt it to what you want.

“I was also told never to add glass and I wound up making pieces for James Dyson after doing that, so I think you should listen to your gut and go with it.”

For those who want to have a go themselves, Manos offers one-hour taster sessions at his studio for £30 per person, where small groups learn ancient techniques to hand-build vessels in stoneware clay. 

He also offers three-hour themed workshops for £80, where participants in groups of five work on specific projects such as building mugs or cups or making Christmas decorations such as paper porcelain baubles for the tree.

One-to-one coaching and mentoring are also available on an hourly basis as well as a firing service for people who have made pieces but lack a kiln to finish them.

Read more: How inhaling nitrous oxide can damage your spine

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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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Greenwich: How Just Vibez is ‘a everybody ting’ for the people of Greenwich Peninsula

Two-day festival is a celebration of soca music and the work of the late Brixton hip hop pioneer TY

Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula
Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula

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There’s a fair bit going on at Greenwich Peninsula over the warmer months with events and pop-ups scheduled by developer Knight Dragon, all with the aim of bringing life and entertainment to the area.

There’s mini golf from artist Yinka Illori, table tennis from artist Camille Walala and JeeYong Lee’s new installation at Now Gallery – Maiden Voyage – all running into September.

Also on the horizon is Just Vibez – a sonic rather than specifically visual attraction – set to take over a slice of land beneath the columns of raised public park The Tide.

Running over two days – August 13-14, 2022, from 1pm to 8pm, this free musical festival marries a line-up of DJs and MCs with dancercise and street food in a celebration of soca, hip-hop, afrobeats and reggae.

“Just Vibez is a collective of DJs, musicians, artists, different types of creative people, and we have crew in the UK but also in Singapore, Australia, Brazil and Toronto – our main goal is trying to put on events which will entertain or ‘edutain’ people,” said Mark Chan Poon, one of the movement’s coordinators.

“We run authentic Caribbean and African-American pop events, but it’s not just for that community, it’s to open up and be welcoming for all communities to enjoy.  

“For us, ‘edutaining’ means entertainment where people also get to learn something, such as facts about the countries where the music comes from, or about their culture.

“For example, with the kids, we don’t just have a colouring corner, we have Caribbean heroes they can colour-in, so they learn a little bit while being entertained by the music. They party, but with a bit of education as well.”

Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez
Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez

Mark, originally from Trinidad And Tobago, came to the UK via New York and Costa Rica.

He said: “Music’s always been a big part of what I do and through that music I’ve had lots of collaborations in urban music, Latin music and hip hop.

“We’re stronger together, so we wanted to pull this together as a crew rather than all of us doing our own things individually.

“Out of that desire came Just Vibez for the UK, but I’m not the only person organising it.

“It’s been going loosely for more than 20 years, but probably a little bit more formally over the last seven or eight.

“I guess there are really three kinds of events that we put on. The most straightforward is the club nights with various DJs playing.

“That’s adults only and probably takes place three times a month in London but also in Australia, Singapore and other places.

“We also do special events such as one for the F1 racing in Singapore – any excuse for a party. 

“People may not know us or the music, but some people have even travelled to the Caribbean for the first time after hearing it.

“Finally there are the family-friendly days like the ones we’re doing on Greenwich Peninsula.

“We encourage people to bring kids, nieces, nephews, as well as their older relations so that we have babies of maybe a few months up to people in their 90s.

“We try to programme the day so that it runs a bit more kid-focused at the start, with entertainment for them, such as bouncy castles, face-painting and colouring – even making a carnival costume – then later it will be the full-on carnival vibe, and similarly we do this for hip hop as well.”

Just Vibez features soca and hip hop
Just Vibez features soca and hip hop

Just Vibez at Greenwich Peninsula will have two different themes on the Saturday and Sunday.

The event will open with Caribbean Vibez – The Soca Summit featuring UK soca artists such as Trini Boi, Joocie, Scrappy, Sun Divas, Miss Desire, Batch, Pahjo and One The Band.

“This will be up-tempo calypso from Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada and so on,” said Mark. “Of course, there’ll be dancehall and reggae too.”

This will be followed by CelebrateTY on the Sunday – an event to mark what

 would have been the 50th birthday of Brixton-born rapper, TY. 

The line-up will include long-time collaborators Shortee Blitz, Billy Biznezz, DJ Croc and DJ Mr Thing as well as a live stream from Maseo of De La Soul and a set from DJ Sarah Love.

“Ty was a UK hip hop legend who passed from Covid in 2020,” said Mark.

“We thought it would be a nice opportunity to have a good outdoor event, where a lot of his peers and collaborators could come out and perform – or just be there to celebrate. He was a great pillar of the hip hop community in London.

“On the Sunday we’re doing special T-shirts for TY, a limited edition of about 200 – get one there and then never again. His mum and sister will be coming as well.”

Mark said one of the core principles of Just Vibez was its mission to attract and entertain as many different people as possible.

“One of our lines is that Just Vibez is a ‘everybody ting’,” he said. “That means everyone is welcome to be there and that’s really the main thing about it.

“Some events may be quite closed to their own communities, because, if you don’t know the culture or the language, you would feel quite out of place – but that’s not the way we do things.

“We also encourage people from our community to invite their neighbours, who may feel it’s not their culture, so that they can have a taste of that.

“We’ve done a lot of events in Brixton over the last 10 years, but some people were very sceptical at the start. Now they come often.

“For example, there was an English gentleman I spoke to a little while ago who discovered soca music at our event in Greenwich in 2019.

“He’s in his late 60s and joined Instagram just to follow us and now he comes to so many events and brings many of his family and friends who have never heard this type of music before.

“That’s really satisfying to me – he even came to our special event to mark the arrival of the Windrush and also drove out to one of our events at Lingfield racetrack. That’s really nice to see.

“With Greenwich Peninsula, people might know The O2 but some don’t know about other things that happen there, so, by us doing these events, our followers will find other things too.

Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez
Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez

“We’d done events at places like the Royal Festival Hall and the National Portrait Gallery – cultural icons around London. 

“So we were very flattered to be asked to do one on Greenwich Peninsula and now to come back again.

“We hope people will come for us, but also that they will check out all the other things on offer during the summer too.”

In addition to a few surprise guests over the course of the two days, visitors to Just Vibez can expect a selection of street food to keep audiences fuelled for the dancing.

Those visiting the event can also find refreshment at Design District Canteen – a nearby food court or at the wide selection of restaurants on offer within The O2.

Read more: Sadler’s Wells East set to run summer dance workshops

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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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Property: Last chance to buy at Upper Riverside on Greenwich Peninsula

Developer Knight Dragon eyes acceleration of delivery as deal signed with contractor Mace

Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside
Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside

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This moment represents something of a tipping point in the regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula.

There are still 20-odd apartments left in the Upper Riverside phase of Knight Dragon’s mammoth project, so for buyers this is a last chance to get in on one of the angular blocks set along the Thames. 

“That’s really been our focus for the last four years, with just over 1,000 properties and it’s very much an established community now,” said Kerri Sibson, chief operating officer at the developer.

“We launched the last building – No. 5 – just as we went into the first bout of Covid, so things stalled for a little while and then subsequently picked up.

“We have a few one-bed and two-bed homes available, so this is a last chance to buy.

“There’s a really strong sense of community across the five buildings at Upper Riverside, which is really lovely and, of course, that’s what you hope for – people who will occupy the space and make it what they want it to be.”

Homes at No. 5 Upper Riverside start at £487,500 with residents’ facilities including access to a co-working space, three gyms, multiple roof terraces and a 15th floor swimming pool.

For those who’d rather rent, No. 4 Upper Riverside offers studio, one, two and three-bedroom homes to let with starting prices ranging from £1,500pcm to £3,000pcm, a selection of contract options and the option to move in without a deposit.

“The rental operation has had a full year now and the rental market is booming, so that has performed really well for us and we’ve been really pleased,” said Kerri.

“Having that option is part of what we talk about all the time for the Peninsula, which is that you need diversity of product to keep your audience as wide as possible.

“If you have just one type of property, it quickly becomes a not very interesting place to be. Rental gives us a different clientele and it definitely feeds into our sales business.

“We haven’t been able to do it yet, but we might be on the cusp of seeing if we could do ‘Try before you buy’.

“I’d like the idea that we could have a rental offer which ultimately means that the money you’re spending on rent becomes a deposit and – although it sends our finance department into palpitations – it would be wonderful if we could achieve that.

“On the sales side, having Lower Riverside has always been the perfect counterpoint in terms of accessibility so we’re not just offering one price point.”

Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson
Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson

Knight Dragon’s approach to making sure the area it is creating appeals to buyers somewhat sets it apart.

The company has invested significantly in public space as well as an ongoing programme of art exhibitions and events, intended to attract visitors to the area and entertain the now circa 5,000 residents.

That includes the creation of The Tide – an elevated park complete with sculptures including a work by Damian Hirst.

Knight Dragon has also worked to help establish local businesses to serve those passing through, studying and living on the Peninsula, opening a diverse collection of commercial buildings at Design District in 2021.

“That’s been a great success for us,” said Kerri. “It was enormously stressful for all parties getting it launched post-Covid.

“We had businesses really excited and ready to move in and we were behind because everything had been closed for many months, but when it arrived it exceeded all out expectations.

“When we launched, we had a journalist from the BBC asking whether we were worried about people not returning to work, not coming into the office – but that’s hasn’t been our experience.

“We have such a great mix of tenants in the creative industries and they were just really desperate to get in, to collaborate and to feed off each other.

“I’ve been working on this project since Knight Dragon got involved and I’ve found that if you engage with the creative industries early on in any process, the product you come out with is so much more interesting and challenging than if you stick to a very traditional property route.

“You can end up with a very homogenised product with ‘Do Not Stand On The Grass’ signs. We didn’t want that here.”

Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames
Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames

With a total of nearly 17,500 homes in the pipeline, both residents and visitors can expect to see a ramping up of activity, as Knight Dragon prepares to announce the next phases of its project later in the year.

“We’re probably around the 30% mark in terms of completion, so there’s still an awful lot more to do,” said Kerri.

“We’ve just announced a partnership with construction firm Mace – which built Upper Riverside and The Tide – and there’s a big push forward in terms of momentum and speed of delivery. There are going to be lots of homes on their way very quickly.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve been very focused on place-making.

“The river bank, back in the day, was a desolate tarmac path that ran along the Thames, so we invested in The Tide to get people to enjoy the area.

“It was important for us that Greenwich Peninsula was not just about homes, but a balance between home and work and a place where people would want to spend time during the day.”

A show home interior at Upper Riverside
A show home interior at Upper Riverside

With Mace set to build 20 buildings as part of Knight Dragon’s 40-acre project, the exact shape of the final development cannot be set in stone.

“From an infrastructure point of view, it’s a constant game of moving things around,” said Kerri.

“When we started the project, the Silvertown Tunnel hadn’t been given the green light, so two of our buildings won’t be delivered because now that’s very much happening.

“It’s also absolutely our ambition to redevelop North Greenwich station, although we weren’t able to make our original plans for that site work.

“However, it’s important to remember, from a residents’ point of view, how well connected the Peninsula already is – London City Airport, for example, is a big plus for us.

“There’s a perception Greenwich is further away than it actually is, but once people are here they realise how well connected it actually is – just minutes from Canary Wharf and the City.”

Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula
Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula

Read more: How Urban Space Management wants to put homes on a bridge

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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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Greenwich Peninsula: How The O2’s premium offer has evolved over 15 years

The North Greenwich venue is celebrating one and a half decades in business since launch in 2007

The O2 is celebrating 15 years since its first gig
The O2 is celebrating 15 years since its first gig

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To paraphrase the work of the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson –  it’s been 14 years and 361 days, since The O2 officially welcomed its first audience (at the time of writing).

The chords that rang out on June 24, 2007 did not come from the purple guitar of His Royal Badness – although he did play a 21-date residency at AEG’s Greenwich Peninsula venue in its inaugural year. 

That honour was taken by Bon Jovi and, as the duck-quacking riff of Livin’ On A Prayer sounded in the Arena, Matt Botten was standing in the wings.

“I’d snuck in at the side, having made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to miss it,” he said.

“I found myself standing just behind AEG president Tim Leiweke and immediately I started thinking: ‘What have I done? Should I even be here?

“But he turned round and we high-fived – it was this feeling that we’d all done it.

“It was a huge relief to hear those chords, to know everybody was in the building, that the suites were full.

“We had done it, we’d opened and we’ve never looked back.”

As head of hospitality then, and senior director of premium seating now, Matt has pretty much seen it all – making him the ideal interviewee as The O2 prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday.

“I always joke that when I finally retire or move on, there’s a book waiting to be written,” he said.

“There have been some huge events – the opening was massive and when Led Zeppelin reformed for a single show in 2007, that night was a who’s who of the music industry.

“Working on premium, I’ve been fortunate that some of my experiences have meant contact with remarkable people – just escorting the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, David Beckham and Kylie Minogue to their suites.

“But really it’s the little things that we do as a team – bringing someone a birthday cake, making those ‘wow’ moments happen. Delivering a real difference to somebody’s experience – that are huge for me.”

The O2's senior director of premium seating Matt Botten
The O2’s senior director of premium seating Matt Botten – image Matt Grayson

For a bit of context, it’s important to realise what a massive deal The O2 is.

Pandemic notwithstanding, the project has taken Richard Rogers’ vacant tent following its troubled inception as the Millennium Dome and created a venue that by 2020 had sold more tickets to events than anywhere else in the whole world, every year, for more than a decade.

Right here, in London on Greenwich Peninsula. Let that sink in. Nothing compares.

With a broader range and greater number of shows than any other arena in the UK, The O2 heads into its 15th year with a packed schedule. 

Billie Eilish, Alanis Morissette, The Kings Of Leon, Cirque Du Soleil and Haim are all set to play in the first 30 days.

 But there are also a host of sporting events in the pipeline including boxing with Chisora vs Pulev, UFC Fight Night London and the Laver Cup London with tennis stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal scheduled to play.

“That’s what makes The O2 unique – the sheer number and variety of events,” said Matt. “It really is quite something working here – I’ve got lots of peers and friends working at sporting venues and they talk about the 30 shows they have a year. We have 25 just in June.

“That was a real game-changer in the corporate market. Everyone was used to Twickenham and Wembley, which I say with great affection because I worked at both of them.

“I sold my first T-shirt at the old Wembley Stadium with the twin towers back in 1997 outside a tribute gig marking the release of Nelson Mandela.

“Then I ended up working there full-time after my A-Levels, and then Wembley Arena, and that threw up opportunities such as spending time on the road servicing U2 tours, selling merchandise.

“Then I was at Twickenham Stadium for many years, and then moved across to The O2 when it was still a building site inside.

“For the launch, we had to educate people. Businesses could understand the value of gigs by the Rolling Stones or Queen but what about The X-Factor or Disney events? 

The American Express Lounge at The O2

“When we were launching in 2007 it was about that shift in work-life balance – if someone accepts an invitation to go to a game of football, for example, that might mean a day out of the office.

“But as a company, if you can work it so that guests can bring their whole family to an event, then you can merge the two things and over the years we’ve seen more and more use of our suites in that way.

“The companies that buy them also use them for staff incentives internally or in partnership with local organisations such as charities and schools. 

“When we opened, we had two premium products – the suites and an annual membership, which was typical for stadium venues.

“We’re proud to say, after 15 years, we still have some of  our original clients with us – some having taken suites for five or even 10 years initially. 

“But since then, a lot has changed – our smallest suite has 15 seats and, if you imagine 180 shows a year times 15, that’s a lot of invites to ensure you’re getting people down and making the most of your investment.”

The two levels of suites offer commanding views over the stage
The two levels of suites offer commanding views over the stage

An evolving business landscape and a resurgent experience economy has seen The O2 expand and develop its premium offerings in concert with those two core strands, meaning there are now more ways to experience high-end hospitality and personal luxury at the venue than ever.

“This is particularly pertinent post-Covid,” said Matt. “We’ll see if it continues, because people’s disposable income at the moment is being squeezed in all areas.

However, with people having been locked down for 18 months to two years, there seems to have been this shift from an emphasis on buying physical possessions to buying experiences.

“We’ve seen more individuals thinking that, if they’re going out, they want to make it a night to remember.

“The corporate suites are a large part of our business, but the direction we’re going in is to make them and a range of other premium experiences available to far more people.

“Even before the pandemic, there was demand for smaller numbers, simpler products – options akin to a season ticket at a football ground.

“We’ve seen smaller businesses buying into this too – they can use two, four or six seats at every event where they would struggle to deal with 20.”

This shift has resulted in a collection of products including whole suite hire for a specific event, Encore Seats offering individuals tickets to 10 shows a year, plus the option to buy more in the members’ area of the venue close to the stage and, for businesses, the chance to buy a number of seats in a shared suite for a set period of time.

The venue also offers American Express Advantage tickets to the credit card company’s customers guaranteeing seats right by the stage.

These and several of the other premium options also grant access to the luxury American Express Lounge, which offers live music, cocktails and food on event days.

The current crop of premium options – with more in the pipeline – reflects the venue’s increasingly relaxed approach to its model, something typified by the freedom its suite clients have to design their spaces.

Matt said: “Back in 2007 we were probably a little bit more corporate.

“Today our customers want to bring their brand identity into their space and we understand that. 

“Companies inviting people to events need to get a return on their investment and those attending need to know who’s invited them, so we work with them and they can do pretty much anything. 

“I have this idea that we’ll end up with the most eclectic collection of suites in the UK. We have some very corporate ones and one from a partner who’s just come on board that has a shuffleboard table in it.”

Suites at The O2 offer a range of attractions including a dedicated bar
Suites at The O2 offer a range of attractions including a dedicated bar

Read more: How The O2 is fixing the hole in its roof

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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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Greenwich: How The O2 is fixing its roof having reopened its doors to visitors

Peninsula venue was mostly up and running a week after Storm Eunice, with part of Icon now trading

Storm Eunice ripped off part of The O2's roof
Storm Eunice ripped off part of The O2’s roof – image Matt Grayson

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The holes ripped in the roof of The O2 by viscous winds instantly became the defining image of Storm Eunice as it tore across England on February 18, 2022.

In total eight out of the 72 segments that make up the dome were damaged, leaving a gaping hole in the eighth largest building in the world. 

Thankfully nobody was injured at the venue and while 6,000sq m of roof was missing it took staff a week to reopen the majority of the venue so concerts could resume and the attractions of Entertainment Avenue could start trading again.

A month after the storm, a section of outlet shopping centre Icon At The O2 also reopened, recently welcoming a new store from menswear brand Skopes

While the bulk of the retail destination remains closed as it is located directly under the hole, work to temporarily weatherproof the gap continues apace. 

Full access is expected for shoppers in early May, once the venue is watertight and any damage to the units below has been repaired. 

With trading already strong in the reopened section, that’s something Icon’s managing director Janine Constantin-Russell can’t wait for.

Icon At The O2 managing director Janine Constantin-Russell
Icon At The O2 managing director Janine Constantin-Russell

“I think we felt particularly tested because we’d opened our doors again and we were seeing such strength in our numbers after restrictions eased,” she said.

“To have to stop again felt particularly trying. But there’s definitely been a sense of cameraderie about it.

“Our teams have been fantastic – to open up the entertainment district and the arena a week to the day after the storm happened was an amazing feat – and then to open 22 stores at Icon in March was even more incredible.

“The press that we’ve had from Storm Eunice has been kind and sympathetic and we’ve had such lovely support from our local customers who have come to have a look and have supported us by spending their money here.

“In some ways it’s been an opportunity to open our door a little bit wider, to say: ‘We’re here, we’re made of sturdy stuff but these things happen’. We’ve been able to show the best we can do.”

Icon At The O2 has partially reopened with full access expected in May
Icon At The O2 has partially reopened with full access expected in May – image Matt Grayson

In addition to Skopes, more openings are in the pipeline with brands selling high performance sportswear and homeware expected to launch when the remaining section of the venue is back in business. 

“We would say that mass media attention on The O2 is such that we have never been so busy from a lettings perspective,” said Janine.

“We’ve been showing potential tenants around literally in hard hats as the units we’ve got available are under the part of the Icon affected by the repair work.

“Without exception, all of our businesses have seen improvement since the changes in Covid restrictions.

“On average sales are up 50%-60% on 2019 and we’ve seen those numbers come through straight away.

“But what we’re seeing is not necessarily a pent-up demand, it’s like a return to what people missed out on.

“It was fantastic to have online shopping during the pandemic and everyone’s now found a place for how they manage that – how it makes their life more convenient.

“It also means people have a bit more time to spend picking up luxuries and making decisions in store – so what we’ve ended up with is this really discerning customer who’s enjoying shopping and spending their time and money doing that.

“What we’ve seen is that the brands are curating their stores better to make sure they’re giving those people what they want.”

Activities are also a key draw with the likes of football venue Toca Social, Boom Battle Bar, Oxygen Freejumping soon to be joined by indoor skydiving venue iFly, which recently won planning permission to build a facility to the north of the dome.

“In other locations iFly attracts 150,000 visitors a year, so we’re super happy about that,” said Janine.

“As for the future, we always want to think big. For example, the venue’s roof climbing experience – Up At The O2 – is such an exciting thing, anything we do has to equal or top that.

“It has to have that wow factor and we’re pursuing lots of lines of enquiry to make sure whatever we do will be amazing.

“We quite like the idea of zip lines – we’ve seen some on the inside of venues and that would be super-cool.”

Executive vice president real estate and development at AEG Europe, Alistair Wood
Executive vice president real estate and development at AEG Europe, Alistair Wood

FABRIC FIX – REPAIRING THE ROOF

As executive vice president real estate and development at AEG Europe (the company that owns The O2), Alistair Wood is responsible for overseeing the project to repair the damage wrought by Storm Eunice.

“There was nothing at all we could do on the February 18 so we reconvened the following day and the extent of the damage was quite frightening,” he said.

“It was a disaster rescue situation and we had to respond very quickly, which we did, making some very good, rapid decisions.

“We had to postpone two concerts in the week after the storm but we focused on making sure the UB40 show in the arena took place on February 25 because, having just come out of the pandemic, we couldn’t tolerate any further delays.

“In the end the two postponed concerts by Dave took place a week after they were supposed to happen, so phase one was a great success.

Now we’ve been focusing on getting the venue waterproof and we want to be finished with that by Easter.

“Initially we’ll be installing a temporary roof that will be in place for the next year or two.

That’s because the material – PTFE – is quite specialised and in quite high demand so there’s about a 12-month lead time on orders.

“Generally we’re pleased with how quickly we’ve been able to get going again but we’re not understating how harrowing that Saturday morning was.

“The buildings at Icon aren’t designed to stand outside so our biggest challenge has been water coming into the venue.

“It has rained very heavily for a couple of days and, while we have scaffolding up that supports a canopy across the buildings to achieve a degree of protection, some still gets in.

“We’re now working with all our tenants to identify the damage and refit the units where necessary and then get us fully reopened in early May.

“Fortunately there was no damage to the structure that holds up the dome, so for the canopy it’s just a case of hooking the material to that and welding a waterproof seal over the top.

“In the wider venue, it’s great to be coming out of the pandemic and we should be pumping out a record couple of years in the arena and that will support the hospitality and retail venues.

“We’re really upbeat about how things are going and our fingers are crossed for a clear run now to allow Icon to get some momentum alongside the rest of the site.

“All the current attractions are bringing their own footfall but also sharing that audience and that has always been the point of The O2.

It operates as a composite destination so you can spend your whole day there.”

Looking ahead, hopefully that’s the last of the holes.

Workers repairing the damage over Icon At The O2
Workers repairing the damage over Icon At The O2 – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How Humble Grape in Canary Wharf is raising its food game

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Greenwich: Flow Farmers Market brings fresh sustainable product to the Peninsula

Developer Knight Dragon teams up with Bompas And Parr and Urban Food Fest for regular event

Sweet treats on offer from Oh My Sugar at the market – image Matt Grayson

A clutch of food traders are plying their wares on the banks of the Thames as Greenwich Peninsula hosts Flow Farmers Market every other Sunday. With the next one set to take place on June 13 – and with dates running throughout the summer until September 19 – we caught up with the organiser and stallholders to discover what residents and visitors can find on the strip of land between the end of The Tide and the river.

“We really wanted to expand the artisan food element that is part of our urban design market Sample to create a regular farmers’ market,”  said Kaia Charles, cultural projects manager for Greenwich Peninsula at property developer Knight Dragon.

“So we worked with creative food firm Bompass And Parr to develop an idea about what that could be for the Peninsula – to bring a range of fresh produce, organic meats and cheeses here. Flow is inspired by the river itself, its location and, as it grows we really want to feature local producers.

“We want it very much to be for the residents here so it’s about what they want and need – that’s what will drive what we have here.

The idea is the selection of traders we have at the moment goes really well together with organic bread, cheeses, olives and meats.

“It’s gone down really well with residents so far and the stalls are also near two of our retail tenants – Choy House and Ardoa – so people can visit them too. We want to enliven the river and celebrate the resilience of our community after the pandemic.”

Flow Farmers Market, programmed by Urban Food Fest, takes place every other Sunday from 10am-3pm. Here we talk to some of the traders taking part:

Oh My Sugar owner Aysar Kalkanel at the market – image Matt Grayson

OH MY SUGAR

cookies – brownies – sweets

Oh My Sugar owner Aysar Kalkanel said: “I started the business in 2020. I’d been travelling and I wanted to come home and open a brunch bar, but I arrived back just as we went into the first lockdown, so I had to think of an alternative. 

“I’d never baked before, but it blew up completely. Originally it was going to be more about sweets, but everyone kept ordering the brownies and cookies.  We started doing just online and then a couple of people suggested markets and it’s been the best thing I’ve done. 

“We mainly sell cookies, brownies and blondies which is a version of a brownie made with white chocolate – they’re very sweet, but people love them. We basically offer a variety of chocolate-smothered goodness.”

Samaneh serves customers at Flow Farmers Market – image Matt Grayson

OLIVETO BAR

olives – garlic – sundried tomatoes

Oliveto’s Samaneh Khazaei said: “The business has been established for almost 12 years now. We marinade everything ourselves and source our olives from Italy, Greece and Spain.

“All of our products are homemade and sold freshly at markets, whether it’s the olives or the hummus. 

“Our flavours include olives flavoured with mixed fresh herbs and chilli. We are also selling Persian garlic and artichokes. We don’t use vinegar or salt in our marinades, just extra virgin olive oil. We also do vegetarian stuffed vine leaves. 

“Personally I love our olives stuffed with almonds and anchovies – they’re really tasty. I also have to mention our hummus, which is delicious.”

Produce from Pick’s Organic Farm on sale – image Matt Grayson

PICK’S ORGANIC FARM

vegetables – meat – bacon rolls

Pick’s Organic Farm’s Hannah Patterson said: “The farm is based near Leicester in Barkby Thorpe and we come down every Saturday and Sunday to trade at farmers’ markets in London.

“We do a range of hot food – cooking sausages and bacon at our stall – as well as selling meat, fresh eggs from our chickens and fruit and vegetables too, although not at every market.

“All the meat we sell is produced from our own animals. We have a variety of sausages including Welsh Dragon, flavoured with chilli, a good selection of beef, lamb and chicken as well as burgers – a bit of everything you could want, really. We sell burgers, hot dogs, bacon rolls and egg rolls or any combination customers want.” 

Cheeses from The Big Wheel at the market – image Matt Grayson

THE BIG WHEEL

cheese – crackers – condiments

The Big Wheel’s Hazel Cross said: “We specialise in artisan British cheeses, which come from up and down the UK. For example we stock Lancashire Bomber, Colston Basset Stilton and Keens and Montgomery’s cheddars plus Lincolnshire Poachers and Cornish Yarg.

“We also have an international classics section because there are certain things that no cheese board should be without. Our customers come and they want a Parmesan or a Langres, which comes from the Champagne region of France and has a lovely orange colour. My personal favourite is the Ribblesdale Goatesan, a hard cheese from Yorkshire.

“The Big Wheel exists only at markets in London and that allows us to keep our prices competitive.”

Kudciea Khan selling Rodgis’ bread at the market – image Matt Grayson

RODGIS

sourdough – sausage rolls – pastries

Rodgis’ Kudciea Khan said: “We offer a range of sourdough bread with loaves for £4 or, if someone wants two, it’s £6.

“There’s rosemary, olive bread, rye and multiseed on offer. The products are all freshly made at a central kitchen and  and we have savoury food and pastries as well, including chocolate cheesecake and pasteis de nata.

“We’ve been really busy at Flow, with people queuing despite the rain and we hope to add even more products to our stall here. 

“Rodgis is a family business which operates at various farmers’ markets around London and via its website.”

The business also produces a range of charcuterie, pastas and olives available to purchase online, shipped from its base near Peckham

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