The Silverton

Greenwich Peninsula: How Björn from ABBA welcomes Antony from Blue to Mamma Mia! The Party at The O2

Ulvaeus and Costa talk music, Greek heritage and performance as a new Nikos arrives at the venue

Antony Costa and Björn Ulvaeus at Mamma Mia! The Party in The O2

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Björn Ulvaeus is in a jovial, reflective mood – surprising, perhaps, for a global megastar who’s already spent much of his morning being interviewed by a merry-go-round of journalists at The O2 before I get to him.

He’s at the Greenwich Peninsula venue to mark the arrival of Antony Costa – best known as one quarter of boy band Blue, who has just joined the cast of Mamma Mia! The Party, which has been playing in its own dedicated space within the giant tent since 2019. 

There’s a feeling of serendipity about the whole thing.

ABBA – namely Björn, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – reportedly gave their first impromptu performance on a beach while on holiday in Cyprus.

Antony has Greek Cypriot heritage and is the first person in the London run directly connected with the culture to take on the role of taverna owner Nikos, whose establishment is the setting for the immersive show.

Antony performing in the show

Sat in the vast space, completely transformed into a restaurant on Skopelos with hundreds of seats, it’s impossible not to wonder what moments of fresh serendipity might take place under the lights as Antony and co dance, sing and entertain the expectant crowds.

Who might be inspired? What might they do?

“Everything with ABBA was so organic, it happened by chance,” said Björn.

“Benny and I happened to meet each other, then we happened to meet those ladies and they happened to be singers.

“They could easily have been something else.

“We never thought about forming a group until two or three years into our relationships – we were just two couples.

“Then, again by chance, Agnetha is a true soprano, and Frida is a mezzo – it’s when she strives to get up to where Agnetha is and they sing in unison, there’s a strange kind of metallic, longing sound which you can hear from miles away.

“That is the sound of ABBA. It has a quality that, when the song is a bit sad, in a minor key and the lyrics are dark, the voices seem to be jubilant, so happy and sad at the same time.

Performers sing and dance among the audience

“It’s very Nordic and it was probably very exotic to the rest of the world.

“Then, at the same time, Benny and I were determined to become very good songwriters and to record our music as well as we could. 

“ABBA was the most wonderful vehicle to communicate those songs though, so it was a combination of all of those things that led to our success.”

One of the best-selling groups in the history of popular music, next came Mamma Mia! the jukebox musical, a film adaptation – then a second – each adding fresh waves of popularity and further cementing the presence of hits such as Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, The Winner Takes It All and Waterloo in the public consciousness.

Mamma Mia! The Party, however is different.

Conceived after a visit to Skopelos to see the film set, Björn set about creating an immersive experience that would serve as a sequel to the movies – initially opening in Stockholm – before bringing the show to London.

The show takes place in a giant Greek taverna

“That’s the thing about this – it’s so real,” he said.

“It’s a real restaurant. The audience are eating, it has an owner, he’s called Nikos and the family are working here.

“The movies are fiction, but this is real and that’s what people feel when they come.

“People would stand up, sing and dance at the end of the stage musical and I wondered how we could make this immersive.

“It feels great because you can see people enjoying the music, singing all the words and it’s real.”  

Antony, who hails from Barnet in north London, said: “The idea is that people leave their troubles at the door, they just enjoy the vibe, the music and the story.

“Nikos and his wife Kate (Gemma Maclean) have had this idea that they will make some money off the back of the movies.

“ABBA is popular, so they decide to use the songs.

Performances include a Greek meal

“They trade off the taverna as a location and that’s how the story begins. It’s my second immersive show and it’s amazing.

“You have to be in character but you can go up to the tables and ask the guests how their food is.

“They’re always sending their compliments to the chef, they love it.

“My dad’s family are all Greek-Cypriot, so when I lived in Cyprus as a kid, I used to see it all the time – gran peeling the potatoes, dad smoking and cooking the barbecue – and that makes it real.

“I was actually a bit emotional that someone had taken the trouble to write something set in the motherland.

“It really brought me back to living in Cyprus as a kid and going to the taverna with the whole family. 

“I feel very honoured to be performing these songs and to have Björn watching and for him to say: ‘Well done’ – I can die happy. I saw his face light up and that was better than any applause.”

Following the establishment of Mamma Mia! The Party, the eastern half of the capital is busy with the band’s footprint thanks to ABBA Voyage – a holographic concert venue featuring avatars of the four members – that opened in 2022, not far away in Stratford.

Guitarist Luke Higgins performs on a Bouzouki

“London is where all the infrastructure and talent is, so it was a no-brainer to bring the party here in 2019 after Stockholm,” said Björn.

“There’s a huge audience here, all prepared to try something new – an experiment, which this is, in essence.

“From here, we’re going to take it to other places around the world – perhaps New York and Sydney.

“Seeing Antony as Nikos was very special because he gives his own interpretation of the role.

“As the first person to play the role in London who comes from a Greek background, he completely understands who Nikos is and that is great – I loved seeing it.”

Mamma Mia! The Party runs Wednesday to Sunday at 6.30pm with noon matinees at weekends.

Tickets start at £108 off peak with various upgrades available.

You can find out more about Mamma Mia! The Party here.

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How Kinaara delivers authentic Indian cooking with a modern twist

Head chef Imamuddin Khan takes inspiration from his mother’s kitchen and mentor Vivek Singh

Kinaara head chef Imamuddin Khan

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If your mouth isn’t watering by the end of this article, I haven’t properly reflected the passion that Imamuddin Khan has for the food that he cooks and the cuisine that he grew up with.

As a boy of eight or nine he was fascinated by the apparent magic of the way his mother prepared dishes in the kitchen.

First he started watching, then questioning her before starting to help with the cooking himself.

“I had so many questions – all the time I’d be asking her why she was using particular ingredients, why some things were shallow fried and others deep fried,” he said.

“I was curious. I always wanted to know what the reasons were.

“For example, take onion seeds – the kalonji.

“If you eat them with no preparation, you don’t taste or feel anything. There’s no taste.

“But when you sauté them, they release their aroma and flavour into the oil. Then, when you cook your vegetables or meat in it, you will get that aroma and texture.

“When I learnt these things from my mother it was amazing.

“I’d be going into the kitchen, tasting spices and not getting much.

“But when she explained how they worked in recipes it made me say ‘wow’.”

These were the first sparks that lit the fire of a lifelong passion for cooking that finds Imamuddin today residing in Dagenham and working as head chef at Kinaara.  

Named for the Hindi word for being on the shore, the principal restaurant at InterContinental London – The O2 boasts some of the city’s best views over the Thames towards the capital’s skyline.

The Greenwich Peninsula venue is a rich environment of deep blues, purples, golds, thick carpet and everywhere the river flowing past its expansive windows.

But all this is just a backdrop to the food, and that has its roots firmly planted overseas.

“About 35% of the flavours on the menu come straight from my mother’s kitchen,” said Imamuddin.

“I was born and brought up in Delhi. It’s the capital of India, so there is so much to eat, so much to see. 

“Every culture in the country is in that one place – it’s very diverse and so I learnt cuisines from all over the country there.”

After training in the culinary arts, Imamuddin came to England at the behest of celebrated chef Vivek Singh of The Cinnamon Club on the recommendation of his brother, also a cook.

Imamuddin at work

“Vivek taught me many techniques to give classic Indian dishes a modern twist,” said Imamuddin.

“After working with him on several restaurants, I went to the North East to open Haveli in Ponteland near Newcastle.

“But London for me is my home town and I was homesick so I came back to the city, working in hotels again before this opportunity came up.

“I came to the InterContinental and found it very tempting.

“The place was beautiful and the views were amazing. It’s one of the best locations in central London, so I said yes straight away. 

“For me the challenge was to live up to the views with what I create on the plate, drawing on my background and all the experiences I’ve had as a chef.”

Spend any amount of time with Imamuddin and it quickly becomes apparent that the spices he uses are the backbone to all of his dishes.

It’s a palette of subtle tones and shades that he uses with the aim of transforming good ingredients into something more.

Food at Kinaara blends traditional flavours with progressive techniques

“At Kinaara, we are serving recipes with deep roots but modified into dishes that reflect progressive Indian food,” he said.

“Some people have the perception that Indian food is always hot or spicy. Here we have a hint of spice, but the flavours we use are aromatic.

“Take our halibut dish with mangosteen and curry leaf, for example.

“If you can’t taste the delicate fish then there’s no point to eating it.

“It’s all about enjoying the tastes, textures and the ingredients in balance.

“I want to create memories for people.

“This is a fine dining, destination restaurant and that gives us a lot of opportunity to make dishes with beautiful ingredients.

“All of the time our suppliers help us.

“We have very good relationships with them and they’re always bringing us the best ingredients that are in season.

“Then we work with the spices to create the dish.

“Knowing the spices and how they work together is very important.

“Then the ingredients we receive give a body to the food.

The restaurant serves a selection of small plates

“We use a lot of turmeric. I remember my grandmother saying to me that it makes the body soft – which is why it’s put on the couple’s skin during weddings – and that’s how we use it too. 

“We cook it with meat to keep it tender and to give it flavour.

“We eat with our eyes too, so we use Kashmiri chillies, which have no flavour but such a beautiful colour and a wonderful aroma that will keep meat very red and shiny.

“Then there’s nutmeg. That helps lend a completely unique essence to food.

“That’s true of saffron too, which we use in our biryanis. 

“We cook rice and meat together from scratch with royal cumin, covering the ingredients with a dough lid, which is edible too.

“It’s quite similar to a pie in that respect.

“Then you have the star anise, they will give a flavour and sweetness and will work with anything sweet for dessert.”

Although Imamuddin isn’t averse to a bit of fusion and complexity – with gruyѐre and truffles both finding their way into some dishes – in the end he always returns to his roots.

“I think we can say the Dal Makhani is my favourite dish on the menu – the black lentil,” he said.

“It’s one of the simplest dishes on the menu, but also one of the best.” 

  • Kinaara serves a selection of small plates, starting at £10, from the grill and tandoor on its a la carte menu, while main courses start at £16.
  • One of the most popular options is the pre-show set menu served between 5pm and 7pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Diners get three courses at Kinaara for £75 per head plus a cocktail at Eighteen Sky Bar. This menu is ideal for those seeing a show at The O2, or who simply want to enjoy an early meal.

Bookings for Kinaara can be made via this link.

Imamuddin prefers gentle aromatic spice to let his ingredients shine

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Greenwich: How Outrivals creates a place to train with community at its very heart

Founder Matt Lo’s gym on The Tide offers workout facilities, small class sessions and personal training

Outrivals is located on Greenwich Peninsula

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Matt Lo’s vision is one of community.

Having dropped out of university, bored by his business course and keen to avoid getting into debt, the entrepreneur tried his hand in various sectors.

Following stints in estate agency, stockbroking and helming a failed website business, fitness beckoned.

“I fell into personal training,” he said. “I was always sporty – basketball, football and athletics at school and basketball for my county, Essex.

“But then you get into standard living, so it was nice to get back into fitness.

“What I learnt from the website business was that I wanted to gain some experience for a few years and earn my stripes before launching something.

“So I worked for Virgin Active in Moorgate, spent all my spare time studying, did my personal training qualifications in 2013 and that was it.”

From those beginnings, Matt started hosting outdoor fitness sessions in east London parks before successfully crowdfunding and opening his first physical gym in Old Street in 2016.

“I took my personal training clients, went freelance and that’s how things evolved,” he said. “Walking through those doors on opening day was beautiful, but also so stressful.

“We had plumbing problems – the changing rooms leaked into the gym floor and when we first opened I was there for several nights in a row lifting floorboards with water gushing out.

Outrivals founder Matt Lo

“I didn’t know what to do, but that’s part of the game – the unexpected stuff, the random scenarios. If you don’t want those challenges, then you shouldn’t run a business.”

With the leaks stopped, his first gym performed solidly up until the pandemic when, like many businesses, its model was upset by unprecedented circumstances.

When the Old Street gym closed permanently in 2021, buffeted by lockdowns and home working, the next chapter in Matt’s story was already unfolding.

“I first saw the space on Greenwich Peninsula about five years ago – but we couldn’t get funding for it back then,” he said.

“So I reached out to developer Knight Dragon as it was still empty and they said they were looking for an operator.

“We came in and opened in 2021 – I feel we’ve created something really solid for the community here.”

That something is Outrivals – a health and fitness space located on the Thames with its entrance facing elevated public space The Tide.

“When the agent showed me the unit in 2018 it looked really promising – especially with everything the developer was doing to create a community, building it up from scratch,” said Matt.

“I wanted to be a part of that. Outrivals has been set up as a place where people can come together to make friends and connections through fitness.

“Essentially, it’s a community-based gym.

The gym offers a range of membership options

“We offer small group classes and personal training with a team of people who are all specialised in their fields.

“It’s down to them that we have got where we are today.

“We’ve tested many different classes – sussing out exactly what people like.

“We wanted it to be a very strong facility, where people come knowing that they’re getting excellent training from very good staff, but having fun at the same time.

“We do strong-man and strong-woman classes where people lift 50k balls – stuff you wouldn’t be able to do at home on your own.

“We do an hour and a half endurance class and we have a leg-day on Monday.

“So we’ve worked on what we want to be about, but at the same time made these things fun for the people who are doing them.”

Memberships at Outrivals start at £30 per month for gym-only access – available for anyone who works, studies or lives in Greenwich.

Standard open gym memberships are £55. Small Group Training memberships start at £60 per month for four classes with eight session and unlimited options also available.

One-to-one personal training packages start at £99 per month with three hour-long sessions included.

“We also offer dedicated packages such as our 12-week strength, weight loss or post-natal programmes,” said Matt, who also runs Choy House, an Asian street food restaurant now based at Design District’s food hall Canteen, a little further south on the peninsula.

“We feel we’re on a really good journey here at this gym.

“When I first came here, there weren’t many buildings – the community was very new. Since then lots of people have moved in and lots has been built.

Outrivals overlooks The Tide park and the Thames

“To help boost that we create events, summer socials and charity challenges that help bring people together, not just in the gym but outside it as well.

“Personally, I understand the importance of fitness although I admit I’m hit and miss with how much I train. 

“When I miss a session, though, I really feel it both mentally and physically, so I know what an effect it can have.

“Ultimately I’d like to grow the brand, launching in other new developments so we can widen out the community and bring even more people together – whether that’s in London, other cities or even internationally.”

Outrivals has a number of offers for those considering taking out a membership.

Prospective clients can try out the gym’s facilities for three consecutive days, including open access to training spaces and small group classes. 

Members can also get up to £50 cashback for referring new clients who then take out a membership.

On the personal training front, in addition to packages for individuals, Outrivals offers sessions for couples or people who simply want to train together.

A £150 per month fee covers two sessions for two people with an Outrivals coach. Packages covering more sessions are also available.

For individuals who need more flexibility, the gym also offers blocks of personal training that can be used over a two-month period instead of the usual one-month expiry date.

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Greenwich: How Wizard Works sew a little magic into all their bike packing bags

How co-founders Veronica Lowe and Harry Major run an open-hearted manufacturing business

Harry and Veronica in their workshop at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula

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The author Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, V For Vendetta and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen maintains magic is very real.

It’s just that it lives in our minds rather than the real world.

A visit to Wizard Works at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula, however, does a little bit to confound that notion.

On the face of it, co-founders Harry Major and Veronica Lowe and their team hand-make a range of bike packing bags for cyclists in a bright and airy ground floor workshop. 

Wizard Works is now a team of six at Greenwich Peninsula

But look more closely and there’s a little bit of magic running through the thread on every seam.

That’s because everything this company does has a purpose – design that stems from a real world problem or a lived experience.

When I arrive for our interview, Veronica seems buoyant.

A Crowdfunder prize draw she’s set up is gaining some traction and it’s for a cause close to her heart.

She and Harry had travelled to her native New Zealand at Christmas – the first time she’d been able to see her family for four years, due to the pandemic. 

Sadly, not long into their trip, her father died suddenly. The couple extended their stay to be with family before Harry flew back, with Veronica set to follow on.

But then, in February, Cyclone Gabrielle hit, devastating the Esk Valley where she was staying – the floodwater rising so rapidly she and those in the household where she was staying had to take refuge on the second floor, before being rescued by boat the following morning. 

In a blog post she wrote: “Eventually the rain eased, the water stopped rising and in the morning I was rescued.

“I cried as I was jet-boated to safety, through the vineyards I worked in as a teenager, the valley Dad spent his whole life cultivating, completely engulfed by the little river we grew up playing in.

“The devastation is heartbreaking, there are people and families that have lost everything, including their lives.

“My dad’s house, with all his special things, that only days before we’d organised and lined up in his hallway to collect – reminders of our lovely father – all totally destroyed.”

I mention this deeply traumatic set of events because Wizard Works’ reaction to it says everything about this small, independent company. 

It’s created an AllBlack collection of bags with 50% of net sales donated to the Hawke’s Bay Foundation Cyclone Relief Fund and set up a prize draw to contribute to the relief effort for a disaster that killed at least 11 people, displaced some 10,000 and left homes, businesses and farmland in ruins.

While born of adversity, this latest project is perhaps emblematic of the open-hearted way Harry and Veronica run Wizard Works – a business that grew from a passion for cycle touring adventures, a bout of miserable winter weather and a desire for a creative outlet.

The couple’s business was born of cycling adventures

“We met in London,”said Veronica. “I was on a working holiday and my visa expired in 2011, by which time we’d been dating for a while and so he said he’d come with me when I left.

“We were not strangers to hare-brained schemes, like going round the world with someone you’d only just started dating.”

“We’d been in Melbourne for a few months and we did our first big ride together – maybe one and a half miles from a neighbouring suburb to have brunch in a cafe,” said Harry.

“We realised we’d ridden from there to here – it felt like we could do anything. We thought we might get a rainbow-coloured tandem and cycle round the world. 

“Although we prefer two bikes, the feeling of that conversation stuck with us and we planned our first multi-day cycle around Mornington Peninsula.

“It was awesome and my first time camping – Veronica was the outdoors person.”

Hooked, the couple began planning – reading blogs and making lists – as they set their sights on a year-long journey by bike from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur.

Although they didn’t know it, their experiences on that trip were the foundation for what would become Wizard Works.

Wizard Works makes bike packing bags for commuting and adventuring

“After that trip we got holiday visas and moved to Vancouver to stay with a friend we’d met in Melbourne who told me we were going to need an indoor hobby because the winters in Canada are shit,” said art school graduate Harry, who grew up in London. 

“He was right, it rained every day that October.

“So, having spent most of our trip around Asia talking about the gear we wish we’d had, we decided to do something about it and we bought a little Singer sewing machine and started making bags. 

“I thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t – everything I made was terrible, but it was mesmerising.

“I loved that combination of technical problem solving and creativity. We started off making bags for ourselves and they slowly got better.”

The hobby turned into a side hustle with Harry and Veronica back in London gradually increasing the time they were spending on the business.

Finding success through online sales, they hired staff to cope with demand and took space in Peckham before outgrowing that and moving to Design District.

Today, Wizard Works is a team of six producing a collection of core products as well as custom-made bags.

The bags it makes are inspired by the Bike Packing movement, which aims to place luggage within the frame of the bike rather than having to rely on unwieldy panniers.

But it’s not just about function.

Veronica said: “Something that really felt difficult when we were buying things for the trip was that everything was black or brown.

“You could buy bags that were fun, but they were at the lower end of the quality spectrum.

“We wanted to do something which was more colourful and that fitted with our brand name.”

“Right from the beginning we just wanted to make the bags that we wanted ourselves,” said Harry.

“The name partly comes from Veronica’s older brother who used to say: ‘You’re a wizard, Harry, and a thumping good one at that,’ when he saw me because that’s what a British ‘Harry’ is. 

“Wizard Works got a name and went from being a hobby to being a business – but we were always coming at it as the end user.

“We knew what worked, but we wanted it to have an aesthetic that lined up with the kind of bikes we were riding and the stuff we were wearing.

“In about 2017 and 2018 there was a kind of culture around kooky bikes – things people had built themselves. We wanted to be the luggage brand to go with that type of cycling.”

As you might be able to guess, there’s an enormous amount that won’t fit in this article – Wizard Works’ tireless battle to make its Cordura bags more sustainable, for example – but suffice to say it’s a brand well worth checking out.

A SELECTION OF WIZARD WORKS’ BAGS

Shazam Saddle Bag

Ideal for adventurers or commuters who carry larger loads – £195-£205

Alakazam Basket Bag

This bag easily expands and comes with straps for bigger loads – £148-£215

Lil Presto Barrel Bag

Mounts either to saddles or handlebars, ideal for the light packer – £68

All Wizard Works’ bags are made by hand in Greenwich

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Greenwich: How Karyna Sukha created Fabrika to serve fashion designers’ needs

The Greenwich Peninsula manufacturer also produces garments for Vavi Studio, her own label

Fabrika and Vavi Studio founder Karyna Sukha

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A niche is what every entrepreneur needs for their business to be a success and that’s what Karyna Sukha spotted while working in the fashion industry.

Originally from Ukraine, she came to the UK to study some 13 years ago.

“I did my degree at the London College Of Communication in graphic design and illustration, but I always wanted to work in fashion,” she said. 

“My parents thought I should study architecture or interior design, so graphic design was somewhere in between.

“It’s something that gives you a wide range of skills.

“After university I started working for fashion companies such as Tata Naka, House of Holland, Alexander McQueen and Tateossian.

“I was mostly doing graphic design including print, textiles, photography, editing and that journey eventually led me to become a studio production manager

“That involved a lot of work with manufacturers to develop the collections and that’s when I first thought about starting my own company.”

Fabrika is based at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula

The challenge for Karyna and the designers was the traditional approach of the makers when faced with fresh ideas.

“At that time, communication was difficult and it was causing problems with both design and manufacturing,” she said. 

“So I thought it would be great to set up a company that would understand the new generation of designers.

“I was a young graphic designer at the time – I had so many friends who were finishing their degrees in fashion and needed someone they could relate to and have their designs produced by. 

“I bought a machine, started making garments for them and that was the start of Fabrika.

“After about three months we got our first client – a bigger brand – and we’ve now been working together for more than six years.”

Originally operating from North London, the business – which produces garments for Richard Quinn, Phoebe English and Matty Bovan as well as smaller labels and startups – recently moved to Design District on Greenwich Peninsula.

The business has grown to a team of 13 with further expansion planned

Occupying a lofty triple height space in one of 6A Architects’ steel, glass and marble cheesegrater-like buildings, Fabrika today is a team of 13, having grown its pool of skilled machinists to meet demand.

“We specialise in working with small designers producing anything from one to 300 pieces depending on their needs,” said Karyna.

“They might come to us with a drawing or a pre-made sample and we will then help them develop the design, produce a paper pattern and then continue to make reproductions for however many items they need. 

“Our current turnover per month is 600 garments and we’ve moved to Greenwich to expand – we want to push things a bit further this year.

“I’ve developed with the company – I was in my early 20s when I started and I’m 30 now. 

“It’s been a long journey to get where we are now.

“The more clients we got, the more people started talking about what we were doing because of the quality we were able to achieve.

“We expanded with machinists and some freelancers working from home.

“About two years ago I employed a studio manager and that really helped because before that I was doing everything myself.

“There have been ups, downs and lots of nice times over the past few years.

“But it’s always interesting to grow and develop, to try new things and to meet new people. Every challenge is a good challenge.

“There is definitely a demand for garments made locally and sustainably.

Karyna created Vavi Studio as a creative outlet for her own fashion ideas

“We’ve always tried to build strong relationships with the clients we work with – we love when they come down to see how their garments are made.

“Moving to Design District was about growth, but also about breaking the stereotype that manufacturing takes place in large spaces with no natural light.

“Here we have a beautiful space that is comfortable for our workers.

“We are trying to be as open as possible to show that manufacturing is not something scary that happens in the background but something people can see.

With the core business on a stable footing, Karyna has turned her attention to a fresh, albeit complementary venture, in recent years.

“I got a scholarship to study for a masters degree in international fashion business at Polimoda in Florence, which led me into thinking about what other ways there might be to develop Fabrika,” she said. 

“We’d got to the point where everything was working without me having to be in direct control – I didn’t have to worry 24 hours a day anymore.

“So I stepped back a bit and tried to decide what other options there might be.

“I’ve always been creative and I wanted to put a little bit of creativity back into my business.”

Sapphire Dress, £195, and Opal Top, £100, by Vavi Studio

The result of that thought process is Vavi Studio – her own label, named for her younger sister.

It’s a creative outlet for Karyna’s own designs, which are then made to order by Fabrika in Greenwich.

“I wanted to develop clothes for the everyday, busy woman,” said Karyna.

“The collections are based on interchangeable garments, which can be mixed and matched and are appropriate both for a working environment and then going out in the evening.

“Each piece is made to order so there is no waste.

“I think sustainability is increasingly important – especially manufacturing in London where a lot of people expect this in the production of the garments they buy. 

“We are making clothes locally rather than overseas, so that cuts down on transport emissions and a lot of our clients also try to source fabrics in this country. 

Spinel Jacket, £285 and Moonstone Shirt, £185, by Vavi Studio

“Many ask for the offcuts too so they can recycle them.

“Right now, the plan is to expand, to grow the team and to start working with bigger brands to bring more production back to the UK.

“It does cost more but it’s good for the environment and for people to have longer lasting garments rather than ones they just wear once or a few times and quickly wear out.

“I hope that people will be thinking about these things in a more environmentally positive way in future especially as the industry has not been so good in the past.

“A lot of people are talking about it and brands should too.

“We do our best, but a lot depends on the designers too.

“Many are now interested in using recycled materials and that’s great. 

“We also recently worked with a designer who was using silk that was produced without the silkworms being harmed – normally they die in the process. 

“I think there should be more educational content produced so people know how things are made to enable them to be more responsible as consumers.”

Gatsby And Daisy Polo, £250, by Vavi Studio

Read more: How The Ignition Platform is bringing dance to the Isle Of Dogs

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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 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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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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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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