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Blackheath: Why Mohamed Mohamed isn’t sentimental about his sculpture Old News

Piece depicting Boris Johnson’s face in precisely sliced newspaper can currently be seen at Blackheath’s Millennium Circle

Mohamed Mohamed’s Old News, as it appears today on Blackheath

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As we stand beside the head of Boris Johnson on Blackheath, a young spaniel scampers up and urinates on it.

After I mention to the four-legged critic’s owners that I’m with the artist who created the sculpture, they’re immediately full of apologies and dash off with the same nervous energy as their canine charge. 

Mohamed Mohamed, however, welcomes the act.

For him, Old News, is just that.

He’s already set fire to it at Speaker’s Corner and, having been made, run its course and suffered symbolic destruction, it has now returned to the streets of Greenwich like the discarded newspaper it started life as.

He’s not sentimental about it – surprising, perhaps, given the effort that went into creating it.

“I built my own machines so that I can physically sculpt things,” said Mohamed.

“I’ve been an industrial designer since the age of 14 and, after graduating from the London College Of Communication, I’ve worked for large format fabrication companies in their research and development departments.

“When the pandemic struck I’d just signed a lease on a workshop in Greenwich and then I was furloughed.

“With Old News, I had been developing slicing capabilities – how to accurately cut an object at higher and higher resolutions.

Old News shortly after completion – 6,277 pages of newspaper

“3D printing uses this technique and it’s similar to the idea of pixels in an image. 

“The first thing I made was using sheets of cardboard, then sheets of metal and then newspaper at 0.3mm per slice.

“The first Covid lockdown was kicking off and I collected newspapers.

“I had to remove the staples from every copy and iron each sheet. While I was doing that, I was thinking about what to make and Boris’ face was everywhere.

“I produced a digital version of him using photogammetry, which uses images from many different angles to create a 3D map.” 

Mohamed used this to cut some 6,277 newspaper pages, working in layers of five to precisely reproduce the former prime minister’s head in three dimensions – stacking them on a steel base plate with precisely calibrated bars holding them in place.

Artist and designer Mohamed Mohamed

“To iron the newspaper took a week, to cut it was three weeks, and to assemble it was me in a dark room for another three,” said Mohamed.

“There’s a level of dedication – of sacrifice to be able to make something honestly like that. Before I made my own pieces, I made work for lots of other people.

“If an artist uses a 3D printer or wields a violin themselves, that’s one thing. If you’re paying someone to do it for you, to me, that’s something else. 

“I’m not qualified to judge whether it’s better or worse, but for me personally, I have to physically feel the sweat on my brow, and that links me with my work – that I have physically done it.”

During our conversation, the topics of truth and process come up consistently. Both sit very much at the heart of what Mohamed does. 

“I have been making art as a way to sharpen my skill-set for as long as I can remember,” he said.

“It’s a gymnasium for my brain – you create geometry or a thing that doesn’t have to solve a problem – I just have to challenge myself to do it.

“In an art setting, you’re just expressing what’s inside you. 

Detail from Penny for Your Thoughts – Heads, 2023 – made with found pennies by Mohamed

“While I work, I pick up litter and that’s what my sculptures are made from. I’ve always been very much into environmental causes  and we’ve got a lot of stuff going into landfill.

“If you’re creative, you can turn those objects into something else.

“So I collect lots of things – I’ve picked up coins, a toothbrush and gambling pens on the way here – I have thousands of them in a bucket and I have lots of buckets of different things.

“I listen a lot to the Quran and I see the fineness of art in the world around me.

“The purest art would be the sunrise itself – then a painting of it, a scan of that printed out and so on. 

“I know I’m not going to be at the top of that hierarchy, but I can take secondary creations like empty bottles of beer and turn them into something else. 

“For me, it’s about taking objects which have been discarded – that someone felt were worthless – and giving them worth.

“I gather things then ask what skill level I’m at and what physics and technology will allow me to do.

Mohamed’s Cleave, 2020 -made with playing cards and a #7 clamp

“I use things like CNC machines or 3D scanners, but I’m not deluding myself – they are just tools, no different than a pencil.

“They allow me to produce what I want to create better.

“The beauty of it, for me, is the engineering element. Anthony Gormley is one of my favourite artists and I like how his pieces are made, how the magic is done, which no-one ever looks at.

“People might appreciate the message of a piece, but if an artist concentrates too much on that, they end up trying to sell you a message.

“Then what’s created is no longer art, it’s just decoration. 

“When I work, I am trying to distil my skill level – my entire life’s work – into a physical object and then move on.

“I’m not then sentimental about that piece – it’s made.” 

Mohamed, who has Palestinian roots and lives and works in Lewisham, uses the example of a tree.

While its trunk, branches, leaves and blossoms might appear impressive at any one time, he says he sees the whole growing process – the complete history of the entity.

He said people looking at his art were often considering the fruit of the tree, rather than seeing this story.

It’s one reason why those viewing his work may wish to be wary of interpreting his pieces as overtly political.  

“The fact Old News features Covid and Boris is irrelevant to me, but significant to others,” he said.

“The beauty of art is that it doesn’t have to mean anything to me – I’m just the vessel for the thing and other people analyse it.

“If I was making Old News today, it would be about the Palestine conflict – 10 years ago, it would have been about weapons of mass destruction.”

Detail from Rock Paper Scissors, 2021 – made with marble, dagger and money

need to know

Old News can currently be found at the Old Donkey Pit, also known as Millennium Circle, at 0º longitude on Blackheath. 

Find out more about Mohamed Mohamed here of find his work on Instagram here

Read more: How St James’ Bow Green development is at one with nature

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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 Duke Of Greenwich is a community pub reborn near Maze Hill

Colomb Street venue features locally brewed beer, punchy food and an expansive garden for some sun

The Duke Of Greenwich is located near Maze Hill station

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A lovely thing happened during my visit to The Duke Of Greenwich.

I’m offered a cup of tea on arrival at the watering hole and – following a tour of its dining room, bar and garden – return to find that Jack Crystal at the bar has carefully timed the brewing and removed the bag to prevent things getting too strong.

A small courtesy, perhaps, but typical of the overall flavour of the place.

Sitting officially in Colomb Street, the pub has found a new lease of life.

Landlady Jo Shaw ran it for 18 years as The Vanburgh, before passing it on to Jonathan Kaye and his cohorts.

Together with brothers Nick and Dan Blucert, plus two sleeping partners, they took the place on having seen success with the Jolly Gardeners in Vauxhall and a couple of complementary shops.

So, running as an independent, what does their south-east London venture have to offer?

“About eight months ago we saw the leasehold was up for this pub,” said Jonathan.

“I actually live just across the road and had walked past it every day, so we started thinking.

“We took on the Jolly Gardeners site during lockdown so we got a good price, whereas this was more challenging and needed more doing to it.

“But we opened in July last year with a barbecue set up in the garden and then moved inside to serve Sunday roasts.

The pub’s bar offers a wide range of locally brewed craft beer

“This year we’re aiming to have an epic outdoor space, with a really nice vibe – rather like a festival.

“We want barbecue, fresh local beers, garden games, some sport on a big screen and, hopefully, ice cream – a place where everyone can come.”

Dating from 1871, the pub was originally called the Duke Of Edinburgh before becoming The Vanbrugh, named for architect, dramatist and Maze Hill resident Sir John Vanbrugh who designed Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.

“We decided to change the name back to The Duke to recall the pub’s original name, but we also wanted to avoid confusion with other businesses in London, which is why we went with the Greenwich rather than Edinburgh,” said Jonathan.

“We’re trying to be something a little bit different from a normal pub and we want people to come and try us out.

“We take an honest approach to hospitality – we want to care for people when they come in.

“When regulars come here we should know who they are, know their stories and what they like to drink.

“We like to build community – that’s what I grew up with and what we like to see.

The Duke boasts an expansive outdoor area for guests to enjoy

“Pubs can be very transactional, but we don’t want that. We want to be open for everyone.

“We do quiz nights and live music, but we also have art from local artists on our walls that people can buy.

“It’s all about good food and good drink.

“You might come to us for a pint and some cauliflower wings or a three-course meal for your mum’s birthday – we offer those things and everything in between.”

The pub itself comprises a saloon bar with seating, a sit-down dining room with an open kitchen, a long sky-lit seating area with bi-fold doors and an expansive garden and terrace area. 

Located close to Maze Hill station, it’s a formidable piece of real estate.

But the team running things have some serious experience between them beyond their recent ventures. 

Operationally, Nick looks after the drinks, Dan oversees the food and Jonathan handles hospitality and anything else that needs seeing to.

Co-owner Jonathan Kaye

Pints may start at £6 for The Duke Of Greenwich lager – made in Croydon by Signal Brewery – but as an independent, the pub has decided to primarily stock beers made locally, favouring quality over low prices.

“We’ve got quite a range,” said Jonathan. “In some cases, people will be drinking beer that’s been brewed just 24 hours beforehand, not sat around in a keg for ages.

“We also collaborate with the likes of Brew By Numbers and Villages Brewery.”

 With the Big Easy, ETM Group, Oblix, Jimmy’s Farm and Polpo on their CVs, the trio also aim to deliver a food offering that lives up to the solid reputation they’ve created with their first pub.

Small plates include beer battered cod cheeks, crispy pork belly, cauliflower wings and asparagus, potato and pine nut salad.

These come with punchy accompaniments such as wild garlic aioli, freshly made slaw, dill pickle salsa and (best of all) a fiery chipotle sauce.

Most are around the £10 mark, while mains are typically just under £20. Sunday roasts max out at £24.

Pork belly with freshly made coleslaw at The Duke

The cooking is full of compelling crunch, with bold flavours and decent, colourful portions.

“We use Lyon’s Hill in Dorset for all our meat and James Knight Of Mayfair for our fish, straight from Cornwall,” said Jonathan.

“We use a company called Shrub Provisions, which sources produce straight from farms in the South East – it all makes a difference.

“For example, the coleslaw that is served with our pork belly is made fresh. Some places would just buy it in big tubs.

“We want people to come here, enjoy our hospitality and see that it’s worth it. We have some amazing ingredients and we also pay the London Living Wage to our staff.

“We’ll change the menu about four times a year, although popular dishes like the cauliflower wings will always be there.”

With warmer weather on the horizon, the team is currently sprucing up the garden and terrace with a view to screening selected sporting events such as the Olympics.

The venue is also available for weddings, with various areas bookable for events.

However, during normal operation, there will continue to be a focus on walk-ins.

“The dining room is the only part we take reservations for at the moment,” said Jonathan.

Spicy, moreish cauliflower wings

“We want to be a pub that’s open to everybody, whether it’s parties with kids or dog walkers. 

“What I always look for is when people buy their second beer. You want people to come in and stay for a while.”

Having originally studied sports injury and massage, Jonathan was bitten by the hospitality bug in his early 20s, pouring half a Guinness at a venue in his native Essex where his brother was the chef. 

“The guy ordering was very nice – I had to be shown how to do it – but he was speaking to me and I just fell in love with service,” he said.

Asparagus, potato and pine nut salad

“I’m obsessed with food and drink anyway and the people side of the business was just fantastic.

“I met Dan, who is now one of my business partners, working at a 50-seater gastro pub in Essex when he was head chef.

“It’s rare to get a front of house and back of house partnership working, but we got on really well.

“I followed him to London about 12 years ago and we had the idea to do a pub together during his stag do.”

And it was that ambition that has now led them to Greenwich…

Jonathan, right, with Nick and Dan Blucert at The Duke

need to know

The Duke Of Greenwich is located on the corner of Colomb Street and Woodlands Park Road. 

The pub is open Wednesday-Sunday from noon until 11pm (9pm on Sundays).

It’s also open from 4pm-11pm on Tuesdays.

The Duke is within easy walking distance of Maze Hill station.

Find out more about The Duke Of Greenwich here

The pub can accommodate 150 diners at any one time

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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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Canary Wharf: How Sticks’n’Sushi’s sustainable recipe for growth is delivering

Danish-Japanese restaurant company continues to build on its foundation of local branches

The Kimono Room at Sticks’n’Sushi

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Cosette Perez is standing in front of a wall of riotous silk.

We’re talking in Sticks’n’Sushi’s Kimono Room, a semi-private event space decorated with richly embellished examples of the garment hung along its walls from poles.

“It can seat 24 and the tables are completely flexible – we’ve done masterclasses here and tastings,” she said.

“It’s great for drinks gatherings, receptions, family groups getting together and people holding all types of events. 

“It has curtains so it can be separated from the rest of the restaurant, but you’re not locked away in a tiny box.

“The kimonos are genuine – bought in Japan – and came to us via Berlin and Copenhagen in a suitcase. Now they’re hanging here.

“It’s a versatile space and we probably don’t talk about it enough.” 

In a sense, the Kimono Room is an expression of Sticks’n’Sushi’s approach to hospitality.

The calm, Scandinavian minimalism is a well-honed backdrop to the vibrant garments that adorn its walls. 

This is similar to the way the wide, open, stripped-back industrial space of the restaurant proper, filled with square tables and simple leather chairs, acts as a counterpoint to the bright colourful food and flavours it serves. 

A balance is struck. But it’s not just between the dishes, muted colours and bare concrete.

“It’s the whole experience, not just the food but the way our staff greet guests,” said Cosette, who joined the brand as UK senior marketing manager three years ago.

“When you walk through the door, you’ll be welcomed in Japanese by the waiters and the kitchen staff.

Sticks’n’Sushi’s Cosette Perez

“We’re really proud of our service – we hope people will be impressed and amazed and that, by the time they leave, they’ll definitely want to come again. 

“Obviously, we serve excellent food, but then you get a really nice goodbye too – it all helps keep people coming back again and again.”

It’s a recipe that has seen the brand, including its Canary Wharf branch, thrive – despite some significant headwinds.

Firstly, Sticks has done well – it was in the vanguard of venues to arrive on the estate in 2015 when Crossrail Place opened.

Back then, a three-year wait was anticipated before Elizabeth Line trains would start running.

The delay turned out to be seven years, with services only arriving in 2022.

Nevertheless, alongside the likes of Chai Ki, The Breakfast Club and Ippudo, Sticks’ has proved a consistent draw for Wharfers in that time and continues to do a bustling trade now that the commuters are also flowing to the north of the estate. 

“Our growth is exciting – we’ve opened a restaurant each year since 2012 and we’ve launched two for the first time this year in Shoreditch and Kingston in quick succession,” said Cosette.

“There are more branches coming too – we’re planning Richmond in early spring and a couple of others that we’re not revealing yet – there’s a lot coming up.

“The thing that’s driving growth is the fact we’re settled in the locations where we’ve already opened. 

“We know what we can offer and we’re received a really warm welcome in those neighbourhoods.

“We have some really loyal customers and we’re trying to reach out to even more people.”

Specifically, Sticks is very much a product of its background.

Sushi at Sticks’n’Sushi

Founded by two brothers and their brother-in-law in Copenhagen, the brand draws on their half-Danish, half-Japanese heritage, bringing sushi together with yakitori on its menu.

The first restaurant opened in 1994 with the business growing to 12 in Denmark, three in Berlin, one each in Oxford and Cambridge and eight in London. 

“It’s a blend of Scandinavian simplicity and Japanese dishes with a twist,” said Cosette.

“We have highly skilled sushi chefs and we like to break the mould – we play with the menu quite a lot, creating specials that follow the seasons.

“If guests really like them, of course, they might always make it onto the main menu.

“Personally, what I order changes with my mood and the temperature. Cold weather calls for miso soup, a couple of yakitori sticks and rice.

“If it’s really nice and sunny, then definitely sushi and perhaps some cerviche. It’s really delicious, fresh and clean on the palate.”

Speaking of seasonal food, the restaurant is all set for Christmas with its Sticks’n’Santa offering available from Monday, November 27.

Promising a Japanese twist on festive classics it’s come up with three menus for revellers to choose from:

The Holly Menu 

a gastronomic journey, £40pp

This menu promises an array of dishes “that redefine festive indulgence” including Miso Sprouts plus Yellowtail Kingfish and Grilled Pepper Nigiris. There’s also the Chicks‘n’Blankets stick – a whimsical take on a beloved Christmas dinner staple.

The Mistletoe Menu 

luxurious festivity, £65pp

For those seeking opulence, this menu promises a symphony of flavours including Wagyu Temaki (a marriage of seared Kyushu Wagyu beef, sushi rice, soy, and crisp nori). There’s also the Aka Ebi yakitori stick – a showcase of Argentinian red shrimp with spicy gochujang and garlic butter.

The Evergreen Menu 

plant-based delights, £40pp

For those who prefer to dine exclusively on plant-based ingredients, Sticks‘n’Sushi has created a special festive menu to ensure all palates are catered for. This option promises a celebration of the best nature has to offer, allowing  the restaurant to demonstrate its commitment to serving everyone’s tastes.  

In addition to these, Sticks will be offering a three wise men-inspired Seasonal Sampler of Wagyu Temaki, Miso Fried Sprouts and Kakiage Tempura with Ikura over the festive season.

Its bar staff have also come up with some special festive cocktails and there’s the further incentive of a free bottle of Telmont Champagne for bookings of six or more on Mondays or Tuesdays.

Festive frippery aside, however, the appeal of Sticks for Cosette is very much in its everyday operation. 

The Canary Wharf restaurant offers a wide selection of dishes

“I’ve been in hospitality for most of my working life,” she said.

“I landed in London from Mexico in 2008. I came for six months and my dad is still asking when I’m coming back. 

“In that time I went from waitress to assistant manager, to manager, and then I got into marketing.

“I came to work at Sticks because I really like the ethos of the company. I’d done a bit of work for the business and read a lot about it.

“I thought: ‘If it walks the walk, as it talks it, then it would be a lovely firm to work for’ – and it is. It’s all about the people and that comes from the CEO.

“All the management is in-house and all the people running the restaurants have been with the company for about five years at least.

“The business has been here for almost 12 years and it still employs the very first person it hired.

“There are head office people who have worked for Sticks for 10 or 11 years.

“The idea is that if you look after the staff, then they look after our guests.

“We also know that it’s harder to recruit someone into a business than it is to promote from within.

“If they carry the company’s DNA and are proud of the work they do, then they’ll always want to do more and give more of themselves – for the business’ part, we always try to pay that back.”

Kids, despite the grown-up design of the restaurants, are also a key part of the strategy. 

“For us they are VIPs – we look after them really well because we know they are the next generation of guests,” said Cosette. 

“We see a lot in our more family-orientated areas like Greenwich and Wimbledon, but also in Canary Wharf on Saturdays and Sundays. 

“There’s a wooden monkey hidden around the restaurant for them to find and they get a chocolate fish if they do.”

Increasingly popular, making reservations is advised whether you’re up for a spot of simian spotting or just going for a selection of seafood delights. 

Find out more about Sticks’n’Sushi here

Sticks serves grilled dishes as well as sushi

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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 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 GCDA is appealing for help in completing its community hub

Organisation looking to raise £10k to help fit out its new cafe, shop, office and training space

GCDA’s community hub will be on the ground floor of this building on Royal Hill

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Change is in the air at Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency (GCDA).

Having spent more than four decades helping people in the borough through its community hubs, free training programmes, enterprise support and food projects, the organisation is set to open a new base of operations on Royal Hill.

Located on the ground floor of London Square’s Old Police Station development, the new facility will provide office space for GCDA alongside a classroom, gallery, training kitchen, shop and cafe area.

Construction training organisation Flower Skills has already contributed extensive free labour on the build-out of the unit, to get walls in place and plastered.

Now the charity is appealing to the community and local businesses via a crowdfunding campaign for help in raising £10,000 to complete the fit-out.

The hub will have a gallery, shop and cafe

“That’s our ambition and it would be fantastic if we can achieve it,” said Claire Pritchard, GCDA director.

“We launched the campaign to our members and the people who have benefited from our work in August, and achieving that total will take us a long way to getting the project finished.

“We’re doing the work in stages – the office space, which was formerly the developer’s marketing suite, will be finished by the end of September, hopefully the kitchen and training room by the end of November and then the shop and cafe space by the end of January.

“In February we should be fully operational.”

The new facility will see GCDA’s Made In Greenwich shop relocate to the new hub and will also allow the organisation to move out of its current premises at Greenwich Centre Business Park.

“The building in Royal Hill is beautiful and we’re really excited about moving from the industrial estate to a place in the heart of Greenwich,” said Claire.

“It will also give us full disability access, which we didn’t have before at either of those two buildings.”

GCDA director Claire Pritchard

The money from the appeal will go towards decorating and furnishing the various spaces, with fire doors and kitchen units also on the wish list so GCDA can get on with its work – helping support local enterprise, train local people and promote healthy lifestyles.

“We’ll be offering some of our cooking and chef skills training sessions here as well as creative courses such as sewing, hat-making, creative arts, drawing and writing,” said Claire.

“There will also be the business start-up courses, which I run.

“Helping people start their own businesses is so important – there’s a real social benefit to it.

“On the courses, sometimes as many as a third will start their own operations and we can support them in that with things like start-up space on the markets we run to help them de-risk.

“That includes food businesses,  street trading and general market trading, for example.

“People come to us for all sorts of reasons – they might want a change of career, have been made redundant or have caring responsibilities that affect what they can do.

“Beyond that, there will also be volunteering opportunities and this will be a great place to volunteer as they will be really supported – there will be up to 10 GCDA staff based in the building so there will always be people around.”

GCDA is raising money to help with the fit out

That, in fact, is the other key aim of the new facility.

One of GCDA’s main missions is to bring people together at community hubs – something it already does in Woolwich and Kidbrooke Village. 

“A lot of people have said to us they need a centre for the community, a place to hang out and be part of, so this could be a place which local people could enjoy,” said Claire.

“We want to bring everyone together.

“We spent a year working on a project called High Streets For All about West Greenwich – this area – and looking at the markets.

“We found that in come cases local communities feel displaced by change and sometimes they don’t.

“We’ve met people who love living in this historic place and others who say there’s nothing here for them.

“We have always wanted to ensure that our main hub is open to everyone and the move from the industrial unit in Norman Road will mean that we can achieve that goal.

“Moving Made In Greenwich here means we won’t have to subsidise it in commercial premises and can continue to support the artists and makers.

“I’d also love to see local artists using the gallery space we will have.

The community hub is set to include a training kitchen

“We will be able to host more exhibitions in a really beautiful space, perhaps even following our original vision, which was to focus on exhibiting works around things we especially care about such as vulnerable people, property, equality and sustainability as well as challenging the economic system

“Made In Greenwich was always a campaign – to value what is made locally and to support the people who create those products and artworks.

“We’ve had brilliant support with this from Greenwich Council, which commissioned things from us and, more recently, we’ve had talks with The O2 and a local hotel to help drive it forward. 

“We discovered that whenever the hotel has special guests, it would buy products specially from Made In Greenwich because there’s that real value in having goods created by artisan makers locally.”

The crowdfunding campaign is ongoing to help raise cash for the project, but Claire said funds were not the only thing needed to help the new hub come to fruition. 

“We know that times are extremely tough for people, but even a few pounds will help us make a real difference,” she said. 

“In addition, if you have any useful practical skills, then we’d love to hear from you too. We appreciate every contribution.”

Visit GCDA’s website online or via the QR code below for more details of the crowdfunder and how to get involved.

The site also offers full listings for GCDA’s various activities and facilities, such as room hire at its venues and kitchen space.

GCDA staff will also have office space at the facility

Find out more about GCDA here

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Greenwich: How Greenwich Theatre’s Pinter double-bill is exactingly realised

Pitch-perfect performances in The Dumb Waiter + A Slight Ache maximum oxygen for audiences

Jude Akuwidike and Kerrie Taylor in A Slight Ache -image Danny Kaan

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THEATRE REVIEW

The Dumb Waiter + A Slight Ache, Greenwich Theatre, Until June 3, 2023

On the face of it, The Dumb Waiter is a play about a pair of hapless, ground down hitmen awaiting their next job in a dingy basement in Birmingham.

This has little to do with the subject of A Slight Ache, which follows the musings of a couple whose relationship becomes increasingly pressured by the presence of a mysterious match-seller.

But Harold Pinter’s tragi-comic short plays sit surprisingly well together on stage at Greenwich Theatre, especially when – pause for dramatic effect – presented by an overlapping cast.

The double bill, which runs until June 3, 2023, is everything live theatre ought to be.

Despite a cast of only three actors and a spare, minimal set, the production is a sharp, lean sliver of a thing, twisting and turning as the characters wrestle with their precarious situations.

The performances that director James Haddrell has coaxed from his cast are exactly right for the material.

Tony Mooney and Kerrie Taylor in A Slight Ache -image Danny Kaan

Jude Akuwudike, Kerrie Taylor and Tony Mooney each breathe rich, believable life into the five characters we meet across the two plays, in a way that effortlessly lets the audience focus on the ideas and topics teased and hinted at.

These are skilled professionals laying bare the strangeness of Pinter’s plots, making them whole with flesh and blood people.

A Slight Ache, has Edward (Akuwudike) and Flora (Taylor) incarcerated in the claustrophobic existence of their brittle relationship.

Much remains unsaid. Instead, the horror is all in the detail – the brutal execution of a wasp trapped in marmalade using boiling water is juxtaposed with cheerful chit chat about the various plants in the garden.

But what are we to make of the mysterious figure of a match seller just outside their tranquil oasis?

A brooding, constant presence that Edward is both terrified of and obsessed by.

Made flesh by a completely impassive Mooney, this figure is the impervious rock against which main characters pound themselves to wreckage – a study of buried truths, fantasy, repression, fear and desire – both sexual and maternal.

While all three are powerful – notably Mooney’s ability to convey a completely leaden, static presence – it’s Akuwudike who shines.

With much of the play in monologue, his depiction of Edward finds layers in a proper man confronted with the unknown – a breakdown inevitable as he wears himself down against the granite face of the totally unresponsive match seller.

Mooney, left, and Akuwudike in The Dumb Waiter – image Danny Kaan

The switch to The Dumb Waiter comes as something of a shock as Akuwudike is transformed from arch middle class essayist to a working class football fan and hitman. 

Along with Ben (a much more active Mooney) the pair are found in a claustrophobic basement bedsit as they grapple with boredom and the expectation of the next job.

While Pinter’s twist is over-telegraphed, the pressure-cooker atmosphere acts as an ideal counterpoint to A Slight Ache.

Here the unknown isn’t a character, but a series of mysterious messages via envelope under the door and what appear to be kitchen orders from an unseen and possibly defunct cafe above.

More dynamic than the first play, it casts its two characters as treading a fine line between the rational and irrational as they attempt to make sense of their lives, the dreadful murders they commit and the significance of why their boss hasn’t laid on any gas to make the tea. 

This play too is a tense portrait of two people struggling and, along with its companion, makes for a refreshing, thought-provoking night out at the theatre. 

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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

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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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