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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American Express Lounge at The O2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How the all-female cast of Notflix create musicals from scratch

One of the stars of the improvised show explains the joy of making it all up as you go along

Notflix create the show based on suggestions from the audience
Notflix create the show based on suggestions from the audience

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Power will be in the hands of the audience when they arrive at Notflix: The Improvised Musical at Greenwich Theatre.

Spectators will vie to have their favourite film chosen as the inspiration for the show on June 11, 2022, at the venue and then watch as the cast members leap into action.

But once the performance gets rolling, the power will shift as the all-female improv group creates scenes, songs and vocals with a new narrative, all from their imaginations.

We sat down with one of the stars, Emma Read, to find out more.

how did the group start?
Our amazing director, Sarah Spencer, had this inkling she could make something really great and different.

She put together a mixed gender improv group called Waiting For The Call, and was exploring ideas.

Then she came up with the idea of creating a musical improv show based on a movie suggestion. 

when did you join?
At the end of 2017 and, by then, it was already all female. That’s actually the thing that really drew me to the group. We cannot have enough all female things. 

In improv and comedy, which is such a male-dominated place, it’s important that women feel they can be funny and masculine and feminine, or a penguin or whatever and that they’re not being predetermined by their gender. In our show, we don’t have any limits. 

Notflix’s Emma Read in full flow

how did you learn to do improv?
I was training for about three months. I had done it at drama school but never stepped on stage with improv being the premise of a show – that was really scary. 

I had to learn how to create music from improv and learn about song structure, rhyming, and rapping. It took a lot of time to get right. 

But that’s the thing that makes the audience feel like it’s magic and that it’s coming alive.

It’s a very difficult skill to learn – how to relax on stage when you’re just making up stuff. You have to unlock a weird part of your brain. 

was there a moment it clicked?
My first show was in 2018. I think we did X-Men but I sort of blanked it out because I was so nervous.

Then we did Silence Of The Lambs in Yorkshire and I decided to play a completely made up character who was the weird sidekick of the baddie. 

I just found a physicality that I thought was funny and remember hearing the audience react to that. 

If I don’t over think it and try and be funny or formulate a joke, but just come forward with something that feels honest and natural, that’s when the audience really connects with you.

In that moment I thought: ‘Oh, this is what it is. This is true improv’.

The cast make up the musical from scratch
The cast make up the musical from scratch

how do you know when to sing?
There’s a lot of eyeballing each other. We don’t start a song unless there’s an impetus. It usually starts with just one person and then, because we’re so versed in song structure, we’ll get the idea of what someone is going for. 

Or, if we don’t, we might have a moment to negotiate, which is fun too because a lot of songs have a sort of slow-paced start and then they rev up.

what do you love about it?
I think it keeps me on my toes as an actor – there’s nothing scarier than the show I’m in. Auditions can now be a time of play because if they give me a script I’m like, perfect. 

As an actor, there’s so much fear going into a room of people that could give you a job. If you can get rid of that desperation, that’s a step towards getting the role. 

Improv is magical. When you see the greats perform, it feels incredible, so organic, alive and present. It’s also scary because you’re watching, knowing that they’re making it up. 

So there’s a sort of fun and very intense energy between the cast and the audience, which is so different from a normal West End show.  

If you walk into The Book Of Mormon, you know they’ve rehearsed it for months and there’s not going to be a hair out of place.

In improv you could slip up at any time and that scary energy is something I’ve really come to love. 

what’s your favourite type of role?
Recently, I’ve loved playing the young ingenue sort of Spiderman vibe.

There’s a lot of heart to them – I love playing the Smee characters – grizzled, second in command but so pathetic with a kind of grotesque physicality.

have you had any disasters?
There are no mistakes in improv. If you’re a good improviser, you make that disaster into a joke, you make it the whole reason the show exists and it becomes the best thing in the show. 

People have come to see it because they know that there’ll be mistakes, and it’s what you do with that mistakes that’s key. I have frozen up, but you just make your character have a stutter or be lost for words because they’re so in love or they’re been poisoned. 

why are women good at improv?
Because we’re amazing. I think to be a good improviser is to be a good actor and women have an incredible ability to connect and empathise.

We are able to empathize with villains, which makes them more interesting, and create stories based on our own trauma which fleshes out a character.

As a cast, we’re incredibly supportive. We now have two members with little babies and there are not a lot of shows that might be able to support them the way we are. 

Because we’re all women, we just decided we would make it work. This is our life. 

We all have other jobs and projects – we fit this around that and some people will want to get married and have kids and we’ll make it part of our experience. We want everyone to succeed. 

We’re there for each other on stage as well. In improv, if you’re in a bad place, it’s really tough. 

We have the ability to recognize when someone is not feeling good, and take them out of it, and use it as part of the show. 

As a cast, we will huddle around, take that energy, adrenaline or sadness and use it to create something beautiful. 

what musical would your life be?
A woman dog-walking nine-to-five, making up musicals and watching lots of films in her spare time and listening to old R’n’B. 

Notflix comes to Greenwich Theatre on June 11, 2022
Notflix comes to Greenwich Theatre on June 11, 2022

Read more: Discover author Jane Austin’s second novel Renegade

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Woolwich: How Tideline Art’s Nicola White digs up treasure from the Thames mud

How one former banking PA turned artist rediscovered her childhood love of found things

Artist Nicola White on the Thames foreshore
Artist Nicola White on the Thames foreshore – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The tide is high when I speak to Nicola White.

It’s a matter of small consequence to most Londoners, but to the 53-year-old mudlarker, it’s from the rise and fall of the waters that life emerges.

The Woolwich resident remembers two very distinct desires from her childhood in Cornwall – to never, ever work as a boring secretary and to have her own shed where all her treasures could be displayed.

As a young girl, she avidly combed the beaches and land, collecting shells, driftwood, bits of rope, mushrooms, toadstools, seedpods and eggshells.

“It’s something I have always enjoyed doing – using things I’ve found in artworks,” said Nicola.

“Life happens and, when I became a teenager, I lost interest and went and lived in France and then had my first child pretty young at 22 – everything was on hold, because I had to work.

“I did a bilingual secretarial course because I speak fluent French and then worked as a PA for banks in Paris and London.”

Nicola uses her finds to make art
Nicola uses her finds to make art – image James Perrin

For 25 years, Nicola found herself doing a job she had vowed to avoid. While it brought her a comfortable life, money to buy a flat, security for her son and later her daughter, she never loved it.

“I was at the mercy of my choices for quite a while,” she said. “I was very good at my job, but I had this feeling it wasn’t what life was all about.

“I had this burning desire to create and make art and just be outside. I couldn’t ignore this thing in me.

“That said, I wanted to share my passion with other people and make the most of my life. I tried to ignore it but I was getting more miserable.”

She already knew the answer lay outside her door on the banks of the Thames.

When Nicola moved to London in 1999 she was almost immediately attracted to the river because it reminded her of her childhood in Truro.

“One day I was in Greenwich and the tide was low and there were these steps leading down to this long stretch of beach,” she said.

“I was just drawn to go down there and found this really peaceful world away from all my worries and my job.”

She started finding pieces of broken pottery and glass and used them to create art, just like she did as a child. Eventually she spotted her first coin.

It was then she discovered what she was doing had a name – mudlarking – the practice of scavenging through river mud for lost items of value or historical significance – this was a pastime enjoyed by a handful of Londoners back then.

But it has grown in popularity thanks to a blossoming online community, in which Nicola plays a large part.

She works under the name Tideline Art and has a YouTube channel with 135,000 subscribers where she documents her finds, broadcasting to 30,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram.

One of Nicola's pieces
One of Nicola’s pieces – image James Perrin

She also has a thriving business selling the art she crafts from the items she pulls from the mud. 

Her glass fish, which she puts up for sale twice a year, go for around £250 each and typically sell out within 24 hours.

Later this year she will be giving a series of talks as part of the Totally Thames Festival.

“Mudlarking is such a part of my life I can’t imagine not doing it,” said Nicola. She took the plunge eight years ago, aged 45, quit her job and rented out her flat to embrace the mudlarking life full time.

“I had been doing it for about 15 years – making art in my spare time and I suddenly thought: ‘I want to see if I can do something I love with my life’.

“I was very nervous of leaving banking, but I was building up Tideline Art on social media and my website and things gradually came together. 

“I think if you follow something you are really passionate about and put all your energies into it, then doors start to open up for you.”

Today she has a studio at her home in Woolwich filled with hundreds of treasures she has found over the years, including a silver half crown from Elizabeth I’s reign and a wax seal stamp that belonged to the Commodore Superintendant of Woolwich Dockyards .

“A while ago I was sitting in this room and thought – ‘Wow this is actually what I dreamed of as a child – it really fills me with joy’,” said Nicola.

Nicola also makes historic finds, including this 18th century onion bottle -
Nicola also makes historic finds, including this 18th century onion bottle – image James Perrin

She can be found on the foreshore as early as 6am and as late as 11pm, up to four times a week, looking for treasure. 

“It’s very hard not to go because you think you might miss out on something,” she said.

“That’s the thing about mudlarking – you simply don’t know what you are going to find and that’s what keeps you going back.”

Her love of naval and industrial history means Greenwich, Deptford and the Isle Of Dogs are her favourite areas to go, kitted out in sturdy boots and knee pads with her trowel and phone at the ready to document any finds.

“You need patience and persistence,” said Nicola. “People might think you just stroll down to the Thames and come back with lots of bounty without any effort.

“What people don’t see are the hours you go down and don’t come back with anything. 

“I get people asking where to go to find clay pipes, but mudlarks don’t give locations away because that is part of it – you have to go down and find out for yourselves. There’s no quick fix.

 “I have never met anyone who isn’t inspired by this idea that you can find and hold history in your hands. It’s accessible to everybody.”

There are negative aspects though. The mud can be dirty, smelly and full of rubbish – particularly plastic – and, more recently, face masks. It can be dangerous too.

“I got stuck in the mud once,” said Nicola. “Luckily someone was with me, but it really was quite scary and gave me a new respect for the mud.

“The tides can rush up and you have to make sure you know where your exits are, because there are pinch points where you can get cut off.”

Another of Nicola's fish sculptures
Another of Nicola’s fish sculptures – image James Perrin

Nicola mostly mudlarks alone as she enjoys the meditative aspect of it, but she said there was a strong sense of camaraderie in the community. 

“It can be competitive but also supportive – people will help you identify your finds and share information,” she said.

More important items do not get used in her art, but are researched and featured on her channels. Rarer items have to be reported to the authorities.

“You have to have a permit to mudlark from the Port Of London Authority,” said Nicola.

“One of the responsibilities we have is to report any find that is over 300 years old, or ones that are historically significant, to the Museum Of London and they put them into a database. 

“It’s really not the financial value. If you are going into mudlarking for that, then forget it. It’s about the story behind the finds for any genuine mudlarker. I like to think of the Thames as a giant liquid storybook.”

So in all those hours on the foreshore has she ever let anything slip through her fingers?

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost anything but one day I would like to throw something in for someone to find in 300 years,” she said. “I wonder what they’d find out about me? It makes me think of my own story.”

And that’s the truth of mudlarking. Everything and everyone has a story to tell.

Treasures rescued from the mud -
Treasures rescued from the mud – image James Perrin

Read more: Enjoy an extract from London Clay by Tom Chivers

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Greenwich: How Joy’s Caribbean Fusion tackles waste and meat consumption

Founder Tescha Joy blended banana skins, spices and veganism to create a street food business

Tescha Joy of Joy's Caribbean Fusion
Tescha Joy of Joy’s Caribbean Fusion image Matt Grayson

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Taste and waste is what Tescha Joy is all about. Driven by a desire to create sustainable, eco-friendly, flavourful food, she created Joy’s Caribbean Fusion – a street food brand that had its debut at Bexley’s Wasteless Market two-and-a-half years ago.

Since then she’s gone on to establish herself at RARE Farmers Market at Royal Arsenal Riverside and recently started a residency every Thursday from noon-8pm, at Pegler Square in Kidbrooke Village, just by the station.

 Her food is vegan and contains only plant-based ingredients, cooked with Caribbean spices to create dishes that attract longer queues at the markets she serves than stalls selling meat. And it all started with some banana skins.

Scroll down for Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry recipe

“I’m a public health nurse and work three days a week in the NHS,” said Tescha.

“My first dish was banana skin curry – I was at work one day and everyone was throwing away their banana skins and I asked them to give them to me instead.

“I hate waste so I took those skins and created a dish with them. There’s lots of iron, fibre and many other nutrients in them. The whole point of the dish was that I wanted to show people that you don’t have to throw away certain ingredients. 

“I showed you can create a nice meal from them and that’s where I got the idea for the business – it’s the dish I took to the Wasteless Market and it’s the only recipe I’m happy to share because I want people to recreate it at home.

“I want to have it printed in this paper so readers can use it rather than throw away their banana skins. 

“We’d normally throw them away in the Caribbean too – people over there are amazed when I tell them.   

“I’d decided to go vegan for environmental reasons – I think we eat too much meat in this country. I’m not anti-meat, but I think it’s important to cut down.

“Climate change is important to me because I want a better future for my children – I want them to grow up in a world where we waste less food. 

“I know what it’s like to be hungry. The majority of people in this country don’t know what that’s like and we need to cut the amount of food we throw away.

“I’ll literally make a dish from nothing – some potato peelings can be put in the oven with olive oil and you have some crisps.”

Tescha's take on doubles with chickpea curry
Tescha’s take on doubles with chickpea curry and pickles – image Matt Grayson

Tescha’s banana skin curry remains a firm favourite on the menu at Joy’s, joined by a host of core dishes intended to delight diners with both flavour and texture.

She said: “Cooking is also my passion and it’s in my blood. My parents owned a restaurant in the Caribbean. I would have to just get changed after school and go and help whether I wanted to or not.

“My brother owns a restaurant in Catford and I have another brother who is in America and has a restaurant there.

“There’s a long family tradition of cooking, but I’m the only one who does vegan.

“Normally you’d have jerk chicken and jerk pork – quite meaty dishes. I wanted to explore different types of food using Caribbean flavours.

“Also, I think it’s good for my children to see that vegetables can be really tasty and it’s better for the planet.

“On the classic menu, I have chickpea curry with flatbread – it’s really naughty because it’s deep fried – and that’s served with mango chutney, which I make from scratch before every market, tamarind sauce and pickled onion, red cabbage and cucumber.

“In the Caribbean we call it doubles because you get two smaller breads, but I do it as one large one, just to be a bit different.

“We also do rice bowls with toppings of barbecue jerk mushroom, jerk tofu and cauliflower bites.

“My best seller is the combination bowl where you get a bit of everything including the chickpea curry and the flatbread. It all comes with the same toppings – the chutney and the pickles.

“Then we do specials such as vegan fish, which is made from jackfruit or banana blossom with plant-based marine ingredients to give it that fishy flavour.

“People can be a bit hesitant to try vegan dishes, but once they do, they usually come back and say they don’t need the meat.

“I catered for a wedding in December and the bride told me some of the guests thought they’d need to go to the local burger shop after they’d eaten the food.

“But she called me back later and told me nobody had gone – they all were amazed at the texture of the dishes and the different flavours.

“I’ve built up a big following in the areas where I trade – at RARE in Woolwich I have a queue, which is longer than the meat queue and I think people are becoming more aware of veganism and meat-eaters are also cutting down and having plant-based food instead.”

Joy's serves a range of vegan dishes
Joy’s serves a range of vegan dishes – image Matt Grayson

New dishes undergo strict quality control from Tescha’s children who taste all of her dishes before they’re allowed to make it onto the stall.

Her ambition is to keep growing the business to the point where it can operate more widely and be her sole focus.

“I’m still working as a nurse, which is something I’ve been doing for 20 years,” she said. “I’d love to have Joy’s in multiple locations, to train people up to run those stalls and serve the food. 

“At the moment my goal is to get a van so the business can be more mobile.

“This really is my passion – it’s something I want to develop. I now make and sell my own sauces too – called Island Drizzle. 

“People kept coming and asking me for my recipes and my husband said: ‘Don’t tell them, just put it in a bottle’.

“It comes in medium, hot and extra hot. They’re all vegan too and are quite different to a lot of sauces out there because you can use them as a marinade, a dressing and as a condiment.

“It’s not the hottest sauce around because I’m more into the flavour than the heat – customers can come down and try it.”

Cook it: Banana Skin Curry

While most of Tescha’s recipes remain secret, she’s happy to help people cut down on waste by sharing this one – perfect for using up that unwanted peel…

Tescha's Banana Skin Curry
Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry

Ingredients (serves three-four)

4-5 large ripe banana skins

1 cup peeled, diced potato

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp curry powder 

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp fennel seeds 

1/4 tsp cumin seed

2 cardamom pods

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp ground coriander 

1/3 tsp chopped scotch bonnet 

       chilli pepper (optional) 

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion finely (chopped) 

1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)

1 tbs curry leaves (optional)

2 tbsp fresh coriander (chopped)

1 cup water 

1/2 cup coconut milk

Method

Thoroughly wash the banana skins, remove the rigid woody end at the top and dark spot at the end. 

Add lemon juice to the skins to stop them going dark while chopping (they will still be edible, even if this happens, so don’t worry).

Use a spoon to scrape out the inner lining and discard the scrapings. Depending on your preference, finely or roughly chop the skins. Then add the diced potato to them and combine with salt, curry powder and turmeric. 

In a pestle and mortar, place the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pod, garlic, ground coriander and chilli. Grind into a paste. Add the paste to the banana skins and potatoes and mix in well. Add chilli here if preferred for a spicier dish.

Add the oil to a frying pan, heat and turn down. Add the chopped onion and stir until softened and then tip in the chopped banana skin mix. Increase  the heat and sauté for 10 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk, water, thyme, curry leaves and fresh coriander to the pan. Cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. 

Add an extra 1/4 cup of water if you prefer a more moist curry. Remove from heat once the banana skins and potatoes are soft. Serve with rice of your choice, a flatbread or on a bed of salad.

Tescha Joy

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Greenwich: How a bottle of Greenwich Gin contains a journey all around the world

We talk to Gonzalo Ruiz about creating a spirit with consensus inspired by the prime meridian

Greenwich Gin’s Gonzalo Ruiz – image Matt Grayson

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Greenwich Gin is a coming together in many different senses.

Its creator, Gonzalo Ruiz, first began distilling botanicals at his home at Royal Arsenal Riverside as a lockdown project.    

“Since I was born I’ve always been moving around,” he said. “I’m originally from Colombia but I’ve lived in Canada, in the USA, in Switzerland, in Hong Kong, Germany and now here.

“The person that I am is a mix of all of the places where I’ve lived and, in many of them, I’ve picked up on specific flavours and cuisines. I’ve always been a gin lover, so I thought I would try to distil some of these botanicals and see what happened.

“I spent about a year and half playing with my two-litre copper still, trying dozens and dozens of ingredients. I found that while many work really well on their own, they don’t mix.

“So it’s trial and error – there’s no scientific explanation for why a combination of flavours work together. It was often a frustrating process, but eventually I narrowed it down to a selection of botanicals where I was happy with the result.” 

Having come up with the recipe, Gonzalo thought the resulting spirit would contribute something different to the ever growing gin market.

So he set about scaling up production and creating a brand that would do justice to the liquid in the bottle.

“The name of the gin has a lot to do with the prime meridian, which enabled navigation around the world,” he said.

“But there’s a subtlety about Greenwich, which is often overlooked – to me it’s a really nice detail. Unlike the equator, which is the physical middle of the Earth – something nobody can dispute – the prime meridian could really be anywhere.

“So the whole world has to agree where it is. All the countries had to come together and make a decision for the greater good – to decide that time would begin in Greenwich – the place where west and east separate.

“The concept of the world coming together for something is reflected in the gin. The gold line down the middle of the bottle symbolises the prime meridian.”

Greenwich Gin is inspired by consensus – image Matt Grayson

Inspired by the spirit of consensus reached at the International Meridian Conference in 1884, Gonzalo’s recipe is all about diverse ingredients working together to achieve something greater than themselves. 

“I describe the flavour as an ocean journey around the world,” he said. “There are always the marine botanicals in the background – Atlantic dulse and kombu kelp from the Celtic Sea and sea fennel from the British Isles. The first two grow in the ocean and provide that backdrop.

“There are traditional botanicals found in many gins too such as bitter orange, coriander, juniper and angelica.

“Then the world botanicals I’ve hand-picked from across the globe – some are dry, some are sweet – they help give the gin peaks of flavour as you drink it.

“As much as it is a local gin, created in Greenwich and produced in Kent, it is a global spirit that ties back to my personal story. It brings all those world flavours and cuisines together.

“I’ve sourced many of the botanicals directly from people around the world that I have a connection with.

“There’s a map on the bottle that shows where they come from. Balsam fir, for example, comes from the Canadian arboreal forest and there’s a family who actually live among the trees and ship the fir tips that they forage every spring, to us.

“There’s lime from Mexico and lulo, which is a tropical fruit from Colombia. It’s really acidic – you can’t really eat it on its own, but people use it to flavour desserts and juices and now I use it to flavour gin.

“That’s why you get a citrus flavour that’s a bit more on the tropical side.

“We also use sustainably sourced tonka beans and pink pepper from the Amazon in Brazil and sakura from Japan, which are the cherry blossoms. Their floral flavour is very subtle and brings a touch of spring into the gin.”

Greenwich Gin at Royal Arsenal Riverside – image Matt Grayson

Balancing the input of these diverse ingredients was tough enough during development and Gonzalo discovered that scaling up production threw up new challenges. 

“It was almost like starting over, but more expensive because the quantities are greater,” he said. “You’d think you’d just multiply the original recipe but there are so many variables.

“I haven’t started a distillery as that’s a big investment, but I found a family business in Kent that allows me to be very hands on.

“First we scaled up to 50 litres, which was difficult and then to 200, which was slightly easier. In the end we’ve got something that’s close enough to the original and it’s in time for the Christmas season.”

That final period of development provided yet another opportunity for the theme of consensus to emerge.

“When you treat something as a business, you treat it differently – it’s no longer a hobby,” said Gonzalo. “You’re trying to balance your prices with the quality of your product. 

“One of the things I struggled with when developing a recipe, was that you might create something that’s perfect for you, but it might not be what most people want.

“I had to make some compromises on that, more towards the end.

“While we were doing the final scaling, we had a lot of blind tastings with other people and I tweaked the recipe in a way that maybe I wouldn’t have if it had just been for me.

“But people found it pleasing – they enjoyed some of the botanicals we’ve included more, so we’ve brought them a little more into the foreground.

“It’s all about finding balance. If I were to describe the flavour in one word, it would be ‘fresh’. But the great thing about this gin is that the taste is not homogeneous, it’s a journey.

“You start on the citrus side and then get peaks of intriguing flavours. On the finish you get spice from the tonka beans and the pink pepper.

“Creating the branding has also been very hard – bringing together work by freelancers with my own additions to represent the spirit.”

Greenwich Gin is available online as well as at select retailers in the borough including the Old Royal Naval College and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Miniatures cost £6 while 50cl and 70cl bottles cost £32 and £39.50 respectively. 

Gonzalo is also often to be found selling the spirit at weekends at Greenwich Market.

Read more: Hawksmoor opens up in Canary Wharf

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Woolwich: How Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair continues to evolve

Lizzie Glendinning talks art, factory spaces and continuing to deliver work people can easily own

Print Fair co-founder Lizzie Glendinning
Print Fair co-founder Lizzie Glendinning

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Shiny golden phalluses are not a conventional start to a business. But why be dull? The glimmering appendages provided the catalyst for the birth of Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, which is set to return from November 11-18.

It brings 700 original artworks to the area featuring famous names, hot new artists and images of everything from folk tale-inspired etchings, to the naked human form and abstract pieces created using control and chance.

“We were invited to bring a cultural activity to Woolwich as a one off,” said Lizzie Glendinning who founded the Fair in 2016 with artist husband Jack Bullen.

“We installed this quite controversial Italian sculpture by Samuele Sinibaldi in the former Canon Carriage Factory.

“It got people talking as it featured golden phalluses on a tree. People either loved or hated it, but we were invited back nonetheless.”

The couple already ran Brocket Gallery together and had gained attention for their New Collector Evenings, which used original print to encourage people to talk about and buy art.

Inspired by that ethos they ran a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, contacted printmakers they admired and set-up the inaugural fair, with no budget, in two months.

“Filling a huge abandoned former factory was a huge undertaking and we thought original print would be the way because there wasn’t anyone doing that specifically with contemporary work,” said Lizzie.

“The redevelopment of the buildings was something we really wanted to mirror in the history of printmaking, the industrial nature of it and the process.

“Jack and I are big fans of the Venice Biennale. They have used fine art to regenerate old factories. We thought: ‘How come no-one has done this in London because the buildings are just incredible?’.

“One of the reasons we decided to invest in the area was because of Crossrail – my background was working in Mayfair galleries and we wanted to bring the best of that genre here.”

The Arc Of Knowledge by Samuele Sinibaldi
The Arc Of Knowledge by Samuele Sinibaldi

The fair has now usurped their gallery business and takes 12 months to plan. Lizzie will be breaking boundaries again by curating the entire event from more than 300 miles away in Northumberland.

The couple moved there just before the first lockdown and Lizzie is now pregnant with their second child so unable to make the long trip to the capital. 

But in a fortuitous twist, the cancellation of last year’s event means they already have the technology in place. 

“It was a last-minute decision in September 2020 to cancel,” said Lizzie. “Our whole year had gone towards building it and there were lots of people involved and some wanted us to keep going.

“But it would have completely ruined us because we went into lockdown. So we’re really lucky we decided to go online. 

“We worked with a company called Kunstmatrix and were one of the first Fairs to do an interactive walk through design.

“We had a lot of other big fairs calling us to ask about it and people recognised we had done something quite unique.”

Lizzie will use the technology to curate the artworks online and then her team will install them over two days at Woolwich Works. The physical fair is returning with a flourish, taking over the newly restored former Fireworks Factory at Royal Arsenal Riverside.

 “Woolwich has really evolved in the time we have been there,” said Lizzie. “We are going into our third building in six years because the other ones have all been redeveloped – this one is stunning. 

“The abandoned building we were in before was very cool because it had that gritty aesthetic, but when the artworks are of such great quality, it really elevates them to be in this gorgeous building. It’s a fresh start and feels like we have stepped up to a new level.”

Detail from Love Of Seven Dolls Princess by Liorah Tchiprout
Detail from Love Of Seven Dolls Princess by Liorah Tchiprout

Half the fair will be booths curated by specialist galleries and the other half filled with works chosen from an international open call.

As a result, the fair represents around 350 artists directly and takes commission from their sales.

“It’s unique in terms of art fairs, which generally rent booths to galleries so they only give access to artists who are already represented,” said Lizzie. 

“We had about 4,000 applications for the open call and a panel of industry experts, including Gus Casely-Hayford from V&A East and artist Andrew Martin, chose the work.

“It makes it a completely democratic process and a big surprise for us, while keeping it fresh and fair.” 

All the artists who applied are eligible for a new Art In Business scheme, which offers online workshops in marketing as an independent artist, wrapping and packing work, biographies and personal statements.

The fair is also running the Young London Print Prize for the second year, bringing printmaking workshops to 1,000 children in London primary schools including Greenwich, Thamesmead and Hackney.

A panel of sixth form curators will choose a shortlist to showcase at the event, with an awards ceremony on November 11.

Detail from The Caramel Contessa by Toby Holmes
Detail from The Caramel Contessa by Toby Holmes

Lizzie’s own love of print started as a schoolgirl thanks to her art collector father and she wants to share that passion with everyone.

“The risk with the term ‘print’ is people think its just digital and printed off a computer,” she said.

“But there are mediums like etching or lithograph, monotype, so many different styles and textures and technical application of ink or paint. You need to see it in real life to appreciate the layers and paper. If it’s on a screen it’s flat and you don’t see the intricacies or subtleties. 

“The tactile nature is something we have tried to reinforce through the mantra of the fair, which is about the evolution of technical process and pushing the boundaries and reinterpreting these traditional processes.

“A lot of people will come thinking it is like posters and then they will see artists at work and appreciate the technicalities a bit more.”

The fair is laid out with stories and themes for people to follow to help make the event more friendly and engaging.

Detail from The Spirit Of The Three-Piece Pine by Evgeniva Dudnikova
Detail from The Spirit Of The Three-Piece Pine by Evgeniva Dudnikova

“I first did that in 2019 when I had just had a baby,” said Lizzie. “I was really into illustrative art and things that were beautiful for children because I just wanted Daphne to be surrounded by beauty.

“This year Jack has done a couple based on literature and books and fantasy. I think that’s because he reads all these books to her.

“What we don’t want is to make it too academic. We don’t want to frighten people with terminology that might be inaccessible.

“We want people to recognise a narrative running through or maybe make one up for themselves.”

Lizzie advised fledgling collectors to grab a drink, talk to the artists and pick a theme to follow rather than trying to view everything.

They are giving visitors a helping hand with an art and interiors section, a talk on women in print, curator tours, family printing workshops and artist demonstrations. 

A New Collectors’ Evening on November 12 will include advice from industry leaders, a DJ set and complimentary cocktails. Online they will be using #findartthatfits so people can snap a pic of their space and receive suggestions of works that might fit into it.

There will also be edits of prints under £100, £300 and £500 and the Fair has partnered with OwnArt so buyers can pay for a print for as little as £10 a month.

“The nature of print is that you can get an original artwork at a lower price or enhance a collection by bringing in a really well known name,” said Lizzie.

“It is a less intimidating step into contemporary art and you can’t buy bad at the fair because it has all been curated or chosen by these industry experts. We really want to become the place to go for contemporary print.”

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Woolwich: Why Berkeley Homes continues to finesse Royal Arsenal Riverside scheme

Tweaks to Building 10 deliver greater access, commercial units and eight new properties to buy

Windsor Square under construction at Building 10
Windsor Square under construction at Building 10 – image Matt Grayson

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As the team from Berkeley Homes are leading me on a tour of the Building 10 site at its Royal Arsenal Riverside development, I spot an unexpected local resident. 

As the dwindling light of an autumnal Monday streams through the open roof of what will become a partially enclosed public square, it falls on the glossy, auburn coat of a fox.

He stops briefly to survey us in our hi-vis PPE, before disappearing off about his business, bushy tail bobbing behind him.

Foxes are deeply practical animals. Their intelligence and flexibility has seen them adapt with ease to increasingly built-up areas of London, becoming a common sight across the capital as they effortlessly tailor their lives and ambitions to the realities they encounter. They’re smart – and it pays off. 

Berkeley is similarly adaptive and pragmatic. It has to be. Instead of simply levelling the 88-acre Woolwich site and starting again – arguably the easier option – it’s made a consistent and conscious effort to preserve and celebrate the area’s heritage. 

That has meant refurbishing and reimagining existing structures and ensuring a flavour of Royal Arsenal’s sprawling operations – that at their peak saw 80,000 people employed locally in the manufacture of weapons and ammunition and supporting trades – remains.

Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans
Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans – image Matt Grayson

Working with older buildings, no matter how careful the preparations made, is unpredictable. Sometimes, until you get on site, the feel of the finished product is unclear. 

It’s also the case that developments take a long time and, sometimes, what was originally planned no longer suits the demands and desires of the people who will ultimately use it.

A certain amount of finessing is therefore to be expected and Berkeley’s latest proposal for Building 10 continues a process of tweaks made to the original scheme, which was approved in 2017.

That included plans for 18,800sq ft of commercial space split into seven units, which was increased to 34,600sq ft over 10 units in 2019 with the addition of mezzanine floors to spaces at the western end of the site and the introduction of a fresh access route out to Major Draper Square.

The original architectural model of Building 10
The original architectural model of Building 10 – image Matt Grayson

Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans said: “We continually think about whether we have the right solution in terms of the buildings we are developing.

 “We’ve recognised that the nature of the proposed commercial spaces underneath the new-build section of Building 10 is they are constrained by the historic arches, meaning they would be compromised to the point that, if we took them to market, they wouldn’t be attractive to potential tenants.

“The nature of retail, particularly, is about that frontage – that footfall. It’s understanding that visually, people need to be able to see that where a business is and what it does.

“So we reviewed the eastern large ground floor space and created something new – we’re proposing an atrium with four smaller commercial units that gives people a wonderful sightline through to an existing archway, which will connect out to the next phase of Royal Arsenal Riverside.

“This will create a link between the two, while also maintaining the ability to have smaller, modern but more prominent retail units that face outwards onto the street.”

An interior at the Building 10 show home
An interior at the Building 10 show home – image Matt Grayson

The new proposal keeps the total number of commercial units at 10, with a slight reduction in space on the 2019 proposal. It still represents an increase of 52% on the 2017 scheme and opens up the semi-enclosed square at both ends. 

“At the same time, this change means there’s an opportunity to create eight mews-style houses that we know people crave from what we’ve delivered on-site to date,” said Julian. 

“Buyers want something different. The properties would be set over two levels – they have the feel of a house and they’re quirky in their nature.

“The houses at Building 10 will also be homes people can both work and live in if they need to.

“What people have loved over the years is that the historic properties we’ve created at the development don’t exist anywhere else – they’re unique to this place. 

“It’s a really great proposal and, I think when we take all of the commercial units to market, it’s such an exciting space that they will be really well received.”

The change also plays into Berkeley’s strategy for fostering small business growth locally.

Head of social value Carolina Correia
Head of social value Carolina Correia – image Matt Grayson

The developer’s head of social value Carolina Correia said: “We’ve been very lucky to have been working with a number of micro businesses in the area who have expressed an interest in being on-site. 

“They recognise how interesting Royal Arsenal Riverside is as a proposition.

“We have a coffee cab that stays here from Tuesdays to Sundays. Then we have a rotation of different street foods.

“The plan is to create an arcade at Building 10, which will have some of these smaller commercial units, and it’s a great opportunity for some of these businesses to trade here. We’re also working hand in hand with Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency to provide training and mentorship so these businesses can grow to full commercial propositions.

Julian added: “This whole concept of incubating local businesses that start on a kitchen table and come to us, explain what they want to do and then get help, is what Berkeley has been doing from day one. This latest proposal is part of that.”

Building 10 comprises a new-build structure containing more than 110 apartments, alongside Windsor Square, a partially covered space that once formed part of the Carriage Works at Royal Arsenal.

The proposed eight new residential properties would range in size from one to three bedrooms and would feature double height spaces, first floor balconies, historic features, a split level layout and dual aspect living.

Prices for homes already on sale at Building 10 start at £470,000. One, two and three-bedroom properties are available. 

The building is located close to Woolwich Crossrail station which will offer direct services to Canary Wharf in seven minutes when trains start running in 2022.

A show home is available to view on-site. 

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Greenwich: Boaty McBoatface and RRS Sir David Attenborough set for Ice Worlds

National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark will host a three-day festival to welcome the ship to London

The Royal Observatory’s Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder – image Matt Grayson

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Boaty McBoatface is coming to Greenwich. The small yellow robotic submersible is set to arrive in the capital on board the RRS Sir David Attenborough as it arrives in the capital on October 27, ahead of the UN Climate Conference COP26 at the end of the month.

Britain’s newest polar research vessel’s visit to the capital forms the centrepiece of Royal Museums Greenwich’s Ice Worlds festival celebrating and exploring scientific endeavours in some of the world’s most extreme environments.

From October 28-30 the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark will be awash with scientists, talks and events – almost all free to attend, aimed at revealing what it’s actually like to live and work in the Arctic and Antarctic today.

“A lot of people haven’t really met a scientist or tried to understand what they’re doing,” said Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, senior manager of public astronomy at Royal Observatory Greenwich, who is looking after the festival’s programme. 

“That’s the most important thing when you’re setting up an event like this – you’re asking yourself how we can facilitate that with our spaces.

“Most of the research done on vessels like RRS Sir David Attenborough is funded with taxpayers’ money so everyone deserves to have its results communicated back to them and all the good that it’s doing. Talks allow us to bring the public and scientists together.”

A crucial part of that for Ice Worlds is that young people participate in the festival with a range of activities on offer across the three days.

Emily said: “The majority of the festival will take place at the National Maritime Museum – there won’t be tours of the ship but there will be the opportunity to see it from the outside where it’s moored opposite the Cutty Sark. 

“Throughout the event there will be family talks for children as young as seven and on the Saturday we’ll host some more advanced sessions for adults as well. 

“We’ll be covering topics such as: ’What is it like to live in Antarctica? How do scientists survive down there? What are the scientists studying in Antarctica?  What are the scientists trying to understand about climate change?  What’s the wildlife like? and What’s the ocean life like?’.

“On the Saturday from 11am-4pm, there will also be a penguin parade where we’re asking children to come dressed as penguins or to make their own costumes at the event so they can take part.

“Visitors will be able to see Boaty McBoatface itself, and also look at what the scientists are really studying, anything from climate change to how the ocean currents in Antarctica work, seeking to understand the geological history of the Earth, examining fossils and exploring ocean environments.

“The festival also includes exhibitions that will be set  up around the National Maritime Museum with scientists on hand from the British Antarctic Survey who are actually going to Antarctica on the Sir David Attenborough.

“It’s going to be really exciting and people will be able to interact with these exhibitions and see so many different things.

“ On a personal level, I want to understand how robots are used in Antarctica, and all the techniques that scientists are using to study that region – how we use technology to better understand those extreme environments.”

While Emily’s area of interest remains looking up into the sky to the planets and stars, she draws a clear link between the work of astronomers and those exploring the deep.

“From my perspective as an astrophysicist, I think there’s a massive comparison to be made between extreme environments on Earth and on other planets,” she said. 

“When you have these moons, like Europa, a moon of Jupiter and Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, one of the questions that scientists are asking is, could there be life in those oceans below their icy surfaces?

“Understanding the environments on the Earth and how life can exist in those extreme environments at the bottom of the oceans allows us to understand if life could exist on such moons and beyond.

“There are scientists aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough studying the extremophiles that live around thermal vents on the seabed – it’s actually very warm down there but completely dark and you have these micro organisms, bacteria for example, and different types of crabs that can survive down there without any sunlight.”  

Royal Museums Greenwich is also hoping the festival sparks a desire in younger visitors to pursue a career in science, fuelled by curiosity

Emily said: “I was always interested in science when I was a kid – I was curious and asked a lot of questions as well as annoying my parents by taking pieces of equipment apart and trying to put them back together again.

“Science allowed me to keep asking questions and eventually I got to a point where nobody knew the answers and that’s the great joy of being a scientist – being able to try to figure out the answers. 

“I ended up doing astronomy because, looking up at the sky as a kid I wondered if anyone was looking back. 

“I came to the Royal Observatory because I wanted to talk to people about all the amazing things we were finding out about space.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Discover the National Maritime Museum's dedicated gallery
Discover the National Maritime Museum’s dedicated gallery

SEE | Polar Worlds

Explore the museum’s gallery dedicated to the exploration of, and life in, extreme environments.

Ongoing, National Maritime Museum

Dress up like a penguin and parade around
Dress up like a penguin and parade around

KIDS | Penguin Parade

Come dressed up or make your own costume before taking part in a stylish penguin parade.

Oct 30, 11am-4pm, NMM

An Antarctic ice core
An Antarctic ice core

SCIENCE | Secrets In The Ice

Meet the scientists who drill deep into Antarctica and find out how ice cores reveal 800 years of history.

Oct 28-30, NMM

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Greenwich: Why Sew On The Go is a celebration of making and travel

Made In Greenwich curator Mary Jane Baxter’s is the story of her journey through Europe in a van

Sew On The Go author Mary Jane Baxter
Sew On The Go author Mary Jane Baxter – image Matt Grayson

Sew On The Go is many things. Travelogue, inspiration, maker’s guide, cautionary tale, creative outlet. It’s Mary Jane Baxter’s third book and, while it’s packed with crafting projects just like The Modern Girl’s Guide To Hatmaking and Chic On A Shoestring, it embraces something else in its 250 pages – the adventure of a journey.

Six years ago, its author left her job at the BBC after 14 years working across Europe, bought and converted a small van, rented out her flat in London and set off on a trip with the aim of combining her love of travel and making things. The resulting book is the story of that expedition.

“I spent a lot of time building up to it – I did a trip for Newsnight in 2009, which involved travelling around Britain and doing make do and mend tasks in exchange for bed and breakfast with viewers,” said Mary Jane, who curates craft and art shop Made In Greenwich for the Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency.

“In order to have a comfortable night’s sleep, I would do a task, so I made trousers for a stilt-walker, created a hat for somebody to wear at Ascot and swapped a night in a hotel in Edinburgh for hats.

“It was about frugality in response to the last recession and it went down really well. At the time I had a second-hand Nissan Micra. It was quite clapped-out but I’d had the idea for this trip and thought it would be really interesting if I had this really crazy vehicle to do it in.”

Having inherited a few thousand pounds following the death of her uncle in 2014, she decided to take redundancy from the BBC and test-drove lots of “really gorgeous vans” that were all too expensive. Then, while walking through Greenwich Park she spotted a man with a curious-looking vehicle.

“He said it was a Bedford Bambi and told me I could test drive it, so I took it round the park and thought: ‘Yes, this could work’,” said Mary Jane. “I saw one for sale down in Southampton, took the train, bought it on the spot, drove it back to Deptford and started doing it up.

“At the time I was working pretty much full-time in the newsroom at the BBC and, at the time, I lived in a tiny flat, so the van gave me an extra crafting space. I felt like I was building an escape pod – I spent every day working on Bambi.”

The makeover included covering the van’s exterior with wallpaper samples (rescued from a Brighton skip) and varnishing them to protect them from the weather.

“Then Bambi was ready to go and so was Mary Jane, having put together a plan to visit and stay with various friends, mount pop-ups at markets, sell the things she’d made and, most importantly, experience the untold possibilities of the open road.

“It was: ‘Let’s throw it up in the air and see what freedom feels like after working for so long from eight in the morning until seven at night’,” she said. “Setting off on St Gerorge’s Day in April 2015 felt brilliant – it was amazing. 

“I packed everything I needed to craft on the road into Bambi – hats I’d made to sell, books I could offload to help fund the trip, haberdashery and my trusty hand-cranked sewing machine.

“I also had no electrics in Bambi – no interior lighting, no drainage, no water, no loo – it was basic camping. I did have the hob for a fry-up on the go, however. Bambi looked incredible and she got so much attention – people waved as we went off.

“I got to the ferry and it was just that feeling that there was no agenda, no commitment – nothing on the horizon that I had to do. What person in their mid-40s wouldn’t want that? To lock the front door and just go.”

Multiple adventures followed over the next four months as Mary Jane made her way through Belgium, France, Italy and up to northern Scotland. 

Readers can expect plenty of picturesque escapism as well as moments of drama including an encounter with an ageing campsite Lothario and dicing with the terrifying sheer drops while driving through the Gorge du Verdon. It’s also a tome stuffed with ideas for makers of all levels.

“The book contains 26 upcycled craft projects interwoven in the story,” said Mary Jane. 

“There’s always an element of my work that’s about re-using, recycling and creating beautiful things out of stuff people chuck away – everything from no-sew projects to more complicated ones.

“It’s also a rip-roaring travel read, which is an honest and exciting account of how it felt to be in that position of not being able to stand being at my desk anymore answering emails and deciding to bloody well go off and do something interesting instead. It’s light-hearted but it’s also about the creative process and about those life decisions that come your way – you don’t get married or have kids – things you might have expected, but don’t happen.

“What do you make of a life that’s balanced between being creative and being responsible for yourself and how do you make that work?

“The book is about trying to answer the question: ‘What are you looking for?’. I still don’t know the answer, but I’m glad I took this journey in an attempt to find out. 

“Often people have ideas but they don’t follow them through. A lot of people, especially women, don’t travel on their own – I talked to a lot of women in their 40s and 50s and they said they would never go off on their own like that.

“I have to say that, as the trip went on, it wasn’t all plain-sailing. There were real episodes of loneliness, and wondering what on earth I was doing. But I’d had the idea, bought the van and I did it.”

Published by Unbound on a crowdfunding model, the book came out in May.

Mary Jane said: “It took six years of hard work, fundraising, writing and journeying. Of all the books I’ve written, this one does hit the nail on the head. Bambi happened and I’m really pleased that I produced something out of my imagination and got it out there.” 

Sew On The Go: A Maker’s Journey is available to buy at Made In Greenwich in Creek Road or online for £16.99, published by Unbound.

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Greenwich: How the Art Of Zero Living brings sustainable products to shoppers

Store in Greenwich Market stocks more than 400 eco-friendly lines with no plastic packaging

Art Of Zero Living founders Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite
Art Of Zero Living’s Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite – image Matt Grayson

Vita Viskackaite and Justas Kanapeckas would love you to bring your own containers when you visit their shop in Greenwich Market. But if you don’t it’s no bother. The Art Of Zero Living is as ready to serve curious passers-by just as any convenience store would. But it does it without resorting to single-use plastic.

Opened two months ago, the shop carries more than 400 product lines – all carefully selected by the couple to meet their exacting environmental standards – including 240 kinds of food with 85% certified as organic. 

how did you come to start the Art Of Zero Living? 

Vita: It was born during the pandemic, when we were at home for eight months doing nothing, and we couldn’t shop zero waste, because there was nothing around, so we decided it was the perfect time to start something.

I was working at Itsu in the logistics department as a supply chain coordinator.

Justas: I’d been working in a restaurant as a manager for the last 10 years, so I’m from a retail and hospitality background and Vita knew about supply and logistics, but retail was new for us.

One morning over coffee – we’d already watched a lot of Netflix – and we said, as we were locked at home, we should use the time for something.

The storefront in Greenwich Market – image Matt Grayson

where did you find inspiration?

Justas: We’d read a book by Bea Johnson, who coined the term Zero Waste. We’d always been into nature and, because we have a daughter, we thought it was important to work on that area.

Vita: Bea gave me a kick up the arse. Her ideas had already pushed me to make changes – we refused to buy food in single-use plastic packaging, but during the pandemic we were forced to go back and buy it, because we didn’t have anywhere to buy it locally in Greenwich. When you’re purchasing this stuff every day, you don’t realise – you think it’s normal. 

But when you start living a different lifestyle and then you have to go back, you realise that it isn’t at all.

Food products ready to be dispensed into containers – image Matt Grayson

what will people find in the shop?

Vita: High quality, natural, sustainable food and other products – absolutely nothing that has chemicals in it.

It’s all about being able to trace each product from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. We can provide all the information customers need and we believe in organic food and use all the products ourselves. I’m happy to stand by every single one – if we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t sell it.

Justas: We’ve done eight months of homework and we’re still doing it if we decide to bring in a new line.

Customers can buy as much or as little as they like because the things we sell are mostly not pre-packed. We try to eliminate as much packaging as possible. 

Of course, for first-time buyers we provide paper bags and containers free of charge. We live this lifestyle so we know how to encourage people.

The shop also sells many non-food products – image Matt Grayson

how does it work?

Vita: We explain that to everyone who comes through the door for the first time. Either people go back home and get their jars and containers, or use our bags.

I remember my first time shopping in such a store – it’s very strange if you’re used to a supermarket. You’re afraid to drop the beans or that you might put something in the wrong place, because it’s complete freedom for you to help yourself.

But nobody should worry – we’re always there to advise customers that it’s fine, that they can make a mess and it’s normal. The shop is designed for this. Then they laugh and we make them feel welcome. We want Greenwich to know that we exist, because we are affordable. We said that we were not going to be expensive, even though we are organic. People should be able to afford this food and bring their own containers.

Justas: We’ve had Australians come to our shop – many of them – and they’ve said shops like this are on every corner in their country and wonder why it’s not like that in the UK. We are the first shop like this in Greenwich.

how would you like to develop the brand in future?

Vita: Business is getting better and better – we knew that at the beginning it was going to be very hard.

No-one made a shop work in two or three months, it takes time – one year, maybe two – we don’t know. But this is our idea, it’s our lifestyle and it comes from the bottom of our hearts, so we’re going to fight for it.

Justas: One of the good things is that everyone can buy from us, because they are not forced to buy a lot. We have literally had people spending 83p on nuts or some pasta.

I hope this shop will bring us more attention in general, and maybe we’ll start a bigger project, perhaps open a few more or maybe teach kids in schools – that would be nice. It’s not only business, it’s spreading a message.

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