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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OH MY SUGAR

cookies – brownies – sweets

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

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

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

Samaneh serves customers at Flow Farmers Market – image Matt Grayson

OLIVETO BAR

olives – garlic – sundried tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

PICK’S ORGANIC FARM

vegetables – meat – bacon rolls

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

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

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

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

THE BIG WHEEL

cheese – crackers – condiments

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

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

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

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

RODGIS

sourdough – sausage rolls – pastries

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

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

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

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

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

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Stratford: Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes on expansion and spirit

How chef Jackie Christian is celebrating her mother’s legacy in Greenwich and Hackney

Jackie Christian, co-founder of Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes – image Matt Grayson

It would probably take something the length of a novel to do justice to Jackie Christian’s story. The Stratford resident, working with her sister Natalie Walker, is the driving force behind Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes, which have been delivering sweetness and generous levels of Wray And Nephew overproof spirit to the mouths of Londoners for the past six years.

“Our mum, Doreen, always cooked these amazing dinners for family and friends,” said Jackie.

“She’d also make rum cake and banana bread and, because I was the second eldest, she’d get me to help out doing bits and pieces around the kitchen when I was a teenager.

“Because of that, I wanted to become a chef so I went on a catering course – you did six months in college and six months working in the industry.

“So when I was 17, my first job was working at the Mayfair Hotel with Gordon Ramsay – he was my boss and that was the start of my career. After my training, I was called into the office – I was wondering what I’d done because Gordon was in there. But they said: ‘We love the way you work and we’re going to save you a job here’.

“I was amazed, so I went back to college, finished my course and started at the Mayfair, working as an a la carte chef. From there I went to L’Escargot in Soho – I loved it so much – and then to Fred’s Club, which was on three floors and for the rich and famous. We had Boy George, Neneh Cherry – all the celebrities.”

After years working long hours at the top of the London restaurant scene, Jackie and her husband decided to start a family and she stepped away from the industry.

“I have to be proud of myself because I’ve had a tough time,” said Jackie. “I lost my husband to a heart attack out of the blue when my son was five. We lost our mum and, just recently, our sister but I know that they’re watching – they are our angels.”

It was inspiration while thinking about her mother that led Jackie’s life to change direction again. Having forged a successful career in contract catering, Jackie had hit an impasse. She was happy to be cooking, but bored by the repetitive nature of the work.

“Someone asked to buy a cake from me and I was looking at Ma’s picture. That was the time I decided to continue her work. She used to make rum cakes with me and then give them away to neighbours and friends. If you got one it meant you were a bit special because of the love that goes into baking one. So I resigned from my job and decided to go for it, just working from my home in Stratford.”

Rum soaked fruit as part of the baking process – image Matt Grayson

Born in London after her mother emigrated from Jamaica, Jackie uses a recipe passed down through at least three generations for her signature product, soaking fruit in overproof 63% ABV Wray And Nephew white rum before partially blending it and adding more rum as the other ingredients are folded in by hand.

“By using this spirit I’m preserving the theme as well as sticking to the original recipe,” said Jackie. “Before the pandemic, I would go to Jamaica once a year, buy the rum and bring back the sunshine to England to bake into the cakes.

“It’s about telling the story of our mother to our customers and letting them try the cake. I had no idea if this would work as a business in the beginning but it has. It’s not a cheap cake to make.

“You need to soak the fruit for ever in the rum – I have a big barrel for that. Mummy didn’t like it whole so we blend it until it’s like a chunky puree, add the other ingredients and bake the cake. 

“Each one takes about three or four hours in the oven and then we put more rum on it and leave it to soak and infuse.”

Jackie’s rum cakes are made by hand using her mother’s recipe and generous quantities of the spirit – image Matt Grayson

Having started with a regular stall at Greenwich Market, Doreen’s has built up a significant following in the borough allowing Jackie and Natalie to expand the business to Bohemia Place Market in Hackney.

Lockdown saw online sales start up too and Jackie got the keys to a commercial kitchen in Woolwich, which will allow her to grow production and take on staff to assist.

“We got the unit at Thames-Side Studios in October last year,” said Jackie. “Now I can get a team in because it’s just been Natalie and me. I’ve always had management roles when working in contract catering, so I know how to lead a team. You have to treat people with so much respect. No job defines a person. 

“When I employ someone to wash up, I wash up with them. If they’re the last one to leave, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and help – we’ll grab the brooms and mops and clean together.

“Lots of people have asked me to take on work in the past and now I can accept more. People need to know what real rum cake tastes like – hand crafted as a labour of love.

“What feels good is when a customer tells me that my cake reminds me of their mother’s – it makes me cry and then they cry too. 

“It’s happiness – because that means I’ve smashed it with my mother’s generation and now we’re starting to capture the younger people too.

“They say they’ve never had it, then after a sample, they’re hooked. It is tough – we get so busy that I don’t get a rest. Sometimes it’s an eight-day-a-week business.

“But when you see reactions and responses from the customers you feel so good. That’s when I know I’m doing this right. That love feels amazing. 

“My mum gave me the inspiration to become a chef and to start this business, and this is giving that love back to our customers.”

As well as offering Doreen’s classic rum cake in a variety of sizes and shapes – all of which should last a long time on the shelf thanks to the high levels of rum within, the business also sells a vegan version.

Also available are Jamaican rum truffle brownies, stem ginger and chocolate brownies, lemon and coconut muffins and Appleton Estate rum sponge cakes made with a darker, spiced spirit. 

Orders can be placed online or the various products can be found and (frequently) tasted at Greenwich and Bohemia Place markets.

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