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Fish Island: How Wolf Rayet makes clothes for wild festival dancing and gym workouts

Laura-Louise Erasmus’ side hustle is a tour de force of catsuits, colour and creativity in Hackney Wick

Wolf Rayet’s Circus Wave Catsuit, £105

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“Anyone and everyone can wear Lycra,” said Laura-Louise Erasmus, founder of Wolf Rayet.

She creates catsuits, swimsuits, leggings, meggins (for gents), Yoga shorts, playsuits and sports tops – manufacturing the garments from her workshop at The Trampery Fish Island Village in Hackney Wick.

“I make super-jazzy festival wear which also can also be worn for the gym,” she said.

“These clothes are something to be silly in – to dance around in, have a great time and look incredible.

“Anyone can wear these clothes.

“I’ve taken them to hen parties, and made everyone put them on – whatever their size – and, at the end of the night, everyone just loves them.”

She also designs a new print each year in time for Christmas, and makes pieces for her entire family to wear, ready for a festive walk through the countryside.

Laura-Louise Erasmus, founder of Wolf Rayet in her workshop – image Jon Massey

“My parents are my biggest fans – they live in Blakeney and, when they go out walking in Wolf Rayet, other people in North Norfolk people are like: ‘Why aren’t you wearing normal clothes?’,” said Laura-Louise.

“But my designs are like costumes – they completely change people’s personalities in a really nice way.

“That’s especially true for people who would never normally wear this kind of thing – they put a catsuit on and feel great.

“I’ve been going to festivals since I was 16 – I love it, especially the dressing up. I think it’s a British thing. 

“I’ve been to festivals in other countries where I’ve been really dressed up and no-one else is. 

“Clothes make you feel more confident – basically I make big elastic bands that people can dance, have a lot of fun and be free in.

“After a few drinks you can usually get people into some Lycra.”

Laura-Louise first came to London as a student to study fashion at Central Saint Martins but, following a mugging and a series of negative experiences decided to transfer to Bristol to study instead.

She then returned to the capital as an intern in the fashion industry, quickly falling out of love with the idea after spending a year unpaid, while making ends meet by working in a bar at night. 

“We were treated really badly and I didn’t want to be part of that, so I thought I would make my own way and do my own thing,” she said.

“That’s when I started doing screen-printing, then I tried jewellery with a grant from The Prince’s Trust.

“From those experiences I realised I had a love of print design, catsuits and jazzy festival outfits.

“At the time there were not many people making these, so I decided to create my own, outfits that people could go crazy in.

“That’s where it all started – officially in 2016.

“Friends started wearing them and then more and more people.

“Covid completely changed my business, because people were online all the time and they wanted to look cool on their Zoom calls, so my sales went from normal to crazy.

“With the pandemic receding I started doing gym wear as well.”

In addition to selling her pieces online, Laura-Louise has a stall at Wilderness Festival and is hoping to be at Glastonbury this year.

Having originally made her pieces from her warehouse home in Hackney Wick, she also recently took the plunge and moved into a unit at The Trampery in anticipation of further growth, sharing the space with other local makers. 

She also plans to use the sizeable space for her main profession – a separate creative endeavour.

“Wolf Rayet has always been a side hustle for me – the main thing I’ve done in recent years has been set design for TV, film, advertising and live events,” she said.

“I’ve lived in Hackney Wick for 12 years – in warehouses – and many of the people here are musicians, often making music videos, so I got involved.

“Although fashion is creative, set design is even more so because you get to build so many wild things. 

Glitch and Pink Animal Catsuits, £105 each

“Say you want some giant soup bowl to sit in with a load of life-size noodles – that’s the type of challenge that I want to do.

“From doing that kind of thing – making all these weird and wonderful pieces – I started assisting people and getting more work.

“With Covid, I got a lucky break – a few people knew I did sets, so they gave me their entire projects to design and that’s now my main job.

“It’s an amazing thing to do, really exciting and every day is different.

“I worked as the art director on a film called In Too Deep, for example, looking after every aspect of the set on a boat in Cornwall and making sure that every single thing is in the right place.

“I get quite seasick on boats, so it was quite challenging.

“But it’s fun, it’s creative and I love being able to do Wolf Rayet as well.”

Inspiration for her prints comes from all around with Animal, for instance, actually based on the iron casting on top of a storm drain in London.

“I started by seeing the water and the ripples, then put loads of colour in to completely change it from the original,” said Laura-Louise.

“I draw out the design, bring it into Photoshop or Illustrator and then send it to be printed at a factory in Manchester.

“I use two different fabrics that are like Lycra, but made from recycled bottle tops and plastic waste.”

Wolf Rayet is named for a kind of massive star that burns brighter than our sun – a little like Laura-Louise’s clients in their catsuits on the dance floor.

But make no mistake – her brand is not about making throwaway clothes for a single moment of radiance.

Black Confetti Leggings, £62 and Sports Top, £40

Fiercely environmentally conscious, her pieces are high-quality hand-made garments for repeated wear, designed to stand up to the rigours of dance and exercise.

“I want to be as sustainable as possible,” she said.

“I try to make everything to order, so there’s very little waste and the offcuts are kept and turned into bum bags, bikinis and so on.

“I do make some stock for the shops at festivals, also so people can come and see pieces in Hackney Wick and try them on. Having this space is great.

“But if people don’t feel they fit in my size range, they can easily give me their measurements so we can make a custom order.

“People can also have any of the prints mixed and matched – whatever they want.”

Future plans include looser fitting pieces featuring Wolf Rayet prints and the steady growth of the business, as Laura-Louise continues making clothes and building sets in east London.

Block Melt Catsuits, £105 each from Wolf Rayet

Read more: Discover the work of fashion businesses Fabrika and Vavi Studio

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via

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Hackney Wick: How Rainbow Snake: Adventures In Love tells a magical story

Written by Christabelle Lomas, with drawings by Samuel Miller, the book can be purchased online

Christabelle Lomas and Samuel Miller at the launch of their book in Canary Wharf
Christabelle Lomas and Samuel Miller at the launch of their book in Canary Wharf – image Jon Massey

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This is a love story.

Around about the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Christabelle Lomas found herself trapped in India having just finished training as a Yoga teacher.

Short on funds from various attempts to leave the country, she approached a group of strangers at the airport for help.

With international flights cancelled, they suggested she take an internal connection with the aim of heading to eco-resort Bhakti Kutir in South Goa as a refuge from the ravages of the pandemic.

One of the group had a friend staying there – Jules – and gave Christabelle her details.

As the world shut down, Christabelle began receiving calls from concerned friends, one also knew Jules and gave her another contact at the resort, a man called Samuel Miller.

She reached out to him midway through a tortuous journey to get to the resort and he was there to greet her.

However, with the threat of disease at the forefront of everyone’s minds, she isolated for two weeks before eventually joining the group properly. 

“When I first arrived there I was in this jungle hut and Sam was bringing me my meals and water,” said Christabelle.

“I was really grateful and I meditated a lot, practised Yoga and found myself surrounded by inspiration.

“It was at some point during that period that I started writing what would become Rainbow Snake: Adventures In Love.

“Then I came out, we hung out. It was all lovely and then they started sending rescue flights, but I wasn’t quite ready to be rescued.”

The book draw's inspiration from the couple's time in India
The book draw’s inspiration from the couple’s time in India

While pulled in different directions, artist Sam ultimately decided to board a flight back to London,

“I came back three months later to London and we reconnected,” said Christabelle.

“I’d written this book and I was looking for someone to do the illustrations – Sam’s a fabulous artist so it made sense to ask him.”

Christabelle’s story follows the journey of Rainbow Snake as he attempts to discover what love is by seeking wisdom from a succession of other creatures he meets along the way.

She and Sam collaborated – he produced 12 paintings for the book – and fell in love as they continued their work together, inspired by their experiences in India.

“There was a little snake in the roof of one of the jungle huts in Goa,” said Sam, who is based on a glass-roofed boat at Hackney Wick.

“Then there were a lot more when the monsoons came. We also found this weird little beetle that turned out to be a scorpion.

“Having read the book, I just wanted to deepen the words and open them out with mysticism, jungle magic and strange things.

“I’d been painting jungles for ages so doing this book was very apt. Normally I would take a lot of time to create a piece, and this task was to do 12, which is a big body of work.

“At first I was worried the paintings were too dark, too melancholic for children, but you have stories like Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which are just awful and this is actually a very sweet story.”

Detail from one of Sam's paintings for Rainbow Snake
Detail from one of Sam’s paintings for Rainbow Snake

“It’s quite hard to bottle up the magic,” added Shoreditch resident Christabelle.

“The book is very enchanting and has a beautiful message. People often ask what age it’s for, but I suppose it touches people of all ages.

“It’s a message about trusting your inner guidance rather than looking outwards, and that was a big theme for the times we went through during the pandemic – it was a time for introspection.

“In the end, love carries you through. Rainbow Snake goes on his quest and everyone he talks to has a different interpretation of what love is. 

“He wonders how it can possibly be all of these things but then comes to his own conclusion. 

“He’s slithering around trying to find answers and is about to give up when he finds what he’s looking for within himself.

“I’m quite a deep thinker, with a creative mindset, and I’m always looking for answers to the meaning of life and love.

“I’ve worked with children quite a lot and they have inspired me, so that’s where this piece of writing came from.

“Although it’s a book that is mostly for children, the artwork and the messages are there for everyone.

“Being in the city, it’s easy to get wrapped up in things, but looking at the stars and all the animals can help you put things into perspective.

Rainbow Snake: Adventures In Love is on sale now for £22.11
Rainbow Snake: Adventures In Love is on sale now for £22.11

“Hopefully, the pictures and the words will expand people’s minds. I write a lot of personal projects, but this is the first piece I’ve put out there.”

Sam has been a painter since he was a child, creating work from his east London base despite the recent winter chill that saw the glass roof of his boat freeze inside and out.

“My canal boat at Hackney Wick is a studio space I’ve built myself – a project I took on when I got back from India,” he said.

“It’s like a Disney palace, a place that’s pretty mad, but it was a lot of fun to do.

“I painted as a kid and just never stopped. Then I went to the Royal Academy Of The West Of England and have continued to work ever since.”

Rainbow Snake: Adventures In Love is published by Christabelle Lomas and Samuel Miller and is currently available online, priced £22.11. 

The couple have promised to donate 1.2% of their profits to the Indian Wildlife Trust.

Read more: How British Land is set to build a new town centre at Canada Water

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Hackney Wick: How The Trampery Fish Island Village aims to foster community

Space and facilities for fashion creatives spread over 10 buildings totalling 50,000sq ft opens

Deputy mayor forfor culture and the creative industries Justine Simons and CEO of The Trampery Charles Armstrong at the launch

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what’s going on?

The Trampery Fish Island Village has officially opened its doors, offering around 50,000sq ft of space for innovative and sustainable fashion businesses in Hackney Wick and Fish Island.

Spread over 10 buildings along the Hertford Union Canal, its facilities include 42 studios ranging in size from 150sq ft to 2,000sq ft, 21 affordable studios and 28 desks for fashion-tech startups in its co-working space.

There’s also a 1,000sq ft sustainable manufacturing facility, a venue to host catwalks, sample sales and speeches, meeting rooms, seminar rooms, a lounge for members and a cafe and bar with a canalside terrace.

Up to 500 people will be working on-site each day with businesses such as Petit Pli, Rewritten, Wear Matter, Dotte Been London and Sabinna already in residence.

The facility was officially opened this month by deputy mayor for culture and the creative industries Justine Simons on behalf of the Mayor Of London. 

how can I find out more? 

The Trampery Fish Island Village offers spaces suitable for one to two people, right up to studios for seven to 12.

Desk membership at The Trampery Village Hall costs £220 per month with studios available from £363 per month starting at £30 per sq ft.

Justine officially opens The Trampery Dish Island Village

she says

Deputy mayor for culture and the creative industries, Justine Simons, officially opened The Trampery Fish Island Village on behalf of the Mayor Of London

She said: “This is a really important moment in the creative life of London. We started talking about this in 2016 and here we are.

“This is a city of makers, doers and dreamers – our city runs on creative energy.

“But forging a creative career in London is not easy. You need grit, determination and perseverance.

“It also requires space and this facility is a brilliant example of what we can achieve when we work together to deliver it at affordable rates.”

The Trampery Fish Island Village operates space across 10 buildings in area

he says

For Charles Armstrong, CEO of The Trampery, the launch of its Fish Island Village is a significant milestone in the social enterprise’s history. 

He said: “This is the largest project The Trampery has ever delivered. It’s been very complicated, so to reach the launch and to celebrate it with all of our partners and friends, was one of the most exciting days of my life. 

“There are two specific things I’m really hoping for from The Trampery Fish Island Village.

“First is that it becomes a new focal point for sustainable fashion in London and that, over the decades, we can help hundreds and hundreds of young labels to advance innovative ideas that reduce waste, improve labour conditions and that make the industry better.

“Secondly, I hope this will be an anchor that will enable the creative community in Hackney Wick and Fish Island to grow.

“I think a lot of people feared that after the Olympics, with the property development that followed it, the creative community would die out.

“The Trampery is really determined that shouldn’t happen, so to provide our largest ever workspace here, supported by the Mayor Of London, the London Legacy Development Corporation and local people, is really important.

“East London has Europe’s greatest concentration of artists and professionals, so I don’t think there is any limit in demand for the kinds of facilities we are providing here.

“Our ambitions aren’t limited to this area and, over the coming years, we’ll be opening facilities more widely, but our soul will always be in east London.”

For more information contact partnerships manager Ahmet Emin Hondor via email at

The spaces provide studios and facilities for fashion-focused businesses

Read more: How British Land is set to build a new town centre at Canada Water

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Hackney Wick: How The Wickers helps fight knife crime in east London

Charity born of tragedy aims to tackle the root causes of violence by providing safe spaces

Henry Smith created The Wickers to tackle knife crime in Hackney and east London
Henry Smith created The Wickers to tackle knife crime in Hackney and east London

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“We cannot measure whether we’ve saved someone’s life, but I sincerely believe that we have,” said Henry Smith, CEO of property developer Aitch Group and founder of The Wickers – a charity he set up in 2018 to help fight knife crime in Hackney and east London.

“Sadly it was born out of tragedy,” he said. “My sister was quite young – 21 or 22 – when her husband was killed in Stratford.

“He was stabbed with a knife by someone close to him and what was left after that was a tragedy that affected not just my sister – who had a daughter and another on the way – but also the two girls.

“My sister was never right for the rest of her life – sadly she passed at 39 – and my mother was never the same either. 

“Fortunately, my two nieces have grown up to be amazing adults, but a lot of people don’t have the family support they did.

“It’s so easy for people to fall through the safety net.

“When a person attacks somebody with a knife, the impact can be very far-reaching.

“Two people can lose their lives – one lies dead on the ground and the other goes to prison for years.

“Then there are all the other people it affects. I’m of the generation that has seen this kind of violence become an epidemic.”

The number of crimes involving a knife or sharp instrument in London had risen to almost 16,000 by 2019/20 – up from less than 10,000 in 2015/16. 

While the pandemic saw the figure drop back down again to 10,150 for 2020/21, it had already risen to more than 11,100 by 2021/22.

The charity runs all sorts of activities for young people in east London
The charity runs all sorts of activities for young people in east London

“Aitch is a London developer, but we really started off in east London and we’ve grown from there,” said Henry, who grew up in Hackney and now lives in Shoreditch, a few minutes’ walk from his company’s offices.

“I’m a great believer in the idea that you’ve got to put something back into society, because if you don’t, then where does it leave us?

“That’s why we created The Wickers, which is centred on the Hackney Wick area.

“It’s a charity that aims to reduce gang and knife related crime by providing opportunities for people to develop new skills and learn from positive role models.

“You have to start with young people, to look at their home lives. They may be from single-parent families or children living with parents who have dependencies.

“Especially now, there’s a shortage of money, of food and that creates its own problems. People, especially the eldest sons in those situations, feel the need to provide.

“It’s not just in Hackney, it’s everywhere – the promise of easy money through crime is right there.

“Then, in someone’s mind, it’s so easy for them to pick up a knife, but the effect of doing that can last for generations.

“What you find is a lot of these children have been brought up not to expect a lot from their lives and that is wrong.

“The Wickers is there to say that we can show them how to become good citizens, that there is an alternative.

“We’re there to help with their education, their after-school classes to help them find opportunities.”

The Wickers runs plenty of sports sessions in its programme
The Wickers runs plenty of sports sessions in its programme

The charity runs sports activities, classes in art and design plus cooking and nutrition, hosts guest speakers, provides career coaching and half term and summer programmes, as well as delivering knife and gun crime workshops.

“It’s been amazing – the people who I work with to push out the message and deliver our services are fantastic,” said Henry.

“We’re really punching above our weight – we’ve got some great sponsors, lots of people who volunteer and we’re reaching more than 500 teenagers a week.

“That could be through going into schools to deliver our workshops or the young people who come to our running club, music sessions or who play football with us.

“We get a lot of referrals from Hackney Council too, which shows how well thought of we are as an organisation.

“Above all, we create a safe space. Don’t forget, if you’re a certain age and you know certain people you might not be able to go to a particular postcode or cross an estate.

“Even now, I find that hard to imagine that, but this is real, it’s what’s going on. That is when people get stabbed.

“We want to show these young people that there is another way, that they can do a lot with their lives and then give them the tools to do it.

“We work with ex-offenders, for example, and they’re the best because they’ve been to the edge of the cliff and realised that crime was not the way.

“For me all of our activities contribute – it’s about opening people’s eyes to the world out there and what they’re capable of.

“Once you’ve done that, it’s up to them – everybody has to take that next step themselves.

“We’ll stand behind them and give them all the support they need – but they have to be the ones to do it.”

The charity counts the likes of Strettons, Tokio Marine, Savills and JLL among its backers with more than £160,000 raised for its activities by companies in the property sector so far this year.

 “We want to do even more and for that we need more money and more people,” said Henry.

The charity is supported by a wide range of organisations
The charity is supported by a wide range of organisations

“For anyone thinking of donating, The Wickers is a charity where contributors are really making an impact.

“For me, charities have to have no waste – people have to be accountable and you need to see the outcomes, otherwise what are you doing it for? 

“In the long term, I’d like to be in a position where I can run a charity full time and when I step down from Aitch, that’s where I’d like to spend my time.

“When you see someone who found it difficult to sit in a room and listen and who is now able to do that, it’s very rewarding.

“If you’ve had someone who was very disruptive, but has gone on a journey and is now in gainful employment, then that is really good and it’s what’s happening a lot of the time.

“We’re working with estate agents, BT and the NHS to help people find opportunities and to show them the steps they need to take to make something of themselves.

“It’s very easy for me to say that Big Ben is only a few stops away, but some of these kids have never seen it – no-one has shown them what the world’s like out there.

“While my time is best spend on fundraising at the moment, I’m always happy to sit down with young people.

“I grew up in Hackney, not sure what I wanted to do and not having enough respect for different institutions as a teenager.

“If I hadn’t had a father to show me the right way, I could well have taken the wrong path.

“I hope my sister and brother-in-law would be very happy with what we’re trying to do. You can’t measure it, but it feels fantastic when you can help fill a gap in a young person’s life.”

The Wickers reaches 500 teenagers a week
The Wickers reaches 500 teenagers a week

Read more: How the UWS’s London campus is looking to connect with local organisations

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Hackney Wick: How Women Of The Wick creates places for women to be heard

Discover Sara Kärpänen’s platform for marginalised voices via podcasts, workshops and events

Women Of The Wick founder Sara Kärpänen
Women Of The Wick founder Sara Kärpänen – image Matt Grayson

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I believe we all have a story to tell and the voice to tell it,” said Women Of The Wick founder Sara Kärpänen.

“Sometimes we need other people to provide a safe space to share our stories. Social media isn’t always the best platform to show our vulnerabilities or experiences.”

Women Of The Wick (WoW) provides that space for marginalised voices to be heard through podcasts, workshops and events.

This autumn, Sara will be bringing many of those stories together in a new magazine that will go out across the Wick.

It will be the culmination of a storytelling programme funded by Foundation For Future London.

“It came about from the need to offer alternatives to the current media platforms or institutions that exist within the area and beyond,” said Sara.

“I want to help give creative entrepreneurs storytelling tools so they can use their voices and more unconventional business methods.

“The parts of ourselves we hide are often like superpowers.

“Those are the stories that connect us with other people, and potentially help someone who’s struggling with the same thing. 

“I have realised that many professional writers still either lack the confidence or find that they need more peer-to-peer support and a safe space to share their stories, or are just generally interested in gaining insight into their writing.”

Before she moved to London, Sara had her own successful career as a cultural journalist back home in Finland.

But it left her feeling “burned out and uninspired”. It was a visit to Hackney Wick that brought her back to life.

“I walked into this warehouse space in 2013 and shouted out ‘I’ve come home’,” said the 35-year-old.

“I had such a strong feeling of belonging, from the first instant I looked around. 

“There was this sense of freedom and access to different types of spaces and support from the community.”

Sara says she has a strong attraction to Hackney Wick
Sara says she has a strong attraction to Hackney Wick – image Matt Grayson

She was only meant to be visiting London as part of an internship with The Finnish Institute.

But after wrapping up her master’s in visual culture back home, she left Finland for good and moved to her own live-work space in Hackney Wick.

At first, she worked as a freelance artist doing public works commissions with a local architects’ practice and then began writing again for an online publication, where she realised the need for more feminist spaces and media.

“I have always been someone who’s fought for equal rights and I feel very strongly about gender inequality,” she said.

“I think it is my duty to tackle the inequalities that exist in the creative industry.

“It took me quite a while to gain the type of networks that I currently have and I wanted to offer some of the skills and networks I have gained along the way to other people whose first language isn’t English or who have moved to London.

“Also, I find elevating other women’s voices and visibility helps me overcome the feeling that other women take away from what I have got.

“It’s a counterwork to that societal pressure that we should be enemies instead of sisters supporting one another.”

WoW was born in 2019 from a residency at creative space Grow Hackney during which Sara started a podcast.

“I wanted to capture, document and share beautiful stories from the women that had somehow contributed to making the creative communities that Hackney Wick and Fish Island are known for,” she said.

“I wanted to facilitate a space where individual stories could be heard but also create a strong sense of community and belonging – the kind I once felt when I moved to the area.

“Quite quickly I was commissioned by the Foundation For Future London to capture more stories from women within east London.

“I realised this work was needed – not just a podcast.

“I wanted to create other ways to facilitate spaces for women to come together, be vulnerable and talk about everything from sex to social media and the highs and lows of being an artist, mother and woman today.”

Sara runs monthly workshops with WoW
Sara runs monthly workshops with WoW – image Matt Grayson

In the first year, that mission led to a panel discussion on Art, Sex and Gender, raising money for LGBTQIA+ charity Galop UK, a queer poetry night and the two-day festival Heal Her, focused on storytelling and eco-feminism.

“I feel very strongly that feminist issues are also trans and gay rights – we’re all on the same front line against the patriarchy,” said Sara.

When lockdown hit, she began a series on Instagram Live with local artists from their studios explaining their work processes and collaborated with organisations like Grow Hackney to do a book club and talks.

Today, WoW facilitates monthly workshops for freelancers at Hackney Bridge and works with partners across London, including Foundation For Future London, Economy Of Hours (Echo), Stour Trust, BMW Foundation, and Creative Land Trust. 

The podcast How To Occupy Space continues, and sees Sara interview artists, activists and architects such as Juliet Can, founder of Stour Trust and Arab artist Tamara Al-Mashouk.

Last year Sara launched a second podcast, Girl Get A Real Job, to talk about how we can reduce the current pay gap in the creative industries and normalise conversations about money and financial resilience. 

Guests have included Selina Flavius, author of Black Girl Finance and Kaiya Shang, editor at Scribner.

In the autumn she will be launching a new programme focused on the topics discussed.

Sara also works as programme coordinator at Echo

Sara also works as programme coordinator at Echo – image Matt Grayson

“Hosting a space where experiences can be shared and people can be authentically themselves is incredibly powerful,” said Sara, whose day job is programme coordinator at Echo, where members trade the skills they have for those they need.

“The reason I find podcasting so accessible is that it’s another way to share our stories and journeys with others, as well as writing and public speaking. 

“All these things are really under the big umbrella of storytelling, which keeps coming up as a central theme for everything that we do.

“It is a key component in branding and more businesses are becoming aware that storytelling is at the core of their practice and they need to communicate that effectively to others.

“That’s led me to do workshops for businesses or entrepreneurs who want to expand their vision of what they can do with purpose-led storytelling strategies.

“Since MeToo and the so-called third wave of feminism, there has been more importance placed on personal storytelling and women’s experiences.

“But there’s still so much to do. It’s great there is interest there, but it needs to be more than just ticking a box. 

“If a voice is given to people or representative groups, then we are on the right track.”

Sara said the key to good storytelling was realising there was no wrong way to do it.

“Write as you would speak to your best friend, is the best advice to anyone who wants to have their voice heard,” she said.

“We all have a story within us and are powerful beyond belief.

“You need to trust in that voice. It doesn’t have to be polished.”

To give people the confidence to speak out, Sara has everyone who attends a WoW workshop or programme agree to a safe space commitment.

“Everyone agrees that there’s a non-judgmental space and we have zero tolerance of racism or misogyny,” she said.

“We are here to cheer each other on and this is a space where we can share those vulnerabilities – the highs and lows of being an artist.”

Read more: How The Shipwright offers a communal, collaborative approach to theatre

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Hackney Wick: How Samskara at The Yard explores black masculinity

Lanre Malaolu’s work deals with the generational ties that can hold men back from emotional vulnerability

Lanre Malaolu's Samskara returns to The Yard from June 27
Lanre Malaolu’s Samskara returns to The Yard from June 27

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I’m really starting to question what toxic masculinity means?” said Lanre Malaolu

“I think ‘masculinity’ is just ‘masculinity’ and it can’t be toxic by its nature, just like ‘femininity’ can’t be toxic. 

“Saying that is putting a taint on with a very broad stroke and going deeper is what I’m really interested in.”

The Hackney resident, writer, director and choreographer, accepts men aren’t as readily available to talk about their emotions, but he wants to know why.

“What is holding them back?” he said.

“What are the chains that we feel we need to hold? It’s a two-way street. Men feel that they need to be the breadwinner, protect and be the alpha to get along. 

“Why and where that has come from is what I’m interested in, rather than putting something under the broad stroke of ‘toxic masculinity’.”

His thoughts spill out in his show Samskara – an exploration of black masculinity, vulnerability, and the cycles of fatherhood.

It returns to The Yard in Hackney Wick from June 27 until July 23, 2022, following a sell-out premiere in 2021.

It is a fusion of storytelling, movement, hip-hop, dance and text performed by five actors who play four generations of black men named Silent Man, Father, Wisdom, Young Buck and Older.

Lanre wrote, directed and choreographed it and said: “I find with shows, I may think they’ve come from one idea but really it’s an amalgamation of different events, moments and emotions that I’ve experienced over and over again in my life and that I’m finally ready to talk about and channel into work.

“My father wasn’t consistently present growing up and we had a quite fractured relationship. 

“So I decided to sit down and really let him know how I felt.

“My voice was raised, my emotions were high because it’s been a crazy journey I’ve gone through growing up as a young boy into a man.

“I remember him listening, taking it in and then right at the end he apologised and said: ‘All I know is how my father was with me,’ and he started to speak about his upbringing. It was the first time I saw my dad as a son.”

Lanre drew on conversations with his father when writing the piece
Lanre drew on conversations with his father when writing the piece

Lanre began thinking about the generational cycles of fatherhood and what he wanted to pass on as a son and potential father.

He also began unpacking his interactions with other black men.

“There’s been conversations I’ve had with black men about black masculinity,” he said.

“There have been moments of no conversation, of walking down the street and nodding my head with another black man, something that is not really spoken about, but is so universally understood within the black male culture. 

“I started to think about what is behind that? There’s love, joy, a bit of fear and, at times, solidarity. I thought: ‘What if we explore all those things?’.

“I did a workshop in HMP Thameside prison some years ago where I was really faced  with the stark truth of what it is to be vulnerable as a black man. 

“The idea was to explore sensitivity and touch. Getting the men to do that in an environment that didn’t promote vulnerability in any way was a real challenge, but it also birthed moments of real honesty.”

Lanre believes there is an untapped pool of willingness to talk about emotions but men are held back.

He said: “Because of walking down the street and, at times, being seen as a threat, because of needing to be perceived as someone that is strong and has their shit together, we then put that armour up and people with armour are on battlefields and don’t talk about their emotions. So we condition ourselves not to.”

Working class Hackney in the 1990s was an environment full of men putting on a front. But Lanre found his way through.

“I wasn’t a street thug, but I knew those guys and I could have gone the other way,” he said.

“When you have low income, poverty and a government that doesn’t seem to care, then of course these things are going to happen.

“There were hard times, times of joy and you grow and learn and keep walking your way through. Faith was an important part of that.

“Not just religious, but faith that there’s always an ‘and’ never just a ‘but’. When I get pessimistic I always feel like there’s a way through.

“Hope is always there in these communities. It’s not just pain and struggle. You go into a Nigerian wedding, or a black party and the flow of joy, love and abundance is there.

“I want to make sure that I always talk about that. This show is going to have that because that’s what it means to be black and a black man. There’s so much joy.”

The show is Lanre's first work on stage with a full cast
The show is Lanre’s first work on stage with a full cast

He was “bouncing off the walls” as a kid, but found his joy through performing after his mum took him to the renowned Anna Scher Theatre school and he began booking jobs with the BBC and Channel 4.

In between classes, he and his friends would put on dance battles and Lanre co-founded company Protocol with the sole aim of performing at Breakin Convention.

They got their wish and more, when founder of the international hip-hop theatre festival Jonzi D “saw a spark” in them.

“They nurtured and cultivated it and then allowed us to kind of find our own continuous path,” said Lanre. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without that support.”

He went on to study at Drama Centre London, but left early to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and, as an actor, appeared at the Royal Court and in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks.

It was being chosen for The Old Vic 12 – a scheme to help developing artists ready to take the next step in their careers – which garnered him attention as an independent movement director and, five years ago, Protocol ended “with love” so he could focus on the opportunities coming his way.

“It turned out to be the best thing, because I needed that space to create my own strand as ‘Lanre Malaolu the artist’,” he said.

That has involved I Can’t Breathe, a response to the police killing of black man Eric Garner in 2014, Elephant In The Room in 2019, which explored mental and emotional health in black men, The Conversation, a 2019 short film on communicating racial experience to white partners, and The Circle, a 2020 documentary digging into the dynamics of brotherhood between black men.

Samskara is his first full-length show with a cast and he said it  “started without me knowing”.

 “I reached a point in my life where I was able to talk to my dad and then follow through with other black men in an honest way and just try and understand more,” he said.

“I didn’t interview him because I find that isn’t the best way to have valuable conversations with black men because that’s when the guards come up. 

“No matter what anyone says, you will be able to get more of the truth over a meal in Nando’s when the energy is right.

“I was watching, listening, seeing and mentally noting things and writing them down.

“I would be at my barbers where I’ve gone for 15 years and had so many conversations that I’m sure, in some way, have fed into the show.

“When the Samskara started to come together, I got these sharp, bursts of images and wrote them down.

“Then I started to think specifically about generations. I knew one character was going to be really young and think he could take on the world.

“One was going to be a father, one an older man who’s been weathered down. I started writing monologues for them, workshopped it for two weeks and, from that, it continued to build.”

Samskara runs at The Yard until July 23
Samskara runs at The Yard until July 23

He grew up a 15-minute walk from The Yard and said he was proud of how it had transformed over the years.

“They’ve changed and learnt and they’re really supporting artists to do their best work by giving space, really listening and putting their money where their mouth is,” he said. “I really respect and love that about them.”

He hopes Samskara will open up conversations and allow black men in the audience to see themselves in ways they haven’t been allowed to before. 

“I still have a lot of chains to break myself, but I am able to talk about my feelings and my emotions in a way that I wasn’t 10 years ago,” he said.

“Hopefully, I can say the same thing in another 10 years, because I’m a work in progress.

“Making the show has allowed me to really challenge myself whenever I have interactions with black men, because I know and understand the pain.

“I think it’s the fault of a lot of things. Eddie Marsden said something brilliant about how when young boys grow up, they think they can be superheroes. 

“Some men let go of that and some take it on and that’s what feeds into this feeling that they are able to have an upper hand on the female sex. It goes back to the things we are taught. That’s what this show is really about.

“What do we learn that we don’t even realize and how do we unpack and untangle and break those chains to move on? 

“How do we accept that things like vulnerability are ultimately the superhero strength for a man, a black man.”

  • Those aged 26 or younger can get £5 tickets on the door to all performances that are not sold out
  • There will be shows on July 15 and 22 for black men and ticketed banquets for the black community on July 1 and mixed audiences on July 7 to encourage conversation

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Fish Island: How From The Ashes BBQ rose to success from the desolation of lockdown

Co-founder Curtis Bell talks inspiration, meat and serving up pulled pork in a doughnut from his hatch

Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island
Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island – image James Perrin

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Fire can be a sudden spark that ignites with a burst or a softly glowing flame that slowly smoulders.

Curtis Bell has experienced both since founding barbecue business From The Ashes BBQ in June 2020 after just a few weeks of planning.

“It was just a burning desire,” said the Swansea-born chef, with no hint of a pun intended.

“My favourite thing was always to cook on the beach. Maybe it’s a primitive thing, but I have always just been drawn to the flame. I tried doing the posh stuff – fine dining – and it just isn’t me. 

“I just like the rawness of cooking in a very direct and simple way over the flames.”

Tucked behind a hatch on Fish Island, the takeaway experienced a rush of fame in lockdown, with its salty smoked pork served in sugary handmade doughnuts.

Customers were walking from as far as London Fields to queue for up to an hour. It was a success that took Curtis and his co-founders by surprise.

“It just exploded overnight and we were getting reviews and write-ups in the papers – we had to hire staff,” said Curtis.

“It was daunting, unexpected and an amazing thing to happen out of lockdown.”

The “we” is Frank Fellows and Martin Anderson, who Curtis met when he moved to the big smoke (pun very much intended), having landed a job at barbecue joint Temper in Soho.

Until then he had followed the recipes of another renowned restaurant, Pitt Cue, “like the bible” – bosses had even offered him a job, which he wound up turning down.

“I felt like it was ‘don’t meet your heroes’ and I wanted to keep it almost as a fantasy,” said the 29-year-old.

“By then they had gone from this really gritty, basement barbecue to this corporate steakhouse for City workers and it had kind of lost its magic.”

It is that hands-on flavour that Curtis loved and wanted to capture with From The Ashes.

That, he feels, is achieved by working directly with farmers such as Farmer Tom in Herefordshire and McDuff in Scotland to source meat.

Curtis at wok in the kitchen
Curtis at wok in the kitchen – image James Perrin

The team also does most of the butchery themselves in a tiny eight foot by six-foot kitchen, so they can stick to their whole animal approach.

“We make sausages from the legs and smoke down the necks and shoulders and bellies and then smoke the loin like a rib roast,” said Curtis.

“We get half cows and use the bones for stock and the fat for potatoes and trimmings for mince for a special. 

“It’s not only more cost effective, it’s also a much more efficient way to cook. I think everyone needs to be cooking like this.”

They launched the business thanks to a loan from his dad and a pig from Farmer Tom who said: “Pay me when you can”.

A friend made them a smoker from recycled parts, which they dubbed “The Piggy” and they began experimenting.

“The hardest thing is patience,” said Curtis. “From seasoning it right the way through, to resting it can be 12 hours and the temptation to get into it earlier is huge. 

“It does take its toll when you’re doing big events and have to start at 6am and go through until midnight. It’s endurance, stamina and hard work.

“Sometimes you cut into it and it’s overcooked. That’s disappointing, but I will braise it down and make a brisket ragu and try and make the best of a bad situation.

“We try to avoid as much wastage as possible.”

From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall
From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall – image James Perrin

So is it worth all the effort?

“Yes, I love it – all good things come to those who wait,” said Curtis.

“You can have a steak, which takes 15 minutes to cook, or a piece of rib, which has taken seven hours. I guarantee you will be way more satisfied with the latter.

“As much as my back hurts and my legs hurt, there is so much satisfaction in the joy it brings people.

“When you put all those hours in and it pays off watching those people bite into it – it’s just amazing.”

The chance to birth his own business came when he, Martin and Frank were made redundant during the pandemic.

Curtis and Frank opened a dark kitchen for fried chicken restaurant Coqfighter and decided they should “copy the formula” with barbecue.

“The person who was renting out the Coqfighter kitchen had one on Fish Island too and we went over and had a look at it and scrambled some money for the deposit and the first month’s rent, and in we went,” said Curtis.

Martin came on board and they spent four weeks testing out recipes, eventually landing on a doughnut filled with pulled pork as their signature dish, inspired by Black Axe Mangal restaurant in Islington.

“Lee Tiernan up there is a genius and did a duck liver parfait and prune doughnut which probably changed my whole life, it was that good,” said Curtis.

“We were just toying with ideas and one day ordered some really shit Tesco doughnuts and tried putting some pulled pork in the centre of it – it just worked with the sweet, savoury, salt, smoked fat.

“A lot of people are still very cautious but, because you have every sense in your mouth, it’s perfect.

“We put it on Instagram as a draw and it worked. It was a magnet and there was a time I couldn’t open Instagram without seeing my doughnut. 

“Some people may think of it as a gimmick and are not impressed, but I find that hilarious.”

A party in June 2020 with all their hospitality mates, kicked things off for the trio and they just began opening the hatch every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Del Piero doughnuts ready to go
Del Piero doughnuts ready to go – image James Perrin

“People started walking up  – it built momentum and, the next thing we knew, we had queues round the block,” said Curtis.

At the peak, he was waking at 6am on Saturdays to tend to the smoker and meats and start rolling and proving the 120 doughnuts they were selling a day.

Made over two days from a laminated enriched dough, they included sweet options such as custard in different flavours and dark chocolate Hennessy and hazelnut praline.

Other creations included a smoked pork bun with pickles, sriracha Marmite mayo, smoked garlic mayo and a slaw made with hispi cabbage, fennel, apple, lime juice, walnut, jalapeño dressing and gorgonzola sauce.

They quickly attracted queues, which stretched as far as the Premier shop on Roach Road with punters soaking up the sun and free shots handed out by Curtis.

“It was just a really special time and something I would love to relive again,” he said. “But we’re back in the real world now, sadly.”

Since London went back to business, Curtis has found himself having to stoke the flames of success in new directions.

Following their early success, From The Ashes landed spots at food venues Two Tribes Campfire in Kings Cross and Kerb Seven Dials.

And their summer has a full roster of festivals, events and private parties, including Bigfoot Festival, British Summertime, Bike Shed in Tobacco Dock, Big Grill Festival in Ireland, London Craft Beer Festival and Manchester Craft Beer Festival.

Frank left in October last year to work with his girlfriend at the cafe of local company Barkney Wick, but Curtis now has a team of seven chefs and said there is no such thing as a day off for him.

“The hatch will remain open and we want it to go from strength to strength,” he said.

“We’re looking to get an outside licence so we can have benches and seats.

From The Ashes cooks up a range of meats – image James Perrin

“We now sell some craft beers and park wines, perfect for a summer day when you’re sitting on the kerb eating barbecue.”

He’s also been implementing a huge shake-up of the menu to help with the business’ longevity.

“Now summer is coming, I’m changing the menu on a weekly basis,” he said. “I ring my farmers and see what’s available and create the menu around that.

“This weekend we have got some whole smoked chicken with some wild garlic pesto, an aged sirloin with horseradish cream and roasted beef fat.

“Last week I had an aged beef meatball sub with mozzarella, parmesan and wild garlic again. We’re going to become seasonal.”

Curtis said the founders had been a bit unsure of themselves as they tried to transition from their blaze of glory in lockdown to the more even tempered real world.

“It’s been daunting,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out what our dream is but I think it is to be a bit of a household name in London and keep on enjoying what we are doing.

“I just want to keep cooking outside and doing amazing pop-ups – happy and free. I don’t want to do anything too serious. I’ll never be the person who wants a big huge chain.”

Curtis said the pressure of running a small business was enough. They’ve never had any investors and are just about breaking even.

But with prices skyrocketing across the board, the profit margin is getting smaller.

“We are increasing our prices and I hope customers understand why we need to do that,” he said. 

“I think the next year will be incredibly tough on hospitality with everyone trying to save pennies.

“I can already feel the pressure, but hopefully, we can keep our heads above water and keep going and growing.”

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Hackney Wick: How Potters Thumb gives people the chance to play with clay

Potter Mark Ciavola talks ceramics, education and creating a new kind of porcelain out of waste glass

Pottery classes and services are offered by Potters Thumb -
Pottery classes and services are offered by Potters Thumb – image Matt Grayson

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I don’t immediately realise it, but as I raise the cup of tea to my lips at zero waste restaurant Silo in Hackney Wick, they’re touching an object conceived and created by the man sitting beside me.

Mark Ciavola is the ceramicist behind Potters Thumb, which offers clay-based classes and memberships at its studio space above the zero waste venue.

He also supplies it with its hand-thrown cups, from which we’re drinking and that’s not the only reciprocity, but more of that later.

Lamenting the shrinking presence of pottery in schools, he is determined to pass on the knowledge he’s accrued from a lifetime spent around ceramics.

“At a very early age I showed signs of interest and my parents saw that and guided me,” said Mark. In fact, it was his mother, Anna, who sadly died last year, who had the biggest influence on Mark.

“She forged a career as a potter at a time when the craft was dominated by men, teaching, nurturing and inspiring numerous others in their native Malta and seeing her work enter the island’s National Collection.

“I was fortunate to travel a lot with her, visiting potteries across the world, but mostly in Europe,” he said.

“So I had the pleasure of meeting all these potters in Greece, the UK and Italy.

“That included Phil Rogers in Wales who, along with my mother, took me under his wing. He’s been hugely influential in the contemporary ceramics world and has pieces in the British Museum and collections all over the world. 

“He suggested courses for me, so I went to Harrogate College where I did my national diploma, and then to Cardiff to do my degree.

“I’ve been so lucky to be able to learn new techniques and skills from potters such as Michael Casson and Terry and Beverly Bell-Hughes.”

Mark Ciavola of Potters Thumb in Hackney Wick
Mark Ciavola of Potters Thumb in Hackney Wick- image Matt Grayson

Having originally set up shop in Brighton, a lack of empathy from his landlord during the pandemic saw him return to Malta rather than take up the Government’s generous invitation to re-train in cyber.

His relocation to Hackney Wick came via a message from Silo owner Douglas McMaster, who he’d met and supplied when the restaurant was also based in Brighton. 

Offered the chance to create a new material in partnership with the restaurant (look left for more on this), he moved back to the UK, plugged the potters wheels and opened the doors.

“When I was working in Brighton I didn’t want to make pottery that was exclusive and unattainable for the general public,” said Mark.

“I wanted to get my work out to the people as quickly as possible and in abundance. 

“I was thinking of who would use crockery like that and that’s how I met Doug, through creating ceramics for Silo.

“I’ve been doing that ever since and for other restaurants and it’s snowballed from there. 

“Giving lessons is very important for me. It is part of the structure of pottery and keeps us sustainable as well so we can keep doing what we’re doing.

“Obviously we have a responsibility to spread this craft around – it’s a dying trade unless it is encouraged and there’s not much of that coming from the state at the moment, so it’s an uphill struggle. Nevertheless, I am determined to pursue it.” 

Mark works some clay on a wheel at Potters Thumb
Mark works some clay on a wheel at Potters Thumb – image Matt Grayson

Part of Mark’s drive to get more people handling clay is down to his belief in its wider benefits.

These, he said, extended beyond the creation of ceramics and spoke to fundamental things about what it means to be human.

“Personally it’s been doing me the world of good for about 37 years,” said Mark.

“I believe that in contrast to the fast-paced world that we live in now and, because we are more aware of our mental health and other sensitive topics which affect us, ceramics, clay, pottery is art therapy.

“It transports you, because working with clay involves so many of your senses – with your hand-eye coordination you’ve got this vision of the future, imagining your finished item while you’re still making it, the clay catching up with the line you’re seeing in the air, and all the while you’re touching and manipulating the material.

“It cuts you off and gives you that space that we all need. Today, humanity deliberately and consciously deprives itself of mental states that preserve our mental health.

“Crafts and art are slowly being cut from the curriculum of our schools, colleges and universities and there are cuts in funding because the Government doesn’t have any faith in the creative industries.

Cups ready for firing with Mark's mark
Cups ready for firing with Mark’s mark – image Matt Grayson

“Cooking, for example, used to involve 30 or 40 minutes of preparation and then the savouring of the food you’d made.

“Now it’s two and a half minutes in the microwave and a plate in front of the laptop.

“With pottery, people feel they’ve missed out and they want to come and experience it and practise it.

“As children, no-one teaches us how to play with playdough – it’s just given to us and instinctively we know what to do. It’s something in our DNA and, even as adults, our primal instincts are alive and kicking. 

“Pottery gives us a sense of satisfaction that we’re able to do something and this gives us energy to pursue other goals.

“That’s why we’re giving lessons here with heart, in a creative comfortable spot where you don’t need to invest heavily in machinery in kilns or materials.

“You can come here and use them. I really want to share my experiences, help develop other people’s creativity and pass on this dying craft to others.

“Thankfully ceramics is getting more publicity with TV shows like The Great Pottery Throw Down and an increasing number of people are getting interested in it as it becomes more mainstream.

“But the best thing about it is that it’s a great way to escape the madness we’re living in today.”

Potters Thumb offers a variety of classes and workshops at its studio, based in the White Building at Hackney Wick. These include sessions on hand building techniques (from £35) and wheel throwing (from £55).

Memberships to use the studio are also available (from £150), with kiln firing services also available.

Silo's Doug McMaster with Mark of Potters Thumb
Silo’s Doug McMaster with Mark of Potters Thumb – image Matt Grayson

Finding a greener way to deal with glass

Douglas founded Silo with the premise that the restaurant would operate without a bin, producing no waste.

So he’s enlisted Mark’s help in a project to create a new material from the single-use glass that flows through the venue to improve its environmental impact.

He said: “From day one that was always the headache.

Even when recycling it you need pure silica to make new bottles and that’s the best case scenario. 

“The other problem is that systemically used glass doesn’t end up where it should – getting into parks, canals and landfill, where it takes thousands of years to break down and does a whole lot of environmental damage.

But there isn’t really a better way to get all these wonderful liquids here, so I approached Mark about using it as a raw material.”

Mark said: “No good potter would ever throw away decent material – clay is a gift from Mother Nature so we treat it with respect.

I looked at this problem with a ceramacist’s hat on, rather than as a glassmaker.

There’s silica in both glass and clay and that was the catalyst to find a solution and marry up these two materials. 

“We crush the bottles, pound them until the particles are the size we can manipulate and then mould it as glass porcelain.

There’s lots of experimenting, but we can turn this into something useful. We’re working on flat objects at the moment like tiles and plates.”

Watch this space.

A piece made in the new material by Mark – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s new play at The Yard Theatre

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Hackney Wick: How An Unfinished Man explores spirituality and mental health

Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play tells two truths and is set to be performed at The Yard theatre in Hackney Wick

An Unfinished Man is set to play at The Yard theatre

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On a chilly January morning, playwright, poet and filmmaker Dipo Baruwa-Etti stands on a boundary in Southwark.

Two things are true. He is standing in front of a red wall. He is standing in front of a blue wall. Neither statement tells the whole story, but neither is false.

To his right the property is painted a vibrant scarlet. To his left, an expanse of eggshell stretches away. He’s on a line between two places, two different ways of looking at the world.

His positioning is fortunate because his latest play – An Unfinished Man, set to run for a month at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick – is an attempt to explore how conflicting viewpoints can coexist and be equally valid, and his physical positioning in front of the camera is a convenient visual metaphor.

Audiences going to see his work may wish to reflect that the theatre is also close to a divide – the line between Tower Hamlets and Newham, the borough where Dipo was born and grew up, living first in North Woolwich and then in Stratford where he’s based today.

“The play is about a man called Kayode who’s been unemployed for seven years, and his mum and a pastor come in and tell him he was cursed as a child, and that’s why he’s unemployed, so they set about reversing the curse through a prayer ceremony,” said Dipo. 

“His wife thinks he’s just going through a mental breakdown and that the ceremony is going to make it worse.

“So it becomes a clash between Western and West African views on his mental health and his situation and, in the middle is Kayode, who’s trying to find out what the truth is and what his path forward should be.

“I have Nigerian heritage and in Yoruba culture if there’s something wrong or not happening in your life, you pray or sometimes have dreams about it and I found that spirituality really interesting.

“I believe in it, but to what extent is there still truth in it? How much is it society and how much is it a spiritual battle?

“Everyone around Kayode has all these answers about what he should be doing and what he’s going through. I guess the question I’m asking is whether there’s a true answer when it comes to mental health, unemployment, faith, spirituality, visions and witchcraft in particular?

“That’s what prompted me when I spoke to Jay Miller (artistic director at The Yard) about the idea in 2018 and I’ve been working on it since then.”

Dipo is a playwright, director and poet
Dipo is a playwright, director and poet – image Matt Grayson

An Unfinished Man was originally scheduled for performance in 2020, but the pandemic delayed things. On the morning we meet, Dipo tells me rehearsals, which are now in full swing at the Jerwood Space, should have started 665 days ago.

In the meantime however, he’s been busy, working as Channel 4 Playwright on attachment to the Almeida Theatre and, more recently, seeing his work The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East in June last year.  

Softly spoken, with a wellspring of considered, creative energy bubbling through him, he said he wasn’t one for detailed plot planning. I tend to go straight into the writing process – I don’t research around what I’m writing until after a first draft,”  he said.

“For An Unfinished Man, what I did immediately was write something based on instinct, on who I knew these characters to be and the situation.

“Then, after that I started having conversations with people who are working on it with me, through a series of workshops with actors, bringing people in to talk about the idea, about the concept and the questions they may have.

“All those questions and thoughts continue to challenge my perspective on what I think the story is.

“Not many people read the first draft – just Jay at The Yard and two friends. I think now rehearsals have begun we’re on draft 12.

“So I’m constantly letting the story evolve, based on questions I’ve had and thoughts that people have given me.

“That might be from comments that actors have made even if they don’t know they’re making them, if it triggers me to have a new thought.

“Because there has been this two-year gap, we’ve had the chance to interrogate and live with the material for a bit longer than usual.

“Mostly in this case that’s about making cuts – we’re in a good place with it. The play hasn’t changed that much since 2020, but it’s got tighter and tighter and that’s been great.”

Dipo is prolific, regularly working on multiple projects at once.

As a writer-director his film The Last Days (BFI Network/BBC/Tannahill Productions) starring Adjoa Andoh and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn had its UK premiere in August and he has projects in development with Blueprint Pictures, ITV Studios and Duck Soup Films.

“There was one day when I said I was going to be a writer, – my mum asked: ‘Why?’.” he said. “I was 15, I hadn’t written anything, but I loved reading stuff and watching TV and films, although I hadn’t seen that much.

“But that’s what I said I was going to do. I was part of a drama club in secondary school, so I was always aligned with creative theatre, but I performed in stuff rather than wrote it, because you don’t really do that then.

“The first thing I wrote was a TV script. I got my mum to buy me a bunch of screenwriting books, read them all and then I wrote 12 episodes of a show, called Secrets, Lies And Deceit – a drama, set in London, about a group of teenagers.

“My first five years of writing was really training – no-one ever saw the scripts. I wrote maybe 50 in that time because I just wanted to learn how to do it. That’s when I started writing plays, five years after deciding to become a writer.

“I actually went through and deleted all of the scripts I wrote as a teenager last year – although I have a record of the titles – because I don’t want anyone to ever see them. I think they’re just terrible.

“For anyone who’s considering becoming a writer, the only advice I have is to find stories you’re actually interested in telling because the path is really hard.

“I got my work seen through sending it out, submitting pieces to competitions.

“But I’ve also done lots of behind-the-scenes work in theatres and TV where I got to know people and took their advice. It’s often really about who you end up knowing and who can help you.

“If you’re writing by yourself without anyone challenging you or questioning what you’re doing, then it’s really hard to improve.”

While Dipo is engaged in many different kinds of writing, he’s especially drawn to the stage.

“What’s exciting is that live interaction with the audience – making them feel part of the narrative,” he said.

“That’s so important to me – that they are suspending their disbelief in such an interesting way and how you can play with the form.

“While I was interested in film before theatre, I’ve realised that plays are the medium at its purest and you don’t have to fit the conventions in the same way.

“I only ever write for myself – it’s an outlet – so if a play doesn’t happen it doesn’t really upset me. It’s not important whether someone sees it or not. 

“But when an actor says the words I’ve written, it changes. It becomes something bigger, something I want an audience to see, more than just words I’ve put on a page.

“It feels like a story that’s important to the room and the people who are listening to it.

“Actors bring my work to life and they put their own interpretation on it. It becomes something physical and that’s when I want people to see it.

“With An Unfinished Man, we did the first workshop in May 2019 and one of the actors said to me that the play made them want to start a conversation about the themes and questions it raises.

“That’s the response I want. I hope people watching the play will start to think about the ideas – in this case about explorations of faith and spirituality alongside mental health and depression.

“For me it’s about people having those conversations, particularly among the black community, saying: ‘This is what I believe – can our beliefs align?

“Are we going to be on the same page?’. It’s about the interrogation of those questions. Sometimes I believe Kayode is in a mental health situation and sometimes I believe it’s a curse.

“I don’t think you can ever fully know and that’s what’s interesting. Both explanations are true.

“I’m not trying to give answers and I never want people to think that the writer’s view is the right one.

“It’s about what the audience thinks and however they respond to the play.

“What’s important to me is to keep making the work that I want to make, that’s truthful to my voice. I’m not too fixed on what I want to create, but I do want to be proud of the body of work.”

Read more: Discover Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long at Wilton’s

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Hackney Wick: Telford Homes’ Stone Studios show home dressed for creativity

Scheme beside the station is designed to stand out from the crowd as regeneration continues apace

An image of Telford Homes group sales director Simon Halfhide
Telford Homes group sales director Simon Halfhide

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Homes in Hackney Wick are in demand. Part of that is its location. It’s enclosed by the River Lee Navigation canal, the sweep of the A12 and the Hertford Union Canal to the south. Those human-made barriers set it, and its close neighbour Fish Island, apart.

While bordered by both Victoria Park and the Queen Elizabeth Park, this narrow sliver of formerly industrial land is part of neither, although increasingly connected thanks to an expanding network of bridges.

Festooned with graffiti and home to a punchy, artistic, rebellious waterside community, the latest chapter in its regeneration is the emergence of a thriving residential neighbourhood. 

Telford Homes is among the developers to have seen the potential – a place that’s well connected thanks to its Overground station, that can dip in to all the amenities of Stratford, Hackney, Dalston and Islington but retains its own identity.

Little wonder then that the company’s Stone Studios development in Wallis Road has proved popular.

Image showing a balcony and courtyard at Stone Studios
Some properties at Stone Studios are arranged around a courtyard

While 80% of the 110 properties available have sold, canny buyers should pay attention to Telford’s Black Friday offer to pay the stamp duty on any home reserved between November 26 and December 12.

The developer has also launched a three-bedroom show home to suggest how the spaces it’s creating might be used. 

Telford Homes group sales director Simon Halfhide said: “Everybody is talking about the effect that the pandemic has had on the property sector.

“One of the things we’re finding is that people who are coming to us are spending more time at home.

“They want to be able to get from A to B, but they may live a little bit further out.

“We’ve noticed over the summer people with their laptops out working on their balconies. With this show home at Stone Studios, the third bedroom is dressed as a study.

“That’s part of the mix people are looking for at the moment. Buyers aren’t just looking in a particular postcode – they put a pin in where they work, draw a radius and look around that.

“The purchasers here have been in their late 20s to mid-30s, often working in IT or finance.  They might spend their time at work being sensible and then here they can let their hair down. It’s a very trendy area, very hipster. 

“There are some fantastic restaurants whether that’s Cornerstone, which has a Michelin star, or burgers at one of the pubs and bars along the canal.

“You’ve got that great blend and residents can also easily go to Westfield Stratford City if they want that kind of shopping or enjoy the open space of the parks.

“It really is different and Stone Studios reflects that – the properties we have here aren’t all the same.

“That’s partly something the show flat illustrates – the approach isn’t what Telford normally does but we felt we really needed to stand out here as there is a lot of competition in the area.”

Interior designer Rachel Battais

To that end, Telford handed responsibility for dressing the show home to Rachel Battais

With a career that’s seen her work at Harrods, with high-end specialist Argent Design and more recently at Rachel Winham Interior Design, Rachel launched her eponymous business in May.

She said: “The inspiration for the interior was the local area. Hackney Wick is a very lively and vibrant place – there are a lot of artists. I’ve included a lot of quirky pieces, crafted plates on the wall and oversize bespoke artwork that recalls the graffiti in Hackney Wick, which is one of my favourite pieces. 

“There’s an element of mixing old and new. I start by collecting images and creating an overall vibe. Then each room has an individual style that relates to that.

“There are lots of things I like – I’m in love with the painting in the main room, but my favourite thing about the scheme is the vintage pieces I’ve included, whether it’s the antique cameras, the furniture bought from local antique shops or a wooden tennis racket.

“With older pieces people are often really passionate about the objects they have and you get a bit of the history. This one dates from 1905 and it was used at Wimbledon.”

Image show's the Stone Studios show home's third bedroom
The show home’s third bedroom has been dressed as a study

Properties at Stone Studios include plenty of modern attractions including floor-to-ceiling windows, Ter Hurne Avatara flooring throughout and fitted kitchens with onyx grey units and stone worktops. 

Split into two blocks, one with a sizeable landscaped central courtyard, the development boasts a concierge service and is located more or less adjacent to Hackney Wick station. 

Homes come in one, two and three-bedroom configurations with prices starting at £500,000.

Telford Homes has a long history of successful schemes in east London and beyond and was recently named the UK’s most sustainable developer for the second year running by Next Generation’s 2021 benchmarking report.

Read more: Discover Wood Wharf warehouse-style homes at 8 Harbord Square

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