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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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BY LAURA ENFIELD

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.”

Read more: How Squid Markets is bringing street food and fresh produce to Canada Water Market

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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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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Fish Island: How Rewritten rewrote the rules on sustainable bridesmaids’ dresses

Katie Arnott and Fran Cookson started their brand, which now offers a bridal collection too

Rewritten founders Fran and Katie
Rewritten founders Fran, left, and Katie – image Matt Grayson

The story of Rewritten has, at its heart, a friendship. Katie Arnott had been working at then emerging jewellery brand Astley Clarke for about four years when she was assigned as a buddy to incoming head of communications Fran Cookson.

Despite being in different teams, the pair worked closely, becoming good friends over the next four years when one night, over several glasses of wine, inspiration struck.

“We were both getting married and we couldn’t find nice, cool, contemporary bridesmaids’ dresses for adults,” said Fran.

“We’d asked our friends where they’d been shopping for them and were told there were only traditional, old-fashioned shops – we saw this gap in the market and decided to launch a bridesmaid’s dress brand.

“We always knew we wanted to do our own thing and between us we thought we had the right skill set. Katie understood retail and operations and I had a background in fashion design as well as marketing.

“We put a business plan together and approached Virgin for a business startup loan in 2016 and that’s how we founded Rewritten.”

startup

“We’ve nearly finished paying back that loan,” said Katie. “Applying for it was really good for us because we had no idea what we were doing at all. 

“We’d never started a business so we didn’t have a clue how to write a plan for one. Doing that really forced us to sit down and look at so many different aspects of the company. 

“We put this huge document together, applied and got accepted straight away. Virgin has been very supportive over the years. We have often gone back and done talks there because they have lots of entrepreneurs and startups going though their programme.”

Rewritten Bridesmaid
Brookyln Dress in Olive Green, £140

styles

“We started with four colours and four styles, and now we have around 14 colours and 10-12 styles,” said Fran who designs Rewritten’s products.

“We’ve grown quite a lot as a brand and we have a wholesale channel as well, so we have stockists around the UK and internationally.

“We sell mainly through our showroom appointments and we’re fully booked until August as well as selling a lot online.

“We’re quite a disruptive brand, in that we were really the first ones to do a wide range of colours and sizes and styles available digitally, which wasn’t really a thing before in this market. 

“The bridal industry is very old fashioned although it is changing. Traditionally bridesmaids’ dresses would be very generic and really expensive – £300 per dress – that’s a huge amount of money if you have eight to buy. 

“Many were prom-style – it was almost a joke category and that’s what we wanted to change.

“The question we ask is: ‘Why can’t you wear a really cool dress or a jumpsuit as a bridesmaid – something that you could potentially wear again?’. We call it sustainable bridesmaid-wear – the idea is that this no longer a ‘single use’ industry.

“Women’s fashion is one of the biggest environmental offenders and bridesmaids’ dresses are a big part of that – they’re relegated to the back of the wardrobe and we wanted to change that, making pieces you want to buy and wear, whether that’s different styles in the same colour or the same dress in a wide range of sizes. 

“When we started, this approach didn’t even exist and people really enjoyed that autonomy rather than being told they had to wear a horrible dress.”

Rewritten Bridesmaids
Rewritten can provide different dresses in identical colours

showroom

Having originally opened its doors in Tottenham, the brand has relocated to Fish Island in Hackney Wick, with premises that cater for its shipping operations and, crucially, customers who want to try dresses on.

“We make the whole thing really special with private fitting appointments and we open at the weekends too,” said Fran.

“People can come in as a group, have a glass of Prosecco and it’s a really lovely experience.

“It’s our clients with their mates having a trying on session – and our frosted glass makes it very private. Hackney Wick is such a cool area, with all the bars and restaurants around here – we have a blog on our website that tells visitors where the best places to go for brunch or a drink are and people really make a day of it.”

sustainability

Katie said: “We’re trying to change the preconception that weddings are about single-use fashion. Our brand is about rewriting the rules.

“We had to apply for our space at The Trampery in Fish Island – they were looking for sustainable fashion brands and we are one of the six founder members here. 

“We’re not saying we’re perfect but we’re really striving to make a lot of changes, using recycled fabrics and making a lot of the collection in London as well as only making dresses when people order them which is a sustainable way of manufacturing.”

Rewritten Bridal
Rewritten’s bridal collection includes Simone Dress, £575

spreading

Rewritten recently launched its first bridal collection, made entirely from organic and recycled fabrics in response to demand from fans of the pieces in its core collection.

“We’re quite a London-centric brand at present so we’d like to become a lot bigger in the UK,” said Fran. “We’ve been looking at Manchester and we also have a lot of Irish brides, so Dublin could be an option too.

“In terms of sustainability we want to have the whole collection made in recycled fabrics by the beginning of 2023 and that’s partly about changing people’s mindsets about what that means, educating our customers. Our bridal collection really shows that – it’s affordable and the dresses could really be worn again.”

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