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Isle Of Dogs: How Canary Garden is bringing some life to land beside South Quay Plaza

The newly opened market hosts a cafe, food stalls, a florist and workshop facilities beside the dock

Canary Garden is located on South Quay overlooking Canary Wharf

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One of the criticisms levelled at regenerated parts of London is that they can lack atmosphere.

Crisply manicured parks might look great as the promise of “public realm” is dangled before planning officials.

But the Isle Of Dogs is littered with odd chunks of land that don’t really do anything. Perhaps there’s a tiny kids playground, a few benches, a fountain or a sculpture.  

So it was with a paved area of dockside waterfront on the corner adjacent to Sierra Quebec Bravo (a rebrand from the rather unimaginative South Quay Building) and South Quay Plaza’s Hampton Tower.

Despite its impressive views over West India South Dock towards Canary Wharf and Wood Wharf, this neatly finished open space had no obvious function – other than as a thoroughfare for pedestrians enjoying a waterside walk east, before diverting down to Marsh Wall to cross the Millwall Cutting bridge.

Canary Garden’s Oscar Tang

Enter Canary Garden founder Oscar Tang, local resident and entrepreneur.

“My wife Nadine and I live in one of the towers at South Quay Plaza and one of the things we’ve observed is that people have started to move in after the pandemic and the demographic is ever-changing,” he said.

“There are younger people from every corner of the world coming to the Island, but we’ve also found there are not many activities going on.

“The developers have built this infrastructure for a high density of residents, but not necessarily the amenities – there’s not much feeling of community.

“That’s why we thought it would be good to do something.”

Thus Canary Garden was born, a project to inject some life into an underused patch of land that’s just about to get into its stride. 

Part cafe, part farm shop, part florist and part street food market, Oscar’s vision has arrived in the form of a series of greenhouse-like structures and wooden kiosks that will offer an array of attractions.

 “We thought this place was really under-used and it could be much more fun – that’s where it all started,” he said. 

“During Christmas we started to test out a few things to see what the neighbourhood was interested in and what people wanted.

“The immediate local area can be awfully boring at weekends – even the Pret is closed on Saturday and Sunday or after 4pm or 5pm on weekdays.

“We wanted to make this somewhere people could bring their family for a chilled out session and to enjoy a bit of sunshine, hopefully.

Florafind sells bouquets and offers floristry workshops

“We often go out to the countryside for a bit of freshness, a change of mood from the concrete city.

“That’s what we wanted to create here at Canary Garden.

“It’s based on wooden structures because we really wanted to build this as a reflection of nature.

“One of the disadvantages of living in an apartment in a city is that you don’t have a back yard and nowhere outdoors to spend time.

“At Hampton Tower there are 56 storeys, 2,000 people living on-site, but there is not much around the area – why not create something like a backyard?

“The idea is not too complicated.”

Already in place is a cafe, with indoor seating spread through three greenhouse-like structures.

Also up and running is Florafind, a florist offering bouquets and workshops.

Then there are a series of pine food kiosks which, from this month, will offer an array of culinary delights.

“We will have five food traders in total,” said Oscar.

“We’ve picked them from all across London and have tried to create a theme – at the moment the focus will be on oriental dishes.

“Each will celebrate a different cooking technique or niche dish.

“The first has a focus on the marination of ingredients, for example.

“The second will serve a particular type of noodles from the Chinese city of Suzhou, which is close to Shanghai.

“It’s a very traditional soup dish with one kind of noodle, two kinds of base, three kinds of topping.

Richly flavoured vegetarian noodles from Lu at Canary Garden

“The third will be Hong Kong street food, cooked by a lovely couple who graduated a few years ago and started their own business to bring the younger generation’s understanding of the cuisine there over to the UK.

“Then, the fourth will be a halal barbecue – who doesn’t like that over the summer with a bit of drink? 

“Finally, we will also have a rotating trailer spot, where we’ll have guest traders when we sense there is a seasonal thing people might want.

“The next will be serving Malaysian cuisine with laksa on offer.”

With matcha brownies at the cafe, already a firm favourite, readers could be forgiven for thinking that Canary Garden is simply a food hall with great views and plenty of outdoor space.

But Oscar’s vision for the site is wider.

“We also intend to host other workshops and events including afternoon teas,” said Oscar.

“We’re already in touch with other organisers to see what we can include.

“That might include calligraphy, watercolour painting and aromatherapy.

“We’re also looking at theoretical beekeeping without the insects.

“We’re also working in partnership with the Wutian Martial Art Institute, which is based around the corner, so when the weather is warmer their kids can come and enjoy the outdoor space and do some activities.”

While separate entities, recent arrival Theatreship and forthcoming arrival Artship, will be neighbours to Canary Garden – something Oscar believes fits well with what it offers. 

“We have collaborated and for me, I call it toothbrush and toothpaste – two things that go together very well,” he said. “It works perfectly for their audiences.” 

key details

Canary Garden’s cafe is currently open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30am-5.30pm. Food stalls are open from noon-8pm.

Group workshops at Florafind take place on Saturdays and Wednesdays and cost £90 per person for two hours.

Times vary and refreshments are included. Children’s workshops are available too and start at £55. 

Find out more about Canary Garden here

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

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How They’ll Never Close The Docks offers entertainment and an education as it arrives at The Space

Steven Shawcroft’s latest play is set to be performed by SpaceWorks, the venue’s company

Playwright and performer Steven Shawcroft of SpaceWorks

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“The title is a tribute to former SpaceWorks member Albert Lechley – a born and bred East Ender and stand-up performer who is sadly no longer with us,” said Steven Shawcroft.

“One of his things that he believed was that they’d never close the docks – and it was a real shock when it actually happened.

“It was something he wanted to explore in a show, but never got the chance to talk about properly.

“Knowing his style of performance, the SpaceWorks group and its performers’ capabilities, I thought we should try and see what we could come up with.”

SpaceWorks is the in-house participatory theatre company at The Space on the Isle Of Dogs, which offers anyone interested in developing performance skills or gaining backstage experience a safe and supportive environment to try new things, meet new people and get creative.

It runs workshops and regular Monday evening sessions as well as staging a number of productions over the year.

Its latest show, They’ll Never Close The Docks, is set to run for three performances over April 5 and 6, 2024.

Written by Steven, under the pen name George Leyland, it’s directed by The Space’s artistic director Adam Hemming and promises audiences tales drawn from a 200-year period.

“The basic premise of the play is a rough history of the docks, their opening and growth in the 1800s and their eventual closure in the 1980s, with the recurring theme being the locals’ belief that the industry would always be there,” said Steven, a former pupil at George Green’s School on the Island.

“To do that I’ve written a select number of scenes – there’s no way we could squeeze all of that history into an hour, so we’ve been quite specific, making sure they are relevant to the docks.

“I’ve always been fascinated by East End history, having been born and grown up in Poplar and going to school on the Isle Of Dogs.

“I’m just about old enough to remember Canary Wharf going up, but not old enough to remember anything before that.

“My hope is that people enjoy watching the play and that there’s enough of a message in it for people to take away something of what was here before.

“This area is such a melting pot so there will be people with varying degrees of knowledge of it and its history. 

“It’s intended as a reminder for people who have lived through some of it and a bit of an education for others who aren’t so familiar with the area.

“There are some heavier moments, but it’s still quite a light piece.

“We’re trying to get a bit of a sense that things do change.”

Steven has been an on-off member of SpaceWorks for about 14 years, performing in multiple productions as well as writing works for the venue and other theatres.

“The company was in its infancy when I joined in 2010, having been going a couple of years,” he said.

“It was just putting on its first proper production, a play by Shakespeare, which was a big undertaking with a lot of people – but we managed to get through it.

“That’s really the spirit of the group – no matter what we are given, we all come together and push through to the other side.”

This common drive reflects, perhaps, the strength of community captured in Steven’s work, which will be brought to life by a largely local cast and creative team.

Michelle Sansom is set to appear in the production

“Not all of them are originally from east London, but a lot of them work in Canary Wharf, so they’re interested in the history as well, which is good,” said Michelle Sansom, one of the actors who will appear in the production and who has also been with SpaceWorks for more than a decade. 

“One of the things that strikes me about the play, which Steven has been able to capture, is that, although there have been changes, some things are still the same.

“It talks about the dockers going on strike for more pay, but the people in charge failing to understand their demands – that was back in the 1800s, so some things never change.

“The spirit of the people comes through really well in the play, and that’s always been the case for places like the docks, where people work together.

“I’m in the first scene as a docker, playing opposite Emma Fayter.

“My character has earned enough money to not work for a couple of days, which is unusual, but he’s feeling quite agitated.

“It shows general dock life in 1820 – he’s been working on the docks all his life and will never be able to do anything else – but the expectation is he won’t need to.

“The scene portrays the uncertainty of the time – back then, coins were tossed out and, if you got one, you had a job for that day.

“My character likes his mates and he likes his rum.

“Personally, I grew up in Cable Street and I now live in Newham – I’m proud to come from the East End and I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years.

“I find the history fascinating.”

Emma Fayter will also perform in They’ll Never Close The Docks

Emma joined SpaceWorks just before Steven and Michelle, coming along initially to keep a friend company who was connected with the venue.

She said: “I am really grateful that I did because it transformed my life. I hadn’t done any acting before, except for one play in school, and I messed that up. 

“But it’s been brilliant and I’ve stuck with it ever since – I think I’ve missed only a couple of performances over the years.

“I love the sense of community, it’s really inclusive – there’s a great mix of ages and cultures.

“I moved to the Island in the 1980s before Canary Wharf and the DLR were here.

“I didn’t know much about the history of the island when I came here, and it had a quite derelict feel about it.

“We bought our first house on the island – they had a scheme to hold down the prices because we were council tenants in Stepney, so we got a good deal.

“I have a couple of roles in They’ll Never Close The Docks.

“I’m playing opposite Michelle in the first scene and we have a blokey kind of relationship. 

“We do care about each other but there’s a bit of a rift because I haven’t been into work. 

“There are a lot of layers to the play and people can see the unspoken side of their relationship.

“Then I’m in a later scene as a strong woman with an old-school husband who just wants to watch football and not do anything else.

“There’s also a young girl, who she babysits in the scene, and they support each other in standing up to the men.

“It’s at the time of the Brixton Riots and my character is talking about how we ought to do something to support them.”

Steven added: “Going over all the history it was really about picking out moments.

“Certain events do blend into each other – the docks were finally closed just before the riots, for example.

“Then there was the time the Port Of London Authority brought all the docks together, which was happening at the same time as the Suffragette movement, so there are references to that as well. 

“There’s also a post-Blitz scene in an Isle Of Dogs pub with songs to lighten things up.

“I was concerned it might be too corny, but the Queenie Watts documentary confirms this was basically what people were doing.

“I’ve written the show as a reflection of the area and I hope that comes across in the show itself.” 

diary dates

They’ll Never Close The Docks is at The Space on April 5 and 6, 2024, with shows at 7.30pm on both days and also at 3pm on the Saturday.

Audiences can choose between tickets costing £10, £15 or £20. The play will also be streamed online.

Find out more about They’ll Never Close The Docks here

Read more: Why MadeFor office space in Canary Wharf is a vital part of its offering

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How The Lord Nelson pub is starting a new chapter with Cara Venn

Bow-born licensee has taken over venue following a £220,000 refurbishment by brewer Heineken

The Lord Nelson on Manchester Road is set for its official reopening on February 24, 2024

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“It will be a very sports-led pub – a community hub – somewhere everyone can enjoy coming,” said Cara Venn.

“That’s what I want to bring to the Isle Of Dogs. We’ll be playing all the sports, with new screens installed showing Sky and TNT.” 

It’s a vision that fits well with The Lord Nelson’s history.

Built in 1855, linked to Bethnal Green’s Charrington Brewery, the pub once served as the headquarters of Millwall Rovers (now Millwall FC) who played their games at the neighbouring Lord Nelson Ground from 1886-1890 and used the boozer to change into their kit.

Fast forward 134 years, and Cara’s tenure is set to mark the latest chapter in the story of the pub that stands on the corner of East Ferry Road and Manchester Road.

Now owned by Star Pubs And Bars – part of Heineken UKThe Lord Nelson has spent the start of 2024 undergoing extensive refurbishment and is set to officially mark its reopening on February 24. 

Born and raised in Bow, Cara has moved in above the pub as its new licensee, building on a career she embarked on as a teenager.

“I’ve always worked in pubs since the age of 16, first as part-time jobs,” she said.

“I’m a bit of a workaholic – I’ve often had three jobs, working in offices and film studios – random stuff. 

“When Covid hit, I lost all my jobs. Then pubs started opening up – it was the only work available, so I thought I’d look at it properly.

Cara Venn, The Lord Nelson’s new licensee

“I had so much experience to build on and I ended up managing The Full Nelson in Deptford – which was a vegan bar serving cocktails and food. 

“That was great, but I left because I decided I wanted to join a chain company.

“You learn so much on the job, but if you join a bigger firm, you get training too and I wanted to understand every aspect of the industry, including back-of-house stuff.

“I wanted to do it properly and to find out about becoming a licensee. 

“Over the past four years I’ve been general manager for a number of pubs in London and now I’ve taken on one of my own.”

Cara’s CV includes time in charge of The Chandos in Brockley and the Three Compasses in Hornsey. She left that venue for Star’s Just Add Talent programme – which matches prospective licensees with pubs – and has presided over The Lord Nelson’s refit.

“The idea is you get your own pub, be your own boss – it’s like being a general manager, but you also get major support from Heineken and it felt like a natural progression for me,” said Cara.

“I’ve always wanted to run my own place and I’m ready to do it.

“I went for it and ended up getting The Lord Nelson. 

“They give you a list of all the pubs they have available in the country and, because east London is my home town, I thought this one would be ideal for me. 

“The pub is wet-led, which I think is a great place to get started and the plan is to take on some more pubs once I’ve progressed with this one. 

“This is going to be my baby. I wanted to go back to east London because it’s home to me and I’m passionate about the community.”

Cara has big plans for the venue and is eager to welcome locals old and new.

She said: “The refurbishment has gone really well – it was a tired looking pub and needed a lot of work.

“With Heineken investing £220,000, I feel like it’s a place people will be proud of and want to come into.

“As well as the sports, we’ll have a programme of continuous entertainment.

“I want to do quizzes, live music, burlesque nights – I feel like there will be an appetite for all of this. 

The Lord Nelson has had an extensive refit inside and out

I also want local people to come in and chat with me so I can listen to what they want.

“I want to do charity events and make it a fun pub that’s a proper boozer.

“It’s looking beautiful and I want it to be really, really busy, for everyone to come together here.

“I also have budgets to spend on hosting our own darts and pool teams – I want to sponsor local sports teams too, so get in touch.

“Living above the pub, it will be 24-7 – but this is my home and I’m really excited.”

While the pub has already opened for a soft launch, Saturday February 24’s opening party marks the start of a new era at the pub. 

“Everyone is welcome to come,” said Cara. It will already be a busy day with the Six Nations games taking place and Arsenal on as well. 

“Then, later on we’ll be having a live band called the Bear Pit – it’s going to be a big palaver.”

After that, the business is set to get into the swing of things with regular drinks offers including buy one, get a half free on Mondays and happy hour offers from Tuesday to Friday.

The venue also has a 24-seat garden, with Cara pushing for an outdoor screen in time for the warmer months.

“I can’t wait to see people sitting out there and having a good time,” said Cara.

“I can’t wait to welcome my new neighbours in.”

Find out more about The Lord Nelson here

The pub boasts a dart board, a pool table and a beer garden

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How Ballet Nights is set to return for its first east London show in 2024

Gala platform for ballet and contemporary dance is set for February dates at Lanterns Studio Theatre

Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke of The Royal Ballet will perform

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“Our story continues” is the strapline for the latest evening of dance to come to Lanterns Studio Theatre on the Isle Of Dogs.

Building on three editions at the east London venue, which took place between September and November last year, Ballet Nights is set to return for a fourth iteration over two nights on February 23 and 24, 2024.

Having already set a predecent for drawing some of the best dancers in the world to the Island, the latest programme continues in similar vein with performers from the English National Ballet and Studio Wayne McGregor on the bill. 

But perhaps chief among the attractions will be Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke, both pincipal dancers at The Royal Ballet.

The pair will perform twice on each of the gala-style evenings, presenting Spring Waters Pas De Deux to cap off a packed first half and Balcony Pas De Deux from Romeo And Juliet to round off the evening. 

“It’s the format that makes the Ballet Nights concept special,” said Jamiel Devernay-Laurence, the shows’ artistic director and producer.

“For audiences who are unfamiliar with dance, it’s a really good way to get a taste of the very best things that are going on right now.

“For artists like Yasmine and Reece – who both dance together a lot at The Royal Ballet – to be coming to Docklands is a big deal.

“Audiences can expect many virtuosic lifts, throws and catches in their first performance before they take on the memorable and iconic choreography of Sir Kenneth MacMillan in the second.

Jamiel Devernay-Laurence will once again host the evening

“We listen to our audiences and with feedback that they wanted to see more of our headliners, I wanted to experiment with a snappy performance at the end of act one before the big piece at the end the night. 

“There is nothing more meaningful and romantic than the Balcony Pas De Deux – it’s exactly what people are ready for.”

Audiences will see a total of 12 performances, split into two halves over a period of two hours on each of the two forthcoming nights at Lanterns. 

These include two new works performed by resident pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel, who will also join Felicity Chadwick for 324a, set to music by JS Bach. 

“She was a new discovery in our September show,” said Jamiel.

“Here she returns for people to really experience what she can do, dancing the choreography of Joshua Junker from The Royal Ballet.”

The shows at Lanterns differ significantly from most other presentations of ballet.

Audiences sit on a level with the dancers and performances take place right in front of the spectators. 

Ballet Nights’ programmes feature classical styles alongside contemporary pieces offering ticket holders the chance to experience a wide range of movement and music on a single evening.

But the brand goes beyond the physical performances.

“For many startups in dance and other genres of the arts, there’s often a launch, but for things to continue in perpetuity is rarer,” said Jamiel.

“I want audiences to get used to the idea of Ballet Nights both as a series of performances, but also as a platform.

“We have various digital productions so people can see behind-the-scenes and get to know the artists via our podcasts. 

Felicity Chadwick is set to perform with pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel

“Ballet Nights doesn’t go away after the performances have taken place – it continues celebrating the artists.

“That happens before the show and also at our legendary after-party experiences where we meet the dancers and discuss what they do and how they do it.

“We also want to be launching new traditions as the premiere ballet event in this area. 

“One of those, which is on the next programme, will be the mystery act, dancing in a style unlike any of the other performers on the night.

“We are quite a versatile platform in that in a full show audiences will see world class stars, modern masterpieces, legacy classics, new voices and new discoveries.

“To meet the demand for longer versions of pieces from emerging voices, we will be launching our very first Spotlight Shows on April 26 and 27, which will feature duo Pett – Clausen-Knight. 

“They will be performing in the February show too, so that is a chance for audiences to see more of them.”

The fourth edition is also set to have a contemporary offering from choreographer and dancer Jordan James Bridge as well as a debut performance from new duo Cydney Watson and Liam Woodvine, brought together by Jamiel under his creative umbrella.

“That’s a brand new launch, birthed at Lanterns Studio Theatre through one of our professional development programmes,” he said. 

“They were identified individually and we’ve had some fantastic results putting them together, so they will be making their world debut as a duo here.

“Jordan is a real audience favourite, judging by the standing ovations and it’s really fantastic to have him back again.

“He’s so capable and talented and it’s a real honour to have him performing at Ballet Nights.

“Then we have Chloe Keneally, who hasn’t had far to come, from English National Ballet at London City Island.

“She’ll be our tutu ballerina, providing us with two pieces – Etoile Variation from Paquita and Aurora from act three of Sleeping Beauty.

Ballet Nights is starting to become a piece of the fabric of what Canary Wharf has as a dance offer. 

Duo Pett – Clausen-Knight are on the bill and will also feature in a forthcoming Spotlight Show

“With some of the world’s best dancers appearing, loyal audience members are now making the journey for the second or third time.

“But what I’m most keen on is that residents nearby come and give the show a go. 

“This is a one-of-a-kind format that doesn’t yet exist anywhere else in the world and it’s right here on the Island.”

  • Doors open for Ballet Nights at 6.15pm, with performances running from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. Tickets start at £60.

Find out more about Ballet Nights here

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How Theatreship and Artship are set to carry cultural cargo

Vessels in the Canal And River Trust’s arts and heritage berth will bring new life to the water

Inigo Lapwood, project director of Theatreship and Artship – image Matt Grayson

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Boats are Inigo Lapwood’s thing.

He’s been living on them and repairing them since moving onto a sinking barge in Oxford when in need of a place to live.

That’s fortunate because, as project director of Theatreship, moored in the Millwall Cutting between West India South Dock and Millwall Inner Dock, there’s plenty to do.    

“I’ve drifted further and further down the Thames and as the river has got bigger, so have the boats, said Inigo.

 “Generally, my living space in them has got smaller, but the idea has very much remained the same. 

“I first came to Canary Wharf about five years ago. That was for a boat that had sunk – a steam tug named Addie in Blackwall Basin.

“By the time I got there, the Fire Brigade had done the hard work of raising her. 

“So I took that on as a repair project and found this part of London really fascinating. It seemed like a real opportunity. 

Theatreship is moored in the Millwall Cutting

“You have these huge bodies of water that are deeply connected to east London and the communities that lived and live in the area.

“There’s the white working class community, of course, but also the British merchant navy was about 25% Bengali, and that’s reflected in Tower Hamlets today.

“I really believe in what the waterways do.

“They are one of the few truly democratic spaces left – you get all kinds of people living on the water on all kinds of boats. 

“There are people who are one step up from homelessness and others on super yachts. But everyone is connected to the water – the river is the reason London exits.”

Inigo is at the heart of a team of volunteer creatives that is hoping to establish a new arts centre based on two historic craft in the dock. 

Theatreship is already in place and set to host its first events from January 24 to February 2, 2024.

The former bulk dry cargo carrier is set to be joined by Artship – a diesel coaster currently in north Germany. 

“We’ve been working very closely with the Canal And River Trust trying to increase the utilisation of the water here and to do so in a way that’s connected to the history of the place,” said Inigo. 

“Theatreship and Artship occupy the arts and heritage berth – the idea is really to reopen the dock as a public space.

“Theatreship is now in place – it’s exactly the kind of boat that used to be here when the docks were working.

“She was a bulk dry cargo ship transporting things like grain and coal.

“We sailed her across from the Netherlands and in the harbour she feels like a very big vessel. 

The boat will host performances on board

“As soon as you’re out onto the North Sea, she feels like a very small boat. We were really surprised how much she moved – how rocky she was on that crossing. 

“When loaded there would have been 300 tonnes of cargo in here and, without that, she bobbed around all over the place.”

Fully converted, Theatreship boasts a 110-seat auditorium suitable for theatre performances or film screenings and a cafe-bar area, all housed amid the steel fins of her cargo hold.

“This is where we will host our more conventional performances – stuff that works with rows of people on seats,” said Inigo. 

“When it comes to programming, our plan is to really heavily lean into being a mixed arts space.

“For example, our forthcoming film screenings are all combined with live performances.

“We want to avoid silos – especially because different artforms are richly in dialogue with each other – cinema and ballet, for instance. 

“We’re screening The Red Shoes, which features one of the most extended and virtuosic ballet scenes on film, with live dance as a response to the film from West End performer Pàje Campbell.

“For us, its an opportunity to introduce audiences to one or the other through our events.”

The venue’s first series – Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds Of Powell + Pressburger – features six screenings of movies made by the filmmakers.

She has a 110-seat auditorium that can be used for theatre or film screenings

Hosted with the support of the BFI as part of a national celebration of the duo’s works, Theatreship’s events include the likes of opera, dance and music presented alongside the screenings. 

“At present we’re focusing on these screenings,” said Inigo.

“And we will be hosting many events in the future. We’re really lucky. 

“We’ve been overwhelmed with the support that people have shown for this project.

“We’ve been met with generosity at every level. 

“That’s everything from people coming along and grabbing a paintbrush to the support of organisations like the Canal And River Trust and BFI.

“All the projection equipment we’re using, for example, has been lent to us by one of the world’s top projectionists.

“While Theatreship is run by a volunteer team, it’s still very much a professional organisation.

“Our head of film programming, for instance, is Natalie Hill who has 25 years experience as a TV executive, has won multiple BAFTAs and has produced The Apprentice, 24Hrs in A&E and Stacey Dooley Investigates.

“Our head of music programming is Karl Lutchmayer – a multi-award winning Steinway artist and former professor at Trinity Laban in Greenwich.

“He will be performing as part of our first season at our screening of Black Narcissus on January 26, 2024.

“One of the most amazing things about the project is how supportive people have been with their professional time.”

As for the heritage aspect of the project, when in place, Theatreship and Artship will be a visual and functional link to the history of the docks’ former life as part of what was once the busiest port in the world. 

“Theatreship is from 1913 and Artship is from 1938,” said Inigo, who works as a data scientist and AI developer when he’s not crawling around on boats.

Theatreship boasts a bar space below decks, that will also be used as a cafe

“Artship is currently in north Germany, about an hour and half outside Hamburg. 

“We’re basically just waiting for the weather. I spent most of last year rebuilding her engine.

“It’s largely in its original condition and you are not only unable to buy parts for it, you can’t buy the tools to take it apart to know what you need to get.

“So we had to make the tools to disassemble it, then make the parts necessary to get it working.

“But she’s now ready to come over.  

“There’s a lot about sustainability in what we’re doing – it’s one of the cores that runs through the whole project. 

“We’re reclaiming and reusing these ships rather than seeing them go to scrap, which is what’s happened to many of their colleagues. 

“There were literally thousands of ships like Artship and they would have filled these docks. Now she’s one of the last ones left. 

“It’s really nice to bring these boats back into use and to make them relevant to the docks today rather than building something new, with the associated environmental cost of that.

“When they are both here, it will be a collection of historic ships on the dock. We’ll have theatre and cinema on this one, installations and exhibitions on the other one but they will also both be pieces of living history.

“They will be used to present things that are contemporary and current in the arts.

“Our plan is to open through the day as a cafe and bar for as many hours as possible.

“We really want to be the nucleus around which other things can be built and we’ve seen this happen already with the covered market that’s arrived nearby on South Quay.

“Ultimately, we’d like it to be the best place to be in London, maybe even the UK.

“We genuinely believe in this project and are really excited about developing an arts programme to give opportunities to young artists here. 

“Very much the long term goal is to make it something that is financially self sustaining. We’d love to become one of the Arts Council’s national portfolio organisations. 

“We’d also like to develop a long term sustainable structure so that we can have paid staff members who can commit to being here all the time.

“Our strategy has been to demonstrate that we’re able to deliver the project. 

“We’ve been lucky with the funding we’ve had already, especially in the current climate, and I think that’s a reflection of how exciting this project is.”

  • Wharf Life readers can get tickets to any of the forthcoming screenings for £9 plus a booking fee with code WHARFLIFE9 (normally £15).

Find more information about Theatreship and Artship via these links

Read more: How the SS Robin has returned home to begin a new life

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How the Elizabeth School Of London is growing to serve more students

The institution offers a wide range of courses and has taken space at Harbour Exchange to host them

Professor Ian Luke of the Elizabeth School Of London

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The Elizabeth School Of London (ESL) is enjoying something of a boom.

A higher education provider, which delivers a range of courses on behalf of various institutions, it’s expanded to seven sites across the country supporting some 9,500 students.

Its operation includes campuses in Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester and Northampton as well as two in London.

Alongside its Holborn site, ESL recently moved into Harbour Exchange on the Isle Of Dogs with a second floor of the building already in the pipeline.

For the institution’s provost, Professor Ian Luke, himself a recent arrival, it’s a time of great opportunity for the organisation.

“The exciting part of ESL is that it’s in its infancy, so what I would like to see is it pushing the boundaries of teaching and giving students authentic experiences so they can immediately use what they’ve learnt in their careers or even during their time with us,” he said.

“Canary Wharf is an inspiring place, especially if you’re working in the sectors covered by our courses.

“The fact that students are working around multi-million pound companies, and we are creating links with those firms, is very special.”

ESL has a growing campus at Harbour Exchange on the Isle Of Dogs

ESL provides teaching and facilities on behalf of a number of organisations that act as awarding bodies on its courses.

These include Bath Spa University, St Mary’s University in Twickenham, Canterbury Christ Church University, the University Of Bolton and Newcastle College Group

It offers courses in the areas of business and management; finance and accounting; health and social care; construction and computing, attracting many students seeking a change of direction.

“We currently have about 9,500 students,” said Ian.

“Many are mature students who are looking to make a career change or who higher education may have passed by.

“For ESL, it’s all about providing access to opportunity.

“The joy of our system is that we haven’t got the infrastructural arrangements of a university.

“Most universities engage in research. But generally they will only receive at best 75% funding for those activities.

“We’re not a research institution, although we’re very much about scholarly research-informed teaching.

“That means all our resources can be focused on the students themselves rather than anything else – hence the investment in campuses such as Harbour Exchange.

The campus is arranged over one floor, with a second in the pipeline

“While many universities have fixed locations, ESL has the flexibility to go where its services are needed.

“The benefit to the student experience is incredibly positive and, for the partners we work with, it means they don’t have to invest in a new campus themselves in these locations.”

Part of Planet Education Networks, a collection of institutions based at Marsh Wall, ESL’s expansion has seen a whole floor of Harbour Exchange’s main building fully refurbished.

“There are IT suites, media rooms, lecture rooms, a canteen, break-out areas and even a Dragons’ Den-style pitching area,” said Ian.

“The whole place has been designed for the students to have fluidity in physical and digital resources. 

“Because we’re not trapped in campus buildings, we’ve been able to design this new facility for the way we want to teach students.

“One of the key things for us is that we’ve designed the actual timetable to support people.

“We understand that there’s a cost of living crisis and that many students have to work while they’re studying – we understand that they’re got care responsibilities.

“That’s why we operate over six days.

“Students get very focused work so they can manage their parental and other commitments.

“We also deliver evening and weekend sessions, so we try to make the timetable as bespoke for them as possible.

“What we’re delivering in terms of pedagogy is different to a university, in that we’re trying to tailor everything to an understanding of students’ lives, and more importantly, to their careers and employability afterwards.

“We know our students very, very well – who they are – and when that’s the case, you can cater for their needs.

“ESL is really about people who want to change their lives, and we’ve got the flexibility to help them do that.

“It’s crucial for us to be able to move with our students so we can offer something bespoke.”

This is all very much in Ian’s wheelhouse.

“With an academic and professional background in education, it’s no surprise he’s decided to join an institution where the importance of teaching is stated as a core value.

“I was deputy vice-chancellor at Plymouth Marjon University, a very small organisation down in the south-west, and I looked after everything there, apart from research – the academic schools, the quality of the teaching and the digital development,” he said. 

“London is a complete shift for me, but I was a teacher and my PhD and professorial were in learning and teaching so I’m hoping to bring that to ESL.

“I have an understanding of quality systems and how they work, and how to make them more robust.

“There’s something incredible happening here with ESL – there’s a very big demand for what it’s doing – and it’s very successful.

ESL boasts extensive facilities close to Canary Wharf

“The focus is heavily on the students – they want to come – so it’s up to us to manage that growth well for them.

“The joy of multiple institution awarding is that you get the best practice from everyone, and you can make sure that we represent the programmes.

“In doing so, we try to serve the community, individuals and their careers.

“We get a whole range of people coming to study with us – they are multicultural, often older and may be returning to higher education.

“ESL is rigorous in terms of the students it accepts to ensure we are recruiting people we think we can support appropriately. 

“Because the students are more mature, there is an engagement level here that not all universities experience. 

“The staff are very passionate and the students really want to make the most of these opportunities.

“It’s very inspiring for me in my role to see how they are working to grasp those at ESL.”

Typical yearly fees at ESL are £9,250.

Find more information about the Elizabeth School Of London here

Read more: How Disney 100: The Exhibition celebrates a century of history in Royal Docks

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Canary Wash aims to improve dry cleaning and laundry locally

Ali Khalil spotted a problem while working on the estate and has created a business to address it

Head of business development at Canary Wash, Ali Khalil

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Ali Khalil works in Canary Wharf.

Around five years ago, his family relocated from Jordan to the UK with the aim of establishing a global business – building on the work of its Middle Eastern company, International Technical Sources For Industrial Equipment. 

Thus United Medical Hospital Systems was born, moving to Canary Wharf after a brief period in Swiss Cottage.

Based first at One Canada Square and now in 25 Cabot Square, the company offers a range of services including hospital design, planning and the supply of equipment, especially related to medical gas systems. 

“After more than 20 years in Jordan, working in the Middle East, we had the know-how, as my father likes to say,” said Ali, who heads business development for the company.

“So we thought about coming to the UK to create a worldwide operation and we’ve more or less been based on the Wharf the whole time.

“We’ve mostly been working in exports around the world.

“We wanted a base that was close to where we were living on the Isle Of Dogs.

“As a family, you need somewhere that’s quieter where there’s not always something going on 24 hours a day and we found this place near the Wharf.

“You have the water, the sky at night and you can get everything here with lots of facilities for the same price as a place in Swiss Cottage that has fewer amenities.”

However, this isn’t an article about the family’s medical business. It’s about a problem Ali identified while working on the Wharf.

“To be honest, I think we’re struggling here with dry cleaning,” he said.

“It’s a very big business area, there are lots of people in the towers and every time you want to do dry cleaning, you wind up queueing for a long time just to drop off your clothes.

“That’s a waste of your lunch hour that day. It’s your break, you deserve it.

“So we thought: ‘why not create and offer a service to all the people working and living locally?’.”

Canary Wash is a dry cleaning and laundry business for Canary Wharf and the Isle Of Dogs

The solution he came up with was to start a business.

Canary Wash is an app-based laundry and dry cleaning firm that collects dirty clothes and delivers them back to customers on the Wharf or the Isle Of Dogs.

“The app we’ve created is live and we’re competitively priced,” said Ali.

“We’ll collect your dry cleaning and laundry, do it for you and then bring it back for the same price as you would pay if you went into a shop, queued there, dropped off your clothes and then went back another day to pick them up via the same process.

“We picked the name Canary Wash, because this is where we are operating, with a logo that features the towers.

“We started two months ago with Canary Wharf and then added the Isle Of Dogs.

“We’re expecting it mostly to serve businesses and residential addresses in the area.

“We offer dry cleaning, washing, ironing – and washing and ironing together.

“For example, customers can send pieces just for ironing or bulky items just for washing, such as duvets or blankets.

“Of course, we deal with all kinds of delicate clothes that can’t be washed at home.

“People always need dry cleaning – with delicates you just can’t risk it.

“I lost one shirt that way myself. I put it in the washing machine at home and it shrunk.

“When I put it on it was really tight – I’d been exercising in the gym, but not enough to get quite so big.”

The process has been designed to be simple.

The app deals with washing, ironing and dry cleaning for ally types of garments

Customers download the Canary Wash app, itemise which pieces of clothing they are sending and which service they require.

Then they pick a two-hour time slot for collection.

A driver arrives to collect the laundry, the order is checked, cleaned and then returned 48 hours later.

“When you make an order via the app, you will select which services you want and then we’ll know what to expect when we get the order,” said Ali, who coaches kids’ football in his spare time.

“Before we wash, we confirm the order against what has been supplied and that we know exactly what we’re doing with each item of clothing.

“If we get a piece we’re not expecting or that doesn’t fit with the order, then we contact the customer via the app to tell them that their order needs to be adjusted.

“We send all the relevant details.

“For example, if an order is for two pieces and there’s a third included, then we’ll ask whether it’s for dry cleaning, ironing or washing and, once confirmed, then we can proceed.

“For me, this business is a new challenge. There have been a lot of things to learn.

“Obviously, when you’re getting into something new you want to do as much research as possible, so we’ve been doing that. 

“We’ve visited lots of businesses and seen how it could be done before designing our service where we’ve tried to merge everything we learnt.

“Our aim is to deliver the best possible quality for the customer.

“People in this area mostly care about the quality of the service and the time more than anything else – so those are the two things we’ve focused on.

“We’ve been live for two months now and it’s been going well, but we’re looking to reach more and more people to take this as big as we can.

“We have the capacity and we’re excited for that to happen and then to expand further. 

“Our plan is to roll this out to other business areas such as Liverpool Street, where people need their time to be saved through our collection and delivery service.

“We aim to collect, clean and deliver a customer’s order back to them within 48 hours.

“That includes extra time built-in, so we can easily achieve that goal and not disappoint anybody.”

To give readers an idea of pricing, Canary Wash offers suits and dresses dry cleaned for £16.50 and £12.99 respectively.

Comparative prices from retail dry cleaners on the Wharf are from £21 and £15 for the same pieces.

Canary Wash’s app offers free pick-up and delivery on orders over £5.

Find our more about Canary Wash here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How Ballet Nights is blazing a trail at Lanterns Studio Theatre

The finale of the gala performance-style series is set to feature Jordan James Bridge’s Heisei 9

Constance Devernay-Laurence performs Jordan James Bridge’s Heisei 9 at Ballet Nights

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There’s an irrepressible energy about Jordan James Bridge that typifies the atmosphere around Ballet Nights.

It’s an excitement, a genuine thrill at the prospect of the next performance, the work that will be showcased and the moves unveiled.  

For those who don’t know, Ballet Nights is a platform for professional dancers to present pieces in the intimate, eye-level setting of Lanterns Studio Theatre on the Isle Of Dogs near South Quay DLR.

Conceived and compared by Jamiel Devernay-Laurence – formerly of Scottish Ballet – it kicked off its run with two dates in September and another two in October.

Its 2023 season will conclude with performances of its third programme on November 24-25, 2023, and that’s where Jordan comes in.

Having danced himself in the first programme, his work as a choreographer featured in the second and is set for a repeat showing on the forthcoming dates.

“The piece I’ve created is called Heisei 9, which is 1997 in Japanese,” said Jordan.

“The roleplaying computer game Final Fantasy VII – which was released that year – was very much my childhood and it had music composed by Nobuo Uematsu.

Dancer and choreographer Jordan Jams Bridge

“There’s an amazing battle theme in the game called Those Who Fight, so we have pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel playing it live on stage and I created a solo for prima ballerina, Constance Devernay-Laurence, to perform. 

“It’s en pointe and is super agile, swift, athletic and exciting.

“There’s also an amazing, original costume by Stevie Stewart – Constance wears this beautiful catsuit.

“While I created this piece as a solo, I love the connection between musician and dancer on the stage, so in my mind it’s really a duet.

“It’s technically very difficult for Constance and Victor. It’s three minutes, but there’s a lot packed in there.

“There’s kind of a competitive element with them both in the space and the lighting divides the stage quite well.

“It’s also very playful and I wanted to bring that out, because it’s very nostalgic for me. I spent a lot of time playing the game.

“There are not many choreographers who would even touch gaming, but the music was written to be played live.

“People coming to Ballet Nights might be expecting to hear classical pieces, but I believe they will enjoy this just as much as the more familiar music on the programme.”

Having trained at the London Contemporary Dance School, Jordan went on to join Alexander Whitley Dance Company, then Michael Clark Company.

Today, his main gig is as a dancer for Company Wayne McGregor based at Here East in Stratford.

Constance will perform Jordan’s work for a second time at the November shows

It’s a career that all started with an excitable childhood.

“My mum always told me that, when I was with friends in the garden or on the street, everyone else would be doing roly-poly and I’d already be doing handstands,” said Jordan.

“When they were doing cartwheels, I’d be doing front flips. I found dance at secondary school through Keeley Slack, my dance teacher.

“All the boys had two lessons in dance, to see if they enjoyed it, and I did. I was in the studio because I wanted to be there – there was no Instagram.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to create and choreograph as well as dance.

“When I was 16 I had my own small dance company called Imperial Feet.

“I enjoyed the idea of a collective getting together, and I just wanted to make dance – that’s where my brain is going right now too. I’ve been doing this for years.

“I’ve created multiple dance films, some award-winning, and I really enjoy doing dance for the screen.

Jordan James Bridge performing at Ballet Nights earlier this year

“Time constraints mean it’s more difficult for the stage, but I definitely see myself going there more in the future.

“It’s so important to have Ballet Nights because this sort of gala event for dance doesn’t really happen in the UK.

“In Europe there are similar shows in the summer, but not here.  

“The best thing is that at Lanterns, the dancers are only two or three metres away from the audience.

“You can hear their breath and really feel the energy radiate from them – there’s no shying away from the physicality of dance or trying to hide it.

“You see that dance is really hard work, but the performers look exquisite.

“As a performer you can see the audience and that makes it really intimate. 

“There’s an element of nerves which comes from that, of course, but it’s also super exciting and challenging.”

Ballet Nights’ final shows of 2023 will also include duets from Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw plus Katja Khaniukova and Aitor Arrieta – all of the English National Ballet.

Solo performers will include Ivana Bueno, also of the English National Ballet, Yasser D’Oquendo of Acosta Danza and Laurel Dalley Smith of the Martha Graham Dance Company. 

Doors open on November 24 and 25, 2023, at 6.15pm with the shows starting at 7.30pm.

Tickets start at £65. Programmes are expected to return on a monthly basis next year. 

Acosta Danza’s Yasser D’Oquendo is also on the bill

You can find our more or book tickets here  

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How Craft Central is set to host its Winter Market at The Forge

The Westferry Road venue will see more than 30 makers selling products at its festive event

Craft Central will host its annual Winter Market at The Forge

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The mercury is falling and the faint whiff of spiced pumpkin lattes is receding.

At the time of writing, the buzz of Bonfire Night is everywhere.

The anticipation of the first frost is in the air too – the coming chill that makes the cosiness of the festive season all the more welcome. 

Promising a Japanese pop-up cafe, mulled wine and a warm welcome from more than 30 designer-makers, Craft Central’s annual weekend Winter Market is set to be held this month.

Opening 11am-5pm on November 18 and 19, 2023, at The Forge on Westferry Road, the event offers visitors the chance to get their festive shopping sorted with a wide range of products including accessories, fashion, jewellery, ceramics, stationery, prints and textiles available to purchase.

Craft Central event coordinator, Marguerite Metz, said: “We invite makers from our wider network to come and sell in our gallery space for this annual event, so we have a lovely mix of applied arts and crafts as well as some of the studio holders at The Forge.

“It’s a great community event for locals and people throughout London to come to – we had about 1,000 last year.

“The building itself is quite unusual and lots of people walk past and have no idea what’s inside. 

“It’s not normally open to the public, so this is a chance for people who are interested in what’s going on to visit.

“The makers we have are all lovely and they really enjoy it.

“They like it because it’s easy for them to showcase their products, due to the people who come and also the relaxed atmosphere it has.

“The market is not-for-profit, we do it to support the makers and to show the community the possibilities of making.

“It only works if local people come and take advantage of the chance to visit and support the people trading, so we want to welcome as many as possible.”

Visitors to the market will find a wealth of products on offer

Makers trading at the market will include Diaphane Candles, artist Almha McCartan, Anonoma Jewellery, Ark Jewellery, embroiderer Beatrice Mayfield, Bibba London (jewellery), Brûler Candles and By Kala X (products made with African prints).

 Also attending will be Caroline Nuttall-Smith (printmaker and ceramicist), Elektra Kamoutsis (ceramicist), Forge + Thread (accessories), Frank Horn (leatherwork), Gruff Turnery (wood turning)Heim Design (concrete products) Kam Creates (jewellery) Karn’s Textile design, Kate Hodgson Jewellery, Maria Maya (homeware), Mark Waite Paintings and Morgan Amber (textiles).

As if that wasn’t enough, Mountain And Molehill (lampshades), Noriko Nagaoka Ceramics, Pipet Design (silk scarves), Tomoko Hori Jewellery And Object Sato Hisao (paper crafts), Suzie Lee Knitwear, Tangent Accessories and Ted Houghton Studio (knitwear), will be there too.

The Winter Market will also be hosting two drop-in workshops where visitors can get creative. 

On the Saturday, Funky Jewellery Making will offer participants the chance to transform a variety of vintage objects, images and unusual items into bespoke jewellery. 

People are welcome to bring their own objects to incorporate into their designs or to draw on the selection provided.

Makers will be on hand to sell their creations

All attachments and jewellery findings will be included.

Marguerite said: “Visitors might create surreal pieces of jewellery, with fun items to put together for themselves or make unique pieces that will be perfect for a Christmas gift.

“People are welcome to upcycle odd bits-and-bobs.”

On the Sunday, designer Georgia Bosson will be hosting Festive Block Printing with participants able to create a piece of textile wrapping paper or a Christmas card using hand-carved wooden blocks. The activity is suitable for ages 5+.

“Using textile wrapping paper is a Japanese tradition and it’s sustainable because it’s reusable,”said Marguerite. 

“If they wanted to, people could come on Saturday and make a present, before returning on Sunday to create the wrapping.

“These workshops are part of Craft Central’s duty to help bring craft to people.”

The suggested donation for both sessions, which run from 12.30pm-4.30pm on a drop-in basis, is £5. 

Some makers with studios at The Forge will also be opening these up for visitors to see during the event, including Crushed Pearl (floristry), Pon Studios (ceramics), Tanya Roya (artist), Olive Road,  (vintage fabrics) and SilPhi Glass (jewellery).

Some studios at The Forge will also be open for visitors to view

Craft Central, in addition to being a provider of studio spaces for designer makers at The Forge, is always looking to extend and grow its network. 

To that end, the charity is introducing a new tiered membership scheme with the aim of getting more people involved in its activities. 

Its basic package includes access to an insurance scheme for craft workers and designer makers as well as inclusion in its online directory. The package costs £53 per year.

There’s also an enhanced package for £99, which includes a selection of discounts on markets and activities as well as access to community programmes and business advice.

The top £199 premium package is available to established artists or makers and is by application only. 

It includes a range of substantial discounts as well as use of The Forge’s exhibition and workshop space for free.

“We wanted to offer different options so that people can easily access Craft Central,” said Anne-Sophie Cavil, who handles communications and marketing for the organisation. 

“A graduate, for example, might take a basic membership, while more established makers might choose the enhanced or premium options, that offer a range of benefits.

“The one you choose will depend on where you are in your career.”

Find out more about Craft Central here

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Isle Of Dogs: How Naru Naru went from positive Instagram posts to fledgling brand

Angelo Ramessar and Shannon Hayes still developing the narwhal-based characters

Isle Of Dogs residents Angelo Ramessar and Shannon Hayes create Naru Naru together

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It all started with a doodle of a dinosaur.

It was as a pupil at St Angela’s And St Bonaventure’s sixth form in Newham, that graphic designer Angelo Ramessar first began drawing a cute little cartoon character.

Back then he had spikes down his spine and forearms like a T-Rex.   

“My teacher didn’t really like it because it wasn’t traditional art – painting portraits or things like that,” said Angelo.

Things could well have come to a rest there.

Angelo went on to study graphic design at Ravensbourne University in Greenwich, going on to launch a freelance career first, before moving on to work for Savills estate agency.

Today he’s senior creative and visual designer at agency Aesara – but along with his partner and former schoolmate Shannon Hayes, he’s also something else.

The couple were living in East Ham when lockdown struck and decided to dust off Angelo’s old character.

Freshly fashioned into a narwhal, they started chronicling Naru Naru’s adventures, posting cartoons on Instagram with positive messages. 

The couple have exhibited at numerous shows including MCM Comic Con

“We decided to give him a facelift and a bit of a reboot,” said Shannon, who did a foundation course in art at Ravensbourne before completing a degree in jewellery at the London College Of Fashion. 

“The idea was to draw him as a cute little character, to spread a little bit of joy and cheer everyone up.

“Before we knew it, we had thousands of followers worldwide, so we decided to keep going. It was all about positivity and posting these sweet little drawings and last year, we decided to expand a bit and began making some merchandise.”

Naru Naru started on Instagram with posts spreading positivity

That journey has seen Shannon leave her role as a teaching assistant to concentrate on developing the brand full-time from the couple’s home on the Isle Of Dogs.

With mugs, pin badges and notebooks in their range, Naru Naru has been a hit at events such as MCM Comic Con, Hyper Japan and Brand Licensing Europe and the couple are just about to launch their latest range of plushie toys.

“We were so hyped up. When we did the first Comic Con – we had a few people who followed us on Instagram who came to see us, but most people had no idea who we or Naru Naru were – they didn’t know anything about us but it resonated with them straight away,” said Shannon.

Naru Naru’s latest plushie toys

“The plushies were flying off the shelves.

“We now have a new, improved plushie and we’re always trying to improve everything we do.

“Because we did so well initially, we can reinvest back into them, make them look even better and work on more merchandise.

“The upgraded toys should be on the website at the end of November.”

The couple both draw Naru Naru and have now expanded the brand to five characters.

A children’s book is in production and they’ve also had success licensing the brand to NFT project Yummi Universe

The five Naru Naru characters the couple have created

“It all started because we wanted to spread some positive messages,” said Angelo.

“They are these strange little narwhal characters – they are based on the whales, but they have arms and legs because they look cute and so that they can do more things.

“Naru Naru has gone through various iterations – the limbs have got bigger so they can do things like play the guitar.

“We’ve already written the main story for the book, which centres on the characters collecting spirit crystals. 

“It’s the tale of a villain who is locked up in a crystal – he’s being freed over time and, to reseal him back in, five spirit crystals left by a king must be collected.

“I would say to anyone who feels like they want to create their own character, that they should go on this journey. 

“It’s an amazing experience and it’s something you can be really proud of – to work on a character you created and to have your own product.

“You can still work a full-time job and develop something you truly believe in, enjoy and love.

The couple are now working on a children’s book to help grow the brand

“I feel like everyone should be like Blue Naru – he’s brave enough to make that jump and do it. He believes he can do anything if he puts his mind to it.

“He also believes in everyone else and their ability to do whatever they want to do in life.

“We made no money from what we were doing at first.

“We were doing it for fun on Instagram and people were saying it was great.

“That was enough for us. 

“We used to think when we reached 2,000 followers that we’d make some pin badges, then some T-shirts.

“Then we took the leap to make some plushie toys and they sold out immediately at Comic Con.”

Shannon added: “We try to make the posts on Instagram as relateable as possible so everyone can see themselves in Naru Naru. 

“It might be things like lying in bed and dropping his phone on his head.

“Or there’s one where he’s holding up a sign saying: ‘You can do it’.

“One of our most popular ones is him hanging on a little tree branch, saying: ‘Hang in there’.”

The couple said their characters appealed to people of all ages, with the most popular posts and merchandise featuring cheekiness or violence.

“Especially at Comic Con, there’s an audience for something really cute doing something not so cute,” said Shannon.

“Because we have such a broad age range in our fans, Naru Naru is in some ways nostalgic for adults – the kids just love the plushie toys.

“We like to create things to cater for all our followers and we also love to follow trends and attract new people.

“We do work really well together – our personalities match and we bounce off each other with ideas for posts and products.”

Angelo added: “It’s just a good time – part fun, part funny.

“We throw silly ideas around about what we should post.

“We both love living on the Island – what more could you ask for?

“There’s lots of inspiration all around us – it’s a very peaceful place to live and work.”

The couple’s immediate priority is the production of their story book, with both agreeing that the ultimate aim would be a TV show or movie to explore the Naru Naru world in greater depth. 

Until then, expect to see plenty more from these little creatures as the brand grows and develops.

Find out more about Naru Naru here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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