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Isle Of Dogs: University Of Sunderland In London expands beyond Marsh Wall

Lynsey Bendon talks space at Harbour Exchange as growth follows increased student demand

Image shows the University Of Sunderland In London's Lynsey Bendon
The University Of Sunderland In London’s Lynsey Bendon

“We were shown a lot of different places, but this is where we want to be – it’s perfect – it works for us and it works for our students,” said Lynsey Bendon.

There’s excitement in the voice of the assistant director of operations and student experience at the University Of Sunderland In London as she talks about its expansion at Harbour Exchange on the Isle Of Dogs – a move that will allow it to keep up with demand for places while retaining the links it’s built in the area since its creation in 2012.

“It’s on the opposite side of the DLR tracks to our Marsh Wall site, so it’s very close by,” said Lynsey. “We’ve been able to start with a blank canvas to design what we need as a teaching space.

“It has flexible rooms and it’s a lovely environment in terms of group and study areas. We’ve listened to what our students need and want – everything down to having a kitchen that’s really accessible where they can make their own food but also meet with staff. We’re thrilled.

“It’s also really nice to be able to grow from where we are because the students love our location next to Canary Wharf and our connections to local businesses but also the food, culture and shopping.”

The expansion of the campus, which will see the university taking a whole floor at Harbour Exchange, has been driven by significant demand. 

More than 4,400 students attended courses at its Marsh Wall base over the past year, with 2,794 joining across four intakes since March 2020.

While about 10% are international – reflecting perhaps the university’s outward-looking stance, having opened a Hong Kong campus in 2017 – about 50% are drawn from nearby London boroughs.

“Our students are what we call in the industry ‘non-traditional’,” said Lynsey. ”The average age is 36 and we have 60-40 female to male split. 

“Our motto is that we’re a life-changing university and we like to think that our people don’t necessarily come to us straight from school, but with a measured decision that they want their lives to change, which we hope to facilitate.

“We quickly realised there was a demand here in London and we tailor our courses to our students – we don’t expect them to be 18, straight out of school.

“We expect them to have experience that they can talk about and build on. When we started, some of the courses were targeted that way, but we’ve rewritten them and developed them through talking to our students to meet their needs.

“Ultimately we want them to progress, we want them to do the best they can for themselves and to fulfil their potential.

“You can’t just teach something – you have to build it around them. Our students are very vocal, which is extremely helpful when you work in the role I do, because you need ongoing conversations. We want to be there, supporting them, to help them succeed.”

Lynsey, who joined the University Of Sunderland In London in January 2020, is well placed to have those conversations, having left school after her A-Levels.

She said: “I was then unemployed for a short time before going into the workforce. I worked in banking in London in the 1990s, which was a very interesting time. When I came to have my children, I realised that it wasn’t a career I could stay in, so I left the workforce for a bit.

“Then I went back as a part-time member of staff on the help desk at the University Of East London. After a few years I specialised as an international student adviser before joining London Metropolitan University as compliance and immigration manager in 2014.

“That was challenging and taught me a lot – but I realised that I wasn’t going to progress further in my career without higher qualifications and at that point I was very lucky to be able to participate in a postgraduate certificate through my employer at that time, with the University Of Nottingham.

“So I was there, at 39, looking at a blank sheet of paper, never having done a first degree, absolutely out of my depth, and I can completely relate to our students, when they get to that point.

“But it gave me so much, some fantastic experiences and it taught me so much academically – both how to write reports and also all those things you don’t necessarily associate with academic learning. It also gave me so much confidence that I could do these things.

“I always say the tears were worth it, but I had such a good time, it outweighed any difficulties and it enabled me to go into management.

“So, after becoming the international immigration manager at London Met, I became head of student services and, in January, came here. Then lockdown happened in March, so it’s been quite a year. I had to learn quickly because I’m also the Covid lead for the London campus.

“Fortunately, it’s a really vibrant place, and a really great community, so people were very forgiving when I asked the same question for the sixth or seventh time, because I didn’t quite understand what went where.

“Our student growth over the years has been pretty consistent so I don’t think our current figures are down to people looking for a new direction just as a result of Covid.

“In our admissions process, we speak to each student individually and help them to make sure they are taking the right decision for them.

“The pandemic has shown us aspects of strength in our teaching and other areas where we’ve been forced to introduce things that we’re going to keep. We’re lucky that we get lots of people coming to us through word-of-mouth – Mr X may come to sign up with us in September and then Mrs X will follow in April – and you only really get that if you’re giving people what they want and the best tools for success.”

The University Of Sunderland in London offers courses across four main areas – business and finance; tourism, hospitality and events; nursing and health and engineering at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The campus also offers Master Of Business Administration degrees – MBAs.

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Isle Of Dogs: How east London author’s work introduces banking to children

Nithya Sridharan – writing as PecuniArt – has published her first book, titled The Magic Box

Isle Of Dogs author Nithya Sridharan – image Matt Grayson

“My grandparents were exceptionally good storytellers,” said Nithya Sridharan. “I grew up in a joint house in Bangalore, where they lived with me and my parents. Every night me and my sister would be packed off to them for a while and they would tell us stories.

“My grandmother was a mathematician and they would weave complex topics such as algebra and geometry into the stories, which were often about the village where they grew up. As city-bred girls, me and my sister were completely enchanted by them.”

The Isle Of Dogs-based writer recently published her first book – The Magic Box – a story that similarly seeks to educate as well as entertain, although drawing on Nithya’s wealth of experience working in the financial services industry in Canary Wharf, rather than maths.

“The story, which is aimed at children aged seven to 11, came from starting to think about how I could weave some key financial concepts into a fun, magical tale, which is also south Asian, because I wanted to bring that flavour into books,” she said.

“A lot of it comes from living and learning in that part of the world. The story is set in a tropical town called Lokpuram and it follows three children who are trying to solve a problem that involves money. There’s a magical character in the mix as well.

“Within the story there are a lot of concepts that are blended together, which makes it easier for kids intuitively to understand key financial ideas, such as how a bank works, what one is and how it has money.

“There’s one part of the book which I personally enjoyed writing, that is about central reserve banking. I don’t use the words, but the concept is there and it’s woven into the story.

“We start with the idea of a bank and how borrowers and lenders can come to such an institution – a place that connects them – and shows how the basic business of banking works.

“I also talk about interest rates as a fee, which you pay on top of what you borrow. If you think about the origins of banking, the idea has been around a long time, but not in the forms we see today.

“The word ‘bank’ comes from the word ‘panca’ in Italian, which means ‘bench’. It started with people sitting down and trying to put borrowers and lenders together.

“They used to have IOU notes, which later evolved into the money and currency that we know today.

“So these concepts have been around a long time and people intuitively understand them, even if they haven’t heard of the terms before.”

Writing under the name PecuniArt – a portmanteau of the Latin word for money and art – Nithya was driven to write her book to help boost people’s knowledge of the financial world. 

“I wrote the book because financial literacy is key to the world we live in – everybody uses money,” she said. “Recently there was a study which was done by the Pensions Institute, where they found that, if you look at the population of young adults, one third of them did not understand concepts like interest rates and inflation.

“I suspect lots of adults don’t understand either, even though these terms are constantly in the news.

“Research has shown children and young adults who are basically financially literate have an easier time in their lives – they’re better able to access low-cost loans, have better credit scores and less debt delinquency.

“I feel that with the world that we live in, if you know how to interact with money, what these concepts mean and what the economy is, then you’ll engage with it better, not just in terms of borrowing and lending, but also in terms of your own personal wealth and wellbeing. You’ll know what to do and what it means when the interest rates go down – you won’t get caught out by high interest payday lenders.

“The book is meant to be read as an introductory view of what a bank is, rather than as a detailed analysis of what the world is today.

“There is a section in the book – titled the concept check – where I talk about whether what happens in the story is real. I didn’t want to go into greater detail in terms of what you get from banks, or the stock market today, because I think that’s more advanced. 

“The whole point of the book is to introduce these concepts and, obviously, it’s a magical story, so it’s not intended to be taken literally.”

Nithya, who has lived on the Island for six years, said she hoped to foster a sense of inquisitiveness about the financial system in the minds of her young readers.

“I want them to understand the concepts, but also for them to be something kids are curious about,” she said.

“I’ve had some feedback from children who have read the book, and it’s interesting that some hadn’t thought about these ideas previously – they asked a lot of questions about how it all works.

“I also hope the story gives them enough information on what these concepts are, so that they can ask and engage with adults on all those questions, and find out more about them – that it makes them curious. The feedback I’ve had has been that the kids are very engaged with the magical aspects of The Magic Box.

“The very young ones are disappointed that this part isn’t real. What was very encouraging though, was that even young readers were interested in the subject after they had read the book. You might think that banking, economics and finance sound very technical and not easily accessible, but I’m pleasantly surprised people actually find them interesting – I was hoping for that outcome.

“This is definitely an area schools should be focusing more on. An element of financial literacy should be open to all.

“There are a lot of resources out there already – the Bank Of England, for example, has a financial education portal. While some schools are doing good work, I certainly believe there should be greater involvement from them in providing financial education.

“A study by the Organisation For Economic Co-operation And Development looked at financial literacy for kids across the globe in 22 countries and found that, in certain states, policy intervention was needed to increase those levels.”

While The Magic Box – available in paperback via Amazon priced at £9.99 and at selected bookshops in London – is PecuniArt’s first title, Nithya is already thinking about another book.

“For the next one I will think about how to break down a very complex concept, like the economy,” she said.

In the meantime Nithya will continue sharing posts about money and art for both adults and kids via her Instagram account – @pecuniart.

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Blackwall: Why Sweet Nothing Bakehouse at Republic offers more than just cake

Founder Beth Cardy has opened her brand’s first bricks and mortar premises in east London

Sweet Nothing Bakehouse founder Beth Cardy
Sweet Nothing Bakehouse founder Beth Cardy – image Matt Grayson

Readers in thrall to the tyranny of the sweet tooth take note, there’s a new player in town. Baker and entrepreneur Beth Cardy recently opened the doors to her first bricks and mortar premises at Republic.

Located just over the Aspen Way foorbridge from East India DLR station, Sweet Nothing Bakehouse serves up coffee from all-female Deptford-based roastery Lomond alongside an extensive array of cakes, tarts and pastries, plus milkshakes and soft-serve ice cream from Brick Lane’s own Dappa.

Decked out in pale pinks, subtle greens and blonde wood, pepped up with pot plants and dark metalwork it’s a light, inviting interior connected to a foliage-framed outdoor space via full-height plate glass windows. It all serves as a backdrop to the punchy aesthetic of Beth’s cakes which luxuriate under curls of buttercream icing, slices of dried fruit and the glamour of glitter-spritzed cherries. 

Little surprise perhaps, that she began her career in the world of fashion before making her way into the kitchen.

“Sweet Nothing started in Hackney, in my flat with my flatmates doing bespoke cakes,” said Beth, who runs the company as managing director.

“After school I went to Sheffield Hallam University and did a fashion degree. I wanted to do design – that was my dream. I moved to London to get into the industry, and realised that it wasn’t what I wanted at all.

“At university, you’re wrapped in cotton wool, you never have the real experience, so I moved into the  production side of the industry and started baking on the side.

“My mum’s actually a baker, working in the catering industry and, even when we were kids, she would just bake with us for fun.

“I found that I really enjoyed it, and I really liked cake as well, so that helped. So, I did a bit of research and enrolled on a one-day a week patisserie course.”

A selection of cakes on offer at the bakehouse
A selection of cakes on offer at the bakehouse – image Matt Grayson

Beth continued working in fashion while she trained, eventually leaving the industry to join Euphorium Bakery in Islington, which enabled her to gain the experience necessary to become qualified as a baker.

She said: “That was really hard work, getting up at half-three in the morning for a 5am start. I did that for three months – you don’t see anyone, you get up in the dark and it was not very sociable.

“I couldn’t go out at the weekends or see friends but it didn’t really put me off, I just wanted to work for myself and set my own hours. So that’s when I started Sweet Nothing in 2015, baking bespoke cakes from home.”

Working other jobs while she nurtured her brand, she made the move into events, buying and kitting out a former horse-box trailer to make the business mobile in 2016, going on to serve her products at corporate gigs for the likes of Microsoft, Paco Rabanne and Warner Brothers Studios.

“In 2017 I started looking for premises, because that’s where I always knew I wanted to go,” she said. “I didn’t always want to be in this trailer working at events, I wanted a bakery.

“It’s taken three years from finding something to actually opening because you need the right location and the right branding.

“A few places fell through, and then finally we decided to come to Republic. The unit we have is close to the DLR and gets the foot traffic in and out of the development. 

“We finally got it in March 2020 and opened on April 1 – that took 12 months because of the pandemic, which interrupted a lot of our plans, but we are here now and we want people to know we are open.”

The bakehouse serves Lomond coffee
The bakehouse serves Lomond coffee – image Matt Grayson

Sweet Nothing is constantly evolving and, as the business establishes itself, Beth is already looking to the future, near and far.

“We are a bakery and we have a bespoke cake service, which is a big part of the company – something we’ll probably end up expanding to be our main source of income,” she said. “As a female-led business we want to promote other small firms and our ethos is very much working with independent suppliers such as Dappa and Lomond.

“We don’t use any plastic and all of our cups are biodegradable. Or cutlery is disposable or wooden.

“Any plastic we do have is made from plants, so it doesn’t take 300 years to decompose, but 30 days instead.

“That was a big thing, because opening a bakery, we might have been adding to landfill – all those cups, those lids. Even before Covid a lot of people were getting into sustainability. Think how many restaurants and cafes and take-aways there are in the world and it’s unbelievable how much rubbish they generate.

“We have a food waste bin, so anything in the kitchen which is scrap goes in the bin and is then disposed of properly. 

“We’re also working with a company called Too Good To Go, which is basically an app, that offers magic bags – we fill them up with any pastries we can’t sell at the end of the day and they go out to customers. They don’t get to choose what’s in the bag, but it means we make our costs back on the pastries and we’re not generating wasted food.

“At Republic we have plans to start a brunch service, although we’re still finalising the menu.

“It’s likely to include pancakes, avocado on toast, poached eggs, waffles and the Croissant Benny, which is Eggs Benedict in a croissant.

“It will be very Australian-inspired and we’re hoping that will come together before the end of June.

“Eventually, I want to expand to other sites then maybe to start a  franchise eventually, but that’s a few years away.”

Outdoor space at Sweet Nothing Bakehouse
Outdoor space at Sweet Nothing Bakehouse – image Matt Grayson

For now, there are plenty of attractions for customers already in place, not least a range of newly launched loaf cakes.

“They have a filling inside, which is a bit of a surprise with lots of nice textures,” said Beth. 

“Overall, Sweet Nothing is very pink, Instagrammable but still classic – over the top but not too much – our products just look mouthwatering.

“My favourite thing to do is actually the bespoke cakes, which start at £36 for a five-inch one. 

“A customer will come to us and say they want pastels or stencilling and that’s the best thing, when you get to be creative and they are happy with the result.

“Running your own business is almost more stressful than working for other people, but in a good way.

“Eventually I want to step away from the everyday responsibilities of the business and start to expand it. I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to have something like the bakery I’ve opened at Republic, to be honest.

“When I go home and have some time to myself, I think: ‘I did all that,’ and I’m so proud. Obviously it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is incredible. 

“I maybe thought I’d have a little place in a village, so to have this as my first premises is amazing and we can’t wait for more businesses to open here, which is good for all of us.” 

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Property: Why Alex Neil believes estate agency must be international and local

Matteo Congedo, regional manager for Canary Wharf and Docklands, talks service, sales and lets

Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo
Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo – image Matt Grayson

First established in 1984, when much of Docklands was still a derelict industrial wasteland, estate agency Alex Neil has stood the test of time, embracing the challenges of regeneration while growing and nimbly evolving to serve its ever-changing market.

Walk through the doors of its Canary Wharf and Docklands branch on Westferry Road and beneath the grey and copper of its branding you’ll find a business marketing properties in 65 different countries via 94 online portals – the kind of reach that would have been impossible 37 years ago.

“When we represent a vendor or a landlord, we do the very best we can to make sure they get maximum visibility in terms of marketing,” said regional manager Matteo Congedo.

“Because of Brexit and the fluctuations in the value of the pound, people overseas have seen that as an opportunity to invest in London and Canary Wharf is seen as one of the best places to be, so we’ve invested heavily in marketing all the properties we have internationally. That’s not something many agents can offer in London.

“But we also like to have a local presence – for example, we send out 300,000 printed supplements in the areas we cover as well and that reaches a different audience.

“We’re a modern agency, but that means using a range of different methods to make sure we cover as wide a demographic as possible. 

“One of the mistakes agencies make in terms of marketing is that they think one thing is going to work and they invest all their time and effort in that – social media, for instance. But what about people who don’t look at those platforms?

“What we’ve seen with video tours of properties during the pandemic, for example, is that because people are potentially committing themselves to a home for 30 years, they’re not going to do that if they only see it on a screen.

“It’s not like buying something on Amazon where if you don’t like it you can send it back. So during the pandemic we made sure we could continue physical viewings, equipping our staff with PPE, minimising time wasted.”

Operating from three locations in addition to Canary Wharf – Chiselhurst And Bromley, Bow And Bethnal Green and Rotherhithe And Bermondsey – the company covers Docklands, Kent, Essex and east and south-east London, marketing properties both to buy and rent.

Matteo said: “The sales market is very interesting at the moment because the only two things people were thinking about a couple of months ago were buying a place and working from home.

“At that time, because of the restrictions, buyers didn’t really have much opportunity to do anything else. With the easing, we’ve seen a bit of a drop in terms of viewings but a rise in terms of the quality of applicants – more serious buyers.

“Before we had people who were just looking around because there wasn’t much else to do.

“Now, as society opens up to other things – you can see family or friends you haven’t seen in a long time – those people who weren’t seriously committed to buying are doing those activities instead, rather than  searching for a property.

“That’s good for owners, because the time between putting a property on the market and getting an offer has fallen as a result.

“The way I see it, the average age of Canary Wharf residents is likely to drop. 

“Over the past year, families have started to be more open to other areas.  This area is great to live in but potentially doesn’t offer as much in terms of schools as some others. That’s what’s driven a lot of families to move to the outskirts of London.

“But, if you want to live in a cool place, walking distance to the office and the amenities of Canary Wharf and you want to be able to do lots of activities then it’s the place to be.

“I’m a true believer that Canary Wharf won’t struggle. Yes, over the past 15 months we’ve been through a lot and we’ll need a bit of time to adjust, but what Docklands offers is unparalleled compared to any other place in London. 

“People don’t want a long commute, especially if they’re working in financial services or for a big company where they’re doing very long hours in the office.

“The last thing you want to do after that is to go on a depressing journey on the Tube. It’s dark and dingy, especially in winter – an increasing number of people want to live close to work. 

“Also, what the buildings here offer in terms of facilities is very attractive – you have cinema rooms, swimming pools, concierge services and business hubs. The lifestyle here is completely different to how it was 20 years ago. 

“In terms of what’s popular, the older developments are really holding their ground because they offer a very large floorplan and that’s what people want. Then there are a lot of youngsters attracted by the new developments.”

Matteo says the rental market will book in September – image Matt Grayson

Matteo said the rental market locally had been through a rollercoaster of a year with the pandemic initially seeing tenants leaving the area but predicted a recovery would follow widespread return to offices.

He said: “We’ve seen Canary Wharf Group move into the build-to-rent market – a prime example being the Newfoundland building, which is just across the road from our office – that’s evidence of the demand for package deals where those renting pay a fixed price with bills included.

“We’re dealing with the Circus Apartments at Canary Riverside, which is another build-to-rent scheme  of 46 apartments, all offering luxury living because that fits with the calibre of people the area is attracing at the moment. 

“When people were not allowed in the offices, we did see a migration away but things are picking up and I think we’re going to have a boom around September when a large proportion of Canary Wharf workers are expected back in the office.

“That’s what we’re preparing our team for. It’s reassuring because there’s a huge buy-to-let market locally with many investors putting money in from abroad.”

Matteo was also keen to stress that, while Alex Neil is very much a company that looks outward, its heart is firmly in the communities it operates in, donating a percentage of its fees to a chosen charity each year and welcoming collaboration with local organisations.

He said: “Estate agency is a people business. The agent should be someone embedded in the community – it’s very important that every viewing we do, every person we speak to, we give the best possible level of customer service because you never know who you’re dealing with.

“The tenant of today could be the buyer or the landlord of tomorrow. Because we’ve been here such a long time, we have people who perhaps began renting through us but are now looking to buy and are looking only through us because they have an expectation – they know we’re going to do the best we can.

“In the industry, you see a lot of pop-up shops, businesses that start up and then close down after a couple of years because they don’t really offer a service. We’ve been established since 1984 and that says a lot.

“This year both me and the firm’s director David Hatch will be running the London Marathon to raise money for Guy’s And St Thomas’ Kidney Patients Association. We’d love to raise as much money as possible. As a company we try to do as much for charity as we can.

“An estate agency should be part of its community –  a point of contact if you need anything. 

“For example, we just bought a greenhouse for a girls school in Chiselhurst so they can grow plants. It’s about giving something back to people locally.”

Call 020 7537 9859 or go to alexneil.com for more information about properties in the area or to pledge your support for Matteo and David’s efforts in the forthcoming London Marathon

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Isle Of Dogs: Tiny Tigers offers kids and adults space to play at South Quay Plaza

The cafe and soft play space has been inspired by the principles of Montessori and the owners’ son

Tiny Tigers play area – image by Matt Grayson

By Laura Enfield

An indoor play area filled with things to climb, slide down and play with sounds like every little kid’s fantasy. And three-year-old Nico Reckers-Ng is lucky enough to have parents who have made that dream come true by opening Tiny Tigers Cafe.

Set in South Quay Plaza, the soft play fun zone is inspired by their son’s favourite things and the principles of Montessori, which encourage less noisy gadgets and more open-ended play.

The bright, spacious unit is filled with padded structures to climb and slide down, but also a host of mostly wooden toys and puzzles chosen to foster independent and imaginative play.

“There might be the occasional electronic toy but most of what we put in is supposed to try to create this environment where we switch off from electronics and move towards this organic, natural heuristic play that children learn and develop from,” said mum Elaine Ng.

“There is a sensory mirror and balls, trains, instruments, some books and I play piano for the children, so we have impromptu sing-a-longs.”

Nico gets to run amok in the play area when it is not in use and joins his mum for sessions, which has helped her stick to limited screen time during the pandemic.

Following Montessori ideals, TV is a rare treat and even during lockdown she avoided working in front of him, instead logging on after he went to bed and working until 1am to catch up on various tasks and cafe logistics.

“If I’m on my computer he just wants to climb on my lap and see what I’m doing,” said the former coder, who now works in wealth management for an American bank. “I try not to show him stuff on my phone either, so he doesn’t think it’s this amazing YouTube box.

“It’s tough because sometimes you would love to just throw them in front of the TV but, what I have found is, it’s quite addictive and they will ask for more and, if you try to engage with them, they are not interested. 

“Whereas, when I’m playing with my son, he’s making things up and there’s a much more natural type of development that happens.

“I completely understand why people use TV and there’s no judgement at all, but we didn’t have TV for thousands of years and now when I’m on the tube and everyone is on their screens, I wonder what that means for social interaction and behaviour.

“Social media will have a lot of responsibility for the mental health of our children, things like filters and how quickly they grow up, scare me.”

Nico tries out some of the equipment – image Matt Grayson

Elaine wants Tiny Tigers to help children become interested in the world around them. Classes in baby massage, baby sensory and Frog Prince music sessions have just launched and she is planning special events to celebrate the area’s multiculturalism, such as marking Eid and Black History Month.

Elaine is Malaysian Chinese, her husband, Thomas Reckers, is Czech German and the couple would love to bring their cultures to the cafe through language classes.

“I love London because it is so multicultural,” said Elaine, who grew up between the capital and Malaysia.

“If you move to France you become French whereas in the UK you grow up being British but being aware of your own culture because we celebrate Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year all these things. When I’m in London it doesn’t matter that I’m not white and I think that’s important for my son. I don’t want him to feel like an outsider.”

She and Thomas both work full time in finance and run the cafe in their spare time. And there have been more than the usual fun-filled ups and downs at the play area. The business was two years in the planning and finally opened last October, only to close again for five months when the second lockdown arrived.

It reopened again on May 17 with sessions limited to eight children and 45 minutes so staff are able to clean the play equipment thoroughly between each use.

“Nothing ever happens overnight is my long lesson after this,” said Elaine. “It’s been a huge learning curve and very hands-on, which we can do because we only wanted to open one place. If we were a big chain we would have just thrown money at it.”

The couple are running the cafe as a passion project rather than a money maker and Elaine said: “We would like it to break even at least, because we have put a lot of money and time into it. But, for us, it was more something that fitted into our philosophy of how we would like to bring up our son.”

Elaine said they wanted to keep costs down to make it as accessible as possible and help address the lack of facilities for the growing number of families on the Isle Of Dogs.

“Pre-maternity leave, I thought I would travel all over London with the baby, because that’s what I did before,” she said. “Actually, about 15 minutes from the flat was my maximum journey time. I was really disappointed by the lack of options on the island.

“In Canary Wharf the businesses are geared towards office workers and there’s not much space for prams, which I understand because they have to make their rent. I think people underestimate the number of families that are in the area and the infrastructure for them isn’t as strong here.”

Finding a suitable unit was a big challenge as the couple wanted to open something locally.

“Prior to Covid, I used to take Nico to central London for the Royal Opera House ballet class and its opera class and we would go to museums, art appreciation sessions and they were brilliant but just so much work,” said Elaine. “It was three hours of planning for a 45-minute session. We just wanted something more local.

“We wanted it to be financially viable, but also for the quality not to be compromised – that’s very important to me. 

“Every time we do something I think: ‘Would I be comfortable doing this with my son?’ If the answer is no, then I don’t want it in my unit.”

Elaine spent two years visiting play areas with Nico – Tiny Tigers encompasses all the elements he enjoys but also thoughtful facilities for adults. Aimed at kids aged up to five, it includes dedicated buggy parking, adult and toddler toilets and a separate changing room with a waist-level counter that has walls on three sides so babies can’t roll off.

Elaine bakes cakes for Tiny Tigers Herself – image Matt Grayson

Adult and child tickets cost £7, with non-crawling siblings allowed in for free. If children are old enough to play independently, parents are encouraged to sit in the cafe area and have a drink and relax. 

It serves Monmouth coffee, pastries from Paul Rhodes Bakery in Greenwich and food cooked fresh daily by the venue’s chef. Elaine bakes the cakes including a sugar-free option for kids and offers a toddler lunchbox for £4.

The volunteer with island-based charity Community Parents remembers struggling to play with her son when he was a baby and hopes the cafe can offer new parents the support she lacked.

“I didn’t know how much interaction to give him,” she said. “I went to Gymboree and just repeated what they did and I used to push him in the pram, talking to him about the weather. I felt like that crazy mum.

“I’m lucky to have a lot of support now, so that does take the pressure off me but I think it’s great when you can really interact with your children and I hope that’s what this place can offer.”

She also hopes it will fulfill their initial dream to give Nico a place to flourish.

“It’s a whole balancing act,” she said. “I don’t want my son to grow up thinking his parents were distracted by this. 

“We built this for him and we go there as much as we can because we love to be involved and I really enjoy talking to the parents. It’s so important to me that he feels loved and knows I’m there for him.”
Go to tinytigers.club for more information or to make a booking

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Isle Of Dogs: La Nina Caffe And Mercato brings Italian flavours to Pepper Street

Monica Olivieri has opened a coffee shop and grocery store complete with tastings and live music

Monica Olivieri has opened La Nina Caffe And Mercato – image Matt Grayson

“It would be amazing – if we could have the right support from Tower Hamlets Council, we could make the Isle Of Dogs a real food district,” said Monica Olivieri. The exuberant owner and creator of La Nina Caffe & Mercato is abuzz with ideas, when we meet to talk about its recent opening.

Located in Pepper Street on the western side of Glengall Bridge, Monica’s shop and cafe is decked out in white furniture and natural wood, completely packed with Italian produce, ready-to-cook meals and savoury and sweet treats to consume on the premises or take elsewhere.

Like the cheery looking sausage dog-shaped draft excluder that holds open La Nina’s door, it’s playful – with art on the walls and an ebullience that matches its owner.

“It was born during the first lockdown,” said Monica. “I’m a marketing and events expert, mainly working in food but with the pandemic I was completely closed. I couldn’t do anything, because I usually work with chefs and restaurants, and they were shut and events were banned.

“So I said: ‘Let’s do something’. I moved to the Isle Of Dogs four years ago and, at home, I have art, good food and good music and I just wanted to take it out and put it along the street for the community.

“I grew up in my grandmother’s shop in the province of Lecce in Italy and I’d always had these feelings to create something similar here on the Island – something authentic, familiar but with my spirit in it.”

UPCOMING GIGS AT LA NINA CAFFE AND MERCATO in 2021

June 4
E&E Acoustic Duo, Guitar and piano

June 11
Mackerel Skies, Guitar and percussion

June 18
Mariska Martina, Guitar and piano

June 25
Cinelli Brothers, Guitar and percussion

With branding drawn from an old family photo of Monica on her grandmother’s hip, the celebration of family is clear, but the logo is also an expression of deeper roots.

“My grandmother Joanna opened her first shop in my home town – a very tiny village in Lecce – just after the Second World War, so I consider her an entrepreneur,” said Monica.

“In Italy you have Joanna, then Joannina and the nickname is Nina, so that’s where the name of my shop comes from.

“My grandmother was a businesswoman. She started selling paper and pencils, because she was living in front of a school and understood the demand.

“Then, after that, she started to sell pasta, vegetables, clothes, everything. I grew up inside that shop and for me it was like a funfair because I could eat everything.

“My grandma was probably the first to have a TV in the village and, every time we were watching, there was advertising going on often for biscuits or chocolate or whatever.

“She’d ask me and my sisters which we wanted to eat and then she’d buy them so we could try and decide whether to stock them. I think that’s where my interest in marketing came from.”

La Nina offers a wide range of produce from across Italy – image by Matt Grayson

Monica’s career has seen her working with numerous chefs and restaurants as well as for big brands such as Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks and Ducati. Islanders may also be familiar with Carbonara Day In London, which saw more than 3,000 people come to Mudchute Park And Farm to enjoy the classic Italian dish in 2019 and is set for a second physical edition this year. 

For now, however, her focus is on establishing La Nina with an energetic   programme of events and a monthly roving spotlight on different Italian regions. 

“In the shop, customers will find cheese, salami, pasta, tomatoes and olive oil,” said Monica. “We pick some products where we know the producers, have visited them, and stock others recommended by friends of friends.

“We want people to try gourmet food and to understand that it is not always expensive – for customers to take advice from us because, for example, you can buy good quality olive oil without spending a fortune.

“Eventually we want people to visit the farms and companies that produce these products so we can say to people: ‘If you like this, here’s a business card, go and stay there and eat there. This is how people gain a proper knowledge of food.

“Italian food is, of course, some thing that comes naturally to me because I eat it every day. When I speak with English people they often say they love Italian cuisine, but this doesn’t mean anything because our food is so varied. 

“Italy has 20 regions, so it’s wrong to say the food is just pasta and pizza. We are rich in vegetables and there are so many varieties of fish and different ways of eating meat.

“As a cuisine, it’s very diverse and very different, so my goal is to tell our customers about food from different parts of Italy, changing the focus each month.

“We’ve already looked at Puglia, Sardinia and Campana and in June we‘ll have Tuscany, with olive oil, wines and some special dishes available at the shop and online.

“We’ll also be launching our Pranzo Con Opera – a set lunch menu available to pre-book on Saturdays and Sundays with a performer from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire  Of Music And Dance. 

“In July we’ll move on to Veneto with a selection of products as well as launching Aperitivo Veneziano, serving spritz cocktails.”

Furnished in part with unwanted chairs and tables found on London’s streets by Monica, the space’s other key function is as a cafe, having opened for outdoor guests in April as lockdown restrictions eased. 

“Mercato, of course means market and caffe, because La Nina is a coffee shop,” said Monica. “We serve Italian coffee and only one size with no syrups or anything like that. 

“If people want to make their coffee sweeter, they can use sugar. It’s been going fantastically – we’ve had queues outside and we really love to invite people in.”

Each month there’s a special focus on a different region of Italy – image Matt Grayson

La Nina has also become a venue for live music, as Monica works to attract more people to a part of Pepper Street that has suffered mixed fortunes in recent years, with a busy programme of events.

“It should be more active,” she said. “I want it to be vivid – an honest food district like Brick Lane or Borough. I want it to come alive.

“In England attention has completely shifted onto food. People really know about the quality and authenticity of Italian food and I’m very happy about that.

“To complement that we have a very rich calendar in June including wine tastings on 10 and 17 and olive oil tastings on 18 and 25. 

“The space also acts as an art gallery and we have artist Stefano Pallara Vernissage introducing his exhibition on June 19. We’re also set to have a jewellery making workshop with glasses of wine for participants, hosted by Isle Of Dogs-based designer Yago on June 12.”

As well as working on the second edition of Carbonara Day In London, Monica’s ambition is to open a second venue – Tavola (table in English), which will have a kitchen to serve Italian food. Until then, watch this space, there’s bound to be something going on. 

La Nina also operates as an online shop with free delivery on the Isle Of Dogs for orders over £35. Ticket inquiries should be made in person at the shop or via its website. 

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Isle Of Dogs: The Bloom Clinic launches to offer medical aesthetic treatments and wellness consultations near Canary Wharf

Image shows Dr Rita Nandi in her treatment room

GP Dr Rita Nandi founded the Skylines Village-based business after 14 years working in the NHS

Image shows Dr Rita Nandi of The Bloom Clinic
Dr Rita Nandi has launched The Bloom Clinic on the Isle Of Dogs – image Holly Cant

Time, care and attention to detail are the three things that stand out in a conversation with Dr Rita Nandi – apposite, given the nature of her new venture. Having spent 14 years working in the NHS – the last six as a GP – she’s launched The Bloom Cinic on the Isle Of Dogs, specialising in non-surgical medical aesthetics and wellness.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to work in medicine – as a child I used to play doctor in roleplay with my friends and family,” said Dr Nandi. 

“I started to contemplate aesthetics back at medical school – a GP I was shadowing at the time was doing treatments privately.

“That piqued my interest – it planted the seed in my head and as I’ve gone through the ageing process, I’ve started to look at having treatments myself. 

“Seeing the befores and afters, I was amazed at what could be achieved non-surgically and that the effects of the treatments could be reversed if desired – I have my procedures booked with the doctor I usually see in a couple of months.

“I also spoke to colleagues who were doing them and they said it was great in terms of owning your own business, but also for getting to spend as much time with your clients as they need. 

“What’s really frustrated me, working as a GP is that the time constraint of 10 minutes to see a patient – that just kills me.”

After making the decision to launch her clinic, Dr Nandi set about training in January 2020.

She said: “I’m all about safety – the oath we take as doctors is to do no harm so, for me, it was really important to get as much practical education as possible. I decided to do a Level 7 diploma – equivalent to a Masters – in injectables and a Level 4 in cosmetic dermatology with Harley Academy, as a foundation for my practice, and I’ve also completed numerous courses with Derma Medical and Cosmetic Courses, meaning I’ve trained with the top three leading organisations in the field.

“I’ve hand-picked the training so that I am able to run this clinic really well and, above all, safely.”

Image shows the managing director of The Bloom Clinic
Dr Nandi’s husband, Vivien Blossier is MD of The Bloom Clinic – image Holly Cant
Dr Nandi launched The Bloom clinic with husband Vivien Blossier as managing director.
  He said: “The key is that what we’re offering is non-surgical, reversible and that Rita is a fully qualified doctor.
  “We want to make sure The Bloom Clinic truly lives up to its name  – that it really helps clients and makes their lives better. We will prove the concept that way and then look at whether we want to expand the business.
  “Canary Wharf is a great market – Rita did some research and found there were a lot of people in the area in need of the holistic approach we provide. They work long hours and don’t have time to really think about their health and their needs as a person. We can help them bloom.” 

While the list of treatments offered by Dr Nandi at The Bloom Clinic is too long to reproduce in full here, services include injecting botulinum toxin  and hyaluronic acid fillers as well as microneedling, facials and chemical peels.

“I see the confidence that aesthetic treatments can bring about in people’s lives – they can have a life-changing effect,” said Dr Nandi. “As they walk out of the clinic, they’re ready to face the world. 

“It’s like wearing a red lipstick. They feel so powerful – it changes their outlook on the day, on life.

“Aesthetic treatments are great for people who feel fine but look at themselves in the mirror and think: ‘I look so exhausted, so tired’.

“Some people might think these treatments are a little bit superficial, but it’s like wearing makeup – whether that’s younger clients looking to enhance their lips, cheekbones or jawlines, or rejuvenation to reverse the signs of ageing. 

“There’s a little bit of risk involved, but we counsel our clients thoroughly on the possible side effects. I’m there 24-hours a day for my clients. We have emergency drugs ready at the clinic in the unlikely event we need to deal with an allergic reaction.

“None of my patients have had issues – and these are very rare – but if someone does, they can contact me and I can see them at the clinic if necessary. I live in Leyton so it only takes me 20 minutes to get there – and we’re fully equipped to deal with any problems.”

After making an enquiry, prospective clients can expect Dr Nandi to contact them for a chat about what they’d like to achieve and their health, to establish whether there’s anything that might rule out a particular treatment. 

Following initial screening, clients are invited for a consultation either in-clinic or via video chat, when a full medical and aesthetic history is taken.

“Then I’ll tell them about the treatments we offer and can advise them on which would be appropriate, if they’re still unsure,” said Dr Nandi.

“These procedures are not taken lightly. According to research by Glowday – a platform where clients can find medically qualified aesthetic practitioners – the average person takes 18 months to decide whether to have an aesthetic treatment from the point of coming across it to the point of sitting there in the treatment chair.

“Normally clients do loads of research, they’ll speak to the practitioner and assess their options before going ahead.”

While aesthetic treatments are at the core of what The Bloom Clinic offers, its ethos is to go above and beyond to provide its clients with access to a wider range of services.

“In order to achieve true wellness people want to deal with their fitness, their nutrition and their mindset as well,” said Dr Nandi. 

“So we’ve taken a holistic approach, working in partnership with experts in a range of areas.”

These include life coaches Maggie Edwards and Hans Schumann, Isle Of Dogs-based personal training studio Delta Fitness and online nutritional clinic CityDietitians

“After we’ve spoken to our clients about what they want to achieve and they’ve told me they want to work on a particular area, then I’ll tell them about our partners,” said Dr Nandi, who will continue to work as an NHS GP, part-time.

“Anybody who is having treatment at our clinic will then get 10% off our partner’s services. 

“Also, £1 from every single treatment The Bloom Clinic performs goes to the Trussell Trust, which operates about two thirds of the food banks in the UK.”

The Bloom Clinic is located within easy walking distance of the Canary Wharf estate and South Quay DLR at Skylines Village.

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