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Limehouse: How St Anne’s Limehouse plans to open the building to everyone

National Lottery Heritage Grant funding is crucial for plans to put in a lift and covert the crypt

St Anne’s Limehouse is working towards a £7million refurbishment

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St Anne’s Limehouse has a long history of welcoming and protecting the people of east London.

Completed in 1727 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the towering white structure is home to a diverse congregation under current rector, the Rev Richard Bray. 

But the church also has a long history as a place of refuge for all, with its crypt converted into a bomb shelter for local residents in the 1940s during the Second World War.

Today, that partly refurbished space offers a place for the homeless to sleep in safety.

However, the church and Care For St Anne’s (CfSA) – the charity whose mission is to conserve and celebrate the building’s architectural heritage – have ambitious plans to go much further.

In addition to restoration and refurbishment, they want to open the building up to a wider audience with a scheme that should see its doors flung wide beyond the timings of services and its regular Friday and Saturday opening hours.

To that end, CfSA recently received some £613,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to launch its Hawksmoor 300: A Landmark For Limehouse campaign. 

This is money it will use to move forward with an application for a further £2.9million National Lottery Delivery grant from 2025, as part of a £7million scheme to remodel significant chunks of unused space and improve access to the building by 2030.

The plan is to clear and open up its crypt

“This project will infuse our historic building with fresh life for future generations, establishing it as the East End’s biggest, most accessible and welcoming community space,” said Rev Bray. 

“We look forward to welcoming many of our neighbours into the renewed building before too long.”

There are really three parts to the project, as outlined to me by CfSA chair Philip Reddaway on a recent tour of the building – the steps, the crypt and the garden.

“There are a number of things we intend to do,” said Philip.

“First of all, there’s no step-free access to the church, which really doesn’t work in this day and age.

“Our plan is to install a lift from the crypt level to the nave and up to the gallery, which is a major project in itself. In terms of the building, the other big thing is the crypt.

CfSA chair Philip Reddaway

“Part of it was cleared and refurbished in the 1980s with funding from the London Docklands Development Corporation.

“While that part is being used, it’s mainly for the church itself and we want to create a flexible, multi-use space – rather like Christ Church Spitalfields – that we can open to the wider community.

“That’s one of the things you have to demonstrate to get the Lottery funding – that it’s a project that will benefit and be used by a wide range of local people.

“At present, there are still more than 100 bodies buried in the crypt in walled off family tombs dating from the 18th century.

The crypt was used as a bomb shelter during the Second World War

“You had to be rather grand to be interred here rather than in the churchyard, but as part of this project those spaces will need to be cleared and the remains reburied.

“That’s a complicated process and there are lots of specialists involved to ensure all the correct procedures are followed.”

The unconverted space is also littered with decades of detritus – the dumped ephemera of operation, placed out of sight and out of mind.

A further challenge for the renovators is the extensive network of blast walls and facilities left over from its time as a wartime bomb shelter. 

These include ancient toilet cubicles and a pair of sick bays for Londoners to use while the explosives rained down outside.

“When we carried out our consultation, we found some people thought the church had been deconsecrated because the doors were often shut when no services were taking place,” said Philip.

“We now have a team of volunteers opening up on Fridays and Saturdays to help change that.

“But it’s not just being physically open, it’s about building on the things we already do – creating all sorts of partnerships with local organisations.

There are even 1940s toilets still in place left over from the war

“We’re working with Queen Mary University, the Museum Of London Docklands, Whitechapel Gallery and the Building Crafts College in Stratford.

“Queen Mary’s history department, for example, spent time finding out more about the lives of the people buried in the crypt and gave a presentation about some of them.

“Sadly, but inevitably, this was one of the great shipbuilding areas of London, and several buried here were involved in the slave trade and we have at least one major slave trader buried here. 

“We don’t walk away from that and I would like to see a permanent exhibition putting it in context.

“Another interesting finding was two brothers – John and Samuel Seaward – who lived near my home on Newell Street.

“They were maritime engineers who were involved in pioneering the first transatlantic steam ships – big cheeses in their field at the time.

“Queen Mary’s engineering department used their story as inspiration for a project with Cyril Jackson Primary School in Limehouse that saw 10-to-11-year-olds build boats in the spirit of the brothers, to help them learn basic engineering principles, with a view to building a working boat that can sail on one of the local canals.”

The church wants to make the space available for flexible use

In addition to opening a cafe in the crypt, another of the ambitions for the Hawksmoor 300 project will be to update the church’s grounds.

“We want to create something called the Remembrance Garden to commemorate the waves of migrants who have come through Limehouse over the years,” said Philip.

“From the Huguenots, the Jews, the Chinese, all the way through to the Bangladeshi community, we want to have different parts of the churchyard planted to reflect the people who have settled here so there’s something that’s relevant to all of them.

“We’re working with a great charity called Groundwork, who are specialists in this kind of thing, as well as with pupils at Cyril Jackson to create this.

“The churchyard is lovely – dog-walkers love it – and it’s one of the biggest green spaces in the area, but it is under-utilised and we want people to come here and enjoy it.”

CfSA is now embarking on a fundraising campaign to raise a further £3.5million in addition to the £3.5million anticipated from the Lottery. 

This latest drive comes off the back of another successful project, that will see the church’s massive stained glass window removed, restored and put back in place.

Detail of St Anne’s’ east window, which is set to be restored

During the 12 months or so that it’s absent from the massive arch in the church’s east wall, a replacement window by artist Brian Clarke will occupy the space before it finds a new home, hopefully in the East End.

Then, following more than £100,000 worth of work, the original window will return to pride of place, its panels cleaned and the extensive buckling of the metal frames rectified.

“Inside, the church requires quite a lot of cosmetic attention, which has to happen to tackle the legacy of water getting in and things like that,” said Philip. 

“But when the window returns, it will be another wonderful asset to the building opposite the fully restored organ that plays beautifully.”

Anyone interested in getting involved with the project in a fundraising or volunteering capacity can find out more online via the charity’s website here.

Read more: How WaterAid uses dragon boats to raise money

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via
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Limehouse: How Mark AC Brown’s Dead On The Vine won at Smodcastle Film Festival

East End-based filmmaker’s second feature takes three prizes at Kevin Smith’s inaugural event

Filmmaker Mark AC Brown

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Mark AC Brown has a smile on his face when we meet at The Star Of The East pub.

It’s a venue the Limehouse-based filmmaker knows well – a grand palace of a place on Commercial Road filled with comfy leather upholstery where he can often be found working away on scripts.

The smile is not down to the welcoming atmosphere, however. It’s because his second feature film as writer and director recently won best drama, best actor and best ensemble at the inaugural Smodcastle Film Festival on its world premiere. 

Dead On The Vine, which is set for its UK debut later this year, is a film that was never meant to exist.

Originally from Yarm, a town nestled in the bend of the River Tees in North Yorkshire, Mark grew up wanting to make movies.

“I always wanted to be a filmmaker since about the age of three, when I saw lots of great films like The Wizard Of Oz, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Jason And The Argonauts,” he said.

“I also got to see a huge number of inappropriate movies thanks to my aunty and uncle, including Deliverance because he liked the banjos.

“It wasn’t easy in the North East when I was growing up. There wasn’t a film industry or even the possibility to dream really, but I kept it in my head and just watched endless movies.

“I made a few films with my brother and my friends, but that was it until I went to university in Liverpool where I tried to do it a bit more.

“I was on a general media course, not specifically about making films, though – a huge error on my part – and I was useless at it.

Dead On The Vine is set on a vineyard

“I meandered through, enjoying life but not doing anything significant. I was just lazy, I had no motivation.

“I passed by 2% and that was only because I did really well in the parts related to making films or writing them.”

Having moved back to the North East, he tried a different course and made some films with people he met there, one of which won an award and spurred him on to move to London.

In his 20s he was writing furiously while working in Wetherspoons to support himself.

With people he met through a writing course, he created a company called Joined Up Writers, creating plays for the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington – “tickling success” when BBC radio offered to mentor him.

“I was struggling in my head at the time and thought they didn’t mean it so, after a couple of meetings I didn’t follow it up,” he said.

Returning to film, he wrote scripts for shorts and found fresh success in an industry that often moves at a glacial pace.

“One of the shorts was screened at the Raindance film festival and I got noticed by a producer who asked me to write an 18th century drama about the first black boxer in Britain,” said Mark. 

“It’s called The Gentleman, but the producer who was involved was also producing The Expendables, which became an unexpected success, so they went off in that direction and my film didn’t get made.

“There was lots of promise, lots of fun, but I was sad because, had it come out, I’d have been paid a lot more.

“I currently have four different versions of it – a play, a six-part TV series, the film and a monologue in my desk.”

Further successful writing jobs followed, before Mark decided he wanted to get back behind the camera.

Mark and the Dead On The Vine team receive their awards from Kevin Smith

“I had always wanted to be a director first, rather than a writer, but I had to write my own scripts because no-one else would, so I fell more into writing,” he said.

“In 2015 I made a short film called Corinthian, which did well at festivals and I liked doing it.

“We did that on a tiny budget and through that process I worked out how to shoot a feature in 10 days.

“So I called up my mates, told them I’d write parts for all of them and they all said yes.

“That was my debut feature Guardians – shot in the house in Limehouse, where I live, and featuring St Anne’s Church and the Queen’s Head pub, where we shot from 11pm-4am.

“It was a very silly comedy and won quite a few awards, which set me on the path I’m on now.

“Through that film I met my producing partner Laura Rees.

“Our next project was a film called Limpet and then the pandemic arrived and just killed our plans dead.

“Fortunately I’d got a couple of writing jobs, which tided us over a bit but as soon as they finished, I was going crazy with nothing to do.”

He called Laura up, who suggested doing something with a small cast in a vineyard where she was staying.

Plucking an idea about two suspicious guys who break down and end up on a farm from his archive, the pair set about assembling a bubble of cast and crew for what would become Dead On The Vine.

Mark said Dead On The Vine was inspired by Fargo

“We got together this crew of incredible people who were desperate to do something,” said Mark.

“They liked the script and Laura called in some old favours, so we had this amazing crew – being in a vineyard in the middle of summer was also quite appealing.

“It was 77 acres, you could be outside, socially distanced and in an incredible environment. The film almost has the feel of a  western about it – Fargo was a big influence.

“Theses two chaps, one of whom has had an epileptic seizure and is unconscious for the first 20 minutes, come to a vineyard where the two women owners are preparing for a make or break wine tasting evening to save their business.

“Certain things happen, bits of violence pop up, some revelations occur that cause everyone involved to make some very important life choices and moral choices about how they want the rest of their lives to go – do they want to save their businesses, their lives or each other? It’s a darkly comic thriller – certainly not grim.”

With work nearly complete, Mark and Laura entered the film in writer and director Kevin Smith’s first Smodcastle Film Festival in New Jersey.

“Two people who saw it there randomly described it as if Reservoir Dogs had been made by the BBC,” said Mark.

“Kevin Smith has been an inspiration to me – his film, Chasing Amy, was one of those movies that gave me a boost when I was at university.

“I saw it and thought: ‘I want to write like that’.

“I first met Kevin while he was walking his dog in the small town where the festival was held, and I was completely nervous about approaching him.

“My friend David had no such qualms and went right up to him – he was lovely.”

Dead On The Vine won in three categories including best actor for Tom Sawyer and ensemble cast – including Mark’s partner Victoria Johnston who he lives with in Limehouse, close friend and frequent collaborator David Whitney and Sheena Browne.

Filming took place under Covid restrictions

“I am one of those people who gets disappointed if I don’t win at awards ceremonies,” said Mark.

“At Smodcastle, the reaction the film received at the festival made us believe we might take something home.

“But you still can’t be prepared for the moment when you win. When we got best ensemble, we sat back, pleased. Then when Tom won best actor it was even better.

“But then we won best drama and I was in a daze and didn’t realise what was happening.

“The rest of the cast had legged it up to the stage, and I was right behind them: ‘This one’s mine’. 

“Then I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to be a sycophant, so I just garbled some pleasantries about the crew deserving the thanks because were all in a bad place and they really stepped up, coming into an unknown situation – then a legend like Kevin Smith had said what we made was good, and it made it all worthwhile.”

Dead On The Vine is set to get its UK premiere in east London later this year although exact dates and times are yet to be confirmed.

Readers can watch Mark’s first feature Guardians via Amazon Video.

Meanwhile, Laura and Mark continue to work on the production of Limpet.

He said: “Dead On The Vine was never really meant to exist – we see it as a bonus film because it gave us purpose and saved our sanity over the lockdowns.

“It really shows off what I can do as a director and Limpet is a bigger film so hopefully people might trust us with a bit more money with that on the CV.”

Read more: How Matthew Jameson is bringing the revolution to life on stage

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via
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Limehouse: How Holy Cow is is bringing Indian fine dining to east London

Holy Cow Group chairman Kul Acharya talks washing dishes, cooking and expanding his restaurant chain

Holy Cow Group chairman Kul Acharya

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“We hold the food to our lips for two minutes to see how much our mouths water,” said Kul Acharya.

“That’s how we find out how tasty the dishes are.

“We cook everything fresh – meat, vegetables every day – and you have to taste it to know whether you’ve made something delicious.”

Kul should know. Born and raised in the small village of Dhairing in Nepal, he worked first as a primary school teacher before travelling to the UK on a tourist visa. 

“I wanted to be a chef,” he said. “I came as a visitor and then started to work washing dishes at the Bombay Bicycle Club.

“Then I started cooking, learnt very quickly and eventually became head chef helping with the opening of new branches.”

Lauded by Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard, he decided to set up his own business in 2005, launching his first takeaway in Battersea.

“I wanted it to be something different, something new – I wanted it to have a good name,” said Kul.

“I was at a party and I told a friend I wanted to open a restaurant and that I was looking for a name and they said: ‘Holy Cow’.

“So we opened and I worked for a year to establish the company without a single day off. 

Murg Masala at Holy Cow

“I’d be in the kitchen cooking and customers would come in and say they had never had this kind of food and that made me really proud.”

Holy Cow has now grown to nine locations, opening its first dine-in restaurant in Putney in December 2019.

It recently opened its second, taking over a corner space at Narrow Street’s Mosaic development in Limehouse – less than 15 minutes’ walk from the Canary Wharf estate.

Here he hopes to tap into both the east London dining and takeaway markets as the business grows.

“I have been engaged in different things in recent years,” said Kul, who is the current president of the Non-Resident Nepali Association’s International Coordination Council.

“But my focus is now on the business. I would like to have 20 locations in the Greater London area by 2025.

“We opened one in Portugal last year but had to close due to the pandemic, so I would also like to grow elsewhere in Europe.”

The restaurant opened to the public in January

For now though, it’s the food in London that’s very much on Kul’s mind.

A dish of Murg Masala arrives along with some spinach and rice during our interview and he’s much more concerned that I eat it while it’s hot rather than faff with photography.

It’s a measure of the warmth diners can expect at the new venue.

“What we serve is a fusion of Nepali, Indian and European food,” said Kul.

“The first question I always ask myself is: ‘Am I comfortable eating what I cook?’. If the answer is yes, then we can sell it. If not, then we don’t sell it.

“I’m always checking to see if there’s the right amount of chilli or salt in our dishes. The way our food looks is also very important.

“We work with a lot of vegetables and they have to be appetising and fresh.

“It’s very important to understand our customers when deciding which dishes to serve.

“Nepali food is generally less heavy – our tomato sauces, for example are lighter, not oily at all and the dahl we serve is more delicate.

“People like what we do – it’s great to get so many good reviews. Hopefully we can continue that success in Canary Wharf. 

“For me, coming to this country was a golden opportunity.

“My ambition was to be a chef but before I came here I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of having even one restaurant.

“Really I just wanted to be head chef. I certainly never thought that one day I would have more than 200 people working for me.”

Holy Cow is open daily from noon for dining and takeaway orders.

Holy Cow is now open in Narrow Street

Read more: How Atis aims to nourish and satisfy Wharfers

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via
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Wapping: How Wapping Docklands Market provides a platform for small businesses

Zeroo Markets founder Will Cutteridge talks under-used land, sustainability and his plans for expansion

Will Cutteridge of Wapping Docklands Market
Will Cutteridge of Wapping Docklands Market – image Matt Grayson

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Will Cutteridge is a bit of a visionary. Where some see awkward, unused expanses of land left over from Docklands’ industrial past, he sees opportunity.

Take the patch of cobbles, wharf and compacted earth beside the Glamis Road bascule bridge, for example. 

Walk under the crossing’s red riveted metalwork, turn right through a gate off Wapping Wall at the entrance to Shadwell Basin you have the site of his first venture under the banner of Zeroo Markets.

“I worked in commercial property for five years on an apprenticeship scheme, changing teams every year,” said Will. “It was managing real estate in many different formats, but it wasn’t for me.

“When I was very young and working in property – I was 17 when I joined the industry – I didn’t have much money so I was looking at ways of making some extra cash on the weekends. 

“I started working for a company called Bath Soft Cheese who have a farm just outside of Bath, funnily enough.

“The job was selling their products at various markets around London and I absolutely loved it.

“Before I became an apprentice I’d had an interest in starting my own business of some kind. I had experience of real estate and markets – I didn’t enjoy one of them so the other one seemed the obvious place to go.

Hannah Nicholson of Peaches
Hannah Nicholson of Peaches – image Matt Grayson

“I think people are increasingly conscious of sustainability, the environment and the future of the planet.

“That was also an interest of mine, so I wanted to see how I could work that into my ideas and actually make a difference. 

“I felt almost a moral duty to factor that into my business plan and markets provide a brilliant platform for primary producers to sell their products at a price that doesn’t need to compete with large commercial supermarkets. 

Chegworth Valley, for example, is our fruit and veg supplier based in Kent, so it’s only 50 miles away.

“Our butcher is in Leicester, so that’s about 100 miles. When you buy a steak in a supermarket for £3, it may well have come from Australia or Texas.

“It’s far better to shop local and we describe ourselves as a sustainable alternative.”

By we, Will means Wapping Docklands Market, the venture he launched in April after founding his company in October 2020.

“The most important thing to do is to find the site, get the right demographic and then apply to the landowner,” he said. “In this case it’s Tower Hamlets Council.

“This was just an abandoned car park – it’s not used by anyone for anything.”

Egle Kleivaite of Stomping Grounds
Egle Kleivaite of Stomping Groundsimage Matt Grayson

Visitors to the market, which normally operates on Saturdays, will find a range of traders.

“It’s lots of different things for many different kinds of customer,” said Will.

“For the residents of Wapping and further afield in east London, it provides an opportunity to support local businesses and to get their weekly shop in from us.

“A lot of people do that – one of our best performing pitches is the fruit and veg stall. People do support that mission.

“We also have a pub, in effect, operated by the Krafty Braumeister.

Visitors can come and have a beer and enjoy refreshments from a plethora of street food stalls as well.

“On average our products have travelled 900 miles less when compared with a like-for-like product in a supermarket, so what we’re doing is working, and we’re always looking to improve.

“That’s a very important part of the market and attracts a younger crowd.”

Ben Tyler-Wray of Celtic Bakers
Ben Tyler-Wray of Celtic Bakers image Matt Grayson

The market also features baked goods, gifts, clothing and homewear brands.

“It’s been going really well since we launched and the local community have taken to it really well and we’re immensely grateful to them for that.

“We’re still trading strongly despite the weather turning. We don’t see a dip in our footfall with cold – it’s wind and rain that can be the problem.

“We want to continue to operate here and to extend our normal operation to Sundays and then Fridays, which is what we’re doing for Christmas.

“Eventually I’d love to work with the council to redevelop the site with a temporary canopy in the style of Borough Market and have a high street in a market setting.

“That potential is what we’re looking for at all of our sites.

“That’s why we wouldn’t operate at schools, for example, because it’s not under utilised space and there would be no flexibility to expand there. 

“With our next ventures, I’m looking to keep it local – my dad lives in Wapping and, while I’m in Holloway at the moment, I’m looking to move to the area. 

“We’re in contact with a number of local authorities, private developers and private landlords on a number of sites around east London.”

Brendan Preece of Brnd And Co
Brendan Preece of Brnd And Co image Matt Grayson

Wapping Docklands Market is always interested to hear from potential traders.

Will said: “There’s an application form on our website, which goes straight through to us.

“There are lots of things we’d love to add to the market. I’d love to have a crèche. A lot of parents come here with their kids and say they’d love to stay longer but have to leave because of them.

“I think a lot of adults would like that freedom to go and see Uli Schiefelbein – the Krafty Braumeister for a beer.

“He’s completely eccentric and totally awesome in every way and is great to talk to.”

As for the future, Will intends to create a business model called Squid, designed to work with landlords to generate value from under utilised space.

In the meantime, Wapping Docklands Market will be open Fridays (3pm-10pm), Saturdays and Sundays (10am-5pm) throughout December, before taking a break until January 19.

Read more: Discover Jake’s shirts, handmade in Royal Docks

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Wapping: How Stirling Eco is bringing art to the booming world of electric vehicles

Founder and CEO Robert Grace is building a moped-focused brand that’s filled with creativity and a flare

Stirling Eco founder and CEO Robert Grace – image Matt Grayson

Creativity courses through Robert Grace like the electric mopeds he designs and sells flow through the streets of London. The founder and CEO of Stirling Eco began his career in decorative ceramic tiling, rising through an apprenticeship to the pinnacle of the industry with a company – Grace Of London – that produces intricate mosaic designs using 12, 18 and 24-carat gold, other precious metals and Swarovski crystals.

So what prompted him to launch an electric vehicle company and base his operation on The Highway in Wapping? 

“Stirling Eco came about because I was asked to decorate a bike – an electric moped – about three years ago by a German company because of my reputation with gilding and ceramics and so on,” said Robert. “I said: ‘Sure, send it over’. This bike was to be decorated for a big fancy show in America and, when I got it, put it together, sat on it and tried it out, I realised there was nothing much like it in the UK.

“We actually stock that model in the showroom now – it’s called the Ridgeback. So we did a bit of product research and we were so far ahead of the curve.

“During the first lockdown, I was fortunate that I was staying for three months in Poole, in my friend’s beautiful house, 80 metres from the sea, sitting in the garden and thinking about what the world was going to be like. When you set up a business, you try to imagine how things will be in five years, but the virus turned everything on its head.

“We couldn’t really see beyond 12 months at the time, but I wanted to work out what could set us apart if we went into this market, just as I was set apart from my peers as a tile fixer by the creative component to what I was doing. We decided it would absolutely be the art side of the business that set us apart with the bikes, so we set about designing something really stylish.

“Primarily it had to be functional because people would buy it to get to and from work – it had to work correctly, but beyond that there was no reason it couldn’t be sexy and fun as well.”

The result was the Electro Ride, a low slung collection of curves evoking classic chopper motorcycles but built for modern urban riding. Powered by a 2,000W motor it boasts a 45mph top speed although comes limited to 30mph, has a range of 30 miles on a single four-hour charge and starts at £2,410 for the entry level model. 

A gilded Electro Ride with Swarovski crystals - image Matt Grayson
A gilded Electro Ride with Swarovski crystals – image Matt Grayson

 “You can buy an electric motorbike that does 70mph for 100 miles, but that isn’t the market that we’re in,” said Robert. “We want to transform the way people travel around cities – that’s the nucleus of our idea, that’s where everything begins. The components we use are pretty much standard – a moped is two wheels, handlebars and a throttle but electric vehicle technology is so fluid at the moment. The motors are getting more efficient, the batteries are lasting longer and controllers are evolving.

“So changing the motors on these to upgrade them is relatively inexpensive – it’s not like changing an engine in a car – and the maintenance on them is really simple. Really it’s just tyres and brake pads.

“That’s why we’re an art-orientated business – we can decorate bikes personally for clients and then upgrade the technology as it becomes available.” 

Walk in to Stirling Eco’s showroom and there’s little doubt that you’re at a dealer with a difference. As well as selling the Electro Ride, the company stocks a range of other electric vehicles including the Vespa-style Trento.

Part art gallery, part den for electric vehicle enthusiasts, it boasts street art murals and paintings and a red carpet area for those seduced by the glitz and glam of celebrity.

Taken as a whole it forms the perfect backdrop to the mopeds – especially the art bikes, which include one gilded in 24-carat gold and festooned with sparkling crystals, available for £25,000.

“It’s the usual analogy of being a very small fish in a very big pond because we’re competing with big brands,” said Robert. 

“If we were in the same room as them we couldn’t compete – we’d get torn apart. So that’s why we’re here on The Highway. What we’ve decided to be here is the most exotic fish in the tank and this is our aquarium. That’s why people’s eyes are drawn to us.

“We’ve got graffiti artists here, but we didn’t want the showroom to look like Camden Town, so there’s a really good objective mix of artwork here, combining the work of the Bickerton Grace Gallery, which I set up with photographer Anne-Marie Bickerton, with what we were doing with the bikes.”

Stirling Eco creative director Tee Blackwood models the Electro Ride
Stirling Eco creative director Tee Blackwood models the Electro Ride

A quick glance through Stirling Eco’s social media channels reveals a brand that’s unafraid to have a bit of fun while creating some buzz, tempting celebrities to mount its bikes and even collaborating with Ryan Reynolds’ stunt double in the Deadpool movies. 

Look beyond the hype though and there’s both a solid business case and an environmentally conscious core to the firm’s operation. 

At the time of writing London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is set for a significant expansion, potentially affecting millions of car owners in just over 120 days.

Robert said: “There’s a massive number of people who will, all of a sudden, have to think about paying £12.50 a day to keep their car in the zone if it doesn’t fit in with the new restrictions.

“Many of those will be two-car families where they need two modes of transport. A lot of our clients are coming in because they can’t afford to keep two cars and they’re seeing us as an alternative. They need to keep one car to visit people outside London because our bikes aren’t allowed on the motorway, but they’re looking to us for a vehicle that’s ULEZ compliant, totally tax-free and that you can ride into the City without paying the congestion charge or polluting the atmosphere.

“We’re doing things properly. You need a CBT at least to ride one of our bikes and they have to be insured. But you also get flexibility – you can take the battery out and into your house to charge it, which costs about £1 for 30 miles.

“As a company we really want to look after people. The batteries are guaranteed for 12 months and we pride ourselves on really good aftercare and like to stay in touch with our clients. We even organise rides and people are welcome to join us.

“The nice thing about these bikes is that when you pull up at the traffic lights you get people asking about them – they really turn heads.

“I’d like to share the story of a client of ours called Greg. He works for a big law firm in IT and used to get the Tube every day from Golders Green to Moorgate and used to arrive at work angry every day.

“He came in the other day and we asked him how the bike was as he’d been riding it for about two months.

“He said: ‘Rob, I arrive at work happy every day’. It was really nice to hear him say that – now in terms of the commute he’s in control, there’s no-one around him, breathing on him, that’s freedom.”

There’s a sense that Stirling Eco, which launched in 2020 is very much at the start of its journey and with a showroom filled with art and creative people it’s a space that demands attention.

As for Robert’s tiling, he’s accepted Wharf Life’s challenge to create a special edition of the Electro Ride decorated with his signature mosaics. We’ll watch this space with interest.

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Wapping: Wilton’s Music Hall reopens its doors with a busy programme of shows

The venue will welcome live audiences for black comedy EastEndless from May 28

The doors to Wilton’s will swing open on May 28 – image by Matt Grayson

The doors of Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping, shut to the public for more than a year, are set to reopen on May 28 and the team cannot wait to welcome people back to its forthcoming programme of shows and to its bars.

 Head of development and communications at the venue, Harry Hickmore said: “We closed the building to the public as instructed on March 16, 2020. The memory of that day is quite vivid because, like all arts organisations, we’re not used to closing our doors – especially not for an uncertain period of time.

“We haven’t been completely quiet over the past 14 months – we’ve had a lot of exciting things going on in the building, which was often used as a set for film or TV productions.

“We’ve had the BBC recording in here, as well as Amazon Prime and new Disney and Netflix films.

“So we’ve been using the building creatively – there have also been rehearsals in the building for streamed performances, but in terms of having real human beings enjoying culture together, May 28 will see us return to live performances.”


EastEndless, May 28-29, £19-£22
An obsessed EastEnders fan lands a bit part on the show in this blackly comic look at the soap 

Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, Jun 1, £19-£22
Mark Farrelly takes on the part of the naked civil servant in this resurrection of a work
Scaramouche Jones, Jun 15-26, £22.50-£25
A centenarian clown breaks 50 years of silence on Millennium Eve to tell the story of his life 

With restrictions constantly changing and unexpected lockdowns, the reopening means shows that have long been planned can finally go ahead.

“It’s been really rough for the artists,” said Harry. “Everyone who works in theatre, music or anything to do with industries that work with freelance creatives, knows it’s been really rocky, because people have not known when they’d be able to perform again. For all artists, it’s more than a job, it’s their livelihood, their lifestyle and their life.

“We’ve got so many who were meant to be performing in March or April last year that we moved to September or October in the first instance and, when that didn’t happen, rescheduled for January or February.

“Now we can actually say to artists with complete confidence that, in terms of being able to do socially-distanced shows initially, they will be performing to audiences who cannot wait to hear them. We’ve got a lot of frustrated performers and now they’re thrilled.

“We’re delighted that audiences and artists are coming back together in our venue – that’s what makes these buildings really sing – it’s very exciting.”

Harry Hickmore is head of development and communications at Wilton’s Music Hall – image Matt Grayson

At first Wilton’s capacity will be cut from 350 to 109 to ensure audience members can remain socially distanced and Harry said the venue could adapt its operation at short notice should government guidance change.

“Something very strange would have to happen for shows not to go ahead,” he said. “The only thing that would stop us is a full lockdown. If needs be, we can have a socially distanced auditorium for a bit longer in June. 

“The other thing is that audiences will be returning to a venue that’s really comfy and sounds great.

“Wilton’s was built to have more than 1,000 people in the hall for performances in the 19th century so it could be a bit boomy. We’ve just completed a £500,000 project to install acoustic pannelling on the walls of the balcony to enable a range of shows from one person speaking on stage to a full opera.

“We’ve also had new seats put in, which will be an extra bonus for audiences. We have a lot of generous donors who support us and we’ve relied on them this year when ticket sales and other income have fallen by the wayside.”

Harry, who oversees fundraising efforts for the venue, is also looking forward to the return of weddings at Wilton’s.

“By the time this article comes out we’ll have just done our first wedding since lockdown,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people approach us in 2020 who are planning to get married and really want to do it here so I hope there will be more in July and August when people can have a full ceremony and celebration.

“We’ll also be reopening the Mahogany Bar and we have a lot of regulars and locals who just visit us for a drink.”

Ready and waiting for an audience – image Matt Grayson

Harry, who is a trained musician and previously worked as a fundraiser for English National Opera, said he was especially looking forward to Scaramouche Jones Or The Seven White Masks later in June.

“It’s going to be brilliant – starring Justin Butcher in the lead role, it’s 20 years since it was made famous by the late Pete Postlethwaite,” he said.

“In general though, the thing I’ve really missed over the last 14 months is that feeling that people are coming from all different areas, different day-jobs, into one space, to enjoy one thing together – an experience of about 90 minutes without any interruption from the outside world.

“There’s the brilliant magic where there are two or three artists on stage with an audience and they’re all enjoying it together.

“There’s a reason why, since humans lived in the caves, we’ve been taking part in live performance.

“We love being in a  group – it’s something really simple – and we haven’t always been able to do that during the pandemic.

“There have been great things that have come from the proliferation of live streaming, which will really improve the whole theatre sector, but nothing can beat that bustle before 7.30pm, where loads of people who don’t know each other are about to share quite an intimate experience, side by side.

“It’s a really beautiful thing and it’s something we do brilliantly well in London.”

 With strong demand for tickets reported, don’t delay booking if you’re planning an evening out at Wilton’s or another venue in the coming months. 

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