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Property: A deep dive into interior design firm Rebirth’s approach to its projects

Company uses blending and layering to incorporate trends into its schemes that fit with client briefs

Paul Cuschieri and Malcolm Abela Sciberras, founders of Rebirth

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Refurbishing and updating the interior of a property can have myriad benefits.

The process offers owner-occupiers the chance to enjoy and use their home to its full potential while adding value should they wish to sell in the future.

For landlords, it’s an opportunity to boost and extend the appeal of their asset to attract more affluent tenants. 

Interior design specialists Paul Cuschieri and Malcolm Abela Sciberras have expanded their business to London, having established Rebirth in Malta.

Here we look at three of their projects that typify their approach when working for clients in the field.

Rebirth’s minimalist kitchen in a London flat

ONE – LONDON LIVING

“This property is a mid-century London apartment,” said Paul.

“With us, it’s all about discussing briefs, budget, timelines, style and the needs of our client. 

“In this particular project we were tasked with creating a home away from home for our client, but with the possibility of it being rented out.

“This two-bedroom home was dated, worn and tacky, so we had to bring it up to modern standards.

“Efficiency and energy conservation were also very important, so we installed double glazing and changed the central heating system to one that uses less fuel.

“We also made sure the property was in line with all relevant regulations for rental homes.

“Once all these things were set, we went into the design of the space.

Old and new – some original furniture has been retained

“We recommended going for a minimalist, eclectic feel that’s common to many of our projects. The reason is that we layer the space, creating points of interest.” 

This approach allowed Rebirth to take existing statement pieces from the property and build them into their scheme.

Malcolm said: “It gives the place more character, with different features making it feel a bit homelike.

“Our approach also enables us to include any pieces of furniture a client may want to keep and that can be restored if necessary before being incorporated into the design.

“For example, here the dining table and the chairs, a desk and a wall unit were brought back into the final design accordingly so the living area still has those elements.”

Much of the interior on the three-month project, however, was newly installed, with Rebirth also dressing the apartment ready for rental. 

“Having worked with the client during the whole process, obviously it becomes easier for us to select items that make the apartment feel like somewhere they would be comfortable living,” said Malcolm. 

Rebirth always aims to satisfy its clients’ briefs

Paul added: “The architectural elements of the space did not convey bombast – they are a bit minimalist and we wanted to respect this and the era the apartment was built in.

“We were also inspired by the feeling that the place gave us. 

“Our design aims to be timeless so it will age well and it’s also very neat.

“The kitchen units hide the new boiler system very well and the appliances are beautifully integrated, making the space feel less cluttered.

“That’s important because rental properties need to appeal to as many people as possible.

The firm also dressed the apartment, ready for occupancy

“We use layering to make our interiors feel as though they’ve been there since the beginning, rather than having designs which look too clinical that people can’t relate to.

“The principal bedroom, for example, features darker colours with a masculine feel, but softer furniture with more feminine elements to broaden its appeal.

“We wanted to make it so that when moving from room to room, each would be aligned to the overall feel of the place.

Glass is used to break up the white cabinets

TWO – TIMELESS STYLE

>> Functionality and versatility were the two watchwords for Rebirth when it came to the scheme for this three-bedroom apartment in the company’s native Malta.

Cupboards and doors to conceal functional elements are everywhere in this property hiding an oak-panelled cloakroom, for example. 

“The palette is white, white, white, so we wanted to break that down with warm materials, such as bronze or brass accents,” said Paul.

“It has a certain formality but it’s still comfortable.

“One of the things we do when it comes to trends – and at the moment, minimalism is on trend – is to adapt them.

Wooden elements are present in multiple locations

“This kitchen needed to be open-plan and to blend with the aesthetics we’ve got whites and neutral colours.

“But in order to break that up, we also have some glass-fronted cabinets to create interest.

“Then we have the engineered oak flooring which we’ve introduced throughout most of the apartment.

“Then against the white we have included accents via different textures.

“For example, we were given a healthy budget for the main bathroom so we clad the walls in marble with different shades of white and grey. 

“That’s broken up by the vanity unit with its textured front and the bespoke marble sink on top as well as the brass handles and accessories and a timber-rimmed mirror.

“We’re always looking to create balance.”

>> Malcolm added: “Our use of colour and texture depends on the design of the project. 

“Here we’ve used brass as it’s the right amount of contrast.

The principal bedroom of the property

“Chrome and silver are on a different spectrum to brass and bronze – they are colder and white is already rather cold so we can balance that with warmer shades.

“We’ve done similar things in some of the other rooms where the furniture is white but broken up with oak drawers.”

>> Paul said: “Light and lighting are also exceptionally important in our designs.

“We always make sure there is lighting at various levels with wall lights, ceiling lights and inset lights to make sure the space works during the day and at night.

“In this apartment there is a single bedroom that we designed for the owners’ daughter. 

“We created a working area as well as a sleeping area, using a visual barrier to divide the space without stopping the natural light from the window from coming into the space. 

Textures and accents in a white marble bathroom

“It’s a playful area so we were able to bring more colour in here than in other parts of the apartment to add a bit more character. 

“We also wanted something a bit grand for the principal bedroom and we continued the oak with panelling up the walls  to do that. 

“This is linked to an en suite via a glass door to let the light through – here we’re also introducing darker, more masculine tones against the feminine elements in the main room. 

“We have a marble sink that mirrors the one in the main bathroom, but this time in a dark grey with a matching floor.

“The idea is again to create a balance.” 

This two-room project saw a kitchen and living room refurbished

THREE – IN DIALOGUE

>> The final property we’re featuring from Rebirth is a two-room project.

While the company often tackles whole properties, it also takes on the refurbishment of specific spaces to add value to homes.

“This was a kitchen and living room in a duplex penthouse at a residential block in Malta,” said Paul.

“In the kitchen we’ve combined traditional Maltese styles with Scandinavian influences.

“For example, with the units we’re using warm timber tones in a modern approach to Shaker style and creating combinations which are anything but minimalistic, but still aren’t overwhelming.

While different the spaces are designed to respond to each other

“There’s a modern-looking island unit and a plain matte look for the work surfaces with a marble mosaic for the splash back.

“We’ve included different dimensions of white with elegant coving and green to bring the outdoors indoors to complement the traditional tiles.

“Once again, we’ve made sure there’s plenty of lighting with track lights, pendants and illumination over the splash back.

“It’s a dynamic space that isn’t too much.”

Colour has been used, inspired by the vibrant ceramic floor tiles

>> Rebirth’s strategy, inspired by the vibrant ceramics on the floor was not to shy away from visual complexity, but rather to frame and contain it within interior elements. 

In the kitchen, that meant a wall unit housing a wine fridge, shelving and more plus plenty of display space in the living room.

“The lounge is much more subtle – still not minimalist – but softer,” said Malcolm.

“We’ve gone for white curtains, but we’ve also included plants to make it feel like a garden.

“Once more, we’re blending – the kitchen is perhaps more masculine while the living room is a more feminine space.

“To mix that up we have the black fireplace in the lounge, while the kitchen has the round dining chairs and the floral pattern on the floor. 

“There are elements of bold black in both spaces and that helps to make sure that the transition from one room to the other really works.”

Plants have been employed to soften the space

>> Rebirth offers a full suite of interior services in London including individual room design and whole-home options.

The firm can handle full renovations including engineering tasks, right through to dressing properties ready for occupancy.

Specialising in refurbishments – hence the company’s name – the company offers everything from conceptual design to detailed drawings and renders, decor and furniture selection and project management.

While Malcolm’s background is in design, Paul is an architect by training, with the pair teaming up five years ago to go into business together.

Full details of all the properties featured and Rebirth’s services can be found here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Property: How Rebirth is expanding its interior design business to London

Studio specialises in refurbishing properties with a wide range of practical and aesthetic services offered

Rebirth specialise in refurbishing properties to add value to homes

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Excitement bounces between Paul Cuschieri and Malcolm Abela Sciberras as they talk about their approach to the projects they work on.

Having known each other for more than a decade, the pair joined forces in 2019 to create Rebirth, an interior design studio that brings together multiple disciplines to offer clients a comprehensive range of services.

Working in their native Malta, the pair have now expanded operations to London, recently establishing an office to cater for clients across the capital.

A full service operation, Rebirth combines architectural, aesthetic and practical disciplines to offer homeowners as wide a range of options as possible.

Specialising in refurbishments – hence the company’s name – the pair offer everything from conceptual design to detailed drawing and renders, decor and furniture selection and project management.

“Malcolm’s background is in design and mine is in architecture and we’ve joined our vision and expertise together to offer a holistic, well-balanced approach to projects,” said Paul.

“But it’s more than that, we are now providing what we call experiential design.

“We want to create something that goes beyond just being beautiful – spaces that express emotion, that have a certain character, and immediately feel like home.

“We don’t have a specific style. That’s because our work is focused on each client and their requirements are different.

REbirth was founded by Paul Cuschieri, left, and Malcolm Abela Sciberras

“Rebirth offers a boutique experience.

“We need to make sure our spaces speak their language, so that when they have guests they can see and feel that it’s our client’s space they are in. 

“As designers, we grow thanks to these projects, because we are subject to so many influences from the people we work for and our research, which helps us creatively.

“We consider our designs as pieces of living art.”

Everything for Rebirth starts with a budget and a brief.

The first is key to identify the boundaries of a scheme, while the second is where the creativity begins.

“When we’re discussing the brief, that’s when our imaginations start to run wild,” said Malcolm.

“We’re always listening to the client, of course, but having a new project is something that’s very exciting for us and the team.”

Paul added: “We start by asking our clients how much they want to invest.

“It would be useless for us to invent all kinds of designs without knowing what they can afford.

“We need to base our concept on their budget, so that’s quite an important question.

“Something we then do – although it takes a bit more effort on our side – is to draw up a skeletal breakdown of the costs.

“Whatever the budget, we create a wish-list to identify what in our proposal we consider to be a priority.

Rather than following a specific style, Rebirth’s approach is bespoke to the property

“We presume that we will have this amount for decoration, this money for services, this for furniture, this for kitchen appliances and so on.

“That gives a starting point. This is flexible, of course, because the client will have certain priorities – communication is key.”

Having completed a diverse portfolio of projects in the firm’s native Malta, Rebirth has expanded to the UK thanks to a recent project.

“We were fortunate enough that one of our Maltese clients has a property in London,” said Paul. 

“As soon as we’d finished refurbishing it, we felt that we were on the right track. We’ve always loved London, the culture and the cosmopolitan feel of the place.

“I love its history and that’s something we know about, because we work on listed properties in Malta.

“For those reasons we decided London would be an interesting place to take our services – so we’ve established an office in the city.” 

That affinity for working with historic, listed and protected properties is perhaps typified by Rebirth’s response to a brief for a client with a property at Balluta Buildings in St Julian’s.

Built in 1928 and designed by architect Giuseppe Psaila, it is scheduled as a Grade I monument on the Mediterranean island.

“It was built in the Art Deco period and was, at the time, one of the largest and most luxurious properties in Europe,” said Paul. 

“The brief was to get the apartment back to its former glory, so we had to do our research on the style and decor.

“The reason people come to us is that we make sure our schemes are layered, that the new interiors we create for a project like this feel like they’ve been there from the start.”

Rebirth works with a brief and budget for its clients

The approach goes far beyond aesthetics too, with Rebirth able to call on the engineering expertise of Paul’s father’s firm to present clients with a full suite of options.

“That means we can combine things like underfloor heating, air conditioning, central heating, lighting and fire protection with what we do,” said Paul.

“We always try to come up with challenges that we might face during a project, so we can tackle them at the design stage rather than during the implementation and risk having delays.

“As my father is an electrical engineer I’ve always been around construction sites, but decided I wanted to follow a more artistic path where I was designing and building something.

“That’s how I got into architecture and I’ve often worked on boutique-type projects with an interest in design, so it’s only natural that I’ve followed this path into interiors.”

The reasons for considering an interior refurbishment are many.

There are practical considerations, when properties require updating purely to remain functional. 

Then there are aesthetic and wellbeing concerns, where a change is needed to please the resident and ensure they are comfortable in their environment.

A refurbishment is also an investment, potentially adding significant value to a property if approached correctly.

“Number one on the list is an open-plan kitchen – that’s the thing that sells,” said Paul.

“It mustn’t look dated, it should be functioning well, organised, clean and designed with the right colours.

“The kitchen is the heart of everything and if visitors feel comfortable and welcome there, then that’s a real selling point.

“Then you have the living areas, the principal bedroom and the main bathroom.

Rebirth’s work includes the refurbishment of an apartment at Balluta Buildings in Malta

If there’s a guest bathroom, that’s a place to be a bit more adventurous and to go for a bold statement.

“At Rebirth we can tackle any one of these areas individually for a client or refurbish a whole property. 

“If we are doing single rooms, then we will always make sure our design fits with the existing home.

“We also have to make sure our designs are sustainable and that the spaces we create look after us psychologically.” 

 The overriding theme that runs through the firm’s expansion is one of anticipation.

“We get so inspired when we’re discussing everything with our clients – especially when we’re working on a different style of project and creating a nice concept for them,” said Malcolm.  

“In London, we’d love to do a Victorian house with a garden – a property with a lovely character. 

“It would be a challenge, but we’d like that and we are able to offer landscaping too.” 

Paul added: “We are, of course, a whole team. It’s not just two of us.

“But with every project we have grown and each new one is part of Rebirth’s creative development.”

Find out more about Rebirth’s services here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Elizabeth Line: How Candace Bushnell is set to bring her show to The London Palladium

Author will perform True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City in February 2024 for one night

Sex And The City author Candace Bushnell is coming to London

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BY JESS MADDISON

Are you a true Sex And The City fan?

Ever wondered how it all started?

Now’s your chance to find out. Carrie Bradshaw is coming to the UK. Not Sarah Jessica Parker, but author Candace Bushnell. 

Candace published Sex And The City – a book of of her newspaper columns from The New York Observer – in 1996, which went on to inspire the TV series of the same name.

More recently, spin-off series And Just Like That has been hitting the headlines, with Parker’s Carrie once more at the heart of the action. 

Candace, however, is set to bring one-woman-show, True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City to London on February 7 and I, for one, cannot wait. 

Candace is based in New York (of course) so we meet via Zoom when, even at 9am, she looks fabulous – all perfect hair and freshly applied makeup.

I’m so excited that I’m wearing high heel shoes in my living room for a video call.  

“In a lot of ways, the show is the origin story of Sex And The City,” she said.

“It’s about how I wrote the columns, how hard I worked to get there, why I invented Carrie Bradshaw and what happened to me after. 

“I also answer some people’s burning questions like: ‘Was there a real Mr Big?’ and: ‘Do I really have a shoe fetish like Carrie Bradshaw?’

“I also talk about my Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha – we play a little game, Real Or Not Real, because there’s so much that happened in the TV show that’s better or worse than my actual life.

Candace is set to perform her one woman show at The London Palladium

“It’s true stories of sex, success and Sex And The City. So it’s mixed in with my life story – how I came to New York – plus a couple of little naughty sex stories.”

The show will be on tour in the UK in February 2024, with one night at The London Palladium – a short hop from Canary Wharf on the Elizabeth Line via Tottenham Court Road. 

“In some ways performing is easier than writing novels, which is probably one of the hardest things that anybody can do,” said Candace, who has published nine books. 

“Writing is something you have to do on your own – you’ve got to come up with something new every day to keep the story moving.

“You have different characters, the story and the dialogue – you have to know what’s going to happen at the end and what’s happened at the beginning.

“Performing is very physical. You’re doing the same thing, pretty much every time. It’s choreographed in some ways and you’re interacting with the audience and bouncing off them.  

“I’m always trying to improve a little – deliver that line a bit better.

“This means sometimes you get the laugh and sometimes you don’t – sometimes you mess up a little bit.

“But it’s a pretty exciting thing to do – it really is – and people are really complimentary afterwards, which is nice.

“I love doing it and I’m so excited to bring the show to the UK.”

At this point Candace’s poodle wakes up from where she has been sleeping on the bed and starts barking, momentarily interrupting the interview.  

“She’s such a sweet little girl,” said Candace, returning to her thought with barely a breath.   

“I love England. I’ve come to the UK so many times, on every book tour, and I have friends who live there.

“I had a boyfriend there, so I used to go back and forth a lot really and I love it.”

If you are unfamiliar with Candace’s work outside of Sex And The City, it includes Lipstick Jungle and The Carrie Diaries, both of which had their own TV adaptations.

“I really felt like Lipstick Jungle was the next phase of women that I observed” she said.

Sex And The City was all about being in your 30s, Lipstick Jungle is about being in your 40s, starting a family and really working on your business.

The show features tales of her past and reveals some secrets

“New York City is a place where there are a lot of successful women and it’s a place where women really can have a big career.

“One of the things that I noticed was how women bond together and have each other’s backs in business.

“I absolutely loved the TV version, which ran for two seasons.”

So what advice would she have for women looking to make their way in the world today?

“The advice I would give is that it’s really important for women to have careers – to work hard, it’s like: ‘Make the money’.” said Candace. 

“That’s something that’s really important because money matters –  a lot.

“The older you get the more important it is.

“When you’re in your 20s you’re like: ‘Oh money it’s not so important’. When you get older, it’s really important. 

“That’s something I would really encourage in women – to think about their finances and to put money into a retirement fund.

“You know, maybe don’t buy that really expensive handbag.” 

Candace pauses, but only momentarily. “Shoes,” she said.

“It’s okay to buy them. They’re not as expensive as handbags.” 

Candace’s books always feature New York and often address the theme of feminism, whether this is women and their relationships with men, women in marriage or women in business. 

“I get asked about feminism quite a bit,” she said.

“I talk about it a little bit in my show and I am a feminist. That seems to be in some ways sort of a dirty word. 

“I don’t think people really understand what it’s about.

“But I think it’s really about being a self-actualised person, not being dependent on a man and being able to think outside of the box, where the patriarchy is concerned. 

“So I think it’s incredibly important for women to have their own money and make their own living and not just have to access to an income stream through a man, which is traditionally how we have gotten money for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. 

“It’s about education, the ability to earn your own money, to make your own life and to be able to say no.” 

On the front page of my own battered copy of Sex And The City, there is a quote from Bridget Jones’ Diary author, Helen Fielding, branding it “Intriguing and highly entertaining”. 

Does Candace think Carrie Bradshaw would have gotten along well with Fielding’s central character? 

“I don’t know why not,” she said. “It’s interesting because I think Bridget Jones is pretty much from the same time I was writing Sex And The City.

“I remember when I came to England – I guess it was 1996 or maybe 1997 – I was flying back to the States and my publisher gave me Helen’s book to read on the plane from London to New York.

Candace says making money is really important for young women

“I thought it was just terrific. It really captured what life was like at that moment for women – the stresses and the pressures – how we’re all trying to be perfect, to be better and to control our weight, our drinking and our love lives.

“But really, we have no control.” 

Candace began performing her one-woman-show in 2021, in her 60s, and has played dates at dozens of venues with a run of 13 in the UK for this tour. But where does she see herself in the next five or 10 years? 

“I might do another show,” she said.

“But you know, at my age, who knows? Who knows if I’ll still be here?

“I’m 65 and, when you get to be my age, you see that people age in very different ways, so I don’t know. 

“I have friends who are 70, who work and they have really vibrant lives.

“But there are other people who are 70 and it’s like they’re 80 – so you just don’t know.

“Unfortunately, my mother got cancer and died by the time she was 70.

“So you can make the 10-year-plan but the reality is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s why it’s so important for young women to take action now. 

“It’s like: ‘Make the money, get that money’. That’s the most important thing, I’m telling you.”

  • Candace’s Bushnell’s True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City is set to be performed at The London Palladium at 7.30pm on February 7.

Tickets range from £38 to £113, which includes a meet-and-greet with the woman herself. 

For more about Candace Bushnell’s show or to book tickets, click here

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

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- Jess Maddison is co-founder of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jess.maddison@wharf-life.com
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Royal Docks: Why the Excel expansion will have an impact way beyond east London

Venue CEO Jeremy Rees explores the plans’ impact locally and across the whole of the capital

Excel CEO Jeremy Rees
Excel CEO Jeremy Rees – image Matt Grayson

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Jeremy Rees is in a buoyant mood. The bustle of the main boulevard is a welcome sight for the CEO of the Excel centre beside Royal Victoria Dock as crowds of delegates attending events arrive and depart. 

But the fact that the venue is set to host 60 exhibitions this autumn – a 50% increase on a typical year – isn’t the reason for his upbeat demeanour. It’s the future. 

Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), which owns Excel, recently won planning approval from Newham Council for its expansion plan. 

Its proposal will see floorspace at the venue increase by 25% including 25,000sq m of event space, a high end convention space, meeting rooms and catering facilities. 

The plans, which will now be referred to the Mayor Of London for consideration, also include a substantial investment in greenery along the dock edge and a new park to the east of the site.

Jeremy said: “It’s extremely exciting and it’s been a long time in the planning. The idea is to extend Excel to the east, across the car park that’s there at the moment, so there’ll be a continuous, long, straight space.

“It will be double-decked – downstairs will be a flat floor events space and upstairs will be a proper modern convention space.

“The world has moved on in the last five years and customers’ expectations have shifted.

“What they want are extraordinarily good, modern facilities that are intimate, but can open up to really large spaces for 2,000 to 3,000 people for a banquet or a presentation.

“There are a good number of European events that can’t be hosted in the capital at the moment but, if we build it, they will come.

“London is an incredibly strong proposition for events and it always has been.

“As we come out of the pandemic, I think the same sorts of influences we have seen in previous recessions will mean people will focus their spend on top cities and events, where they know they can get a fantastic return on their investment.

“London is super-accessible, it’s worth coming, we’ve got an amazing cultural proposition and we’re trading now.

“European and American tech companies, for example, want to be back and operating but their expectations have shifted a bit.

“At Excel the boulevard is shared space with halls either side.

An artist's impression of how the expansion will look
An artist’s impression of how the expansion will look

“The advantage of the expansion is that exhibitors can own it completely, while everything else continues to operate.

“That means that, if you’re very particular about your branding – a big IT company, for instance – you can have a bright, modern space where you can control the entire environment.

“When you look at demand analysis across London and the UK, we don’t have sufficient congress space, and Phase Three will provide that in spades.

“It will bring brand new events, delegates and exhibitors to London and that’s part of a virtuous circle for the city. If you are hosting world class events you will have senior management teams from world class companies coming over for them.

“They will see London is fantastic and start to have conversations with promotional agencies, asking how they can get their roots and foundations into the city.

“So this project isn’t just about events, it’s about their far wider economic impact, about driving London forward and having a fit-for-purpose convention and exhibition centre here.”

An artist's impression of how the expansion will look
An artist’s impression of how the expansion will look

Excel also hopes the expansion, which could be open by 2024 if work is allowed to start next year, will have a similarly positive effect on its immediate surroundings.

“The Royal Docks is an enterprise zone and a big regeneration area and we all feel collectively that, if you can be a good neighbour and you can create value, then everyone wins,” said Jeremy.

“We have been talking with Newham Council and the GLA about how we can invest more in the local infrastructure, what we can do to improve the dock edge and the walkways and to make sure the landscaping is welcoming and engaging.

“In times past I’m not sure Excel has always been that welcoming to the community – it’s just been about exhibitions. There’s a chance for us to build more spaces that are generally increasingly used. 

“We have 700m of south-facing dock edge and one of the commitments I’ve made is to have, over the next couple of years, a series of exciting events and attractions that feed in more strongly to Excel as a destination where you can come as a family, a local resident or a delegate who’s flown in for a pharmacy congress and wants to have a nice evening.

 “We want to be both inward and outward facing and we’ll be announcing some really brilliant developments over the next 12 months.

“With Crossrail services coming, when the Elizabeth line starts running to Custom House, there will be an increasing opportunity for people to pop in.

“It will transform the way people use London and that connectivity means Canary Wharf, for example, will be three minutes away, so companies there will be able to use Excel as their convention centre.

“It goes both ways – the interdependence of the two will be quite powerful. Events that historically required a commitment of time to come here will now need only minutes.

“It will also open up people’s living and working arrangements locally.

“Having the Mayor Of London based at The Crystal in Royal Victoria Dock will also shine a light on the area.

“There’ll be a lot of investment partners, cultural partners and many others who wouldn’t have thought about living here, who will see it, view it, and actually be quite surprised about the opportunities the area presents and how they might fit into it.

“It’s a real vote of confidence in Royal Docks that that’s happening.

“Before 2000 Excel didn’t exist. Since then there have probably been between 45million and 50million people who have visited the place, it was a venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games and more recently served as a Nightingale Hospital and a vaccination centre.

“The events we host have an enormous economic benefit for London and we are increasingly thinking in a developmental way – that we’re more than a venue.

“If we can take that strategic leap we can have an even greater positive impact in the future.” 

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Canary Wharf: Feeding Black opens at Museum of London Docklands

Exhibition at the London Sugar And Slavery Gallery examines the role played by food in black identity

Aleema Gray is community history curator at Museum Of London Docklands
Aleema Gray is community history curator at Museum Of London Docklands

Walk over the floating green bridge from Canary Wharf to West India Quay, turn left and, just behind a now vacant pedestal, you’ll find the Museum Of London Docklands.

Head up to its London, Sugar And Slavery gallery and, provided you visit before July 17 next year, you’ll find a bright orange corner dedicated to Feeding Black.

The display, which opened to the public this month, examines the role played by food in black entrepreneurship and identity in south-east London. 

Focusing on four businesses – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell plus Junior’s Caribbean Stall and African Cash And Carry, both in Woolwich – it explores how they act as much more than suppliers of goods and services to their customers, as spaces to talk and express politics, culture and heritage. 

Community history curator Aleema Gray said: “One of the things I’m really interested in is looking at alternative knowledge – what it means to represent in terms of curatorial displays, and that was the motivation behind this exhibition.

“It’s about alternative ways of knowing. For instance, we’ve recently had an upswell of looking at black British history. But, when you go into the community, there’s oral history, the things that are left outside academic textbooks. Curators are typically seen as people who conserve this kind of academic knowledge.

“What’s interesting about this project is looking at the ways alternative knowledge can be used to make certain interventions in the role of curator – it sounds wishy-washy, but it is essentially asking how we can include multiple different perspectives and narrative experiences in our displays? I put a call out, basically asking: ‘What are contemporary black experiences?’. Some people said, ‘my kitchen’ or ‘the barber shop’ and one person put forward an idea she had, which she referred to as the ‘black economy’.

“She’d been looking at black-owned food businesses as part of her research, focussed on African Cash And Carry – interviewing people that came in – and discovered these spaces were about more than just commercial gain. They were for politics, culture, sending money back home and buying food. There was even a little restaurant – a multi-dimensional space.

“I wanted to explore that a little bit further, so I took that and thought about what the next step was for this kind of research and put forward a proposal for Feeding Black – which takes the element of looking at not only community spaces, but also interrogating power, because a lot of the conversations when we did the initial oral histories were talking about what it means to be in London today, to survive and thrive, to start a business, the challenges, the setbacks, but also stories about being part of a diaspora.

Junior’s Caribbean Stall in Woolwich features in the exhibition

“Apart from one, all the people featured in the displays were born outside London – one in Ethiopia, one in Jamaica, one in the Congo, one in the Cameroons, so a lot of this is entangled with questions of migration and so on.

“That’s how the initial idea came about, but the area I work in, Curating London is very much a participatory project – we place a particular emphasis on being on the ground – visible outside the museum – and asking what a museum wall is.

“We had to re-jig things a bit because of the restrictions around the pandemic, but essentially the main exhibition deals with four black-owned food businesses, their oral histories and the objects that they put forward reflecting their place. It also looks at different themes of food including health, the different objects you find in kitchens as a place of work but also the nutritional value of ingredients and dishes and we’ve got a recipe wall as well.”

In her role, Aleema has a particular responsibility for the London Sugar And Slavery Gallery in which the exhibition sits.

She said: “Since the gallery opened it has been shelved a little bit, so my responsibility is to try to re-mobilise certain conversations, make some interventions to think about how we develop, and take that gallery a little bit further. 

Feeding Black sits in the wider gallery, because I wanted to do something in response to the ways in which Docklands has been developed as a direct result of the plantation economy.

“For me, food acted as a perfect segue to think about London, Sugar And Slavery, not only in terms of the content of the exhibition, but also the visual design.

“This exhibition is very much about the process as well as the content, as is the wider gallery.

Feeding Black was about using that space as a vehicle for community engagement. 

“It’s also not necessarily a chronological history – it draws on certain themes and it puts forward not necessarily answers, but asks questions about the legacy of this history and how we are all implicated in it. Feeding Black tries to speak to that.

“In the crates under the wall display, for example, you have certain questions, such as: ‘Where does our food come from?’

“It’s very subtle, but it helps people to think about the legacies of migration, enforced or otherwise.”

Aleema, who is currently finishing a PhD on the documentation of a community engaged in the Rastafarian movement in Britain, said it was weird to talk about herself as a curator. 

She said: “I didn’t go to museums as a young person because I didn’t see myself or my history reflected in these spaces but something I’m really passionate about is curating history from below – the silent histories, the hidden archives – I’m a historian. 

“There’s this idea of what history is in schools – the Romans and the Tudors, for example. I feel there’s a need to show that history is dynamic, it’s a verb, and that started my work to see how we can bridge this gap. This is what I’m doing as a curator and an academic – situating myself as the outsider within.

“The Museum Of London and museums in general are making a strong effort. There’s a lot more work to do but we’re definitely on the right path.”

The museum is free to visit and is currently open from 10am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday.

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