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Canary Wharf: How the WaterAid Dragon Boat Race is coming to South Dock

The Canada Square-based charity is inviting teams to raise funds for its cause and paddle for glory

The WaterAid Dragon Boat Race takes place at West India South Dock

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With so much water in this part of London, it’s easy to imagine it as a universally available resource.

Canary Wharf and the Isle Of Dogs are embraced by the lazy meander of the Thames.

Then there are the vast pools of the docks themselves and canals that connect them, which carve up the landscape. 

The stuff is everywhere and – as evidenced by Love Open Water’s project in Middle Dock last year – easily clean enough to swim in, even if glugging down huge quantities is probably unwise.

Everywhere there are shiny new apartments with rainfall showers, designer toilets and taps pumping the stuff up 50 floors so we can live in towers. It’s literally available on tap.

So it’s easy to forget that about one in 10 people globally live without access to clean water close to their homes.

This basic human right is unavailable to some 771million people globally, with the battle simply to slake their thirst and stay alive a terrible brake on almost all aspects of their existence, be it education, work, health – the list is endless.

Teams raise funds, then compete for glory at the event

The mission of WaterAid is simple.

Within a generation, the charity is working tirelessly to make sure everyone in the world has sustainable access to both clean water and decent toilets – the integrity of the former, dependent on the latter. 

Founded in 1981, it has helped more than 28million people get clean water and 29million people get decent toilets, helping lower the percentage of those without access from one in eight, to one in 10. 

“I got involved with the charity because my family is from Bangladesh and I’ve seen first-hand what a lack of hygiene and clean water can do,” said Aminur Rahman, supporter care advisor at WaterAid. 

“In Bangladesh it’s very common for under fives to die from lack of clean water.

“Children tend to go to local ponds with dirty water to drink. I’ve had personal experience of that with a relative.

“I’ve been to Bangladesh a few times, so for me this cause is something personal that’s close to my heart.”

“You can’t really argue with what we’re trying to do,” added Fiona Lavery, the charity’s change and employee experience director. 

“We work in 27 different countries around the world, predominantly in Africa and south-east Asia, including Mali, Bangladesh, Madagascar and Colombia.

“Each one is different, which makes the challenge a complex one.

“It can be about a lack of infrastructure in rural or urban areas – or it might be that there are marginalised people who can’t get at it because of the situation they’re living in.

“It can be about taps and toilets, but water is also a political issue and a cultural one. As an organisation, we only employ local people to deliver our projects and that’s the right approach because it is community led.

“We empower people to have access to solutions, rather than flying in, giving them something and then going away again.

“That would not be sustainable.”

Various prizes are up for grabs, including best dressed team

HOW TO HELP

In order to do this work, WaterAid needs a constant flow of funds and recently announced the return of its Canary Wharf Dragon Boat Race.

Teams of between 11 and 17 will do battle on the waters of West India South Dock on July 6, 2023, from 11.30am to 6.30pm.

In addition to an entry fee of £350, teams are set a fundraising target of £1,500 and challenged to exceed it. 

On the day, each team will race at least three times in a series of heats, with the fastest three teams taking part in a grand final. 

Prizes will be handed out for the three fastest boats, best-dressed team and, of course, most successful fundraisers. 

The event also includes lunch and a post-race reception with a welcome drink.

“The events fundraising team at WaterAid wanted to create a water-themed event in Canary Wharf since we moved to the area in 2020,” said Corinne Stone, the charity’s senior community and events officer who is organising the race. 

“As dragon boat racing is becoming one of the most popular corporate sports in the UK today, we thought it would be a brilliant opportunity to use the water on the docks and engage with our corporate neighbours in Canary Wharf whilst raising vital funds for our cause. 

“Last year was a huge success and I’m so excited to welcome even more teams for 2023 for what is a fun, competitive and great team building experience.”

Sponsored by Canary Wharf Group, the event raised £26,000 for WaterAid last year with 15 teams competing and aims to exceed that in 2023.

“It’s the perfect setting for the community to get involved,” said Aminur.

“It’s a competitive challenge but it’s also fun and we’re raising awareness at the same time.

“It’s not just about financial support either because just having that visibility can lead to people doing things like petitioning their MP or local authority to highlight this issue.”

Teams of between 11 and 17 are given a funding target of £1,500

“We took part last year and it was brilliant,” added Fiona.

“It was harder than I expected and got highly competitive, but I would say that, for any organisation that wants a proper team-building day, this is perfect.

“You have everyone in the boat and you have to learn to think together. 

“We had people from across the organisation in the boat – some I’d never met in 11 years of working at WaterAid – it’s fantastic for people who want to do more than sit in an office.

“What people expect from an employer has changed – they want companies and other organisations to care about the world we all live in. 

“Events like this offer them a way to demonstrate that they do and for their employees to get out and do something beyond the day-job.

“There are so many challenges that remain worldwide and we need this help to work to mitigate things like climate change.”

Registration for the event is now open, with teams encouraged to try to raise more than 50% of their target by June 8, 2023.

Canary Wharf Group event manager Camilla McGregor said: “We are delighted to welcome back WaterAid’s Dragon Boat Race to Canary Wharf. 

“Following a successful partnership last year, we are overjoyed to see the event increase in popularity with many teams already signed up for this year’s event, helping to raise much needed funds for this fantastic charity.”

Follow this link to find out more about the event or register.

Aminur Rahman and Fiona Lavery of WaterAid

Read more: See the moment One Canada Square was topped out

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How M restaurant takes dining on the estate to another level

Founder of the steak specialist, Martin Williams, on water bikes, St Tropez and carbon-neutral meat

M founder and CEO Martin Williams
M founder and CEO Martin Williams – image Matt Grayson

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Water bikes, duck eggs from the local waterfowl, hydroponically grown salad ingredients from the Isle Of Dogs – oh, and steak, a great deal of steak.

There’s something happening on the lower floors of Newfoundland tower at the eastern edge of Canary Wharf and it promises a completely different experience to anything the estate has seen before.

Open now for summer previews, with an official launch set for September 5, M restaurant has been long in the making.

For the brand’s CEO and founder Martin Williams, to see the doors open is both a thrill and a challenge.

“We signed the deal for the space when the building was just foundations and it went up pretty spectacularly,” he said. 

“But it’s taken a bit longer than everybody planned, with the pandemics and the war, but it’s great that six years on the dream has become a reality.”

That dream is one that builds on the success of M’s first two sites – in the City’s Threadneedle Street and Victoria. 

Cobia tartare at M restuarant
Cobia tartare at M restuarant

Its latest opening, in Canary Wharf, promises to further the spirit and verve of the brand.

It’s a reflection of the complementary dichotomy Martin’s character hints at – a man who is at once laser-focused on the detail of the businesses he runs, balanced by the kind of sense of fun that has seen his restaurants offer wheel of fortune prizes to Christmas revellers and an hour of free wine and cheese to mark the recent spate of Governmental resignations.

The slick operation of the venues is a given, but it doesn’t take much for him to sail away on the romance of the inspiration behind them.

“While there are small moments of self-congratulation in running a business – when everybody’s gone home and you sit there and feel you’ve achieved something – in your mind you’re always thinking what more you can do, how you can make the place super special,” said Martin.

“When you walk into any restaurant, you’re looking at the micro details – when I dine out with my wife, she makes me sit facing the wall.

“And there’s so much detail in our Canary Wharf restaurant – the inspirations are from the Cote d’Azur, the Riviera and Lake Como.

“We want to stay with the water – we’re surrounded by it with 360º glass – and we wanted to play on that with the colours.

“There are lots of net details, metalwork inspired by yachts, portholes, seagulls – real maritime inspiration and that feels very fitting.

Tuna tataki at M restaurant
Tuna tataki at M

“There’s nothing like this on the Isle Of Dogs or in Canary Wharf – it’s a different level in terms of decor, the level of hospitality and the quality of the products.

“When combined with the wow factor of the views, people who visit will very quickly acknowledge this is somewhere special.”

M is set to launch its St Tropez Beach Brunch on August 27 and 28, slightly ahead of its official opening.

Running from noon-3pm on the Saturday and Sunday of the Bank Holiday weekend, £65 buys a two-course meal and 90 minutes of free-flowing Mirabeau wine or  cocktails.

As with other M sites, the venue has a range of facilities that will act as host to a varied programme of events in addition to its core business.

“We’ve tried to create a venue that you can use for a number of different reasons,” said Martin

“On the ground floor we have La Petite M, which is a wine and wagyu bar with wagyu sausage muffins and bacon sandwiches for breakfast – then it goes into wagyu Cuban sandwiches for lunch and, in the evening, charcuterie plates and wine

“The cafe is very much a grab and go concept and with 600 residents above us, we think it will be very popular for breakfast.

“Then, the main venue is our gastro playground, which is reached via a spiral staircase. It’s akin to walking into a hotel lobby, a very sensory environment that we hope will build anticipation.

Martin says M is a gastronomic playground
Martin says M is a gastronomic playground – image Matt Grayson

“Go up and you’ll be confronted with six ageing chambers for our beef – it’s a bit in-your-face.

“Then there’s a cocktail bar, two private dining rooms, a private members’ lounge, a wine tasting area, a terrace and the grill restaurant specialising in Provencal cuisine.

“Throughout, you can enjoy heightened hospitality.

“It’s always our intention to give you an amazing dining experience.

“We’re cooking on wood, coal and smoke and we specialise in beef with the best meat from around the world.

“We have quality wagyu from Japan and cuts of Blackmore wagyu from Australia – exclusive to us, Heston Blumenthal and The Ledbury – so there are some incredible beef offerings

“All of our steaks are carbon neutral – the way we do that is by having partner farms across the globe where we know the farmers very well and we measure their carbon footprint and the methane output of the cattle. 

“Then we measure the transportation impact of bringing all of our foods to the table, and then we mitigate or reduce that at source as much as possible, and we offset it with a charity we have that is concerned with a reforestation programme in the Amazon.

“That means you can dine knowing it’s not having a negative impact on the environment.

“We also offer a lot more besides. About 50% of our diners eat steak and that means half order other dishes – the rest of our menu has been described as Michelin level food with flair. 

Wagyu scotch egg at M

“We’re very casual and accessible, but the quality is up there with the best restaurants in the UK.”

That M’s third site is in Canary Wharf is no coincidence. Martin, left Marske-By-The-Sea near Middlesborough for London aged 18, working in hospitality through his studies before deciding to take restaurants “very seriously” at the age of 24.

His first managerial role was at Gaucho’s Canary Wharf branch, a business he eventually rose to become MD at and that he is once again running alongside M.

“We had a sheltered upbringing with one row of houses between us and the North Sea and a five-minute drive to the North York Moors – Heartbeat country,” he said. 

“When I came to London it was a wonderful shock to the senses, very busy and very diverse.

“You could be anyone you wanted to be. Canary Wharf has changed immeasurably since I first came here – it’s a very different landscape.

“When I launched M in 2014, I was looking at the Wharf and the City, but the Threadneedle Street site had previously been a restaurant so a lot less capital was needed to open.

“This new venue should be the making of M. 

“I love Canary Wharf, the cleanliness and the safety but also the journey it’s been on over the past 15 years to become more than a sterile environment, with real culture and art and the way the waterways are being used in different ways now. 

“We’re hoping to do a competition where businesses and residents can race water bikes along Middle Dock with some great prizes for the winners.

“We want to open with a bang and offer the highly competitive people of Canary Wharf a way to have some fun, get some exercise and enjoy the world’s best beef.”

M’s signature Bakewell Tart

Read more: Go for a dip in the dock in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Love Open Water has brought swimming to Middle Dock

Organisation uses NOWCA safety system to ensure bathers can dive into the crystal water confidently

Chess takes a dive into Middle Dock
Chess takes a dive into Middle Dock – image Matt Grayson

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Just as I arrived at Middle Dock in Canary Wharf to interview Chess Roffe Ridgard, she saved a life.

A smallish pigeon had fallen into the water and was having difficulty making it out. In seconds the bird was scooped up by Love Open Water’s head of development, brought to dry land and placed safely in the shade to dry off – the temperature was in the high 20s, after all. 

Later, without so much as a thank you, it flew off to wherever pigeons make their homes in east London.

That little bedraggled animal owes its continued existence to Canary Wharf Group and Love Open Water – a welcome unintended consequence of their project.

The two organisations – working in partnership with the Canal And River Trust, which is responsible for managing the docks – have teamed up to deliver a programme of swimming over the summer.

While these aren’t the first watersports sessions to take place in the dock, this is the first sustained access offered to the general public with a full complement of life guards, a booking system and expert staff on hand to offer tips, advice and point out the best spots to watch fish sunbathing in the depths. 

“I swam competitively as a pool swimmer in the Midlands when I was younger,” said Chess, who is heading up the initiative for Love Open Water.

“I’m a proud Mansfield girl and trained with Becky Adlington who was one of our golden girls in the 2012 Olympics.

“I’ll say it now, she was faster than me, but I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time.

“Then a kidney infection left me unable to train, so I found myself in the music industry.

“I used to work with a lot of famous DJs and bands, and I did that for a long time. Then I found open water swimming about five or six years ago and I’ve never looked back.

“It became so important to me to help other people, and for them to find a mental health boost from this sport.

“Having seen how it really brings joy to people’s lives made me want to become involved, so I quit my job in music and here I am.”

Middle Dock is eight metres deep in places
Middle Dock is eight metres deep in places – image Matt Grayson

With cold, deep water – typically eight metres to the bottom – safety is Chess and her team’s top priority.

Having operated at numerous venues, including east London’s Royal Docks, Love Open Water uses the NOWCA safety system to keep track of exactly who’s in or out and to provide insurance for those swimming.

“Love Open Water was set up to simply create safe spaces for people to swim outdoors,” said Chess.

“The idea is that by using this system we can open more blue spaces to swimmers of all abilities and build community hubs around them so there’s a real social aspect to what we do.

“That’s in contrast to swimming pools, which are very controlled and quite clinical.

“Love Open Water is about getting that community feel, about going out and enjoying the outdoors and the water.

“At Canary Wharf the distances available vary depending on how many safety staff we have working because that’s the key to everything we do.

“We have either a 300m loop, a 500m loop or a 600m loop that goes right to the end of the dock underneath the DLR bridge. 

“Before I came here I’d swum under a few aqueducts before, but never under a railway bridge with trains running on it.

“The staff at Canary Wharf Group have been absolutely phenomenal – they came up with the idea to activate the dock as part of the work they are doing to get more people in and on the water here.

“They were looking for people to help them to do that and, having put forward our ideas and shown them what we’ve been doing at our other sites, we were lucky enough to be chosen to work with them on this project.

Swimmers can opt for loops of 300m, 500m or 600m
Swimmers can opt for loops of 300m, 500m or 600m

“We hope that this is just the start – we have this trial for the first few months but we’d love to make sure it’s a facility that’s accessible to as many people as possible – we have big plans.

“We’d love to operate at this venue all year round – a million percent yes. 

“Cold water swimming is hugely beneficial for mental and physical health.

“We’ve run winter swimming at our London Royal Dock site for about 10 years, and we’ve seen the popularity of that go through the roof.

“During the pandemic we were only able to operate for a month and a half over the winter, but we saw our membership increase by 450% and swim attendance jump by 380%.

“Those are massive numbers and it shows just how important cold water exposure has become to people.

“It’s all been driven by programmes on the BBC – but we’re here to show people the safest ways to get in and out of the water and to help them understand about hypothermia and the risk of cardiac arrest.

“People need to know that jumping in and swimming off fast are two of the most dangerous things you can do regardless of the time of year or the temperature.

“When you’re immersed in cold water quickly everything tightens up and that puts additional pressure on your heart, so if you try and swim off quickly, you’re at a very high risk of cardiac arrest.

“Remember, don’t jump in, don’t swim off quickly and if you get into trouble, float to live, lie on your back, keep your head relaxed, focus on your breathing and call for help.”


Love Open Water's Chess Roffe Ridgard
Love Open Water’s Chess Roffe Ridgard – image Matt Grayson

Sessions at Middle Dock cost £8 (or £7 for a pack of 10) for unlimited time in the water. Participants must also be NOWCA members, which costs £15 a year.

Swimmers must wear brightly coloured caps or use a tow float so lifeguards can easily see them. Westsuits are not compulsory but are advised when water temperatures fall below 15ºC.

“Safety is very important to us, but we also hope swimmers will come away feeling that they’ve learnt something that they can use elsewhere at other venues or when they’re on holiday,” said Chess.

“All of our lifeguards are open water trained – this is beyond the level of those looking after indoor pools.

“We’d actually love pool lifeguards who are interested in working with us to come down and see us, because we provide that extra training for a job that’s in the great outdoors local to where they live.

“We’ll also offer a range of courses including a first-time dippers session in a couple of weeks so whether you’re a head-up breast-stroker or a front crawler used to bashing out lengths in the pool, you can come and swim here. 

“We can teach you all about sighting, turning round the buoys and swimming in a straight line – which seems to be the thing that eludes people most when they first hit open water.

“I’ll also be doing a front crawl masterclass, where I promise participants that I’ll blow their minds at least five times with the things they’re doing wrong in their stroke.”

Access to the water is via Mackenzie Walk in Canary Wharf
Access to the water is via Mackenzie Walk in Canary Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Anyone who lives or works locally will have seen rubbish floating in the docks and knowing that they’re filled from the Thames might make prospective swimmers think twice about taking the plunge.

It’s unrealistic to expect any body of open water to be completely free from floating debris – even outdoor swimming pools have to have filters – but that doesn’t mean the docks aren’t suitable for swimming.

With regular testing in place, the latest results show Middle Dock’s water rates “excellent” under the EU Bathing And Water Regulations 2013.

“The water quality here is absolutely incredible,” said Chess. “We run eight different sites around the UK and assist with 40 others and we have never seen quality this good.

“The Royal Docks are also very clean so we thought it would be good, but you can see down to the bottom and that’s incredibly rare with an industrial open water space like this.

“Rubbish really isn’t a concern in terms of health and I cannot stress that enough. When the tests are done, we look at the general water quality and the two things we’re looking for are e. coli and intestinal enterococci bacteria.

“Under the regulations for e. coli, for example, you can have up to 500 units found in the test water and it’s still considered safe to swim in.

“Here the reading was seven. That’s how exceptionally clean it is.

“That’s why it’s rated at the equivalent of a Blue Flag beach. We even challenge people when they come here. We have three unmarked bottles. 

“One is tap water, one is dock water and one is mineral water. You line them up and you just cannot tell the difference. 

“The clarity is amazing. Middle Dock is between five and eight metres deep and when you look down you can see absolutely everything.

“However clear you think it’s going to be, times that by 100 and you’ll still be surprised.

“When you look down, there’s old dock infrastructure, bits of pillar, green weed – but nothing that touches you – it’s all at the bottom. 

“When you get to the eight-metre bits, all you can see is darkness, like you’re looking into the night sky, with flashes of light reflecting off the bottom – it’s just stunning.

“One of my favourite spots is a place I like to think fish go to sunbathe and meet their future partners.”

Read more: Why Genomics England is moving to Canary Wharf

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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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