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Royal Docks: How UEL’s Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability brings people together

Director Robert De Jong and his team aim to drive the green agenda in east London by convening stakeholders at the new facility

Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability director Robert De Jong

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On a dark day, it might be tempting to look at the state of the planet and be discouraged.

Globally we’ve had the warmest February on record, yet ministers seem content to water down green policies. 

Populist politicians and commentators bewail what they see as the madness of abandoning coal and gas.

Others argue that the UK’s emissions are so small in comparison to other parts of the world that there’s no point in making any changes at the supposed expense to our quality of life. 

Early withdrawal symptoms for a culture hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels?

Perhaps. But nevertheless the voices have become a potent lobby. 

The eastern extension to ULEZ hardly raised a peep when it came to Docklands.

But west London was a different story, with opportunistic politicians hijacking a poorly articulated campaign to target the Mayor Of London and, arguably, scrape a by-election win in Uxbridge.

There’s danger here. People like the status quo and yet, ULEZ has seen some pollutants fall by as much as 46% in its first year in central London.

That’s cleaner, fresher air – with around 290,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions prevented from fouling the atmosphere and contributing to the heating of the planet. 

Will this single measure save us? No. Not on its own.

But it’s a measure taken in a major capital city, that’s delivering myriad benefits.

This is a strong recipe for inspiring others.

The RDCS is based at UEL’s Royal Docks campus

It matters what we do here because the ideas and technology necessary to address the massive problems we face, need both places of generation and implementation.

That’s why projects like the University Of East London’s recently launched Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability (RDCS) are vital for the survival of our species.

Part-funded by the Mayor and Newham Council though their Royal Docks Team initiative, the facility provides space for projects, will be open to the community and will soon boast a “vibrant cafe”.

But beyond the, doubtless, sustainable coffee, it has another role.

Its task is to bring people and organisations together to improve sustainability in an area that’s undergoing billions of pounds of regeneration in a borough fighting deprivation.

“If I could have one wish, it would be that this centre has a driving influence on the Royal Docks, that the innovation created here really plays out and makes sure that this community and London itself become exemplars,” said Robert De Jong, RDCS director and the man whose job it is to steer the facility as it evolves and develops.

“We have a regeneration scheme in the docks that is forecast to grow significantly over the coming years and it should be sustainable.

“The centre’s role is as a convener, both for our schools at UEL, our research centres, the local community and industry. 

“Our aim is to bring them all together through effective programming and setting themes for ourselves. 

“I would like to see ambitious goals set for the Royal Docks such as the establishment of a clean-tech cluster so the businesses that come through here are really innovative and set up for the future.

“Also that the plan for urban design – the way the buildings are made and how transport and urban connectivity flow through the docks – is really low carbon.

“There’s a lot of talk about this but, when it comes down to reality, there can be stark differences in what’s delivered to what was mooted. We have a real opportunity here to unleash these ideas and ask what we can do differently.

“How can we engage with the waterways, the transport system and boost biodiversity as well?”

To address some of these questions, RDCS comes fully equipped with some powerful tools and facilities, namely a Sustainability Research Institute, a Sustainable Enterprise Centre, an Augmented + Virtual Reality Centre, a Renewable Energy Lab and a Maker Space.

The Mayor Of London, Sadiq Khan officially opened the centre earlier this year

Then there’s a Data Centre, a Living Lab, a Living Library, a Careers Office, a Hackathon space, Business + Community Tax And Law Clinics and more besides. 

It stands as both a physical connection to UEL’s schools as well as a conceptual one, aimed at spotlighting the work the university does and mixing it with ideas and influences from other organisations and groups.

“We take a holistic view,” said Robert.

“Sustainability means that we’re governing with an ethical outcome for society and the environment, that we’re thinking outside of our own jurisdictions and that we’re also really understanding the stewardship of products and striving to improve how we use resources.

“We can’t just keep creating pollution and heating the globe.

“We need to think about how to manage the whole balance of our ecology. 

“At the moment we’re at a certain rate of growth, so we need to ask if that is sustainable.

“The centre is based on a number of things – firstly collaboration and creation in the holistic sense of sustainability, driving it across east London, around Newham and in Royal Docks in particular.

“In a couple of years’ time, I would like to see this centre established at the forefront of pushing the sustainability agenda – that we’re able to make a measurable impact in terms of social outcomes.

“At UEL we already have great diversity in the student body, among staff and in our policies, but how far can we go?

“That’s not just looking at employment, it’s in the supply chain and it’s driving that wider agenda and our goal of a healthier planet.

“I’d like to see this centre become a catalyst for enabling these things and also to act as a demonstrator.”

Part of the three-storey centre’s mission then, will be to constantly shine spotlights on the work being done in UEL’s schools, while simultaneously supporting and showcasing the work of businesses.

“There is sustainability in each of our schools but it’s hidden away and we’re not always good at shouting about it,” said Robert.

“For example, the Sustainability Research Institute is doing amazing work on bio-based building materials such as Sugarcrete, made from waste products when sugar cane is refined.

“But equally there are fantastic projects in engineering and fashion too.

“Then there’s the wider ethos around our campuses themselves, with a opportunity to embed sustainability in the governance of UEL itself and to ask how we involve every member of staff in that process.

Visitors examine blocks of Sugarcrete, a new material made with waste products from the sugar refining industry

“We’re also about to launch an accelerator programme, starting with a small number of organisations with combined interests.

“We have a focus on fintech and how to develop financial technology and also on entrepreneurship with a faculty looking at how we organise training around creating a business and skills development.

“We can all come up with business ideas but in reality growing a company and overcoming the hurdles of finance and development can take many years.

“However, with the right support and education, firms can really grow successfully.

“We want to create cohorts through these programmes, but we also want to talk with external partners to run some of them, so it’s not just UEL.

“Key to the whole project is that the centre is a place where we can bring in local stakeholders such as Excel, London City Airport and Siemens, which is leading on UEL’s work to achieve net zero.

“Before, we were promoting the story of how exciting the centre will be, but since it’s opened, the dialogue has changed.

“People understand its principles and how we’re really striving for local impact, employment and engagement as well as picking up new ideas.

“Those from the community, wider industry and UEL itself who have seen the centre, seem really pleased with the space and understand how it is relevant.

“There will be entrepreneurs and scaleups based here, but people can also come for advice with clinics that can be used free of charge by locals from the community.

“We also want to bring in more international organisations – we need the whole mix to be right – to ensure that what we’re creating here is a framework of approach so people will feel this centre is a new space of inspiration.”

There you have it, a beacon of innovation in the Royal Docks, that people across the world can look to.  

Find out more about the Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability here

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

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Royal Docks: How NASSA’s match with the Met is more than just a game of basketball

Newham All Star Sports Academy contest with police marks 15 years of CABNAB partnership

Anthony Okereafor founded Carry A Basketball Not A Blade

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At 5.30pm a game of basketball will begin at UEL Sports Dock on January 25, 2024.

But the players will be doing more than making passes, shooting hoops and competing.

It’s not the first time that a team from Newham All Start Sports Academy (NASSA) has taken on a squad of serving Met Police officers. 

But this year is the latest in a series of events marking the 15 years of partnership between the two organisations.

Son of NASSA founder Natasha Hart – Anthony Okereafor – founded Carry A Basketball Not A Blade (CABNAB) in 2008 following the fatal stabbing of two of his friends within weeks of each other. 

Its programme reaches thousands of young people each year, alerting them to the dangers of knife crime and carrying knives through basketball coaching and question and answer sessions.

The annual game is held to show the strength of organisations working together in the community, but also to remember those who have died as a result of knife crime locally during the year – with a hoop shot for every life lost.

“We come together to play a game of basketball, but the most important part of it is remembering those lives,” said Anthony.

“The event allows people in the community to see Met officers as human beings.

“It helps to break down the barriers for young people – to show them police officers enjoy sport just as they do.

“Trying to build a safer community isn’t just about removing the knives.

“It’s about making sure the right relationships and structures are in place to try to reduce the number of people who fall through the gaps.

“The game is common ground, it changes the dynamic.

“One of the things NASSA and CABNAB participants say is that when they meet officers in these settings they talk and have conversations and that’s something to build on.”

NASSA engages with young people through sport to help tackle knife crime – image Ilyas Ayub

That’s also something the Met is looking forward to with Chief Superintendent, Simon Crick, set to take part in his first game against NASSA since taking over as borough commander for Newham and Waltham Forest.

“It’s the engagement with young people and the diversion away from anti-social behaviour that’s so important,” said Simon, who began his career as a police constable in Newham.

“This part of London has seen more than its fair share of homicides and violent incidents over recent years and I’m really supportive of what NASSA and CABNAB are trying to do.

“Having been down to Sports Dock and seen all of the things the charity has achieved, it’s really good for us to be a part of it and to try and do something positive with young people. It’s really empowering. 

“As for the game itself, we’ll get annihilated, without a doubt – I’m sure.

“I’m really looking forward to the game – anything that we can do to show a willingness to engage with young people, work with them and have a bit of fun, is really positive.

“Building relationships is what it’s all about – there’s too much animosity, so we need to do more of that. 

“Alongside me, some of my senior leadership team will be playing and they understand the need to engage with young people.

“There will also be some neighbourhood officers in there, whose purpose and role in life is to do that – to support young people and divert them away from crime and anti-social behaviour.

“I think it will be really empowering for our officers – it always helps build that trust, whenever something is fun for those taking part, and it will help make their jobs easier.

“The uniform can be seen as a barrier sometimes and, if people can see you’re human through playing sport, that’s really important.”

The charity plays its games at UEL’s Sports Dock – image Ilyas Ayub

For NASSA and the young people that participate in its programmes, the game is a chance to explore those relationships and find some parallels.

Anthony said: “When people put on a uniform, there’s a certain reputation they have to uphold.

“When we play basketball, we put on a uniform and we preach that to our young people – it’s the same with school uniforms.

“When wearing them, you have to represent certain things, to look at the bigger picture of what that means, how you carry yourself and the importance of that.

“There is a natural tension with the Met, but police officers are also the first responders – they are the people you call when you’re in trouble and they also go through traumas related to the work they do.

vWhen the officers are playing, you don’t see that tension with the young people and that’s a seed that can be planted to grow into something better.

“Who knows, one of our young people might end up saying they want to join the police themselves.

“I’ve never worked for the police, but I can imagine officers are always on high alert for themselves and those around them as they work to keep people safe.

“This game is an opportunity for them to let their hair down – a bit of a break in a safe place and a chance to communicate with young people.”

With a reduction in youth services locally, that’s a welcome prospect for Simon and his colleagues.

He said: “There’s a lack of youth engagement opportunities following austerity – we saw huge cuts to many of those services locally and what NASSA does is phenomenal – bringing young people together locally.

“It gives them the ability to work as a team, to enjoy themselves, to get fit and have fun.

“It gives them somewhere to go and a sense of purpose.

“Having young kids myself, I know how important sport can be when they’re growing and everything is changing in their lives.

NASSA is set to take on the Met in a symbolic game on January 25, 2024 – image Ilyas Ayub

“That continuous focus around sport can be crucial.

“NASSA also provides a sense of family – speaking to Natasha, you really understand it’s a close knit organisation and people coming into it will really feel that.

“That’s important because I think lots of young people feel very alienated in the modern world. What NASSA does is very powerful.

“Knife crime is an issue that goes far beyond the police.

“We deal with situations where people are on the street carrying knives or when they’ve been the victim of a homicide or serious assault.

“There are things we do – very well planned and coordinated partnership activities – to try and reduce offending.

“But tackling this issue starts a lot earlier than that. It often begins in the home with good parenting and at school with education. 

“There are so many factors that play into it.

“Where we’ve seen success across the country and across the world, has been when a public health approach is taken.

“That’s where numerous partners including charities, police forces and other organisations, come together to look at all the different factors that feed into knife crime, such as deprivation

“This game is a good example of how we’re trying to reach out and encourage young people to be part of that. 

“We’re a long way from solving the problem, but we’ve recognised as a service that only a partnership approach will address it. 

“If you speak to young people and ask them why they carry knives, a lot of them would say they are for self defence or to make sure that they are safe.

“If I had a magic wand it would be used to make people not feel unsafe or at risk so they wouldn’t feel the need to carry a knife.

“That’s the ultimate aim – it’s difficult to achieve that because of all the factors that affect it.

“For a young person to say they need to carry a knife to feel safe speaks volumes and that’s that we need to address first.”

  • While the game on January 25, 2024, is not open to the general public, organisations or individuals who would like to support NASSA can get in touch with the charity and may be able to attend.

Support from businesses, either financial or through volunteering is welcomed so NASSA and CABNAB can continue their vital work.

Find out more about NASSA and CABNAB 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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Royal Docks: How CABNAB continues to fight knife crime through sport

In 2023, it will be 15 years since NASSA launched Carry A Basketball Not A Blade to tackle violence

CABNAB founder Anthony Okereafor

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Thamesmead and Abbey Wood aren’t far from Newham. The Elizabeth Line connection via Custom House brings the areas to within a few minutes of each other.

So the fatal stabbings there of Charlie Bartolo and Kearne Solanke – both 16, both killed in linked attacks on November 26 – are an especially potent reminder to those in east and south-east London of the ever present threat and brutality of knife crime.

At the time of writing, three teenagers had been arrested in connection with the murders and two charged – five young lives either ended or changed forever.

It’s a story Anthony Okereafor knows only too well. Two of his friends were killed in unrelated knife attacks in 2008.

“I was 17 and out playing basketball and my phone was ringing – but I ignored it and continued with the game,” he said.

“Later I followed up on the missed call to find my friend had been stabbed.

“For me, it wasn’t just that my friend had passed away, but that it had happened so close to where I was playing.

“If I hadn’t ignored my phone, it could have been me – to some degree basketball saved me from being involved in that incident and in that environment.

“But, at the same time, I had the trauma of having lost a friend.

“At the time I was quite young and studious.

“I had a younger brother and sister and I thought, that if this was what had helped keep me out of trouble, what could we do to help other people?”

Anthony is the son of Natasha Hart, who in 2005 sowed the seeds of what would become Newham All Star Sports Academy (NASSA) by giving her kids an impromptu basketball session in a local park.

She offered to make it a weekly treat and soon friends were joining in, with the group rapidly growing in size. 

Young people training with NASSA outside during the pandemic

A year later she officially launched the organisation as a charity to provide competitive basketball coaching for children and young people in the borough – a safe place to play sport away from the lure of anti-social behaviour, alcohol, drugs and crime.

So it was to Natasha that Anthony went first in 2008 with his idea for a campaign to tackle knife crime. Working through NASSA, it will be 15 years since his Carry A Basketball Not A Blade (CABNAB) campaign started.

“Basketball has always been the sport I enjoyed playing most, so we have used that as a tool to get young people engaged with our message,” he said.

“It’s an educational tool we employ to let them know how dangerous carrying a knife can be, not just for the victim but for the carrier.

“CABNAB empowers young people to do productive things and uses the power of sport to bring people together and forget about the things they face on a day-to-day basis, like postcode wars, racism and poverty.”

Today CABNAB delivers talks and workshops in primary and secondary schools, starting with children as young as nine and 10 – carefully tailoring its approach to the age of its audience.

“The age will determine how graphic the sessions are,” said Anthony.

“With the younger ones, we’ll talk about how easy it is to be asked to hold something, for example – these are very young kids, but grooming by criminal gangs starts at a young age.

“Drug dealers and gang members will use younger people because they are less likely to be stopped by the police even if they’re carrying a knife.

“We talk about the physical dangers and issues if you do get attacked, which people have to live with – trauma, scars and physical impairments.

“Alongside that, we also talk about what happens if you are the perpetrator – what time are you looking at in jail and how your family would be affected.

“Personally I believe a lot of the time when these crimes are committed and people die, that it’s not the intention of the perpetrator to kill. 

“A lot of young people I’ve encountered carry knives for fashion and protection. When you ask them: ‘From what?’ they’ll say it’s being in certain areas and doing certain things.

“Sport is one way to tackle that. When people see a person in a kit or sporting uniform, that’s a young man or woman on a mission – they’re more likely to respect it and leave them alone.

“Growing up in Newham and going to certain parks to play basketball, I saw it happen.

“The gang leaders and those affiliated with drugs allowed me to play in the park, possibly because they could see that I wouldn’t want to be involved as I potentially had a future. 

“As much as they might do bad things, a lot of them do have moral compasses and think that if a kid is involved in basketball or football they’d just let it go.

“That kind of respect does exist in our communities, and CABNAB can use it to help young people to stay engaged in sport, after school, through extra-curricular activities and, on top of that, in school as well.”

NASSA regularly trains and plays at UEL’s SportsDock in Royal Docks

Pre pandemic, CABNAB was reaching up to 3,000 young people a year and is now building back up as well as looking for funding to grow further.

The campaign also works in partnership with the Met and former officers – it hosts a basketball match each year where police take on a team of NASSA members to help break down barriers.

“We can never completely eradicate knife crime, but we can get the numbers very low,” said Anthony, who was named a Point Of Light in 2015 by then Prime Minister David Cameron for his work tackling knife crime in Newham.

“Funding is the biggest help for us in this, although we’re also so grateful to businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals who help us out in any other way they can or those who volunteer.

“In another 15 years the dream would be that knife crime will have faded away to the point where we can almost forget about it. 

“We need to get away from blame and open up a conversation about why young people are doing these things.

“I want carrying a knife to be seen as taboo, not cool, not fashionable, not worthy of respect – just something that leads to a waste of life.

“We need to look at peer pressure and poverty and get this issue away from being gang and drugs related to reduce it on the street.

“CABNAB started in a sense with trying to save my own life.

“The court was my safe haven and basketball kept my mind off other things.

“To know we’ve changed many lives is incredible but even though we work with thousands of young people every year, if just one person puts down a knife or never picks one up, that’s good enough for me.

“You can see the reduction in crime in the areas where we work and there are so many other benefits when kids get involved with NASSA – the physical health, the education and the mental health that comes with those.

“With the cost of living crisis, it’s getting harder to do what we do, but I’m optimistic. Nothing is impossible – you just have to face the difficulties and overcome them.”

Excel in Royal Docks supports the charity in its mission

Read more: How British Land is set to build a new town centre at Canada Water

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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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Stratford: Discover Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World

New show at Theatre Royal Stratford East hails female role-models and stars Christina Modestou

Christina Modeastou as Jane Austen, right
Christina Modestou as Jane Austen, right

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The 1990s may be back in style, but thankfully Girl Power never went out of fashion.

It has been given an empowering new spin in musical Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, which is set to run at Theatre Royal Stratford East from June 15-July 17, 2022.

Based on a book by Suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst, it celebrates often forgotten women from history such as Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen and Pankhurst’s own relative Emmeline, all seen through the eyes of inquisitive schoolgirl Jade.

They are brought to life by an all-female cast and a creative crew who have worked with the likes of Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue,  Miley Cyrus and Beverley Knight.

We asked part-Welsh, part-Greek star of the show Christina Modestou to tell us about the fantastic women who have inspired her.

the matriarch

My mum Lula is one of the biggest role models in my life. She has always been 100% behind me with anything I wanted to try as a child and critiqued me in a healthy way. 

My mum was a hairdresser and she loved her job – having a parent who loves what they do really rubbed off on me.

I used to go and help on a Saturday and witness it first-hand. Looking back, I see how everyone there encouraged me.

I used to write stories and act things out as customers were waiting for their perms to set. It was one of the customers who said I should go to a drama class as it made me really happy.

the teachers

I started classes with Irene Hopkins when I was five. She was my first singing teacher and had a massive impact on me. 

She had this wonderful knack for bringing out your best qualities and encouraging you to flourish in what you were good at.

I never liked classical music, I always found passion in pop and jazzy sounds. 

Instead of putting me in a box I didn’t want to be in, she stretched me, found my flair and leaned into that. She didn’t try to mould me into anyone else. 

She still comes to see every show I do and will send me a card. There’s still that level of support.

My dance teacher Jackie Bristow was also pivotal. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for her

Star Christina Modeastou
Star Christina Modestou


the character

My claim to fame is being in the choir scene in Love Actually and the year I graduated I did We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre. 

But the pivotal role in my career was playing Nina in In The Heights at Southwark Playhouse.

That was an experience I still hold very dear. She comes from a working-class community and goes away to university but, in trying to work and learn, she has to drop out because her grades are slipping and she has to go home and tell her family she has failed. 

It’s something quite common in our industry. People say you’ve got talent and put you on a bit of a pedestal and the thought that going home is a failure is hard. Exploring that was really exciting.

the fantastic women

This show has a really special place in my heart because I wish I had seen something like this growing up. 

In musicals there are historically four types of women – the unrequited love interest, the princess, the matriarch and the whore. Even in Les Miserables, that’s how women are portrayed. 

In our musical, we get to show who women are without men and be silly and funny, serious, loud, quiet, sensitive and strong – so many different things. I was asked to audition after I played Anne Boleyn in the original cast of Six.

I have been involved since the original workshops and it’s been amazing to see how it has snowballed. It’s a very physical show and you are representing real women.

Christina as Gertrude Ederle, in red
Christina as Gertrude Ederle, in red


the brawn

I play Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel and broke the world record. I didn’t know her story but she is incredible. She had measles as a child and by her 40s was almost deaf. 

She taught swimming to deaf children and, when she noticed people were drowning, she helped open pools in poor areas so people could learn to swim.

She was as strong as a man, won gold at the Olympics as part of the first female swimming team and invented the two-piece bathing suit.

I admire her strength and resilience and warmth. She was unapologetic about what she could achieve and was always helping others.

the wit

Most people know Jane Austen. I love playing her in this show because she comes back around the age she died, in her early 40s and befriends Frida Kahlo. 

They are chalk and cheese but give each other a wonderful platform. The thing that impresses me most is her wit. She was such an observer and wrote characters and comedy so well.

the intellect

Mary Anning was an English fossil collector and palaeontologist who discovered the ichthyosaur when she was twelve years old and uncovered skeletons of the plesiosaur, pterosaur and lots of other key things. 

I get the impression she lived a very hard life. She got struck by lightning as a baby and everyone else near her died.

She was one of 10 children, but only she and one other made it to maturity. She also lost her work to men, who didn’t give her credit for her discoveries. 

There is a real isolated sadness to her, which I find fascinating.

I think she homed in on the joy in her work. In the musical, we meet her with Mary Seacole and Marie Curie and they become this superhero trio.

So she has learnt how to work as a team in our world, which has a magical vibe as if all these women had come back to life.

Christina as Mary Anning, left
Christina as Mary Anning, left

the co-stars

I have never been in a rehearsal room with so many women. Doing this show has been a real collaboration and we have had some amazing discussions about gender, diversity, and disabilities. 

I’ve never experienced a room as open as this and it has opened my eyes to a lot of bias I didn’t know about. 

It is also about the fact feminism isn’t about women being better than men, it’s about being fair.

We don’t want the young men in the audience to feel they should be controlled by women. We want them to be inspired by these women. Feminism isn’t about vengeance. 

Shows like Emilia, with an all-female cast, have paved the way for this. In that, women play men, which is something we rarely see. It’s bonkers, because men play women all the time – in panto and on stage. 

In Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, we see these icons through the eyes of a young woman of colour and that is wonderful.

We wanted to make sure there was diversity – as we tour the show we want to make sure as many children are represented as possible.

the body

It’s not just about representing ethnicity, it’s about body shape. The first time I saw a body I recognised as being like mine was in Mad Men. I saw Christina Hendricks and was like: “Oh my god, finally, a curvy woman”.

I have to wear a unitard in this show, which was quite exposing for me, but the power of going out there knowing I can be a size 12 or 14 and be proud of it and hopefully inspire others, is unexplainable.

Often I get told I don’t look Welsh enough. I sit right in the middle of a lot of categories. I’m Welsh but with a Greek Cypriot background.

I’m not young, old, tall, short, thin or fat. I once got told I wouldn’t have a career until I’m older as I didn’t fit a category and I thought: “Screw that”.

the stars

I would love to work with Olivia Colman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Emma Thompson. Jenna Russell is amazing and I would work with her again and again. 

We did Urinetown together at The Apollo and then I managed to put on a cabaret at Southwark Playhouse during the pandemic and she did that with me too.

She is a class act. I admire people who put the work first and are selfless enough to tell the story which sometimes means giving up your moment to shine. That’s what inspires me.

herself

Someone asked us in a Q&A who we would be if we could be any women for a day and my colleague, Jade, said: “I would be me”. What a cool thing to feel – that you just want to be you and no-one else.

Read more: Discover the denim-based art of Poplar’s Ian Berry

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Royal Docks: How The PA Show trains and serves executive support professionals

We catch up with organiser Mash Media to understand the Excel event’s highlights

The PA Show takes place at Excel from March 8-9, 2022
The PA Show takes place at Excel from March 8-9, 2022

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Executive support is what Liz Agostini is here to talk about.

The portfolio director at Mash Media, which is set to host The PA Show at Excel in Royal Docks on March 8 and 9, is quick to point out that the event is a larger umbrella than its name might suggest.

“It’s for personal assistants, executive assistants, virtual assistants and office managers – it has really broad appeal,” she said.

If anything, that’s a bit of an understatement. Spread over the two days, thousands of visitors will be able to attend dozens of seminar sessions, listen to dozens of speakers and interact with more than 100 exhibitors.

In addition to a theatre for keynote speeches the show will feature a Key Skills Theatre, a Personal Development Theatre and a Tech Theatre with a packed programme of trainers and industry experts.

It will also host the Office Management Conference with discussions on topics such as project managing office moves, supporting a positive culture in the workplace and engaging staff in sustainability.

“Whether you’re working as a PA, EA, VA or office manager, or considering a career in an executive support role, this show is definitely the place to be,” said Liz.

“There are several ways to attend, with a free visitor pass granting access to the Keynote Theatre and the exhibition floor.

“As a business, we’re real advocates for live events – with exhibitions, it’s about touching, feeling and experiencing products and meeting people.

“We’ve all attended webinars and virtual events, but there’s nothing like being in the room with others – humans are social beings, that’s how we’re hard-wired.

“Events like The PA Show also allow for those serendipitous conversations with people you bump into – a chance to build and expand your network.

“Those who don’t want to take part in the paid programme are absolutely welcome to come along.”

Mash Media's Liz Agostini
Mash Media’s Liz Agostini – image Matt Grayson

Delegate passes – £149 for one day or £169 for both (get 10% off with code PA2216) – not only include entry to the office management conference and all of the theatres, they also unlock Planet PA post-show video content, access to premium suppliers and the option to use The PA Show networking app.

Liz said: “One of the key things about the event is that the educational aspect is absolutely stand-out.

“The whole programme is CPD accredited and the other thing that makes it outstanding is that, within the paid-for programmes, all the people delivering the training are seriously qualified in the area of executive support.

“To go on a day of training with any of these people would normally cost hundreds of pounds on its own.

“At the show what you get is a substantial taster of what they offer. That means you can attend lots of different sessions, see what they are doing and know what you’re in for if you were to book a course with them.

“We cover all sorts of different areas, so it’s a buffet of education – people can choose what they want to attend at the theatres over the two days.”

The PA Show features a number of expert speakers and trainers
The PA Show features a number of expert speakers and trainers

The roster of speakers and trainers includes Lauren Bradley of The Officials, Shelley Fischel of Tomorrow’s VA, Joanna Gaudoin of Inside Out Image, Paula Harding of The Meee Partnership, Kay Lundy of The Expert Admin Coach, Rosemary Parr of the Global PA Association And Training Academy, Paul Pennant of Today’s PA and Lindsay Taylor of Your Excellency.

Liz said: “We’re working with people who are at the absolute top of their game in terms of the PA world – the cornerstones of the training market.

“Outsiders often greatly underestimate the importance of executive support roles.

“But when you sit down with people working in this field and really take time to understand what their jobs entail, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.

“The roles are so varied and strategic – these people are partners for the executives they support. 

“They often have to participate in all aspects of an organisation whether that’s finance, marketing, employment, corporate governance, human resources and sustainability issues. Their remit is absolutely massive.

“I spoke to one PA who answers 90% of her boss’ email as him. Her understanding of the business has to be as good as his.

“That’s why a lot of EAs and PAs move into critical roles within organisations – because of their knowledge of the business they work for.

“I know PAs who have gone into underwriting, stockbroking and mergers and acquisitions. 

“At the top level you need to know how the business works and that’s about a million miles away from the stereotype of getting an executive’s clothes dry-cleaned for them.”

The event is now in its 11th year
The event is now in its 11th year

New for its 11th year is the collaboration with the Office Management Group, bringing the conference into the show’s stable.

“That’s an entirely new stream of content that we’re putting out,” said Liz.

“It covers areas such as facilities and office management and, what’s particularly relevant about that right now, is that so many businesses are focused on bringing their staff back into the office, doing that safely and establishing how they create the right office environment in 2022 and beyond.

“Regardless of how many staff they have in the office in person, businesses are conducting both internal and external meetings virtually, so what kind of facilities do you need to have in place? If people are working remotely, how do you keep everyone connected?

“That might cover questions around scheduling if people are working more flexibly – for example, how do you make sure project teams are running efficiently if participants are only in on certain days?

“Because the whole subject of technology in business is so important we’ve introduced the Tech Theatre to The PA Show this year too and that’s focusing on a whole raft of tools that are now available, not just the Microsoft and Google toolkits.”

PAs, EAs, VAs and office managers are welcome to attend for free
PAs, EAs, VAs and office managers are welcome to attend for free

Liz said for businesses wanting to reach the spending power of executive support professionals, exhibiting at the show was a “no-brainer”.

She said: “Nothing beats the personal touch and the budgets people in these roles have access to are significant.

“Our campaign for the show this year focused on PAs and EAs as the power behind the throne – exhibitors need to come along to make sure they are aware of your products, otherwise you’re just leaving them to search the internet, where it’s much harder to stand out.”

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Canning Town: How Wonderful Things hooks Yoga up with co-working

Space at Caxton Works is neighbour and sister company to Keyboards And Dreams

Wonderful Things' space in Canning Town
Wonderful Things’ space in Canning Town – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

A new space that embraces the increasingly blurry lines between home, work and wellbeing is about to emerge in Canning Town.

Wonderful Things will offer traditional Yoga and meditation classes alongside sessions such as sound healing, moon ceremonies and ecstatic dance.

Inspired by the autonomy of co-working spaces, it promises to shun rigid schedules and memberships and instead mould itself around the needs of teachers and students to create a sanctuary from stress.

Set to open in March at Caxton Works, general manager Sean Reilly said it was a “beautiful but no-frills” space run with a laid back philosophy.

The 27-year-old, who is a trained hypnotherapist, has spent weeks talking to therapists and Yoga teachers about what they need.

“People are looking for a space that’s super simple where they can just walk in, no faff, start their class and they know where everything is,” she said.

“They want to know they are in a space that is safe, that they can relax and nothing is going to go wrong so they have peace of mind and don’t need to worry about a thing.

“Creating that is our sole focus now, so we can slip into people’s lives as if we have always been there and they can just click and book and it’s done.”

Sean Reilly of Wonderful Things
Sean Reilly of Wonderful Things – image Matt Grayson

She turned to the wellness industry after becoming disillusioned with her hospitality job during lockdown.

“During the pandemic, there was a drastic change and it came to a point where I was doing 12-hour shifts by myself, back-to-back, which wasn’t good for my brain,” she said.

“The Deliveroo drivers and I were best friends. I loved hospitality because I love talking to people and it lost the magic for me a little bit.”

Despite no office experience, she landed a role at Keyboards And Dreams, a co-working company set up by Jonathan Fren with sites in Clerkenwell and Caxton Works. 

They quickly discovered a shared passion for wellbeing and have been working together to create Wonderful Things in the unit next door.

The 150sq m space offers 24 Yoga mats as well as straps, blocks, blankets and pillows.

There is also a changing area, kitchen and a dedicated street entrance, which will be accessible via a mobile app.

It is a new direction for entrepreneur Jonathan but a natural one.

The 32-year-old started out in tech as a teen, but a decade later shut down successful web company Rebel Minds after it grew into something he hated.

He went travelling and began renting out the central London office space he had acquired and Keyboard And Dreams was born.

He launched his second space in Canning Town in November 2020, after he fell in love with the area and then jumped at the chance to start another business at the development.

Entrepreneur Jonathan Fren
Entrepreneur Jonathan Fren

“I took this new space on a year ago without even having an idea of what to do with it because I just really believe in that area,” he said.

“I’ve always wanted to do something in wellness but hadn’t crystallised the idea.

“For the past year I’ve been living in the countryside and my girlfriend is a Yoga teacher, so I’ve been doing a lot of that and meditation and it just clicked at some point that I wanted to create a space in London where people can go and just be with themselves. 

“Now, more than ever I think it’s really important that spaces have more than just offices. A lot of spaces in London are made by people with lots of money and that’s all it’s about, especially with a lot of gyms.

“We want Wonderful Things to be warm and inviting, but it will really be about creating a space where people can discover themselves.

“When I go to London one thing I miss is being in a silent room where I don’t feel I’m being watched or have to talk. I want Wonderful Things to be that safe space.”

Jonathan never returned from his travels. He now lives in Portugal, managing both businesses remotely with Lewisham resident Sean on-site.

In addition to being a hypnotherapist, she is studying psychotherapy and hopes to see clients at Wonderful Things in the future.

Yoga mats ready for use at Wonderful Things
Yoga mats ready for use at Wonderful Things – image Matt Grayson

She said: “When I first met Jon I told him my idea of the perfect space and he told me about this project and asked if I wanted to be involved. I knew it was where I was meant to be. It worked out perfectly.

“There are so many brilliant therapists looking for affordable spaces to use. Renting a space can be extortionate, so you have to do a joint contract where one person uses it one day and another person another. 

“It’s always complicated. You want the focus to be on your clients’ wellbeing, but you spend half the time worrying about whether you can afford the rent.

“We said it would be great to have an all-round well-being hub and make it the kind of space we would want to go to.

“Hopefully, if it goes well over the next year, we will open the mezzanine space with meditation spaces and break out spaces where people can be alone with their thoughts or have therapy sessions.”

Classes will “start with a trickle and turn into a flood” with a schedule being developed over time, but room will also be left for ad hoc events. Teachers will pay a set price to use the space and then be responsible for promoting their classes and deciding ticket prices.

“There’s nothing in the area that really has the same vibe,” said Sean. “We are very relaxed and if you need anything you can just talk to us.

“It’s open to anyone who wants to be there because the space is so adaptable. It isn’t going to be the right fit for everyone.

“If you are looking for a big, mainstream space, this isn’t that. 

“Our space is beautiful but has no frills and is all about welcoming people. If that works for your idea in your mind then please come down.”

The space can be used for a multitude of activities
The space can be used for a multitude of activities – image Matt Grayson

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East London: East End Community Foundation’s unveils Life Chances drive

Charity seeks to raise £5million to tackle issues in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and the City

East End Community Foundation chair Bronek Masojada – image Matt Grayson

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“When I was approached about joining the East End Community Foundation, I thought it answered a problem that I’d had as a CEO,” said Bronek Masojada, who has spent the last 28 years at the helm of insurance firm Hiscox.

“There is a lot of desire among staff at companies to get involved in charitable activities close to where they work and that’s great, but the question then is what, precisely?

“The answer to that question is a navigation service for organisations that identifies what those needs are, which are the most effective charities to support and how to make sure any donation is put to good use.

“I’m not going to pretend to understand what the needs of individuals are in deprived areas – nor do my colleagues.

“That navigation service also needs to show how staff can be involved to a limited extent because, from my experience people’s desire to play a part is much greater than the reality when dates are in the diary and free time and weekends have to be given up to do that. 

“The EECF provides a service that addresses all those issues, for anybody who would like to try to make a difference – a clear solution to a clear problem.

“The fact it also gives away a substantial amount of its own money every year means the team has every incentive to make sure it is done so effectively.”

Bronek joins EECF as chair, having taken over from Canary Wharf Group’s Howard Dawber towards the end of last year, his arrival coinciding with the launch of the charity’s Life Chances Campaign to raise and distribute £5million to help deprived communities in east London recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The money will be distributed to organisations in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and the City with the three aims of improving the wellbeing and employment prospects of young people, tackling digital exclusion and reducing poverty and isolation among older people. Pledges of £750,000 have already been made.

Bronek said: “About £2.5million will go on the first of these, about £1million on the last and the balance on digital connectivity.

These areas all slightly overlap – what drives elderly isolation is lack of digital connectivity in today’s age, not just access to things like iPads, but the competency to use them.

“It’s not just about giving people a bit of kit, but also providing support.

“My mother and my mother-in-law in South Africa are both big silver surfers, because they are driven to enjoy connectivity with their children and grandchildren, and that’s fantastic.

“My mother has been self-isolating, but probably speaks to my children more often than me, through digital means.

“It will be the same for people in east London – if you can’t get out because of Covid, you should still be able to connect with people.

“Zoom and other platforms are free, if you know how to use them. There is some reticence.

“I can remember when I put my grandmother in front of a Space Invaders game,  she just froze, but nowadays you don’t have that choice.

“Life Chances is trying to address real needs. The average salary in Tower Hamlets is £80,000 a year but the average household income is £25,000. That’s understandable, but pretty extraordinary when you think about it.

“What we’re trying to do is to appeal to the people and the firms that employ them in the area to help those who are resident locally.

“I recently read youth unemployment in London is four times the national average and Life Chances is about helping people into work.

“Not everyone’s going to be an investment banker – I get that – but firms like Hiscox and employers in Canary Wharf need a huge range of skills and capabilities.

“Clearly good educational achievements make things easier, but even for those who don’t have them we can make a real difference by helping them get entry-level jobs.

“I have friends in the insurance industry who grew up within earshot of Bow Bells, but who have done unbelievably well.

“These companies do offer people who are smart, even partly educated, the ability to rise through the ranks and that’s what they want.

“It was a surprise to learn about the disparity between income versus household income. It’s pretty apparent if you travel through the four boroughs and listen to what’s going on. 

“I was also surprised when the EECF’s CEO, Tracey Walsh, told me there were 5,000 charities and community groups active in those areas – that gives you a sense of the size of the challenge and the need for navigation.

“If there’s a corporate wanting to get involved, how do you find and pick an organisation to support? Which are effective and which make a difference?

“Often that choice is made because of individual connections, partners or friends, but to my mind that’s not the best way to choose a charity.

“The EECF applies rigour – groups have to apply for grants. They have to explain what their outcomes are going to be and then assess whether their aims were achieved or not. That’s a powerful process.

“The other thing about the EECF is that some of the grants are quite small in monetary terms – £2,000 or £5,000, for example – but they can make a real difference to a particular community group or charity.

“It’s hard for big companies, who might want to give say £50,000 – which is the top level we ask organisations to commit to – and to then break that down into grants themselves. Hiscox, for example, wouldn’t be able to do that.

“EECF is a well respected organisation. It’s seen as independent, fair and transparent and those are great things to build on. It has its own money to give away and full credit to Howard and Tracey for building that up. 

“My ambition is to continue the work they and the other trustees have been doing for many years and make the Life Chances Campaign a success.

“We don’t need a revolution – there’s a very clear plan of how we can make a difference and improve people’s lives.

“It’s a good programme and, if we can just deliver on that, then that’s a job well done.

“The more successful we are with Life Chances, the more we may have to increase staff numbers and so on, but that’s an outcome rather than a goal.

“I think that the other thing we’d like to move to with the campaign is to say to those getting grants that we’ll give them a certain amount each year for the next three years, so they can plan rather than having to put their energies into constant fundraising.

“An ambition has also got to be to augment the million or so we give away every year.

“If we can get to the £2million mark every year for the next five, that would be pretty awesome.”

For Bronek, the decision to become chair of EECF follows on from a long line of extramural activities undertaken while working at Hiscox, including the position of deputy chairman of Lloyds Of London for seven years.

“I’ve always thought that a business and a person succeeds if they are involved in more than one thing,” he said. 

“The beach is really very nice to relax on, but you have to have something to relax from – when you’re there all the time, it’s no longer relaxing.

“I feel the idea of stopping work and allowing the skills and knowledge that I’ve managed to accumulate to dissipate would be a waste. My hope is I can use them instead to make a beneficial and positive impact on the wider community.

“In terms of the difference I can make, clearly there’s the day-to-day governance of the organisation and I’ve had a fair experience of that.

“Hiscox was a lot smaller when I started there in 1992 and I’m used to us going into new countries, opening offices with no staff and then, slowly, over a decade building a physical presence and a good business.

“The fact that EECF has a dozen staff is really great, because it’s small, it’s informal – you don’t manage an organisation like that the way you manage a UK business like Hiscox, which employs well over 1,000 people.

“I also have a reasonable address book and I’m not scared to go and ask people for things, so I can help the team with the opening doors part of fundraising.

“They then have to close the deal, but I know that the hardest thing when you’re raising money is knowing who to talk to and then actually getting to speak to them.

“Even if they say no, that’s better than not talking to them, because you’re building awareness.

“Of course, there’s no certainty that we will succeed with the campaign, but it’s my view that it’s always better to try and to fail rather than not to try at all.”

Organisations that would like to support the Life Chances Campaign or charities and community groups interested in applying for EECF grants can find out more at the foundation’s website.

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