How The Body People brings fitness to Eastwick And Sweetwater

Muti-purpose venue near Stratford and Hackney Wick is Chloe Redmond’s first movement studio

Chloe Redmond, entrepreneur and owner of The Body People – a young woman with long dreadlocks in a black top in front of a green, gold, black and white geometric wax print fabric
Chloe Redmond, entrepreneur and owner of The Body People

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“The Body People is my baby,” said Chloe Redmond.

“She’s my first experience of owning a studio – a place where I could bring all forms of movement together, fitness, aerial disciplines and dance.

“But I also wanted it to be a space where you can mix and blend – focus on spoken word, photography exhibitions or rehearsals, for example – a place that would be multi-faceted.”

And The Body People in East Wick And Sweetwater – a residential development on the western edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – is just that. 

Pale green silks hang neatly braided from the ceiling, squares of wax print fabric in green, gold, white and black hide exercise bikes from view and golden poles run floor-to-ceiling in readiness for forthcoming acrobatics.

Everywhere there’s wood, splashes of colour and foliage.

For studio owner Chloe, it’s a dream made real – the culmination of 14 years working as a dance and fitness instructor in and around her native Walthamstow.

Chloe Redmond, wearing a khaki tracksuit with a crop top raises her hands in a fitness studio while participants practise Pilates movements on the mat
Chloe teaching Pilates at her studio in east London

starting to move

“I’ve always moved,” she said.

“I’m dyslexic and have certain processing disorders that meant I was classed as a dumb person at school. But I was strong and fast.

“I was really fortunate to be supported by my parents and to be able to do everything from gymnastics to athletics and dance.

“I graduated as a filmmaker, but I decided teaching people dance and fitness was what made me feel alive – it took me to another level.

“When I came back from university, I thought I ought to do some dance classes.

“When I couldn’t afford my gym membership any more – they said that they’d heard I taught and that, if I were to teach classes, I’d get access for free.

“So I retrained. I just love seeing people’s eyes come alive when they feel good and experience that confidence.

“Also, you get applause at the end – you don’t get that in every job.”

A woman tries out aerial silks at The Body People. She is wearing a purple top and grasping two lengths of green silk suspended from the roof
The Body People offers a wide range of classes including aerial silks

finding a spot for The Body People

“When you’re just a teacher on your own, running around to other gyms, you’re limited in what you can do,” said Chloe. 

“That’s why I started looking for a space.

“I knew I wanted somewhere I could pull communities together, somewhere I could put my unique black woman’s touch on – a place I could make beautiful the way I wanted it. 

“But I struggled to find somewhere – I had so many offers rejected in Walthamstow.

“Then this place came up and it made sense, being in the middle of Stratford and Hackney Wick.

“You’ve got the old and the new here, which is important to me – those born to the sound of Bow Bells and people who have moved out of the City.

“It’s really nice to be a part of creating this new community. 

“We’ve had a lovely reaction from the local residents who live above and around us.”

A woman practices pole dancing on a brass pole hanging upside down with her hear loose
Pole dancing is available at the Eastwick And Sweetwater venue near Stratford

interior vibes at Eastwick And Sweetwater

Since opening the doors in November, Chloe has unquestionably put her stamp on the place, creating a backdrop packed with personality.

“It’s important to me that people come in and see a well-seasoned place – we have hot sauce in the fridge,” she said.

“I didn’t want it to be bland, sterile or stagnant because that has been my experience in some places.

“It was a concrete shell, and I wanted to keep something of that in the studio.

“But It was also important to me to get my Africa-print fabric from a Nigerian woman in Liverpool Street and to include items such as masks and fans that have been in my family from Ghana or Kenya for years.

“My background is also English and Irish and I wanted a place where people could walk in and feel a black woman’s touch.

“That’s in the textures of the plants and the things I’ve put in here.

“We’ve got boxes and baskets for people’s belongings while they train instead of lockers, to create a woody, earthy feel. 

“Then there are bolsters for Yoga made by my mum, Jo Redmond.

“One thing I do know is that when other black women come here there is this connection – a moment of things looking familiar to them.” 

A group of people participate in a spin class on exercise bikes at The Body People
The class timetable also includes spin sessions for cardiovascular fitness

building The Body People timetable

At the core of The Body People’s offering is its class timetable, with a wide range of sessions on offer.

“You can be up on the ceiling, down on the floor, on a bike, working out on a mat or moving to music,” said Chloe. 

“What you want to do depends on their interests and background.

“Some people may come in and say they’re bored with the gym – that they want something exciting and different and want to do it with a group of people led by an instructor.

“For them, we might recommend the more exotic classes like aerial silks or pole dancing. 

“Then there are people who are pregnant or who have just had a baby and want pre or postnatal classes, which we also offer.

“Some people have become die-hards and this studio is now their second home.

“Others just fancy a nice mixture of things like a step class, which is much more dance-like than it was back in the day – a lot less robotic.

“We also offer dancehall and commercial dance for those who want that variety.

“When designing the timetable, I wanted a full spectrum, imagining someone who would be able to come to a class every day and do something different.”

A group of people participate in a step fitness class wearing workout gear and trainers
Step classes are on offer at the venue

living the dream in east London

“I am a very sensitive and emotional person and I feel it’s important to champion more women who are business owners and in touch with a full range of emotions,” said Chloe.

“I’ve had moments where I’ve been in tears – happy and sad – times feeling really chuffed with myself or frustrated with the little things.

vBut I have to keep going – life isn’t perfect.

“There have been some really lovely moments where I’m teaching a Pilates class and thinking that, 14 years ago I started this kind of movement, knew I wanted my own place and now I’m in it and it’s beautiful and lovely.

“For the most part it’s a really happy experience.

“Every morning I walk in and say hello to my baby – the studio – and she speaks back to me when the music plays.

“Everyone who comes in feels they have come into a tranquil space – it just feels safe and inclusive.

“While I don’t have a favourite class – that would change daily – I have had some very special moments teaching Pilates when it’s felt like things have come full circle.

“I remember feeling nervous and anxious in the earliest days of teaching Pilates at my mum’s health practice in Walthamstow, but also that I loved it – supporting others.

“I knew then that I wanted my own place, not just for Pilates, but for dance and fitness too. 

“I’d always kept my eye out for spots which were coming up, and teaching here – 14 years later – means I’m getting my dream.

“Now I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.”

An image of The Body People studio which has a brown wooden floor and concrete walls with silks hanging from the ceiling and foliage down the walls
The Body People is a multi-purpose studio space between Stratford and Hackney Wick

need to know – The Body People

The Body People is located in Copper Street at East Wick And Sweetwater and operates a varied timetable over seven days.

Standard single session prices start at £13.

Memberships start at £146 per month, with full gold membership covering all classes in both E20 and Walthamstow is £162 per month.

Find out more about the studio 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 St James’ Bow Green development connects to nature

Berkeley Group’s latest East End scheme comes with extensive amenities and a lots of green space

An artist’s impression of Bow Green with Canary Wharf in the background and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in the foreground

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Integrated ovens with air fryer functionality, an Imax Enhanced cinema, a boxing ring, a botanical garden – Bow Green is not exactly short on stand-out resident amenities.

There’s a sense that developer St James – part of the Berkeley Group – has pulled out all the stops for its east London scheme.

However – while the underfloor heating, the indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a restaurant, with exterior tables shaded by living trees, are all significant pulls for buyers – there’s a deeper attraction too.

Berkeley isn’t new to this part of London, of course.

Its schemes include South Quay Plaza beside Canary Wharf, London Dock in Wapping, Poplar Riverside overlooking the River Lea and TwelveTrees Park next to West Ham station.

But Bow Green’s location – roughly in the middle of the triangle formed by the Wharf, Stratford and the City – sets it apart.

The site is at the centre of a wealth of green spaces, which have clearly been an inspiration for its architects and planners. 

In the coming years, St James’ scheme will see up to 1,450 homes built on a patch of land off Bow Common Lane.

A new public park will be created at the heart of Bow Green

At its heart, a new public park will be created, with residential buildings arranged around the site’s perimeter.

Pathways and green corridors between them will allow easy access for pedestrians, cyclists and, doubtless, wildlife.

An abundance of green spaces radiate out from this epicentre – not least the sprawling acreage of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Ackroyd Drive Greenlink and the emerald swathe of Mile End Park, which runs north to south along the Regent’s Canal.

Travel a little further and Bow Common and Bartlett Park lie to the south, while Victoria Park, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Hackney Marshes beckon to the north. 

“One of the key things that we wanted to establish early on at Bow Green is this connection to the those spaces,” said Katie Thompson, sales and marketing director at St James. 

“We’ve got the 27 acres of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park right opposite the site and, when you look at a map, you see this part of London has an unusually high number of these open spaces.

“Our development is hugged by green and what we’re doing is plugging into that by creating our own sculpted park at Bow Green.”

Bow Green’s first phase is now under construction

Berkeley has serious history in creating such spaces.

There’s Maribor Park at Royal Arsenal Riverside with its delta-style water feature and the playful Cator Park at Kidbrooke Village, which won both the Sir David Attenborough Award for enhancing biodiversity and The President’s Award at The Landscape Institute Awards in 2020.

For Bow Green, environmental artist Chris Drury has come up with a curvaceous green amphitheatre that will feature a stepped fountain. It sits amid a network of tree-lined pathways and wildflower beds.

“We wanted to give the development something that had a pull both for people living here but also for the wider community,” said Katie.

“There’s a responsibility as a developer for how we activate that space – do we host fairs or performances, for example? What we can do with that space is create moments.

“The other lovely thing is that the park will look and feel completely different whether you’re in it or looking down from one of the apartments.”

Habitation is, naturally, at the core of St James’ design, with Bow Green pitched as a tranquil space for residents to live, which is nevertheless well connected via the Tube from Mile End or Bow Road or the DLR from Devons Road.

Delivered in five phases, the first will see an extensive array of residents facilities built alongside the initial complement of apartments.

The development will have an outdoor pool for residents to use

So what’s it going to be like living at Bow Green?

“When you think of east London, it’s often the towers of Canary Wharf or the older housing estates with high-rise blocks, but Bow Green is completely different,” said Jess Chapple, head of sales at St James.

“Here the development is very much intertwined with nature – it’s 50% green space – and the design is also sympathetic to the area and its heritage. 

“Here people are buying into a place where the city and nature blend together.

“I imagine someone working in Canary Wharf, Stratford or the City who wants to come home and feel like they’ve got everything on their doorstep, with green space and residents’ facilities brought to them through careful design. 

“While they’re surrounded by that golden triangle, when they come here they’ll be taking a step back from the hustle and bustle, while still being in a Zone 2 location.

“The apartments themselves range from studios to three-bedroom homes with specifications that are the result of everything St James has learnt about design, including during 10 years of its scheme in White City.

“That means every apartment has things like coat storage, while studios have separate sleeping areas – we’ve really thought about how people will live in these spaces. 

“For us, it’s about constantly evaluating what we’re offering right up until launch, to make sure we’re keeping up with trends in the market and that, ultimately, people will be happy in their homes.”

The Canopy restaurant will feature plenty of greenery and outdoor tables shaded by foliage

With extensive planting, landscaping and a wealth of amenities, life at Bow Green promises to be filled with diversions.

The spa at the development will feature both indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools, connected visually through large, full-height windows.

Residents will also have access to a fully-equipped gym, which includes a boxing ring alongside treadmills, weights and heavy bags.

The Garden Room will act as a games space, complete with foosball and pool tables, while The Reading Corner promises a place for residents to work, take in a good book or simply watch people pass by.

“When you look at the detail of our plans, there are lots of little nooks and seats for people to use,” said Katie.

“The way life is now, people will pause and take a laptop out anywhere and we’re thinking about those moments.”

On a more leisurely note, Bow Green will also be the first development in the UK to feature an Imax Enhanced cinema for residents to use – a significant boost in quality and picture definition for those who enjoy a good movie.

Then there’s Bow Yard, a public, cobbled outdoor space that will be home to markets and The Canopy restaurant and cafe.

This will feature plentiful greenery, foliage-shaded outdoor seating and dishes made with some ingredients grown in the residents’ botanical garden – a raised space which will be used to cultivate fruit trees and herbs.

The indoor pool will be visually connected to the outdoor pool and the scheme’s green spaces via full height windows

As if that wasn’t enough, there will also be a convenience store on site and a 24-hour concierge service that links residents up to the various amenities.

Transport-wise, the development offers Tube and DLR connections within walking distance and multiple bus stops nearby.

“There are also lots of cycling routes nearby including on the canal to Victoria Park and one that’s less than 10 minutes to Canary Wharf said Jess.

“You can walk there in 25 minutes and there are also places to hire bikes and cars locally if residents need them.  

As well as being better value than many Zone 2 developments, we’re also offering a different kind of lifestyle – this place is tranquil and the facilities are outstanding.”

St James is currently marketing homes off-plan in the first phase of Bow Green.

key details

Prices at Bow Green start at £395,000 for a studio, £465,000 for a one-bed and £650,000 for a two-bed.

Three-bedroom homes will also be available as further properties are released.

Service charges are estimated at £4.85 per sq ft.

First completions are expected in 2026. Interested parties can call St James on 020 3814 8110 or find out more here.

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Stratford: How Awoke Plants is serving up peat-free greenery to east Londoners

Sioḃán Wall’s mini-garden centre can be found at View Tube on the edge of the Olympic Park

Sioḃán Wall, founder of Awoke Plants

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Coincidentally, Sioḃán Wall’s career has consistently featured the earth beneath our feet and the places that we live in.

Having studied German literature at university, she embarked on a career in logistics, working for DHL as it consulted on what to do with all the excavated matter from the forthcoming construction of Crossrail. 

A move into project management saw her transfer to Bechtel, directly working on the epic scheme she’d helped plan – shifting millions of tonnes of material, dug out for the Elizabeth Line’s tunnels, to help build Wallasea Island Wild Coast – an RSPB nature reserve covering the Crouch and Roach estuaries in Essex.

Following that, a job in the housing industry beckoned, as head of construction and logistics at Barking Riverside – the vast east London regeneration scheme on the banks of the Thames.  

“After nearly four years, I was made redundant and I really wanted to work for myself,” said Sioḃán.

Awoke Plants is my first little business and I opened it last year.

“My local garden centre – Growing Concerns, on the edge of Victoria Park – had just closed down and I’d been doing community gardening with the local Women’s Institute.

“We were all mutually disappointed by this because we felt there was a need for one. People still wanted to buy plants locally, get advice and enjoy browsing.

“Garden centres aren’t just about plants – you can get everything you need – gifts, cards, pots, tools and accessories.

“Outside London they are often day trip destinations – you get a lovely experience, cake in the cafe and so on. In the capital we miss a bit of that. 

“I started Awoke to learn the trade and switch over to gardening.

“I did a future gardeners course, sponsored by the London Legacy Development Corporation, which employs Idvere – a garden maintenance firm.

“That included work experience on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and really introduced me to horticulture as a career.

“It also allowed me to make contacts at Idvere, so I continue to work part-time for them – this winter I was out on the park.”

Sioḃán took all that experience and poured it into a small unit at View Tube on The Greenway in Stratford – a community of small businesses, housed in former shipping containers at the edge of the park.

Awoke Plants, in addition to a wide selection of grown specimens, sells seeds, pots, gifts and kids’ kits – pretty much anything the urban gardener might want available online or in person.

Awoke Plants boasts an extensive array of plants, products and gifts

Reopening its doors in March, the business sells troughs, baskets and upcylced containers of plants – all of which have been grown without peat.

“It’s a natural resource that can’t be replaced in our lifetimes,” said Sioḃán.

“It takes hundreds of thousands of years to make – it’s essentially rotted down mosses, leaves, vegetation and trees, that lived millions of years ago and decayed to form bogs, moorland or fens.

“For centuries humans have been draining the land, drying out the peat and digging it up to use in horticulture.

vBy doing this we’re taking something that absorbs and holds carbon and releasing it. 

“It’s currently hard to find plants which have been grown entirely without peat, but that’s what we offer here.

“And there are great alternatives. I’m using a mix of coia, which is chopped up bits of coconut husk, worm castings for nutrients, sand or grit and compost.

“All of these hold moisture and micro-nutrients, which help support a healthy root structure and growth period.

“In this area, gardening is all about how to decorate our small gardens and balconies with as much attention as we would give to our kitchens, dining rooms or bedrooms.

“There’s so much you can do. You can grow food, flowers or exotic plants in small spaces.

“The key elements are making sure you’ve got a container which will fit in the space and some light.

“Then, you just need to remember to water, feed and look after the quality of the soil.

“We can also fill our homes with houseplants.

“I’d like to encourage people to experiment. Some species will work on widow sills, for example. 

“If you’re thinking of growing vegetables, then summer leaves, micro-greens – seedling salad leaves, bean shoots and so on – only need to grow to one or two inches before they’re ready to harvest – they’re a really quick turnaround for salads and are packed with nutrition.

“They can be the most expensive things to buy in a supermarket, and they’re so easy to grow.

“If you do have some outdoor space, even if it’s small or north-facing, think about having flower boxes on the railings, or use a corner to do a rockery-type garden – a container with sedum or mosses, and low-growing plants that love shade.

“All of this is possible in London.

This potted specimen costs £9.99 at Awoke

“Not only do plants give you something to look at, they can be used to screen you off from tall buildings and they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

“They’re also generally good for your mental health and wellbeing.”

Sioḃán has big plans for her small garden centre, including expanding to a bigger site when the time is right.

“It was really exciting to open last year and it’s evolved since then,” she said.

“Once I’d got myself into the mindset, with my children now at school, I thought that I should just go for it. 

“Working for myself, the only limit is my self-belief in how far I can go.

“I really want to make my business meaningful for this area – there’s a lot of possibility and a lot of growth potential.”

Watch this space. 

  • Awoke Plants reopens to the public in March, 2024. In the meantime, orders can be collected from the garden centre or Bridget’s Cafe in E20. Bike delivery options are also available in selected east London postcodes for a fee of £5.  

Find out more about Awoke Plants here

Awoke Plants is based at View Tube near Pudding Mill Lane DLR

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Stratford: How London College Of Fashion is opening itself up to the community

UAL’s East Bank campus hosts Designed For Life exhibition showcasing fashion as a force for positive change

The Decolonising Fashion And Textiles Project, part of the Designed For Life exhibition at the London College Of Fashion

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Even partially open, the enormity of East Bank cannot be overstated.

Its buildings on the edge of the River Lea may appear compact when viewed crossing the water from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

But this is largely an optical illusion due to the sheer scale of Stratford – the towering structures of International Quarter London and similar behind. 

But, if the physical space afforded to the likes of the BBC Music Studios, V&A East and Sadler’s Wells East is considerable, then the cultural, economic and psychological impact on Newham and the surrounding area is greater still.

Tom Daley splashing into the pool at the London Aquatics Centre and West Ham kicking a small round inflatable about may be sporting legacies of the 2012 Olympic Games.

But their true legacy – more than a decade later – is in the regeneration of the area and the prosperity this will bring in the long term.

How many students will walk through the doors of UCL East (part of East Bank, albeit located on the other side of the river)?

How many dancers will tread the boards at Sadler’s Wells’ new venue?

What music will be played for the BBC?

What sights will be seen at the V&A?

How many lives will now be enriched and shaped by what goes on in these buildings in a part of London that 15 years ago looked very different? 

These are tantalising questions with thrilling answers that will undoubtedly shape Stratford in the years and decades to come. 

Heartening then, that the first of the gang to open at the main cluster is already making significant early efforts to use its space for good.

Designed For Life is displayed over five publicly accessible parts of LCF

University Of The Arts London has consolidated the London College Of Fashion (LCF) at East Bank in a purpose-built tower, which opened earlier this year.

One of its first acts has been to fill five of the publicly accessible areas of the building with Designed For Life, an exhibition featuring textiles, design, film, photography, artefacts, personal testimonies and community building intended to showcase “the transformative power of creative action in shaping our world”.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on.

There’s a dress made from a decommissioned refugee tent, an interactive living room reflecting the lives of people in east London, a cloth dragon in a trenchcoat, textile artworks created by migrants together with fabric portraits of them and much more. 

Far too much, in fact, for this article to do the whole thing justice. However, the feel of Designed For Life is very much of using LCF as a platform to tell stories from the area – bringing people who might not usually be represented in such a building inside and putting them centre stage. 

It makes sense, then, to focus on just one part of the exhibition and dig a little deeper into what visitors can expect to find among the swirling cast concrete staircases of the latest addition to Stratford’s educational scene.

Head down a level from the entrance and you’ll find items and a short film showcasing UAL’s Decolonising Fashion And Textiles Project.

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, senior lecturer at LCF’s Centre For Sustainable Fashion

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, senior lecturer at LCF’s Centre For Sustainable Fashion, who is leading the initiative said: “The project runs for two years and has received funding from the Arts And Humanities Research Council.

“First I did some ethnography to immerse myself in the context – the three boroughs we are concentrating on – which are Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

“I wanted to understand the needs and aspirations of the local communities there.

“Then we did storytelling sessions with participants who are refugees or asylum seekers based in London.

“The stories were of identity, cultural heritage and migration – but also the participants’ skills, needs and aspirations.

“In the sessions we were asking them to bring clothes, textiles and objects that meant something to them.

“We are very mindful that refugees are often interviewed, investigated or monitored, so we didn’t want to do a study of them.

“Instead, as a team we all took part by bringing our own objects as a way to share each other’s lives and also build empathy.

“People coming to view Designed For Life will see more than 40 artworks created by participants and ourselves with statements written to express our feelings.

A migrant himself, Francesco created his own artwork alongside workshop participants, including fabrics to remind him of Brazil, Holland, South Africa and Italy

“It’s really a celebration of the untold stories of refugees – which are often overlooked – with the exhibition aiming to shift negative or dominant narratives to show how people can bring their skills and talents to a local community and economy.”

Francesco worked with local photographer JC Candanedo – a Catalan-Panamanian migrant who has a studio in London – to capture images of people taking part in the sessions. 

The headshots were then transferred to fabric, with participants using multiple techniques to decorate, embroider and alter them.

Each work has its creator’s statement printed on the reverse so visitors can discover more about the people they are seeing.

“What’s beautiful is that every story is unique and challenges what it means to be a refugee or asylum seeker in London,” said Francesco.

“People come here to escape from war, violence due to religion, gender discrimination or politics.

“What I like is the collective sense of all these stories – it’s bigger than the individual parts.

“The coming together of all of this gives a sense of community and the mutual support which builds for refugees.

“People participated for different reasons.

“Some were interested in fashion and textiles, wanted to learn some skills, or perhaps worked in the industry and are aiming to rebuild their careers here.

“Others just wanted to meet new people and use crafts to enhance their wellbeing – especially those living isolated in hotels in very poor conditions.

“Meeting other people has helped them to rebuild their confidence, and making new connections has helped them to rebuild their lives.

One participant created two artworks during the project, this one during a pilot session

“One participant has two artworks in the exhibition.

“The first was created for a pilot we did last summer. 

“It is very dark, with blood coming from the eyes.

“As a researcher I have tools to help people unpack their stories.

“At first she had an identity crisis about her heritage.

“She’s from Singapore and, as a trans woman, she was the victim of rape, and when she reported this to the police, she was blamed for being trans.

“She came here and joined our project.

“At first she didn’t care about fashion or want to pursue a career in fashion.

“She thought it was unreachable and not very inclusive.

“She wanted to wear more western clothes to feel more integrated into society here.

“She has very traumatic memories of her own country and wants deliberately to erase her own past. 

“All through this project we tried to highlight something small that she had which could keep her grounded, and she realised that she always wore a necklace given to her by her mum before she left.

“You can see that in her second work.

“She wanted to add some glitter to this artwork as a sense of hope for a brighter future.

The second piece she created

“Through this process she met many other people, and now she’s volunteering for several charities and is feeling much more confident.

“You can see here that she has really embraced her gender and identity and is also tapping into different aspects of her culture and heritage by including batik from Indonesia, where her auntie is from, for example. 

“In the second piece – called Smiles And Pain – she wants to unpack what it means to be an asylum seeker, where she says that, even if we wear a smile and are resilient, behind that there is a mountain of trauma and pain.

“She also wants to say that everybody wants to be treated with tenderness and deserves love and safety.

“Refugees may not have many material possessions, but they really hold onto their material culture and their heritage. 

“Working with vulnerable people, we can’t ask them to tackle the climate emergency from a sustainability point of view– they have more pressing issues socially.

“By plugging into their heritage, however, they can start gaining agency – a voice – and make connections locally that may point to education, employment and entrepreneurship.

“That’s using fashion to drive positive change.”

Remember, this is just one of five displays covering multiple projects at Designed For Life. Set aside an afternoon to explore the exhibition fully.

  • Designed For Life is free to visit with no booking required.
  • The exhibits are available to view at LCF at Stratford’s East Bank, 10am-5pm, Tuesday-Saturday and will be in place until January 19, 2024.

Find out more about the exhibition here

Designed For Life features a series of installations including a recreation of a textile worker’s front room

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Stratford: How Alexa Ryan-Mills’s garden is set to celebrate Sadler’s Wells East

East London-based designer is preparing for her first RHS Chelsea Flower Show this May

Garden designer Alexa Ryan-Mills

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I‘m just looking out at the rain and wondering when it’s going to start warming up,” said Alexa Ryan-Mills.

While idle talk of the weather is ubiquitous in the UK, for the Walthamstow-based garden designer – and all those in her profession – precipitation and temperature are a constant preoccupation. 

That’s especially true when there’s a deadline looming and, for Alexa, the 10 days leading up to May 23-27 are fast approaching.

That’s when she and her team will create her first garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show – arguably the biggest stage in British horticulture.

What exactly appears in that garden will, to some extent, be dependent on the weather – although Alexa said she was confident the nurseries she’s working with would have sufficient stock to provide backup options, should the mercury fail to rise to the desired level.

While Wharf Life covers neither Chelsea nor Walthamstow, the reason we are interested in this garden is twofold.

Firstly, Alexa’s design is inspired by the forthcoming opening of Sadler’s Wells East – the fourth venue in the Sadler’s Wells family, which is set to open overlooking Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2024.

But that is still a building site at present, so secondly, there’s a more immediate link – all the plants and materials used in the creation of the garden will be donated to Sadler’s Wells associate institution School 21 in Stratford, where they will be used to improve its outdoor spaces.

“School 21 has been planning and fundraising to do this for a while,” said Alexa.

“I found out about that and we’ve now spent some time going round and identifying areas where we can put the plants after the show. 

“There are lots of different play spaces, which at the moment are quite bare, and we can get the kids involved in planting those up.

“The school also has a great design and technology department that will be able to re-use the materials too.

“For the garden we also recently decided to work with Brixton-based artist Benjamin Wachenje, who will be creating a hip hop-themed mural as a backdrop and School 21 will be able to use this as well.”

An artist’s impression of Alexa’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden

Before that happens, though, the garden itself must be created and shown – a project that has its genesis in Alexa’s change of direction from a career in PR and communications.

“I felt like I’d had enough of that industry and I was thinking about what to do next,” she said.

“Around the same time I met a garden designer, having just bought a house in Walthamstow.

“She designed my garden and I really enjoyed the process and thought I’d like to know a bit more about it. Before I did anything crazy and quit my job, I did some initial training. 

“That went really well and so I decided to invest more in training and that’s how I wound up starting to build a business in east London.”

Having worked mostly designing private residential gardens in the likes of Waltham Forest, Hackney and Newham, Alexa specialised increasingly in planting design, studying for a diploma in the field and collaborating with landscape architects and other designers on a freelance basis.

“While I was studying at the London College Of Garden Design, I knew I wanted to create a garden for a cultural hub and I used Sadler’s Wells as my imaginary client,” she said.

“I found out Sadler’s Wells East was set to open in Stratford, so I created a design that was related to dance – choosing plants that might have an interesting shape or ones that would self seed and move around the garden like that.

“Then I saw a call out from an organisation called Project Giving Back – a grant making charity that provides funding for gardens for good causes at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

“I realised I had an idea and all I had to do was persuade Sadler’s Wells. They said: ‘Go for it’, so I applied and after various rounds, got the funding.

“Then I had to apply to the RHS because you get the funding, but still have to be chosen for a place at the show itself.”

Alexa says she was inspired by the planting at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford

She was successful and is now set to lay out a six-by-eight metre space under cover in the All About Plants category of the show’s main pavilion.

Featured plants will include the nodding blooms of salvia nutans and three trees, namely hionanthus retusus, styrax obassia and acer monspessulanum.

“I really wanted to make the plants the performers – the dancers – and put them centre stage,” said Alexa.

“It’s all about visitors being able to see the planting and the shapes and enjoy them from different places to sit and walk through.

“There’s a pipe-like sculpture inspired by the saw-toothed roof of Sadler’s Wells East – itself a reference to the manufacturing and industrial heritage of Stratford – that frames different views.

“I’ve chosen plants that have interesting shapes with lots of purples and limes as well as oranges. I want it to feel energetic. It’s about dance. 

“There has been a fashion at Chelsea for lots of calm, muted planting, but this design is not like that at all.”

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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Fish Island: How From The Ashes BBQ rose to success from the desolation of lockdown

Co-founder Curtis Bell talks inspiration, meat and serving up pulled pork in a doughnut from his hatch

Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island
Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island – image James Perrin

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Fire can be a sudden spark that ignites with a burst or a softly glowing flame that slowly smoulders.

Curtis Bell has experienced both since founding barbecue business From The Ashes BBQ in June 2020 after just a few weeks of planning.

“It was just a burning desire,” said the Swansea-born chef, with no hint of a pun intended.

“My favourite thing was always to cook on the beach. Maybe it’s a primitive thing, but I have always just been drawn to the flame. I tried doing the posh stuff – fine dining – and it just isn’t me. 

“I just like the rawness of cooking in a very direct and simple way over the flames.”

Tucked behind a hatch on Fish Island, the takeaway experienced a rush of fame in lockdown, with its salty smoked pork served in sugary handmade doughnuts.

Customers were walking from as far as London Fields to queue for up to an hour. It was a success that took Curtis and his co-founders by surprise.

“It just exploded overnight and we were getting reviews and write-ups in the papers – we had to hire staff,” said Curtis.

“It was daunting, unexpected and an amazing thing to happen out of lockdown.”

The “we” is Frank Fellows and Martin Anderson, who Curtis met when he moved to the big smoke (pun very much intended), having landed a job at barbecue joint Temper in Soho.

Until then he had followed the recipes of another renowned restaurant, Pitt Cue, “like the bible” – bosses had even offered him a job, which he wound up turning down.

“I felt like it was ‘don’t meet your heroes’ and I wanted to keep it almost as a fantasy,” said the 29-year-old.

“By then they had gone from this really gritty, basement barbecue to this corporate steakhouse for City workers and it had kind of lost its magic.”

It is that hands-on flavour that Curtis loved and wanted to capture with From The Ashes.

That, he feels, is achieved by working directly with farmers such as Farmer Tom in Herefordshire and McDuff in Scotland to source meat.

Curtis at wok in the kitchen
Curtis at wok in the kitchen – image James Perrin

The team also does most of the butchery themselves in a tiny eight foot by six-foot kitchen, so they can stick to their whole animal approach.

“We make sausages from the legs and smoke down the necks and shoulders and bellies and then smoke the loin like a rib roast,” said Curtis.

“We get half cows and use the bones for stock and the fat for potatoes and trimmings for mince for a special. 

“It’s not only more cost effective, it’s also a much more efficient way to cook. I think everyone needs to be cooking like this.”

They launched the business thanks to a loan from his dad and a pig from Farmer Tom who said: “Pay me when you can”.

A friend made them a smoker from recycled parts, which they dubbed “The Piggy” and they began experimenting.

“The hardest thing is patience,” said Curtis. “From seasoning it right the way through, to resting it can be 12 hours and the temptation to get into it earlier is huge. 

“It does take its toll when you’re doing big events and have to start at 6am and go through until midnight. It’s endurance, stamina and hard work.

“Sometimes you cut into it and it’s overcooked. That’s disappointing, but I will braise it down and make a brisket ragu and try and make the best of a bad situation.

“We try to avoid as much wastage as possible.”

From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall
From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall – image James Perrin

So is it worth all the effort?

“Yes, I love it – all good things come to those who wait,” said Curtis.

“You can have a steak, which takes 15 minutes to cook, or a piece of rib, which has taken seven hours. I guarantee you will be way more satisfied with the latter.

“As much as my back hurts and my legs hurt, there is so much satisfaction in the joy it brings people.

“When you put all those hours in and it pays off watching those people bite into it – it’s just amazing.”

The chance to birth his own business came when he, Martin and Frank were made redundant during the pandemic.

Curtis and Frank opened a dark kitchen for fried chicken restaurant Coqfighter and decided they should “copy the formula” with barbecue.

“The person who was renting out the Coqfighter kitchen had one on Fish Island too and we went over and had a look at it and scrambled some money for the deposit and the first month’s rent, and in we went,” said Curtis.

Martin came on board and they spent four weeks testing out recipes, eventually landing on a doughnut filled with pulled pork as their signature dish, inspired by Black Axe Mangal restaurant in Islington.

“Lee Tiernan up there is a genius and did a duck liver parfait and prune doughnut which probably changed my whole life, it was that good,” said Curtis.

“We were just toying with ideas and one day ordered some really shit Tesco doughnuts and tried putting some pulled pork in the centre of it – it just worked with the sweet, savoury, salt, smoked fat.

“A lot of people are still very cautious but, because you have every sense in your mouth, it’s perfect.

“We put it on Instagram as a draw and it worked. It was a magnet and there was a time I couldn’t open Instagram without seeing my doughnut. 

“Some people may think of it as a gimmick and are not impressed, but I find that hilarious.”

A party in June 2020 with all their hospitality mates, kicked things off for the trio and they just began opening the hatch every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Del Piero doughnuts ready to go
Del Piero doughnuts ready to go – image James Perrin

“People started walking up  – it built momentum and, the next thing we knew, we had queues round the block,” said Curtis.

At the peak, he was waking at 6am on Saturdays to tend to the smoker and meats and start rolling and proving the 120 doughnuts they were selling a day.

Made over two days from a laminated enriched dough, they included sweet options such as custard in different flavours and dark chocolate Hennessy and hazelnut praline.

Other creations included a smoked pork bun with pickles, sriracha Marmite mayo, smoked garlic mayo and a slaw made with hispi cabbage, fennel, apple, lime juice, walnut, jalapeño dressing and gorgonzola sauce.

They quickly attracted queues, which stretched as far as the Premier shop on Roach Road with punters soaking up the sun and free shots handed out by Curtis.

“It was just a really special time and something I would love to relive again,” he said. “But we’re back in the real world now, sadly.”

Since London went back to business, Curtis has found himself having to stoke the flames of success in new directions.

Following their early success, From The Ashes landed spots at food venues Two Tribes Campfire in Kings Cross and Kerb Seven Dials.

And their summer has a full roster of festivals, events and private parties, including Bigfoot Festival, British Summertime, Bike Shed in Tobacco Dock, Big Grill Festival in Ireland, London Craft Beer Festival and Manchester Craft Beer Festival.

Frank left in October last year to work with his girlfriend at the cafe of local company Barkney Wick, but Curtis now has a team of seven chefs and said there is no such thing as a day off for him.

“The hatch will remain open and we want it to go from strength to strength,” he said.

“We’re looking to get an outside licence so we can have benches and seats.

From The Ashes cooks up a range of meats – image James Perrin

“We now sell some craft beers and park wines, perfect for a summer day when you’re sitting on the kerb eating barbecue.”

He’s also been implementing a huge shake-up of the menu to help with the business’ longevity.

“Now summer is coming, I’m changing the menu on a weekly basis,” he said. “I ring my farmers and see what’s available and create the menu around that.

“This weekend we have got some whole smoked chicken with some wild garlic pesto, an aged sirloin with horseradish cream and roasted beef fat.

“Last week I had an aged beef meatball sub with mozzarella, parmesan and wild garlic again. We’re going to become seasonal.”

Curtis said the founders had been a bit unsure of themselves as they tried to transition from their blaze of glory in lockdown to the more even tempered real world.

“It’s been daunting,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out what our dream is but I think it is to be a bit of a household name in London and keep on enjoying what we are doing.

“I just want to keep cooking outside and doing amazing pop-ups – happy and free. I don’t want to do anything too serious. I’ll never be the person who wants a big huge chain.”

Curtis said the pressure of running a small business was enough. They’ve never had any investors and are just about breaking even.

But with prices skyrocketing across the board, the profit margin is getting smaller.

“We are increasing our prices and I hope customers understand why we need to do that,” he said. 

“I think the next year will be incredibly tough on hospitality with everyone trying to save pennies.

“I can already feel the pressure, but hopefully, we can keep our heads above water and keep going and growing.”

Read more: How Squid Markets is bringing street food and fresh produce to Canada Water Market

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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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