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Royal Docks: How Reset Connect brings people together to fight climate change

Inaugural event at Excel will see sustainability pioneers like Canary Wharf Group inspire others

Reset Connect CEO and co-founder Duncan Reid
Reset Connect CEO and co-founder Duncan Reid

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Duncan Reid has been an events man his whole career.

It started at university in the 1990s, organising parties with DJs at the students’ union.

Then there was a strategic move into the business sector, conveniently leaving Friday and Saturday nights free for attending music events rather than putting them on.

In 2010 he joined Clarion Events – one of the largest companies organising conferences, shows and exhibitions in the world – rising to become MD and executive vice president of its energy division.  

“I was already managing the move away from coal, gas, oil and fossil fuel extraction – there were big things happening with carbon emissions,” he said. “Then the pandemic hit.”

With the events sector among the hardest hit, Covid meant many shows didn’t take place for two years, contractors were left without work and organising companies laid off staff.

For Duncan, it was an opportunity to take a step back and decide on a future direction.

“I started looking around for what I wanted to do,” he said. “Then I realised sustainability should be my focus and that it was important that we fast-tracked as much of this sector as possible.

“The two big challenges before the pandemic were that the pace of adoption was not fast enough and – the really big one – was that, even if a company wanted to roll out sustainability, whatever they wanted to do, there was a big funding gap.

“For example, if you were a company that made ready meals and you wanted to move to using electric vehicles with refrigeration to transport them, then that would be quite a hassle for a small business.

“Big corporates can have a sustainability strategy and can appoint someone to oversee it, but for small businesses it’s quite a challenge.

“Then if you’re a startup, it’s hard enough to get your idea off the ground let alone managing your impact on the environment at the same time.”

That led Duncan to the idea for Reset Connect – a new conference and exhibition that is set to get its first outing over two days at Excel in Royal Docks.

Taking place on June 28 and 29, 2022 – during London Climate Action Week – the event will see more than 100 exhibitors and sustainability partners showcase their services and more than 150 speakers discussing a very wide range of topics.

Canary Wharf Group – long a pioneer in environmentally friendly development and stewardship – will be represented by head of sustainability Sophie Goddard at a panel discussion, starting at 11.15pm on the event’s second day.

She, together with representatives of Sintali, Savills Investment Management, Hark Systems and Mitie, will seek to illuminate processes and technology that can be implemented now to fight climate change.

That’s just one session in a packed programme and the two-day event will also see opening keynote speeches from Doughnut Economics Action Lab co-founder Kate Raworth on the first day and World Wildlife Fund chief executive Tanya Steele on the second.

Reset Connect aims to help businesses become more sustainable
Reset Connect aims to help businesses become more sustainable

With the Elizabeth Line’s arrival shrinking the gap between Canary Wharf and Custom House (the station adjacent to the venue) to three minutes, Reset Connect is also easily accessible. 

“The idea is really to pool the learnings that the corporate sector has and to share them among peers to help everyone benefit,” said Duncan.

“It’s analogous to what’s happened in finance with technology.

People would queue up in branches of banks to withdraw money and then go to another bank to pay that money into someone else’s account 15 years ago.

Now there’s an app on your phone, you’re sending money to someone else and you don’t even think about it.

“This is where we’re at with sustainability – this is where we move away from carbon quite massively.

“It’s really easy for us to keep using oil but then we certainly won’t be here in 100 years.

“So we need to try to work out how we can reduce carbon emissions on a scale similar to the fintech revolution. 

“That is quite daunting, because a lot of the technology is in the early stages of development, but we need to do something major, quickly because the dial isn’t moving fast enough.”

That’s exactly the issue that Reset Connect will be addressing – how to rapidly shift away from a system that destroys the planet to one that allows humanity to go on and thrive. It’s no small ambition.

“The point of the event is to get people who are already doing things well to talk about what they do, how to speed up adoption, what funding they use and whether they borrow money or use assets to do it so others can learn,” said Duncan.

“Obviously it’s a work in progress and it’s a really complex area. One of the reasons it’s called ‘Reset’ is because part of the issue is about how you measure success. 

“In the past that has always been linked to a profit measure but over the next 10 years it will increasingly become about impact. It’s about asking how we measure it, what we put our money into and what we really value.

“People are already talking about this in the corporate world, as are shareholders and the startup community.

“People also want to know how they can invest their pensions and savings in these areas.

“Some businesses may say that because they’re not listed it won’t affect them, but it will affect everyone. At some point you’ll be part of someone’s supply chain and that means you need to be thinking about it.

“Then there are the big fossil fuel companies – there are lots of pension funds invested in them so it’s really complex.

“Do you take the money out or do you find a way to work with them to be better, because the danger is that they will carry on being bad if you don’t?”

The show will take place at Excel in the Royal Docks
The show will take place at Excel in the Royal Docks

Duncan said there was a real appetite not only to tackle these topics, but also to do so in person with Reset Connect bringing together businesses, activists and politicians.

“I think the thing we really missed during the pandemic was people coming together, face-to-face,” he said. 

“The analogy I use about events is that they are like a football match.

“You can watch it on TV but it is so much better if you go to a game with five of your mates – it’s a completely different experience. That’s why we try and make as much of our content free as possible.

“While Covid fast-tracked the adoption of video call technology, things are so much more productive when you can shake someone’s hand and see and feel the products they are selling first-hand.

“I think that, if we’re going to tackle some of the climate challenges we’ve got, then we’ll achieve more if we’re able to get round a table, meet at a stand or talk about it over a beer with someone you’ve unexpectedly met but share a common purpose with.

“A lot of it is about serendipity and also discovering the things you didn’t know, but really needed to. 

“Of course you can sit at home and google ‘cities’ or ‘city infrastructure’ and that will give you a load of information, some of which may well be very interesting.

“But it won’t be the same as having Sophie Goddard from Canary Wharf Group tell you about its partnership with the Eden Project and what their vision is for that.

“You might stumble across some details on page 25 of your search – but that’s not the same as having a leading developer telling you how it builds cities for the future, what that looks like and what the partnership between business and finance needs to look like to make it happen.

“At Reset Connect, you’ll hear from experts like the Mayor Of Copenhagen, for example, telling you what that city has done to become a world leader in sustainability.

“And all of this is just one stop away from Canary Wharf on the Elizabeth Line.”

  • Reset Connect’s exhibition is free for visitors to attend with registration. Access to the conference is via delegate pass. 

For startups, scaleups, not-for-profits, academic institutions and public sector organisations these start at £295 per person. Advance delegate passes cost £600.

Readers can get 25% off their booking at Reset Connect by using code WL25.

Duncan said in-person events were great for sharing ideas
Duncan said in-person events were great for sharing ideas

Read more: Why the Elizabeth Line is a game changer for events at Excel

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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 Little Hudson cafe at Royal Wharf was inspired by New York

Owner Nicola Micah talks banking, motherhood and serving up all sorts of dishes to east Londoners

Nicola Micah outside her cafe - Little Hudson
Nicola Micah outside her cafe – Little Hudson – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The concrete jungle is “where dreams are made of” according to Alicia Keys’ song New York.

But for Nicola Micah the Big Apple simply provided the inspiration for her Royal Docks reality.

The Londoner was living it up in Manhattan with her husband – banking by day and soaking up all the city had to offer by night

“We moved to New York in our late 20s and loved it,” she said.

“For me, the whole point of being there was to be in the centre of everything. 

“But we knew we wanted to start a family and I didn’t want to do it there. We knew we wanted to move back home.”

By 2019 she was back – running fledgling café Little Hudson around the corner from Thames Barrier Park and raising her newborn son.

It was a huge transition, but one Nicola makes seem as natural as breathing.

“In New York, brunch is such a big part of the lifestyle and I’ve always loved food – working in a bank wasn’t really me,” she said. 

“So I decided I was going to have a look into it and see if there were any units around.

“When I did, I quickly realised we needed to go for it because there were some available. 

“I knew if we waited we might miss out or other places might move in and then there would already be competition.

“Then I got pregnant, unexpectedly, and that really pushed us to do it. I could have moved back to the UK and got a job in banking, but I wanted to do something I really loved.”

Little Hudson is located in Starboard Way, Royal Wharf
Little Hudson is located in Starboard Way, Royal Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Nicola named Little Hudson to “bring a little slice of New York to Royal Docks” and juggles running it with raising her three-year-old son Rafi.

The café, in Starboard Way, is open seven days a week until 4pm with a staff of 10 and the menu is very much inspired by the brunch scene in Manhattan while also including some English classics.

Dishes include banana and caramel pancakes (£11), a brekkie bagel (£8) with scrambled egg, cheese, chives, turkey bacon or smoked salmon, and the popular ​​Hudson brekky plate (£12) with turkey bacon, two eggs, hash brown, Hudson beans, sautéed mushrooms and sourdough toast. 

Nicola said: “When we were planning I was thinking about what kind of place people would go to regularly, not just once every two weeks.

“I wanted to choose the best thing to do in terms of being able to survive.

“Our food is the kind people want to eat every day, because it’s not really greasy. I like to keep the menu fresh and change it every few months for people who come quite regularly.”

Royal Docks is no Manhattan – the population is still small – but Nicola said that was the draw for her.

“Before we went to New York we were living in the area, so we knew it really well but there was literally nothing there,” said the 32-year-old.

“Then they started developing it and all the flats were put up and I thought it was a great opportunity to open something related to food, because there’s nothing else around there.”

Nicola's food is inspired by her life in New York
Nicola’s food is inspired by her life in New York – image Matt Grayson

She and her husband left the area to move Stateside after he landed a role with financial services company Moody’s.

Data analyst Nicola had previously worked for Santander and HSBC and then found work with Citibank.

When they decided to return, Nicola used her financial skills to create a business plan, carried out market research to build her brand and organised the lease, all from across the pond.

She said of husband Salem: “I’m pretty sure he was freaking out inside, but he was really supportive of it and he always has been.

“When we opened, he was in between two jobs, so was able to help out a bit, which was great because our son had just been born.”

Nicola launched the café in September 2019 with her six-month-old strapped to her chest.

“My son has grown up in the café,” said the Beckton resident. “When everything was being put together, we set up a play area for him in the back and, when we first opened, I had just started weaning him, so he had avocado and bits from the menu, which was fun.”

Nicola is now pregnant again but setting up the business is not an experience she is keen to repeat.

“It was probably good that I was quite naive about the café beforehand,” she said. “I can’t even imagine being able to do it now while raising two children. 

“The beginning was so intense, getting everything right, getting the processes right.

“When you’re new, you really want to make sure that every customer is happy so that they come back.

“I didn’t realise how intensive it would be, but in hospitality if your main driver is to make lots of lots of money, then it’s not the best sort of industry for you.

Little Hudson serves up a range of dishes at Royal Wharf
Little Hudson serves up a range of dishes at Royal Wharf – image Matt Grayson

“Even though it’s stressful with ups and downs and a pandemic and everything, I actually genuinely do love it, especially now we’ve got a really supportive team and people who actually care about the business.

“That makes such a difference and we have a lot less stress now.”

Six months after opening, the UK went into lockdown and the café was forced to shut. It was a strange time for Nicola.

“Looking back it was actually quite nice, because I had my son so we were able to kind of spend that quality time together,” she said.

“But it was really upsetting shutting the café. 

“We kept the community involved by doing supply boxes with fruit and veg, milk, eggs, flour, yeast, bread and coffee.

“We delivered them to people’s doors using a little trolley.

“No-one in our area could get anything because we only have a small Sainsbury’s, so the queue would literally wrap around the whole development. 

“When we reopened, we actually had a lot of support then from people who bought from us. All those same customers came in, which was really nice.”

Nicola said lockdown also forced Little Hudson to launch on Deliveroo, which has prompted her to consider opening a dark kitchen.

“Delivery has just blown up since the pandemic, it is about 15% of the business.

“Sometimes, on weekends, we have to switch it off because it’s so busy already in the café.

“I didn’t think people would order brunch for delivery, but they do, especially at weekends.

“I’ve been thinking about doing some sort of delivery kitchen and maybe expanding other parts of the business as well to do more cakes for events and celebrations and expand the catering side.”

The café is open seven days a week until 4pm and has just launched a burger night on Fridays from 6pm-9pm. Nicola is also looking into holding live music events in the future.

So does she want to expand to another location now she is expanding her family?

“Maybe,” she said. “But I’ll wait a little bit until my next child is a bit older.”

Little Hudson’s interior – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How chefs created From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island

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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 arrival of the Elizabeth Line is transformational

Excel’s CEO on the myriad benefits Crossrail brings both to the events venue and London as a whole

Jeremy Rees says the Elizabeth Line will have a huge impact on Excel
Jeremy Rees says the Elizabeth Line will have a huge impact on Excel

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On my way to interview Excel CEO Jeremy Rees, I caught the DLR to Custom House. Despite it being mid-morning, it was packed.

Not quite rush hour, but filled with smartly dressed people, lanyards and passes hung round their necks.

The Royal Docks’ vast events venue had 11 shows on last week and the infrastructure was showing signs of strain. 

With the arrival of Crossrail, that may have been the last time I use the DLR to make that trip.

The Elizabeth Line’s slick new service offers alternatives that make some routes on public transport completely redundant.

No longer will those in Canary Wharf trundle on little red robot trains through Blackwall, East India, Canning Town and Royal Victoria to get to Excel. 

Something lost, but so much gained. Crossrail will have an enormous impact on London as a whole, but its launch – even in its current, limited form where it operates as three distinct railways – will especially be felt in east and south-east London.

Here prosperity has followed connection – the Jubilee line extension delivered the fillip necessary for Canary Wharf to flourish and Stratford to take off after the 2012 Olympics.

Now the purple thread of rapid rail will pull Abbey Wood, Thamesmead, Woolwich and the northern strip of the Royal Docks right into central London.

All will be connected to the Wharf as never before, knitting these areas together to bring change and opportunity, as space is distorted and journey times to west central London are cut dramatically.

This is the dawn of a new chapter and, perhaps, few are as well placed to ask what might be written in it as Jeremy Rees, given its myriad benefits to Excel’s operation.

“Crossrail answers one of the very large questions in the capital, which is: ‘How do you get from west London to east London with as little friction as possible in a comfortable environment, at a sensible price?” he said.

Custom house is about three minutes from Canary Wharf via Crossrail
Custom house is about three minutes from Canary Wharf via Crossrail

“From our customers’ perspective, they’re really excited about it, because while they’ve run successful events, exhibitions, conferences and corporate events, there was that element of friction.

“Much of our audience is international, largely flying in through Heathrow and the Elizabeth Line very dramatically reduces the time it takes to get to Excel.

“In the past, delegates will have paid for taxis that might have taken anything from two to three hours to get to the venue. When direct services begin, that will be cut to a little over 40 minutes. 

“So, theoretically, that means people can spend that time trading, engaging and talking with their prospective customers at the venue.

“That’s quite an interesting prospect – if you extrapolate the figures based on the million visitors who came to Excel in 2019, with 90% coming through Heathrow, that’s 900,000 people spending an extra two hours here, which is 1.8million meeting hours.

“That’s an awful lot of engagement with committed people who have come from abroad to attend an event.”

It’s tempting, when writing about Crossrail, to simply descend into stats. The line brings 68% more people within 45 minutes of Excel and a massive 9.2million to within two hours of the venue, for example.

Similar stories about other organisations will be written across London, of course. But equally important will be the psychological impact.

“A very large amount of decision making in the industry is based on an emotional response,” said Jeremy. “Where there was travel friction that people may have worried about, that has been eliminated.

“This is why Crossrail is a truly exciting, amazing project. London was already an incredibly strong proposition relative to other top tier cities around the world and this opening really gives us an opportunity to shine a light on what we have to offer.

“People will be able to move very quickly and easily – suddenly Excel is Canary Wharf’s exhibition and convention centre – it’s a few minutes away, less than the time it takes to walk the length of the venue.

“If you think what that means, are we also now able to fulfil that role for Whitechapel, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Paddington?

“I think it will drive a different type of audience for us too – people who are time-poor for whom popping across London used to be too much, but who can now make a one-hour trip to deliver a keynote presentation because it’s only 10 or 15 minutes on the Elizabeth Line.

“We’re expecting a boost in the seniority of visitors, and for people to stay at events longer.

“All of this adds yet another layer of value, demonstrably proving internationally that London is a great proposition, and that investment in infrastructure is really important.

“It’s something the Mayor Of London has advocated for and pushed, and it’s a huge credit to TfL for pushing this forward, as well as the Government for being supportive.

Connected like never before - Excel in Royal Docks
Connected like never before – Excel in Royal Docks

“The great challenge that London has is that it’s in a very competitive marketplace internationally, and, in order to continue to thrive and not just survive, we need to continue to invest in our infrastructure, to enhance our product, to underline why we’re a great place to live, engage, work, invest and base your business.

“It’s a great place for events because we’re surrounded by leading businesses in IT, insurance, finance, pharma and life sciences.

“Making Excel really easy to get to for these people means the shows we host will be even more successful, creating a virtuous circle as greater numbers of people will want to come to London. Crossrail is a big shot in the arm for business – we expect our audiences to increase between 10%- 20%.”

Locally, it’s relatively simple to join the dots. The Elizabeth Line will have the obvious impact of improving connectivity for those living in Royal Docks and along the rest of the line.

But the expected transformational benefit on businesses based close to Custom House should also deliver jobs, activity and focus.

Those extra visitors will need services – firms that depend on footfall can expect a significant boost and that means jobs, fresh openings and development.

Excel itself is embarking on a huge expansion to its east to provide an extra 25,000sq m of event space, increasing the venue’s overall floorspace by 25%.

“From the perspective of our owner – Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company – Crossrail forms a really important pillar in our investment in that extension,” said Jeremy.

“To the question: ‘Is London, the Government and business investing in transportation infrastructure?’, the answer is a resounding: ‘Yes’.

“So we’re playing our part by investing and enhancing our facilities to make us more attractive as a cultural asset and maximise everyone’s experience when they come to visit our capital. It really adds to what is already a compelling proposition and it’s going to be great for the Royal Docks.

“The Elizabeth Line will help create social mobility and opportunity as businesses here open, grow and expand. It also transforms where people can live in terms of their commute to places like Excel, Canary Wharf and Paddington.

“It’s also going to create competitiveness around the hotel proposition here, given the easy access to other parts of London.”

There’s also a story to be told about sustainability. Jeremy said Crossrail’s ability to join up areas of London could mean those travelling internationally for business would be more likely to spend longer in the capital rather than taking trips to multiple destinations.

“Aside from the boost to public sector travel, which is great for the environment, for international delegates, the reduction in travel friction the Elizabeth Line brings means you can connect to the wider ecosystem more easily,” he said.

“You can be at an amazing seminar at Excel and a couple of workshops in the morning, then whizz to Tottenham Court Road for a spectacular lunch and be back in an hour and 10 minutes for your afternoon.

“That’s got to be more compelling than being in one place at one time. London is getting to grips with the question of how you square off trying to drive a large amount of international business and tourism with the carbon impact that has.

“One of the solutions to that will be creating carbon avoidance, which means doing a lot on a single trip to London and then leaving.

“That’s interesting for the capital because, if you’re travelling to second, third or fourth tier cities, you’re likely to only be able to do one thing before you have to fly somewhere else.

“In London, you can easily combine meetings with cultural experiences, perhaps with the whole family but only travelling once, probably saving six or seven trips elsewhere and so creating a carbon deficit.”

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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 London City Airport is getting busier as air travel recovers

Head of aviation Anne Doyere talks new routes, business flights and the removal of restrictions

London City Airport has seen passenger numbers growing

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The green shoots of recovery continue to emerge at London City Airport as airlines launch new routes and resume old ones.

Confidence is everything in business and, with travel restrictions removed, activity is on the rise.

Figures indicate that the Royal Docks transport hub is set to have its busiest month since the start of the pandemic with passenger numbers up 40% on February alone.

BA CityFlyer recently added two new destinations – Milan Malpensa and Luxembourg – to its schedule and resumed connections to Rotterdam and Nice.

This means the carrier is now flying 20 of the 25 routes it was operating in 2019.

London City has also recently welcomed the arrival of a new airline on its tarmac with ITA launching a route to and from Milan Linate.

The airport’s head of aviation, Anne Doyere said: “We’re not surprised to see this growth, but you never know exactly how things will pan out because business travel is very unpredictable.

“The forward bookings are looking extremely strong for the summer across all of our leisure routes, but because businesses often have a short booking window it’s less easy to tell.

“There has been a return to it – when you want to close a deal, it looks like people are making those trips.

“While there are different behaviours in different sectors, one that has returned to air travel is banking, where organisations have lifted the requirement for senior management approval to take flights.

“One surprise was that the Swiss market has boomed with our route to Zurich, perhaps because of Switzerland’s open policies on travel.

“It’s absolutely wonderful that travel restrictions have now been lifted and we’ve seen that in the levels of traffic and what is happening.

“In the leisure market there are a lot of people who haven’t travelled outside the UK for the last two years.

“While we don’t expect it to be better than 2019, which was a really strong year, the level of load factors is going to be similar and that’s bringing a lot of confidence.

“It helps that you can now book on airline websites without fear of the sorts of cancellations we’ve seen over the last 24 months.

“What we’re doing is working with the carriers to provide flexibility, so that when there is demand they can react – we’re here to help them.

“During the pandemic we’ve done a lot of work when it comes to the infrastructure of the airport and the runways and we will be working with concessions to refresh the existing terminal.”

London City Airport head of aviation Anne Doyere
London City Airport head of aviation Anne Doyere

While plans to expand the airport remain paused for now, with aviation having taken an enormous hit over the past two years, City remains committed to that project when the sector recovers in the coming years.

“We’re now in a situation where, particularly business travel is a bit different to the way it was before,” said Anne. “Companies are clear that they need to travel when it makes sense.

“Wellbeing is a word we hear a lot in relation to both business and leisure travel and at London City, that’s what we do.

“We have always made travel easy and quick for passengers flying from our terminal.

“You can’t compare the convenience of flying from here with any other airport in the UK in terms of the fast track that we’re able to offer.

“We’re not about keeping people at the terminal for hours and hours. We were the fastest in terms of getting passengers from check-in onto their planes and, right now, because fewer people are flying, we are even faster.”

London City Airport is set to offer flights to 36 destinations this summer across the UK and Europe, covering nearly 80% of the routes available from the Royal Docks hub in 2019.

Having just recorded its fourth consecutive busiest week since the start of the pandemic, it’s already seeing strong growth to cities such as Edinburgh, Zurich, Amsterdam and Dublin.

The roof of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan
The roof of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

DESTINATION FOCUS: Milan via London City Airport

There are now two ways to get to Milan from London City Airport. The first is via BA CityFlyer’s route to Milan Malpensa.

Located north west of the city itself just outside Busto Arsizio, this is a more far-flung option but has the added benefit of being closer to Lake Maggiore and Lake Como for those seeking a restful break in Lombardy.

The flight take approximately one hour and 55 minutes with prices somewhere in the region of £200 for a round trip.

This is the choice for the more relaxed traveller who doesn’t need to rush to a meeting.

There are now two ways to get to Milan from London City Airport
There are now two ways to get to Milan from London City Airport

Alternatively, ITA’s first route from London City Airport takes travellers direct to Milan Linate, located on the eastern edge of the city proper.

Taking an hour and 50 minutes, it’s a little pricier at about £215 for a return, but it will get you there quicker.

Whether it’s for an essential business rendezvous, a visit to the Duomo Di Milano or a stroll around the glass-covered arcades of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, this is arguably the smart bet for travellers who like a full itinerary and want the time to make absolutely everything happen.

Read more: How JP Morgan is boosting social mobility with The Sutton Trust

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Royal Docks: How The Well Bean Co at Royal Albert Wharf is set to reopen

Founder Charlie Claydon tells us how he’s bringing the chocolate factory and cafe back after a fire

The Well Bean Co’s Charlie Claydon – image Matt Grayson

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The story of The Well Bean Co at Royal Albert Wharf starts with its founder’s social anxiety.

Suffering badly from an early age, Charlie Claydon struggled to make and sustain friendships. 

“By the time I was 15 or 16, I was not in a good place with my mental health,” he said. “I had considered taking my life – it was a really tough time. 

“I ended up getting into drugs and alcohol really badly at a young age, because it was my way of medicating myself.

“I didn’t know much about mental health at the time – it wasn’t really talked about in school then.

“So I went down that path, making things worse and worse for myself until I realised that enough was enough.

“My life was pretty bad, my relationships with my family and friends had broken down and that’s when I decided I needed to change direction.”

an opportunity

Charlie moved away from the village where he grew up, stopped drinking, smoking and taking drugs. He also found a job.

“I managed to get a position at a bank – the manager was a lovely lady and, even though I didn’t have the qualifications, she believed in me and gave me the job,” he said.

“Within six months I was stepping in as deputy assistant manager – she’d given me a chance, something I’d not experienced a lot before.

“A lot of people had said I wouldn’t amount to much and I’d started to believe that. I didn’t particularly like the financial world, but it was good money, I was good at it and I didn’t have many options open to me, so I kept working, moving into insurance and investments and doing some event management on the side.”

Eventually his career led him to London and a role with the Financial Ombudsman Service, based on the Isle Of Dogs. 

gut feeling

“I started off as an adjudicator – it was in the midst of the PPI scandal so they were employing lots of people from the industry,” said Charlie. “I was assessing cases and trying to figure out if people had been mis-sold policies.

“It was the first time where I had a job where I was helping people and doing something positive. 

“I quickly grew in the role and ended up becoming a lead adjudicator, making key decisions on cases, which was really exciting.”

At the same time, Charlie continued to struggle with anxiety, trying multiple strategies and remedies to cope.

“It was at this time he read an article about an entrepreneur who’d treated his bipolar disorder through diet.”

Long story short, Charlie tried a similar approach.

“I wasn’t really drinking or smoking, so I gave up coffee, sugar, wheat, and within a week I felt like a completely different person,” he said.

“It made sense to me – your brain and your gut are super connected, they’re both signalling each other all the time.

“I kept experimenting and then, I remember waking up for the first time and not feeling anxious in the morning.

“Suddenly I felt calm, I even wanted to go and hang out with people, having spent my whole life avoiding it. Over the years it has kept improving.”

shed heaven

Charlie’s focus on his diet and mental health became the foundation of the business he runs today.

“I was getting into plant-based food to help with my mood,” he said. “I was experimenting in the kitchen of the shared house I was living in – I’d never eaten plant-based food and it was tough to get my head around not having meat on my plate.

“Then I realised that I was also going to start missing things like chocolate, because it had dairy in it.

“At the time I couldn’t find anything on the market so I looked on YouTube to see how people made it, bought some ingredients and had a go.”

The experiment became a quest. Having failed to get great results with a bowl and spoon, Charlie continued on his mission to create quality vegan chocolate, buying machines to help with production. 

Eventually, to save his relationship with his house mates, he negotiated with his landlord to build a small shed in the garden and kept going.

Recipe after recipe followed and he eventually took some into work for his colleagues to try. Positive feedback sparked a change in direction.

Chocolate from The Well Bean Co – image Matt Grayson

chocolate factory

“When I realised that I was creating a product that was pretty delicious, I thought it could be a business,” said Charlie.

“I was already looking for a way out of the finance industry, because I wanted to do my own thing. 

“I was already volunteering and I thought I was going to be fully immersed in mental health but, actually being in that industry can be really hard, especially if you’re sharing your story the whole time.

“Having the chocolate was the balance – it was fun, so I thought I’d do a few markets and see how it went – people loved it. Because I’m impatient, I handed in my notice and decided to go for it.”

bench mark

Despite the concerns of family and former colleagues, Charlie sunk all the money he had into equipment and negotiated some table space in a cafe run by Bow Arts at Royal Albert Wharf.

The idea was that it would be a cheap option for his fledgling business and fun for customers coming in.

One table turned into two, then three, then four. Eventually Charlie wound up taking over the whole unit.

cafe community

“Then Covid hit and it was a really scary time,” he said. “We weren’t big enough for people to look for us online, and all the shops we were stocked in closed.

“We’d watched this balance sheet going up, we were really excited, we were doing very well, we’d put all our energy into it, we’d done markets, we were trying to branch out and we were having meetings with Selfridges.

“It was an exciting time, and then it all just stopped. The money just went overnight and it was a very tough time. All I could think was that I needed to save the business.”

The solution, it turned out, was for Charlie to take over the cafe, opening the doors during the pandemic to serve the local community.

Teaming up with actor Oscar Balmaseda – out of work due to Covid restrictions – the pair “fought like cats and dogs” as they served lines of hungry and thirsty locals, growing the business and working seven days a week.

In a year the business went from two to nine staff and Charlie had turned his thoughts back to chocolate as the pandemic receded.  

cruel flames

“It was time to get back to chocolate – we had two people and a production plan up on our whiteboards with a smart social media strategy in place,” he said.

“We’d just finished refurbishing the cafe and then two days later the fire happened.”

Disaster. In December in the run-up to Christmas a faulty new machine in the chocolate factory overheated one evening and caught fire.

Fortunately, the unit’s fire suppression systems kicked in limiting the spread of the fire, but smoke and water damage was extensive.

Worse still, the business was under-insured leaving a hole in its finances – a mistake made amid the chaos of the pandemic and the company’s rapid growth.

Charlie is working to reopen in March
Charlie is working to reopen in March – image Matt Grayson

back once again

However, the fire will not be the end for The Well Bean Co and its cafe. Ceilings, floors and surfaces have been scrubbed. Furniture has been cleaned, repaired or replaced.

The local community pitched in, raising money to help Charlie, and he and Oscar (who has also gone back to his regular job, performing in Mamma Mia! The Party! at The O2 in Greenwich) are busy getting the cafe and factory ready to re-reopen 

“We’re painting this huge building, we’ve got a new counter made of scrap wood and I’ve had to learn new trades I’ve never tried in my life before,” said Charlie.

“But that’s being an entrepreneur – you have to be savvy and learn loads of skills.

“Some things will be the same – we’ll still be serving our amazing hot chocolate that people travel miles for, but we’ve also taken the opportunity to change the menu.

“We’ll be doing plant-based lunch bowls, breakfast bowls and toasties – all super delicious and healthy.

“The factory hasn’t had its day yet, either – there are more plans we have for it – but I believe with a bit more love and attention, it can really soar.

“I want to say a huge thank you to the local community, because, when we had the fire it was devastating.

“This was because of the potential danger to the people who live above it, but also because my business was on fire, my livelihood, and I’d just finished refurbishing two days before.

“I didn’t want to come back. But the number of people who messaged me daily to say they’d help me rebuild made me realise people loved what we’d built and that it was worth bringing back.

“They raised an incredible amount of money to help me pay staff for a bit longer and, to this day we get people coming by saying how good it is that we’re reopening and offering help. The support has been amazing.”

Read more: How Tondo Pizza was founded around a passion for food

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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.”

Read more: Skyports set to bring electric aviation to the Isle Of Dogs

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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

Read More: Wallace Chan brings his Titans sculptures to Canary Wharf

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Royal Docks: Momtaz Begum-Hossain offers tips on bringing colour into your life

Docklands-based author’s latest book Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness In Colour released

Author Momtaz Begum-Hossain – image Alexandre Pichon

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BY MOMTAZ BEGUM-HOSSAIN

Short days, grey skies, and cold weather can make the winter months feel overwhelmingly bleak. But you don’t have to wallow in the winter blues.

I wrote my latest book, Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness In Colour, because I believe it’s important to immerse yourself in the joy of colour. That’s true during winter, more than any other season. 

Colour is an instant mood-booster. It can lift our spirits, guide decision-making, communicate with our emotions and inspire our creativity, but it doesn’t always get used to its full potential. 

By welcoming colour into different aspects of your life, you’ll experience its full sensory benefits.

We don’t just see colour, we feel it too. Here are my seven suggestions for bringing more vibrancy into your life: 

Dress in a variety of shades and hues

wear it

Whether your job requires a uniform, or you work from home, wearing a pop of colour will have a mood-boosting effect on you. 

An accessory is an easy element to start with. Reach for colourful gloves when you’re outside and cosy, patterned slipper socks indoors. 

Your choice of scarf and even your face covering all involve making decisions about colour, so use them as an opportunity to experience new shades.

Go for vibrant food and drink

consume it

Though we’re in the season of craving warming, comforting soups, stews, and hotpots which typically fall into an autumnal colour palette of oranges and browns, aim to add unexpected shades to your meals. 

Visually enticing food tastes better, so engage all your senses by adding colourful touches. Salad ingredients that are normally associated with summer are ideal. 

Swap green garnish for chopped up beetroot, sliced tomatoes or spinach leaves. These go with all dishes and will complement the flavours and excite your mind. 

Experiment with different lights in your home

light up

Mood lighting and coloured lighting create atmosphere. Hang up fairy lights or, switch to smart bulbs so you can change the colour of a room instantly. 

Notice how you feel under different lights – red, blue, green, purple or white, and experiment with switching between them. 

If you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a condition where people feel depressed during the dark days of winter – invest in a SAD lamp.

These simulate natural daylight, boosting serotonin levels making you feel naturally happier, although it’s advisable to check with a doctor before you start using one. 

Fill your workplace with bright colours

bring it to work

As a child having a pencil case filled with novelty erasers, highlighter pens and multi-coloured biros was a high point of going to school but somewhere along the line, this natural instinctive pleasure for getting excited about colour can get lost. 

Get that joy back by swapping out ordinary desk stationery for fun items – opt for a colourful re-usable drinks holder and make sure your notebooks come in a variety of hues.

Find those shades on a walk

 go on a rainbow hunt

Put aside an hour and dedicate it to seeking out and appreciating colour.

Keep an eye out for new colours you’ve not seen before, shades that make your heart sing and tones you’d like to incorporate into your life.

Do this when you’re out and about at lunchtime. 

Time spent appreciating colour by slowing down in a mindful way, is good for your overall wellbeing.

Consider focusing on on a single hue

try a colour meditation

Deep breathing helps the body calm down, relax and think more clearly. 

Meditating on colours will help you harness the energy of particular hues to help you with situations you’re dealing with and is a common practice in colour therapy treatments. 

For example, green is a naturally balancing colour so if you’re looking to become more balanced in your life you could meditate on the colour green by breathing in green light and sending it around your body. 

Blue, on the other hand, is the colour of communication so if you’re preparing for a job interview or giving a talk, meditating on blue light will help open up your communication channels ensuring you give your best performance.

Look around you for colours – image Nick Shasha

embrace nature

In winter it’s hugely beneficial for your mental and emotional health to witness as much natural daylight as you can. 

One way you can channel light energy is by watching sunrises and sunsets as often as you can. If you struggle to find the time, think of it like taking a coffee or screen break – make it part of your routine. 

Winter walks are satisfying for the soul.

Take a weekend trip to the sea to observe grey skies blending into grey seas – it’s just  as beautiful as when the water glistens under summer sunlight. 

After rainfall, look for dewdrops on blades of grass and observe how evergreens command attention when you’re in your local park. 

Whether you have five minutes or a whole day, there is joy to be found in nature by slowing down, observing changes, and taking a moment to absorb its colour-fuelled energy. 

Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness In Colour by Momtaz Begum-Hossain is out now, published by Leaping Hare Press, priced £14.32.

Read more: Why The Sporting Club is a coaching gym

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Royal Docks: Why Lesley Green is set to walk to the North Pole to sample snow

Founder of Love To Swim will join Ann Daniels in collaboration with the European Space Agency

An image of Lesley Green who is set to go on an Arctic expedition
Lesley Green is set to depart for the Arctic in April – image Matt Grayson

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Follow this link to support Lesley on her expedition

What connects Royal Docks, Mount Everest, Bethnal Green, Kilimanjaro, the European Space Agency, east London swimming lessons and Arctic sea ice? The answer is Lesley Green. 

“I’m an East End girl, born and bred with family in the area going back generations,” said Lesley. “My dad’s side of the family all lived around Wapping and, during the Second World War, my nan refused to have any of them evacuated.

“The kids used to play on the bomb sites. While my granddad was away fighting the war, my Uncle Harry taught my dad how to swim in the Thames.

“It was him that taught me to swim, not in the river, but at St George’s Baths in the Highway.”

Talent spotted when she started school lessons at Poplar Baths, Lesley went on to join Tower Hamlets Swimming Club, eventually competing in national competitions and even overseas.

From there she progressed into coaching, taking redundancy in 2009 to set up her own school – Love To Swim. 

Her business has flourished – it’s currently running sessions at Crowne Plaza London Docklands, the Aloft Hotel in Royal Docks as well as other east London locations and for residents at a selection of Ballymore developments.

Oh, and in April, she’s going to the North Pole as part of an expedition that’s set to collect data on snow depth on the sea ice in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Lesley will be joining a team led by veteran explorer Ann Daniels, who has reached both poles during her career, spending more than 400 days hauling sledges over 3,000 miles of ice.

Image shows Arctic ice and snow
The expedition will measure the depth of snow on Arctic ice

“I’ve got a good friend – Debbie Dorans – who lives in Newcastle and is a small business owner like myself,” said Lesley. “We often go to networking events together and through those we’ve taken part in events to raise money for charity.

“In 2018 we climbed Kilimanjaro in the worst weather they’d had for 30 years – I was snowblind and Debbie got sunburnt lips – but once you’ve done something like that you’re blown away by it and our group raised more than £30,000 for the Make A Wish Foundation.

“The following year we did another charity trek with another friend of ours up to Mount Everest  Base Camp.

“It was on that climb that Debbie, who is friends with Ann, turned round and asked whether we wanted to do the North Pole next year.

“At that point, exhausted and halfway up a mountain, trudging along, let’s just say it was a no. But just before we went into the pandemic, we had another discussion about it and said: ‘OK, let’s go’.

“Ann said she was happy to take us and so we set a date of April 2022.”

An image of a polar bear – one of the hazards Lesley could encounter
Polar bears are among the potential hazards Lesley could encounter

Dovetailing with the ESA’s satellite surveillance of the Arctic ice, European Polar Expedition 22’s findings will help scientists better track the effects of climate change. 

Departing from Lonyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway, the all female team will spend around 10 days trekking over constantly moving ice from 89 degrees latitude to 90 – the North Pole.

“Everyone is waking up to what’s happening to our planet,” said Lesley. “We’ve always done things for charity and this is us wanting to make a difference to the environment – it’s about doing our bit.

“I’ve taught in schools for a number of years in Tower Hamlets and Newham and I want to be able to go into assemblies, show videos and talk through our expedition, why it’s important and how people can make a really big impact.

“We’re all older women over 40 and I also think it really matters that younger girls see what we can achieve.

“This is not just a bunch of people on a jolly to the North Pole, though. We’ll be participating in some serious scientific work to understand how fast the ice is melting. 

“In future some predictions suggest there won’t be any ice in the Arctic – you’ll be able to sail a boat there. It’s really important we raise awareness about these issues.”

Lesley is currently crowdfunding to contribute to the cost of her place on the expedition. Having teamed up with the likes of Genesis Cinema, The Florist Arms and Crowne Plaza London Docklands, those pledging money can choose from a selection of rewards including massages, pizza and pint deals and film tickets.

Those donating can also get various blocks of swimming lessons from Love To Swim. Corporate sponsorship opportunities are also available for the whole expedition.

“I’m looking to raise about £5,000, which is a small amount of money in comparison to what we need per person so it would be amazing if I raised even more,” said Lesley.

“Crowdfunding means I’m not asking simply for a donation – you get something in return so while I get the money, you get the reward.

“The money will go towards all the equipment, some of which we’ll buy and some of which we’ll hire because there’s a lot. It could be as cold as -35ºC so you need at least three jackets, all your thermal underwear, your tent and everything in it.”

With harsh conditions and danger everywhere on the ice, Lesley is keeping a cool head in the run up to the expedition, preparing her body and mind for the task ahead.

“I don’t think the challenge has quite hit me yet,” she said. ”I suppose the biggest worry is that I haven’t skied before and you have to trek over the ice on skis. I’m not worried about the training, I’ve always kept fit – I run round Victoria Park and I’ve run the London Marathon twice. I’m also doing personal training sessions with one of my swimming teachers to help build my strength for hauling the sledge.

“I’m not worried about polar bears because we’re in good hands with Ann. She has led so many expeditions to that part of the world and she’s at the top of her game.

“She’s gone through everything with us, every little piece of equipment and why we need it – thats how I know we’re in such safe hands.

“I’m very much thinking of the positives rather than the negatives. I’m sure if something happens I won’t be too impressed at the time, but it’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to support research into climate change. 

“I said I’d never do snow again after Kilimanjaro but when you come down you get that exhilaration.”

Read more: LycaHealth opens breast centre at Canary Wharf

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Royal Docks: How Jake Wigham took the plunge in lockdown and created a brand

Jake’s button-down shirts are made by hand at The Silver Building, inspired by classic American styles

Jake at work at The Silver Building
Jake at work at The Silver Building – image Matt Grayson

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When I knock on the door of Jake Wigham’s workshop at The Silver Building in Royal Docks, I can hear fast-paced music within.

Located at the end of a long white corridor in the Brutalist confines of a former brewery, there’s little to indicate that this is the site of intense industry, creativity and craftsmanship.

Step inside though, and its occupant openly wears and displays the influences that, woven together, help tell the story of his business and the clothes he designs and makes.

Jake’s is a menswear company focusing on the styles of 1950s and 1960s America,” said Jake. “It’s not just about the clothing, but the culture that surrounds it.

“I’ve always had an interest in youth sub-cultures and in music. My dad was a punk in the 1980s and, when I started making my own choices aged around 12 or 13 I got into punk and he said: ‘If you’re going to listen to punk, this is the real stuff’.

“He gave me his records, I’d put those onto tapes and I would have them in my Walkman – not really too great for a teenager, I guess, that angsty, bad attitude thing.  

“At about 15 or 16 I got into vintage black music – soul, reggae and jazz – and that was a turning point.

“My whole personality changed. The music is a lot more joyful and it helped me learn about cultures different from my own.

“That’s been a lifelong passion for the last 20 years – music is what I spend all my time and money on – buying records, going to gigs.

“That’s the good thing about London – all that culture is on your doorstep.”

Growing up in Carlisle, Jake initially left school to become a bricklayer but after a few years “got really sick of it”.

Turning instead to art school, he found inspiration in his tutors who suggested he try a creative craft.

“I liked the sound of tailoring, being able to make my own clothes,” he said.

“I’ve always been into specific cuts of clothing and I’ve always bought vintage items but, because of my height, finding things that fitted was a problem.”

Inspired by the works of Jack Kerouac, John Cooper Clarke and Linton Kwesi Johnson, he wrote a  “quite aggressive” application to the London College Of Fashion in the style of a beat poet, setting out his likes and dislikes about the industry and modern culture. 

Life in the capital was something he’d wanted to try, having seen his brother’s experience studying in the city.

So, egged on by his tutors, he sent his piece off and was duly invited for an interview. His interviewers told him on arrival that they’d been waiting to meet the man behind his punchy personal statement and he won a place. 

Jake's shirts are cut in a traditional breezy fit
Jake’s shirts are cut in a traditional breezy fit – image Matt Grayson

“I did the degree, loved it, made a lot of friends, learned a lot about the industry and the craft,” said Jake.

“When I left, I tried to get an apprenticeship in Savile Row – I tried lots of different places, and all of them wanted me to work for free for the first six months at least.

“I’m from a northern working-class town and my parents couldn’t help support me to do that, as much as they wanted to, so I couldn’t stay in London.

“Luckily, in my home town, there are two Savile Row tailors. They are based up there but they travel all over the world.

“I had a relationship with them anyway, because in summers when I’d go back home for a few weeks, I’d go in, show them my work, and we’d chat and maybe I’d spend a few days working with them, learning bits and pieces.

“They always said: ‘When you’re finished, come up and see what you think’. But I didn’t want to move out of London.

“In the end I had to. I went up there and was offered a job – not a lot of money, but it was paid, so that was fine and I could move back in with my parents.

“I specialised in trouser-making, did an apprenticeship for a few years, and then I went freelance.”

Striking out on his own, Jake headed back to London after about six months, working for three tailors and renting the unit at The Silver Building to cope with the workload.

“I was doing really well, not making vast amounts of money, but getting lots of work,” he said.

“Then, when Covid hit, Savile Row was destroyed by it because tailors couldn’t travel and a lot of their business revolves around that.

“I’d always made my own clothes and shirts and so on, and they’ve always been specific cuts, I just decided to give it a go and make it into a business.”

“It was always my dream to have my own brand, but bringing it to fruition is a different thing. Obviously there’s a lot of money and work involved.

“Because of the freelance work I was doing, I’d never had enough time to focus on it, but that changed because of the pandemic.”

After a month of research and painstaking development to get the cut, sizes and fabrication just so, Jake was ready to launch his first shirt.

Some of Jake's equipment at his workshop
Some of Jake’s equipment at his workshop – image Matt Grayson

Promoting his brand through Instagram, on the first day he went live he had orders for 30 shirts.

“That felt fucking great, to be honest man, really incredible,” he said. “For a one-person small business it was a lot and I was really happy.

“Now I get orders worldwide from such a broad demographic of people – I suppose it’s people who appreciate craft. 

“Every piece is made to order – I don’t have any stock so every shirt here is accounted for.

“I’m trying to build a little community of like-minded people who are into the kinds of things I am.

“Jazz and reggae are my two biggest passions and everything feeds back into the company – I want to put my whole personality into it. 

“I spend a lot of time mulling over imagery and watching period films just because that’s what I’m interested in. 

“Whether that comes across when you’re just looking at a shirt on someone, I don’t know, but I try and tell the story.

“The main shirt in the range is like a mid-century cut button down from the 1950s with full sleeves and a full body.

“There’s no lining on the collar or cuffs. It’s a very soft Oxford fabric, which is heavy, durable and will literally last a lifetime.

“I use real mother-of-pearl buttons and try to make my shirts the best possible quality they can be.”

Jake's workshop is filled with vintage paraphernalia
Jake’s workshop is filled with vintage paraphernalia – image Matt Grayson

Shirts are made in a traditional breezy fit and are based on each customer’s measurements with an option for custom sleeve lengths and to have a name sewn into the collar.

“People need to understand it’s a specific cut,” said Jake.

“I get a lot of people asking for a slimmer shirt, but I always say no because you can get them anywhere. That’s not what I’m doing.

“It’s the same when people ask for a lined collar. It’s very much take it or leave it.”

That’s not to say the brand doesn’t offer options, including a shirt inspired by Miles Davies on the cover of his 1958 Milestones album.

Trousers are also soon to be available, manufactured in Yorkshire to Jake’s specifications. 

To cope with demand for his products, he’s already had to take on help.  

“The downside of the way I run the business is that there’s only a certain level I can get to, if it’s me doing it all, so I have to relinquish some of the responsibility,” he said. “I don’t really have ambitions to be Ralph Lauren or someone like that.

“I quite like the idea of it staying niche and relatively small. I’d like to have an atelier, where me and a small team of people produce really top-end products for a small customer base, because then there’s nothing throwaway about it.

“If someone buys a shirt from me, I want it to be that they want to get a lot of use out of the shirt. People are trying to go down more sustainable routes and that’s the future of clothing.”

Jake’s shirts generally cost £145 plus delivery. Orders are despatched within five weeks or sooner.

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