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Royal Docks: How Roxanna Lyssa is serving up Good Vibes at Royal Victoria Dock

Cafe at Expressway aims to offer customers more than just Perky Blenders coffee and hot toasties

Perky Blenders X Good Vibes at Expressway
Perky Blenders X Good Vibes at Expressway – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

If Sadiq Khan is looking for a London-made caffeine fix near his new base at The Crystal by Royal Victoria Dock, then he’s in luck.

All he needs to do is pop next door to Expressway and visit the hatch at Perky Blenders X Good Vibes.

The takeaway cafe serves coffee roasted up the road and is a collaboration between a Walthamstow-based roastery and entrepreneur Roxanna Lyssa.

You’ll see her behind the counter most days serving up lattes, toasties and cakes, and following in the footsteps of her grandma who served coffee and tea to dockers in the 1930s. We lured her away from the grinder to find out more.

past vibe

I stepped away from a 15-year career to re-evaluate where I was going and got a part-time job as a barista with Perky Blenders.

Six months later, in November 2019, a franchise opportunity came up, so I put together a business pitch for Good Vibes. We launched in June 2020

I worked in visual merchandising and product management for Lacoste UK previously, which was a fantastic part of my life and I acquired so many transferable skills. I started that career on the sales floor and progressed to head office.

But after 15 years, I wanted to go back on the frontline and do something on my own. I just wasn’t sure what. 

A coffee shop was never in mind, but life seemed to push me in this direction. I got into coffee because I love the product. 

My background really helps with what I do now. Small details all add up to the overall impact. I appreciate the importance of storytelling.

I hope that, when we’re engaging with our customers, they feel part of the journey and understand what we sell and why we sell it. 

Roxanna Lyssa of Good Vibes
Roxanna Lyssa of Good Vibes – image James Perrin

Perky vibe

Because they knew me and my background they trusted me to establish the coffee shop under my own brand identity.

As long as I serve the coffee to their standard and respect their brand guidelines, they’ve let me run with it. 

present vibe

I’m pleased to say that, two years down the line, we’ve created a community and I do think we’ve got good vibes.

We’re known for being that authentic, open-minded spot where people can be themselves and talk about what they want or order whatever kind of coffee they want. We’re not going to judge.

 It’s not just been about the coffee and the food, it’s also about the people. I love interacting and chatting and seemingly that’s my strong point. I’m known for my banter.

Royal Docks vibe

I wanted to drive culture and I could really see the potential for that in the Royal Docks with all the regeneration that’s happening here. 

I grew up in east London but hadn’t been here before, so when I found out you can come to the docks and ride a cable car, go open water swimming or try wakeboarding it blew my mind. It was pretty surreal to find that in London.

Good Vibes has just embedded itself in that. We do offers for the swimmers and for the wakeboarders because we want to be seen as part of the framework across the dock – we’re all in this together.

The cafe serves up Perky Blenders' speciality coffees
The cafe serves up Perky Blenders’ speciality coffees – image James Perrin

coffee vibe

In the office I was a person who had their own ground coffee and French press on the desk.

I’ve always loved and respected coffee and now, doing this, I think I’ve found a bit of mad scientist in me.

There are so many variables that you can control or manipulate in order to determine the end product – the temperature of the water, the extraction time, the grind size.

We sell a range of up to six different blends or single origins at a time. We also do drip coffee so we serve incoming blend on our espresso.

But then we’ll feature single origins or coffee-of-the-month blends on our drip coffee.

The venue offers a range of food options
The venue offers a range of food options – image James Perrin

food vibe

We are supplied by The Bread Station in Hackney and Cakesmiths in Bristol. We sell croissants – almond, chocolate, raisin and buns – cinnamon, cardamom, hazelnut and vegan cakes – banana chocolate, carrot cake, blueberry Bakewell and chocolate brownie. 

For lunch we’ve become known for our toasties. We use organic sourdough bread and fillings like chilli jam and spinach, tuna melt, chicken and avocado. I do really good homemade guacamole. 

The secret is choosing the right ingredients and making it with love, care and also consistency.

I’m a stickler for guidelines, because I was setting rules for the whole country at Lacoste. Customers getting what they expect to receive is so important to their experience. 

We also do Brick Lane bagels with fillings including vegan cream cheese and, going into winter, we’ve added jacket potatoes and soups from Leyton-base Zuppe in flavours like sweetcorn and coconut chowder, smoky roasted tomatoes and peppers and red lentil dhal.

natural vibe

I try to avoid any sort of artificial colours, flavourings, emulsifiers and additives. You won’t get a caramel latte in my coffee shop. 

I’m really against anything artificial and what’s good with a food and drink business is that you can encourage wellbeing through what people consume. You can educate people and advise them on how they can enhance their wellness.

Sweet treats from Cakesmiths at Good Vibes
Sweet treats from Cakesmiths at Good Vibes – image James Perrin

caring vibe

During lockdown I had a lot of residential customers coming over who would sometimes spend 30 minutes chatting to me because they were trapped in their flat all day without anyone else to see.

It’s not just physical wellness you can help through a coffee shop – it’s also mental health because that small transaction and a few minutes can actually change someone’s mindset. 

You can make someone feel better about themselves or you can take them away from the stress of the phone or their computer. 

I’ve really tried to build a coffee shop that is more than just a cafe – to make it a place where people can come to connect.

personal vibe

I’ve definitely suffered with anxiety in the past. Being in the corporate world with higher responsibilities, you do get to a point where things just become too much. It built up over time. 

I think there was a point where my to do list was three A4 pages and it was never going to be completed. 

I never had a feeling of accomplishment. Now, when I’ve made a lovely cup of coffee and handed it over, I do feel a sense of achievement.

I don’t know what changed, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to slow down and find myself, because I started working there when I was 18.

It was my first job and I’d always been Roxy at Lacoste. 

Suddenly, 15 years later, I was like ‘Who is just Roxy?’. I think I’ve found her now and Good Vibes is my happy place.

spreading vibe

We do wellness workshops with Yoga and meditation called Vibe And Flow. I’m due to start an event series from November, which is exciting, because it goes back to that idea of creating a culture. 

Expressway has got 200 businesses in it, so the range of people that I get to meet and collaborate with is unreal and I’m just trying to connect those dots. 

We also spread the love by selling products from my customers like Beinsense in Royal Docks and England Preserves in Bermondsey.

Going into Christmas I run a campaign called Give The Gift Of Local.

future vibe

All my costs have gone up significantly this year. I got through Covid and thought ‘I can survive anything’.

But then we came into this year and people are spending less money and we have fewer customers. It then makes operations very difficult because I’m running a very tight ship. 

But I’m still here, still working. I’ve got myself going in the right direction and I just want to try to grow the community aspect and collaborate with the people that I’ve got to know to see how we can all try and do better with what we’ve got. 

My brand tagline is: ‘Make waves to change the tide, not dominate the ocean’. I was never trying to come in and take over or be on top of anyone or be better than anyone.

Good Vibes is about trying to change direction for people, show them a different way and just contribute to something positive.

Read more: Discover east London firefighter Stephen Dudeney’s book

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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 New Scientist Live is bringing a festival of ideas to Excel

Speaker programme includes Sir Patrick Vallance, Rohin Francis, Dr Simon Clark and Gillian Forrester

New Scientist Live returns to Excel from October 7-9

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“We grandly title it: ‘The world’s greatest festival of ideas and discoveries’,” said Martin Davies.

2022 will be his first year in charge of delivering New Scientist Live, which returns to Excel in Royal Docks from October 7-9.

While our interview is conducted via a phone call, 20th century tech can do nothing to mute his obvious enthusiasm and excitement.

“When New Scientist magazine first started doing the show, I found myself being rather envious – I’d had my eye on this job for a few years, so I’m really pleased to be working here now,” he said.

His role as the title’s head of event production is a natural fit for a man who spent more than 13 years at the Royal Institution, helping to deliver its programme of lectures and events. 

“I studied natural sciences at Cambridge and ended up specialising in the history and philosophy of science,” said Martin.

“That meant I came out of university knowing a bit about lots of different things, but not really a specialist in anything, which is terrible if you want a research career.

“That wasn’t for me – I’m a real generalist – so the career I’ve had at the Royal Institution and now, here, is absolutely perfect.

“One day I’m talking to a neuroscientist and a biologist and the next to a particle physicist and a chemist.”

It’s that breadth that New Scientist Live seeks to offer visitors to the show – an exhibition and a programme of speakers that allows anyone who turns up to encounter and understand ideas and discoveries across a wide range of fields.

“Our mantra is: ‘Science is for everyone’,” said Martin.

“Our writers make the most complex subject understandable for the magazine’s readers and we want to keep that same ethos for the show.

“It’s not for professional scientists or nerds – they’re welcome, too, of course – but for everyone who is interested in the world around them and how things work.”

New Scientist head of event production Martin Davies

The event is set to run over three days – a Friday dedicated to school parties with a programme specifically aimed at younger visitors – and the Saturday and Sunday open to all-comers.

“People will arrive at Excel onto our gigantic show floor, which will be packed with stuff to do,” said Martin.

“There’s something for everyone – VR roller-coasters, virtual drones to fly, all sorts of exciting activities and the chance to get your hands on some excellent scientific products in our marketplace.

“I’m especially excited about our hospital of the future exhibit where lots of partners will be showcasing some absolutely incredible medical technology.

“There are machines for surgical training so visitors can slice someone up in a virtual environment and they’ll also be able to see robot surgeons – this is incredibly futuristic technology that will be in hospitals in the next five to 10 years. It’s real, not science fiction.

“People might also be surprised to see a lot of exhibits to do with the future of food and might wonder what science has to do with farming.

“But there’s so much technology involved and a real demand for people with STEM skills to work in farming.

“Take agriculture, for example – there will be a combine harvester there and people will be able to sit in the driving seat, but that’s the wrong way to describe it.

“It’s more like the cockpit of a fighter jet with screens and joysticks everywhere.”

Arguably the show’s greatest attraction is its extensive programme of talks, this year spread across four main stages and an interactive stage, with speakers talking on everything from stool transplants to dark matter.

Sir Partick Vallance is set to open the second day of the show with a talk entitled The Future Of UK Science And Innovation.

He remains the Government’s chief scientific adviser, having risen to public prominence thanks to his frequent press conference appearances alongside Sir Chris Whitty and a carousel of now (mostly) former cabinet ministers.

There will be plenty of activities to explore on the exhibition floor

“He’ll mostly be talking about how science is used in government and the part it played in the pandemic, so it will be really interesting to have that inside view of the conversations that were going on in 2020 and 2021 – how he argued the case for science and what lessons can be taken from that when the next crisis inevitably comes,” said Martin.

“There are so many brilliant scientists and writers but some of the people I’m really interested in seeing are the younger, up-and-coming individuals who may not be so well known.

“We’ve got Rohin Francis, for example, who’s a consultant cardiologist and he will be doing a talk called The Human Body: Design Disaster.

“We may have evolved over thousands of years, but there are things in our bodies that are not designed very well, so that should be a really funny and informative talk.

“Then there’s Dr Simon Clark who will be doing a talk called How To Become A YouTube Scientist.

“He’s a physicist with half a million subscribers on the platform and does stuff about atmospheric physics – looking at the climate. 

“But he also describes life in academia, studying and how to get through a PhD at Oxford, which is no mean feat.

“He’s a really interesting person.

“We’re always looking for good speakers and I spend a great deal of my time researching the best people to have.

“But it’s all a team effort. Our magazine journalists all spend a lot of time talking to scientists and we get some great suggestions from them.

“One example is cognitive scientist Gillian Forrester from UCL, who spends her time getting apes to solve puzzle boxes, getting young children to do the same puzzles and asking what we can learn about the ways they do it. She’s such a great speaker.”

  • Standard tickets to New Scientist Live cost £42 for adults and £17 for children when booked in advance. Family tickets (two adults and two children) cost £106 – a saving of £12. 

There are also options to live-stream talks from the event and to get access to content on catch-up.

Visitors will find plenty of stands offering interactive experiences

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

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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 Dido’s Bar will immerse audiences in stories at The Factory’s Unit F

Director Josephine Burton talks about the epic retelling of The Aeneid set in the Royal Docks

Dido's Bar director Josephine Burton - image Ali Wright
Dido’s Bar director Josephine Burton – image Ali Wright

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Refugees have to leave everything they know – not just places and people, but communities, careers, sights and sounds they have found comfort in their whole lives.

They arrive in a new world and are expected to assimilate. But how do they do this when everything around them is unknown?

This is the struggle Dash Arts seeks to capture with its new production Dido’s Bar, an immersive retelling of Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid, set in Royal Docks.

“I’m Jewish and British, English and a Londoner and have always felt I’m many things – on the edge of so much,” said director Josephine Burton.

“I’ve enjoyed being in that liminal place between different communities. It’s how I see the world, so I’m interested in seeing other people’s otherness too.”

The story of migration and love will be told through the eyes of refugees today and unfold in a real life bar built in part of a former Tate & Lyle warehouse.

Audiences will, we are told, be immersed in a strange world when they arrive, where they are unsure what motivates the people around them.

They will mingle with the cast as the story of Trojan refugee Aeneas unfolds around them.

But instead of being set in ancient Italy, the production has been transported to a jazz bar with a line-up of live musicians.

It’s set to run at The Factory from September 23 to October 15, 2022.

“The audience will walk into the venue, with a house band warming up in the corner and they’ll grab a drink from the bar,” said Josephine.

“Then the drama of this amazingly powerful love story between Aeneas and Dido and the great battle between Aeneas, the foreigner, and Turnus, the local boy, will creep up around them.”

Josephine is co-founder and artistic director of Dash Arts, which is based in Whitechapel.

For the last 15 years it has worked with 9,000 artists to create work that bridges divides across art forms, cultures, languages and communities.

“We go on a bit of a journey and spend a lot of time listening, understanding, meeting and researching artists and eventually creating work with them,” said the 45-year-old.

“It’s like opening up a Pandora’s box with this extraordinary wealth to explore, understand and then share with audiences.”

Dido’s Bar has been two years in the making and was first inspired back in 2017 when Josephine met Kurdish Iranian refugee Marouf Majidi in Finland.

“I had been on an exploration of what it means to be European which had emerged out of the Brexit referendum,” said Josephine.

“I met Marouf in Finland in 2017 on my way back to the airport over a coffee and he told me his story of traveling to Europe. 

“He fled Iran as a refugee and was relocated to Finland, where he settled and eventually studied at the Sibelius Music Academy in Helsinki, where he now teaches. 

“He’s been on an extraordinary journey from the music conservatoire in Tehran where he studied Persian classical music, to teaching Finnish folk music.

“He found it very hard at first to establish himself musically and connect with the musicians he was playing with in Finland.

“Eventually something shifted for him and he found his place, but he was no longer ‘in tune’ with musicians from central Asia.

“It was such a short meeting, but that thing he said about feeling out of tune lived with me.

“I picked up the phone three months later and said I really wanted to tell his story and wanted him to be at the heart of it.”

Marouf Majidi - image Ali Wright
Marouf Majidi – image Ali Wright

He agreed, but at first Josephine struggled to find the right way to bring his story to the stage.

“I wanted to tell Marouf’s story and find a way of understanding what it is to be European through the experiences of refugees who travel here,” she said.

“It’s perhaps the people who move here and go through such a transformation, musically and emotionally, to insert themselves and settle in a new place, that can help tell us who we are. They can be that mirror for us.

“But I didn’t want to just tell a personal story, I also didn’t want to create a super band of musicians. I wanted to do something theatrical and dramatic.”

Her lightbulb moment came when she remembered a text she had studied 20 years ago as a classics student.

“I was chatting to someone about how the Aeneid is the story of our time, of the refugee and the struggle to find a place to belong,” she said.

“Aeneas flees Troy in the war-torn East and travels across the Mediterranean to seek sanctuary and build a new home in Europe

“It’s the story of both the experience of fleeing and having to assimilate and discover that, once you’ve arrived, it’s only the beginning of the story.

“Suddenly I realised it was the perfect way to tell Marouf’s story and to understand the role of Aeneas in a contemporary setting.

“The original epic poem is pages and pages long in Latin, involves mass battles and love affairs and is very involved and beautiful.

“We’ve taken that story and mapped it on top of Marouf’s.”

She developed the idea during a series of residencies with playwright Hattie Naylor and Marouf, who has composed the music alongside Riku Kantola.

Research and development in Scotland in February 2020 was followed by a residency in Finland – a few days together as part of Royal Docks Originals – and a residency in Cornwall.

Marouf then moved to London this summer to finish developing the show.

The cast of 10 is a mix of nationalities - image Ali Wright
The cast of 10 is a mix of nationalities – image Ali Wright

“I remember the two of us bent over on the floor in Scotland in the rain with copies of the Aeneid in English, Latin and Arabic ,” said Josephine. 

“We spent hours trying to work out what the story was and finessed it to the point where we would challenge each other to tell it in less than a minute, then 30 seconds, then 10. 

“Then we did a lot of jigsawing and planning and brought in Hattie who had adapted the Aeneid for Radio 3 as a drama.

“She’d go off and write and then we’d write a song together. It really was a collaborative process.”

The result is a show where the epic warriors of the original story are now musicians trying to make it into the spotlight and the goddesses are sisters who own two bars – one on the edge of town and one in the centre.

It draws on the backgrounds of its international cast who hail from Morocco, Madagascar, Germany, Finland, and Eritrea, and uses their native languages to enrich the performance.

Josephine said: “The show now is about how to understand an old myth written 2,000 years ago that feels so resonant and timeless.”

It will be staged in Unit F of The Factory, disused sugar warehouses that have recently been transformed into a series of new venues and workspaces. 

“It could never be in a black box theatre,” said Josephine.

“I wanted the audience to feel that they were somewhere impromptu and exciting and slightly makeshift. We spent quite a lot of time trying to find a place and saw some extraordinary places across the Docks. 

“Then, last May, I visited The Factory when it was in quite an early stage of development. 

“Projekt, our partners for the show, had just got Unit F from Tate&Lyle and, when we walked in, there were pigeons in the rafters and sugar all over the floor.

“It was sticky and black underfoot and it felt very powerful as a venue – I just knew it would amazing.”

Dash Arts has built the bar from scratch and it will serve up beverages from nearby Husk Brewing using local staff.

Newham artists will take to the stage each night and the show will be complemented by a programme of gigs, talks, food events and workshops to engage the local community, which has been shaped through the area’s history of immigration and dockers.

“It’s a perfect marriage for us of place and story because the audience is really going to feel that they’re coming to somewhere incredibly exciting and diverse,” said Josephine.

“Newham is one of the most linguistically diverse boroughs in London – there are hundreds of languages spoken there – and it has always been a first port of call for people.

“So to tell this timeless epic story today in Newham’s docks is really thrilling and right.”

The project has been co-produced with the Royal Docks Team and Jospehine said they have worked hard over the last year to embed it into the community, meeting local groups and running music workshops.

“There is a real sense of culture and community building happening there and I got very excited about that,” she said. “I had this real instinct that there wasn’t anywhere else to put Dido’s Bar.

She hopes the audience will embrace the world they have created.

“I really want them to have a wonderful night and love the music because it’s extraordinary,” she said.

“I want them to feel as I felt, that this old ancient story has such resonance today, to feel moved by the protagonists and the journey they have taken. 

“I hope they feel we have done justice to some of the biggest questions of our time, about how to assimilate into our communities.”

THE FACTORY – A NEW VENUE FOR ROYAL DOCKS

Once used by Tate & Lyle for sugar production, this 5.2 acre site on Factory Road is now a series of work and event spaces run by meantime use specialist Projekt (also behind the Silver Building)

It landed the first grant from the Royal Docks Good Growth Fund for a year-long refurbishment and opened the 100,000sq ft space in June. 

Organisations that have made The Factory their home include Community Food Enterprises, Links Event Solutions and The Beams – a new venue by Broadwick Live.

Unit A is home to a cafe run by The Breadmeister, Unit D is a set of workspaces and Unit F is a refurbished warehouse that will be hired out for film and TV productions.

Projekt said the venue provides new work and event spaces that will “safeguard and grow the already burgeoning artistic and cultural community around the Royal Docks, as well as providing a significant amount of affordable workspace.”

Read more: Discover Pouya Ehsaei’s Parasang at Woolwich Works

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Royal Docks: How Blackout Dance Camp combats mental and physical health issues

Founder Levan Peart talks dance at UEL, Britain’s Got Talent and expanding his London operation

Blackout Dance Company founder Levan Peart
Blackout Dance Company founder Levan Peart – image Matt Grayson

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“Dancing feels liberating – to be present and grounded in the moment gives me an outlet and a medium to express, be and present myself and to connect with others – it’s powerful,” said Levan Peart, dancer, student, choreographer and social entrepreneur.

The founder of community interest company (CIC) Blackout Dance Camp is constantly striving to harness that power as a way to combat mental and physical health issues.

“I really think they are synonymous – when you address one, you address the other,” he said.

“In the digital age, we can be frequently distracted – with social media, for example – so it’s great to come into a space, connect with others and to have that freedom of expression. 

“The exercise also releases endorphins so it generally improves your state of being and it stimulates your cognitive abilities because you’ll be using your brain in ways you’re not used to.

“You’re having to think and coordinate with your body but at the same time, release and let things flow.”

As a child, Levan danced with his siblings, discovering a passion that has been the foundation of his activities and one he is driven to share.

“I’ve loved dance since I was young – getting home from school and watching dance movies like You Got Served, Stomp The Yard, Streetdance, Step Up and Honey, and dancing to the music channels non-stop,” he said.

“Then two of my sisters and me joined a dance school having seen a story in the local newspaper.

“I’m from Telford originally – a very small town with not many opportunities and not much diversity, but we joined that group and that exposed us to the street dance world a bit more.

“Then my sisters, me and some other people split off and formed our own group called High Definition, which appeared on Britain’s Got Talent.

“My sisters and me also did Sky One’s Got To Dance when we were growing up as well.”

Levan now studies at the University Of East London
Levan now studies at the University Of East London – image Matt Grayson

While still in his teens, he first created Blackout at school, entering national competitions before the project evolved further.

“I’d been approached by some parents who wanted me to involve their dependants in dance, so we formed a group, with regular classes and entering competitions,” said Levan.

“From there, things just snowballed – I was getting into working with schools and meeting more and more teachers who wanted our services.”

Next came a partnership with local community centre The Wakes, offering free dance sessions to young people from low income backgrounds.

“That felt incredible – to give that gift of dance, because it was something, growing up, that I struggled to access,” said Levan.

“It was a real pleasure to be able to give that for free and there was a massive demand for it as well.”

Through that project, he was put in touch with Nicky Kent of Social Heart CIC who helped him set Blackout up as a social enterprise, before a move to London’s Royal Docks beckoned.

“I knew I wanted to get onto the Dance: Urban Practice course at the University Of East London (UEL), years ago,” said Levan.

“It’s the only course of its kind and I knew with my roots that this was the sort of environment I’d feel more aligned with.

“I’m not classically trained, I don’t have that background and this programme covers dance from other origins.

“But it was a bit of a lost dream. I didn’t have the right credentials to get enough UCAS points to be accepted.

“However, I did manage to get onto the New Beginnings access course at UEL – that meant travelling every week from Telford to London, a round trip of five hours.”

Having completed that programme and been accepted onto the undergraduate course, Levan is now seeking to develop and expand his activities with Blackout in both Telford and London.

“For me, it’s being able to balance Telford and London, because Telford is part of my roots and it’s somewhere I’m passionate about,” he said.

“The course at UEL has exceeded my expectations. For me it’s been an incubation period, a time of transcendence – spiritual, mental and physical growth.

Levan started Blackout in Telford
Levan started Blackout in Telford – image Matt Grayson

“Being exposed to new networks and meeting new peers – it really is a different life coming from a cold spot in the UK to such a bustling city, which is thriving and full of opportunity.

“With Blackout, we’re at the stage now of establishing a presence in London and the course I’m on at UEL is exposing me to a whole group of people we can look to work with in the delivery of our own funded projects, going forward.

“We offer a range of specialist dance, education and wellbeing services, integrating Caribbean-style dance with commercial dance to create our signature style.

“Our organisation is split into three segments. There’s the educational element, where we go into schools and deliver mass movement workshops where we can reach up to 400 children at any one time.

“We have our participatory element, which is our dance camps, workshops and intensives.

“The main aim of that is to bridge the gap between industry settings and community settings – to level the playing field for those from marginalised backgrounds. 

“We welcome beneficiaries from all walks of life, however we do have a focus on members of black and ethnic minority communities, LGBTQIA+ dancers, neurodivergent groups and those living in low-income areas.

“The third element is performative, where we have showcases and the opportunity for beneficiaries to take part in short films and screenings.”

Right now, Levan, 22, is focused on growing Blackout’s operations in the capital. 

“I want to continue to build up our programmes in schools in London – to build up a strong roster of people that we can use to deliver these services,” he said.

“There’s only so much you can do with a small team, so collaboration is key for the kind of mission that we have.

“I want to expand the team, expand the roll-out and also the organisation so there’s more time to focus on the artistic vision.

“Eventually it would be nice to create full-length films to raise awareness about issues we’re tackling through our work.

“Potentially, in the future, we’d even like to look at theatre.

“At the moment the programmes we offer in east London with our short films are on a call-out basis, so people should keep engaged with our social media profiles (@blackoutdancecamp) and keep an eye out for project opportunities.”

Levan is expanding Blackout's operation in London
Levan is expanding Blackout’s operation in London – image Matt Grayson

GAINING RECOGNITION

Levan has recently been honoured for his achievements at the Student Social Mobility Awards organised by charity upReach, attending a ceremony at the House Of Lords hosted by Baroness Helena Kennedy.

As well as winning the top Creative Industries Sector Award, he was also named as one of the upReach 10 in recognition of his grit, resilience and determination.

The accolade comes on the back of his success in winning the top prize of £2,500 in an incubator pitch competition organised by HSBC, where he impressed the judges with his entrepreneurial vision.

Levan said: “Winning that money didn’t feel real for a moment, especially as UEL is so close to HSBC’s tower.

“I was shocked but really grateful. It means a lot when you know where you came from and what you’ve had to do to get to where you are. It felt really good to get that external appraisal.

“With the Social Mobility Award, I didn’t think someone  from my demographic and origin would ever enter the House of Lords and take these awards with me.

“It’s a demonstration of what we can achieve if we work for it.

“This recognition has made me more determined than ever to succeed. I feel like this platform has made me more accountable to myself.

“I’ve set a benchmark and I know what I’m capable of. 

“I’m ready to spread my wings and help create a better society for Blackout’s beneficiaries.

“That’s the core of what I’m doing with Blackout – improving the lives of others.”

Read more: M restaurant opens in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How GDIF is set to fill east and south-east London with performances

The 2022 edition of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival runs from Aug 26-Sept 11

GDIF will feature Charon, a zoetrope-like installation

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“We’re opening this year with a truly amazing event – Spark – the creation of a Dutch artist called Daan Roosegaarde, it’s a complete reimagining of what an environmentally sustainable public celebration might look like,” said Bradley Hemmings, artistic director and founder of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival (GDIF).

“He’s taken inspiration from fireflies to create this wondrous moment, that audiences will see lying on their backs on the grass in front of the Queen’s House.

“They will be surrounded by myriad moving sparks in the sky – something very beautiful and very much echoing the magic of the natural world.

Sat in Festival.org’s offices at the Old Royal Naval College, Bradley’s obvious enthusiasm for GDIF is undimmed as he looks ahead to overseeing its 27th iteration. 

Taking place across an ever-evolving spread of locations in east and south-east London from August 26 to September 11, 2022, it promises 18 days of free arts performances selected to astonish, amaze, delight, amuse and challenge those attending.

“As always, this year’s GDIF is going to be characterised by a whole range of extraordinary and spectacular events, as well as performances taking place at a more local level,” said Bradley.

“The last two years have been difficult for everyone – certainly in mapping out, understanding and planning how things might transpire.

“We were incredibly fortunate to be able to deliver two festivals with a strong sense of confidence, so we’re incredibly proud of that.

“This year we’re in different territory, with new challenges and new contexts. We’ve always been a free festival and that’s something people can make the most of as we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

“It does put into sharp relief the power of a festival like GDIF – it is there for everyone, accessible, and we try to go the extra mile to make sure we attract people who might otherwise not attend the arts.

“For 2022, we’re going out to new sites, like Rathbone Market in Canning Town, Avery Hill Park in Greenwich as well as Thamesmead near Abbey Wood and Deptford, to bring performances to different areas.

“That’s one of the challenges of going outdoors, because for each site we have to create the theatre as there’s nothing on the ground.

“Of course there are venues we work at every year – Greenwich town centre for Greenwich Fair on August 27, for example, but actually discovering new sites and venues, as well as returning to places after a period away, is what keeps GDIF fresh and audiences awake and excited by what we’re doing.

GDIF founder and artistic director Bradley Hemmings

“For example, it’s great to be working with Tower Hamlets again  – we have a wonderful audio piece at Island Gardens called Final Farewell, that takes people on a journey through the streets and parks of the Isle Of Dogs.

“Then we also have a new production from Air Giants called Unfurl over in Bethnal Green Gardens, which features ingenious, soft robotic technology – people will walk in a garden of giant inflatables that come in a whole range of different colours and react to the public passing by.”

The problem when writing a preview piece about GDIF is the sheer depth and number of the performances it offers. 

With limited space, it’s hard to convey the often surprising blend of art, acrobatics, dance, circus, theatre and spectacle the festival offers – soaking the locations it touches in the unexpected to create memories that still echo many years after. 

In previous years I’ve watched an acrobat tussle with a huge robotic arm, seen a whole band swing on a giant chandelier suspended from a crane high above dancers in an imaginary ballroom and been charmed by two performers being silly with a stack of buckets.

Bradley is, understandably, at pains to select highlights given the embarrassment of riches on offer – a reflection perhaps of the fact that all the performances have the potential to be affecting in their different ways.

“We care deeply about all the events, although one of the things we’ve done is continue to work very closely with Flanders House in London and this year we’re focusing on Flemish circus,” he said. 

“There’s an amazing performance as part of GDIF 2022 called Follow Me, by a company called Be Flat, which will take people on a completely wondrous tour of a part of Thamesmead using acrobatics, Parkour and ingenious staging to draw the audience in. 

“They are incredibly skilled performers who will leave amazing images in people’s minds after it’s gone.”

The best thing to do, of course, is just see as many performances as possible and decide for yourself.

DIARY DATES

While there are far too many performances to list over the 18 days GDIF runs in east and south-east London, here are a few highlights that demand a place in the diary

Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula
Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula

Sept 3-4, 6pm, freeGreenwich Peninsula

Artist Stephanie Lüning will use mountains of rainbow-coloured foam to transform Greenwich Peninsula.

Bradley said: “This is a UK premiere, a very exciting, unpredictable event with a huge outpouring of foam as Stephanie controls the palette and how the colours behave.”

Charon will be at Limmo Peninsula

Sept 1-10, 8pm, freeLimmo Peninsula, Royal Docks

Originally created for the Burning Man festival, Peter Hudson’s kinetic installation is a 32ft-high zoetrope powered by volunteers.

Bradley said: “Audiences arrive at the artwork having gone on an immersive sound journey. This is an extraordinary piece sited right beside the River Lea with the figures appearing to move.”

Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford
Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford

Sept 7-10, times vary, £10 Here East, QEOP Multi-storey car park

This unapologetic response to rising Islamophobia uses verbatim speech from members of modified car clubs.

Bradley said: “This play by Zia Ahmed casts real people using their own words as they tell their stories, all while stripping down a car and putting it back together again.”

Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College
Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College

Aug 26-29, times vary, freeOld Royal Naval College

This work sees mosaics destroyed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine projected onto the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College.

Bradley said: “This is a project that really speaks to the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage since the February invasion, and shares with us this remarkable tradition of mosaic-making.”

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

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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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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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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.”

Read more: Discover the arts boom Woolwich Works is delivering

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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.

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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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