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Royal Docks: Hyrox debut at Excel will be UK first for the emerging fitness race

Co-created by German Olympian Moritz Fürste, the event will see thousands compete at the venue

Hyrox co-founder Moritz Fürste
Hyrox co-founder Moritz Fürste

It’s fair to say Moritz Fürste has a bit of a soft spot for east London.

The German won the second of his two Olympic Gold medals for hockey at the 2012 Games in Stratford, celebrating victory in Canary Wharf – although he can’t remember exactly where. The party was obviously a good one.  

 But what do you do after you’ve reached the pinnacle of success in your chosen sport? 

In Mo’s case, the answer is to team up with global sports event expert Christian Toetzke and advertising and marketing specialist Michael Trautmann to create something new. Then spread it all over the world.

Hyrox is that thing and it’s set to arrive for the first time in the UK at Excel in Royal Docks on September 25 with sister events in Birmingham on October 30 and in Manchester on January 29 as its fourth season progresses. But what exactly is it?

“Hyrox is a new sport that doesn’t fit into any existing category,” said Mo. “The idea was not just to create an event, it was about founding a complete new sport in the world. We’re pretty convinced that we’ve discovered a field where there is a niche not used before.

“Go back 10 years and people would go to the gym, but they were often basketball players, football players or whatever.

“Nowadays more that 50% of the people that go the gym say that fitness is their sport, so that was the founding idea of our company. We had this thought of a competition, a race for those people.

“People want to show their skills and what they’ve learned. Fitness people are often very competitive, but there’s no obvious way to showcase what you’ve got.

“Of course, there are very cool sports like Crossfit, which is like for the top 0.1% of the fitness world. Then there are obstacle races, which are cool, but they’re not meant to be competitive – they’re more about completion.

“Hyrox is a mass participation event for fitness, just like triathlon is a mass participation event for endurance. Essentially it’s a combination of fitness and running, so that’s why I call it a race.”

Participants complete eight, 1km runs during the race
Participants complete eight, 1km runs during the race

The format is comparatively simple – eight separate exercises separated by eight 1k runs. The aim is to complete the whole course in the fastest time possible.

“The exercises are always the same,” said Mo. “The eight workouts after each run are always in the same order and they are doing 1km on a SkiErg, which is like a vertical rowing machine, then a sled push, where you have to push it over 50 metres of carpet.

Next you have to pull the sled back, then there are some burpee broad jumps for 80 metres in total and 1km on a rowing machine followed by a farmers carry with kettlebells.

“Then there are the sandbag lunges, with the weight on your back for 100 metres. The whole thing finishes with 75 or 100 wall balls.

“It’s always the same workout, because we are convinced that successful sports all over the world don’t change their logic every year. I think that people want to get better at what they do.

“The first question people ask when you finish a Marathon is what time did you finish in? Everybody can compare it, and then the next time you start you can compare it to your own time.”

Burpees are also part of the challenge
Burpees are also part of the challenge

Mo himself completed the course in an hour and 20 minutes – about 15 minutes quicker than the average men’s open race time – and holds the current Hyrox office record. 

With events held across Europe and the USA, the current world record stands at 55 minutes while Mo said the slowest recorded time was “by a really nice guy in Chicago” who did it in three hours and 25 minutes. 

With around 3,000 competitors at each event, a battalion of judges keeps watch over each event to ensure nobody is cheating. Those flouting the rules get a warning, a second warning and are then disqualified. 

The UK represents a significant expansion for Hyrox, which will hold 35 events worldwide this season. Competitors compete for a place at the World Championships, where those with the very best times vie for the title.

“We’re excited to be in the UK, because the UK is a massive fitness market,” said Mo.

“The percentage of people signed up to gyms there is so much higher than the rest of Europe, except for Scandinavia for some reason.

“It’s very interesting to see the amount of money that’s spent in that area. People who do stuff like that buy the best shoes they can possibly get, because even the worst runner doesn’t want their shoes to be any worse than they already are.

“London is the biggest city in Europe, so we’re more than excited to get over to Excel. 

“The biggest difficulty for us, regarding the UK events and introducing Hyrox to a new market is that people think it’s not accessible from a strength and performance perspective – that’s so far from the truth.

“We have a 99% finish rate – 99 out of 100 who start, finish the course. It is tough, really tough, but it is accessible – everybody can do it.

“There’s not a workout where people keep telling me that they couldn’t move the sled – we haven’t seen that, ever. It’s on a carpet, it’s tough, but you will finish it. That’s really important for us to explain from the beginning.

“Also, if they don’t want to do it by themselves then they can do it in the doubles competition, because there’s the mixed option where you share the workload.”

The sled push is followed by the sled pull
The sled push is followed by the sled pull

Prospective individual participants can register for the standard men’s and women’s races or the pro men’s or pro women’s competitions for £74 per person.

Single sex or mixed doubles registration costs £129, with spectator tickets available for £10, including a £5 gift voucher for use at Hyroxworld.

“Training for Hyrox is very tough and you have to run, so endurance is very important but, at the same time, you have to be a complete athlete and training for that is healthy,” said Mo. “It’s not like doing a marathon which is very hard on your feet and calves.

“Not a single muscle gets bigger than it should be – you don’t have to run 42k – it’s eight times one and that’s a big difference.

“Running 8km is one thing, but running eight singles is a completely different ballgame.

“I really think Hyrox has the potential to be an Olympic sport one day. It’s the perfect competition missing from the fitness world.

“Many people have been waiting for this kind of race to show up. Will we be at the Olympics in five years? Probably not. In 10? I don’t know, but I think that’s the path we should aim for.

“If not in the Olympics, at least making it that big and, if that doesn’t work out, we’d like to grow it to something like the Triathlon World Series or the Marathon World Series and have it known as this huge world fitness event or race that people like to attend.

“In Germany we have about 450 gym partnerships – places that pay a small licence fee for a year to use the name and the workouts, which is a very cool offline marketing tool for us and allows people to train.

“I know that we have 18 partnerships in the UK so far and counting. That’s something we’d like to expand as Hyrox continues to grow.”

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Royal Docks: Cyrus Todiwala’s Cafe Spice Namaste set to open at Royal Albert Wharf

Relocation of Prescot Street restaurant after 25 years sees east London welcome chef to quayside

Cyrus and Pervin are set to open Cafe Spice Namaste in August
Cyrus and Pervin are set to open Cafe Spice Namaste in August – image James Perrin

Aldgate’s loss is the Royal Docks’ gain. After more than a quarter of a century operating in Prescot Street, Cafe Spice Namaste – the flagship restaurant in Pervin and Cyrus Todiwala’s family business – has been forced to relocate, after losing its lease to a new landlord with an eye on redeveloping the venerable red brick building it occupied, as offices.

With the pandemic biting and hospitality reeling, the couple initially looked at opening on Commercial Street in nearby Shoreditch before a former employee, living in east London, got in touch.

“She said: ‘Why don’t you come to Royal Albert Wharf? It would be nice for a little cafe’,” said chef patron Cyrus. “So we looked at it and decided in the end to establish a wider business.

“There are lots of plans in my brain, which gradually we will put into action and, fingers crossed, we will succeed.”

At the heart of everything will be a fresh incarnation of Cafe Spice Namaste, set to open in August and located on Lower Dock Walk, less than 10 minutes on foot from Gallions Reach DLR.  

While the setting – overlooking the waters of Royal Albert Dock towards the University Of East London, Excel and London City Airport – provides the backdrop, there’s little doubt that the food will be the most potent draw. 

It would be easy to fill the remaining space on this spread by simply listing Cyrus and Pervin’s many achievements – not least holding a Michelin Bib Gourmand for nearly two decades, which would make the new restaurant the farthest east in the capital (by some distance) to trouble the guide, should it be similarly recognised.

But rather than cover the same ground as a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme – which has already done a great job of distilling and presenting the background to the Todiwalas’ current situation (including their notice to quit their old premises, Cyrus’ successful battle with cancer and the story of Bombay Duck) – we’re going to focus on the future. 

Cyrus intends to start things off with a few informal evenings for those signed up online to his Greedy Pigs Club before opening the venue officially.

He said: “We always had a splash of colour and I think that will come here too. This space is a lot more modern, with big windows, so it will feel different, but we want to bring back as much of the feel of the original Cafe Spice Namaste as we can. The food is a variety of Indian cuisine, not stuck to any one region or area, though we do have an emphasis on my own style of cooking which is Parsee and we do a lot of Goan food because of my background working there for several years. We try to bring in as much of the sub-continent as possible. At the new restaurant, the classics that our regulars will be familiar with will remain – the rest will evolve.

“We will do specials around seasonal British produce and we’re also thinking that, in this area, it may be easier for people to have more shared plates, which will be small plates so we can present a bigger variety and bring more choice to the menu. We’ll also hold supper-club style events once a month that people can register for online.”

Cyrus has many ideas he hopes to develop in Royal Docks
Cyrus has many ideas he hopes to develop in Royal Docks – image James Perrin

Without the goodwill and support of its loyal group of regulars, it’s likely Cafe Spice Namaste wouldn’t be coming to the Royal Docks or anywhere else, for that matter. 

It was hit especially hard by the pandemic because of its location in the City – losing almost all passing trade – and never having focused much on takeaways, so a group of three customers led a funding drive, raising nearly £50,000 to help with the move.

Cyrus said: “That felt really amazing – where else would you have customers willing to put money in and help you relocate and re-establish yourselves? 

“That money gave us a big stepping stone. Hospitality has been decimated and we were certainly not alone in many of the difficulties we faced, but we had other problems and issues as well. We weren’t able to benefit from local sales as the City was deserted.”

His other restaurants, based in Hilton hotels, including Mr Todiwala’s on the Isle Of Dogs and one near Heathrow, remain closed too, victims of business models upset by Covid-19. In the short-term, then, it’s up to Cafe Spice Namaste to be the lead in the charge for recovery. 

During the photoshoot for this piece, a service boat was visiting Royal Docks, loading up on fresh water to supply a recently arrived superyacht in central London. Having not used the craft in a while, its crew were allowing the excess to gush through the system and down into the depths below to Cyrus’ visible discomfort. The spectacle of so much water apparently going to waste was a tough watch for a man from Bombay – a visible sign of one of the key ingredients in his makeup.

Perhaps one of the reasons the Todiwalas were able to find support in the community is that Cyrus has been persistently outward looking, keen to get deeply involved with the creation of the produce he uses and to ensure as light a touch as possible on the planet. 

“I grew up in an area with acute water shortages and no electricity for most of the day,” he said. “I wish I could get more people to see how the culture here is so wasteful – nobody considers what happens to things once they’ve been put in the bin.

“We started recycling bottles in 1992 – nobody had heard of it then and nobody wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them away.”

He’s also run farms producing pigs and poultry as well as agricultural plantations of pineapples, coconuts, cashews and mangos. More recently, he was the first chef ambassador for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, presenting Mudchute Park And Farm on the Isle Of Dogs with its approved status in 2017 and in June took over from the late Albert Roux as group chef ambassador with The Clink Charity, which delivers training to inmates in British prisons. He’s also in talks with a farm project in Greenwich to supply Cafe Spice Namaste with seasonal vegetables to minimise food miles.

As part of his latest venture he is also hoping to establish an academy to train young people at Royal Albert Wharf.

“We will start with one-off classes for four hours and it will grow slowly,” said Cyrus. “But some people will want to do a week and, if there’s interest and demand then we’ll build that in.

“As the restaurant opens it will be a stressful time – it’s always difficult to find your feet, but we’ve been at this for many, many years and so we’re prepared, compared to the newer operators.

“I want this to be a place that the community accepts, that draws people to us, supplying their needs at different levels. 

“One gentleman living across the water has already asked us to supply a week’s menu to him every seven days, so we’re doing that, and other people may want the same. If people sign up to our newsletter then they’ll get all the information about what we’re doing, what we’re developing. There are loads of ideas that are brewing and, when we are established, we can start to implement them.

“I’ve had a great life and a good career so far. It’s been hard, but that’s because I take on extra things, thinking about how I can help the community and what I can do for young people. But if I’d done it differently I probably wouldn’t have learned as much as I have.”

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Royal Docks: How Expressway offers industrial and office space to business

Royal Victoria Dock-based facility provides studio and growth space for small, expanding companies

An image of Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson
Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson – image Matt Grayson

For drivers cruising down into the southern slice of Royal Docks via the long, graceful curve of the Silvertown Way flyover it would be entirely possible to miss something extraordinary taking place beneath the smooth asphalt caressed by the rubber of their tyres.

But, turn right at the bottom onto the switchback of North Woolwich Road, and the hive of activity beneath the arc of the carriageways becomes increasingly apparent, a crescendo as the height of the units rises, culminating in a main entrance.

This is Expressway, a comprehensive revitalisation of the old Waterfront Studios Business Centre. General Projects, the company that bought the space in 2018, hasn’t so much updated the existing real estate as reinvented it, punching a fresh entrance through the wall to Royal Victoria Dock and installing a coffee shop serving Perky Blenders’ products to open it up to the public and fuel occupants of its studios and industrial units.

Outside, dark grey paint has refreshed the structure, while indoors, whites, greens and stencilled lettering alongside a profusion of plywood and real plants lend its communal spaces and corridors a light, airy feel. There’s no plastic foliage nonsense here, just a friendly welcoming atmosphere replete with community notice board and plenty of puns around the word ‘way’.

It’s a visual expression of the light-touch authenticity that’s at the core of General Projects’ scheme.

Studio space at Expressway in Royal Docks – image Matt Grayson

Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson said: “When the company was founded, the serviced office market was popping up all over central London, but what became apparent to us was that when you got further out, to areas such as Acton in the west, Croydon in the south, Haringey in the north and Royal Docks in the east, there wasn’t that same provision of space. 

“There were lots of blue carpet, white light offices but not much in the way of amenities or service for what we call steady growth innovators – hard working small businesses such as craft brewers, accountants, recruitment consultants and fashion designers.

“These aren’t the kinds of companies that are looking to raise £50million from venture capitalists. They’re looking to hire a couple of people who they trust, who will feel ownership of that business and will like going to work. Hyper-talented one-man-bands growing to five person firms.

“So when we were looking for locations as a company, we were hunting an incumbent sense of community.

“I’m not the figurehead of Expressway – it’s made up of the people who have worked here the longest. As a company, we’re just here to provide nice space for people and exactly the things that they want and not more than that because we know value is the most important part of our product.”

In addition to private office studios, typically 350sq ft, the facility boasts communal showers, cycle spaces, meeting rooms and a co-working space as well as industrial units of between 1,000sq ft and 7,000sq ft.

“We think this is London’s first truly serviced industrial space,” said Jacob. “We can provide spaces fully furnished or fitted at a basic level with services connected and wireless and wired internet connections included. It’s really up to the business. It’s also about supporting local people – around 50% of the people who work here live within 15 minutes’ walk.”

Key to Expressway’s offer is the importance it places on developing its community of businesses, whether that’s assisting firms in navigating through the choppy economic waters of Covid-19 or helping support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“I’m incredibly proud of how we acted through the pandemic,” said Jacob. “It was a time when there was fear in every email. 

“As soon as it was clear Covid-19 was becoming a problem we set up the Expressway Genius Bar for our tenants, staffed full-time by a colleague of mine.

“His job was to understand and be the guy to go to on everything from VAT deferment to furlough, the Coronavirus Interruption Business Loan Scheme, grant funding and the bounce back loans.

“The aim was to communicate with all of our tenants and stand between them and the complexity of accessing assistance and money.

“We helped more than 60 businesses get more than £600,000 of grant funding and that really helped. We’re currently at 92% occupancy and I hope people here would talk about us favourably as an owner-operator.” 

Expressway’s industrial units – image Matt Grayson

General Projects is also working to create a circular model where Expressway, in partnership with the council-run Newham Workplace and the Royal Docks Team, hosts the Youth Incubator programme.

“Fostering small and local businesses is at the core of everything we do,” said Jacob. “We have a number of initiatives but this programme in particular offers 17 people aged 18-30 free membership of Expressway. Newham has very high levels of youth unemployment but, when you have that, you can also have very high levels of entrepreneurship.

“Our incubees get skills seminars, development support, social media marketing advice, guidance on accounting for small businesses and on how to raise funds. 

“They also get free, relevant mentoring – we’re not experts in any of those areas but we have an on-site network of 162 small and medium-size businesses that have all been down those roads, have trodden those paths and completely understand and empathise with the challenges. 

“Expressway acts as a social brokerage to match businesses with young people on the programme and we welcomed our second cohort at the end of March.

“What I would really like to see is someone go round the full circle, coming to the incubator, growing from a single person business and taking space from us and then in turn becoming a mentor. 

“I want as large a number as possible of our existing tenants to remain with us and for Expressway to be a place that feels lived in as well as worked in, for it to continue to be a space where genuine experiences happen.” 

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Royal Docks: Why Silverspace Studios’ founders created an all-inclusive business

Image shows Michael Stuart-Daley and Calvin Mlilo of Silverspace

How Calvin Mlilo and Michael Stuart-Daley created a space for photographers, by photographers

Image shows Calvin and Michael in their studio
Michael Stuart-Daley, left, and Calvin Mlilo created Silverspace Studios in Royal Docks – image Matt Grayson

Both Calvin Mlilo and Michael Stuart-Daley want me to see Studio A. Our interview has come to an end just as their clients vacate the space. So the two photographers who founded Silverspace Studios together at The Silver Building in Royal Docks in 2018, can finally take me into the 400sq ft room where it all began.

Knowing that their studio hire business has since swelled to include a second nearly 700sq ft facility and office space just across the corridor, as well as an 800sq ft space in Elephant And Castle, I ask them how walking into the smallest room in their portfolio feels. A pause, then a quiet discussion about how to put their answer into words.

“I feel proud,” said Calvin. “It was a challenge when we first came in. You’d look at it and ask: ‘What the hell have we got ourselves into? Can we do this?’. Now, when you look at it, how this very room has trickled over into Studio B, Studio C and the office – it’s growth and growth. It’s our favourite room.”

“This is the baby,” added Michael. “You’d wake up with a smile on your face knowing you were going into work for yourself, for your business. “It was just us – we had to put our all into it and we have done that. Now this is us – full time.

“Pride is the key word. I remember the day we got the keys. It feels like it was yesterday. It’s been a lovely journey so far.”

“I love it when people book this space,” said Calvin. “For us it’s the beginning of everything.

“I love the potential of it. Your brain starts to work as soon as you step through the door.”

This spare white box with natural light flooding through windows along one side – framed by the bare brutalist concrete of the building – is a physical embodiment of Silverspace’s roots – the foundation of a project that has been 12 years in the making.

Both Calvin and Michael grew up in Newham, meeting while studying photography at the University Of East London. 

“At that time, we had the university studio and we could use that quite frequently,” said Calvin. “But after finishing university, you had to finance yourself.

“You’d get that bang in the face of needing £100 to book a studio – then there might be another £50 for equipment on top. It’s silly – being charged for using clips, clamps or a stand. It doesn’t help young creatives believe in the journey that they’re going through. It’s discouraging – spending £30-£40 on little things that you need for the shoot.”

“How many times have we been to a studio and it’s another £10 just to use a polyboard to bounce some light off?” said Michael. “You’d feel like you’re being fleeced.”

The solution was Silverspace – a place both photographers could use for their own projects, but also that others would be able to hire at an all-inclusive price with equipment and facilities folded into the basic price.

“That frustration, that hardship is where the business came from,” said Calvin. “We wanted to make a space for us to create in and then realised that there were a lot of people going through the same hardships we were – young people trying to get into the creative industries. We started small – turning an office space into Studio A.

“It had high ceilings – which work for photography – big windows, natural light, which you can work with, as well as using lighting. We turned it into a space so people could create portraits or shoot fashion.

“Then, when we outgrew that, it was about asking: ‘Can we go bigger?’. That’s how we’ve expanded – organically.”

Image shows Calvin Mlilo
Calvin says he and Michael feel pride when the look at what they’ve created – image Matt Grayson

Michael and Calvin were among the first tenants to take up residence at The Silver Building – a former building transformed for temporary commercial use by Projekt.

For the pair, who both still live in Newham, their business is also a way of encouraging the next generation.

“Providing affordable space that doesn’t break the bank, where you can come in and get things done, is essentially giving back for us,” said Michael.

“Through our years of studying at UEL, going through the stages of our careers, there have been a lot of opportunities where we’ve been given chances.

“Silverspace was, predominantly a space in the beginning for us to create. Once we realised other people needed it, we opened it up.

“Demand has gone through the roof. Getting the keys, on April Fool’s Day 2018 was the beginning of the journey. Over that three years it’s been an amazing experience – seeing the business grow, seeing how we’ve grown.

“Being a freelance photographer is completely different from running a business.

“We’d had experience as studio managers elsewhere, so we knew how to do one or two things, but now we deal with every aspect of the business. 

“If I could go back, I’d tell myself to ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’. That’s what has got us here. As photographers we were fortunate to be able to invest in ourselves – to buy equipment and get the things we needed to apply ourselves properly in the trade.

“For example, the Profoto lights we have now are the same ones we had when we started.”

Calvin added: “It’s important not to doubt yourself too much, to run your own race. On a personal level I was guilty of that – looking at people who’d been running studios for a long time and trying to put myself on that level.

“You just have to put the work in, apply yourself, do the hours and you’ll get the results. It’s also important not to over-think things. If you worry things are expensive you’ll never buy them – you just have to do it and trust that business investments will recoup the outlay.

“Working as photographers was our market research for the studios – asking ourselves: ‘What would we want?’. 

“So we created a space for us, by us and, at the same time realised a lot of other young people could benefit from that.    

“People are often surprised when everything’s included.  That’s the reaction we get quite a lot – it’s a specific service we provide and people come back for that. 

“We help out as well and I don’t know another studio that does that. Why not? We’re in the office anyway.”

Image show Michael Stuart-Daley
Michael says Silverspace is always happy to help clients with set-up and lighting – image Matt Grayson

Michael said: “If a group of us are in and someone needs advice, they’re tapping into a good 35 years of collective photographic experience. If someone shows us a reference picture, we can set the light up for them. People come back for that service.”

Calvin added: “If you have someone who’s starting out, that makes such a difference.”

Completely committed to their craft, the pair admit to spending 70-80% of the time they should have been studying in class at UEL, experimenting in its studio, and are keen that more people should get behind the lens and do the same. 

Michael, who has also tutored students at the university, said: “We were taught there were no mistakes in photography – if you made a mistake, then own it.

“So, if there are newbies coming into the studio, we’re there to give them a hand, to help calm their nerves so they can get the results they want whether that’s as a hobbyist or as someone embarking on a creative career.

“It is expensive equipment that we supply, but it’s there to do a job and, so long as it’s set up properly and safely, you don’t have to worry about it.”

See more of Calvin’s work here and Michael’s work here

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