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Royal Docks: How UEL has unveiled the Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability

Mayors of London and Newham attend the launch of the facility aimed at supporting innovation

The Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability

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The University Of East London has officially launched the Royal Docks Centre For Sustainability (RDCS) at its Docklands campus.

The mayors of London and Newham joined UEL’s vice-chancellor to unveil a wooden plaque to mark the December 6, 2024 opening, hailing the move as the “dawn of a new era in innovation and sustainability    

“The opening of this centre is an incredibly special milestone for UEL and for the future of our city,” said Mayor Of London, Sadiq Khan.

“I believe this centre is best seen as symbolising two of the most profound changes happening in London right now – our shift eastwards and our shift to net zero.

“The RDCS embodies London’s direction of travel.

“City Hall moved to this area because I believe great things will be done in the Royal Docks. 

“This centre is now integral to one of the most significant regeneration projects in Britain and will help drive the entire venture forward over the coming decades – delivering good, inclusive growth as well as well-paid, high-skilled, meaningful jobs for east Londoners.

“The work that will be done here presents an opportunity to demonstrate how we can achieve both economic progress and environmental protection.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor Of London

“There’s also the chance to accelerate the sustainability aspects of existing work in the community – the list of possibilities is long, but the time in which we have to act is short.”

The RDCS is billed as a “regional hatchery for innovation, skills and enterprise” offering local people, companies and UEL students access to affordable workspace as well as academic research and expertise.

Headed by director Robert De Jong, it will also run programmes aimed at launching and growing businesses or boosting east Londoners’ skills.

“As a centre we have to be an enabler and bring people in,” said Robert.

“We’re not starting from ground zero.

“We already have some amazing initiatives – the talent is here. RDCS will be a platform for us to connect, collaborate, form new partnerships and also strengthen existing ones.”

The RDCS itself is arranged over three floors of a building at UEL’s Royal Albert Dock campus.

Part-funded by the Royal Docks Team’s Good Growth Fund, it’s intended to be a hub for innovation and creativity, forming part of the university’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2030. 

Alongside other facilities it will house UEL’s Living Lab, a partnership with Siemens that aims to offer students, researchers and local businesses a place to test, research and adapt technology to real-world environments.

“The RDCS is not just a building, it is a vision brought to life,” said Professor Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor at UEL. 

“It is a space where researchers, students, alumni, businesses, and local residents converge to create ideas, goals, and ambitions. 

“It breaks down the barriers that often separate academia from its neighbours, offering a space where fresh perspectives and the cross-pollination of ideas flourish. 

Professor Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor at UEL

“And recognising that the success of any enterprise rests on the calibre of its workforce, the centre is poised to supply the region’s businesses with a skilled, green workforce ready to tackle the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. 

“Aligned with the objectives of London’s only Enterprise Zone and building on UEL’s lead in business incubation and acceleration, this is a ground-breaking investment into our communities’ growth and development within east London and in our gateway to the world.”

Aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, the centre has ambitious goals to contribute to the local economy, address challenges here and across the planet and to help foster a cleaner, safer world.

“The RDSC brings together entrepreneurial ingredients from across Newham to support the development of future skills while driving needed collaboration between industry, academia and our people,” said Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor Of Newham.

Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor Of Newham

“Partnerships and collaboration resulting from the launch of the new centre will help to implement the borough’s Just Transition Plan, upskilling residents and providing opportunities to deliver new solutions that will be essential for adapting to climate change and transitioning towards a green economy.

“This new space allows Newham and broader east London to convene with partners from various sectors to help collectively solve all the interconnected challenges that the climate emergency presents us. 

“While the challenges may be known, the solutions will look different in every sector, in every neighbourhood, so it’s critical to have a centre like this helping solve global challenges in a local way.”

The launch of the centre was also a platform for UEL to launch its Year Of Science, which is set to culminate with hosting the British Science Festival – a gathering of scientists, innovators, inventors, researchers and artists keen to show their work to the public.

Next year will see the 193rd iteration of the festival and mark the first time it has been held in London for more than 20 years.

Find out more about the RDCS here

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Royal Docks: How Disney100: The Exhibition is packed with cultural touchstones for all to enjoy

Exhibition at Excel showcases stories from a century of output by the world famous entertainment company

Disney100: The Exhibition is currently on show at Excel in Royal Docks

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In a world where people’s experiences and cultural references are increasingly diffuse, Disney100: The Exhibition prompts a conversation pretty much anyone can participate in.

The question: “What’s your favourite Disney movie?” is one that, perhaps, unites more people globally under the umbrella of a single producer than any other.  

Its answers are frequently generational, surprising and in some cases contested – can Marvel and Star Wars really be counted when so much of the original development of those brands happened before they were brought into the fold?

But almost invariably, it’s a question that’s met with fondness and warmth – often a connection to a childhood remembered or time spent with one’s own children.

That, of course, is before we even consider the TV output, the theme parks and the theatre shows. 

With such resonance in the public mind, curating an exhibition that celebrates the output of The Walt Disney Company to mark its centenary, is a mammoth undertaking. 

Little wonder, perhaps, that this creative titan has risen to that challenge with characteristic zeal resulting in Disney100: The Exhibition running at Excel in Royal Docks until January 21. 

“Selecting the exhibits was probably the biggest challenge we had because Disney has an embarrassment of riches in terms of the assets we can show,” said Matthew Adams, manager, exhibitions for the Walt Disney Archives.

Matthew Adams of the Walt Disney Archives

“We’ve had 100 years and we have so many different business units now which have all contributed to Disney’s success, so it was really difficult.

“The great thing about Disney is, because it’s been around for so long, I can’t think of another company that has left such an indelible mark on people’s lives.

“There are meaningful moments for baby boomers all the way up to the children of today and everyone in between.

“I think about all the films I watched as a kid including all the movies like Hocus Pocus that came out in the 1990s.

“I was also a big fan of Sword In The Stone – those are two that really resonated with me when I saw props from the movies, so I can imagine how other people will feel.

“I often joke with people that the archives are the keepers of their childhood memories – but I also really mean it.

“Many are unique and we have both a domestic version of the exhibition in the US and an international touring collection, so deciding what would be in each was challenging.”

With the exception of the first gallery – which tells the story of how Walt set up the company and created his first animations including the pioneering Steamboat Willie with its synchronised soundtrack – the exhibition is not arranged chronologically.

The exhibition features a host of exhibits from Disney’s first 100 years

Instead its nine galleries are thematic, each looking at a different aspect of the company’s operations. 

“That really helped us narrow down what we were going to put on show,” said Matthew, who started off his career in theatre before going on to work at 20th Century Fox in themed entertainment and joining Disney when it bought his previous employer.

“Everything after the first gallery is based on the philosophy of Walt Disney – whether that’s storytelling, creating believable characters, adventure and discovery and so on, which helped us decide what to include. 

“Then we were only selecting exhibits that were in service to that story of each gallery.

“For example, everything in the music gallery helps tell the story of how important the music and sound effects are in Disney films.

“One thing that Disney is really well known for and comes into clear view when you’re in the exhibition, is the attention to detail with everything the company does.

“For instance there’s a display about creating the sound effects and you would never think those noises were made in the way they were – the minds that came up with those ideas were pretty astounding.

There’s also an extensive gift shop selling official merchandise

“Another example is when you’re looking at the costumes for The Lion King stage show and the level of detail that goes into them, which audiences would never even see at a distance.

“It’s those things that make the Disney difference.

“In The Illusion Of Life gallery, we talk about all these individual characters and what makes them seem real.

“There are the minute personality details, which may seem obscure and unimportant, but combine to create the effect of a living, breathing character.

“To me, seeing those things is a ‘wow moment’.

“In the exhibition, you really get a sense that everyone, from Walt Disney up to the people who work for the company today, has been really passionate about the work and our history, our legacy, and the stories we continue to tell today.

“These people really believe in it and really love it. 

“They realise what they are doing has made a huge impact on their lives and makes a real impact on other people’s lives – that’s why being part of the exhibition is really something special for me.”

That Disney100: The Exhibition is in the UK is apt.

Walt and the company he built has had a long association with Britain.

Its first live action film, 1950’s Treasure Island, was shot in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire with Robert Newton creating a host of immortal pirate tropes as the wild-eyed, one-legged Long John Silver.

Walt also traced his roots to the village of Norton Disney in Lincolnshire, visiting during filming and cementing the link by placing his family’s coat of arms above the archway to the company’s famous castle.

“This started something that was consistent with many of the company’s most famous stories like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs And Broomsticks, which feature in the exhibition,” said Matthew.

The exhibition features all kinds of exhibits including costumes from live action movies

“There’s a definite affinity with London and the UK. I hope that seeing the exhibition will reignite people’s passion and love for Disney films, parks and everything else we produce.

“There’s so much content out there these days – it’s over-saturated – but it’s really nice spending an hour or two going back and looking at those touchstone moments in our lives, saying: ‘I remember this being really important in my life’ and remembering.

“An exhibition spanning 100 years is a really huge moment that will only come once in our lifetimes, so we want everyone to feel inspired and happy when they leave, and hopeful about the future.”

Spare a thought, then, for the next generation who will likely have more than double the archive to draw on when 200 years have passed. 

“The collection is huge and already spans multiple buildings and locations,” said Matthew.

“We have buildings that are dedicated to our three-dimensional assets, others that are dedicated to our photo collection – it is a pretty enormous operational undertaking.

“We rely on the actual creators and the production teams of those films or park attractions to tell us what’s important to keep.

“Similarly, with park attractions, when they are changed or updated, we ask what the fans’ most popular items are and which are worth keeping.

“We wish we could keep everything, but that’s just not possible when we have a finite amount of space and, with the advent of Disney+, output has increased significantly.” 

Fortunately, thanks to the acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, there is potentially a solution.

That deal means it now owns the warehouse from Indiana Jones flick Raiders Of The Lost Ark – plenty of room for another century of stuff. 

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Royal Docks: How East River Wharf is offering an alternative for local tenants

Shared ownership properties from Legal And General Affordable Homes present a competitive proposition for residents renting in east London

The show home living space at East River Wharf

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The rental market is on Jen Cobley’s mind.

Right now, for the head of sales at Legal And General Affordable Homes, it’s proving a fertile source of shared ownership buyers.

The company is currently delivering East River Wharf, part of Ballymore’s Riverscape scheme in Royal Docks and is finding its offering is attracting tenants under pressure from rising rents. 

“We launched the development in July and the sales rate has been really good – there’s a fantastic appetite for the scheme,” said Jen.

“The key reason for that is because the area is very popular with renters.

“What we’re seeing is that landlords have pushed prices up and that’s prompted people to look at alternatives.

“At East River Wharf some people will be moving into one-beds, having moved out of rented studios at Royal Wharf, for substantially less of a monthly outlay.

“That also means, of course, that they have got a foot on the ladder.

“It’s been a really positive start in a turbulent market.

“Shared ownership has been less affected by this as higher interest rates don’t have as great an effect because the portion of the property under mortgage is typically much smaller.

Legal And General Affordable Homes head of sales Jen Cobley

“The other thing about shared ownership is that people can think long-term.

“While interest rates may be shocking right now, if you’ve bought a 25% share, you will be in a better position financially than someone with a mortgage on 90% of a property.

“This means when interest rates stabilise, it will then be easier for people to staircase and buy a larger share of the property, right up to 100%.

“It’s also the deposit levels. While buying outright might be on some people’s agendas, when you think about what 5% or 10% of the full value of a property actually looks like, it is out of reach for most people.

“Shared ownership requires a much lower initial outlay. At East River Wharf, you are looking at a deposit of just under £5,000.

“Our one-bedroom homes start at £387,500, meaning a 5% deposit on a 25% share at £96,875 would be £4,843.

“That feels do-able for people. The mortgage market is currently very stable and there are lots of lenders offering 95% mortgages right now.

“On that one-bedroom apartment, you’d be looking at monthly outgoings of just over £1,500.

“I’ve spoken to a considerable number of people renting studio flats in the surrounding area for £1,800-£1,850 per month.”

All properties come with outdoor space

Legal And General has taken on four buildings at Riverscape, with apartments in two of them for sale on a shared ownership basis.

The others will be let to tenants on an affordable rent basis. 

One, two and three-bedroom apartments are available to buy at the scheme, which is essentially an extension of the Royal Wharf development on the Thames between West Silvertown and Pontoon Dock DLR stations.

The neighbourhood has its own pier served by the Uber Boat By Thames Clippers river bus and is within walking distance of the Elizabeth Line.

It will benefit significantly from a planned new bridge across Royal Victoria Dock, part of the ongoing regeneration of Silvertown, which will make this journey even easier, putting it within about 20 minutes of Canary Wharf.

Legal And General is set to host an open day at East River Wharf, from 10am-4pm on December 2, 2023, for anyone interested in buying a shared ownership property or who would like to know more about the scheme.

Jen said: “At our event we have a fantastic sales office and apartment to show people. We’re in the very fortunate position to be taking control of a lot of the units we’re selling quite soon.

“We have one, two and three-bedroom apartments that people can see, unfurnished too and a team of sales consultants who would be delighted to meet with potential purchasers or anyone who just wants to know a little bit more about shared ownership. 

One, two and three-beds are available

“We’ll also have an independent financial advisor on hand, for anyone who would like to discuss accessing a mortgage.

“We really are ambassadors for the tenure rather than just our brand – we’re more than happy to have wider conversations about affordability and ways people can buy properties. 

“Shared ownership is not just for first-time buyers.

“If you have a property that’s sold, subject to contract we can take an application from you. 

“If you’ve previously owned a property and have left the market then we’re also an option for you.

“We see people coming to us in a wide variety of situations, whether they are looking to buy their first home, relocating after a divorce or dealing with a change in circumstances.

“It’s really open to all as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.”

Buyers at East River Wharf will get access to a wide range of facilities with the vast majority already up and running.

“In terms of the apartments at East River themselves, the quality is on a par with Ballymore. That’s a real key selling point for us. 

“Everything has outdoor space – either a balcony or a terrace and they are, of course, in a fantastic location.

“Buyers also get access to all the Royal Wharf facilities.

“There’s a real sense of community with the clubhouse.

“Something I’m really excited about is the Sky Lounge, which will be on the 16th floor of one of Riverscape’s buildings.

“It’s due to open next year and will be a business lounge with far-reaching views across to Greenwich and Canary Wharf – a place to meet neighbours and collaborate with guests.

“There’s also a concierge service that oversees the seamless running of the estate too.”

Find out more about East River Wharf here

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Royal Docks: How Excel’s expansion impacts Newham, London and the UK

With less than a year until opening, CEO Jeremy Rees outlines the benefits for events, local residents and the wider British economy

An artist’s impression of how Excel will look when its latest expansion programme is completed

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Jeremy Rees is excited – and with good reason.

It’s now less than a year until the latest extension to Excel in Royal Docks is due to open its doors for business, and the exhibition and conference centre’s CEO is buzzing with the anticipation of what it means for the UK, London and the local area.

To say live events have bounced back after the pandemic would be an understatement.

Fuelled by a period of almost total shut down, when meetings were deemed illegal, the demand and desire to reconnect is at an all-time high.

“This year will be 10% busier than we’ve ever been in the history of Excel’s business,” said Jeremy.

“There will be more events, more exhibitors and more visitors here than ever before – that’s a really strong catalyst for activities, innovation and ideas.

“It puts Royal Docks right at the heart of our trade agenda in the UK once again.

“Historically, it was an area where innovation was rife, where trade was a huge driver for the capital.

“That tailed off with containerisation.

“But it’s a great example of what London does, it adapts and changes into something else – so the Royal Docks began reinventing itself as a centre of excellence and innovation.

“Transportation links improved and, over the years, pieces were put in place to remove the friction of travel to get here.

“Now, with the Elizabeth Line, we’re a very strong proposition for our customers. Excel is three minutes from Canary Wharf and 15 minutes from the West End. It’s so accessible.”

Read More: How Canary Wharf-based McLaren is building Excel’s extension

Excel CEO Jeremy Rees says the benefits of increased space will bring increased growth and prosperity to Royal Docks, London and the UK as a whole

Riding the wave of that regeneration and infrastructure improvements, Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), which owns Excel, has invested significant cash in expanding the venue.

When the doors to the extension open in October 2024, Excel will see its available space increase by 25% to some 125,000sq m.

The new facility will connect seamlessly to the existing centre’s eastern end, with landscaping outside, including a public park.

“We’ve designed a £220million building connected to the existing one, which will genuinely delight and surprise everyone with a world-class experience,” said Jeremy.

“The process of regeneration here is far from complete and that’s one of the reasons our expansion programme is so important – because it’s demand-led. 

“Our customers in the corporate, association and exhibition markets – both nationally and internationally – have told us what they want.

“That’s the future of face-to-face events – a building that needs to be not just physically but also technologically fit for purpose and a place that’s sustainable and puts delegate health and wellbeing right at the heart of the proposition.

“The brands that are coming now care deeply about the experience and that’s something we’ve catered for really carefully.

“The expansion is a place where millions of moments will happen, where people will go away saying that their needs were fulfilled when they came to Royal Docks – whether that was for trade, fun or engagement.

The project will see Excel get a second main entrance

“It will be where their preconceptions of the area, of London and of the UK, will have been shifted.

“Our vision for the future is to add significantly to where we are now and this is deeply exciting. 

“From a stakeholder perspective, from ADNEC downwards, I think it shows a belief in London and the Royal Docks.

“They’re investing hundreds of millions of pounds in our buildings and the experience.

“That’s being reinforced by our customer base who are signing contracts now for 2024, 2025 and beyond. We’ve got agreements in place for 2030 already.”

Take a step back and Excel currently generates about £4.5billion in economic impact for the UK, attracting around 4million visitors to the Royal Docks each year by hosting roughly 400 events.

“The expansion is necessary to ensure the virtuous circle of growth continues.

Jeremy said: “What our existing customers are saying is that if we can’t cater for them, they’re going to go somewhere else.

“There is a significant emphasis on investment internationally and cities are competing aggressively with each other.

“The difference with London is that most other cities in the world own their convention centres – here it’s privately owned, so all the investment coming through us is driving a vast ripple effect through the city.

“The economic impact is huge and costs the public purse nothing. In other cities, the events industry is asking for subsidy or support from governments whereas we are a massive contributor to the Treasury and UK PLC as a whole.

“Our investment is driven by the fact we believe there is a commercial need – it’s what our customers want.

“The benefit from this is also for the hotels, bars and restaurants – and so for the Exchequer as well – due to the increase in activity across these sectors.”

At a more immediately local level, the expansion will also benefit those living and working in Royal Docks in a variety of ways.

Put simply, the larger Excel becomes, the more potential there is for success.

The more successful the venue is, the bigger its economic impact will be, with greater and greater audiences coming to the area with needs to satisfy.

“From a successful exhibition perspective, it means that we’re generating more income, and that flows through to Newham, where tourism and hospitality are key pillars that drive job creation,” said Jeremy.

“As a business ourselves, there is no doubt we are already employing more people from the local area than ever before.

“Similarly the businesses we’re supporting and working with are also employing people, so you get this multiplier effect.

“The hotels locally are running at around 85% occupancy, very largely filled by people attending events at Excel.

“We aim to make sure that, we’re working harmoniously with the residents who benefit from hospitality, bars and restaurants. 

“But it’s also the reason why we’re investing in transport links, why there are, for example, 5G networks here, and that infrastructure generally is being improved, because all the activity is here.

“That’s interesting because it changes the dynamics of the ecosystem.

“What used to be the case is that people came in, conducted their business and then  left.

“That’s shifting and I foresee over the next five or 10 years that the dwell time here is going to be significantly greater within the Royal Docks.

“I think that the east of London – Royal Docks, Canary Wharf and all the other areas – have all got very bright futures. There’s absolutely no doubt about it.

“With the Elizabeth Line now in place, Excel is the natural home for events for companies on the Wharf – the journey is only three minutes now.

“It’s incumbent on all of us in this area to set the tone, develop, grow and do it in partnership.

“If we can accelerate this with our investments and support from Abu Dhabi, then we’re going to do that.”

One of the other things the venue is already doing is shifting its programme.

“We’ve been planning all this since 2018 and the final pieces of the puzzle were the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, a commitment from our investors to expand and, lastly, Excel’s complete adoption of immersive events and experiences,” said Jeremy.

“We’ve got truly world-class creators, innovators, production houses and agencies who are exporting immersive experiences to other countries, where they have residencies.

“There hasn’t really been a place where they can host them here, so we’ve observed and responded to the need – and we’ve done it very quickly. 

“We’ve been really keen to work with some of the best brands globally to do this, which is the reason we’ve hosted Jurassic World and Disney100.

“These are world-class experiences and there will be more announced soon. 

“Brands invest tens of millions in some cases and what we want is families and children to come here and be surprised and delighted by what they find so that they return again and again.” 

In some senses, the countdown to the future of Excel has begun. In others, it’s here already.

Find out more about Excel’s expansion programme here

Excel’s total space is set to increase by 25% when the extension opens in less than a year


Excel’s expansion will see the following benefits created:

  • 25% larger overall with 25,000sq m of additional space that can be completely taken over by a customer
  • A new front door for the venue 
  • Improved landscaping for pedestrians and cyclists including along the dock edge
  • 12,000sq m of new exhibition space
  • A freshly planted pocket park
  • Views across the dock from the venue

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Royal Docks: How McLaren is building the Excel centre’s extension in east London

It’s full steam ahead for the main contractor, which recently moved its headquarters to Canary Wharf

McLaren is the lead contractor on the Excel expansion programme

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McLaren is the company responsible for actually building Excel’s extension.

The firm, which has just moved its headquarters to Canary Wharf from the City, has seen significant growth itself in recent years increasing its turnover from around £400million to more than £1billion, thanks to a programme of diversification that’s seen it enter a number of new markets. 

“We’re a roll-your-sleeves-up business where everyone’s really valued,” said Paul Heather, group managing director of construction for the UK.

“We’re strong on our values of being supportive, agile and proud.

“The difference here to other places I’ve worked is that we all come together and feel part of a team, whether we’re out on a project or at head office.

“It’s the team ethos – finding solutions – that gets people out of bed in the morning here and that’s great to see.”

Walk through McLaren’s Churchill Place office and you’ll see exactly that – open-plan spaces and meeting rooms filled with people collaborating.

It’s easy to imagine they’re all striving to solve complex problems at a firm that’s expanded into many different areas of construction.

Clear focus on agility and solutions is probably just as well, because Excel’s extension would be a daunting task for any contractor. 

Not only is the scale of the building vast, but everything has to be built without any disruption to the workings of the existing conference and exhibition centre, not to mention the race track that has to weave through the construction site for Formula E twice over the course of the project.

Sir Robert McAlpine, the firm that built the first two phases of Excel, had been awarded the contract for enabling works, before the venue opted to work with McLaren on the main build.

Read More: What Excel CEO Jeremy Rees has to say about the expansion of the venue

“It was a proud moment for us to become involved in such a prestigious scheme as this,” said Paul, who moved from McAlpine to McLaren himself in March 2022. 

“We engaged with Excel in November 2022 and had our first digger in the ground in mid-January 2023, which is pretty quick. 

“The team worked very hard and operations director, Gareth Peebles, knew the job inside out.

“As a company, McLaren ultimately comes from industrial logistics.

An artist’s impression of how Excel will look when work is complete

“We’d pretty much cornered the market as big industrial shed builders and had made a huge success of it, constructing distribution centres for clients such as Amazon across the country.

“That mentality is at the heart of many people who work for the business and, because an events venue is similar in many respects, we had some ideas for this project that allowed us to be more competitive – to offer the client more certainty on the programme, which is what the team at Excel wanted.”

Sustainability is also at the core of the build, with the new building targeting a BREEAM Excellent rating.

That means both its design and construction aim to minimise their impact on the environment – increasingly a factor for organisers when they’re deciding where to host their events.

Paul said: “Using recycled materials and reducing carbon emissions is very much part of the agenda.

“This will be one of the first major projects to use Cemfree masonary mortar – which has no cement in it – and that will reduce emissions by 11,000kg of CO2.

“Half of the steel used is recycled and it’s been quite a challenge to find that quantity but we’ve managed to do it.

“We’ll also be installing air source heat pumps, which is a sustainable approach to heating, as well as solar panels over 32% of the roof, which should generate 599kw to help power the building.”

With 90 weeks from start to finish allowed, the build is now over halfway completed and construction continues apace.

“We’re coming up to winter, so we’ve got to get the structure up because there’s a lot of work to be done internally,” said Paul.

“We need the roof on, the cladding on and then it will be time to get stuck into the finishes inside.

“With just a year to go, it’s going to be full steam ahead, with no rest, that’s for sure.

“The biggest challenge is the speed we have to work at to hit the all-important end date.

“We’ve learned a lot from the last season Formula E – with the track running through the existing Excel buildings and our site, so we’ll all ready for the next season.

“To have to stop when you want to keep going can be a frustration, so there’s a challenge to keep everyone motivated, but as soon as the racing is over, we’ll be going for it again.

“There have also been challenges to ensure the way we were erecting the steel fitted in with the needs of flights in and out of London City Airport, making certain not to impinge on the air space.

McLaren group managing director of construction for the UK, Paul Heather – image Matt Grayson

“But we resolved that quickly and the steelwork went in over a number of weekends to avoid having an impact on flights.

“The most important thing is that we can’t shut down half of Excel while we build for a year so we have to have a really good relationship with the venue – to know what’s coming in and out, what events are on and how that will impact what we’re doing.

“As a company, we’re very big on relationships and that goes to the highest level of our business. 

“Our chairman, Kevin Taylor, will check in with Excel on a regular basis. We always want our customers to have a great experience and to come away wanting to work with us again.”

While the Excel build is scheduled for less than two years, its been designed to have a much longer-lasting social impact on the area.

As part of the project, the builder has committed to offering 36 apprenticeships through its employment and skills plan and 15% of McLaren direct staff have applied through local council-run body Our Newham Work. 

The business has also run Women In Construction T-Levels workshops with local colleges and is working with UEL to offer students site visits.  

“Construction isn’t just about building,” said Paul.

“We work with a lot of supply chain partners – sub contractors – and their location becomes especially  important if you have a client that says they want local community engagement.

“We will select who we work with based partly on those criteria.

“They have to be competitive, but we will be saying to our customer that we are bringing locally based people in to work on their project. 

“We’ll try and select materials locally where we can and, in terms of the community, if we can entice people into the business as new employees who are based here, then we’ll try for that as well.

“All of our partners understand that for them to be recognised in the right way on a scheme, then they need to be bringing apprentices from the local area. 

“They themselves are proud to say that they are giving people a chance to understand what construction is and what they can do within it.”

Full steam ahead on all fronts – there’s a deadline to hit.

Find out more about Excel’s expansion here

With less than a year to go, work on-site continues apace


McLaren is building the extension to the Excel centre while the existing building remains in use

  • 1,210 solar panels will be placed on the roof of the new building
  • Each panel is capable of generating 495w, putting out a total of 599kw back into the building 
  • The development site for the project is two hectares, including improvements to public space along the dock edge
  • The project uses 50% recycled steel
  • Other sustainable measures include rainwater harvesting, hybrid ventilation and Cemfree masonry mortar
  • McLaren has grown into a company with a turnover of more than £1billion

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Canning Town: How Husk is turning on the craft beer taps in Docklands

Royal Docks brewery expands with Brunel Street Works taproom and new site at The Factory Project

Husk has opened a new taproom in Canning Town – image Matt Grayson

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Power is the thing on the mind of Christiaan Van Der Vyver.

The co-owner of Husk Brewing Ltd is a laid back, jovial man, but there’s at least mild frustration that he’s currently unable to make beer. 

Formerly located in a unit under the Silvertown Way flyover, the business has had a challenging few years.

Founded in Royal Docks in 2015, it built a passionate local following and had upgraded its taproom with a mezzanine and permanent food offering just in time for the pandemic to shut everything down.

Then the spur of North Woolwich Road outside its door was closed for work on the Silvertown Tunnel, shutting off crucial footfall and custom from passing cyclists. 

“We thought it would just be for one year and we could have survived that – but it turned out it was six and then the location didn’t make sense any more,” said Christiaan, who runs the business with his wife Marta. 

Then some good fortune.

The couple were increasingly sceptical about full relocation to The Factory Project because of its comparatively remote location on the Tate & Lyle site in North Woolwich.

However, the scheme’s CEO, Nick Hartwright, revealed he’d taken on commercial spaces at Brunel Street Works right next to Canning Town station. 

It was settled. The brewery would open at The Factory Project and supply a new taproom on a bustling street in a densely populated location.

Christiaan Van Der Vyver runs Husk with is wife Marta – image Matt Grayson

A few weeks ago, Husk opened its new taproom at the location and is very much looking to the future. 

The only catch so far is that, until the National Grid hooks up a high voltage power supply, the brewery can’t make any beer, so it’s currently having to buy in kegs from elsewhere.

Delays notwithstanding, though, the early signs are very positive and there’s a lot more to come. 

“There have been a lot of delays – but in the end we love the new taproom,” said Christiaan.

“It’s a big, open space and we’re running it at the moment as a 40-seater while we build up a bigger team.

“Then we can bring that up to 70 seats. 

“We’ve got regulars coming almost every day and we have people who have followed us from our previous location.

“We’ve always been a community-minded business and we’ve got to know everybody in the area.

“There are some amazing people here, very diverse – we attract a really mixed crowd from people in their 20s to their 70s.

“We love this community and it’s interesting to see how it’s growing and changing. When I first came here, none of these residential buildings existed.

“It was just dilapidated old warehouses. It’s been transformed – it seems like it takes only a year to build a tower these days.”

Husk serves up pints of craft beer, burgers and fries – image Matt Grayson

With the neighbouring Brunel Street Works marketing suite set to be removed, Husk will have the opportunity to expand into landscaped outdoor space with plans for an American-style smoker.

It’s also expected that TfL will open an access point to Canning Town station that’s practically at the venue’s back door, ensuring even greater footfall. 

For now, though, the focus is on serving up pints, with Marta heading operations in the kitchen to produce sustaining burgers and portions of fries, both with a multitude of toppings.

 “We make great beer but we also wanted to do food,” said Christiaan, who came to the UK from South Africa in 1996 and used to run a nightclub and late night restaurant in South Kensington.

“We wanted to offer something that complements beer, and burgers are a perfect choice for that.

“We buy all our meat from small producers who rear rare breeds of British cows, which are allowed to graze naturally.

“For our patties, we mix in 5% bone marrow to help intensify the flavour of the meat and the juiciness.

“We can run at a lower profit margin, making sure the prices are reasonable by subsidising our sales with what we make on the beer.”

While Husk is currently buying in tipples from other craft producers, Christiaan can’t wait to get making the stuff again, having acquired extra capacity from the demise of Three Sods Brewery in Hackney.

The taproom is very much a temple to its creations, with mascots of beers such as Dock Life Pale Ale, Lockdown Sour and Delivery Tax Saison adorning its windows.

Independent brewers have had a tough time lately, with Brexit and a changing marketplace seeing many close their doors.

That taproom will have a capacity of about 70 seated – image Matt Grayson

With strong demand at the new site, however, Christiaan is optimistic. 

“The whole market has changed, but making sure you’re the right size has always been a tricky one,” he said.

“Before, they used to say that you should get as big as you can, but the problem is that if you get a 10 or 20 barrel brewery, you would need to shift 200 kegs just from one batch of one beer.

“If you’re selling to craft pubs, then they want a range, so they’ll only take a couple of kegs of one beer.

“If you’re smaller, like us, you can brew more styles and it’s easier to sell the product.

“It’s also a problem if you’re selling to mainstream pubs because many are tied to breweries.

“If they’re worried about their targets, then they will close their lines to smaller producers to ensure they hit their targets for their two-year contracts.  

“These days you have to have a taproom to survive and then it becomes about how many sites you can open.

“When we’re up and running at The Factory Project, we’ll be able to produce 8,000 pints a week, so then we’ll start looking for a site for another taproom.

“That’s really what we want to do.

“We’d love that to be close by because we live in Britannia Village in Royal Docks and I love that I can cycle to work.”

With craft beer breweries increasingly being swallowed up by big business – think Beavertown, Meantime and Camden – it’s refreshing to find one that’s making it work in east London.

  • Husk is currently on the lookout for staff, including chefs for its taproom in Canning Town.

Contact details are available on the brand’s website. 

The venue also boasts a fine selection of board games

Read more: Sign up for the Santa Stair Climb at One Canada Square

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Royal Docks: How Royal Wharf Clinic offers a medical approach to aesthetic procedures

Founder Dr Shaan Mahmood on how a holistic approach to clients can yield desired results

Royal Wharf Clinic founder Dr Shaan Mahmood

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“I‘m aware that there aesthetic clinics where people are in it to make money, but I’m involved in this field because I want to improve people’s mental and medical health,” said Dr Shaan Mahmood.

The founder of Royal Wharf Clinic created the business  – based in Cunningham Avenue near Pontoon Dock DLR station – with two clear aims in mind.

“I’d noticed that, because of things like social media, people are much more concerned about their image than they used to be,” he said.

“I wanted to offer individuals a holistic approach to aesthetic issues but also with their wider health.

“The idea was born out of frustration at not being able to provide the care for people that I wanted through my role as an NHS doctor working in a hospital.”

Initially Dr Shaan spent time pursuing medical research, gaining a masters from the University Of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School before realising he preferred interacting with patients on a more personal level.

“I remain very interested in the science of medicine, but I like to have human contact as well,” he said.

“I prefer speaking to people to get information from them.

“There’s a lot of data inside our heads that can’t be measured, so you have to talk to people to access it. 

“That’s why I moved on to doing hospital work, graduated and then, eight months later, the Covid pandemic arrived which was very tough to start with.

“Normally, as a junior doctor, you are assured that your senior colleagues are there for you and that your job is to absorb the experience and the protocols rather than to make serious decisions.

“In the pandemic, many of the older doctors were shielding and so the juniors had to step up.

“That experience accelerated my development as a doctor because it taught me to quickly clarify my thought processes, made me better as a worker and a member of a team and showed me that regardless of how you feel, the work needs to be done – so you crack on and do it.

“It was a really tough period and the burn-out rate among colleagues was high – but it resulted in me becoming a far better doctor than I might otherwise have become in that time.

“However, it also highlighted a lot of problems in the system. I love the NHS – having healthcare that is free at the point of delivery is very important and that’s why I continue to work for it.

“But what I didn’t enjoy was saying to patients that they would get an outpatients’ appointment in two weeks and then getting a call from them two months later when that hadn’t even been scheduled.

“I found I couldn’t guarantee what I was saying to people.

“That’s what Royal Wharf Clinic is about. When I say to people who come here that we can do something, then we can.

“If someone has an issue that we can’t address ourselves, then we will know someone who can help.”

Royal Wharf Clinic is located on Cunningham Avenue

On the face of it, Royal Wharf Clinic is divided into two areas of service – medical and aesthetic.

But as we talk, it becomes obvious Dr Shaan sees them as feeding into a single mission – how to help someone feel better, both physically and mentally. 

To that end the clinic is fully equipped with a variety of consultation and treatment rooms and is currently constructing an on-site lab to bring wait times for test results down to a minimum. 

“On the medical side, we do a lot of investigations that are primarily preventative,” said Dr Shaan.

“We offer blood tests, scans and consultations about nutrition and lifestyle – such as sleep, work and stress levels – and we try to pinpoint what a person’s goals are in life for their health and wellbeing.

“It’s not up to me to decide what will make someone better. It’s for me to ask what that is and then create a strategy to help people get there.

“A client might want to feel more energetic, for example, to reduce their stress levels, lose weight or gain some muscle. 

“Of course, we can treat people if there is a medical problem or refer them to a specialist if necessary, but I’m a big proponent of preventative blood work to identify any deficiencies in the body.

“We have created a number of bespoke tests to address common complaints – tiredness for example.

“Our test will screen for certain conditions and 95% of time it’s likely to be one of those that is responsible. 

“Another is iron deficiency – a person’s levels will be low three or four months before they develop anaemia but they may feel fine.

“If we identify that early then we can improve a person’s levels to head off any problems.

“My job is really to keep people out of hospital – to be their guardian angel. People can tell me what they want and we’ll give them advice on how to get there.”

Dr Shaan’s approach when it comes to aesthetic treatments is similar, following Royal Wharf Clinic’s tagline of “beauty carefully considered”.

The clinic’s Styku scanning room plus Emsculpt Neo

“The background knowledge I have from doing complex surgery contributes to the level of service we are able to offer clients,” he said.

“Overall there’s an emphasis on a more natural look in the field of aesthetics now.

“For example, many people prefer skin boosters rather than changing the shape of the body.

“People’s reasons for seeking aesthetic treatments are deeply personal but they always stem from a perception that there’s a problem to be fixed.

“There are two types of aesthetic treatment – preventative, such as washing and moisturising, and reactive where we’re trying to correct something.

“We will never look at a client and tell them what we think they should have done. It’s always up to the client to tell us what they think the problem is.

“For example, they might think they dislike the size of their nose or certain skin blemishes.

“Then I will make an assessment because some people suffer from dysmorphia and see a completely different person when they look in the mirror.

“As a doctor, it is my responsibility to look after their health so I’m not obliged to agree with a client’s assessment if treatment is unnecessary or might be detrimental to their health. 

“This is something we take very seriously – because of social media we’re constantly exposed to images of others and can easily make unfavourable comparisons, which is more to do with a person’s mental health than their physical appearance.

“However, there are, of course, genuine deficiencies such as scarring, dry skin or areas damaged by acne that are causing misery and that we can get sorted.

“Then there are anti-ageing treatments. You can’t stop Father Time, but you can definitely slow him down.”

In addition to the medical services it offers, Royal Wharf Clinic boasts an extensive range of options to improve the appearance of or remove the likes of warts and verrucas, body hair, visible blood vessels and scars.

It also offers Emsculpt Neo treatments to help eliminate stubborn fat deposits.

You can find out more about Royal Wharf Clinic via this link

A treatment room at the clinic complete with 3Juve Laser

Read More: How Leo Weisz Therapy offers rapid, in-depth help

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Royal Docks: How Certain Blacks’ Ensemble Festival is packed with free entertainment

Artistic director Clive Lyttle on how acts have been commissioned to get audience’s hearts’ beating

Certain Blacks artistic director Clive Lyttle

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Clive Lyttle is smiling and there’s a glint in his eye.

The artistic director of Certain Blacks is relishing the prospect of putting on four days of completely free entertainment in Royal Docks when the organisation’s Ensemble Festival returns. 

Six whistle-whetting performances are set to take place on July 19 and 20, 2023, followed by a further 10 on July 22 and 23, 2023 – all adding up to a brightly coloured spectacle of newly commissioned circus, dance, art and voguing.

The festival’s 2023 programme is its most extensive to date in Certain Blacks’ ongoing mission to bring live performance from the margins to the mainstream.

“I’d spent 17 years working for Arts Council England and I developed Certain Blacks because of the need to support a wide range of diverse artists,” said Clive.

“Our first indoor festival took place in 2015 at Stratford Circus and we continue to showcase work as an arts development organisation.

“At the Arts Council, I was responsible for Newham, so I have deep contacts in the borough – my first job was as a multi-cultural arts officer for the council.”

Having worked extensively in the area, Clive made the move to Royal Docks six years ago and now lives overlooking Excel from the Flying Angel – a former seaman’s hospital for more than a century, converted into residential homes.

Between there and Certain Blacks’ base at The Factory Project in Silvertown, he oversees two annual festivals – Ensemble in E16  and Heroes, last held at Shoreditch’s Rich Mix in February.

While the latter is a platform for artists to explore performances strictly for an adult audience indoors, the former is strictly family friendly and very much out in the open air.

 “Certain Blacks is part of a network called Without Walls,” said Clive, who originally wanted to be a rock star before going on to study jazz guitar in Northumbria and embarking on a career in the arts. 

Out Of The Deep Blue’s puppet performance will be part of the festival

“It’s a national consortium of 36 festivals that work together to commission and develop innovative new work each year that can then tour the country.

“We’ve got seven new commissions including Gorilla Circus – a large scale show with high wire, trapeze and hair hanging that will be the finale of this year’s Ensemble Festival

“We’re lucky to have Arts Council funding, which gives us a little bit of money to get these shows made and then a bit of time to put a programme together.

“I travel to various festivals in the UK and Europe where we meet people – we’re always on the look out for artists.

“The festival is also funded by the Royal Docks Team for some smaller commissions that range from a local music collective to a Chinese dance group, an African psychedelic performance and something we’re putting together called Give And Take, which is about the politics and rights and wrongs of giving.”

These performances will mostly take place in front of Good Hotel off Western Gateway, a few minutes’ walk from Royal Victoria Dock DLR station.

The finale, however, is set to take place beside Building 1000 near Royal Albert Dock DLR on the Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a spectacular show,” said Clive. “I saw it at the Norfolk And Norwich Festival – one of the partners in Without Walls – in May and it was fantastic.

“Of the consortium, we’re one of the few partners putting that show on.

“It gets your heart really beating – the hair hanging may make a few people wince and the high wire act is one of the best in Europe.

“He doesn’t wear a harness and left me with my heart in my mouth when I saw the show last month.

“As for the rest of the performances, a lot of the programme is an open call to artists – anyone who wants to do outdoor work can apply and that can lead to performances at, say, seven or eight festivals nationwide.

“With Certain Blacks, a lot of it is putting on work and supporting artists that I’d love to see – but also pieces that are unexpected and diverse.

Mughal Miniatures is based on tiny pictures seen in Indian temples

“It has to be fun too. We do a lot of live art, a lot of work which might challenge the audience – but Ensemble is very much PG-rated, even if the shows might make people think.

“We have the Sonia Sabri Company presenting Mughal Miniatures – The Awakening, a piece based on tiny pictures you can see in Indian temples brought to life.

“Then there’s Fussy Foodies: Battle Of The Pans where people can learn a few tricks about being a celebrity chef, play a few games and have a good singalong. 

“Some of the themes we’ll be addressing through the Royal Docks Team commissions are ecology, being eco-friendly and how we live.

“We’ve got an event anyone can take part in called the Bench Invasion.

“People from Belgium are coming over with 10 benches and we’ll have local volunteers helping to put the benches down, and people can sit and talk to them – then at the end there’s a little party and an exchange of stories.

“It’s about slowing life down and listening.

“We’ve also got a big eco-show with the Austin Dance Theatre called Out Of The Deep Blue – it’s a giant puppet that goes around telling stories about conservation.”

One of the few pieces to take place elsewhere will be dotComedy’s News Desk – a live rolling broadcast about events happening on the streets of Royal Docks presented in front of City Hall, delivered by comedian Richard Sharp.

There isn’t even space here to properly mention the interactive pub serving sounds or the rebellious hip hop dance of S.C.R.U.M.

All in all, it adds up to an extensive, diverse and surprising range of work as Royal Docks beds in as a serious cultural destination in London.

Clive said: “The area is getting to be very much part of the wider events ecology of London and we want to take artists from here out into the wider world.

“One of the points about our small commissions is to start artists on that journey, so they could be commissioned by people like Without Walls.”

Find full listings for Ensemble Festival here


Gorilla Circus is set will be performed over two nights in Royal Docks


July 22-23, 8,30pm

The absolutely unmissable finale to Ensemble Festival – expect hair hanging, high wire and much more from this aerial spectacle outside Building 1000 at Royal Albert Dock.

Catch Ghetto Fabulous at Western Gateway as part of the festival


July 22-23, noon-7pm

Four LGBTQIA+ dancers from Manchester and Liverpool strut their stuff in this family catwalk extravaganza. Audience decides the winner. Find this show at Western Gateway.

Expect foodie facts and storytelling from Fussy Foodies


July 22-23, noon-7pm

Just More Productions presents the Battle Of The Pans – a game show themed around Caribbean cooking.

Expect foodie facts, spices and storytelling.  Find this show at Western Gateway.

Read more: How artist Mark Taylor is capturing Canary Wharf and Docklands

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Royal Docks: How UEL student Ashlea Cromby won a £5,000 grant for her startup

How Mansimble Tea And Estate impressed at the university’s Female Founders Demo Day

Ashlea Cromby, co-founder of Mansimble Tea And Estate and UEL PhD student

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Business is about remaining agile.

Mansimble Tea And Estate – an importer of rare Kangra tea from India – was founded by University Of East London alumni Ashlea Cromby and Vanessa Browne in response to a problem. 

“I never thought I’d be in the tea business – my whole family is from Hainault,” said Ashlea.

“I grew up wanting to be a hairdresser – a stylist at London Fashion Week, because I always had pretty high goals.

“But I went to Epping Forest College (now New City College) and studied piano, then came to UEL to read music as an undergrad for three years because it was the university closest to my house.

“That’s where I met Vanessa – we lived a bit of a wild life for a few years and then I started working in schools, teaching music.

“I’d been to India when I was 18 and volunteered in some local schools – then I went back in 2018 after my masters at UEL in special educational needs. 

“On my last night during that second trip, I was speaking to the owner of the Mansimble Tea Estate and he told me he wanted to build a school – I said I’d love to work with him on that.

“We did extensive fundraising at UEL with cake sales, music events, fairs and auctions – and we built the school.”

But then a problem arose. The arrival of the global pandemic saw a drop in donations to keep the school running.

Ashlea and Vanessa needed a plan to fund the school sustainably, protecting it from the ups and downs of charitable funding.

“It hit me like a lightning bolt that the estate’s Kangra tea could be used to fund the school,” she said.

“I Whatsapped the owner and asked if he exported the tea to the UK and he said no, so I messaged to say: ‘Now you do’.”

Now studying for a PhD at UEL, looking at autistic identity and internet memes, Ashlea had no experience in the sector, but she and her business partner dug in and launched Mansimble Tea And Estate in 2021. 

Mansimble’s Kangra tea comes in hand-tied cotton bags

“In the early days there were issues with borders – much of the world was still in lockdown – but we got the tea and launched it as an ethical brand targeting Yoga studios and hippy communities,” said Ashlea.

“The estate is owned by Indians who pay the pickers a fair wage and provide free education for their children through the school.

“However, we did some market research, looking at the big afternoon teas at the Dorchester and the Ritz and we realised we could target them.

“These hotels always want rare teas that come with a story, so we looked at branching out – offering heritage and rarity, but also an ethical brand that is sustainable.

“Kangra tea accounts for less than 1% of production in India and our teas come in hand-tied cotton bags.”

Combined with a blossoming gin collaboration that’s set to be stocked by Sainsbury’s, this all makes Mansimble a compelling story of a business starting to gain real traction.

That’s perhaps the key reason why Ashlea’s presentation to UEL’s Female Founders Demo Day – a competition that recently saw six women pitch their business venture ideas to win a £5,000 grant – won out.

Held at UEL’s campus on Royal Albert Dock, the contest saw a total of £10,000 in grants awarded to female entrepreneurs with support from Ankh Impact Ventures whose founder, Pierre Rolin, chaired the judges. 

“The money will make a huge difference to Mansimble,” said Ashlea.

“It will allow us to pay up front for tea chests, that will help us to scale the business and then we can start really expanding.

“That will help the core part of the business, which is to raise funds for the school in India.

“With regard to the tea itself,  we want to be the leading Kangra specialist in the world – the Coca-Cola of that business.

“We want to see it featured on as many afternoon tea menus as possible and to truly re-establish it.

“Going back to Victorian times, it was the most prized tea in Britain.

“It won gold and silver awards in Amsterdam in the 1840s and was the very best of the Victorian high society teas.

The tea is grown on an Indian-owned estate, which pays its workers fair wages and provides education for their children

“Then there was an earthquake that hit the region where it is grown and, because of that, the British pulled out.

“They already had Assam and Darjeeling and the rest of India so they decided they didn’t want to waste their money on this tiny place and its crop of tea.

“Today the estate is owned by Indians and it produces this incredible product.

“It is not bitter at all – it’s the smoothest, most amazing tea, served with no milk or sugar.

“If you liken it to the spirit world, then you’re getting a beautiful, full-bodied whisky.

“The tea itself – which is called a liquor when it’s brewed – is smooth, full of flavour and amber in colour.

“What we want to do is return Kangra tea to where it used to be in the UK market – right at the top.

“As a brand we are doing something different to what’s out there.

“There are lots of ethical tea brands and there are many speciality, high-end tea brands. Then there are everyday brands like PG Tips and Typhoo.  

“With Mansimble, we are both an ethical brand and one that is targeting the top end of the market.

“We are approaching tea in a different way, because the Indians are in control of the estate in contrast to its colonial past.”

  • Two other students were also given grants at Demo Day. BSc computing for business student Nicole Ihemadu was recognised with £2,500 for her Uzuri Tribe venture aimed at using AI to create a bespoke selection of products based on customer preference and aimed at black women.

Kiri Scamp, who is studying business management at UEL, also received £2,500 for Millér, a brand developing muti-purpose, recyclable and sustainable makeup kits and vegan and ethical products to go in them.

Also presenting on the day were Angela Rixon with coaching venture My Wisdom Career, Jasmine Shroder’s trauma-based therapy business and Ashantae Samuel-Maragh of ASSM Waves, making workout gear from recycled fishing nets.

Read more: Discover volunteering opportunities with Canary Wharf Group and The Felix Project through its Green Scheme

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Royal Docks: How Market Express delivers frictionless groceries at the Excel centre

Built By Levy store is the first of its kind at a UK events venue to use Amazon’s Just Walk Out tech

Market Express has opened at Excel in Royal Docks

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Almost imperceptibly things move on and sharpen up.

The Elizabeth Line’s final timetable has arrived, meaning its full service is now available across the city.

Already it’s the busiest railway in the UK, purple arteries pumping people through London.

Areas that were once challenging to get to, have been pulled dramatically closer to others in ways that many in the capital are only just starting to explore.

Take Canary Wharf and Royal Docks, for example.

The journey between them was once an awkward dog-leg. 

A couple of stops on the Jubilee line followed by a couple on the DLR, or a change in trains on the latter, before a graceful meander over the River Lea.

Then, bang. The smoothest, quietest railway in TfL’s network takes that trip and drops it down to three minutes.

All of that bothersome friction has been removed at a stroke. 

The decision to attend a show at Excel via Custom House has been transformed into one purely of desire, not practicality. 

Suddenly, the decision to move City Hall to Royal Victoria Dock looks inspired, with this rapid conduit offering breathtakingly quick access to central London. 

In short, it’s about speed – and that’s something that’s increasingly a focus inside Excel too.

The vast exhibition and conference centre recently saw Market Express open its gates.

Fully kitted out with the system that makes Amazon Fresh work without checkouts, this new convenience store isn’t just a carbon copy of the tech giant’s high street outlets, it’s an evolution. 

Here there’s no faffing with an app to gain access, for example. Only a payment card or digital equivalent is needed. 

Then it’s scan, grab anything you like off the shelves and leave.

Just as the Elizabeth Line eases the journey to Excel, so Market Express makes shopping there more effortless than ever. 

Access to the store is via any payment card

It takes nearly all cards (even American Express was in the works when we visited), offers some 400 different products and is, in all likelihood, the future of shopping.

Created by a division of Levy UK + Ireland – the exhibition centre’s catering partner – it’s especially well placed given the nature of traffic at Excel.

“With about 400 events every year we host about 4million visitors and that’s a lot of mouths to feed,” said Phil Wetz, commercial manager at Excel. 

“Levy is one of the biggest caterers in the sports and entertainment industry and we’ve been working with them for more than 23 years.

“We recently signed another long-term contract with them to ensure they will continue to operate in Excel for many years to come.

“We share a passion for sustainability and also technology, which is why we’re delighted to open Market Express – a frictionless store that is a first for any UK event venue.

“You simply tap a card or payment method, take what you want from the shelves and walk out without any of the hassle of waiting for or using a checkout. 

“We think it’s really important to our customers.

“We get a lot of feedback from our visitors and event organisers and they say they want to have access to really good quality food, but they don’t want to spend a long time queueing.

“The quicker we can make that process by using technology, the better.”

Phil Wetz of Excel

The store will be located more or less in the middle of the venue when its 25,000sq m extension to the east is complete.

On its shelves are cold and hot dishes, an extensive range of snacks, fruits, drinks and other essential groceries. 

In addition, it also sells products such as shower gel, tampons, tissues and deodorants – anything an exhibitor or visitor might need to grab to ensure comfort during their day. 

“The principle remains the same as an Amazon Fresh store – once you go through the gate, a number of cameras are tracking you and creating a virtual basket of the things you pick up,” said Rak Kalidas, managing director of Built By Levy, which installed the store. 

“It adds items and subtracts them if you put them back, no matter where that is in the store. 

“We’ve done weeks of testing to ensure everything works.

“Digital receipts are then available by scanning a QR code on the way out if required.

“It’s the first store of its kind that we’ve opened and it’s really exciting to have done that at Excel in such a pivotal location.

“The stores still need staff to replenish the shelves and ensure customers are taken through the journey and that they are comfortable with the technology, because it’s not widespread in the UK at the moment.”

Rak Kalidas of Built By Levy

Market Express joins other technological innovations such as tablet ordering in restaurants and trials of automatic bars at selected events.

“The important thing is to make sure technology enhances a customer’s experience and doesn’t become a hindrance to service,” said Phil. 

“Through this store we can provide a better, faster experience for visitors, allowing them more time to network, learn and trade at the event they are attending.”

This is, of course, the dream.

That technology will step in and free humans up to engage in the kinds of activities they want to, whether that’s being more efficient in business or having more leisure time.

But as the incremental advances from Amazon Fresh to Market Express show, it’s a path that’s likely to be gradual as systems are tweaked and developed to better serve customers.

Right now, the experience of walking into a store, filling a bag and leaving just got a fraction more frictionless than it was before.

How long before there are no gates on the stores at all?

Market Express stocks some 400 products customers can just take and go

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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
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