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Deptford: How APT Gallery is set to be filled with artists’ collaborative experiments

Co-curator Nicola Rae talks science, art and why she’s not completely sure yet what will go on display

Nicola Rae is reflected in a mirror from a telescope

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If you think this article is going to explain exactly what will fill the Art In Perpetuity Trust Gallery from February 16 to March 5, you’re in for a disappointment.

But sit with Space Lab co-curator and artist Nicola Rae for a chat about the exhibition and you can’t help but feel a little awed by its ambition.

Her studio space at the creative enclave on the banks of Deptford Creek is currently festooned with tripods as part of her collaboration with the Gravity Laboratory at the University Of Nottingham

These await various pieces of equipment that will focus on a series of fluid vortices, part of an investigation into gravity, water and acoustic waves. 

Magnets will spin, stirring liquids in tubular glass vases, while a camera is used to capture something called schlieren distortions.

Quite how it will all come together is still a work in progress.

This is just one of seven co-creative experiments conceived for Space Lab by Nicola and co-curator Ulrike Kuchner, an artist, astrophysicist and creative producer.

“We have spent more than a year on this show,” said Nicola.

“We put in an application for grant funding to the Science And Technology Facilities Council and were amazed that we got everything we asked for.

“In a way we shouldn’t have been surprised, because Space Lab is an incredibly exciting project.

“Ulrike, as a post-doc researcher at Nottingham, has a lot of connections and she feels strongly that often collaborations are not as in-depth as they could be, focusing instead on public engagement or the dissemination of research by scientists.

“So we set off with the idea of going deeper. We also wanted the artists and scientists to have a really big space for the work they create.

“We call Space Lab an expanded field of experiments –  it is the idea of going beyond limits, outside the remit of scientific experimentation.

“Everyone involved is very interested in process. I haven’t seen all the finished work yet, including my own, but we have set really ambitious targets.

“Some of it will work and some of it won’t. Some will change in curation from how it appears in the studio when it’s placed in the gallery.

“We want all those elements to be free flowing, allowing things to happen.”

While the experiments are too complex to list comprehensively here, one to watch out for is bio-designer Anshuman Gupta’s BioBorgs – biocomputers that imagine a reality where organisms can act autonomously, based on environmental threats. 

These respond to the research of collaborator and exoplanetary astronomer, Amaury Triaud, into the Trappist-1 system.

Its planets are most optimal for evidence of life beyond our solar system.

“We wanted to set this ambition that the artists would contribute meaningfully to the science,” said Nicola, who has been based at APT’s studios since 1995 and has taught at the Univeristy Of The Arts London since 2006.

“My work will be a series of experiments working with liquid vortices and I’m making the scientific equipment myself.

Nicola will be creating liquid vorticies as part of her collaborative experiment

“I’ll be working with quinine and coconut oil in the water to create different densities.

“There will also be magnifying glasses and different equipment on tripods and there will probably be a performative element as well.

“At the heart of it, we’re trying to communicate a fascination with phenomena and the scientific process – something that’s so often seen in labs but less so outside them.”

Aside from the seven collaborative experiments, there’s another strand to Space Lab. 

As part of the process of putting the exhibition together, the curators have been working with Tech Yard creative technologist Jazmin Morris to create a series of workshops for young people.

Titled Space Labs: Stars In Your Eyes, these have seen astrophysicists going into Lewisham schools to explore the themes of the exhibition and have a go at creating their own pieces. 

“The big surprise for us was how enthusiastic the children were, particularly when talking about science questions, and there’d be a big sea of hands going up, asking really good questions,” said Nicola.

“We thought there might be a lack of interest, but not at all.

“We will be featuring some of the students’ work on screen at the exhibition and we’ll be inviting their families and friends to see that on the last weekend of the show.

“I hope anyone who comes down to see Space Lab feels really intrigued and excited.

“Astrophysics is seen as quite elitist but this is all about reaching out to people who might feel they could go into this field.

“With new telescopes generating a huge amount of data, this is really an expanding area.

“It’s not just about the children, but also changing the minds of parents.

“This is something that’s come up in research again and again – kids listen to their parents and it’s really sad that children who are good at maths are told they shouldn’t go into these areas.

“When you go into these astrophysics departments, you see how varied an environment it is – people from different countries around the world – and that’s very exciting to see. 

“Although we’re artists and creative technologists, one of the lovely things that comes up in the feedback we’ve had is how many of the children participating in the workshops are now considering science as a career.”

Space Lab is set to go on show from February 16 to March 5 at APT Gallery in Creekside.

Entry is free.

Read more: How Atis aims to nourish and satisfy Wharfers

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Rotherhithe: How Rotherhithe Playhouse is embracing new traditions this Christmas

Founder Phil Willmott is putting on The Christmas Wife and the Wizard Of Oz at theatre’s new home at The Hithe

Rotherhithe Playhouse’s Phil Willmott – image by Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Declarations that it is “The most wonderful time of the year” are being blasted at us from all angles.

That perfectly trimmed TV turkey, the handmade centrepiece online, families decorating in matching Christmas jumpers.

Fomo is more rampant than ever, but with the shadow of Covid just over our shoulders and the cost of living crisis in our faces, do we really need to embrace it?

Phil Willmott from Rotherhithe Playhouse knows no-one wants to be Scrooge, but thinks it’s important to highlight that we don’t have to be Stacey Solomon either.

The theatre, which launched in summer 2020, is marking its second festive season with The Christmas Wife – a dark comedy offering couples the chance to pause and reflect.

Showing from December 15-30 at the theatre’s new home in The Hithe, it is an adaptation of Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, which tells the story of a wife whose perfect Christmas starts to unravel due to one bad decision.

It will be tempered against family favourite The Wizard Of Oz, also showing December 15-30, 2022, which launches a new scheme offering up to four free childrens’ tickets with a paying adult.

I sat down with Phil to find out more about the plays and the theatre’s plans for 2023.

The Christmas Wife is set to play at Rotherhithe Playhouse

why this play for Christmas?

We’re all about getting people to go to the theatre who haven’t been much.

There’s a great tradition in this country of doing theatre for families and children at Christmas and I wondered if it might be possible to present slightly intelligent plays that could be a Christmas night out for adults. 

I looked for something that would be thrilling and entertaining and The Doll’s House is one everyone has heard of, but not many people have seen.

why rename it?

The original is set during Christmas and I have upped the ante slightly on the angle of providing the perfect Christmas and how the pressure makes the wife start to buckle.

Often men don’t take responsibility for the perfect Christmas, they just expect it to be there and don’t see the hard work. 

I had seen The Doll’s House and liked it, but when I read it again, I realised there was so much more to it.

It’s extraordinary how this was written about a Victorian couple but we could so easily be eavesdropping on any modern house.

There are the same kind of money worries, the same stresses and strains that come about when a family is thrown together so intensely in the festive period.

what’s the aim?

It shows that the struggle to get through Christmas is a sort of universal thing. It pulls on your heartstrings and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

Perhaps if we opened up the discussion a bit more there wouldn’t be the pressure to recreate the mystique of the perfect family Christmas with an elaborate dinner and a beautifully decorated house.

If it was more collaborative, there would be a shared responsibility for it.

what happens in the play?

The character is the perfect housewife, during the perfect Christmas. She’s got the perfect husband – he’s just been promoted – and perfect children. 

They are having a party and the house looks gorgeous, but to pay for it, she gets the equivalent of a payday loan. 

She didn’t quite make the payments back and due to a series of coincidences, the guy who organised the loan ends up at their house.

She becomes terrified her husband will find out and about the repercussions. Will he stand by her and be sympathetic? 

We see what she decides to do and what that says about their marriage.

is that a common scenario today?

I did some research and the main reason people divorce is money.

The main time the cracks begin to show is at Christmas.

So there’s a sort of double whammy of creating this amazing time, not spending too much, but also not being a Scrooge.

is it more stressful this year?

Yes. We are in the middle of an economic downturn and there is still the pressure to create the perfect Christmas.

You’re also worried about whether you’ve had the heating on too long. 

My elderly parents are certainly thinking twice about it.

The pressure has doubled down and you find yourself thinking: ‘What if it isn’t a great Christmas?‘ or ‘What’s wrong with me?

Why aren’t I happy like the rest of the world?’. In fact, the rest of the world is thinking the same.

The festive season is very strange like that. Coming in, you should be happy and making a fresh start. Also, 10 years ago who knew we all had a credit rating?

Suddenly it’s something you have to worry about. We are confined by something that’s almost entirely artificial and has been sort of forced on us.

what are you like at Christmas?

I’m a gay man in a relationship, so we don’t really have those same pressures, and we’ve often just taken ourselves off for a nice weekend or something. 

But I remember seeing it in my parents when I was growing up and looking back, I see things I didn’t understand as a kid. 

My grandma had quite severe, MS and my granddad was her main carer, but somehow on Christmas Day, he produced dinner for 12. That must have created a great amount of stress.

As kids we took it for granted.

what causes the stress?

Everyone wants their children to have the most magical Christmas.

Then there’s the pressure for the extended family to come together and siblings might not get on, but because its Christmas, you have to.

Very few people are motivated by just pleasing themselves at Christmas.

how has the Playhouse evolved?

After last Christmas, we took a break to think about how to do things better.

We used to set up a theatre in a different venue for each production, but decided it would be good to have a home, so people know where we are.

This is the second production in our new home at The Hithe. It’s a hub for startup businesses  and we’ve got one of the biggest studios upstairs.

We wouldn’t normally be able to afford it, but I approached them and made the case – because the owners are tuned into our philosophy of lifelong learning and trying to keep theatre alive, they have let us have it for just under market rent.

Rotherhithe Playhouse’s home at The Hithe

why did you want a home?

We used to move around because, as Covid lost its grip, there were lots of institutions and buildings, which needed to show the public they had opened again – a play was a good way of getting people through the doors.

That’s become less useful now and it’s more useful for the community to know there’s a place where every school holiday, there’ll be something for kids for free.

If people choose, they can come back and see some of the greatest plays ever written with tickets you can afford.

does the future feel more secure?

I think so. We’re very reliant on people’s goodwill and it’s taken a little while to build that up. We had a good momentum but then disappeared for six months so we need to build up the audience members again. 

This project is not entirely make-or-break, but if we can’t turn the corner with a production of The Wizard of Oz, then we are doing something wrong.

We’ll sit down at the end of this and look very carefully at the box office figures and hopefully, the books will tell us people are enjoying coming and we should continue. 

I suspect we will carry on. There’s enough interest in the project that we can keep building it. The ultimate goal is to get everyone paid properly and make it sustainable.

is The Christmas Wife a gamble?

Yes. Will people exhausted from work want to see it? I don’t know. The other reason I decided on The Wizard of Oz is that’s such a well-known title and hopefully, the 50 seats will fill themselves. 

It will be an added bonus if people come back for the drama, which will have 30 seats.

is it still a minimalist set?

Yes. I don’t want to do those great, long lumbering, stodgy productions with bits of scenery cranking about.

At its heart, this is about an audience sat around in a semicircle, with very good actors telling a story very clearly and carrying people along with it. 

is it hard to find actors these days?

The arts are still decimated after Covid, so many people have left the profession because there was no work and a lot of them have stayed in permanent jobs. 

There’s a shortage of actors who want to give up long-term stable employment to take a short-term contract.

We try to keep rehearsals and performances outside of office hours so it’s possible to maintain your survival job and also practice your craft.

do you still have a day job?

Yes, I’m still also a professional journalist, but this has become more my main job, although it doesn’t pay like it.

It wouldn’t operate without a high level of focus on my part. 

I’d like to delegate more, but you need a certain calibre of person that you are happy to leave things to.

We are so open to anyone getting involved. Even if you don’t have any experience and would like to volunteer,  we will teach you.

plans for 2023?

It is quite dependent on how people react to these plays. 

The only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that every holiday and half-term I want to do a piece of kids theatre where the tickets are free for kids so that they don’t just go to the theatre a couple of times during their childhood. 

I want it to be something they can do regularly so that it demystifies the process and it makes it feel natural and comfortable.

Read more: Greenwich Theatre villain takes the panto reins

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Canada Water: How British Land is building a new, 53-acre town centre for Rotherhithe

As the first concrete cores rise, we take a snapshot of the mammoth mixed regeneration project

An artist’s impression of British Land’s new bridge over Canada Water

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Before we begin our walk across the 53 acres that British Land (BL) is regenerating on Rotherhithe peninsula, Roger Madelin indulges in a raspberry croissant at Canada Water Cafe (only £2.70 for those who fancy a treat).

The place is packed. Local residents are meeting, chatting and working at tables. It’s the kind of image developers like to mock up on computers to show the thriving neighbourhoods their schemes will hopefully create.

It’s also cause for Roger to reflect on the fact that BL has a very rare opportunity at Canada Water – a project it describes as a chance to “build London’s first new town centre in 50 years” at the heart of a mature, expectant community. 

Carpeted with mostly suburban housing in the first flush of Docklands regeneration, the area is already home to residents, increasingly attracted by its close proximity to both the central London and Canary Wharf, thanks to the Jubilee line, but also to east and south London via the Overground.

Roger tells me it’s within 45 minutes of more places in the capital than anywhere else.

As joint head of Canada Water at BL, there’s a glint in his eye as he talks about the firm’s ambitions for the area.

Having spent 29 years at developer Argent overseeing the projects across the country such as Brindleyplace in Birmingham and the rebirth of King’s Cross in north London, there’s a sense that he couldn’t quite resist this one.

“BL noticed I was leaving Argent and asked if I wanted to come and run Canada Water,” he said.

“At first I was sceptical, I didn’t want to do a residential development, which is what I thought it would be.

“But then I came down here and realised it would be an opportunity to build a new town centre – what an extraordinary privilege.

“Then you get to ask what that is and I think it’s about health, environment and sustainability.

“Everyone in the world should regard urban places as very important and I think both Canada Water and Canary Wharf can be exemplars for how to reposition areas as urban centres.”

British Land’s joint head of Canada Water, Roger Madelin

While Canary Wharf continues its transition from pure business district to a place that’s home to companies, residential housing and a potent blend of leisure and hospitality attractions, Canada Water is still in the first chapter of its journey.

Concrete cores are rising on the first of its new buildings, which will include a new leisure centre for the area and social housing on the site’s eastern periphery. 

But these first structures are very much the vanguard in what will be a transformation of a plot that includes the whole of Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, the old Harmsworth Quay Printworks and connects Southwark Park with Greenland Dock and Russia Dock Woodland.

“With the planning permission we have, we can create a new urban centre,” said Roger.

“We have the ability to flex from 3million sq ft of commercial space to 4million – likewise we can build a minimum of 2,000 homes or a maximum of just under 4,000.

“Similarly, we can build up to 1million sq ft of retail and leisure space – we may not do that, but it will be a substantial amount. With the current shopping centre and leisure park, the area has about 350,000sq ft.

“As an overview, we’ll have about 35 new buildings, 20 acres of new public space and a 3.5-acre park.

“Many of our buildings will be five storeys high to protect the view of St Paul’s from Greenwich, so this will be on a human scale and I think that will attract people.

“The development I was involved with at King’s Cross has more people going there at weekends than to work during the week.

“There are dozens of places around London that are teeming with people on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s great for people that live in them, but we also want people living outside to come here and enjoy themselves.”

British Land intends to preserve The Printworks building as a cultural venue

That attitude has doubtless been bolstered by the success of event and music venue Printworks, which has seen Harmsworth Quays’ immense press halls regularly fill with revellers enjoying some of the very best electronic music in London.

While originally conceived as a temporary use for the vast building in partnership with Broadwick Live, the plan is now to preserve the venue as part of the overall scheme, enclosing and enlarging the existing building and creating a park next to it.

“I credit my wife entirely for the decision to explore retaining the whole building,” said Roger.

“She and I walked round here in the summer of 2015 and she immediately saw the amazing opportunity it presented and asked what we were going to do with it.

“I said the assumption was that we would knock it down because it looked a bit harsh but she said we shouldn’t because nothing like it would get built again.

“Today, of course, you’d start with that assumption because of all the embodied carbon in the building.

“That was a little in my mind at the time, but not as much as today, when the view is where possible you don’t touch existing buildings.

“So, after three years of investigations – drilling, digging and studying – we’re pretty confident it was built a lot better than we even hoped, so we have applied for planning permission to keep it and extend it.

“If that’s successful, we’ll aim to be opening it by the end of 2025 – an amazing cultural venue to complement the others in the city.

“We already know the acoustics are extraordinary, whether it’s an electronic music event or a BBC Prom, both of which have been hosted there.”

Another artist’s impression of how The Printworks could look

This article is, naturally, far too short to do justice to the extent and depth of BL’s Canada Water project.

Even a brief walk to its borders reveals the sheer scale of the project, with plans for a new pedestrian bridge across Canada Water itself, which will also include work to boost wetland habitats and see the water level pumped up.

Already there’s been space made for charitable endeavours, work to help boost startups and a facelift for Surrey Quays Shopping Centre itself, including wallball courts and a new climbing wall.

Then there’s investment in a modular building for TEDI-London – a new higher education enterprise co-funded by King’s College London, Arizona State University and UNSW Sydney and focused on engineering – that was erected in only six weeks.

While some of these are temporary benefits, they significantly add to the buzz of the area and provide a flavour of BL’s direction of travel as the wider project continues to unfold.

“If we could do something here with applied engineering higher education, that would excite me,” said Roger.

“How we deal with the world always involves engineers sorting stuff out and I think, in the UK, the sector has had a bad rap in the past. 

“The other things I think are crucial is what we do with the new high street, which will be along Deal Porters Way – what it means to build a space like that now and how we create the public spaces and routes to the amazing parks, docks and woods that are already here.

“We want to make it so that if you have nothing on your agenda for the weekend and you want to stay in London, then you’ll just go to Canada Water and all the amazing stuff that’s there.

“King’s Cross is great – I think this will be bigger, better and greener from a public space point of view.”

An artist’s impression of the first phase from Canada Water station

Read more: Discover the 2022 Greenwich Theatre panto

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How serial villain Anthony Spargo brings joy to Greenwich Theatre

The serial villain has written panto Robin Hood and will fill the theatre full of silliness and disguise

Anthony Spargo will play the Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood at Greenwich Theatre

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My interview with actor, playwright, author and star of this year’s Greenwich Theatre panto, Anthony Spargo, begins with farce.

I dial the number I think I’ve been given. There’s no reply. Eventually following an answerphone message a woman answers.

“Is this Anthony?” No, it’s Jane. I suppress an urge to shout “Oh no it isn’t”, and accept I’ve got the number wrong.

Time is short, I’m on a deadline.

Flustered, I check my handwriting and discover a four should be a nine. I can’t get through on this number either. 

Then my phone rings. It’s Jane. Oh yes it is! She’s confused and baffled by the number of missed calls and we exchange embarrassed pleasantries.

Meanwhile, my phone fields another call. 

This time it is Anthony, now available and ready to chat.

I hardly know who’s who and certainly not whether my contact with Jane is behind me or if there’s more to come. 

Fortunately this all turns out to be excellent preparation for an interview about a show that’s full of top notch deception and cunning.

“One of the central themes in Robin Hood is disguise,” said Anthony, not Jane.

“Pretty much everyone is pretending to be someone who they’re not at some point.

“Robin gets to wear three or four disguises over the course of the panto.

“You can imagine the over-the-top, ridiculous costumes we have, including for some of the band – but we don’t want to reveal too much at this stage.”

A veteran panto villain – having spent 11 years on the Greenwich stage soaking up the boos and hisses of exercised audiences – Anthony has taken on a bigger role in 2022.

This is the first year he’s both written and appeared in the theatre’s festive production – taking on the mantle from Andrew Pollard who has left the team after a celebrated 15-year run as writer and dame.

While Anthony said he would undoubtedly miss acting opposite his old friend, audiences could expect the new show to be a descendant of their decade-long collaboration.

“It’s the same but different,” said Anthony.

“My main influence is, of course, 10 years of Greenwich pantos and I’ll miss Andy on stage.

“We remain really good friends and have a great chemistry – it’s rare to find someone you can bounce off – but he’d done 15 years here and that’s a long time.

“Writing and producing a panto really lasts a whole year. I started writing this one in March and had a draft by July – nice and early so the theatre could get on with designing and building the set and all the rest of it. 

“Now the theatre’s artistic director, James Haddrell, is already talking to me about what we’re going to do next year and we haven’t even started the 2022 run yet.”

Martin Johnson will also return to Greenwich as Friar Tuck

Anthony is set to play the dastardly Sheriff Of Nottingham alongside David Breeds as Robin and Amy Bastani as Maid Marian. 

Martin Johnson will return to panto in Greenwich as Friar Tuck, while long-serving musical director Steve Marwick is also back to handle the songs.

Dame duties will be the responsibility of Phil Sealey.

“I’ve worked with Phil in the past and he’s also damed before, up and down the country,” said Anthony.

“He’s great – I think audiences will take to him because he’s such a warm person. He’s larger than life and he’s going to be amazing.

“We have a fantastic cast this year, we’re getting on like a house on fire. There are some great singers and we’re really gelling.

“As for the show itself, it’s quite anarchic.

“What I’ve always liked about the pantos here is that they build and build until the climax at the end, which is often utterly ridiculous, overblown and as silly as panto should be. 

“There’s a little bit of everything. Some comedy, some music, puppetry and a bit of magic. We’ve gone for a late medieval, ‘hey nonny-nonny’ vibe.

“Personally I love playing the villain. It’s the best part, you can get away with murder.

“I’ve always played my villains slightly unhinged, which allows you to have fun with the part and muck about – there’s a lot of eyebrow acting.”

Having discovered acting at school as a teenager before going to drama school, Anthony developed his writing in tandem, starting with sketches and skits and going on to take shows to Edinburgh and write more immersive pieces for Les Enfants Terribles. 

With politics and current affairs fluid, the exact content of the show will remain in development until the curtain goes up, but its universal themes of greed, taxes and money – as well as people coming together to help each other – are already set in stone.

“Dare I say it, I think I enjoy the writing more than the acting these days,” said Anthony. “There’s something really special and exciting about creating a show from scratch.

“But when the audience is clapping and laughing it feels fantastic to be on stage. It’s a feeling like no other.

“There’s great warmth and joy when you’ve been able to make something that people are able to lose themselves in.

“People can come to the theatre, forget about what’s happening in the wider world, let go and have fun for a couple of hours.

“For me, the louder they boo, the better I’m doing my job. I’m really looking forward to it – I can’t wait to get going – and all we need now is the audience, the final cast member, to do that.”

  • Robin Hood runs at Greenwich Theatre from November 24 until January 8 with plenty of matinees and evening performances scheduled. Tickets cost £31.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How photographer Lorenzo Garrido is helping people capture the area

Born in Greenwich, the 28-year-old leads small groups of snappers in tours to take in the best sites

Lorenzo’s tours cover major sites in Maritime Greenwich

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Photographer Lorenzo Garrido never leaves his Greenwich home without a camera. He has thousands, perhaps millions, of photographs to show for it.

Most – from his childhood holidays right through to the eerie days of empty lockdown streets – sit undeveloped and unseen.

They have taken a back seat to his career, which has seen him photograph the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and shoot campaigns for brands such as USC.

But while he is yet to fully showcase his collection to the world, he is about to start sharing the expertise he has gleaned from creating them.

The 28-year-old has launched a business, Greenwich Photo Tours, offering others an insight into favourite spots on his home turf and the best ways to capture them through a lens.

“I walk around with my camera all the time,” said Lorenzo.

“If I’m just stepping out of the house to have a stroll, or whatever, I’ll always have my camera with me. 

“Greenwich is such a beautiful, picturesque space and, when I researched, I found nobody was doing a tour like this here.

“I wanted to take my expertise from my day job and bring it into a community space and put the two areas of my life together.”

Born and raised in Greenwich, he first began capturing images as a child.

Greenwich-based photographer Lorenzo Garrido

“My dad bought me a Polaroid camera when I was like 10 years old and straight away I was pretty obsessed,” said Lorenzo.

“I have a vivid memory of taking it on a Year Seven trip to France and shooting some pictures.

“I started doing street photography when I was about 16 and it opened up into this whole other world – that this could actually be your job.

“I just kind of stuck at it and went with it.”

Photography wasn’t a course option at his college, but Lorenzo studied art and design instead and just kept on clicking.

Despite his obsession with taking photographs and having his own darkroom at home, Lorenzo said most of the photos he takes in his spare time never see the light of day.

“I have a lot of work that I can’t even remember,” he said. “Heaps of negatives and undeveloped rolls of film that I have from over the years and I have no idea what’s on them.

“I’m just sitting on an insane amount of photographs.

“I’m sure they would serve some purpose to someone down the line, perhaps when they’re trying to look back at what it was like in the mid 2000s.”

Lorenzo said it was hard to find the time to organise his archive alongside his busy career.

He went freelance full-time in 2016 and has built up a name for himself in the music and fashion industries – mostly by word of mouth.

“I think being a Londoner, you have circles of friends that you grew up with and you get referred and brought in on jobs and then, if it goes well, you get more jobs,” he said.

“I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve not really had to chase work much or really rely on using things like social media.”

The tours cover a range of styles including street photography

In fact, search online and you won’t find much evidence of his commercial work, as he prefers to operate discreetly.

But recently he has shot a documentary at the Dr Martens factory in Northampton and was waste-deep in a lake in Snowdonia to shoot a campaign for brand USC.

One of his biggest clients is Sony Music.

“I do a lot of album artwork and press shots, headshots,” said Lorenzo.

“You do end up rubbing shoulders with a lot of people but I avoid name dropping at all costs, so I’ve probably just taught myself to push it all down.”

When nudged he does reveal a pretty big name though.

“I was on a job with Cristiano Ronaldo last week and he turned out to be a nice guy,” he said. 

“The other 95% of the time, people have diva behaviour but I just keep my head down”.

He is now adding another string to his bow with the launch of his tours, created with support from Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency (GCDA).

Customers will be taught the basics such as how shutter speeds, apertures, depth and exposure can affect a photograph.

Lorenzo will also give guidance on how to alter composition using techniques such as angles perspective.

He will then lead clients on a route around Greenwich, starting at Borough Hall and ending at the market.

“There’s no end to the different types of characters that are about during the weekend,” said Lorenzo.

His most visited spot – the Old Royal Naval College – will also be included.

“It’s hands down my favourite,” he said.

“Especially this time of year when the autumnal light is  low and gold and dances around.  You can’t really take a bad picture there.”

Lorenzo is confident he has explored every part of Greenwich but said it still holds his interest and probably always will.

“I wanted to keep the tour very specific about the local community where I live because Greenwich is just such a beautiful place,” he said.

“It hasn’t been touched by gentrification too much so it’s kind of old school and I’m a bit of an old soul so I think that kind of works out.

“But London is always changing. When it does, you can rediscover it, which is pretty cool.”

Canary Wharf viewed from Greenwich Park

THE NITTY GRITTY

The two-hour tours are for those with their own digital or film camera.

They run every Saturday from 11am-1pm and cost £60 per person with a maximum of four people per tour.

The three-mile route starts at Borough Hall clock tower in Greenwich High Road and skirts around the market so people can try out street photography.

Next it will head to the Cutty Sark and along the riverside to the Old Royal Naval College.

Here the focus will shift to architectural photography and composition and clients will have five minutes to wander around.

Then it will be over to The Cutty Sark pub for river views before heading up Maze Hill and through the park to the observatory for a hill-top lesson on landscapes.

From there the tour will head back down into town for more street photography at the market.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Bermondsey: How Disturbance at Ugly Duck gives a platform to artists

Event showcases marginalised and emerging LGBTQIA+ creatives in a former warehouse

Ugly Duck’s space in Bermondsey

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

“It’s something we started as a really small experiment during the pandemic, when LGBTQIA+ artists couldn’t continue their work and were in limbo,” said Deen Atger, creative director of Ugly Duck and founder of Disturbance.

That first event in October 2020 came about after he spent hours scrolling the internet and decided he wanted to find a way to continue sharing the creativity he saw online and happening at Ugly Duck.

It saw three performers and three video artists perform to an audience of 25 in person, and 250 through a live stream. 

The idea was to take artists out of their bedrooms and adapt their performances for the camera, to reach a wider audience.

This year will see the fourth edition of Disturbance take place and, with support from Arts Council England, it has evolved into a three-day event – set to run from November 10-12, 2022.

Ugly Duck creative director Deen Atger

It will include live performances at Ugly Duck’s Tanner Street space, a day of live streaming on November 11, 2022, and an online portal where people will be able to access work made during the workshops and films made during the performances.

The live streaming aspect has been developed with Rob Hall from the start and Deen said it was an artistic work in its own right.

“He doesn’t just film the show, he is also live editing and has a very strong artistic take on what the online viewer is seeing,” said Deen, who has also been working with set designers to help transform Tanner Street into something new and surprising for audiences. 

Since Ugly Duck took on the empty Victorian warehouse in 2012, the organisation has transformed the space into a thriving, creative hub where it has collaborated with more than 1,500 artists. 

This work continues, with Deen adding a development programme to this year’s Disturbance

It will include a residency and training in topics like how to talk about their work and how to make sure it’s accessible.

“A lot of the artists, especially the younger ones, have really good artistic training, but haven’t necessarily learnt how to go into a professional world,” said Deen. 

“I think it’s really important to help them with that so they can become less marginalised.”

Ugly Duck, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, had more than 120 applications for this year’s programme. 

The final 10 were chosen by a panel and will be mentored by creatives who have taken part in the programme previously – another way Deen is trying to grow their support system.

“We are very focused on elevating underrepresented voices – artists who are not always at the forefront of contemporary art,” he said.

“It is very important for me to make sure Disturbance is not just an isolated thing.

“I’m trying to develop an ecosystem, where artists come back as juries and speakers and mentors who are upskilling and still developing.

“It’s very much thanks to artists who took part in the first event, when we didn’t have much funding, that we got to where we are.

“So it’s very important for me to continue getting them involved.”

PART OF THE DISTURBANCE

Disabled, queer video artist Olivia Morrison presents Hug Me Properly following young, queer people on a night out as they discuss how their lives changed during the pandemic

Revisiting their marginalised queer experience of growing up in southern China, River Cao will create a series of self-narrative spaces to rethink the emotions of grief.

Non-binary trans-masculine person Orlando Myxx presents film The Plastic Drag, investigating how a new wave of diverse drag artists is redefining the art of drag and its subversive potential.

Talia Beale’s To Trudge In Zundon explores how film could subvert ideas about housing estates and addresses new voices of creative, queer kids who live in blocks of flats.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Greenwich: How Bureau offers space and connection for creatives on the Peninsula

Helen Arvanitakis on why Design District has dedicated buildings to freelancers and small firms

Design District director Helen Arvanitakis – image Jon Massey

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When I was a boy, on visits to my grandparents’ house, one of the highlights was an ancient bureau.

This may mark me out as a peculiar child, but this dark, mysterious piece of furniture, with its polished wood and an infinite number of drawers, nooks and pigeon holes, held a universe of possibilities and secrets.

In reality, it contained old gas bills and bits of unused string. I wasn’t to know.

I mention it because it shares some qualities with Bureau on Greenwich Peninsula – itself a multifunctional place of possibility.

Spread across two buildings at Knight Dragon’s Design District, the creative industries co-working space, membership club, bar and restaurant does many things – like that antique piece of furniture.

But its myriad spaces are anything but dark and mysterious, even if the pale grey fluting on one of the buildings has something of the roll top desk lid about it.

Instead both blocks, designed variously by Architecture 00 and HNNA, are light, airy and functional.

“It’s somewhere for freelancers, gig workers, start-ups and small businesses that want to stay small – it’s secure, professional and very good-looking,” said Design District director Helen Arvanitakis.

“To give it some context, these two buildings are occupied entirely by Bureau, with the interior design created by Roz Barr Architects.

“It was important for us to have a single company doing that because even though the two buildings look different, people should get the sense in both that they are still in Bureau.

“From the outside, one feels quite angular and macho with a lot of exposed concrete, while the other has an undulating facade with more exposed timber and windows that punctuate the walls, creating pockets of light throughout the building rather than big, open expanses.”

Access to Bureau comes at many levels, with day passes available for £15 plus VAT, covering use of a desk from 8am to 8pm.

Monthly hot desking costs £125, fixed desks are £230 and serviced studios start at £280 per desk, all plus VAT.

Helen said: “We do vet applicants to some extent, although we’re fairly relaxed.

“We broadly follow the government definition of the creative industries – which is a really wide group, everything from heritage, museums and galleries, through to fashion, advertising and so on.

“However, we’ve expanded that a little bit, because we’ve found that there’s real value for our members and tenants to have businesses that are on the periphery of the creative industry.

“For instance, we have a specialist in intellectual property law, and that comes up a lot in the sector – it’s something that adds value to the community.”

That word – community – is at the heart of the Design District project and Bureau is much more than a co-working silo with some interesting looking neighbours.

“As a member, the benefits include being in a professional environment with someone on reception and lots of spaces you can use within the buildings,” said Helen.

“There are phone booths, meeting pods, bookable rooms with big screens and all the kit for doing video-conferencing, presentations and so on.

“We also have a totally fantastic restaurant with a brilliant team of chefs, which is open into the evening as a full-on bar.

“Then we also have an events programme with a good mix of stuff designed to inspire people and to educate them on particular aspects of the creative industries.

“But there’s also a lot of interaction between Bureau and the tenants in the other buildings at Design District.

“We wondered when we were setting it up whether we would be able to achieve that, because the temptation is to hang out with Bureau members. 

“So we regularly host social events and work hard to introduce businesses and individuals where there’s cross-over.

“For example, one of our members is a company that designs beautiful books.

“They recently worked on a knitting guide written by Tom Daly and used a post-production company based at Design District as a venue to do the photography shoot with him.

“Having that proximity was really helpful. I know we can all do things remotely, but creatives work better collaboratively when they are face-to-face.”

Helen first worked on the Peninsula project in her capacity as managing director of product designer Tom Dixon’s studio.

It played a major role in kitting out the gallery space and the now (sadly) closed Craft Restaurant as well as some of the Upper Riverside apartment buildings.

She said: “I’d always enjoyed working with Knight Dragon and stayed in touch with them after I left Tom Dixon.

“I went on to work with lots of small creative firms on the business side.

“The reason Knight Dragon was keen for me to work on Design District was because of that experience, I had an insight into the sector and understood what would motivate those small businesses to take a particular space. 

“We have 14 buildings, soon to be 16. There’s one block where we’re looking for a tenant and a couple of smaller spaces, but the whole development is basically let.

“Bureau gives us that entry point for individuals and smaller companies.

“We offer a warm, welcoming environment and we’ve worked hard to fix our energy costs so we won’t be putting up our prices for the foreseeable future.”

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How Made By Manos offers everyone the chance to make ceramics

Manos Kalamenios hosts taster and workshop sessions at his Design District studio space

Manos Kalamenios of Made By Manos on Greenwich Peninsula

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The world of ceramicist, alchemist and experimental creator Manos Kalamenios is filled with impossible things.

I was going to use the word littered, but thanks to a relentless focus on sustainability, there’s practically no rubbish in his bin.

His sink even has a filter that allows him to recover particles of clay for recycling in future projects.

And what projects they are. Made By Manos, his ground floor studio space at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula, is filled with finished pieces.

Its shelves are strewn with exotic vessels in bone china, porcelain and earthenware – pieces that light up and even ones made from ceramic foam, shaped and then solidified to give the appearance of a fossilised sponge.

There are improbably thin pieces, delicate as paper, and shards of material that seem perfectly solid until light shines through their translucent forms, radically altering their appearance.

When I arrive, the table is filled with ghostly white Christmas baubles which are just being removed from their moulds.

Everywhere there are trial pieces, innovation and work – either Manos’ own creations or those of his students. It’s much more than just a showroom.

Manos’ studio is on the ground floor at Design District

“Experimentation is paramount for me because it keeps me sane,” he said.

“It would drive me mad if I had to do the same thing for the rest of my life, so that’s why everything is different.

“Of course, if someone really likes something then I will make another one and I’m always happy to try new colours or textures. I never say no to anything.”

A Greek who grew up in Athens, Manos originally came to the UK in pursuit of his dream to become a chef at a Four Seasons hotel.

Working first in Greece, then Spain, he achieved his aim, cooking at the brand’s Canary Wharf hotel from 2003 to 2005.

But the long hours took their toll and he left hospitality, initially to live with friends in the Isle Of Man.

With the intention of pursuing a career as an artist (having never touched clay) he enrolled on a foundation course where he first encountered ceramics and a new passion. 

Further study led to a degree in fine art and then an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College Of Art as well as the chance to collaborate with an old friend.

One of the pieces Manos created for Lima

“When doing my MA, I met up with a man I used to work with at the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf – Robert Ortiz – who had become head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Lima, in Fitzrovia,” said Manos

“We decided to do this collaboration with the restaurant’s menu on my tableware and it was magical.

“When I was a chef I was always excited by using unusual plates, so it’s nice to see pieces designed for food and not the other way around.”

Having worked out of a studio locally, Manos saw a sign on the door of Design District – Knight Dragon’s project to fill a plot with workspaces created by numerous architects – and applied for a studio.

Manos removes a Christmas decoration from a mould

“In the past, I was making work for myself, for clients and commissions,” he said.

“But when I moved here, I found the potential was not just for me.

“My aim would be to see this place buzzing – I have the space to offer workshops, to teach and to help people with their projects.

“My tag line for Made By Manos is: ‘If you can’t find it, come and make it’.

“I want people who live or work locally to come because using clay is so nice, so relaxing – you can just get away from stress.

“It’s great to have something you’ve made or to give it as a gift – I want people to come here and to feel happy at that feeling of achievement.

“You can be a complete beginner, someone who has never touched the material before, and then leave with something you have made.

“For me, it’s amazing to pass something on and to give back to the community.

“This isn’t that old mentality of not sharing a secret glaze or something.

“I think you can only make progress by sharing what you know.”

Tiles made by participants on a taster session

Manos is constantly developing his own practice, blending ingredients in different ways to create new materials and approaches. 

His pieces have been widely exhibited and used, including pieces for Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights Festival in 2018, tableware for Tate Modern’s members club and work for Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts in Athens.

“About 99% of my work is slip casting, so I don’t have the mess with a wheel spraying the clay everywhere,” he said.

“I also find the wheel very restricting because everything you make has to be round.

“With slip, I have the ability to get any shape I want, any size, any height and any finish.

“I love lighting and working on a big scale – I also like collaborating, doing things outside my comfort zone with glass, jewellery and metal.

“My favourite is probably working with bone china – I’ve even found a way to make it into a foam by adding extra air.

“As a student I was taught air was imperfection and my instinct is always to go completely the other way. That’s the most exciting thing to do.

“When I was making the foam, I was told I was looking for trouble but once you know the limits you can adapt it to what you want.

“I was also told never to add glass and I wound up making pieces for James Dyson after doing that, so I think you should listen to your gut and go with it.”

For those who want to have a go themselves, Manos offers one-hour taster sessions at his studio for £30 per person, where small groups learn ancient techniques to hand-build vessels in stoneware clay. 

He also offers three-hour themed workshops for £80, where participants in groups of five work on specific projects such as building mugs or cups or making Christmas decorations such as paper porcelain baubles for the tree.

One-to-one coaching and mentoring are also available on an hourly basis as well as a firing service for people who have made pieces but lack a kiln to finish them.

Read more: How inhaling nitrous oxide can damage your spine

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: How Quiet Rebels at The Albany highlights structural racism in Britain

The new play’s co-writer and co-director, Julie McNamara, on highlighting stories of abuse

Quiet Rebels is written and directed by Hassan Mahamdallie and Julie McNamara

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

“We really have to push back now because we’re living so close to a dystopian future.”

These are scary words from Julie McNamara, but ones that ring true when you consider the Nationality And Borders Bill passed into law in April.

“It allows the Government to strip individuals of their British citizenship without warning or reason. And no-one seems to be talking about it.

“It’s shocking what’s happening in this country right now,” said Julie, who has co-written and co-directed play Quiet Rebels with the aim of exposing ingrained racism in our society.

“It’s set to run at The Albany in Deptford from November 9-11, 2022.

“I can’t believe while we were picking the navel fluff from our bellies, they put something in law about revoking your UK citizenship for any reason and there is no recourse to appeal,” she said.

“How is this happening in our lifetime – and how are we not revolting?”

Quiet Rebels was inspired by her own family’s traumatic experience with the Home Office, which tried to deport her nephew back to Jamaica after two decades.

“It was the hardest time for us as a family,” said the 62-year-old. “Troy has been with us for 21 years, with my niece all that time, and they have four children. 

“We had to prove they were in an enduring relationship several times over in four different cases and also that it would be unduly harsh for the children to have their father removed to Jamaica.

“The shocking and obscene language I heard at court just absolutely blew my mind. 

“We spent five years and an awful lot of money fighting like hell. We finally won on October 28, 2020, in the Royal Courts Of Justice.”

The stories of real life couples such as Margaret Chapman and Astley Roy helped inspire the story

Their battle was the catalyst for a project with Hassan Mahamdallie, an internationally known senior policy maker and writer of The Crows Plucked Your Sinews, a play about the impact of British imperialism on Somalia.

Julie, founder of disability arts company Vital Xposure, based at Hackney Empire, kept being told she should work with him and went to hear him speak about his report for Arts Council England – The Creative Case For Diversity.

“He quoted this beautiful poem by Langston Hughes – Harlem: A Dream Deferred and I knew then he was the kind of thinker I would love to work with,” said the Hackney resident.

They spent four years developing Quiet Rebels, gathering stories from women who had been spat at, verbally abused and hounded just for marrying men of a different race.

That included Julie’s niece Sophie.

“For me, the impetus has been to try and wake audiences up to what is happening around us, right here, right now, in our own courts,” said Julie.

“I wanted to start hearing from white women who fell in love with brown and black men.

“We went back to the Windrush years and said: ‘Is this where it began?’.

“We know black communities have been established in these islands for a long time, but you go back and think: ‘Alright, where has this nonsense come from?

“When did the racism really set in and why are we going back to a rising right?’.

“It’s embedded in British politics, the monarchy and the class system.”

Joe Conteh and Lottie Bell on stage in Quiet Rebels

Hassan comes from a mixed heritage family and his mother’s story is at the heart of the play.

“She was a working class secretary and met and fell in love with a young guy who came from Trinidad,” said Julie.

“Her mother was appalled and totally against the relationship.

“One day she put her daughter’s husband’s books out in the garden and burned them, which I think is such a fascist statement.”

They also spoke to a woman who was hounded out of Hull after raising her mixed heritage children there.

“She said this is the most racist country she’s ever lived in and she has lived in rural France, Greece and South Africa,” said Julie.

“She talked about the violence that she had received on the streets, the terrible fear she had for her children. In the end, she was so frightened that she left and went to Australia.

“There are common themes that run through all their stories about the racism they experienced, being spat at on the streets, called n-lover, whore, slag.”

The Albany co-produced and staged an early version of the play in development in 2019 and the duo knew they were onto something. 

“That show was only about 35 minutes long but the Q&A went on for over an hour and a half and in the end we got chucked out,” said Julie.

“It revealed a great appetite for this work, for the stories we’ve touched on.

“One of the very common comments was it was refreshing to have white perspectives on the Windrush stories because there’s been so much black trauma staged repeatedly in British theatres and we’ve seen so much spilling out on our screens that it’s actually hugely wounding.

“It’s one of the reasons that we have so many young black people overpopulating prisons and mental health systems – because of the pain and the violence of systemic racism.

“It’s getting worse and permissions, it seems to me, have been given since Brexit, so people are becoming more hostile.”

The play will run at The Albany from November 9-11

Julie said the white women who married men of a different colour were part of the cornerstone of building the multicultural societies we have today. 

“It’s because of who they were and the love that they had for these men,” she said.

“We met some amazing people and some ordinary people and one of the things we discovered about each of them was that they were all quiet rebels.

“Perceived as rebels not by us, but by their parents or local communities or peer group.

“The only crime was they fell in love. Is that a crime?”

Today’s version of the play takes the stories of four women – Margaret Chapman, Mary Khan, Elizabeth Grogan and Yvonne Ali – and sets them inside a racist future where Conservative MP Enoch Powell, who famously believed someone was only British if they were born here, became prime minister. 

Clips of the women speaking open the show and snippets are spoken again by the actors.

The cast is made up of mixed heritage actors Joe Conteh and Deni Francis, Pickles ‘Wayne’ Norman, Lottie Bell, an actor with a hidden disability, and Fiona Whitelaw, who shared her experiences of being a “white pariah”.

Her husband worked as a black detective in the Metropolitan Police and his experiences of racism helped inform the character of the detective.

Fiona leads the audience around the world, narrating what she can see as a form of integrated audio description.

The play also contains pre-recorded sign language and creative captioning is at the heart of its design.

“I didn’t want traditional audio description with people set apart with headsets on,” said Julie.

“That annoys the hell out of me, because I feel like that’s a new kind of apartheid line.”

 The plot follows an investigation into the murder of a white women who married a black man.

As a convicted race-traitor with four children, she has served time for miscegenation.

“It’s set in 2028, but the language you hear has come out of the mouths of politicians from this country in the last few years and from the Royal Courts Of Justice,” said Julie.

“Some people have complained about it, and quite right too, but we stand by it because I think it needs hearing. I feel this is a really important piece of work.”

Julie is appalled some of the “nonsense” they came up with for the play is now coming true.

“When we began writing this, we thought it was so dystopian – but we’re already living it, we have caught up with it,” she said.

“In this country, we didn’t have miscegenation laws, but the president of Hungary was saying recently: ‘We are not a nation if we are mixed’.” 

Julie said events surrounding the Queen’s death also reflected  issues in the play.

“We’ve been shut down and we’re not allowed to peacefully protest – somebody was arrested for saying: ‘Who elected him?’ at a proclamation for the King,” she said.

“Why we’ve got the monarchy now, I do not know. It’s so out of date. 

“You look at it and think: ‘Wow, your own son and his mixed heritage wife have had to leave this country because they feel so uncomfortable about the racism inside the monarchy’. Isn’t that a statement in itself? 

“One minute we were watching this extraordinary wedding that gave a sense of hope and then it all unravelled in front of us.”

Quiet Rebels is also based on stories of love tinged by hate but Julie said the aim was to use them to open up conversations between families, friends, generations and communities about their experiences of racism.

“Some people come to the play hoping it’s going to be a story of romance and love and undoubtedly love is at the heart of the show,” she said.

“But there’s an awful lot we have to fight through and it’s about waking audiences up to the rise of this structural racism in England, which is bleak and needs dismantling.”

Transcripts of the interviews and from the court case will form part of an information pack they are building to go alongside the play.

Julie said she wanted the conversation to continue even after the run ended.

“The play has an open end – you’re left with questions,” she said.

“But it does end with a more positive moment as nobody would want to leave it like this – so what happens next?”

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

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Deptford: How Taca Tacos mixes flavours of Mexico and California in Deptford

Restaurant owner Thorne Addyman talks juggling looking after a newborn with opening his first site

Thorne Addyman, owner of Taca Tacos in Deptford – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

When we chat, Thorne Addyman is rumpled, tired and a little distracted.

Pretty standard for someone who has launched their first restaurant – Taca Tacos – during an economic crisis.

But his disarray is also due to the Deptford resident recently becoming a father.

If you think it sounds bonkers to bring new life into the world at the same time as launching a Mexican restaurant, I agree.

But Thorne said opening in Deptford Market Yard a few weeks before his daughter was born felt just right.

“I’ve been interested in the arches for a while but it’s a big commitment,” said Thorne, who has spent years cooking at pop-ups and markets. 

“A year ago, I did go and view one, but didn’t feel ready.

“Then, it was still available in June, so I asked to have another look and it felt like the right decision to go for it.

“Deptford feels more alive this year and it seems like people who don’t live here are taking it more seriously and saying it is really coming up. 

“I only live four minutes away and was having a baby, so that made it all very manageable.”

Reality is hitting a bit differently now he has to get up in the night for nappy changes and feeds.

But Thorne does seem to be managing the juggle admirably, roping in family to help with babysitting while he preps ingredients.

The restaurant serves up six varieties of tacos, inspired by Thorne’s trips round the food truck scenes in California and Mexico – where he had his eyes opened to the amazing variations of the dish.

Food at Taca Tacos in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

His menu includes the bestselling beef birria, which takes six-hours to slow-cook in a broth flavoured with four different chillies that’s then served on the side for dipping.

There is also the green chile pork served with avocado, pink onions, jalapeno salsa and coriander; the chicken pibil, baja fish, pulled ‘shrooms quesataco and a black bean taco.

“There are no rules for tacos,” said Thorne. “There are combinations of flavours that work better, but it is just about carrying food to your mouth.

“Going on those trips really helped me understand how amazing Mexican food can be and how that’s missing in this country.

“It’s mind-boggling that everywhere you go they have their own styles.

“In Mexico City I had an Argentinian fusion taco with smoked cheese and rib-eye steak.

“I’m interpreting different areas and bringing a different collection of flavours and styles to London.

“The Mexican wave is very early on and I’m hopefully catching it at the right time.”

Formerly an east Londoner, Thorne and his wife moved to Deptford in 2018 attracted by its “cool vibe”.

“It felt like there was a strong community here and such an array of food and drinks and shops as well,” he said.

“Walking down the high street, it almost felt like you could be in a different country with the smells, colours and fabrics.”

As we talk I can sense Thorne is in that new baby haze, where parents are prone to streams of consciousness.

“It is still in the phase where it’s all very new and we’re like: ‘What is this thing? How do we keep it alive?’,” he said.

The restaurant blends Mexican and Californian flavours – image Matt Grayson

My request for some career background is met with a 20-minute rundown of his life from age 14, when he started as a pot washer in his home town of Hay On Wye in Wales.

He talks about learning the importance of little things such as caramelizing onions for flavour, his move to London to work at Jamie Oliver’s steak restaurant Barbecoa in St Paul’s, and his two-year hiatus at a food and drink PR agency in Shoreditch.

The pull between kitchen and office continued, with a stint doing savoury waffle pop-ups in east London followed by a job for St Austell brewery in sales. 

“I didn’t love it or hate it,” said Thorne. “But fast forward two-and-a-half years and I got that itch again to do something with food. 

“My mum’s family are American and we were very lucky as kids that we were able to go to California near enough every year, where there’s lots of Mexican food.

“So my wife and I went on a road trip there and spent a lot of time eating tacos to really soak up some of the Mexican food that was about.

“When we came back, I started recipe testing and finding authentic suppliers in London.”

In June 2019 Thorne started with a four-week taco pop-up at The Greenhouse in New Cross Road (since closed), which sold out every night.

A three-month stint at a tequila bar in Dalston was juggled around his job, but just as momentum was building, Covid hit.

Furloughed from work, Thorne sold taco meal kits and a partnership with Plateaway saw his numbers jump from batches of  20 that he hand-delivered in south-east London to selling 200 a week nationwide.

“We got lots of good reviews, lots of bloggers wanted to try them but, as lockdown began to ease, we had to stop,” he said.

“All the way back in 2018, I’d put in a proposal for Brockley market, which is notoriously difficult to get into, but then the guy who runs it contacted me the day before we got married last August, and asked if I could do tacos there.

“It was a big moment as it’s established – some of the traders have been there for 10 years and it was a gateway to something a bit more serious.

“I could buy some equipment and it wouldn’t just be a pop-up.

Thorne cooks beef for six hours for his beef birria tacos – image Matt Grayson

“We did that every Saturday and built up a customer base and got lots of good feedback.  

“It was the first time I was able to interact with customers and having them come up and tell you they’ve enjoyed it makes it all worthwhile.”

Events with Kerb and wedding catering followed and then Thorne decided to up his game with a trip to Mexico.

“I hadn’t ever been before, which I didn’t feel was great given I was selling tacos,” he said.

“I went to Mexico, southern California and Austin, Texas – I read lots of books and blogs and ate tacos and burritos all day.

“The food trucks of LA  became a big inspiration for our business.

“It’s a pretty good way of bringing it over to London because they are Mexican families but they cater for western buyers.

“Going there, seeing it, eating it, tasting it was so important. Knowing my food was up to scratch compared to those who have cooked it from recipes that have been in families for generations.

“When I came back, I felt fully inspired.”

He had taken on Deptford local Tung Van Phan as head chef in November who encouraged him to go for it, when the Market Yard space came back on the table.

“Tung has completely thrown himself in and I could not have done this without his help,” said Thorne. “He is such a big part of the story and the journey. “

The duo spent time building the menu and the venue, with handmade tables, authentic Mexican ingredients and finishing touches Thorne said made all the difference.

“We spend three hours making a salsa because the ones you buy aren’t fresh,” he said. 

“They don’t really give you that hit of deliciousness and umami, where you taste all of the different levels.

“We spend a lot of time recipe testing and speaking to butchers and suppliers about what they’ve got. 

“I think the tortillas I use are the best in the UK because they are made fresh by two Mexican guys and delivered the next day.”

So how is he managing to juggle childrearing and restaurant running?

“It’s been a crazy couple of months really,” he said.

“We’ve got family based in Deptford so yesterday my auntie picked our daughter up and one of her cousins was playing with her all day.

“I was able to do prep and my wife was able to sleep.

“Being a parent is a completely new area of life that you never knew existed until you’re in it. It’s definitely been interesting doing both.”

Thorne visited California and Mexico for inspiration – image Matt Grayson

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 

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