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Greenwich: How It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure puts blindness centre stage

FlawBored’s Greenwich Theatre show employs satire and glittered-up canes to explore its topic

Image of FlawBored standing against a colourful wall, from left to right, Aarian Mehrabani,(6ft middle eastern man with thick black hair and a shaved face) Chloe Palmer (5ft 8” white woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles.) and Sam Brewer (6ft 1” white man with a shaved head and a short ginger beard)
FlawBored are, from left, Aarian Mehrabani, Chloe Palmer and Sam Brewer

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“I think there needs to be a big shift in theatre to consider disabled audiences, and how you can make work that aims to be more inclusive,” said Chloe Palmer.

“No show is ever going to be 100% accessible, but having companies that are evaluating what they can do and how they can support people with disabilities has been a catapult for us.”

Actors and devisers Chloe, Sam Brewer and Aarian Mehrabani make up FlawBored – an emerging, disabled-led company – that’s set to stage three performances of its debut production at Greenwich Theatre in September, 2022.

A work in progress, It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure is a satire encompassing blindness, influencer culture and non-disabled anxiety about trying to get things right and do the correct thing.

“It’s really good fun, not harsh and nasty,” said director Josh Roche.

“It’s about the way some people presume to know what is good or useful for those with disabilities and gently mocks that anxiety.

“It’s very funny,  very fast-paced, very playful, and it tends to let you know where the floorboards are and then unsettles you and turns things on their head. 

“It’s also about how disabled identities talk to each other and how they’re competing for space. 

“It focuses on a young influencer who is trying to give disability a social cachet and the compromises they have to make, just like other social justice movements at the moment.”

The hour-long show follows “megalomaniac blind talent manager” Tim who’s on a mission to rebrand disability with “ambitious but naïve” blind influencer Ross as his possible golden ticket.

Audiences can expect glittered-up canes, blind TV spin-offs and hijacked political causes in the mix. It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on, with accessible layers to match.

An image of Sam (left), wearing a pink floral suit jacket, holding Aarian (right), wearing a mustard jumper and blue dungarees both on stage. A photo of Baker Street tube platform projected behind
Sam and Aarian on stage

“This is a piece we’ve worked on for a year,” said Chloe.

“Sam came up with the original concept and approached Aarian and me to ask what we could do to explore how blindness could become dramatised?

“We then spiralled from that. A lot of our process is based on doing research and focusing on ideas we want to explore within the theatre world.

“We go away and explore a question and, because access is so important to us as a theatre company, we also make sure that every idea we come up with can be made accessible.

“Alongside the devising, we have an access language and we look at how captioning and audio descriptions can be integrated into the script and scene – it’s not something we do at the end with limited time.

“Sometimes in theatre the audio descriptions are done by companies who don’t have much to do with the production process, but we say that you should start with access in the forefront of your mind and it should be turning in your head while you create work, which will be enriched because of it.

“You think about the language you can use in a play and the form it can take, and access is just another language, which allows the audience another way to experience your work. 

“For example, captions can add an extra layer of experience for anyone who can read them and you can use them however you want.

“I think the support we’ve had for this project is a testament to the fact that a lot of theatre is still inaccessible. 

“You’ve got people exploring these languages but not necessarily the know-how to use them.”

In some senses that’s less of an issue for FlawBored because Sam and Aarian are blind.

Having graduated from the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama in 2020, the three actors teamed up with the idea of making a show together, before finding support and funding in the form of a company.

One of the missions of that company is to put blind characters on stage that don’t conform to tired stereotypes.

Sam said: “I’m blind and so is Aarian, but we are very different people. We simply find ourselves lumped together by the happenstance that we are blind.

“This is one of the things we’re trying to find our way around.

“There are a lot of tropes around vision-impaired characters, historically – oracles in Greek tragedies, soothsayers, characters  who see the world differently – that’s all rather boring.”

A photo of Aarian (left) and Chloe (right) on stage. Chloe (wearing a blue and white stripy jumper with blue jeans) extends her hand to Aarian (wearing blue denim dungarees and a mustard yellow jumper) A projection of Baker Street Tube Station in the background

Aarian added: “We’re trying to show that people are an amalgamation of many identities – our gender, class and nationality, for example – blindness is just another one of those differences.

“Sam and I are both visually impaired but that’s just where our similarities cross – we’ve got completely different life experiences.

“All of the characters in It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure are fully rounded and deep. Inherently they all have loveable and likeable characteristics, but are also deeply flawed.

“It’s a complicated relationship between the characters and the audience and we never want to be saying: ‘These are the blind characters – and you know how to treat them’.”

Josh said: “You always know which identities on stage are allowed to be themselves and which are treated with kid gloves.

“Visually impaired people are typically clairvoyant or see life in a deeper way than those around them. 

“When you allow them to be just as flawed as all of the other characters in a play, you’re understanding that visually impaired people are just people – they’re as good or as bad as anyone else.”

Having won support from Arts Council England, Greenwich Theatre (which presented FlawBored with its 2022 LET Greenwich Theatre Award), Theatre Deli, Camden People’s Theatre, Les Enfants Terribles, Wildcard Theatre, Watermill Theatre and Extant, there’s clearly an appetite in the industry for the company’s work.

Sam said: “I think theatre can be really good at doing moments, but it’s about how those artists can then be developed.”

Josh added: “I think there’s a difference at the moment in the way arts funding is focusing towards different identity groups and the way they’re perceived in wider culture.

“I think there’s a reverence about the way funding operates, which can be incredibly useful but can also be quite restrictive – it’s not always as playful or bold as it could be.

“There’s a distinction between this and, for example, the way social media represents different identities.

“The hope is that others will find it easier to develop work in these areas and these ways if people have already done it.”

  • Performances of It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure are set to take place at 7.30pm on September 14, 2022, and 7.30pm and 2pm on September 15, 2022. Tickets cost £15.

Read more: Disabled dancer set to perform Sleepwalker in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Property: Last chance to buy at Upper Riverside on Greenwich Peninsula

Developer Knight Dragon eyes acceleration of delivery as deal signed with contractor Mace

Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside
Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside

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This moment represents something of a tipping point in the regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula.

There are still 20-odd apartments left in the Upper Riverside phase of Knight Dragon’s mammoth project, so for buyers this is a last chance to get in on one of the angular blocks set along the Thames. 

“That’s really been our focus for the last four years, with just over 1,000 properties and it’s very much an established community now,” said Kerri Sibson, chief operating officer at the developer.

“We launched the last building – No. 5 – just as we went into the first bout of Covid, so things stalled for a little while and then subsequently picked up.

“We have a few one-bed and two-bed homes available, so this is a last chance to buy.

“There’s a really strong sense of community across the five buildings at Upper Riverside, which is really lovely and, of course, that’s what you hope for – people who will occupy the space and make it what they want it to be.”

Homes at No. 5 Upper Riverside start at £487,500 with residents’ facilities including access to a co-working space, three gyms, multiple roof terraces and a 15th floor swimming pool.

For those who’d rather rent, No. 4 Upper Riverside offers studio, one, two and three-bedroom homes to let with starting prices ranging from £1,500pcm to £3,000pcm, a selection of contract options and the option to move in without a deposit.

“The rental operation has had a full year now and the rental market is booming, so that has performed really well for us and we’ve been really pleased,” said Kerri.

“Having that option is part of what we talk about all the time for the Peninsula, which is that you need diversity of product to keep your audience as wide as possible.

“If you have just one type of property, it quickly becomes a not very interesting place to be. Rental gives us a different clientele and it definitely feeds into our sales business.

“We haven’t been able to do it yet, but we might be on the cusp of seeing if we could do ‘Try before you buy’.

“I’d like the idea that we could have a rental offer which ultimately means that the money you’re spending on rent becomes a deposit and – although it sends our finance department into palpitations – it would be wonderful if we could achieve that.

“On the sales side, having Lower Riverside has always been the perfect counterpoint in terms of accessibility so we’re not just offering one price point.”

Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson
Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson

Knight Dragon’s approach to making sure the area it is creating appeals to buyers somewhat sets it apart.

The company has invested significantly in public space as well as an ongoing programme of art exhibitions and events, intended to attract visitors to the area and entertain the now circa 5,000 residents.

That includes the creation of The Tide – an elevated park complete with sculptures including a work by Damian Hirst.

Knight Dragon has also worked to help establish local businesses to serve those passing through, studying and living on the Peninsula, opening a diverse collection of commercial buildings at Design District in 2021.

“That’s been a great success for us,” said Kerri. “It was enormously stressful for all parties getting it launched post-Covid.

“We had businesses really excited and ready to move in and we were behind because everything had been closed for many months, but when it arrived it exceeded all out expectations.

“When we launched, we had a journalist from the BBC asking whether we were worried about people not returning to work, not coming into the office – but that’s hasn’t been our experience.

“We have such a great mix of tenants in the creative industries and they were just really desperate to get in, to collaborate and to feed off each other.

“I’ve been working on this project since Knight Dragon got involved and I’ve found that if you engage with the creative industries early on in any process, the product you come out with is so much more interesting and challenging than if you stick to a very traditional property route.

“You can end up with a very homogenised product with ‘Do Not Stand On The Grass’ signs. We didn’t want that here.”

Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames
Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames

With a total of nearly 17,500 homes in the pipeline, both residents and visitors can expect to see a ramping up of activity, as Knight Dragon prepares to announce the next phases of its project later in the year.

“We’re probably around the 30% mark in terms of completion, so there’s still an awful lot more to do,” said Kerri.

“We’ve just announced a partnership with construction firm Mace – which built Upper Riverside and The Tide – and there’s a big push forward in terms of momentum and speed of delivery. There are going to be lots of homes on their way very quickly.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve been very focused on place-making.

“The river bank, back in the day, was a desolate tarmac path that ran along the Thames, so we invested in The Tide to get people to enjoy the area.

“It was important for us that Greenwich Peninsula was not just about homes, but a balance between home and work and a place where people would want to spend time during the day.”

A show home interior at Upper Riverside
A show home interior at Upper Riverside

With Mace set to build 20 buildings as part of Knight Dragon’s 40-acre project, the exact shape of the final development cannot be set in stone.

“From an infrastructure point of view, it’s a constant game of moving things around,” said Kerri.

“When we started the project, the Silvertown Tunnel hadn’t been given the green light, so two of our buildings won’t be delivered because now that’s very much happening.

“It’s also absolutely our ambition to redevelop North Greenwich station, although we weren’t able to make our original plans for that site work.

“However, it’s important to remember, from a residents’ point of view, how well connected the Peninsula already is – London City Airport, for example, is a big plus for us.

“There’s a perception Greenwich is further away than it actually is, but once people are here they realise how well connected it actually is – just minutes from Canary Wharf and the City.”

Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula
Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula

Read more: How Urban Space Management wants to put homes on a bridge

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Rotherhithe: Why UK Wallball is launching courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

Organisation’s CEO wants facility to be used as an urban playground to help boost Londoners’ activity

The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre
The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

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Sunlight streams down onto the freshly minted wallball courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.

I bounce the rubber ball and slap it vigorously with my hand.

My opponent steps in, makes an easy return, I dash forward striking the yellow sphere deftly into the bottom right hand corner of the wall, where it bounces back into the court and lands stone dead. The point is mine.

I lose all the other points, of course, but then my opponent is founder and CEO of UK Wallball and a former European No. 1 singles champion. So I don’t feel too bad.

Dan Grant and the governing body for the sport he runs are on a mission to get as many people as possible outside, active and bouncing balls against walls.

Installed in partnership with British Land, the two UK Wallball courts on the Rotherhithe Peninsula will be free to use (if you’ve brought your own ball) and can be turned to any number of game variations following their forthcoming launch on May 12, 2022.

Dan said: “Wallball is a simple, accessible sport where you hit a ball against a wall with your hands. Lots of people will have done it at school – called it pat-ball, Eton Fives, one-wall handball – there are lots of different names for it, but ‘wallball’ is the one they play around the world.

“This is the one wall version and it’s the international standard.

“Basically, you have one big rectangle marked out on the wall and one big rectangle on the floor. The main thing is – all you need to do is hit the ball with either hand so that it hits the wall and lands in the court.

“It can bounce once before it’s hit again and then you rally away until it either bounces twice or it goes out.

“The way it’s scored is that you get a point for each rally won on your serve – if you lose the rally then it’s your opponent’s serve. Games are usually played up to 11, 15 or 21 points.

“The easiest way to think of it is that it’s like playing squash against one wall – but there’s no line to hit it above, so you can hit it low and kill the ball.

“For the service, the ball has to hit the wall and land in the back half of the court and then it can land anywhere in the box.

“There’s also a blocking rule – if I hit the ball and then don’t move, I’m a legitimate obstruction that the other player has to try and get around.

“You can’t rugby tackle the other person out of the way – it’s a non contact sport – so they have to get round you to get the ball back.”

UK Wallball CEO Dan Grant pictured at the new courts

Having travelled the world playing the game Dan subsequently trained as a doctor, so his interest in promoting sport goes beyond pure publicity and is firmly rooted in the physical and mental benefits of outdoor activity. 

“Our aim at UK Wallball is to try to get as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible active.

“In cities where grey space is increasing and green space is disappearing, we think people should use walls for things like this.

“There are official rules, but our motto is: ‘Any wall, any ball, anytime’. We don’t care how people use the courts, so long as they are being used.

“If people want to invent their own rules, they absolutely can. This whole space at Surrey Quays can be used for a lot of other things – not just traditional wallball.”

The Rotherhithe installation is the first multi-court facility for free use in the country.

Alongside the two playing areas is a third space where those waiting to have a go can hang out, spectator searing and a vending machine selling balls and gloves.

Dan said: “Last year, we did our first proper community court at Bankside, which was also a really vibrant installation.

“That was us working with the Jack Petchey Foundation to target young people in London.

“When it went up it got a lot of media traction, which was awesome. I think a lot of people during the pandemic realised exercise in the open air was a pretty good thing, and that wallball is cheap too – in fact, if you have your own ball, it’s free.

“Off the back of that, British Land, which is regenerating the area around Surrey Quays and Canada Water, saw it, thought it was pretty cool and got us down to find out if they could do something for the community here.

“I persuaded them that they should and so we’ve installed the courts.

“We got our artist back – Dan Gurney – to make them look great. I really like his geometric approach. It works really well in an urban space.

“When you do this kind of thing, you want the courts to feel like they belong, so the design is inspired by both the greenery and the docks on the Rotherhithe peninsula.

“We’ll also have posters telling people how to play and how the design of the courts fits into the local area.

“The way we think of it is as an urban amphitheatre – yes, we want it to be used for wallball, but other sports and arts organisations can get in touch with us and use the space as well.

“It’s also that street to elite philosophy – I want a kid who’s played on these courts, hasn’t had to pay for anything apart maybe for a couple of quid for a ball and then for them to go on and play for Team GB. That would be really cool.”

A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own
A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own

Dan, who works as a doctor in emergency medicine and medtech, believes wallball could be the next big thing in the UK – something he believes would be beneficial to the health of the nation should urban environments embrace it. 

“Everything we’ve learnt over the last few years suggests it will catch on in the UK,” he said.

“It’s already big in Ireland, Spain and the Basque Country – it’s huge in the USA. In New York there are 2,500 courts. Wallball is taking off here too. 

“We’ve started working with schools over the past couple of years and the kids love it. It’s not just sport either – when we put a court in a school we can give them a blank canvas and they can design it, so there’s a creative element there too.

“Our ethos is that it’s not super-serious. 

“Of course, there are pathways for GB Juniors to go straight to the top, but if you just want to turn up and play, that’s fine too.

“I feel like if the kids are enjoying it, then that’s good for all of us.

“As a doctor I’m interested in prevention. We know that if you’re just active and walking around, then that’s really good for you.

“As you travel you see people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds have the worst outcomes in terms of health. So, having an urban space that feels safe and fun is much better than the alternative.”

The UK Wallball courts at Surrey Quays are set to launch on May 12, 2022, from 1pm-3pm.

The courts will be in place on an ongoing basis.

Read more: APT in Deptford seeks trustees to sit on its charity board

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Thamesmead: How Peabody’s Southmere scheme is transforming Abbey Wood

Housing Association has 30-year plan to refresh a massive slice of London connected to Crossrail

An artist’s impression of Peabody’s Southmere Village

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A t present, the journey from Canary Wharf to Abbey Wood takes a little over 40 minutes.

The various Frankenstein options available involve much chopping and changing – the Jubilee line, the DLR, the 486 bus and Thameslink can all come into the equation. It’s anything but direct.

But, if the seers are to be believed, all that’s about to change. When Elizabeth line services start running (perhaps as early as March, if the optimists have it right), Abbey Wood is set to be the end of the line for Crossrail’s central and eastern section.

That will put it squarely in touch with a whole swathe of central London, which is currently much trickier to travel to. The Wharf itself is expected to be around 11 minutes’ ride on a single train.

Why does this matter? Effective transportation is the lifeblood of regeneration. In east London, this is best demonstrated by Canary Wharf itself, which struggled as a project until the Jubilee line extension arrived.

What such connections mean for residential areas is possibility – the ability to rapidly access different parts of the city and the things they offer makes living in an area a richer experience.

It’s also a two-way street. Visitors come back the other way, further enlivening a place and befitting its residents.

Peabody’s Matt Foulis at the Southmere marketing suite – image Matt Grayson

No wonder Matt Foulis of Peabody is smiling. London’s oldest housing association took over ownership of Thamesmead, served by Abbey Wood to the south, in 2014 and has a 30-year plan to regenerate the area.

But as project director, Matt’s enthusiasm isn’t drawn solely from the opportunities Crossrail will bring.

It’s because he already knows what the area has to offer and can see how it will continue to develop over the course of the next three decades.

“We are under way on a the delivery of around 20,000 homes at Thamesmead,” he said.

“We completed our first development – The Reach – a couple of years ago, we’ve just started on a site at Plumstead in partnership with Berkeley and we are currently delivering what we’re calling Southmere Village – phase one of our regeneration of south Thamesmead near Abbey Wood station.”

When completed, Southmere will see 1,600 homes built across four sites close to Crossrail, new public space in the form of Cygnet Square and The Nest – a library and community centre – as well as commercial space for shops, restaurants and bars.

The scheme offers a mixture of properties available for social rent or to buy either on a shared ownership basis or via private sale. Residential blocks Starling Court and Kestrel Court are due to complete in the coming months, with strong sales reported. 

A collection of one, two and three-bedroom shared ownership properties is set to launch at Crane Court on February 12.

An artist’s impression of Peabody’s Southmere Village

Matt said: “Our properties have sold really well – I think people are really buying into the wider vision for Thamesmead.

“Over the last two years in particular, everybody has woken up to the importance of green space and proximity to water and the impact they can have on your life, your health and your wellbeing.

“That’s what we have here – Thamesmead has five artificial lakes with Southmere the biggest and they’re connected by a network of canals.

“They were designed as a surface drainage system but it means we have these fantastic assets that people can enjoy, surrounded by really impressive green spaces.

“Peabody owns, operates and manages all of these areas so we’ve got overall control of everything that’s going on in the area and that has a real impact for not only the people we’re trying to bring to the area, but also existing residents.”

Beyond the infrastructure, Peabody is also working to boost the cultural capital of Thamesmead, perhaps best known for its Brutalist architecture.

This served as a backdrop to Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian cinematic nightmare A Clockwork Orange and, more recently, in the music video for The Libertines’ What Became Of The Likely Lads.

A show apartment at the development

Matt said: “We’ve got a huge programme that we’ve been operating for the last four or five years.

“That includes things like a regular one-day festival curated by local residents in Southmere Park, which attracted 6,500 visitors last year.

“People who may never have heard about the area or visited it are starting to hear about it and it’s starting to draw people in, which has been fantastic.

“We’ve also set up a culture forum so people living here can help shape what goes on locally.

“That’s grown and grown – we’ve supported theatre productions and a live performance of the film Beautiful Thing, which was made in Thamesmead a few years back.

“It’s these sort of things we want to do – grass-roots, community-led projects that are really accessible. 

“We’ve had dance troupes, drummers and gymnasts perform in housing estates – things that are visual and tangible that people from all backgrounds, young and old, can really enjoy.

“This year we have a project called Fields Of Everywhen, which will see two artists inflate and fly an enormous hot air balloon made from tapestries that capture the personal stories of local residents.

“They spent two years working on it and finding out what makes Thamesmead tick. These activities are being driven by Peabody and we’re here for the long term.

“We expect there to be around £10billion of investment in Thamesmead over the course of the 30-year plan.

“For example, with funding from the Greater London Authority, we’ve refurbished a building called the Lakeside Centre on Southemere Lake to provide artists’ studios, a cafe, a training kitchen and a nursery – that’s being operated by Bow Arts. 

“Next to that we’ll shortly be letting a contract to build a boating and sailing centre to be run by the YMCA, which has operated on the lake for 30 years.

“It’s about making sure we’re providing amenities for everybody to enjoy with activities like kayaking, sailing and paddleboarding. 

“Eventually we’d really like to open up the canal systems so people can use them to move around Thamesmead in addition to the cycle routes and pavements.”

The shared ownership properties set to be released at Crane Court offer prospective buyers open-plan living areas, balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows in distinctive brick-clad blocks within easy walking distance of Abbey Wood station.

“They will be fantastic places to live,” said Matt. “We’ve tried to maximise views over the lake and newly built Cygnet Square where people will have all the amenities they need on hand.

“There’s car parking in secure courtyards under the blocks with podium gardens that are communal but for residents only.

“There will also be an on-site concierge service with a residents’ lounge that people can use to work from if they choose.

“Combine that with the restaurants and cafes, which will be opening around the square later this year, and that will give people  a lot of flexibility if they’re not going into the office.

“I’ve already seen people logging into the Wi-fi on seats around the lake with their coffee and doing the first two hours while sitting by the water.”

When investing in property, there’s also the future to think of and Peabody has big plans for the wider area including an extensive development to the north west of Southmere along the banks of the Thames.

There it hopes to attract an extension to the DLR across the river from Gallions Reach, further boosting local connectivity – not a bad time to get in on the ground.

Prices for shared ownership properties at Crane Court start at £91,500 for 30% of a one-bed, based on a full market value of £305,000.

Two and three-beds start at £118,500 and £153,000 respectively for the same proportion, based on full market values of £395,000 and £510,000.

Read more: Estate agency Alex Neil hails booming market

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