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East London: East End Community Foundation’s unveils Life Chances drive

Charity seeks to raise £5million to tackle issues in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and the City

East End Community Foundation chair Bronek Masojada – image Matt Grayson

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“When I was approached about joining the East End Community Foundation, I thought it answered a problem that I’d had as a CEO,” said Bronek Masojada, who has spent the last 28 years at the helm of insurance firm Hiscox.

“There is a lot of desire among staff at companies to get involved in charitable activities close to where they work and that’s great, but the question then is what, precisely?

“The answer to that question is a navigation service for organisations that identifies what those needs are, which are the most effective charities to support and how to make sure any donation is put to good use.

“I’m not going to pretend to understand what the needs of individuals are in deprived areas – nor do my colleagues.

“That navigation service also needs to show how staff can be involved to a limited extent because, from my experience people’s desire to play a part is much greater than the reality when dates are in the diary and free time and weekends have to be given up to do that. 

“The EECF provides a service that addresses all those issues, for anybody who would like to try to make a difference – a clear solution to a clear problem.

“The fact it also gives away a substantial amount of its own money every year means the team has every incentive to make sure it is done so effectively.”

Bronek joins EECF as chair, having taken over from Canary Wharf Group’s Howard Dawber towards the end of last year, his arrival coinciding with the launch of the charity’s Life Chances Campaign to raise and distribute £5million to help deprived communities in east London recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The money will be distributed to organisations in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and the City with the three aims of improving the wellbeing and employment prospects of young people, tackling digital exclusion and reducing poverty and isolation among older people. Pledges of £750,000 have already been made.

Bronek said: “About £2.5million will go on the first of these, about £1million on the last and the balance on digital connectivity.

These areas all slightly overlap – what drives elderly isolation is lack of digital connectivity in today’s age, not just access to things like iPads, but the competency to use them.

“It’s not just about giving people a bit of kit, but also providing support.

“My mother and my mother-in-law in South Africa are both big silver surfers, because they are driven to enjoy connectivity with their children and grandchildren, and that’s fantastic.

“My mother has been self-isolating, but probably speaks to my children more often than me, through digital means.

“It will be the same for people in east London – if you can’t get out because of Covid, you should still be able to connect with people.

“Zoom and other platforms are free, if you know how to use them. There is some reticence.

“I can remember when I put my grandmother in front of a Space Invaders game,  she just froze, but nowadays you don’t have that choice.

“Life Chances is trying to address real needs. The average salary in Tower Hamlets is £80,000 a year but the average household income is £25,000. That’s understandable, but pretty extraordinary when you think about it.

“What we’re trying to do is to appeal to the people and the firms that employ them in the area to help those who are resident locally.

“I recently read youth unemployment in London is four times the national average and Life Chances is about helping people into work.

“Not everyone’s going to be an investment banker – I get that – but firms like Hiscox and employers in Canary Wharf need a huge range of skills and capabilities.

“Clearly good educational achievements make things easier, but even for those who don’t have them we can make a real difference by helping them get entry-level jobs.

“I have friends in the insurance industry who grew up within earshot of Bow Bells, but who have done unbelievably well.

“These companies do offer people who are smart, even partly educated, the ability to rise through the ranks and that’s what they want.

“It was a surprise to learn about the disparity between income versus household income. It’s pretty apparent if you travel through the four boroughs and listen to what’s going on. 

“I was also surprised when the EECF’s CEO, Tracey Walsh, told me there were 5,000 charities and community groups active in those areas – that gives you a sense of the size of the challenge and the need for navigation.

“If there’s a corporate wanting to get involved, how do you find and pick an organisation to support? Which are effective and which make a difference?

“Often that choice is made because of individual connections, partners or friends, but to my mind that’s not the best way to choose a charity.

“The EECF applies rigour – groups have to apply for grants. They have to explain what their outcomes are going to be and then assess whether their aims were achieved or not. That’s a powerful process.

“The other thing about the EECF is that some of the grants are quite small in monetary terms – £2,000 or £5,000, for example – but they can make a real difference to a particular community group or charity.

“It’s hard for big companies, who might want to give say £50,000 – which is the top level we ask organisations to commit to – and to then break that down into grants themselves. Hiscox, for example, wouldn’t be able to do that.

“EECF is a well respected organisation. It’s seen as independent, fair and transparent and those are great things to build on. It has its own money to give away and full credit to Howard and Tracey for building that up. 

“My ambition is to continue the work they and the other trustees have been doing for many years and make the Life Chances Campaign a success.

“We don’t need a revolution – there’s a very clear plan of how we can make a difference and improve people’s lives.

“It’s a good programme and, if we can just deliver on that, then that’s a job well done.

“The more successful we are with Life Chances, the more we may have to increase staff numbers and so on, but that’s an outcome rather than a goal.

“I think that the other thing we’d like to move to with the campaign is to say to those getting grants that we’ll give them a certain amount each year for the next three years, so they can plan rather than having to put their energies into constant fundraising.

“An ambition has also got to be to augment the million or so we give away every year.

“If we can get to the £2million mark every year for the next five, that would be pretty awesome.”

For Bronek, the decision to become chair of EECF follows on from a long line of extramural activities undertaken while working at Hiscox, including the position of deputy chairman of Lloyds Of London for seven years.

“I’ve always thought that a business and a person succeeds if they are involved in more than one thing,” he said. 

“The beach is really very nice to relax on, but you have to have something to relax from – when you’re there all the time, it’s no longer relaxing.

“I feel the idea of stopping work and allowing the skills and knowledge that I’ve managed to accumulate to dissipate would be a waste. My hope is I can use them instead to make a beneficial and positive impact on the wider community.

“In terms of the difference I can make, clearly there’s the day-to-day governance of the organisation and I’ve had a fair experience of that.

“Hiscox was a lot smaller when I started there in 1992 and I’m used to us going into new countries, opening offices with no staff and then, slowly, over a decade building a physical presence and a good business.

“The fact that EECF has a dozen staff is really great, because it’s small, it’s informal – you don’t manage an organisation like that the way you manage a UK business like Hiscox, which employs well over 1,000 people.

“I also have a reasonable address book and I’m not scared to go and ask people for things, so I can help the team with the opening doors part of fundraising.

“They then have to close the deal, but I know that the hardest thing when you’re raising money is knowing who to talk to and then actually getting to speak to them.

“Even if they say no, that’s better than not talking to them, because you’re building awareness.

“Of course, there’s no certainty that we will succeed with the campaign, but it’s my view that it’s always better to try and to fail rather than not to try at all.”

Organisations that would like to support the Life Chances Campaign or charities and community groups interested in applying for EECF grants can find out more at the foundation’s website.

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Royal Docks: Why Lesley Green is set to walk to the North Pole to sample snow

Founder of Love To Swim will join Ann Daniels in collaboration with the European Space Agency

An image of Lesley Green who is set to go on an Arctic expedition
Lesley Green is set to depart for the Arctic in April – image Matt Grayson

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Follow this link to support Lesley on her expedition

What connects Royal Docks, Mount Everest, Bethnal Green, Kilimanjaro, the European Space Agency, east London swimming lessons and Arctic sea ice? The answer is Lesley Green. 

“I’m an East End girl, born and bred with family in the area going back generations,” said Lesley. “My dad’s side of the family all lived around Wapping and, during the Second World War, my nan refused to have any of them evacuated.

“The kids used to play on the bomb sites. While my granddad was away fighting the war, my Uncle Harry taught my dad how to swim in the Thames.

“It was him that taught me to swim, not in the river, but at St George’s Baths in the Highway.”

Talent spotted when she started school lessons at Poplar Baths, Lesley went on to join Tower Hamlets Swimming Club, eventually competing in national competitions and even overseas.

From there she progressed into coaching, taking redundancy in 2009 to set up her own school – Love To Swim. 

Her business has flourished – it’s currently running sessions at Crowne Plaza London Docklands, the Aloft Hotel in Royal Docks as well as other east London locations and for residents at a selection of Ballymore developments.

Oh, and in April, she’s going to the North Pole as part of an expedition that’s set to collect data on snow depth on the sea ice in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Lesley will be joining a team led by veteran explorer Ann Daniels, who has reached both poles during her career, spending more than 400 days hauling sledges over 3,000 miles of ice.

Image shows Arctic ice and snow
The expedition will measure the depth of snow on Arctic ice

“I’ve got a good friend – Debbie Dorans – who lives in Newcastle and is a small business owner like myself,” said Lesley. “We often go to networking events together and through those we’ve taken part in events to raise money for charity.

“In 2018 we climbed Kilimanjaro in the worst weather they’d had for 30 years – I was snowblind and Debbie got sunburnt lips – but once you’ve done something like that you’re blown away by it and our group raised more than £30,000 for the Make A Wish Foundation.

“The following year we did another charity trek with another friend of ours up to Mount Everest  Base Camp.

“It was on that climb that Debbie, who is friends with Ann, turned round and asked whether we wanted to do the North Pole next year.

“At that point, exhausted and halfway up a mountain, trudging along, let’s just say it was a no. But just before we went into the pandemic, we had another discussion about it and said: ‘OK, let’s go’.

“Ann said she was happy to take us and so we set a date of April 2022.”

An image of a polar bear – one of the hazards Lesley could encounter
Polar bears are among the potential hazards Lesley could encounter

Dovetailing with the ESA’s satellite surveillance of the Arctic ice, European Polar Expedition 22’s findings will help scientists better track the effects of climate change. 

Departing from Lonyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway, the all female team will spend around 10 days trekking over constantly moving ice from 89 degrees latitude to 90 – the North Pole.

“Everyone is waking up to what’s happening to our planet,” said Lesley. “We’ve always done things for charity and this is us wanting to make a difference to the environment – it’s about doing our bit.

“I’ve taught in schools for a number of years in Tower Hamlets and Newham and I want to be able to go into assemblies, show videos and talk through our expedition, why it’s important and how people can make a really big impact.

“We’re all older women over 40 and I also think it really matters that younger girls see what we can achieve.

“This is not just a bunch of people on a jolly to the North Pole, though. We’ll be participating in some serious scientific work to understand how fast the ice is melting. 

“In future some predictions suggest there won’t be any ice in the Arctic – you’ll be able to sail a boat there. It’s really important we raise awareness about these issues.”

Lesley is currently crowdfunding to contribute to the cost of her place on the expedition. Having teamed up with the likes of Genesis Cinema, The Florist Arms and Crowne Plaza London Docklands, those pledging money can choose from a selection of rewards including massages, pizza and pint deals and film tickets.

Those donating can also get various blocks of swimming lessons from Love To Swim. Corporate sponsorship opportunities are also available for the whole expedition.

“I’m looking to raise about £5,000, which is a small amount of money in comparison to what we need per person so it would be amazing if I raised even more,” said Lesley.

“Crowdfunding means I’m not asking simply for a donation – you get something in return so while I get the money, you get the reward.

“The money will go towards all the equipment, some of which we’ll buy and some of which we’ll hire because there’s a lot. It could be as cold as -35ºC so you need at least three jackets, all your thermal underwear, your tent and everything in it.”

With harsh conditions and danger everywhere on the ice, Lesley is keeping a cool head in the run up to the expedition, preparing her body and mind for the task ahead.

“I don’t think the challenge has quite hit me yet,” she said. ”I suppose the biggest worry is that I haven’t skied before and you have to trek over the ice on skis. I’m not worried about the training, I’ve always kept fit – I run round Victoria Park and I’ve run the London Marathon twice. I’m also doing personal training sessions with one of my swimming teachers to help build my strength for hauling the sledge.

“I’m not worried about polar bears because we’re in good hands with Ann. She has led so many expeditions to that part of the world and she’s at the top of her game.

“She’s gone through everything with us, every little piece of equipment and why we need it – thats how I know we’re in such safe hands.

“I’m very much thinking of the positives rather than the negatives. I’m sure if something happens I won’t be too impressed at the time, but it’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to support research into climate change. 

“I said I’d never do snow again after Kilimanjaro but when you come down you get that exhilaration.”

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Wapping: How Wapping Wicks scented candles grew from a passion into a business

Sara-Jane Cross turned a lockdown hobby into a brand by mixing oils with soy and coconut wax

Wapping Wicks founder Sara-Jane Cross - image Matt Grayson
Wapping Wicks founder Sara-Jane Cross – image Matt Grayson

It started off with making gifts for family. Trapped at home in lockdown, Wapping resident Sara-Jane Cross decided to try a new hobby. She sent away for a kilo of wax on the internet and all the ingredients necessary to make her own scented candles, got melting and posted the finished products off.

“I made seven different ones,” said Sara-Jane. “My mum said they were amazing and that I should sell them. 

“My boyfriend came up with the name – Wapping Wicks – and we started in November because I’d decided I needed to hit the festive market, which is huge for candles. I started making one called Christmas Frost in batches of six.

“There are all sorts of secret ingredients in it, lots of spices – a combination of orange, pine wood and cloves. It just smells like Christmas and it completely took off. At that stage I had no website and it was a bit out of control. I was making candles at 11pm to keep up with demand.

“I’d come home from work, do the deliveries in the pouring rain and spend the weekends making as many as I could.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own business – to be honest I didn’t know whether people would buy them, but the orders kept coming in through Instagram so I created a website when I couldn’t go north over Christmas and after that I was in a lot more control.”

Sara-Jane, who is originally from just outside Chester and moved to east London eight years ago, has spent the time since developing her range, which now includes many different scents, wedding favours and even candle-making kits for those who want to give the craft a go themselves.

“I really want to see where it goes, where I can take it,” she said. “I use soy and coconut waxes and was passionate from the start about making sure I wasn’t using paraffin.

“I feel like there’s a gap in the market for natural wax so I’m going to see what this Christmas looks like because September to

March is the sweet spot in terms of sales – generally people buy candles when it’s colder weather.”

Sara-Jane, who works in the insurance industry when she’s not making candles, uses recycled jars for her products and donates 10% of the profits she makes to charity.

“I’ve raised money for Action Medical Research and the Countess Of Chester NHS hospital where my nan passed away so I wanted to give something back to the nurses there,” she said.

“I’ve also supported local charities including East London Cares, which tackles loneliness among the elderly. People have sent their ideas in via Instagram about who we should support.”

Some of the products in the Wapping Wicks range
Some of the products in the Wapping Wicks range – image Matt Grayson

So far, Sara-Jane’s range of products includes Pomegranate Kuro, Winter Frost, Pomelo Breeze, Velvet Peony, Rosewood and Seashore. She also produces limited editions and is always looking to develop new scents.

“A lot of the ones I’ve come up with have been based on feedback I’ve had from people,” she said. 

“Seashore, which features vanilla, coconut and amber, reminds me of the seaside and being by the river in Wapping. 

“I’m working on one at the moment for friends, which has peppermint and eucalyptus, and my brother has decided he’s into candles so I think there’s a bit of a male market out there – I haven’t got a masculine scent at the moment.

“It’s all about experimenting, just finding something that smells amazing.

“The black and white branding is just me – I love it – and I do a bit of art, sketches of buildings, which are all monochrome too. I’ve done some of Wapping and I definitely want to combine the candles and those images in the future.”

That’s a move that’s likely to go down well with Sara-Jane’s core customer base which has seen strong sales locally. 

“Some people order 10 at a time and give them out to family, especially customers who are living in Wapping,” she said. 

“A lot of my customers come back and you see orders coming from the same housing development after one person has bought some.”

Sara-Jane delivers her candles in Wapping
Sara-Jane delivers her candles in Wapping – image Matt Grayson

With strong sales in her first year, Sara-Jane said she would ultimately love Wapping Wicks to turn into her full-time activity, but for now she’s content to keep making her candles from home.

“You have to be really precise,” she said. “You measure out the wax, the scent, which is a blend of different types of oils.

“Then you melt the wax using a bain-marie, as if you were melting chocolate, until it gets to about 65-70 degrees centigrade. You take it off the heat and wait for it to cool down to about 55 degrees and then you add the scent, stir it in and pour it into the containers you’ve prepared.

There’s a little sticker on the bottom of the wick that holds it in place and a centring piece for the top to keep it straight.

“I have to use sellotape when I’m making my bigger candles because they have three wicks.

“Then you have to let the wax set for a couple of days – I always have lots of candles standing around in my house at different stages of the process.”

Prices for Wapping Wicks candles vary, starting at £14 for Seashore or Winter Frost. A three-wick Pomelo Breeze candle costs £26.

Local customers can get 10% off their next order by returning jars to Sara-Jane for recycling. 

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