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Isle Of Dogs: Why nitrous oxide use can lead to damage to nerves in the spinal cord

Queen Mary University Of London professor and students launch awareness campaign about risks


Nitrous oxide use is widespread in Tower Hamlets and east London
Nitrous oxide use is widespread in Tower Hamlets and east London

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How do you feel about your nervous system?

How do you feel without your nervous system?

Jokes might seem appropriate here – after all, this article is about laughing gas.

Nitrous oxide, which comes in canisters of various sizes, is sold ostensibly for use in the baking industry as a means of creating robust whipped cream.

You have to be over 18 to buy it, but there are few practical obstacles to obtaining large quantities. 

That’s perhaps why the gas is now also the most popular recreational drug for those aged 16-24. The effect of inhaling it – typically from a balloon – is described as a rapid rush of euphoria and a feeling of floating or excitement for a brief period.

Fits of giggles and laughter can also occur, hence the nickname.

Anyone walking around the Isle Of Dogs or east London will have seen multiple discarded canisters. It took me five minutes to find some to photograph for this piece.  

A quick search on Google reveals a number of “baking websites” that subtly embrace a new found source of revenue, offering text alerts for discounts on cream chargers and next-day delivery for those who need their ingredients quickly.

Users have little trouble getting their hands on the canisters locally and antisocial behaviour associated with its use led to Tower Hamlets Council bringing in a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) covering the whole borough last year. 

This allows officers to issue fixed penalty notices of up to £100 or launch prosecutions with fines of up to £1,000 for using the drug and engaging in behaviour such as littering, noise nuisance and vandalism.

Since the PSPO came into force in April 2021, there have been 125 enforcement actions taken by officers, including a man who was fined £400 in court after failing to pay a fixed penalty notice. 

The council says tackling use of the gas is a priority and that its enforcement officers regularly patrol the borough and take action against those using it.

It is also looking into boosting awareness around the dangers of inhaling the gas and the antisocial behaviour it can lead to.

Nevertheless, widespread nitrous oxide use continues locally. That may partly be because there’s a perception the gas is safe for recreational use. 

This ignores the very real danger of inhaling the stuff directly from a canister, which can lead to a spasm in the throat that stops the user breathing.

More worryingly, there’s emerging evidence that use of nitrous oxide is leading to spinal injuries. 

A steep rise in cases observed by Alastair Noyce, professor in neurology and neuroepidemiology at Queen Mary University’s Wolfson Institute Of Population Health, led him to launch a campaign this year to educate teenagers on the neurological risks of using the gas.

N20: Know The Risks is being led by students in the university’s Public Health And Preventative Medicine Society – supported by Professor Noyce – and has started to deliver sessions in Tower Hamlets through youth groups and housing associations.

Queen Mary University student Devan Mair is leading the campaign
Queen Mary University student Devan Mair is leading the campaign

Fourth year medical student Devan Mair, who is leading the campaign, said: “Our campaign focuses on the neurological dangers of taking nitrous oxide because they’re not very well known.

“This substance is a colourless gas which people inhale into their lungs.

The way it creates a high is to deprive a user’s brain of oxygen for a few seconds – it’s a very short high.

That in itself can create a risk, because people who do it a lot have been known to pass out and faint.

“The neurological risk is to do with the gas’ effect on the spinal cord – the clump of nerves running down the centre of the back that is connected to branches all the way around the rest of the body.

“Users of nitrous oxide risk damaging the myelin sheath – an insulating layer that forms around nerves made up of protein and fatty substances that allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells.

“Symptoms can include feelings of weakness, problems with balance, difficulty in walking or an inability to walk at all, constipation, urinary incontinence, pins and needles and in some cases a feeling like an electric shock going up the back.”

These problems stem from nitrous oxide’s ability to interfere with the body’s absorption of Vitamin B12 – a nutrient essential to a healthy myelin sheath. 

The rise in cases has become so severe that Professor Noyce and local colleagues in east London are now working with neurologists around the country to establish the first national guidelines on treating nerve damage linked to laughing gas.

He said: “We are seeing more patients than even a year or so ago, and often the cases are more severe. 

“We used to see people with tingling and numbness in their legs or difficulty walking, but this year we’ve had several people who literally can’t walk at all when they come to hospital.”

It’s cases such as those that have galvanised Devan and his fellow students into action.

“My motivation in getting involved is that I wasn’t aware of the risk until I was told about it – it’s something people simply don’t know,” he said.

“After school I did a gap year, working in special educational needs, so I got a taste for working with young people.

“We’re not here to lecture or scare anyone – we want to empower people with knowledge of the risks of nitrous oxide, to inform them if faced with the decision to take balloons, so they can make educated choices.

“If they’re presented with the evidence, they can make decisions for themselves. 

“Our campaign has two main ways of raising awareness.

“Firstly, there’s social media – we have accounts on Instagram and Twitter where we provide infographics aimed at young people to explain what’s happening and how to get help.

“We also run interactive sessions where we deliver activities in a fun and engaging way – we don’t do too much talking but get people involved to help them understand what could happen in their bodies and why the damage is taking place.

“We also give people cards with the acronym NERV on – ‘N’ for notice the symptoms, ‘E’ for emergency help, ‘R’ for replacement of vitamin B12 and ‘V’ for value your health.

“We need this campaign to constantly be there because the problem isn’t going away. We’d definitely like to roll it out over a wider area – it’s just students here at the moment, so it’s quite small – we would like to make it bigger.

“It’s definitely something that’s relevant. In June we had two days at an event in Tower Hamlets where we collected data from 246 people – 97% said it was the first time they’d heard about nitrous oxide causing spinal damage and 86% felt confident after our session that they could tell their friends about the risks.

“We feel what we do works, now we want to grow it to reach more people.”

Read more: Quiet Rebels invade the stage at The Albany

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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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Poplar: How London Firefighter tells the story of Stephen Dudeney’s 31-year career

Book by former borough commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney is available now

Firefighter Stephen Dudeney has published a book about his 31-year career
Firefighter Stephen Dudeney has published a book about his 31-year career

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There’s a circle to this story – it begins and ends with the printed word.

Stephen Dudeney grew up in Poplar, just down the road from its fire station.

As a boy in the 1970s, he was fascinated with the fire engines, even chasing them on his bike when he was old enough to ride.

“I loved them,” he said. “When I was about 12 I started going to the big library in Mile End to look at picture books full of them. 

“Then, one day, I saw a book with a really bright cover – loads of flames and fire engines. I pulled it off the shelf, and it was just full of text.

“I was disappointed, but I started reading it and found I quite liked it.”

It was an encounter that fed what was already a growing passion and Gordon Honeycombe’s Red Watch about firefighers in Paddingtonand Denis Smith’s Report From Engine Co. 82 about a fire crew in New York added further fuel to the flames.

Stephen said: “Gordon, who was then an ITN newsreader, had done a lot of charity work with the London Fire Brigade, and his book was a best-seller.

“It’s known as the book that launched a thousand careers because a lot of people – a bit older than me – had read it and decided to join.” 

While Stephen had always been fascinated by fires, once harassing his dad to take him to see a big blaze in Wapping, his journey to becoming a firefighter really began aged 14 when he and a friend volunteered to help out at Poplar fire station.

“We turned up on bonfire night because we knew it would be busy and offered to make the tea and cook some dinner for them,” he said.

“We both expected them to tell us to go away. I remember them saying ‘Thank you very much’ and we were expecting a ‘but’. 

“Instead, they said: ‘We’d love you to. Come on Thursday night, about six’. So we did.

“It was a different time, that’s not something that could happen now – just imagine, an unaccompanied 14-year-old at the station.

“Looking back, I expect they thought I was a poor kid, which I wasn’t really.

“I don’t think they thought I’d end up as a firefighter – I probably didn’t seem intelligent to them.

“But I’d join in with all the banter and I used to go down the pub with them – fancy being given a pint at that age.

“It was a good time. It changed me at school too – I started using that banter at school and the other kids probably thought I was a bit of a live wire.

“I was probably fairly bright and had been doing well with my studies but I know I was a bit of a disappointment to my parents because, having been put in the advanced classes with good reports, at that time I decided I didn’t need to worry about all that because I was going to be a fireman.”

Stephen joined the brigade in 1987, with his first shift the day after the King’s Cross fire that claimed the lives of 31 people. 

His 31-year career saw him serve at all the fire stations in Tower Hamlets, rising first to training officer and then station officer before going on to become station commander and then borough commander for Hackney in 2013.

Then, as Tower Hamlets had been placed in special measures, he returned to the area where it all began for him, finishing his career as borough commander in 2018, based at the new Millwall Fire Station on the Isle Of Dogs. 

London Firefighter is available from Amazon, priced £11.99

While that completed the circle career-wise for Stephen, he’s since gone one step further, publishing London Firefighter, a book that aims to give readers a sense of the evolution of the London Fire Brigade during his more than three decades of service.

“The changes have been massive over that time,” he said. “When I joined, it was still very much the fire brigade of the post-war era.

“The big changes came through the 1990s and into the 2000s, and it’s now completely unrecognisable. 

“We used to do a lot more of a lot less – it was fires, car crashes and the occasional flood.

“When you look at what’s done now – all sorts of things such as water rescue and animal rescue – the firefighters have got equipment and procedures that are so different.

“If I’d joined in 1957 and left in 1987, I would have recognised everything.

“Leaving in 2018, the only thing that was the same, was the water and the hoses. I hope this book shines a light on the modern brigade and how firefighting is a bit of London history. 

“I want people to come away thinking we’re not a bad bunch.

“I’d always had the idea that I wanted to write a book and I’d kept notes over the years – moving files over from computer to computer.

“Then, when I retired, I thought I would do something about it.”

While the book offers vivid first-hand accounts of what it was like for Stephen to tackle ferocious fires up close, it also offers a wider perspective on the sheer complexity of organising the service and its multitude of functions.

For example, during his career Stephen played his part in the response to such major incidents as the 1996 Docklands bombing by the IRA at South Quay on the Isle Of Dogs and the Buncefield fire – the biggest incident of its kind in peacetime Europe – when an oil storage facility exploded in 2005.

“You expect to see and experience some things as a firefighter,” he said.

“I was called out to Grenfell Tower and it remains the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

“From a mental health point of view, I’ve largely survived the fire brigade in terms of the awful things that I saw over the years, but Grenfell really affected me.

“Since I left the service, I’ve started a company that consults and advises on fire safety and I was recently on my way to do a survey of a building when I passed the tower. 

“I thought I was OK, seeing it again, but later on I couldn’t get it off my mind. 

“Even though I wasn’t there over the night, when it was at its worst, it’s had a tangible effect on me and I think there will be a generation of firefighters who will feel the same, who will never forget it.”

That’s also the point of Stephen’s book.

To set down what happened and who it happened to, so those events and people aren’t forgotten.

  • London Firefighter by Stephen Dudeney is published by Austin Macauley Publishers and is available from Amazon priced £11.99.

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Bow: Read an extract from Tufayel Ahmed’s recently published novel This Way Out

Tower Hamlets-based journalist, editor and author tackles grief and coming out in his debut work

Tufayel Ahmed has published his first novel. This Way You
Tufayel Ahmed has published his first novel. This Way You

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Bow-based journalist, editor and author Tufayel Ahmed’s debut novel was published in July, 2022 – and to give readers a flavour, he’s kindly allowed Wharf Life to release an extract.

Based on his own experiences of living with grief and the South Asian and LGBTQIA+ communities in east London, This Way Out tells the story of Amar who finds love in the arms of Joshua.

There’s just one problem – he hasn’t told his strict Muslim Bangladeshi family that his partner is a man – and not a Muslim.

So, what better way to announce you’re getting married (and gay) than on your family’s WhatsApp Group?

The novel also tackles themes of loss, with Tufayel partly driven to write by the death of his mother after a long illness.

“In a lot of South Asian families, we aren’t taught to discuss or express feelings, so I didn’t really have a way to channel my grief,” Tufayel said.

“I ended up writing a similar story arc for Amar in the novel – he, too, is consumed by grief and falls into depression.

“Writing about his grief, putting my own feelings down on paper, was quite cathartic, and writing out the ways in which he might resolve his grief – such as therapy – was almost like a roadmap on how to deal with my own.

“I began seeing a therapist too, and between that and writing the novel, I really was able to, if not overcome grief, at least feel at peace with it.”

This Way Out is published by Lake Union and is priced at £8.99.

At the time of going to press it was available on offer with amazon.co.uk for £4.99 in paperback.

This Way Out is published by Lake Union

FROM THIS WAY OUT BY TUFAYEL AHMED

I haven’t been back home to Mileson Street for a few months. Not since last Eid. That was the last time the family were all together, huddled around the kitchen table eating korma and pilau. 

The kids were running around the house, showing off their new presents, and Oli smeared chocolate on his pristine new jumper. 

There is joy and electricity when we all reunite now that everyone is off in their own little worlds, with their own wives, husbands, children and households.  I didn’t eat all day before arriving at Dad’s that Eid, saving myself for Mina’s lamb samosas and Shuli’s prawn bhuna.

“You’re going to pass out if you don’t eat,” Joshua had said, waving a piece of toast with Nutella in my face that morning. 

Then he’d taken a mammoth bite of it right in front of me, teasing me with the irresistible crunch of a perfectly toasted slice of bread.

“I’m saving myself for later!” I cried out, standing firm. Eid is always a big affair in our family. Mina and Shuli usually split the cooking duties – whipping up industrial-sized batches of saffron-scented pilau with juicy, fall-off-the-bone pieces of chicken in it – and Amira always makes at least three different desserts. 

This Eid she made extra-gooey chocolate brownies, a banoffee pie, homemade rasmalai, and mango lassi to wash it all down.

We feasted until we could barely move, rice and meat threatening to return the same way it went down.  After our late lunch, we gathered in the living room for tea and dessert. I felt so noxiously full that even a bite of Amira’s banoffee pie would have tipped me over the edge.

“Do you remember when we were kids, shopping for Eid clothes in Green Street? One of you lot would always cry: ‘I don’t want to be dressed up like him’,” Mina said playfully, smiling at Asad as she basked in the memories. “You could never dress like your big brother: ‘He’s not cool!’ 

“Mum and Dad always had to make sure you two had different outfits. God forbid you matched. You were worse than us girls.”

“Well, he wasn’t cool,” Asad said, laughing at Abed. “He still isn’t. I had a reputation to uphold, okay?”

“Oh yeah, what’s that? As one of the bad boys of the estate?” Abed teased him back. “What was it you and your mates called yourselves? The Globe Town Krew? Yeah, you looked real hard tagging the side of the library!”

“Could never get your hair cut with him, either,” I said, joining in. “Remember his Beckham curtains? The barber had to spend an hour on them, and I’m just sitting there waiting for my No. 1 side and back.”

We all broke into laughter, reminiscing about the adventures of our youth – when our problems were trivial and life felt simple. As the evening wound on, the photo albums came out, as they always did when we got together. 

Photos of Mina, Abed and Asad as children, posing with long-slaughtered cows during a holiday in Bangladesh, before Amira and I came along. Photos of the five of us dressed up in garish outfits at Mina’s wedding. The suit I’d worn was too big. The trouser legs were twice the width of my legs. 

Abed, Asad and I all had all worn pinstripe black suits with hideous silver waistcoats. In our defence, it was the turn of the millennium and we were foolishly led to believe this was cutting edge.

“Amira, you were so chubby,” Mina said, pawing at a photo of Mum in hospital holding Amira just a day after she was born. Three-year-old me can be seen lying on her hospital bed, as if insisting I was still a baby, too.

“You two were the heaviest out of all of us!” Mina continued, looking between me and Amira in mock horror. “I don’t know how Mum did it.”

“Thankfully, not chubby any more!” Amira laughed, surreptitiously glancing over at Asad, who was starting to develop heft around his stomach, just like Dad.

“Oi, I’m not fat. I’m just big-boned!” he hit back.

The laughs continued well into the night, by which time we were ready for second helpings of food. 

Still, there was more than enough for everyone to take home containers of leftovers, which I savoured for days after. No matter how much I try, I can never replicate the taste of home.

As I walk down Globe Road, cutting through the children’s playground near our street, I revel in my childhood memories. Mileson Street is the next left turn, a tucked-away, homely cul-de-sac only a five-minute walk from Whitechapel High Street. 

No fewer than three blocks of flats stand in front of and behind our street, which is filled with modest three-storey semi-detached houses. 

Before Amira and I were born, the family bounced around estates just like this all around east London. For a time they lived adjacent to Victoria Park, tales of which I listened to with envy as a child. 

Then, when I came along, the council moved them into 18 Mileson Street – a real house, with a garden and a front lawn. Amira was next and the house was filled to capacity, but there was no need to move again.

As I turn the corner on to Mileson Street, I slow my pace to take in the old area. It looks much the same, and yet I feel like a stranger.

We were lucky to live on Mileson Street; despite the inner-city locale, high crime and poverty rates, our area always felt oddly safe and suburban. Everyone always looked out for each other. 

It was like a mini Bangladeshi village at times, especially in summer, when kids from across the estate would play football or hopscotch in the streets carefree, only being wrangled into the house at sunset.

The road looks the same as always, but now the kids we used to play with have kids of their own. Sometimes I hear about so-and-so from one of my brothers, who still keep in touch with some of the boys from the neighbourhood. 

But I never really formed the same friendships. For one thing, I didn’t like playing football every Saturday like they did. Also, I was never any good at football, so was never picked for any teams. The Spice Up Your Life dance routine, however, I knew inside out. I’ve taken the long way round, hoping that the walk will keep me calm, but as I get closer to the house, my stomach muscles tense. 

Stopping, I lean against a wall adjacent to the street and call Joshua. I want to hear his reassuring voice one last time before I cross the threshold, before I meet my family face-to-face. 

And maybe I will suggest he send out a search party if I don’t make it home tonight.

His phone rings several times. Each ring is shrill to my already ragged nerves. No sign of Joshua. I nearly give up, but then he finally answers and I sigh in relief.

“Hey,” Joshua says, his voice deep and calm.

“Hi…,” I reply a little shakily. “I’m here at my dad’s. Just getting ready to go in.’

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

“I don’t want to say it’ll be fine because you’ll shout at me, so I’ll just say I love you.”

  • I close my eyes and wish I could bottle up the comfort I find in his voice and take it inside the house with me. My heart swells in my chest. It is precisely what I need to hear right now

Read more: Discover David’s Play at The Space on the Isle Of Dogs

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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.

Read more: Discover Wapping Docklands Market

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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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