Discover Sushi Co

Wapping: How Festa is set to bring Portuguese wines and flavours to London

Tobacco Dock will host the inaugural gathering of winemakers, organised by Bar Douro’s Max Graham

Festa creator and Bar Douro founder Max Graham
Festa creator and Bar Douro founder Max Graham

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

As a child, Max Graham would dip his fingers in glasses of wine and port made by his family in the Douro Valley near Porto.

His passion for Portuguese food and drink followed him to school in England where he later founded Bar Douro to offer Londoners a taste of his homeland.

Now the 35-year-old has created an entire festival so those in the capital can fully submerge themselves in Portuguese flavours.

Festa, set to be held at Tobacco Dock in Wapping from June 24-25, will offer the chance to meet 54 winemakers from across Portugal, with a line-up of established names and young pioneers. 

A £35 ticket grants visitors unlimited access to the 300 varieties of wine on show with a backdrop of Portuguese food, music and crafts.

Once I get Max talking about the winemakers he has gathered for the event, he can’t stop.

“Every single one of our producers has a story,” said the Highbury resident.

“Portugal’s wine scene has been evolving at such a speed over the last 20 years and now what we’re seeing is the fruits of that. 

“There are some really cutting-edge projects exploring and expanding what Portuguese wines are. They have a character of their own.

“All of these winemakers are proud of their vineyards and their regions and they’re trying to be as true to that place as possible.”

Festa is being held to coincide with São João, a wild annual celebration in Porto, where Max grew up.

His dad, Johnny, will be in London to show off the port made by the family business – Churchill’s – which he set up in 1981 and named after his wife. 

“He was the first person to set up a port company in over 50 years,” said Max.

“But my dad’s side of the family have made Graham’s port wine in the Douro for more than 200 years.

“As a child I’d often just put my whole hand in a glass of wine at dinner – it was normal from a young age.

“I’d go to the lodges in Gaia where the wine is stored and play hide and seek in these vast rooms full of barrels.

“Every birthday, Christmas and Easter the vintage decanter would come out and you had to guess who made it and what year it was.

“I’ve got lots and lots of memories like that and, while I’m not a winemaker, I know how it all works and love tasting wine.”

Churchill's port, was set up by Max's father 40 years ago
Churchill’s port, was set up by Max’s father 40 years ago

The married father-of-two almost took another path. After completing boarding school in England, he studied for a degree in fine art and then a Masters at the Royal Drawing School.

“I was living in London trying to make it as an artist for a while and realised it wasn’t the right direction,” said Max.

“I was working at bars and restaurants and put on a big event called the Art Cellar, a mini festival of emerging art and food and then launched a pop-up for our family during  2012 to engage the younger generation.

“It was during that period I really became aware of the lack of representation of Portugal in London. 

“There was nothing reflecting the energy of Porto and Lisbon. That’s when I started building my business plan for Bar Douro.”

He launched the first bar in London Bridge in November 2016 and the second in Finsbury Park in 2020, just before Covid hit.

“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” said Max. “When lockdown happened and our restaurants closed, we said: ‘What are we going to do with this?’.

“We import a lot of wines directly from producers across Portugal, so we decided to set up a wine shop – and that quickly led into a wine club.”

The shop sells more than 100 Portuguese wines while club subscribers receive six on a quarterly basis, curated by Bar Douro’s wine guru Sarah Ahmed, who is also Festa’s co-founder.

“We had the idea for it back in 2018,” said Max. “But we were thinking about doing it in a much smaller way.

“Launching the shop and club brought us into even closer contact with the traders and we realised we wanted to put on a proper wine festival for them.

“There have been Portuguese trade fairs but never a wine festival and it was important to put the products in the cultural context, so the festival will have aspects of Portuguese culture, music, food, wine and crafts.

“It feels like we had been gearing up to this as everyone’s been at home and needs to have a bit of a celebration. The winemakers are gagging for it and I hope London is too.”

Max with wine guru Sarah Ahmed
Max with wine guru Sarah Ahmed

The event is expected to attract 3,400 people with Sarah leading four red carpet-themed tastings for rarer wines and visitors able to buy some of the wines through pop-up and online shops.

“Sarah and I chose the most exciting parts of Portugal’s wine scene, which is really exploding,” said Max.

“There are some famous wines from the 1960s, but the majority of producers have only really been working for 20 years. 

“Then you’ve got a new generation, who have worked at some of the great wine regions of the world and brought back a wealth of experience to Portugal.

“So you’ve got this really exciting melting pot of creativity and exploration.

“We don’t feel this is fully translating to the UK, so we’re trying to bring all that energy here and give those guys a platform to show their wines in London.”

Max hopes the event will change people’s view of what his homeland has to offer.

“There’s very much a preconception in the UK of Portuguese wine as being really good value, which is great but it’s also quite limiting,” said Max.

“Sometimes I don’t think people appreciate that there are some slightly higher-end wines.

“These winemakers are not holding back, they are showing the top end of their portfolio and our line up is unparalleled to anything seen in the UK before.

“It covers absolutely every single wine growing region in Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira and really obscure regions like Távora Varosa, where Titan is made to Beira Interior where Quinta Da Biaia is made.

“We’ve also got really good representation from the big areas, like Herdade do Rocim from Alentejo which is a more established company.”

Max said the experience of creating Festa from scratch has been a sharp learning curve. It has been entirely funded by Bar Douro and he is expecting to make a loss.

“But for him, it is about something bigger than profit.

“Whatever happens at the core, we know that we’ve got an unbelievable lineup and we’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, for Portugal, that we’re all proud of,” said Max.

“It might not be the most financially sensible decision, but it’s worth it for the bigger picture.

“This is an event to make Portugal bigger and better and that’s going to benefit everyone, I hope.”

MAX’S MAKERS – APPEARING AT FESTA

BIG NAMES

  • Soalheiro, Filipa Pato, Wine & Soul. 

PIONEERS

  • Niepoort: “They trained a new generation of winemakers who are now at the cutting edge of Portugal’s wine scene.”
  • Pierre de Rocimhas: “He’s really led the charge on Tahlia wine made in clay pots.”

NEW DISCOVERIES

  • Geographic Wines: “His first production’s just being boxed now and I don’t think anyone’s tried his wines before.”

YOUNG GUNS

  • Arribas Wine Company: “Based in the Trás-os-Montes, they are doing such cool wines”
  • Mateus Nicolau de Almeida: “He comes from a serious lineage of winemakers. His grandfather created Barca Velha, the most famous Portuguese wine and its makers Casa Ferreirinha will also be at Festa.”
Bar Douro
Bar Douro

Read more: Find out how Crossrail is transformative for Excel

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Wapping: How Pop Skewer is serving up a taste of Brazil underneath the railway

Marina Simoes and Marcio Yokota opened their kiosk after both losing their jobs during lockdown

Marcio Yokota and Marina Simoes of Pop Skewer
Marcio Yokota and Marina Simoes of Pop Skewer – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

Underneath the grey stretch of railway tracks in Wapping lies a surprise. Well, more than one, actually.

Venture off the beaten path of Cable Street and you will find Brazil’s most popular street food on offer at Pop Skewer

Succulent beef on sticks, halal chicken and sausage are freshly barbecued and served up on the side of the road, just like in South America.

The compact kiosk was opened by Brazilian couple Marina Simoes, 46, and Marcio Yokota, 53, after they both lost their jobs during the first lockdown.

They had never worked together, but decided to use their skills and take a chance on their new venture.

Marina said: “We were both doing something completely different before.

“I was working in property sales and then started temping because I knew I wanted to do something else but never thought of opening my own business.

“My husband was working in a coffee shop as manager but because of lockdown we were both at home unemployed, so we said: ‘Why not work together?’.

“He’s a very good cook, so we thought we’d do something that uses his skills and gives people a taste of Brazil.”

They decided to serve the skewers with another popular dish from their home country – rice and beans.

“In Brazil, they wouldn’t normally be served together,” said Marina. “But we decided to combine them. 

“The skewers are everywhere in Brazil. You grab them and eat them on the street really informally on the stick.

“They’re a really profitable business there and, hopefully, we will get the same success here.”

Pop Burger and Pop Sandwich from the kiosk
Pop Burger and Pop Sandwich from the kiosk – image Matt Grayson

They also serve up a Pop Sandwich and Pop Burger and daily specials like beef stew with cassava, beef stroganoff, beef parmigiana and, once a month, slow-cooked beef ribs.

“Every Saturday we serve the feijoada, which is black bean and pork stew,” said Marina.

“It’s made with different types of pork meat served with rice, tomato salad, spring greens and the farofa, toasted cassava flour with bacon and something else.

“Forgive me, I forget as I’ve been a vegetarian for  20 years.”

A vegetarian running a meat-based business? How does that work? 

“To be honest, I don’t like the smell of the BBQ, but I respect everyone whether they are vegetarian or not,” she said.

Marina admits she mostly stays away from the kitchen and sticks to handling other parts of the business.

The couple buy all their food fresh every few days and have items like the black beans delivered from a Brazilian supplier.

“I don’t cook anything, I’m terrible with that,” she said. “Of course, I help put the meals together. But cooking? No.”

Thanks to her, Pop Skewer also serves up plenty of vegetarian options, including a halloumi, onion and courgette skewer, a halloumi burger with courgette and lettuce, tomato and homemade sauce and a vegetarian sandwich in ciabatta bread.

Marina said: “Cooking with a charcoal grill makes such a difference to the taste. 

“We have never just aimed to target Brazilians and, so far, everyone is enjoying eating it, which we find amazing.”

A range of dishes are available from the kiosk
A range of dishes are available from the kiosk – image Matt Grayson

It’s not the first time the Bromley residents have taken a leap into the unknown.

Marina, who is of Italian heritage and grew up in Minas Gerais, left Brazil in her 20s on a one-way ticket to London.

She said: “My first job was working in silver service in hotels. I was terrible. Then I started in retail sales and then management and then property sales.”

Marcio, who is of Japanese heritage and grew up in Sao Paulo, arrived in England 15 years ago. He left behind a clothes business and found work in restaurants and coffee shops.

 Having grown up 370 miles apart, it took them both travelling 5,900 miles across the Atlantic for their love story to begin on the streets of London.

“We met through a mutual friend and have been together ever since,” said Marina.

Their relationship is being put to the test with the challenges presented by their joint venture.

They built the business in just eight weeks, launching just after the first lockdown, and have faced struggles with supplies during the pandemic, getting word out to customers on a shoestring, and working together in very close quarters.

“Sometimes I want to strangle my husband,” said Marina

“But we have separate areas with me in the front taking orders and the other two guys in the cooking area. Sometimes we do bump into each other and bicker.

“It’s been very challenging having our own business under these conditions for the past year, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Pop skewers are very popular in Brazil
Pop skewers are very popular in Brazil – image Matt Grayson

They have also taken on fellow Brazilian Lucas Montagnini and trained him up to work on the grill.

“It was very hard to find someone because of the pandemic,” said Marina.

“He was a friend of a friend who was an engineer in Brazil, but he’d had enough and decided to leave and do something else.

“That’s what we all do when we come to England – something completely different. It’s great and challenging, leaving our comfort zone.”

The Pop Skewer site was empty before they took it over and they rely on Instagram, Google and word of mouth to gain customers. 

But business can be unpredictable, with the lunch crowd sometimes arriving at 11am and sometimes not until 1.30pm, which makes it hard to plan.

“It can be really unpredictable,” said Marina.“We are not just building up Pop Skewer but also the location.

“The residents kept us going during the pandemic, but now the office workers are coming back. Hopefully, when the weather gets warmer, there will be lots of BBQ for everyone.

“We really want Pop Skewer to grow and get more customers.

“The past year has been about working hard and not getting much money, so we really want to move to the next level now and become known by everyone for Brazilian food.”

Pop Skewer is located by the side of Cable Street
Pop Skewer is located by the side of Cable Street – image Matt Grayson

Read more: BabaBoom set to launch kebab restaurant in Stratford

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: How baths and art intersect at the Bickerton-Grace Gallery at Stirling Eco

Grace Of London set for exhibition alongside Lisa Izquierdo at dealership on The Highway

Anne-Marie Bickerton of Bickerton-Grace Gallery
Anne-Marie Bickerton of Bickerton-Grace Gallery – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, because this is going to take some serious attention. In Wapping there’s an electric motorcycle dealership called Stirling Eco.

Its founder and CEO is a man called Robert Grace. 

Professionally he rose to prominence as an expert tiler and mosaic artist working at the very top of the interiors profession.

That culminated in Grace Of London, which creates decorative baths inlaid with precious metals, Swarovski crystals and the like, for those whose luxury bathing habits far exceed the means of most – think up to £100k a tub. With me so far? Good.

Robert met photographer and artist Anne-Marie Bickerton when she came to shoot one of his baths with a ballerina in it. Inspired, she created a painting based on the images she’d taken, then came up with the idea of cutting it into pieces to share the art.

In collaboration with Robert, they decided to take that idea – calling it Sentiment – and involve other artists, creating the nucleus of what’s become the Bickerton-Grace Gallery.

Its physical space, based at Stirling Eco on The Highway, has an ever-evolving display of work by the 100 artists in the Sentiment project, including Anne-Marie herself.

From March 25-April 8, however, it will host a joint exhibition of work by painter Lisa Izquierdo and some of Robert’s baths.

Robert and Lisa will display their work together
Robert and Lisa will display their work together – image Matt Grayson

Anne-Marie said: “With the Sentiment collection, an artist sends us a work, which we divide into 1,000 pieces, mount on 24-carat gold leaf and stitch a gold thread through – that’s all about connection.

“They can then be purchased, potentially connecting 100,000 people with this installation. We also invite the artists to exhibit in our space and it’s an incredibly diverse group – we have classical artists, street art, acrylic painters, pretty much everything.

“Then you have all the collaborations I do with Robert and the pieces in the Sentiment collection themselves.”

The electric bikes aren’t just a backdrop. Stirling Eco prides itself on offering artistic makeovers for its rides, some in collaboration with Sentiment artists. 

Much of the space, which is free to visit, is adorned with artworks large and small.

Anne-Marie, for example, uses the walls to create vanishing pieces that are painted over shortly after creation, with digital versions deleted and only limited edition prints surviving.

It’s an environment that feels less about selling two-wheelers and more about unbridled creativity.

“Running a gallery is really interesting,” said Anne-Marie. “I get so inspired by the other artists that are on board and it’s a bit of a love project really, because I get connected to every one of them.

“Art is an emotional response – it grabs you or it doesn’t, and it’s very personal. 

“It’s like a fire in your tummy – I really like that but I can’t explain it, like a buzz of energy – it’s a nice feeling.

“The idea of Sentiment is that if you see a piece by an artist but can’t afford it, you can still buy a piece of something they’ve created.

“With Lisa, her pieces are very dramatic, beautiful big oil paintings, and they tie in really nicely with what Robert makes – they complement each other without clashing and that’s why we’ve brought these two artists together.

“Visitors will see their work together, but also work by other artists as well.”

THE ARTISTS IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Robert with one of his baths
Robert with one of his baths – image Matt Grayson

Grace Of London – The words of Robert Grace

“I did an apprenticeship as a ceramic floor tiler and I’ve always had an artistic background, which set me aside from my peers,” said Robert.

“I pretty much won every award that was available as a City and Guilds apprentice, and by the age of 25 I was abroad fixing mosaic domes in palaces.

“I’d worked for pretty much all the royal families in the world.

“Towards the end of my tiling career, I was getting older and I was trying to think how I might use my brain rather than my brawn.

“The idea to create the baths came when a client asked me what colour she should paint her bath – it was in a £60,000 bathroom and I just thought I could create something that would turn the interior from a stunning one to a spectacular place.

The exhibition will take place at Stirling Eco
The exhibition will take place at Stirling Eco – image Matt Grayson

“She painted her bath in the end, but I went back to my workshop and thought about creating some samples.

“Then, with the the help of top refurbishment firm Grangewood, I launched them with a week-long exhibition. 

“They cost from about £50,000 but the customer is getting 35 years of experience and something that’s unique and hand-cut. I’ve made some for more than £100,000. The last one I did had over 40,000 pieces of glass.

“The bathtubs are a good match with Lisa’s art because her work is astonishing, really beautiful and also the kind of piece you could include as part of an interior design.

“It’s subtle, the colours are well-chosen and the textures are beautiful.

“I’ve worked with some of the finest interior designers in the world and, to be really good in that world, you have to understand how light falls, shapes and colours what’s in a room.

“One of the most important things is to understand how to place and decorate with pieces of art themselves.

“I’ve always been artistic and creative and this is an extension of that.”

  • Robert will show three baths at Bickerton-Grace Gallery as part of the exhibition, including the black and white Harlequin
Lisa, pictured with one of her paintings
Lisa, pictured with one of her paintings – image Matt Grayson

Lili – The words of Lisa Izquierdo

“The pieces I’ll be showing at the exhibition will be the from my Essence Of Woman collection,” said Lisa, who lives and works near Manchester.

“There are no faces, it’s more about texture, movement and dynamic. I’ve always had an interest in art. When I was very young – aged six – I would draw these elfin-like, elongated silhouettes with wings.

“I think I was inspired by strong women in my life who brought me up, like my mum and my sister.

“I have six collections, all on different subjects, but painting these images was a real way to escape when I was struggling – painting is meditative, a lovely, expressive way to cocoon myself in my little studio and put it all on canvas.

“Everyone goes through bad times and you wouldn’t appreciate the good without that.

“It was tough in my 20s, I started modelling when I was 13 and at 15 I went to Madrid on a contract and then Tokyo for a year. On the one hand I got to travel the world and it taught me a lot of lessons in life. 

Lisa will be showing pieces from her Essence Of Woman series -
Lisa will be showing pieces from her Essence Of Woman series – image Matt Grayson

“But I was in an environment at a very young age that was horrible and it scarred me. That’s why I don’t paint faces, because it’s drilled into you that you need to be a certain way.

“There were eating disorders, drug addictions – you see it all – it was exploitation of very young girls. Even now at 46, I have to be OK with eating. 

“Those experiences are part of what makes me the artist I am today.

“For me art is the release. I get really lost in painting. Sometimes I can be in the studio until four or five in the morning.

“I’ll go home, sleep and go back to the studio and discover what I’ve created, whether it’s an abstract piece or a painting of a man or a woman.

“I hope people feel uplifted when they see my work. I want it to be thought-provoking too and to feel some positive energy – it’s a bit hippy, but then that’s what I am.”

  • Lisa, who signs her work Lili, will show a selection of her oil paintings at the exhibition. 

Read more: See James Cook’s typewriter art at Trinity Buoy Wharf

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: How The Rattle is investing in crazy in the depths of Tobacco Dock

It has 600 members from 9,000 applicants and is ‘deliberately mysterious and secretive’

Jon Eades and Chris Howard of The Rattle
Jon Eades and Chris Howard of The Rattle – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

Something is growing in Tobacco Dock. Tucked away in one of its workspaces is The Rattle – a company that wants to give creatives the same power as tech CEOs.

Deliberately mysterious, its website and social channels are almost barren and membership is notoriously hard to come by. In five years, it has vetted 9,000 applicants and taken 600 members. 

But with founders Chris Howard, 40, and Jon Eades, 38, about to land $10million in funding for an international expansion, the subversive ploy seems to be bearing fruit. So what the hell do they actually do?

“I began investing in weird humans in 2017,” said CEO Chris. “I had this personal belief that startups are really boring and every single one was yet another Uber for olives or Netflix for donkey saddles, just the same company over and over again.

“So I gave money to musicians and authors, comedians, math olympiad competitors and psychologists. I wanted to see what happened if you joined their team for six months and, it turned out, it was really cool stuff.

“It shows if you place the same trust you would in a tech nerd in a crazy creative type, they can create something just as valuable and socially powerful as Mark Zuckerberg.”

The premise is simple, at least on the surface. Members of The Rattle pay a fee and can drop into the Wapping site anytime between 8am and 10pm. 

It comprises two small studios for writing or recording demos, a live room for up to 10 musicians, which can be used for live streaming and video shoots, and a well-equipped production room for recording and later stage production.

It sounds pretty standard, but under the surface there is much more going on.

“The Rattle is deliberately mysterious and secretive,” said Chris. “We want people to find it hard to join because it implies a certain character type. 

“It’s important to us that every member is fucking crazy and has a world view that makes you go: ‘What?’.

“Then they have to be insanely talented at something, particularly something creative, or have made something really special.

“Finally they need to have this magnetism that draws people in.”

The space includes recording facilities
The space includes recording facilities

So how do you nurture such a diverse mix of people without stifling them?

“We’re not trying to make another Abbey Road,” said Jon, referencing the studios where he worked for a decade. 

“This is a very fluid, very human environment where you are free to experiment and not count the clock or be hyper-conscious of how much it’s costing you.

“It’s a laboratory free from stress for prototyping and experimenting.”

While members casually chat, live stream, record and write, behind the scenes a team of 20 experts is busy documenting every move in order to “engineer serendipity”.

“It’s behind the scenes puppet mastering,” said Chris.

“That sounds weird, but all our members know we do this and the huge wealth of data we track allows our team to understand who needs to meet who and under what conditions. 

“Then, for around 20% of our members that move into the venture side, we have a veteran team of about 20 ex-hackers, founders, music folk and tech developers whose job it is to co-create these projects that we think can change the world and transition them into companies. That’s our primary business. 

“The last thing we do is connect the outside works into The Rattle so we curate investors and superstars that have done incredible things to come and inspire our members to be more daring and break as many rules as humanly possible in a safe and responsible way. 

“Our entire mission as a company is to help the next generation of artists, hackers and inventors become disruptive founders.

“We think they are the ones who change society and the economy and we want to make sure this category of human has a chance.”

The co-founders have very different roles, defined by their obviously contrasting personalities and the diverse paths they took to find each other.

“Day to day, Jon focuses on getting the machinery working well together,” said Chris.

“My job is to make sure the right humans are in the mix from a team point of view and that the people who give us money don’t have too much influence over what we do. So I’m kind of like the shield and Jon’s the sword.”

Neither can keep a straight face at this point but while Chris guffaws with laughter, Jon gives a wry grin. 

He grew up playing in orchestras, studied music and sound engineering at the University Of Surrey and pretty much walked straight into a technical role at Abbey Road Studios.

He went on to discover a  passion for startups and launched Abbey Road Red, an incubator for tech entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Chris was the council estate kid with a music A&R dad who he defied to become a moderately successful singer-songwriter. 

But believing he was “too shit or too ugly” to make it work, he jacked it in and, on completing a degree in physics and a Ph.D in computational physics, ended up across the pond at MIT conducting research into the online psychology of motivation and social influence “because why the hell not?”.

He spun this into tech company Libboo, which identified audience trends and helped a thousand authors sell their books.

But when it began to fail, alongside his marriage, he landed back in England at Tobacco Dock, as MD of the UK arm of MassChallenge, a global network for entrepreneurs.

It was through their shared passion for music and startups that the two finally crossed paths. 

“Having the Abbey Road business card meant I attracted a lot of people and one of those was Chris,” said Jon. 

“Most people don’t forget their first meeting with Chris and I certainly didn’t. He just tells it how it is and suffers the bullshit less than some.

“As a young founder if you have a meeting with Chris, you get the truth and sometimes it stings.”

Chris said: “I just sent Jon a random email saying: ‘Hey, you don’t know me but…’ He had his guard up, but I decided to just keep trying and finally he invited me in.

“I just had the impression that he thought: ‘Urgh another one desperate to be involved’. So I just thought: ‘Fuck it, I’m not going to sell myself I’m just going to say what I think’.

“Fair to say I didn’t play it cool. I’m not cool.”

They kept in touch as The Rattle first took root and, when it secured its first investment at the end of 2017, Jon decided it was time to leave the “safe haven” of Abbey Road and follow his “entrepreneurial urges”.

“That’s how The Rattle started officially – on February 9, 2018,” he said. “It was a quick turnaround and at this point Chris decided to get married and go on honeymoon to Thailand.”

Chris, who now lives in Bath and juggles jetting round the world with parenting, laughs gleefully at this point and shortly afterwards dashes off unexpectedly once again to do a pitch to an investor.

“Man on the ground, Jon, notes his business partner has a “love-hate relationship” with raising funds, but his brilliance at doing so should soon land them enough cash to launch the next phase of The Rattle.

The Rattle began with 50 founding members
The Rattle began with 50 founding members

Jon, who lives in Peckham, said it started with 50 founding members as “an experiment” and they had made tonnes of mistakes along the way, but by the end of 2018 had raised $2million, which allowed them to open a second location in Silverlake, Los Angeles, in March 2020. 

“Most people remember that week,” said Jon.

“I got the last flight back as America was closing its borders and we had to put a blanket over it for four months, but our founding members all stuck with it and so did the London crowd.

“There is this real feeling of belonging and being chosen.”

That nurturing environment is now evolving into an ecosystem that he wants to see spread across the world.

“In 2019, we started to explore the notion of venture building where you join someone’s team, temporarily, parachute in and leverage everything you have to help them.

“The other people who tend to provide that sort of thing in music are managers, labels and lawyers.

“Our offering was such a breath of fresh air and we were amazed by the results – that’s become the seedling of everything we have done since. 

“Really what The Rattle is today is a venture studio where we can explain our world view about drawing on expertise from the startup world and approach funding in different ways to see how it can benefit them.

“Once you have built that trust you can partner with them and now we are taking long-term positions with people.

“They stop paying us and we take a bit of ownership and hope in five years they become profitable.”

Today it has 75 members per location and has started roughly 25 ventures that it thinks will help change the world.

“It’s not about trying to become famous and high numbers,” said Jon. “Streaming only really makes sense for the Ed Sheerans and Dua Lipas of the world. 

“But if you really know who you are and how to engage with high-value fans, there’s real money to be made and a social impact that really affects people’s lives.

“We are the first ones who have found a way to show people a different path, which is all about behaving like a founder, taking responsibility and not handing over control to people prematurely and being taken advantage of. 

“If members choose to interface with the existing industry then so be it – we are not anti-label – but we want people to do it from a position of strength so they know what they are getting involved in.”

The Rattle is structures so it shares in members’ profits

Everything The Rattle does is on an equitable basis. They never touch revenue or rights, but become shareholders, so are the last to get paid if there is any profit.

“That means we can give honest advice because if we screw the artist we are screwing ourselves,” said Jon.

“Although we are down every month from a cash flow perspective, we are signing more and more equitable agreements with people, so the assets we are accumulating are increasing. 

“At the moment, we are trying to close out $10million, so that’s really exciting and we’re also trying to lead the way by doing a crypto raise, which is attracting more new investors.

“Having that money will mean we can refresh our spaces, maybe even move to new facilities and set-up New York and one or two more within the next couple of years and for the first time be on the map as a real challenger. 

“We have been this scrappy outsider so far, but now it is really starting to come together and we can start to challenge some of the bigger record companies and offer the best people a real alternative.”

ON THE RADAR

Broaden your horizons with members of The Rattle:

“Instead of signing a record deal he formed a limited company, sold shares and raised £150,000,” said Jon.

That enabled him to explore business models and he grew a super fan community using WhatsApp and other platforms and built his whole operation around figuring out what they were interested in buying from him and being quite high touch about it.

He isn’t very famous, but he has built up a really solid business.”

“Created a platform that allows people to create immersive 3D experiences really easily so musicians can perform inside interactive worlds and make live streaming less dull. They are just closing out a big round of investment.”

Feed Forward

“Using AI to improve music search and retrieval, which sounds quite boring but is quite impactful.”

“They call themselves high five hip-hop. It’s throwback 1990s where they are quite irreverent and write songs around topical themes. They did one for World Bee Day. They have built up a core of fans and throw house parties with beer pong and Super Nintendo.”

“British psychedelic band trying to revive that golden age of the 1970s. Saw other bands doing it and incited a whole lifestyle around tie-dye and slow living.”

Read more: Discover The Well Bean Co in Royal Docks

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: How Tondo Pizza’s founders are bringing their childhood flavours to diners

How Gregorio Carullo and Dario Truden created a restaurant in celebration of their shared love of food

Gregorio Carullo, left, and Dario Truden – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

It’s a classic bromance. Gregorio Carullo and Dario Truden grew up on opposite sides of the Tyrrhenian Sea in southern Italy.

As growing boys, they feasted on pizza and, as men, embraced the sensual arts of nude photography and hairdressing.

Fate brought them together five years ago in London when, like so many residents of the capital, they found themselves thrown together as flatmates.

They bonded over their heritage and a shared passion for pizza, which quickly grew into a desire to share it with their new community.

There were ups and downs along the way but, two months ago, the story had its happy ending, when the duo opened Tondo Pizza in Wapping High Street.

The 24-seater restaurant serves up food that fuses traditional Neopolitan flavours with modern sensibilities. I sat down with married father-of-one, Gregorio to find out more.

how did the idea start?
Dario and I lived together as flatmates for two years and, although we do totally different jobs, we always had the same passion for Italian food and the dream of opening a small restaurant.

The idea of ​​Tondo started a long time ago when I had the opportunity to work in the evening in a pizzeria here in London and, over six years, accumulated the experience and the desire necessary to start this new adventure.

Pizza chef at Tondo Filip Fric
Pizza chef at Tondo Filip Fric – image Matt Grayson

what inspired you?
We are both from the south of Italy. I was born and raised in Salerno and Dario in Sicily, so having the need to make great pizza is in our veins. We both grew up eating it and we wanted to recreate the flavours of our childhood in our own way.

what were the challenges?
There were certainly enough difficulties to carry out this project, starting with finding the right place and making everything functional. However, everything was possible thanks to the support and commitment of Dario who immediately believed in the potential of my idea.

why open in Wapping?
For me it is the most beautiful neighbourhood in London. It’s an island of quiet in the middle of the largest city in the country. I loved it from the first moment I walked its streets back in 2016, when I first moved to London. 

I would come here often to take long walks and relax, away from the chaos of the city and I finally moved here in 2020.

Pizzas are served on wooden trays
Pizzas are served on wooden trays- image Matt Grayson

what do you love about it?
I love the architecture of its buildings and that it is a place rich in history.

what was your childhood like?
I was born in Salerno, and my childhood was carefree, my family is the typical family of southern Italy with its rules and traditions to respect. I am the youngest of three children and, perhaps for this reason, I have always been the most pampered.

your first memories of pizza?
My first memory is surely the one related to the pizza from the Aquila Nera restaurant, where I had thousands during my childhood. It was my daily appointment – almost a ritual – with my friends.

who taught you to make it?
My first teacher was definitely my mother, I will always be grateful to her for having transmitted to me the value of the Italian culinary tradition. 

Then I was able to refine my knowledge thanks to the help of colleagues over the years.

what’s a Tondo pizza?
Tondo follows the tradition of Neapolitan pizza – using Italian raw materials that are always fresh and working everything slowly. Our dough rests from 48 to 72 hours to allow it to be light and delicious.

Tondo Pizza's interior
Tondo Pizza’s interior – image Matt Grayson

what kind of oven do you use?
A new generation electric oven that allows us to have a perfect temperature for cooking pizza and does not emit odours or smoke, respecting nature. 

We serve the pizzas using wooden trays with sheets of recycled paper, which gives us a water-saving of 90% and we recycle all our waste personally. 

where do you get ingredients?
All the ingredients are Italian Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) products, from flour to tomato, mozzarella and all the toppings. We are proud that all our ingredients arrive from the producer to our restaurant in less than a day.

what’s on the menu?
Delicious starters such as meat platters or burrata and our pizzas range from the well known Margherita to our bestsellers Diavola, Panciona and many others. 

We offer vegan and gluten-free options as well. There are also desserts such as Italian pistachio, chocolate and vanilla gelato and then the Neapolitan baba with lemon cream from the Amalfi coast or dark chocolate cream – absolutely worth trying.

Tondo Pizza is located in Wapping
Tondo Pizza is located in Wapping – image Matt Grayson

why is your pizza special?
Tondo’s pizza fully represents the taste of Italian tradition. Although we started this adventure just over two months ago, our customers have already rewarded us with enthusiastic reviews.

how does it fit with the day job?
Luckily I can manage the two activities quite well – by day as a photographer and by night as a restaurateur – like Bruce Wayne and Batman. 

Photography is a passion before a job, in fact, I tend to do only personal projects because only that can make you achieve great results.

what kind of photos do you take?
I do only nude art. I have been pursuing this career for nine years and it is always a great satisfaction to have the honour of photographing strong and independent women. 

They fight every day for their rights, putting themselves on the line, with a type of photography that is sometimes looked at from the wrong point of view by society.

which is tougher?
Without a doubt, pizza. Photography can be learned with courses and practice. Pizza must be in your soul.

Read more: Skyports set to bring electric aviation to the Isle Of Dogs

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: How Tom Carradine’s show is simply a good old cockney knees-up

Pianist celebrates six years of sing-a-long performances at Wilton’s Music Hall in east London

Tom is set to perform at Wilton's in January and February
Tom is set to perform at Wilton’s in January and February image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Tom Carradine is adamant that he doesn’t have a cockney bone in his body.

But anyone who’s seen him levitate and click his heels, grinning from ear to ear couldn’t fail to doubt that more than a little East End magic courses through his lithe and dapper frame.

A singular individual, clad in sharp vintage clothes, he’s a man perfectly suited to the niche he inhabits – showman, entertainer, crowd pleaser. 

More than that, he’s an education, a smuggler of facts in with the bonhomie, such that audiences attending Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long, will leave having absorbed a smattering of knowledge

A regular Thursday night performer at Mr Fogg’s Tavern in Covent Garden, he’s a regular name at venues across east London and is celebrating six years of sell-out shows at Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping with gigs on January 20, 22 and February 8.

It all started, of course, with biochemistry.

“I was born in Coventry, in the Midlands, and grew up there,” said Tom. “To cut a very long story short, I was told by the careers advisors not to be an actor or a musician and that I needed to get a proper job.

“I’d always been fascinated by London – I’d pored over maps of it as a kid and knew the Tube lines inside out.

“My mum and dad had trained at the teacher training college in Roehampton, so I was always fascinated by the history of the city – its ghost stories and all that kind of stuff.

“We’d go a couple of times a year to see shows and I’d always wanted to live there since I was tiny.

“I ended up doing a biochemistry degree at Imperial College London, that’s when I moved to the city.”

Tom met West End musicians while at university
Tom met West End musicians while at university image Matt Grayson

It was while at university Tom realised music had a bigger pull for him than test tubes and Bunsen burners. Having always played piano, he became involved with the student operatic society. 

“I met West End musicians that way and gradually I was being asked to play for things like cabaret concerts, auditions and rehearsals,” he said.

“I finished off my degree as joint honours with business studies and then spent time doing fringe theatre and touring as the keyboard player in shows such as Blood Brothers – living out of a suitcase for about eight years.

“Then I decided to hang up my touring shoes and was playing a bit for Les Miserables in the West End. While I was doing that, I was introduced to the London cabaret scene.

Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long was lots of different things coming together. There was my love and fascination for London and old-time music.

“Even though there are no Cockneys in my family, I was involved with Scout gang shows back in Coventry growing up and through that I learnt a lot of music hall and wartime songs.

“Then on the London cabaret circuit and the vintage scene I was starting to develop my own vintage style. I discovered as an adult you can do what you want and wear what you want. 

“I was playing with a 1920s-30s band called Champagne Charlie And The Bubbly Boys.

“We were playing at a vintage festival in Bedfordshire – actually based at the airfield where band leader Glenn Miller took off from on his last flight when his plane crashed and he was lost.

“After the show we ended up in an old Nissen hut, which was a pub, with a battered old piano. Half the keys weren’t working and it was completely out of tune.

“But my friend Dusty Limits, who was hosting one of the stages, tipped me the wink and said: ‘Play some of the old songs’.

“So I did My Old Man Said Follow The Van and Knees Up Mother Brown – all the songs I knew from childhood and took requests.

“The pints kept coming and I kept playing. Then we did the same the night after.

“I didn’t really think about it again until we went back the following year and people saw us on the way and asked if we were doing the sing-a-long again.

“The rest is history. Now I make a full-time living pushing around my mobile piano – Kimberley – and driving my van all over the country.”

Tom wears a mixture of vintage styles
Tom wears a mixture of vintage styles image Matt Grayson

Ticket holders for Tom’s shows can expect a blistering array of sing-a-long classics from British and, often American, pens including tunes so well known over this side of the pond many assume them to be native. 

“It’s a good old-fashioned knees-up,” said Tom, who these days operates from a base in Tonbridge.

“It’s my job to whip the crowd up and then we’ll go through maybe 200 songs you never knew you knew.

“The lyrics are projected on the back wall and it’s all about audience participation – bringing back those memories with tunes people haven’t heard for years. 

“It’s fast-paced – there are medleys – and you can buy a ticket for anywhere in the theatre, but I get to be in the best seat in the house, which is right in the middle of everyone when they sing.

“As much as anything the show is exploration and education as well as entertainment. 

“I like to try and link things together in medley – for example, last time I was at Wilton’s I did one based on tramps with Burlington Bertie From Bow – about a man dressed above his station in life as an upper class toff – echoed by Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London with the old man in the closed down market. 

“I’m a firm believer that songs from the 1890s to the 1950s need to be performed and shouldn’t sit as dusty old sheet music whether it’s the better known ones or the others.

“People will know Daisy, Daisy and I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, the latter written in America.

“But will they know The Postman’s Holiday or It’s a Great Big Shame? Unless we sing them and pass them along, they’re just going to die out.”

Tom's spats, made to an Edwardian design
Tom’s spats, made to an Edwardian design image Matt Grayson

Audiences can also expect to be delighted by Tom’s wardrobe as well as his moustache.

He said: “When you have facial furniture like this, it’s hard to wear anything but vintage. It’s very rare I’m ever seen outside the house without a collar and tie on, even when I’m putting the bins out. 

“I completely appreciate vintage purists, but I mix and match if only so the really precious pieces get a longer life.

“For this shoot my trousers are 1950s, the spats are modern but to an Edwardian pattern, the waistcoat is 1960s and the jacket is 1920. 

“The collar and shirt are new – thankfully there are companies that still make these kinds of clothes. I wear clothes that make me feel good.”

Performances at Wilton’s start at 7.30pm with tickets from £9-£18.

Audience members should bring a pair of lungs and expect to work them enthusiastically.

Read more: Inject some colour to fight the January blues

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: How Wapping Docklands Market provides a platform for small businesses

Zeroo Markets founder Will Cutteridge talks under-used land, sustainability and his plans for expansion

Will Cutteridge of Wapping Docklands Market
Will Cutteridge of Wapping Docklands Market – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Will Cutteridge is a bit of a visionary. Where some see awkward, unused expanses of land left over from Docklands’ industrial past, he sees opportunity.

Take the patch of cobbles, wharf and compacted earth beside the Glamis Road bascule bridge, for example. 

Walk under the crossing’s red riveted metalwork, turn right through a gate off Wapping Wall at the entrance to Shadwell Basin you have the site of his first venture under the banner of Zeroo Markets.

“I worked in commercial property for five years on an apprenticeship scheme, changing teams every year,” said Will. “It was managing real estate in many different formats, but it wasn’t for me.

“When I was very young and working in property – I was 17 when I joined the industry – I didn’t have much money so I was looking at ways of making some extra cash on the weekends. 

“I started working for a company called Bath Soft Cheese who have a farm just outside of Bath, funnily enough.

“The job was selling their products at various markets around London and I absolutely loved it.

“Before I became an apprentice I’d had an interest in starting my own business of some kind. I had experience of real estate and markets – I didn’t enjoy one of them so the other one seemed the obvious place to go.

Hannah Nicholson of Peaches
Hannah Nicholson of Peaches – image Matt Grayson

“I think people are increasingly conscious of sustainability, the environment and the future of the planet.

“That was also an interest of mine, so I wanted to see how I could work that into my ideas and actually make a difference. 

“I felt almost a moral duty to factor that into my business plan and markets provide a brilliant platform for primary producers to sell their products at a price that doesn’t need to compete with large commercial supermarkets. 

Chegworth Valley, for example, is our fruit and veg supplier based in Kent, so it’s only 50 miles away.

“Our butcher is in Leicester, so that’s about 100 miles. When you buy a steak in a supermarket for £3, it may well have come from Australia or Texas.

“It’s far better to shop local and we describe ourselves as a sustainable alternative.”

By we, Will means Wapping Docklands Market, the venture he launched in April after founding his company in October 2020.

“The most important thing to do is to find the site, get the right demographic and then apply to the landowner,” he said. “In this case it’s Tower Hamlets Council.

“This was just an abandoned car park – it’s not used by anyone for anything.”

Egle Kleivaite of Stomping Grounds
Egle Kleivaite of Stomping Groundsimage Matt Grayson

Visitors to the market, which normally operates on Saturdays, will find a range of traders.

“It’s lots of different things for many different kinds of customer,” said Will.

“For the residents of Wapping and further afield in east London, it provides an opportunity to support local businesses and to get their weekly shop in from us.

“A lot of people do that – one of our best performing pitches is the fruit and veg stall. People do support that mission.

“We also have a pub, in effect, operated by the Krafty Braumeister.

Visitors can come and have a beer and enjoy refreshments from a plethora of street food stalls as well.

“On average our products have travelled 900 miles less when compared with a like-for-like product in a supermarket, so what we’re doing is working, and we’re always looking to improve.

“That’s a very important part of the market and attracts a younger crowd.”

Ben Tyler-Wray of Celtic Bakers
Ben Tyler-Wray of Celtic Bakers image Matt Grayson

The market also features baked goods, gifts, clothing and homewear brands.

“It’s been going really well since we launched and the local community have taken to it really well and we’re immensely grateful to them for that.

“We’re still trading strongly despite the weather turning. We don’t see a dip in our footfall with cold – it’s wind and rain that can be the problem.

“We want to continue to operate here and to extend our normal operation to Sundays and then Fridays, which is what we’re doing for Christmas.

“Eventually I’d love to work with the council to redevelop the site with a temporary canopy in the style of Borough Market and have a high street in a market setting.

“That potential is what we’re looking for at all of our sites.

“That’s why we wouldn’t operate at schools, for example, because it’s not under utilised space and there would be no flexibility to expand there. 

“With our next ventures, I’m looking to keep it local – my dad lives in Wapping and, while I’m in Holloway at the moment, I’m looking to move to the area. 

“We’re in contact with a number of local authorities, private developers and private landlords on a number of sites around east London.”

Brendan Preece of Brnd And Co
Brendan Preece of Brnd And Co image Matt Grayson

Wapping Docklands Market is always interested to hear from potential traders.

Will said: “There’s an application form on our website, which goes straight through to us.

“There are lots of things we’d love to add to the market. I’d love to have a crèche. A lot of parents come here with their kids and say they’d love to stay longer but have to leave because of them.

“I think a lot of adults would like that freedom to go and see Uli Schiefelbein – the Krafty Braumeister for a beer.

“He’s completely eccentric and totally awesome in every way and is great to talk to.”

As for the future, Will intends to create a business model called Squid, designed to work with landlords to generate value from under utilised space.

In the meantime, Wapping Docklands Market will be open Fridays (3pm-10pm), Saturdays and Sundays (10am-5pm) throughout December, before taking a break until January 19.

Read more: Discover Jake’s shirts, handmade in Royal Docks

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

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

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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.”

Read more: LycaHealth opens breast centre at Canary Wharf

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: Why baked goods from Wapping Sourdough have a real flavour of the area

How Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly create and sell their loaves and baguettes fresh at London Dock

Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly of Wapping Sourdough
Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly of Wapping Sourdough – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

BY LAURA ENFIELD

Parents of six, Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly, say their youngest and most temperamental seventh “child” has been the hardest to raise.

The husband and wife team have spent the last decade wrangling baking business Wapping Sourdough through its startling birth, challenging toddlerhood and now maturing childhood.

They went from launching at the London 2012 Games and finding success selling their products at markets to striking out on their own at Thomas Moore Square in Wapping.

Now they have entered a new phase of the business with a food van at London Dock, selling their sourdough loaves, filled baguettes and cakes. There are also plans to expand into coffee and toasties.

Robin said through the whole journey, one thing had remained the same – their doughy child – a 20-year-old mixture of water, flour and salt that needs constant attention.

“Sourdough is the best bread in the world and it’s made from only three ingredients,” said the 58-year-old.

“But you have to look after your starter every day or it dies. I have taken it through customs, on aeroplanes and on holiday. 

“The flour ferments and has a bacterial culture in it and a wild yeast culture that makes the bread rise. It’s massively temperamental and takes so long to get it so you can make real sourdough and not use commercial yeast.”

Clare added: “It can’t be neglected. I think a lot of people in lockdown started making it, but the fact you are then committed put a lot of people off.

“It’s amazing when you see it bubbling and growing. When Robin started it was like a science experiment and he had pots and jars of starter around the kitchen that would hiss and sometimes explode.

“Everyone who came round the house had it shoved in their face to smell.”

Wapping Sourdough's filled baguettes
Wapping Sourdough’s filled baguettes – image Matt Grayson

Robin rises at 5am every morning to tend to his creation, heading to the bakery expansion on their home in Vaughan Road, which they built after landing £20,000 contracts for the London 2012 Games.

“I was a social worker in child protection for 20 years and bread making was an obsessive hobby,” he said.

“I was so into sourdough from when it first became popular. I built a brick oven in the garden and started making it with the kids. 

“I made it for charity and people started wanting to buy it. Then I saw an advert in East End Life for the Olympics, looking for local producers.

“I made an application, very naively as we weren’t a business – we were just doing market stalls on a Saturday. 

“We won two contracts for the corporate events for three weeks of work, despite competition from Angela Hartnett, so I gave up social work and set up a bakery.”

From there the couple were invited to sell at St Katharine Docks market with Clare stepping naturally into the business side of the partnership and fitting running the stall around looking after their children.

The 55-year-old said: “We had just had our sixth child when we launched the business and I think we were quite lucky in our relationship that I was able to stay at home and Robin was the breadwinner.

“It all happened accidentally really, our youngest was two when we got the opportunity to do the market at St Katharine Docks and these were always in school hours so I could drop the kids off and then pack up in time to pick them up.

“The people who used to run the market owned Partridges food store on the King’s Road invited us to do their Saturday market, which we did for seven years and really gave us a boost. 

“We did 10 different breads then and that was a lot harder for Robin because we would start on the Saturday evening, mixing the doughs and going right through to Saturday morning baking.”

So, the obvious question is, which is harder – making sourdough or raising six kids?

“Well I wouldn’t have got up that early for the kids and Robin never had to,” said Clare.

“I used to breastfeed and they were all in bed with us when they were little so he never had to wake up at all.

“But now he has to get up at 4am so I would say the six kids are easier. 

“One changes your life completely and two seems like hard work because you can’t split yourself. After three it doesn’t make any difference.”

Robin stayed diplomatically silent but said making sourdough was much less demanding than his previous career.

“It’s so ancient and there is so much respect for bread,” he said. “What I can’t get over is the amount of respect people have. 

“I was a senior manager in social work and I think I get more kudos now for making the bread than I ever did as a social worker. 

“It’s really important to people and our culture. I’ve had kids round from the local school, teaching them about bread and how to make it.”

He is keeping the secret of his sourdough to himself but said: “I can only make the bread I do now because I have been doing it for 20 years. It takes that long.

“The consistency is really difficult to achieve. You can look at a YouTube video and you might get lucky and make a great loaf the first time but I doubt you’d make a great loaf 10 times on the trot. 

“It’s something you have to judge all the time because we don’t have temperature controls and proving machines like in a professional bakery so you have to change what you are doing throughout the year. 

“Now winter is coming the bread tastes different and every loaf has a  varied flavour, which is what I love about it. You are not just churning out the same thing every day.” 

Robin said his bread didn’t taste like any other in the world because people were imbibing the very essence of Wapping itself.

“When you start learning about yeast you realise that it’s everywhere – pretty much on everything, on us and just flying around. 

“That’s where the name Wapping Sourdough comes from – the flavour of the bread is unique to wherever it’s created. You can’t recreate San Francisco sourdough here because the yeast is latent in the air. Hence why we’re Wapping Sourdough.”

Wapping Sourdough's focaccia
Wapping Sourdough’s focaccia – image Matt Grayson

Robin bakes about 25 loaves (£3.50 for 800g) a day, 50 vegetarian and vegan baguettes (£3) with fillings that include handmade hummus and pesto, focaccia with olive and sundried tomatoes (£3 a slice), 30 cakes and 20 flapjacks (£1.50).

The couple, whose other hobby is performing in panto for their local church St Patrick’s, had a crisis last year when flour supplies dried up during lockdown.

Clare said: “Everyone was going crazy buying supplies and we thought we would be stopped in our tracks. We just couldn’t get any.”

Luckily they managed to get a direct supply from Wright’s Flour and carried on. But Robin said the pandemic saw sales plummet from 150 baguettes a day to nine.

They survived by launching a home delivery and a pizza service but have now stopped those to focus on trading with the van.

Robin said: “Now we’re in the right place at the right time and it’s a really good deal for us. We want to take it forward and try to add to our repertoire.

“It’s got a coffee machine and electricity which opens up a world of opportunity for us. We’ll be starting to do Vagabond Coffee, sourdough melts and who knows what else?  

“I still love that it seems like a really honest transaction. We make something, people give us money for it and we can make a living from that. It is stressful in terms of it being hard, physical work but there isn’t that mental stress behind it. 

“We had the philosophy right from the start that we would only buy equipment once we had earned the money for it rather than paying it back later.”

Clare was previously out in Thomas Moore Square with a gazebo or umbrella and constantly watching the weather forecast.

She said London Dock bosses invited them to take on the van and have made it an easy transition for them.

Bake Off fan Clare hopes it is a step towards an easier life as she dreams of one day owning a shop.

“So far the business has really fitted in with our lifestyle, we could take time off for trips and assemblies, but now the kids are getting older, I would like to have a shop so we get other people who can do our jobs if needed.”

Robin, who reckons he could get a handshake from Paul Hollywood, but prefers Masterchef, said: “I’m quite happy. 

“Even though it’s been a long time I still feel very lucky to be able to do it. We still have two kids at home and I work from home and still get to spend a lot of time with them.”

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

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. 

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to our regular newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life