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Wapping: How Puddle Jumpers has opened a new site in east London

Nursery school expands its operation, bringing a former church school back into educational use

Puddle Jumpers new nursery is in a former church school

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Puddle Jumpers isn’t just the name of a brand, it’s a statement of intent.

The company recently opened a second nursery in Wapping, expanding on the success of its first site in Limehouse.

The new facility brings a building that once housed a church school back into educational use and, while the walls might date to 1871, what’s inside is firmly rooted in the here and now.

With the refurbishment of its ground and first floors mostly complete, the nursery is now welcoming its first children and the place is starting to buzz with life.

It’s warm and welcoming with plenty of wood used to create furniture, flooring and a cosy reading area with London landmarks crafted from oak.

All in all, it’s a substantial setting for the Puddle Jumpers themselves as they explore and discover the world under the guidance of staff.

Senior nursery manager Lucy Prew-Ajayi has spent the last 27 years working with children and young people in a multitude of settings and leads the team at the new location. 

The building is undergoing a complete refurbishment and is now accepting children

“As a career, it was a no-brainer from me – I was one of those privileged people who knew what I wanted to do as I went through secondary school,” she said.

“My mother was a headteacher and a childminder when she was on maternity leave, so we were always surrounded by little people.”

Her professional life has seen her work at international schools in Berlin and study play therapy, working with young people who had suffered traumatic events before coming back to early years education at Sure Start centres before the Government closed them down.

She’s spent the last 12 years working for NGOs, family clubs and nursery schools as a manager and director and has now arrived in Wapping.

“I chose Puddle Jumpers because of the organisation’s vision,” she said. “That’s for children to think for themselves and teaching them to be brave.

“For me it’s as it was 27 years ago – we’re here for the children and they are here to thrive.

The nursery has a lending library, complete with London landmarks

“Life can be turbulent and children need to understand that crises can happen.

“Mental health issues are on the rise, so we believe in giving children the opportunity to be courageous and to develop resilience.”

Learning through play is very much at the core of Puddle Jumpers’ offering, with children encouraged to make, participate and create during their time at the nursery. 

“As an early years, foundation stage nursery, we follow best regulatory practice and the curriculum guidance, but we also take inspiration from the theories of Rudolf Steiner and Loris Malaguzzi, who developed the Reggio Emilia approach,” said Lucy.

“These approaches are all about creativity, the arts and the power of language expression. We interpret those through the facilities we have.

“For example, we have a living kitchen where children do botany and cookery classes and that includes a lovely little herb garden, which is magical and great for sensory education.

“Upstairs we have an art atelier where imagination is brought to life – it’s about children putting what they see in their minds down on paper.

The nursery’s living kitchen is designed for kids to get involved

“Later this year, we’ll be opening a sensory room where children will be supported in self-regulation.

“This will also be a place to introduce them to technology without it being a screen, so that from a young age they learn how to cope with it.”

The main play spaces, a lending library – where parents or staff can read with children – and an area for music, complete the picture inside.

“We also have our fabulous garden, which is truly beautiful and has been designed to be very inspiring,” said Lucy. 

“We are puddle-jumpers, so we believe in going outdoors in all weathers, which is also really calming for the children. 

“It allows them to be free, to be themselves and then experiment.

“Outside, we have a big sensory area, a magnificent water station – where children can experience different types of movement and positioning, with lever pulling.

The nursery has plentiful outdoor space with a climbing frame in the pipeline

“There’s a big pirate ship – which is a sandpit – and we have mud kitchens that are great physical play areas.

“Later in 2024, we’ve commissioned a Tower Bridge climbing frame for the children to enjoy.

“Throughout their time here, we believe in a challenging curriculum for all ages and this includes our Ambitions programme, which is designed to keep children stimulated and to help them identify what they might like to try on the extra-curricular list, when they get to primary school. It really helps with that transition.

“We are here for every single child – to challenge them, celebrate them and to meet their needs.”

Lucy was also keen to stress that Puddle Jumpers’ approach was very much about working with parents.

She said: “After registration, we get in touch and invite them to come and look round.

“At the moment we have two open days a week, and it’s nicer if you’re in a group together, because it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re alone.

Find out more about Puddle Jumpers here

Puddle Jumpers’ senior nursery manager Lucy Prew-Ajayi

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

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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

“A nursery school must work for the family first – adults also need to feel safe and secure. We’re very open-door.”

She said the nursery worked to help build networks among parents and to help equip them with skills to help their child learn, develop and grow. 

“Over the course of the year we have a number of events for parents and families, so they can come and socialise together,” said Lucy.

“We do have a couple of evenings just for our parents to let their hair down and talk about things they have in common.

“Some parents want to talk about their children – others about what’s going on in the world. We’re giving them that link, which is very important in a part of London with an international community, where people may not have immediate family nearby. 

“We also run a free programme called Parents As First Educators, helping them understand behaviour and how to manage it.”

Puddle Jumpers is open for registration of children.

A minimum of two full days per week applies.

The nursery is also currently recruiting staff for its new location.

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Wapping: How Tower Bridge Studios and The Nest are looking to the future

Cherryduck in Sampson Street is set to return to its original name as co-working space seeks clients

Co-founder of Tower Bridge Studios and The Nest, James Vellacott

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All businesses evolve and change as the market moves and demand shifts.

So wanderers through Wapping may notice over the coming weeks that Cherryduck Studios in Sampson Street has returned to its original name.

“It was a fun name, but ‘Tower Bridge Studios’ says where we are and what we are,” said co-founder James Vellacott. “It’s time for a change.”

The move is very much a return to focusing on the company’s core operation – hiring out five studio spaces and a plethora of equipment for photographic and video shoots.

“We’ve seen a big push now for higher end shoots coming back to the studio,” said James.

“During Covid people were using their mobile phones for user generated content and the apps like TikTok and Instagram are great for that.

“But bigger organisations are back using the studios for press days, shoots, photography and video.

“This week we’ve had two studios hired for a rugby team with a photographer and camera crew on site.

“We’ve also had a live streaming company that likes to broadcast to its clients. 

“Then a national newspaper has taken one of our studios full time, as of next year.

“They shoot a lot of fashion for a weekly magazine with lots of celebrities and they’ve moved here because of our video capability. 

“They want to create in-house content but didn’t have the set up that we do and we have all the equipment they need, ready to hire off the shelf.

“We’re seeing the studios really pick up which is brilliant as 2023 has been tough. 

Five spaces are available at Tower Bridge Studios

“The writers’ strike in the US has meant that places like Pinewood and Shepperton, which would normally be producing film and television, were empty – so commercial clients could hire them at a much reduced rate. 

“This may have been an urban myth, but the lull has certainly picked up now and we’re busy up until Christmas.

“We generally run at around 65% or 70% occupancy although clients typically want to shoot on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“We are in central London, but we have parking right outside so the convenience factor is there. It’s even possible to drive vehicles into two of the studios.

“We’ve tightened things up here and we’re confident we’re ready for whatever 2024 brings us.”

The business was set up in 2008 by husband and wife team James and Michelle, who own the studio spaces they rent out together.

In 2016, the pair invested further in Wapping, buying a neighbouring property and converting it into shared office space and launching it as The Nest in 2018.

The Nest co-working space boasts an interior designed by Gensler

“It took a couple of years to refit,” said James.

“It had been run as residential housing by an old-fashioned family who used a rent book and took cash.

“It definitely wasn’t compliant with building regulations. When we got in, we found the gas meter had been bypassed – that sort of thing.

“We got it running and initially it was a place for creative businesses.

“We were really busy and then Covid came and nobody wanted office space.”

This has meant a change of approach, with The Nest now changed into a co-working space for companies and locals.

It boasts interiors by Gensler – known for working with major corporations and Silicon Valley giants – and includes a fresh air system, a screening cinema, breakout spaces and plenty of walls made from rope. That’s a nod to the building’s history on the site of a former hemp warehouse. 

There’s also a full barista set-up for those who prefer their coffee frothy, superfast wi-fi and lots of exposed reclaimed timber to lounge against.

“My personal opinion is that some home working can be good for some businesses – especially for more senior people,” said James.

“But to make a company succeed you have to have drive.

“People who come here, typically want a more collaborative element in their work. 

A wide range of spaces are available at The Nest

“It’s not about trusting people to work remotely, it’s about communication – getting people around a table and asking what we’re going to do next, how we’re going to push things forward.

“We can accommodate businesses of various sizes, including people who just want to work on their own and fancy a change of scene. 

“Working from home can be a bit laborious, especially if you’re sharing the space with a partner. People coming here get free tea and coffee and they can swipe in and out to come and go as they please. 

“We’ve started to get a lot of locals in and we have various firms that use the space – some for three days a week and others more.

“We’d love the space to be a bit busier and currently offer a daily rate of £25 for people who just want to come and work for a day.”

Those doing so might well bump into actor and local resident Dame Helen Mirren, who regularly uses The Nest’s sound recording facilities for her projects.

But even without an A-list appearance there are plenty of attractions, including a firefighters’ pole to slide down and themed meeting rooms that are available on a flexible basis.   

 “We’re currently re-strategising as a business to ensure we’re nimble and able to go after growth,” said James.

“I’m massively enjoying the hands-on side of the businesses.

“Drive is what we need right now. We’re in every day, meeting clients and helping them with their set-ups in the studios.

“This might be helping to build a set, arrange lighting or sorting out lunch.

“Then, at the end of the shoot, we’ll help them pack down, check the equipment back in and help them out to the cars.

“Then we’ll repaint the white shooting area if needed.

“With The Nest, it’s a great space to be. I love being in there and making the coffees – talking to people and finding out what kind of business they’re in.

“It’s great when it’s buzzing – it has a really nice atmosphere and we’d love more people to come down and check it out.”

Desk rates at The Nest start at £25+VAT with various packages available including full time permanent seats. 

Find out more about the studios here and The Nest here

Facilities at The Nest include a screening room

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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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St Katharine Docks: How Dockside Vaults delivers premium event space underground

Former Medieval banqueting experience has been reimagined as a blank canvas for all kinds of uses

Dockside Vaults is located at Ivory House in St Katharine Docks

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The legacy of global trade has left its mark across east London in vast spaces created to handle the wealth of cargo that once flowed up the Thames.

There were huge docks to safely berth the ships, wharves to unload them and warehouses to store and protect the goods and commodities.

The ongoing regeneration of Docklands has seen this infrastructure repurposed in myriad ways – as housing, accommodation for yachts, bars, hotels, restaurants, watersports centres and many more.  

With many of the spaces being of a significant size and well connected to the rest of London, several have been reimagined as events venues.

The latest of these to launch is Dockside Vaults, a 10,000sq ft underground space beneath Ivory House in St Katharine Docks.

Built in 1852, the building is the only original warehouse still standing in the area and is today filled with residential apartments and restaurants at ground level.

Apt, perhaps, that its brick vaulted basement, which was once used to store imported barrels of wine is once again being used for hospitality and entertaining, having been the site of a Henry VIII-themed Medieval banqueting experience for decades.

“Funnily enough they were doing an immersive show long before the likes of Secret Cinema and those theatre concepts,” said Ben Gamble.

“The banqueting started in the 1970s with a fine dining, silver service dinner – but by the time it closed it certainly wasn’t that.

“It had become a tourist trap – all you could eat and drink for £30.”

Dockside Vaults is offering Wharf Life readers 50% off venue hire for events of 50 to 450 people that are booked and held before the end of 2023 – perfect for last-minute festive celebrations. The venue still has some availability before Christmas 2023. T&Cs apply. 

Go to docksidevaults.com for more information or to book
Ben Gamble, owner of Dockside Vaults

The space, however, was what interested Ben.

Having initially locked on to a career as a fighter pilot with the RAF, a shortage of training places prompted a rethink and he fell into the events industry after landing a job with the London Film Museum, having hawked his CV around the capital in search of gainful employment.

After establishing it as a venue for corporate shindigs at County Hall on the banks of the Thames, he left to start his own events business shortly after its relocation to Covent Garden.

“Having been involved with the owners to launch that and at a point I was just about to be earning good money, I handed in my resignation to start by own business,” he said. 

“During my time at the museum I’d met a lot of events companies and had realised they were the ones with the big clients, big budgets.

“It seemed, as venue finders, all they would do is come round with the client and talk about the blooming obvious, which of course is not how it is at all.

“But I’d built up enough contacts, spoken to a few of them and told them I was thinking of doing my own thing.

“I asked them if they would trust me to find their venues.

“So that was the initial idea – it seemed like there was a gap in the market.

“I realised that everyone had been everywhere, so there was a need for a company that specialised in finding venues that had never been used before. 

“So that’s what I did for seven years and then the pandemic shut down the industry.”

The venue is in St Katharine Docks

His company, Shout About London, worked across the capital often as a pioneer at venues such as Southwark Cathedral, the Archbishop Of Canterbury’s private library and at the Leadenhall Building, making a point of aiming to be the first company to bring clients into a space.

Gradually the business shifted to representing venues for longer periods of time and working with well-known institutions such as the V&A to create events around new exhibitions or attractions. 

The evolution continued as Ben’s firm shifted into creative production and wound up managing several venues exclusively in the run-up to Covid.

“I actually signed a lease with a nightclub in January 2020 in London Fields, which was bad timing for me – it’s no longer there,” he said.

“Then the pandemic happened, so I went to UCL and did an MBA for two years.

“With hindsight, it was a perfect use of my time as I’ve been able to employ that knowledge in my new events and venue consultancy Nylon Pie, and now Dockside.”

The 450-capacity venue opened in September and features 10 alcoves all joined by an expansive central concourse, which can be used for events with 50 guests or more. 

The venue is a blank canvas for clients to use

“I first saw the venue when I started Nylon Pie and I really liked the space,” said Ben.

“It was still full of mediaeval gear for the banquets so it needed emptying and modernising. Now it’s 10,000sq ft of premium event space with 150-year-old exposed brickwork.

“Tower Hill is synonymous with the old and the new – you have the Tower Of London and Tower Bridge with The Shard in the background.

“We’re from the same period as Tobacco Dock but we’ve got large TVs at the end of each of our alcoves and lighting where the colours can be changed at the touch of a button. 

“Having great audio and visual tech is important and we have in-house microphones if people want to do speeches, too.

“The idea is that everything is plug-in and play.

“Of course, if you’ve got a big budget, we can do projection mapping on the brickwork and go all out – but if you don’t, we can operate on a minimum spend basis at the bar.

“We’re a cashless venue, but we’re also the largest venue in London to take payment in Bitcoin.

“So far we’ve done about 20 events including screenings of things like the Rugby World Cup – we had 450 South Africans here for the final. 

“First and foremost we’re a corporate events space, however, and we’ve worked with Identify – one of the best events management companies in the UK – on a two-day conference. 

“That showed a good use of the space, for smaller immersive events with 150 to 200 people.

“The alcoves can be used as breakout spaces and can easily be given a personal touch with branding, signs or logos.

“We’re also keen to be a part of the local community – not a closed door – and we’d love people to get in touch.” 

Find out more about Dockside Vaults here

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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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Wapping: How Urban Baristas has opened its largest branch with a coffee lab

Brunch cafe offers flat whites and space to work at London Dock’s Gaughing Square

Urban Baristas cafe and coffee lab is now open in Wapping

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“Oat flat white,” is Huw Wardrope’s instant response when asked his preferred coffee order. It’s not a surprise.

The Australian co-founded Urban Baristas in response to the disappointing cafe scene in London that he and his mate from uni in Sydney – Jono Bowman – endured while working in the finance industry.

The plan was to recreate a bit of Aussie hospitality and, crucially, quality, on this side of the world – and it all started in Bounds Green.

“In 2016 it was very difficult to find retail units from landlords who were willing to give space as a startup,” said Huw, who worked for Canary Wharf-based firms HSBC and BGC Partners.

“I had a business plan and everything  – I was sending it out to people. But they wanted Caffe Nero or Pret.

“Then TfL said they had a site in Bounds Green – to be honest I didn’t even know where that was.

“But we went up there and said: ‘Let’s do it’. From day one it was a massive success.

“There was a line out of the door – people were saying that we’d increased their house prices.

“Then we knew we had a good product and that we were onto something.”

Today things are a little easier on the real estate front.

Urban Baristas recently opened its latest branch in Wapping’s Gaughing Square – part of property developer St George’s London Dock scheme.

Urban Baristas co-founger Huw Wardrope

It’s the brand’s 12th location – and also the largest – offering brunch, coffee and even a training space for enthusiasts keen to sharpen their brewing skills or to help staff to develop professionally.

“We’ve expanded over the years and we moved to the Wapping area partly because I live locally,” said Huw, who left finance to open three 24-hour gyms, before co-founding Urban Baristas.

“We have a kiosk at Wapping station, a branch on Wapping High Street, one at Devon House in St Katherine’s Way and one at Thomas More Square.   

“It makes things easy operationally when we can move people around the different sites. Growing a brand is also easier if you’re focused in one area.

“The kiosk model is a good one because the staff costs are low and it’s easy to manage – it’s just coffee and pastries.

“When we opened at Wapping High Street we decided to add a bit more of an Aussie vibe with smashed avos for brunch and things like that on the menu.

“We’ve now decided to focus our food operation at London Dock because it’s a bigger space – 2,000sq ft.

“When you’re talking about that kind of size, I think  you have to offer a little bit more than just coffee and pastries.”

Specifically, that means customers at the newly opened branch can expect the likes of Eggs Benedict (from £12.50), a Full Aussie (£14.50), Parmesan Folded Eggs (£10.95) or Green Goodness – a melange of kale, peas, broccoli, avocado and micro herbs – for £12.50.

There’s also an Avo Bar, offering three types of the ubiquitous bashed up toast topping to choose from, starting at £10.95.

The new branch is Urban Baristas’ largest site

“People will find what we think is the best flat white in London when they visit – it’s a happy place to come and chill out with your friends or maybe work a bit,” said Huw.

“We offer people a little bit of happiness in their day. It’s a tough time at the moment, especially with the economy and the cost of living crisis – but you can still go out and grab a coffee with a mate and have a catch up.

“Our house espresso is from Brazil – which is also where my wife is from.

“I’m lucky because I get to go out quite a bit and source the beans, meet the farmers and check the working conditions to ensure they are producing ethically.

“I’ve just booked a trip in February for two months.

“We also have a rotating series of coffees for the filters and the V60 Drippers  – we have some Colombians and Guatemalans, but they rotate due to the seasons.

“We make sure we buy really special coffees from smaller producers.

“Brazil is the biggest coffee producing nation in the world and, for our shops, we need a steady supply.”

Urban Baristas’ latest branch is about more than just eating and drinking, however. It’s also about education.

Huw said: “The Coffee Lab is a new addition to the brand. I’ve always wanted to have a place to train staff.

“This is the biggest space we’ve taken and I was looking at the design and thinking about what to do with it.

“We hosted our first course just last week and we’re getting quite a bit of interest already – especially from corporates.

“I think companies are looking for alternatives to the pub.

“Not everyone drinks, organisations are looking for activities to do with their teams and I think it’s going to be a good place for that.

“We also have more than 70 staff who constantly need training on our different coffees.

“Eventually we want to be recognised by the SCA – the governing body for the speciality coffee industry – to give professional level classes for clients and our staff as part of their development.

Urban Baristas’ latest site is located at St George’s London Dock scheme in Wapping

“We’ve just started franchising as well, so the lab will also be a training hub for franchisees. That’s really future-proofing the business.

“Participants on our public courses will be learning how to make flat whites, espressos and latte.

“There’s also different brewing methods – V60 Drippers, Aeropress and filter.

“They cover all the basics – quantities of coffee, temperatures and how to do a heart on a latte.

“People should go home with an idea of how to replicate the quality they get at Urban Baristas.”

Huw said that while the coffee business was tough, especially given the pressures of the current labour market, he much preferred working for himself to his career in finance. 

He said: “We’ve made mistakes along the way – there’s been a lot of trial and error, but we think we now know the formula and the positive is you meet great people along the way in this industry. 

“I’d like to thank St George for supporting us to open at London Dock – we’re definitely in it for the long term as the area continues to develop.”

Find out more about Urban Baristas here

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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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Wapping: How Terrible Thames is part river tour, part anarchic theatre show

Co-written by Terry Deary of Horrible Histories fame, the boat trip departs daily

Terrible Thames lasts 45 minutes and sails from Tower Bridge to Parliament and back

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There’s real depth to Terrible Thames.

I’m not just talking about the part of this touring play that deals with Julius Caesar crossing the river with an elephant when the whole body of water was much wider and shallower.

I’m referring to the sheer displaced tonnage of gruesome facts and aquatic curiosities that Horrible Histories author Terry Deary and Birmingham Stage Company actor manager Neal Foster have filled this 45-minute show with.

The former is well known for celebrating the brutal and shocking as a way to engage minds young and old in the study of the past.

The latter has long been a partner in bringing his written works to the stage.

But this collaboration – running every day over the summer holidays – is truly something different, seating its audience on the top deck of a boat and taking them on a cruise through the landmarks its inspired by.

Passengers take to the top deck of Silver Sockeye – part of Woods Silver Fleet – for a trip up the river to the Houses Of Parliament before heading back to Wapping and returning to base at Tower Quay Pier.

The show itself rests on the premise of a long-suffering teacher taking an excitable and enthusiastic student on a trip up the Thames as a treat for winning the school history prize.

The twist in the tale, of course, is that the teenager knows far more about London and the river’s horrific history than the teacher – thanks, it seems, to a suspiciously high number of informative relations who have all played their parts in the city’s story over the years.

From the audience’s point of view, it’s a hectic barrage of information. Dozens of anecdotes and morsels bubble up to the surface as the two performers coordinate their material with the passing sights. 

The show takes place on the top deck of a boat

We learn about executions, plague, fire, suicide and even a boating disaster, in all their gory details as London slips by.

Perfectly timed sound effects provide aural punctuation as the actors dice and slice imaginary victims to the obvious delight of both adults and children.

And while there’s an inevitable focus on the violent and terrifying, there’s a lot more to this show than just blood and guts.

For example, Cleopatra’s needle is revealed to be nothing to do with its namesake but rather an obelisk carved in the time of Thutmose III.

Similarly, we also learn that Waterloo Bridge was largely built by women during the war in the 1940s and that Vikings led by King Olaf of Norway (probably) pulled down a wooden iteration of London Bridge using cables and longships to help beat the Danes who had taken control of the city.

The flow of information is thicker than the Thames would have been during the big stink and even printing these spoilers doesn’t make a dent in the overall experience. 

It’s a trip that works on many levels. For the kids there’s poo, songs, rude words and an irreverent youngster showing up his teacher. 

The show takes place on board Silver Sockeye, part of Woods Silver Fleet

For adults there are plenty of political references and opportunities to groan in a knowing way at the odd heavy handed pun.

For the tourists it’s a breathtaking barrage of information and tales that would never find their way into scripts for more staid, serious tours.

Then – crucially, for Londoners – there’s such a wealth of stories that there’s almost certainly going to be several tales they haven’t heard before – a new way to see the river that for so long provided the lifeblood of the capital and remains its twisting backbone.

It’s also a testament to the writers that they haven’t tried to shy away from anything. 

In addition to the gore and heads on spikes, there’s a poignant reminder that so much of London’s wealth and prosperity rests on Britain’s enthusiastic, mercenary appetite for the slave trade with slavers compensated for their losses when abolition eventually arrived.

All in all, this is a truly refreshing way to see the city with fresh eyes – oh, and there’s a good old shanty to round things off. 

  • Tickets for Terrible Thames start at £25 for adults and £15 for children aged 3-15. Babies and toddlers go free. Shows take place daily over summer 2023 and tickets can be booked here
James plays the role of Billy The Student in Terrible Thames

CREWING THE SCENERYJames Elliott, Billy The Student

“I really enjoyed Horrible Histories – the books and the TV shows – as a kid, so I was buzzing when I got an audition for Terrible Thames in 2021,” said James, who plays boisterous 13-year-old Billy in the production.

“They asked me to film an interactive horror tour around a London flat, so all my housemates helped out and we ended up with a really funny video that got me the job and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Having attended Stagecoach, James went on to attend drama school in Guildford, graduating into an acting world ravaged by Covid.

“There was nothing much going on, so I spent a lot of time sitting on my thumbs for the first year before this role came along,” he said.

“The Thames is such a gorgeous place in the summer with the light shining off the water – it’s really magical. I really like that Billy gets to do a couple of songs during the show.

“There’s one about poo, which the kids really love, so I direct it at the adults who don’t quite know where to look, which is also good fun.

“Of course there are lots of other cruises and history tours on the river, but there’s nothing else like this. It’s fun, fast-paced and super informative – a show that’s great for kids and adults.

“It’s a play while also being a tour – audiences will learn about so many things from Execution Dock in Wapping all the way up to Parliament, two miles up the river.

“The reaction I’ve had from family and friends is that they’ve learnt so much about London from going on the trip.”

Jake plays the role of The Teacher in Terrible Thames

CAST OFFJake Addley, The Teacher

Playing the role of The Teacher, Jake Addley is a member of the current rotating cast of Terrible Thames.

Essentially the more sensible and serious of the two characters, whose pomposity is constantly pricked by his exuberant student.

Jake said: “I started off as a child actor, appearing in Shakespeare plays and pantomimes from about the age of 10 at an arts centre in Bracknell.

“Then I got an opportunity to attend the Brit School when I was 16 and my career went from there. I wanted to be a dancer for a long time, so I was in a contemporary dance group.

“From the age of 18, I was appearing professionally.

“About two years ago I was performing in another show and got asked if I wanted to audition for Terrible Thames – I did so and got the part.

“Having the river as your set is amazing, especially if it’s a nice sunny day – cruising up and down between all these iconic buildings and historic monuments.

“However, because the tide goes in and out the speed of the boat up and down stream can change completely so as performers we have to alter what we’re doing depending on that.

“Performing with James is great because initially I was coming into it new whereas he’s an old hand – when we’re chopping and changing things he’s a real pro.

“My favourite fact on the tour is that the Ministry Of Defence building still has Henry VIII’s wine cellar underneath it, which I had no idea about.

“I’m also embarrassed to say that before I got this role, I had no idea Cleopatra’s Needle was on the Thames, despite living in London.”

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Wapping: How Toby Carr went from paddling in Shadwell to European seas

Moderate Becoming Good Later chronicles the late architect’s effort to sea kayak the Shipping Forecast

Toby Carr sea kayaking

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While Toby Carr’s story is one that stretches as far north as Iceland and south to Spain, it’s one that is steeped in the waters of Shadwell Basin and the Thames.

It was in 2011 that the then Hackney resident and architect first encountered the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club – a catalyst for his decision to later embark on a great adventure. 

“We’d been to see our uncle and aunt in Jersey after our dad died in 2010,” said Toby’s sister, Katie.

“The club had a connection with the island and they gave Toby a helmet to take back to east London that had been left behind.

“He’d had a bit of a try at kayaking in Jersey and had enjoyed it, so I think that when he walked into the club and the people were nice, then that was it.

“He got involved and would sweep out of London most weekends to go paddling in some really beautiful places with these wonderful people.

“The youngest members are around 20, and the oldest around 70.

“They all just get on with it – practising in London on Tuesday nights and then going all around the country.

“Before that, he was very land-based and had been on some cycling adventures through France and Norway but hadn’t spent a lot of time on the water since we were kids.

“Back then we’d had a boat. It certainly wasn’t a posh yacht – my dad called it a floating caravan and I remember it as being cold, wet and windy, sailing out of the River Orwell on the east coast.

“I remember having cold water thrown in my face and having to inch forward to change the sail because the sea was too rough, and coming back completely soaked.

“I also remember the Shipping Forecast was so important, with Radio 4 constantly on in the background.” 

Toby training at the Lee Valley White Water Centre

Toby wasn’t expecting to live much past 30.

Born with Fanconi Anaemia – a rare genetic disorder that affects the immune system and increases an individual’s chance of getting cancer – doctors told him at the age of 12 that he would be unlikely to survive beyond three decades.

So when his brother, Marcus, who had the same condition, died in 2015, Toby decided to embark on a journey.

Having spent four years honing his skills on the water with the canoe club, he decided that he wanted to attempt to sea-kayak in all the areas mentioned by the Shipping Forecast.

Armed with a grant from the Churchill Foundation and his kayak, he took a sabbatical from work and set out.

“For the first summer he went to the northern parts of the shipping forecast – South-East Iceland and Faroes then to North Utsire, South Utsire, Fisher, German Bight and Humber.

“Then he did some during the winter in the UK and then the following summer he went down to Biscay off France and Fitzroy and Trafalgar off northern Spain and Portugal.”

By the following summer, in 2020, Toby was suffering from liver cancer but still managed to kayak around the coast of Cornwall having moved there to be closer to the sea and to lecture at Falmouth University.

A formal diagnosis came in 2021 and Toby died in 2022. He was 40. 

Toby with fellow sea kayaking enthusiasts

However, the story doesn’t end there. Toby had kept detailed notes and voice recordings as well as blogging, all chronicling the trips that had seen him kayak in 17 of the forecast’s 31 distinct areas.

Before his death, he’d successfully pitched them as a book about his journey to publisher Summersdale in 2021 with a summary of the chapters and three that he’d written.

While unable to finish it himself, his sister Katie – an author and artist living and working in Barcelona – decided to step in and make good on his intentions.

Katie said: “After Toby died, I was going though his stuff and found all his notes.

“He’d kept a blog and been very active on Instagram – he’d really recorded his journey and there was a lot that had never been published – details of what he saw, how he felt and how he’d set things up each day.

“I thought that I could write it for him, so I sat down and started.”

The result is Moderate Becoming Good Later by Toby Carr and Katie Carr – set for its official launch on June 6 at Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre, the base of operations for Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.

Written in the first person in Toby’s voice, the book follows his journey to immerse himself in nature, to connect with countries around the UK across the seas and to deal with the death of his and Katie’s brother.

Sometimes the trips he makes are with friends and sometimes alone, taking in seas choppy and calm as he paddles the ever-present sea.

Toby’s sister Katie Carr, who wrote Moderate Becoming Good Later in his voice

“I wrote the book, but the aim is that it doesn’t sound like that,” said Katie.

“It was a hard thing to do. My brother had just passed away and I had to sort through his stuff.

“Opening his notebooks, there was the smell of his house and of him on the pages and that was pretty tough.

“Then I started to listen to all his voice recordings on his phone and on videos.

“But I just kept working on it and the story emerged.

“The Shipping Forecast was a framework so that he could do an adventure with something that was quite specific.

“Toby was really clear that he wanted it to be a book with a story that people wouldn’t be able to put down.

“It’s not a kayaking manual, or list of things he did and places he went to.

“A lot of people come into it, there are new friends, and it’s really a story of the voyage and also the history of the place and the connection across the seas which he managed to find. He was very opposed to Brexit, for example.

“It was a journey that he set out on with one reason, but came away with a lot of other nice things as people often do when they travel.

“There are several themes that come up.

The Carrs’ book is published by Summersdale

“One is the love of nature and the importance of getting outside, whether that’s in a kayak or just walking – taking time to connect with something that’s real – not filtered through AI, or whatever.

“Another is about overcoming limitations. Toby had limitations around how long his life was going to be, other illnesses associated with his condition, and this was a window of health for him.

“One of the things I hope it conveys is that it might be more helpful to think of limitations as a design challenge.

“There’s a lot that might not be possible, but you should think of what is, and ask yourself: ‘What can I do?’.

“The easiest chapter for me to write, although it doesn’t sound like it, is the chapter when Toby gets ill.

“That was because I didn’t have all his notes and I’d lived that a bit.

“It was hard in a way because it’s a difficult subject to broach – the decline and eventual death of someone.

Toby made it to 17 of the 31 areas covered by the Shipping Forecast

“But I’m pleased with the way I’ve tackled it – he never had self-pity, and I think he would like the way that it has come out.”

While Toby made it to 17 areas in the forecast and even had plans to get to the non-coastal areas covered by the forecast, ultimately his health prevented him reaching all 31. 

“He didn’t finish the trip and there are nine areas that border  land that he didn’t do, so I’m going to try to finish those,” said Katie.

“That’s a bit of a challenge because I wasn’t a sea kayaker, I live in Barcelona, I’ve got two small kids and I’m 10 years older than Toby was when he started his trip.

“But I’ve already sat down with my aunt Nicky to try and figure out how I might fit it in and I’ve started to plan so let’s see how it goes.”

Moderate Becoming Good Later is published by Summersdale and priced at £9.99.

Copies can be ordered via this link.

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Wapping: How artist Ed J Bucknall captures snapshots of London in his creative work

Architect turned painter sells work in person at Wapping Docklands Market + Canada Water Market

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“You can never run out of things to paint in London,” said Ed J Bucknall.

While he doesn’t say so explicitly during our interview, it’s clear the Wapping-based artist has a deep passion for the city around him – a deep connection to and endless fascination with the very fabric of the place.

“A lot of the inspiration for me is derived from the Thames – the changing light and the changing skyline – because London’s being constantly reconfigured,” he said.

“My works are almost snapshots to record this decade of London expanding.

“I always carry a sketchbook with me, so I’m often seen locally, sketching and drawing in pubs in winter and outdoors in summer.

“I do as much of my work as I can on location, including painting.

“I work in pen and ink, watercolour, acrylic and oils on paper, canvas and even marble.

“I’m self-taught and the nice thing is that I haven’t been moulded to a particular style or technique. I paint what I want to paint and people either like it or not.

“Over time, I’ve learnt techniques that work for me and I take inspiration from generations of amazing artists.”

Detail from Canary Wharf In Mist by Ed J Bucknall

Originally Ed trained as an architect in Leeds, before moving to London in 2011 and continuing to practise his chosen profession.

While drawing was one of the things that first attracted him to architecture, he increasingly found the digital side of his work less satisfying, which prompted a change in direction with the arrival of the pandemic.

“From an early age I’d always painted and drawn for pleasure,” he said.

“When I started as an architect, it was all rooms full of drawing boards, but with computer aided design, you hardly see anything like that now.

“I was having some success with gallery shows and selling art alongside my career as an architect and the lockdowns were the catalyst for me to move into making art full-time.

“I started selling paintings at Wapping Docklands Market at Brussels Wharf in 2021 on Saturdays and then, last year, at Canada Water Market in Deal Porter Square on Sundays.

“I was the first non-food trader at the former and that’s now brought in a lot more crafts, which have been very popular.

Detail from Great Jubilee Wharf by Ed J Bucknall

“At the same time, I exhibit full time at Skylark Galleries on the South Bank.

“Between those three, it’s been great for exposure and I’ve had a lot of success with ongoing commissions including pub signs and bespoke cards for Greene King to sell in their pubs.

“I’ve also had some of my images appear in worldwide publications.

“Art has always been my passion, but I never thought I would make ends meet as an artist.

“One of the things that has surprised and encouraged me since going full time is that it’s possible to make a living making art in London.

“Fortunately for me, my work strikes a chord with a whole range of different people – locals who have lived in the area for many years and are delighted to see an artist draw and paint what they see and experience, people moving into the area, some moving out and tourists visiting.

“I think what appeals is that my pieces are quite traditional but they are not just photos. They are my take on whatever I see inspired by a particular view or the light.”

While Ed’s work often features familiar landmarks, he’s always looking to bring a fresh perspective to the places he draws and paints.

Detail from Shadwell Basin, Wapping by Ed J Bucknall

“Low vantage points always inspire me,” he said.

“When the tide goes out and you’re down on the Thames foreshore, you see buildings and the whole of London in a different way.

“I used to kayak on the Thames, so I was privileged to see unusual views, and that’s part of my mindset. It’s escapism from the hustle and bustle of the city.

“You can be in central London, or in Wapping, just down by the water and it gives you a sense of tranquillity – although you have to be aware of the tides of course, which can also change the view as boats rise and fall.

“The sketches I do on location are much better than photographs, which can distort things – so they are my crib-sheet for working on the finished pieces in the studio.

“I find the paintings just happen – some are happy accidents and some come through skills that I’ve picked up by trial and error. 

“Some of my pieces are painted on reclaimed marble, which is quite unusual.

“They look almost three dimensional and have a connection to the history of London.

“Some of the marble I use is recycled Thames ballast that would have been dumped in the river in the 18th and 19th centuries after ships had taken on cargo.

“It has natural patterning and colouration from its time in the river and that’s something I work with.”

A sketch by Ed of the interior of The Grapes pub in Limehouse

As a registered mudlark, Ed has a physical link to both the subject of his paintings and, with the marble, the medium he works with.

“I don’t dig or scrape on the foreshore, I just pick things up from the surface,” he said.

“Anything of archaeological significance is recorded and reported to the Museum Of London.

“The Thames is like a washing machine – items just get churned up and uncovered.”

Trading at the market is another point of connection, where visitors can browse his works or chat with their creator.

“It’s been a steep learning curve but one that I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “It’s lovely to meet both fellow traders and the general public.

Detail from Ed’s painting of Canary Wharf on reclaimed marble

“I think it’s important that people have an opportunity to speak to artists and I’ve had lovely stories of young people being inspired by my work.”

As for the future, Ed intends to continue balancing the work he wants to paint with commissions from commercial clients and individuals. 

Ed’s work is available to buy online with an extensive range of signed prints from £35 and greetings cards and postcards also available. Prices for the latter start at £2.

Detail from Ed’s painting of St Paul’s on reclaimed marble

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Wapping: How Wilton’s take on The Wind In The Willows stays true to its source

Venue’s festive production for 2022 updates classic to a modern setting and moves Christmas

Author and playwright Piers Torday at Wilton’s Music Hall

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Piers Torday is no stranger to creating festive adaptations for the ancient boards of Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping.

The children’s author, best known for The Last Wild series, has brought John Masefield’s The Box Of Delights, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and last year Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Tale (rechristened as The Child In The Snow) to the east London stage.

November 2022, however, sees him go beyond renaming as he and the team retool Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows as a modern Christmas show, complete with strikethrough.

The Wind In The Willows Wilton’s takes the original book’s familiar characters, takes them out of the Edwardian period and carries them into the 21st century, with the plot also pulled further downstream into central London.

“We changed the name partly because it was irresistible not to, but also to reflect the fact that this is a slightly different version of the story from one that people may have seen before,” said Piers.

“It’s always been adapted in period dress, full Edwardian, with colourful waistcoats and police in uniforms – and I’ve much enjoyed those versions – but we wanted to bring things up to date a bit to reflect the world we live in and the audiences that we serve at Wilton’s.

“So we’ve not set it down the Thames in Cookham – where Kenneth Grahame lived – we’ve brought it downstream, where the river goes past Wilton’s, and into the heart of London and the City.

“It’s set now in 2022, Mole lives in Hyde Park and we’ve moved the Wild Wood to the financial district, and we’ve balanced the gender make-up so it’s not just chaps having a jolly good time.

“In doing that, however, we’ve remained completely faithful to the spirit of the book. 

“When it was written, the book was unbelievably modern – full of stuff about motor cars and the characters having very contemporary adventures.

“Increasingly over time those things have become nostalgic, and the spirit of the book is about being very current.”

In addition to altering some details of the setting, Piers has also shifted the timeline around to reflect the season.

Wilton’s festive show is and update of The Wind In The Willows

“The Wind In The Willows famously starts in spring, with Mole doing his cleaning, but in the book, rather madly, Christmas happens two-thirds of the way through,” he said.

 “We’ve rearranged it so that  Christmas takes place at the end – we’ve ordered the events more logically.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s still about four friends and I think most people can recognise themselves or their friends in the main characters.

“Toad Hall will still be taken over by the weasels but part of the fun is for audiences to see what we’ve done with it. 

“It’s been a huge amount of fun, putting it together – no-one has really updated the story before so it’s been the most brilliant opportunity and we’ve done it with lots of song and dance.

“The original book is actually full of songs woven into the story, so we’ve used quite a lot of those lyrics and written some to complement them.

“What many people also forget about this story is that it contains some of the most beautiful descriptions of the English countryside in literature.

“Kenneth Grahame wasn’t really a writer, as such;  he was someone who dabbled in writing and became famous through this book, but he definitely had a poet’s ear for describing our riverbanks, our natural flora and fauna. 

“It’s not very dramatic, but we’ve tried to honour that as we tell the story in the age of climate crisis, so it’s going to be full of real bits of nature.

“We’ve tried not to buy anything new, but to use everything, which is as sustainable and low-impact on the environment as possible. It will look spectacular, but it’s not going to cost the earth.”

For Piers, the task of adapting The Wind In The Willows was more than just about creating a festive show.

“I’ve always wanted to adapt it,” he said. “I write books about talking animals and I date my curiosity in that area to my parents reading me The Wind In The Willows.

“Some of the characters I’ve created myself are probably the result of numerous reiterations that started with Mole or Ratty.

“Even if they’ve not read the book, the audience will probably be aware of the idea of irresponsible Mr Toad, grumpy Badger in his sett or the very shy Mole blinking in the sunlight – it’s part of our national culture.

“To bring this London version of the story to life is a real joy.

“I think talking animals are very appealing because they allow children to experience adult emotions without feeling that they’re having to be little adults.

“In the story the animals live in houses of their own, they have their own occupations, they drive cars, they go to the shops, they go to court, so they do adult things – but there’s something enormously childlike about them too.

“They’re larger-than-life characters.”

The venue’s Christmas show is aimed at kids and adults alike

While The Wind In The Willows Wilton’s is not a pantomime, Piers said it had been written to entertain all ages, including some topical references – a challenge given the current political turmoil.

“When I started writing, the character of Toad was irresistibly like Boris Johnson, but those references have all gone, for the moment,” he said.

“It’s not a panto, so it’s not going to be full of up-to-the minute references to the latest thing or celebrity gossip – but it is a Christmas show and they always have an end-of-term-sketch feel about them

“You want to draw people together. It’s very different to working on a normal play. For many, especially young people, a Christmas show might be the only time they will go to the theatre with their parents. 

“It’s a family outing, so you have to try to include everyone and it’s Christmas so you have to remember people are there to have a nice time.

“To do that you have to have stories and jokes that operate on many levels.

“Children will see the show as a battle, a story with funny scenes of Toad getting cross and losing something, but there may also be references for adults about the cost-of-living crisis or whatever else is going on, to make them feel they’re included in the story too.

“While it’s absolutely terrifying to work on something like this because you can see how it’s received every night, it’s also a great privilege to see those responses. 

“Theatre is irresistible and thrilling because it is something that happens in the moment. That experience – when someone makes it work – is the most special one you can have.”

  • The Wind In The Willows Wilton’s runs at Wilton’s Music Hall from November 24 to December 31, 2022. Performance times are 7.30pm with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets start at £13.

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Wapping: How Northeastern University London is set to grow at St Katharine Docks

Expansion is on the agenda as seat of learning prepares to launch dually validated degrees in 2023

Northeastern University London is based at Devon House in St Katharine Docks
Northeastern University London is based at Devon House in St Katharine Docks

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“I want studying here to be filled with new experiences, meeting people and fun – a place which our students will remember as one where they grew intellectually, socially and personally and which allowed them to have choices,” said Rob Farquharson, CEO of Northeastern University London (NU London).

Founded in 2012 by the philosopher and writer AC Grayling as the New College Of The Humanities (NCH), the institution has been through a period of growth and development in a relatively short space of time – not least its arrival at St Katharine Docks.

In 2019 it was acquired by Northeastern University, an American seat of learning based in Boston, but with 11 regional campuses in the US and a clear mission to expand globally.

Then in 2020, NCH was first granted the right to award its own degrees and then to legally call itself a university – both after lengthy assessment processes.

Having outgrown its original premises in Bloomsbury, in 2021 it moved to Devon House – a modern warehouse-style building on the banks of the Thames overlooking Tower Bridge. 

It’s an apt location on the site of the historic Bull’s Head pub where it’s not impossible to imagine thirsty Brits finding refreshment as they prepared to emigrate to America over the Atlantic from the nearby docks.

Today, NU London’s presence represents fresh connection between the area and the US, as it looks to the future with the sensitive retirement of the NCH name.

Northeastern University London CEO Rob Farquharson
Northeastern University London CEO Rob Farquharson

“Boston and London are the two pre-eminent seats of higher education in the world,” said Rob.

“One of Northeastern’s key drivers is international expansion – being able to offer its students and staff a global experience.

“You have to connect with the world and understand it to make a positive impact and Northeastern doesn’t want to be constrained by a single location.

“We’re the first campus outside North America, but I can guarantee we won’t be the last. Northeastern wants to have a global student body and to give people the opportunity to study in different locations and experience different cultures – you need to have that physical presence on the ground to facilitate that.

“We moved to St Katherine Docks for more space and we’re just about to take another building here for use as office space so we can grow even further.

“We’ve added a lot of non-humanities, non-social science subjects to the ones we already teach – we now offer courses in business, engineering, chemistry and physics, for example. 

“There’s a big emphasis on artificial intelligence, partly because that bridges the history we have in humanities and the strengths Northeastern has in Boston, such as computer science and data science.

“At the moment we have about 1,200 students in London and we aim to have about 1,500 by the end of the year.

“In September 2023, we’ll be launching dually validated degrees, which we’re very excited about. It means students will be studying for degrees that are accredited in both the UK and the US.

“The structure for those at the moment is that in the second semester of the second year, students will have the option to study in North America – in Boston or at a West Coast campus, although it’s not compulsory.

The university boasts extensive facilities at Devon House
The university boasts extensive facilities at Devon House

“Students will also be able to do a fourth year in the US as their degrees tend to be four years and there will be an option to do a masters there too.

“One of the reasons we need more space is so we can create facilities such as wet labs for students who want to come over here from the US to study as part of their course. 

“We won’t be able to cover the full range of courses they have in Boston, but we do want to allow students to have some time in London and we want to be able to support them.”

At present, NU London offers undergraduate degrees, masters degrees and apprenticeship courses designed to help businesses develop their workforces.

NU London is also eager to play its part in the local community as it grows and expands its offering, whether that’s welcoming local residents on its degree courses or helping others gain new skills.

“We have students with us who are residents of Tower Hamlets, but we’re keen to get local people from all the boroughs around here and we want to be a valued member of the community,” said Rob.

“If anyone has any ideas how we can do that, then we’re more than happy to hear from them.

“One thing that we do is work with the GLA and the Department For Education to run free digital boot camps. These are open nationwide, but we’re particularly keen for local residents to join.

“The next one starts in January and it’s a 13-week programme for people aged 19 and over, to help them understand a bit more about the digital skills they may need for a career or a new or different job.”

The boot camp is run in partnership with cloud platform ServiceNow, which counts government agencies, prominent consultancies and major brands among its clients.

“We love being here at St Katharine Docks,” said Rob. “It’s a little oasis – close enough to the busy areas of the City, The Highway and Commercial Road if you want to go there, but quiet so you can study.

NUL moved to St Katharine Docks in 2021

“We feel we’ve become part of the community but hope to go further still.

“One of our key priorities is widening participation, to make sure that under-represented groups have the ability, the ambition and the understanding to be able to go to university.

“We have staff whose job it is to spread the word locally.

“They visit primary schools, secondary schools and colleges in Tower Hamlets and other boroughs to demystify university – especially for those whose family members have not been.

“We want them to know that they can come here, meet a diverse group of people and have choices.

“Some might want to make money in financial services while others might want to be social workers.

“What we want is to give them the ability to make those choices.

“Once they are here, we have a careers team that supports students from the practical side of things – writing CVs and interviews – through to clubs and societies.

“We’ve just launched an entrepreneur club, which will bring in recent graduates who have started businesses as well as people from funding organisations.

“We also have programmes which give students an idea of how businesses work. Your passion might be English Literature, but it’s useful to know other things as well.

“You may want to be an English professor, but that involves working at a university, which is a business that pays people and spends a budget – It’s about having that depth.”

NU London is set to host an open day for prospective students on November 26, 2022.

NUL is expanding its offering as it prepares to launch dual UK and US degrees

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Wapping: Why photographer Jonathan Goldberg travels to islands in the Thames

Jonathan will present a talk about his work at the Classic Boat Festival in St Katharine Docks

Photographer Jonathan Goldberg
Photographer Jonathan Goldberg

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Did you know there are 180 islands in the River Thames? That’s 180 mysterious pockets of land most of us will never set foot on.

If your interest has been piqued, you’re in good company, because I was enthralled when photographer Jonathan Goldberg began to tell me of his journey into the unknown.

He has visited 65 islands over the last four years for his series Estuary Hopes, Upstream Dreams, which captures life on their shores including an abandoned torpedo factory and an artists commune.

“I’ve always been fascinated by islands in general, and my projects are often based around my backyard,” said the Willesden Green resident.

“Other photographers might want to go to exotic locations and travel far, but that leaves a big carbon footprint and there’s so much on your doorstep you might not know about. 

One of Jonathan's images of Taggs Island
One of Jonathan’s images of Taggs Island

“The Thames islands are every bit as intriguing as the more publicised locations precisely because they lie under the radar. 

“I’m always quite fascinated by things that are seemingly so close yet a little bit hidden.”

He will be sharing details of his journey at St Katharine Docks this summer as part of the Classic Boat Festival, which in turn is part of the Totally Thames Festival.

The 49-year-old will be discussing his work with author and journalist Sasha Arms, whose book, Carl Goes London Islands informed his travels.

Some photographers do not have a predilection for verbosity and there is an argument that art should not be explained.

But Jonathan gallantly attempted to answer my questions about his travels, which he said gave him a greater awareness of the layers of history and many quirks to be found along the river.

His first stop was Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, one of 60 inhabited blobs of land in the Thames.

One of Jonathan's Eel Pie Island images
One of Jonathan’s Eel Pie Island images

“People of a certain age tend to know about it because it’s got a very colourful history,” he said.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a venue where a lot of the big music performers of the day played – The Who, Pink Floyd and David Bowie.

“It’s sort of private now, but it’s home to a lot of artists’ studios and they have an open day twice a year, so I went in the summer and it piqued my curiosity.”

He took the easier road (or waterway) next, travelling to the islands that are designated parkland or open to the public.

“I fixed on the people who frequented the islands and tried to find interesting and diverse characters and the everyday goings on,” he said.

One of his favourite discoveries was Tagg’s Island near Hampton. 

“It’s quite exotic-looking because the landscape gardener has planted numerous plants and there’s a lagoon in the middle of the island,” he said. 

“All around it are these houses which look really interesting because they are technically houseboats but never move – they are moored permanently.

“Something about the architecture is really ornate and quirky.”

The softly spoken photographer, who started his career on newspapers such as the Hendon Times and the Ham And High in the 1990s, was mostly welcomed ashore.

But he recalls one island that “looked like an 1980s housing estate” where his subjects were extremely reticent about appearing in front of the lens and all but escorted him back to the river after 30 minutes.

In contrast, he has spent “too much time” on Canvey Island and some of its most easterly neighbours.

One of Jonathan's images of Lots Ait
One of Jonathan’s images of Lots Ait

Jonathan said: “Sheppey is one of my favourite places to photograph because it feels rather like the end of the world and is a bit weird with loads of diverse things going on –  an industrial corner, a nudist beach, a tacky holiday resort and a nature reserve.”

The furthest west he has been is Osney, near Oxford, and Fry’s Island near Reading, which is almost entirely given over to the Island Bohemian Bowls Club.

He has plans to explore that area further, ahead of an exhibition in Henley next year which will showcase part two of the project.

“I’ll keep going because there are some islands that really interest me and I want to represent a few other facets of island life in my photos,” he said.

However, there are some islands he knows he will probably never get to set foot on.

“Magna Carta Island, which was where the Magna Carta was signed, has just one big mansion that’s owned by a private individual.

“I don’t feel like I’m going to get a chance to photograph that,” he said.

While that piece of history has been allowed to slip away from public view, others like Platt’s Eyot have benefited from their remoteness.

“It’s home to an enormous warehouse and used to be where World War Two torpedoes were constructed,” said Jonathan. 

“It’s semi-derelict but preserved, so they’re not allowed to knock it down. 

“I think that if this warehouse had been on the mainland it might have been demolished for housing.”

This project follows his series The Runway Stops Here, which documented a different kind of island – an ecological one. 

He spent five years visiting and photographing Grow Heathrow – a sustainable community living entirely off-grid in protest at the proposed expansion of the airport.

One of Jonathan's images of Trowlock Island
One of Jonathan’s images of Trowlock Island

“I would sit around the campfire, help out, make food and that played quite a formative role in my life,” he said.

“It was really great to hang out with a lot of people who were really committed to environmental protest and living sustainably.”

Jonathan said he is often lured by the siren call of the islands to make his own escape from mainstream society.

“I often get a real yearning to snap up a property and think it would be lovely to live there,” he said. “But then again, there are practicalities that need to be considered.

“Some have flooding issues, some you have to get a boat to and, in the winter, they’re not as appealing.”

For now, he’s happy to document these snippets of land that are imbued with so much history and encourage others to look more closely at the landscape around them.

“Hopefully, my pictures will encourage people to seek out places that are surrounded by nature and wildlife, look around more and have a greater interest in the natural world in the immediate vicinity,” he said.

“The islands are a really great place to be a bit more at one with nature because, with water all around, you are, by definition, surrounded by nature.

“You get an amplified sense of the changing seasons and time of day and beautiful sunsets and sunrises – a feeling of tranquillity.”

Thames Islands: Presentation and Discussion is set to take place on September 10 from 3pm-4.30pm. Entry is free.

A free exhibition of Estuary Hopes, Upstream Dreams will be held throughout September at Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford.

The Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks
The Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks


The free three-day boating extravaganza returns with around 40 vintage and preserved vessels assembling in the central basin of St Katharine Docks. 

They will include the Dunkirk Little Ships, Bates Starcraft and other working vessels. Visitors will be able to board some of them and meet their owners.

The festival is set to run September 9-11 in the afternoon (3pm-5.30pm) on the Friday, and from 11am-6pm on the Saturday and 11am-5pm on the Sunday.

The opening and closing will be marked each day with a salute of horns.

There will also be food stalls, entertainment, nautical goods and services available on Marble Quay. Talks will be held on the SKD events platform and include:

  • Tom Cunliffe – Fri, 4pm
  • The Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana – Sat, noon
  • The history of St Katherine Docks with Dr Oliver Ayers – Sat, 1.30pm
  • Thames Islands – Sat, 3pm
  • Gloriana as above – Sun, noon
  • Association of Dunkirk Little Ships – Sun, 3pm

Read more: How Canary Wharf’s Junior Board is shaping the estate

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