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Enter here for a chance to win an east London Skuna Boats cruise

Wharf Life is running a prize draw with the firm, which runs Hot Tub and BBQ Boats in Canary Wharf

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Skuna Boats – the ultimate escape

Dreaming of an extraordinary summer experience?

Enter Skuna Boats and Wharf Life’s second prize draw for a chance to win an exclusive Hot Tub Boat or BBQ Boat hire experience in Canary Wharf, worth more than £300.

Whether you’re seeking relaxation or adventure, Skuna Boats offer the perfect blend of luxury and excitement. 

Don’t let this opportunity sail away – enter now for a chance to create lifelong memories with your loved ones..

how to enter our prize draw

Entering the draw is easy – simply subscribe to Wharf Life’s free, fortnightly Wharf Whispers newsletter before June 25, 2024, for a chance to win.

The winner can choose from either a Hot Tub Boat experience for up to seven people lasting 75 minutes, or a BBQ Boat Experience for up to 10 people lasting 100 minutes – both worth over £300.

Booking will be by arrangement with Skuna Boats.

The winner will be selected by Wharf Life and contacted on June 26, 2024.

There is no cash alternative and the editor’s decision is final.

Find out more about Skuna Boats here

Read more: How Roe restaurant aims to attract 2,000 diners a day

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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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West India Quay: How the Isle Of Man is seeking to boost its foodie exports

Museum Of London Docklands hosts Manx firms as they look to capitalise on UNESCO designation

Outlier’s Hoolie Manx White Rum was part of the showcase

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The docks may have closed 40 years ago but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely defunct as a part of the import and export sector.

The Isle Of Man is currently on a mission to boost its foodie exports, including seafood, alcoholic beverages, salt and cheese, as it attempts to shift the balance of its economy and bring greater prosperity to its inhabitants. 

The world’s only whole-nation UNESCO Biosphere reserve – described as a learning place for sustainable development – had brought producers down to the International Food And Drink Expo at Excel in Royal Docks, opting for a further spin-off showcase at the Museum Of London Docklands on West India Quay.

These included the likes of shellfish from its sustainably managed King Scallop Fishery – available at a selection of top London restaurants, dairy produce from the Isle Of Man Creamery and hand-harvested sea salt from the Isle Of Man Salt Co.

Rick Dacey of Outlier

It’s especially apt that a space in a listed former sugar warehouse on the edge of a dock that was once a major receiver of imports should be used in this way– better still that one of the products on show should be a rum.

Outlier itself is an importer as well as an exporter.

It buys-in cane molasses, but otherwise uses exclusively local ingredients to create its products.

Available in Harrods or to buy online, it is at present still a small concern.

“Hoolie is our 41% white rum and it’s the first one made in the British Isles to be sold at the department store,” said co-founder Rick Dacey.

“That’s not bad going for a couple of guys working in a shed on a farm.

“We’re called Outlier because we are that, both philosophically and geographically.

“We’re doing our own thing – we’re not interested in producing millions of bottles.

“We want to have fun with it and we’re happy to be quite polarising.

“Some people don’t like our bottles and I’m happy about that because at least they have an opinion. 

All milk produced on the Isle Of Man is processed by a cooperative

“The way we produce it is laborious – two middle-aged men in a Rocky montage chopping wood and throwing it in the still – so it’s a proper craft product.

“We make it from scratch. The Isle Of Man has very clean air and water which is good for the booze and it’s going down well with the rum crowd so why deviate from that? 

“The Isle is a small place, but it has some great producers so it’s great that it’s getting some government support.”

 Another company eager to boost its overseas activity is the Isle Of Man Creamery

“We’re a cooperative of 28 dairy farmers on the island,” said Findlay Macleod, its managing director.

“We bring in all of the milk that’s produced there and process it into cheese.

“On the Isle Of Man, our cows are out eating grass for a minimum of 200 days every year, which means they’re enjoying a natural diet.

“That makes for a healthier milk and provides a better base for our award-winning cheese that regularly wins national and international recognition.

“We export to Canada, the USA, Australia and the UK as well. We’re hopeful to find further distribution in London in independent stores and in top restaurants.

“My favourite is our Vintage Red Leicester – it goes with anything and it’s a beautiful cheese. A really wonderful product.”

Isle Of Man Creamery’s Grass Fed Vintage Red Leicester

Read more: How St James’ Bow Green development is at one with nature

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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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West India Quay: How Fashion City celebrates the impact of Jews working and innovating in the capital’s garment industry

Museum Of London Docklands’ immersive exhibition takes visitors into boutiques and ateliers

This image from 1917 shows workers at Schneiders Garment Factory in Stepney. The clothing industry dominated the Jewish East End – Image from the Museum Of London

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“It’s been 20 years since the Museum Of London had a major fashion exhibition and this is the first time we’ve hosted one at Docklands – it’s also the first time we’ve done a major exhibition with London’s Jewish population at its centre,” said Dr Lucie Whitmore.

“The Museum Of London Docklands is the perfect place to share this story, because it’s about migration and creativity blossoming at the heart of east London.”

Lucie is curator of Fashion City at the West India Quay institution, a special exhibition that explores the impact of Jewish Londoners on global style, that will be in place for visitors to enjoy until April 14, 2024.

“It’s a celebration and recognition of the contribution that these individuals have made to the industry.

“We’re thinking about this in a very broad sense.

“We wanted to go beyond the stereotypes or what we think people might expect about the relationship between Jewish people and making clothes in London.

Fashion City is on show now at Museum Of London Docklands

“We aim to encourage people to really think about how diverse our garment industry is and how many people are responsible for making the capital a fashion centre with an international reputation.

“To do this we’re taking our visitors on a bit of a journey.

“The exhibition is not structured chronologically, as people might expect, but geographically.

“So we have an East End and a West End and the places and spaces of London inform our structural approach.

“There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes – and sometimes anti-Semitic thinking – about Jewish people in the east of London, what is known as ‘sweated labour’, for example.

“That’s the idea of Jewish people either being poor and persecuted without agency, working in horrible conditions, producing cheap clothes in the East End. 

Museum Of London curator Lucie Whitmore – Image by Jon Massey

“At the opposite end of that scale, there are misconceptions about wealthy Jewish people profiting from the work of others.

“We really wanted to dig into Jewish life and work in the East End, and show that it wasn’t like this.

“Obviously there were people who were treated very badly in the trade, but there were also people who had amazing agency and set up their own businesses, not just in tailoring, but also in accessories, leather-work, dressmaking – there’s a lot more to the story.

“We also wanted to show just how important Jewish makers and retailers have been in the West End, which has a glitzier reputation.

“People think about grand department stores, high street chains, couture, the pinnacle of London fashion – and Jewish makers are really important in that story as well.

“Although we don’t go into it in great depth, I was really keen for people to know that there was a big and really important resident Jewish population in the West End.

“People had settled there for quite a long time, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Gold kaftan and maxi smoking dress with beaded panels by Mr Fish – Image from the Museum Of London

“Soho and Fitzrovia were predominantly Jewish areas, and a lot of people don’t necessarily know that.

“The other reason for structuring Fashion City this way was that it allows us to examine different pockets of the industry by place, bringing together designers who knew each other and worked together or, perhaps, who were around at different times but did similar things. 

“Visitors will be able to walk into an East End tailor’s workshop, step into the luxury of a couture salon and have a bit of a dance in our Carnaby boutique.”

While fashion is the core of the exhibition, there’s a thread of music running through things too.

The playlist includes the likes of the Mamas And Papas, The Beatles, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds who all wore clothes by designers featured in the exhibition. 

“There’s Adam Faith too, who was a great customer of menswear shop Cecil Gee and we’re really excited to be featuring them all in Fashion City,” said Lucie.

Men wearing dresses by Mr Fish – Image by Jimmy James/ANL/Shutterstock

“It was also irresistible to include designer Mr Fish, who was in the spotlight in such a huge way in the 1960s.

“He was extraordinarily creative, known for his flamboyant menswear. 

“He starts in Colette’s department store in Shaftesbury Avenue, moves around various retail jobs and eventually becomes established as a shirt maker.

“Then we get this classically trained designer who has developed all his skills and plays with the designs – subverts them, and then puts his creations in front of a different audience.

“He also invents the kipper tie.

“He gains the attention of several high-profile customers, such as Sean Connery and Barry Sainsbury, of the Sainsbury family, who goes into business with him.

“They open a boutique on Clifford Street between Jermyn Street – the traditional home of shirt making – and Carnaby Street.

“It’s the peacock revolution, with young, stylish customers – musicians, sports stars and actors – it’s also a place to hang out.

A wedding dress by Jewish designer Neymar, dating from the 1970s – Image from the Museum Of London

“There’s a story that an Italian film crew came to London to film in Mr Fish’s boutique, because they saw it as the downfall of British society and they wanted to capture the end of it.

“They saw Mr Fish as a beacon of change.

“He was doing skirts and dresses for men and felt that the male body was better suited to them – he called the garments powerful and virile.

“He wasn’t the first to do that, but the spirit behind his clothes was fascinating and heartfelt.

“Some people want to dismiss him as a bit of a novelty, but actually the quality of the design and the creativity, and how much he believed in it shows it wasn’t frivolity – it was fashion.

“The skirts and dresses were very popular and worn, very famously, by David Bowie and Mick Jagger. We also have a wonderful picture of an Arsenal footballer wearing one.”

The exhibition is filled with glamour. There are evening dresses, high-end hats and exquisite couture pieces.

The exhibition includes a coat by David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon worn by Princess Diana and another by EastEnders royalty Dot Cotton in tweed by Alexon.

But Lucie and her team were keen to showcase the stories of real Londoners alongside the glamour.

The exhibition opens with the story of the 200,000 Jewish migrants arriving in the capital between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries through personal artefacts.

More than 50% would come to be involved in the fashion, clothing and textile trade.

Items include a small travelling case used by a child who came to London on the Kindertransport – the rescue effort to send children out of Nazi-controlled territory from 1938-39.

More than four years of research has gone into Fashion City and Lucie said one of the reasons she and collaborator Dr Bethan Bide of the University Of Leeds has wanted to explore the topic was the high level of resonance.

“We’d both done quite a lot of talking about it publicly and there was a lot of personal interest in the subject matter,” said Lucie, who began her career as a designer and became increasingly interested in the history of fashion.

“People who came to our talks recognised their own family stories and would feel quite emotional and proud of them.”

This coat by David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon – Image from the Museum Of London

That’s partly true of Lucie herself, whose own family feature  in the exhibition.

“They were Jewish refugees from Vienna,” she said.

“I should make it clear this isn’t a biased move on the part of the curator.

“We really wanted a story about leather goods and bags, and we didn’t have those objects already in our collection, but the story of my family fits perfectly in the narrative of the exhibition.

“The material was reviewed anonymously by an external reviewer for suitability before I put my great-grandfather in there.

“The family had already made one big move from Ukraine to Austria where they westernised their names.

“In Vienna they set up leather goods business Molmax, which was initially a big producer of sportswear, Alpine skiwear and leather goods.

“Then they moved into luggage, and they won a really big reputation internationally.

“But in 1938, after the German invasion, my family survived at great risk.

“Because my great-grandfather was a businessman, people would phone them and warn them when there was going to be a raid on their buildings, so they needed to be away.

Detail of the Molmax brand created by Lucie Whitmore’s family

“There’s an extraordinary story, which we do touch on in the exhibition, where some Nazi officers knocked on the front door of their home and demanded to be taken to the factory immediately.

“They took my great-grandfather and great uncle there in a van and took pretty much all their stock with no payment, nothing.

“Then they took over and Aryanised the factory.

“My grandmother and her brother left on the Kindertransport and my great grandfather managed to obtain a business visa which was how he managed to escape.

“My great grandmother was left to pack up the family home and make her own way over, and they were very lucky that they all reached Britain safely.

“There they re-established the business in London, starting off in Holborn.

“My great uncle, who was only 16, was the only one who spoke English and so he was doing all the work of translating and finding producers and places to work.

“They got it going and moved to Quaker Street, just off Brick Lane.

This silk evening gown by Rhavis dates from 1952 and is one of the key pieces in the exhibition – Image from the Museum Of London

“They managed to grow another international business, with offices in New York, exporting all over the world, before it closed in the early 1980s.”

There is, of course, more.

There’s the Rahvis sisters who designed clothes worn by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

The flamboyant hats of Otto Lucas and an exploration of the connections between the Jewish community and other immigrant populations from the Caribbean and Bangladesh – seamstress Anwara Begum’s sewing machine is on display, which she used to make garments for local businesses at her home in Quaker Street.

In fact, there’s far too much on show to truly do the exhibition justice here – you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself.

Then for even more depth, you can dip into Lucie’s book, written with Bethan, to accompany the exhibition.

Standard entry to Fashion City costs £12 for adults and £6 for children.

Find out more about the exhibition or book tickets here

Designer Raemonde Rahvis, who worked with her sister Dora to create pieces worn by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell – Image by George Harris/ANL/Shutterstock

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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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Canary Wharf: How Platform offers video games on consoles to delight and entertain

Crossrail Place bar and competitive socialising venue has opened its doors to gamers and firms

Platform co-founder Tomaso Portunato

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“KO your CEO” reads the zesty pink neon on the wall just inside Platform in Canary Wharf.

Recently opened in Crossrail Place between Flying Tiger and Island Poke, at first glance it’s not immediately clear what this new arrival is.

There’s a little box office structure as you go in that has a distinct Wes Anderson vibe – a shelter, perhaps for a concierge.

Then there are the glowing pink and yellow lights on the ceiling and the unmistakable sugary aroma of popcorn being made.

The sensory effect is that of walking into some kind of timeless future cinema that’s scrambled all of the best bits of going out to see a movie and come up with something highly refined, a little like the sweetener on the snacks.

But Platform isn’t a movie theatre or a place to physically beat on senior executives, it’s a place to play video games in comfort with snacks and drinks.

Platform offers semi-private gaming areas to duos or groups

“I place us somewhere between competitive socialising operators, who are doing things like ping pong and darts, and a traditional cinema,” said Tomaso Portunato, co-founder and CEO of Platform.

“When you go and see a movie you’re consuming content with friends – having food and drinks and it’s much the same here.

“We have popcorn, a bar and we serve pizzas.

“I’m originally from Geneva in Switzerland and I came here to study economics and politics about 10 years ago.

“Before starting Platform I was doing event management for game companies and helping student associations out, but I never really had a job after university.

“The idea was to start small and to make something out of it.

“We began as a pop-up – putting on events, selling tickets and generating funding for about a year. 

“We had gaming sponsors from doing that and decided, with my co-founders Lucas Weintraub, Jo Highfield and my brother Nicolo, that if we could afford a commercial property, then we would go for it.

Booths can accommodate up to eight people

“When I was working in Old Street, I used to go to a pizzeria for lunch – count the customers and try to estimate how much they would spend.

“I was trying to build a business model.

“Then the pizzeria went bankrupt and we took it over for the first Platform.

“Shoreditch is now in a really good spot – we have a loyal customer base and we do a lot of gaming events there – but we were also testing the ground. 

“It’s still our baby and it’s doing great, but the Canary Wharf branch is closer to our finished concept.

“Shoreditch was an opportunity to see what we could do with little capital and a vague understanding of what we were doing.

“We tried everything – racing simulators, retro gaming, console gaming and PC gaming.

“We learnt a lot about our operating model and the type of experience we wanted to be focusing on. 

“That’s why Canary Wharf is based on next generation console gaming and how we create a really fun experience around that.

“It’s streamlined and it’s simpler to operate – you don’t have issues like customers changing the language and alphabet on a PC and then not changing it back.

“But most importantly, we also feel that console gaming offers the most social experience of the lot.

The Mario from Platform, complete with Mushroom Kingdom mushrooms

“It caters for the crowd who want to go out and enjoy themselves, to play, have some food and some cocktails.

“Plus operators like Nintendo have made it really fun even if you lose – and that’s important.

“We want to make sure anyone coming to Platform, whether they are an experienced gamer or not, has a really good time.

“That means we’re careful about the games we select and how we present what we’re doing.”

While the pink glow and sweet aromas of the bar are ground level temptations, the business end of Platform is subterranean.

“Customers follow pulsating neon arrows downstairs to a surprisingly spacious bar area beyond which are located a series of semi-private booths of varying sizes. 

These come equipped with Nintendo Switch and Playstation 5 consoles, a handy neon light to attract staff and plentiful sofa space.

Booths at Platform are ideal for date night

“We have about 30 games to choose from including racing, and sports titles, with big names like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Call Of Duty and Fifa.

“But we also have cooperative games like Overcooked and Moving Out, which I think are great.

“If you’re out on date night, you might want to play more cooperatively rather than competitively.

“Our larger booths can accommodate up to eight people but we can easily arrange tournaments for our guests and take corporate bookings for up to 60.

“Most of our customers pre-book online, but people can just walk in too and we’ll do everything we can to accommodate them. 

“Typically people book 90 minutes (£13.50 per person) and can always top that up if they would like to stay longer.

“After that, they are welcome to hang out in the bar, of course.

“We also offer packages such as £28pp for two cocktails and gaming or bottomless brunch for £35pp, which includes a pizza or nachos for each person and bottomless beer, Prosecco or Mimosas for 90 minutes.

“A lot of people want to get together to play games and the traditional way of doing that would be to meet at someone’s house on a Friday.

“Platform allows a larger group to meet with all the latest games in a comfortable environment. 

“For some it will be a pit-stop when they’re out in London.

“But equally it could be a place to go with mates from work or on a date. 

“For businesses it’s a way for colleagues to have fun and we can offer whole-venue booking for corporate customers with drinks, food and unlimited gaming.”

Following the success of the Shoreditch branch, Tomaso and the team were already looking at Canary Wharf as a place to open in 2019.

“I initially thought it was interesting because of the corporate scene,” he said.

“But since then Canary Wharf Group has done an amazing job of developing the area – picking the right operators to attract people.

“The deciding factor for us was the Elizabeth Line and the area is seeing massive footfall during the week and at weekends.”

Gaming at Platform starts at £5 for sessions off peak on Mondays.

A screenshot of the action in a typical Moving Out level

GAME REVIEW

>> Oh God. What’s going on? I just threw a chair through a window, my head is a toaster and it’s just fired two charred pieces of bread into the air.

Now a giant turtle is repeatedly slapping me. Worse still, I can barely move this fridge by myself…

These are just a few of the thoughts likely to run through your head as you and your friends take on Moving Out.

Published by Team17 and developed by some clearly very disturbed Swedes and Australians, this 2020 “cooperative moving simulation game” pits players against that timeless foe – moving day. 

While the real-life process of relocating from one home to another is generally said to be amongst the most stressful things a person can do, playing Moving Out is curiously liberating. 

Despite the oddness – you can play as a humanoid toaster, a unicorn or even a person – the simple act of frantically battling exaggerated physics against the clock to stuff a van with furniture and other ephemera is curiously relaxing. 

True, you can be painstakingly careful (breakages are penalised to some extent) and go for a high score.

But the game doesn’t seem to mind too much if you decide that tossing a sofa through a plate glass window is a better way to expedite its journey to a new home.

There’s a cooperative element too. Heavier items must be carried with a pal and there’s an obvious temptation to invoke the sacred mantra of the Chuckle Brothers.

Failing that, keeping a selection of expletives handy is advised for the inevitable time your colleague is less than useful.

There are plentiful obstacles to contend with – rakes, ghosts, fires, a giant turtle – that serve to make the experience of play richer and more bizarre.

Fans of Overcooked (also on offer at Platform) will doubtless find this a silly, frantic blast with an unhealthy toaster obsession.

Read more: How Kinaara on Greenwich Peninsula offers authentic Indian flavours

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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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West India Quay: How the Museum Of London Docklands is marking its 20th

Institution is planning a The Big Docklands Street Party with late access to its galleries on June 10

Drag queen Vanity Milan will headline The Big Docklands Street Party

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The Museum Of London Docklands is gearing up for a celebration.

On June 10, 2023, the chimes of the bells at St Mary-Le-Bow will ring out to mark 20 years since the late Queen officially opened the West India Quay institution.

Two decades on and it’s drag queen Vanity Milan – known for her appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK in 2021 – who will headline The Big Docklands Street Party in celebration of the milestone.

Running from 7pm-10pm on the Saturday evening, the event will feature Hackney Showroom’s Bobby Dazzler outdoor stage with a line-up of live music acts and performances to entertain revellers. 

Tickets, which should be pre-booked online, cost £20 dropping to £12 for those aged 20.

Other attractions will include a makers market featuring products from Craft Central creatives, street food stalls and pop-up bars as well as an East End-themed pub quiz.

The museum’s galleries will also stay open late to host a range of talks, tours and film screenings including a focus on the origins of street parties in the capital, the history of the Notting Hill Carnival and the other festivities that have brought Londoners together over the years. 

Museum Of London Docklands managing director Douglas Gilmore

The latter is something Museum Of London Docklands managing director Douglas Gilmore is very much hoping the street party will do. 

“There will be film, dance and lots of activities and we’re really excited about it,” he said.

“We want to be diverse and to make sure everyone who might want to come to the museum can and for people who haven’t visited to feel that they can too.

“We’ve done these kinds of events before, so local people are used to them, but we also want people to come from further afield to grow our audience.

“Our research has shown some people think Docklands is hard to get to but we know it isn’t – there are five stations across three different lines within five minutes’ walk of us and most museums can’t say that.”

While the party, like Vanity Milan, is the headline attraction, the museum’s 20th birthday has also become the focus of a sequence of events taking place throughout the year.

The Queen opened the museum on June 10, 2023

“We’ve been open for two decades on this site,” said Douglas.

“We want to use that and incorporate it in our new strategy, which we’ve entitled Moving Centre Stage, because with the Museum Of London temporarily closed for its relocation to Smithfield we are now the centre.

“Our strategy has three main pillars – the first is to grow our audience, both in terms of numbers and diversity, the second is to improve our content, both in what we have and what we show and the third is the efficiency of how we operate.

“Our anniversary will be used to feed all of those. June is really our party month and, in addition to the main celebration there will be activities for both adults and children.

“Then, our next big month will be September when we’ll be organising a mudlarking festival. 

“Ideally we’d like to grow that into an annual event, starting small but talking about it in the same way the Natural History Museum does Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, which has become an international event.

“We plan to run foreshore tours with an expert from the British Museum to assess items found on the banks of the Thames. 

“There’s a lot of interest in mudlarking and part of what we do as a museum is to tell the story of the Thames though the Port Of London Authority’s archive and things found in the river.

“It’s a part of our identity with our Mudlarks Gallery for kids, which is hugely popular.”

The museum is seeking to boost the diversity of its audience

Whatever the museum does, Douglas is focused on making sure that as wide a range of people participate in its activities as possible.

“Museums are famously un-diverse,” he said.

“Ours is actually one of the best with 23% of visitors coming from diverse backgrounds, which is great because most national museums wouldn’t get anywhere near that.

“That’s partly because of where we are – the local boroughs around here are quite diverse – but also because we are one of only three museums in the country that has a permanent display about the slave trade, which is a diverse subject in terms of the audience it affects.

“These are the main reasons we’re doing so well already. However, we want to improve because the Museum Of London has an ambition to represent the city in terms of both our staff and the people who visit us.

“London’s  population is around 40% diverse, so while 23% is good, it is only about half way to where we should be.

“The way we want to do that is partly through what we show here.

“This month we have a new display called Indo + Caribbean, and that’s very relevant for us as we tell the story of migration and Indian indenture.

The street party will feature live music and entertainment

“In October we’ll be opening Fashion City here as part of the 20th anniversary, which is a different thing for us to do and hopefully will bring in a new audience.

“The strap-line is how Jewish Londoners shaped global style, telling the story of how immigrants came to the East End and started making clothes here, with some moving to the West End to start couture houses.

“There will also be Windrush Day, with readings and performances from poets of Caribbean heritage on June 20 as we mark the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks.  

“For everything we do, we need to think about the audience we’re attracting here.

“One thing I definitely want to achieve while I am here is record visitor numbers. 

“We’ll also be producing a masterplan this year to define where we want this building to be in 10 years’ time.

“From this, we’ll work backwards to see how we can achieve it – how the museum will look inside and what that might mean for the way it’s laid out.

“We could definitely use our outside space more to make the quay really come alive.”

The Bobby Dazzler stage will certainly be a vibrant starting point to that process.

Prepare for an evening of celebration and history

EVENTS COMING UP

Check out these upcoming events at the Museum Of London Docklands – all part of its plans to mark 20 years since opening in 2003:

Dal Puri Diaspora screening + Q&A

May 31, 6.30pm, ages 14+, paid

Follow the journey of dal puri across space and time, from indentured workers from India’s Gangetic Plain in 19th-century British and Dutch Caribbean colonies, to today’s global Indo-Caribbean community.

LGBTQIA+ Life In Limehouse

Jun 17, 2pm, ages 18+, paid

Join The Urban Rambler, Nick Collinson, for an afternoon jaunt through the streets of Limehouse stopping at queer-friendly and owned pubs along the way

Family Knees-Up

May 30, 11am / 2pm, under 5s, free

Listen and sing along to the sounds of the inimitable Tom Carradine as he brings a family friendly version of Carradine’s Cockney Singalong to the Museum. Expect plenty of ivory tinkling and bananas.

Spitalfields Ballad Walk

July 1, 11am, ages 14+, paid

Join folk singer and researcher Vivien Ellis for a musical walking tour focusing on the rich history of street vendors and others who used song to make a living on the streets. Learn about unsung heroes of the East End and discover how music brought communities together.

Nick Collinson, The Urban Rambler

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Canary Wharf: Why Executions at Museum Of London Docklands is vital viewing

West India Quay gallery hosts powerful and poignant exhibition covering 700 years of history

A visitor to Executions listens to the last letters of the condemned – image Museum Of London Docklands

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“Yes, nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed. 100% success rate,” said Lee Anderson, the Tory MP for Ashfield, in response to being asked whether he would support the return of the death penalty, during an interview with The Spectator.

The former Labour politician, who was recently appointed deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, had made the comments shortly before getting the job.

His apparent stance was subsequently disowned by current prime minister Rishi Sunak and his government.

However, it’s sobering to think such ideas continue to circulate in the upper echelons of public life.

After all, it’s a little over a decade since Priti Patel, then the relatively new Conservative MP for Witham, advocated for the return of the death penalty as “a deterrent” on BBC Question Time.

At the time, she seemed bemused at the idea that innocent people might inadvertently be put to death by the state following miscarriages of justice.

She went on to hold high office, including the position of home secretary under Boris Johnson. 

It’s been nearly 59 years since the last hangings in the UK took place – incidentally three years before Lee, now 56, was born – although final abolition didn’t come until 1998 when the country signed up to the 13th Protocol of the European Convention On Human Rights. 

This is all very interesting, but what have the extreme views of two Conservative politicians got to do with this part of east London?

Well, perhaps Lee, Priti and anyone else with an interest in formulating a view on state sanctioned killing would do well to pop over to the Museum Of London Docklands.

Its latest major exhibition Executions is in place at the former sugar warehouses on West India Quay until April 16 and acts as an in-depth examination of some 700 years of public capital punishment in London.

Granular, macabre and fascinating, it’s a potent, sensitive and poignant exploration of the extreme things humans find excuses to do to one another in the name of justice.

Its primary focus is on the first  recorded and last public executions to take place in London between 1196 and 1868.

Museum Of London curator of social and working history Beverley Cook – image Jon Massey

“We wanted to focus on where we had evidence,” said Beverley Cook, curator of social and working history at the Museum Of London.

“The first was recorded at Tyburn, which became the main site for public executions  in the city until it closed in 1783 and then moved to Newgate Prison.

“The exhibition is quite traditional in that it relies very heavily on material and visual culture, which we have interpreted to tell the wider story.

“Where we don’t have objects, we’ve used some audio-visual elements to present content with a design that’s very strong and atmospheric to tackle a potentially challenging subject and deal sensitively with the difficulties of bringing that to an audience of the general public.”

Executions examines the mechanics and practicalities of the killings – what methods were used to end the lives of the condemned and where these acts took place.

Over the course of the 700 years people were hung, drawn and quartered, burnt alive, hanged and beheaded – the latter being a fate mainly for convicted members of the nobility.

Two poisoners (one a chef) were even boiled to death in separate incidents.

“In the earlier period, with governments and the monarchy being more unstable, you find more people being executed for things like treason, rioting, rebellion and of course heresy,” said Beverley. 

“When you move to the 18th century, you start to see it becoming more urbanised, with more emphasis on property – governments are more stable, so you start to see more people being executed for crimes that we might be more familiar with today, such as crimes against the person or against property.

“There was this bizarre thing called the Bloody Code where every sort of offence mainly against property was added to the statute book.

Methods of public execution and a scrolling list of crimes the punishment was – image Museum Of London Docklands

“That meant that there were more than 200 crimes – many similar to one another – where people could in theory be condemned to death, as that was one of the only forms of punishment at the time.

“There are some very strange ones, such as impersonating a Greenwich Pensioner – presumably to get certain privileges – which was a capital offence. We don’t know whether anyone was actually executed for it.”

While my assumption before visiting the exhibition was that people would primarily be killed for committing serious crimes of violence, it turns out many were put to death for relatively minor offences.

Coin clipping – slicing silver off the edges of coins to be melted down and sold – one of the main forms of fraud in the Mediaeval period did, however, see offenders put to death.

“We know this was a crime that Jewish people were often executed for,” said Beverley.

“This was part of the discrimination against the Jewish community at the time, and in the exhibition we show how they were more likely to be executed for this than members of the Christian community – even though there were probably more Christians committing that crime.

“Between 1278 and 1279, 600 members of the Jewish community from across the country were sent to the Tower Of London and 279 were hanged at Tower Hill.

“That’s in contrast to 29 Christians.”

The exhibition only sets out to deal with executions carried out in public to examine their impact on Londoners’ lives.

“In the centre of the capital, you’re never more than five kilometres from a site of public execution,” said Beverley.

“Although people think of Tyburn, Newgate and maybe Smithfield, there were multiple execution sites throughout London.

“The reason for that was partly because people were often executed close to the site of their crime.

“It was seen as important to have visible justice in a local area, so people couldn’t ignore the fact that this was the punishment for a particular crime.

The former door of Newgate Prison – image Museum Of London Docklands

“For very serious or high profile crimes people were often brought to London for execution – such as William Wallace who was hung drawn and quartered at Smithfield – and over time you get the press, printers and publishers all focused on London.

“Like today, if something happened in the capital, word spread very quickly.”

A substantial chunk of the exhibition is given over to telling the stories of the condemned.

Dressed to represent a cell at Newgate Prison, where those sentenced to death at the Old Bailey would have been held ahead of their execution, it tells the stories of those pleading for mercy and final letters from the prisoners – some saying farewells and others maintaining their innocence.

“When Newgate was demolished in 1902, the museum acquired some of the relics such as the bolt from a condemned cell,” which we’re able to display,” said Beverley.

“Those convicted at the Old Bailey next door might have been held for a few days or a few months but everyone had the right to petition for mercy – not exoneration but to commute the death sentence to imprisonment.

“We have petitions on display from the national archive including one from a man named Joseph who argues he was led astray by a gang of youths who got him drunk before he stole from someone.

“His mother signed his petition with a cross because she was illiterate.

“People would try to get as many signatures as possible but Joseph didn’t have many supporters so his petition failed.

“He was described as ‘dreadfully distressed’ at the time of his execution. It’s quite shocking. He was only 18.”

The exhibition includes the door from Newgate through which prisoners passed on their final journey.

It’s a solid, iron-bound touchstone linking all who visit to those put to death. 

Executions also looks at how public killings were received, publicised and attended – including a mock up of the three-cornered gallows at Tyburn.

“We have a representation of the procession from Newgate to Tyburn, which was a few miles, and the crowd would line the streets,” said Beverley.

“The prisoners were taken in carts, and in the cart was the coffin they would be put in – their arms would be pinioned so they would be allowed to pray, but that was all.

“The nooses were put around their necks while they were in the cart, the horses would be driven away and that’s how they were executed.

“There was no science behind it – there are accounts of people taking half an hour to die.

“One story we highlight is about a man called John Smith, who had the noose around his neck.

“The horse was driven away and he was reprieved suddenly, so he was cut down and revived.

“People were then asking him what he’d seen close to death, because they were very religious at that time.”

Such sudden changes to the expected outcome could be problematic as printed accounts of executions were big business and widely sold – often before the killing had actually taken place. 

The exhibition includes many examples – telling the stories of crime and death in lurid detail – including one of a man who was never actually killed despite the description of his execution.

He actually wound up being transported to Australia instead – an example of fake news.  

In contrast there are the forensically accurate sketches of the dead – complete with rope marks on the neck – from the Royal College Of Surgeons where bodies were often sent for dissection.

This constituted an extra punishment as it was thought the process would prevent resurrection in the afterlife.  

Perhaps the most powerful part of the exhibition is a simple scrolling list of those executed – their names, the date of their death, their age and their crime.

There are 16 and 17-year-olds featured. Many were executed for crimes such as theft, burglary and fraud. 

It’s impossible to do full justice to the rich and deep vein of tragic stories that Executions brings together in a single article.

While the exhibition offers no overt comment on the death penalty, it is chilling to think many of those put to death over 700 years were doubtless innocent of their often minor offences.

We must never repeat that crime

The vest is on display as part of Executions – image Museum Of London Docklands

ROYAL REMINDER – Possibly the vest of King Charles I

One of the key exhibits at Executions is a sweat-stained knitted silk vest, reportedly worn by King Charles I at his beheading.

“This would have been worn under his shirt, which would have been plain white according to illustrations of the scene,” said Beverley.

“We know it was a bitterly cold day, 30 January 1649, when he was executed in front of Banqueting House, and he did ask for a second vest, because he didn’t want the crowd to think that he was shivering from fear.

“It is an amazing story and we have done some analysis on the stains. We believe that they are bodily fluids, but we can’t prove that they have been there since 1649.

“At the time it came into the Museum Of London’s collection with this story attached, there was no reason to disbelieve the claim, although now as curators we are rather more cautious in our approach.

“What we do know is that it is correct for the period – it’s fine knitted silk, which wouldn’t have been generally worn by the public.

“It’s an amazing story and we have been doing further tests to uncover more evidence.”

King Charles I was executed for treason in front of a large crowd at the culmination of the English Civil War.

In line with custom, the identity of his executioner was never revealed to the public.

  • Executions runs at the Museum Of London Docklands until April 16, 2023. Standard tickets start at £12. Wharf Life readers can get 25% off adult ticket prices when visiting before April 1, 2023, by using promo code Wharf25
  • Terms and conditions apply. The offer is only valid on visits on or up to March 31, 2023. Only adult tickets are covered and the discount will be applied during the checkout process. The offer applies to max four reduced tickets per customer and there is no cash or credit alternative.

Tickets for the exhibition can be booked via this link

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Canary Wharf: How Clays is set to blast into Canary Wharf with its target shooting game

Virtual clay pigeon shooting venue is preparing to open its doors at Credit Suisse’s One Cabot Square

An artist’s impression of how Clays Canary Wharf will look

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“We know the game is the thing that captures you and why you want to come, but once you’re there we want people to feel that they don’t want to leave,” said Jon Calabrese, operations director at Clays.

The virtual shooting venue is set to open its second branch in Canary Wharf in December, following the success of its debut in Moorgate. 

The new bar will be located overlooking West India North Dock on the ground of One Cabot Square – a building it shares with Credit Suisse – and is set for an official launch in January.

It will offer 90-minute digital clay target shooting for groups of up to 22 people in semi-private or completely private pegs.

With five games to choose from, it’s the latest in a succession of hospitality businesses in Canary Wharf to put competitive socialising at the heart of their operation.

First Electric Shuffle opened with a 21st century take on shuffleboard and then the vast Fairgame joined it this year, with its nine funfair-themed games. 

It’s a trend that’s here to stay as people look for venues that offer other attractions besides food and drink.

“The foundation of what we’re doing is the target shooting game and the quality of that experience is really important to us,” said Jon.

“We wanted to make it as authentic as possible and it’s incredible.

“Clay target shooting is great and I would encourage anyone to go and try it.

Clays operations director Jon Calabrese

“What we wanted to do was to create something immersive in the heart of London that would reflect that experience.

“Players use real guns that have been decommissioned with all of our technology that tracks them and delivers accuracy to within less than a millimetre.

“The clays within the game are subject to wind, aerodynamics and gravity and players stand in front of a three by four-metre screen.

“It’s honestly as though you’re standing in the English countryside and we control the sound and images so we can adapt to the weather outside.

“In autumn, for example, you’ll see leaves falling. We’ll keep working on the experience to make it even better.”

Clays, which was founded by CEO Tom Snellock in 2019, is expanding its operation following the warm reception customers have given its Moorgate branch.

Jon said coming to Canary Wharf was an obvious decision for the business.

“I grew up in north-east London and I’ve been coming to the estate for about 20 years,” he said.

“Even then on a sunny day it was absolutely alive.

“I think there’s this perception with Canary Wharf that’s it’s very much a business district, and at the weekend it’s dead, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“There are incredible residential hubs locally, shopping areas, amazing hospitality operators here and the Elizabeth Line has just come in. 

“I think it’s one of the fastest moving parts of London and with the density of people here it’s a no-brainer. It’s almost better to ask: ‘Why wouldn’t you want to be here?’.”

While the game is central to Clays’ appeal, there’s more to the venue than blasting away at virtual targets.

As the son of celebrated bartender Salvatore Calabrese, Jon has a pretty robust background in hospitality but initially spent time pursuing a different path.

Having embarked on a career in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, he joined the Met after a former girlfriend’s father – who happened to be on the murder squad – turned Jon’s head with stories of his work.

But, having worked as a police  officer in Newham for three years, the world of restaurants, bars and hotels proved irresistible and quite a contrast to his time wearing a uniform.

One of the pegs at Clays’ Moorgate branch

“When I came to hospitality in 2009, it was anarchy – chaos,” he said.

“People would work hard and be rewarded with management roles – then they’d have to work out how to do them.

“That meant often you’d either get people with authoritarian approaches or micro managers because they’d have imposter syndrome, which was weird.

“At Clays we have a career tree approach that means we will give people the skills and knowledge they need to be a departmental expert and to hone your craft.

“We won’t hinder you if you want to move between departments and try different things either.

“Ultimately we want to grow a business with culture, consistency and expertise so we can deliver on customers’ expectations at a very high level of quality.

“We want people to come to Clays for the game, but then to stay for the food and drink they’ve enjoyed alongside that experience.

“On the drinks side we use techniques such as clarification to produce crystal clear liquids we can pour like a coke but that have an amazing taste and mouth feel.

“That means we can maintain our rapid speed of service without sacrificing quality.

“These are the kinds of things you only see in small artisan bars.

“Our cocktails are signatures and what is important for us is the quality of ingredients and that our drinks reflect the British countryside using produce grown and created in this country wherever possible”

Players use real decommissioned shotguns to play

Wharfers can expect tipples such as Clay Burst, a sweet and sour pink gin creation, Jack’s Orchard, combining the taste of toffee apples with a whisky kick, and the Precision Punch, a banana spiced rum cocktail.

Food-wise, Clays will serve a menu created by culinary director Roger Olsson formerly of The Dorchester, The Ritz and Pied A Terre.

Dishes include Sweetcorn Ribs with paprika salt and a lemon and chilli dip, Cobble Lane Charcuterie and “KFC” tempura cauliflower as well as Loaded Breads topped with Middle Eastern, Indian and Italian flavours.

Jon said where possible Clays would use produce for the UK with a focus on sustainability, quality and provenance.

“We know the farms where our vegetables are grown and our meat is produced and the boats that catch our fish,” he said.

“You’ll find old favourites like scotch eggs and the calamari is melt-in your mouth.

“Everything is made in-house – it’s about elevating the calibre of the experience.

“Next year we’ll be installing an outdoor terrace so guests will walk in through green foliage, an outdoor bar and past heated tables.

“Then the venue itself is on several levels.

“There will be a tree house where a DJ will play, a reception desk with living moss under a glass top, a bar with a 3D scene that plays on the English countryside and the pegs themselves.

“The main bar is at the far end of the venue and looks over to West India Quay. There are also three pegs that can be closed off privately with bi-fold doors for private parties when needed.”

Clays is taking bookings from December 13 online.

The Canary Wharf branch has eight pegs with off-peak bookings for small groups starting at £30 for an hour’s play.

Peak rates for groups of six to 22 cost £70 for 90 minutes of play.

Jon and the team have developed the drinks menu at Clays

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Canary Wharf: How Kerb’s West India Quay operation has gone social

Street food business sets up not-for-profit to help traders start and grown their operations

Wandercrust founder Gavin Dunn is running Kerb Social Enterprise

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Buy a meal from a street food trader at Kerb On The Quay and you will be doing much more than filling your stomach, from now on.

A year ago, Kerb made a radical change. 

After nine years of running markets across London that championed food startups – including the popular West India Quay spot – the business decided it needed to do more.

So it set up a not-for-profit social enterprise arm and hired Gavin Dunn, founder of pizza company Wandercrust and graduate of its own Inkerbator programme, to run it.

“I’ve always been really passionate about the ethos of Kerb – of breathing life and vitality into otherwise quiet areas of London and supporting a really diverse ecosystem of great foods from around the world,” said the 49-year-old, who is managing director of the company Kerb Social Enterprise.

“When I saw the job on LinkedIn, I felt pretty well placed to apply.”

Kerb already knew Gavin had experience with street food and his own consultancy in business development and HR, but its managers were impressed to find out he also had an extensive background with social enterprises and charities.

Gavin said it meant his experience perfectly matched the extremely niche role.

“There’s not that many food-based social enterprises so, not to blow my own trumpet, but I knew as soon as I saw the role it was quite nailed-on for me,” he said.

The first step in creating the new company ecosystem was “engaging” and, over the last 12 months, Gavin has worked to find more charity partners across four areas – youth unemployment, ex-offenders, refugee support and homelessness.

The aim is to discover hidden talent among the most disadvantaged communities in London to join its programmes and help diversify the street food scene.

“That early stage of the ecosystem is really important to me,” said Gavin.

“I went through the Inkerbator programme but was absolutely fortunate enough to have been able to afford my own pizza truck. 

 “I had a certain level of privilege to be able to set up Wandercrust while running my consultancy. 

“I’m well aware that early stage presents such a barrier to individuals in being able to pursue their dream of running their own food businesses.

“We’re reaching out to these charities to see how we can remove those barriers, work with them and offer support to get them onto our Inkerbator programme and trading at our markets.

Meatstop founder Benjamin Page began barbecuing aged 11. He now serves burgers, made from the finest ingredients and graduated from Kerb’s Inkerbator in October

“That’s where we are really plugged in to parts of London that we otherwise would have overlooked in the past.”

The new era, which dawned as Kerb began celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2022, relies heavily on its West India Quay market.

It restarted in March and is now where all Inkerbators must cut their teeth every Wednesday from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

Full Kerb members trade at the site every Thursday from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

So far this year it has produced 23 graduates, including The Yeast Brothers, who have now opened their own restaurant in Deptford.

The last cohort graduated in October, so the Wednesday market is paused for now, but will return in 2023 with a fresh set of traders for Wharfers to try.

“We take a lot of time and care to make sure the businesses that come through the programme have the best experience possible and we can rely on West India Quay for that,” said Gavin.

“Canary Wharf is the home of London’s markets, and street food markets are the original business incubators, where people shared ideas and practices.

“It’s really nice to have brought it back to Canary Wharf this year and long may it last. 

“We choose to do it there because of the crowd. The customers love it and recognise its value and you can feel it at an Inkerbator market.”

The Woolwich resident still remembers the buzz of trading there for the first time in 2016 with Wandercrust, which now trades in Greenwich.

“There’s nothing like it really,” said Gavin. “It’s excitement but you are anxious and you can still feel that at Inkerbator markets now.

“It means I know exactly how new businesses owners coming on to the programme feel.”

He also knows first hand the world of opportunities the programme can open up.

“One of the main benefits I found at Inkerbator was just this development of a network of like-minded creative, food-loving small businesses. It enables that collective spirit,” he said.

“It feels incredible for me to now be responsible for it and help rebuild it after the pandemic.”

Sadish Gurung, left, and Subash Gurung, both worked in IT before launching Nepalese food business Filili which serves up Momo bite-size dumplings, below. They graduated in October

Kerb, which also runs markets across London and a successful event catering arm with food service group Compass, shut down most of its activities over 2020 and 2021.

During that time it received 750 applications for Inkerbator.

Its team research and chat to each one, but also scout and approach businesses to invite, to ensure they are finding the best.

Those offered a place go through the coaching stage of the ecosystem, followed by six weeks of trading at West India Quay.

Once the incubating stage is complete and traders have graduated into full members, the accelerating stage kicks in.

Many go on to trade at the Thursday market at West India Quay and Kerb also offers regular networking events to its 100-plus members, some of whom have been with the business since its inception.

“It can be a lonely place, being a food business owner,” said Gavin. “So being part of a collective really helps to get everyone’s creative juices flowing.”

Becoming a social enterprise was a big change but Kerb was already working with charities such as Food Behind Bars to find potential members.

“We’ve worked with a guy called Marcus who had the idea of setting up a Caribbean pie and mash business,” said Gavin.

“I first met him in Brixton prison and now he’s working with us to gain work experience to help get him work in hospitality, but also to hopefully one day get onto our Inkerbator programme to set up his own street food business.”

It also works with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) and one of its founders is on Kerb’s advisory board. 

One of the most popular traders at the Quay is Oshpaz, which was set up by Uzbekistan refugee Muzaffar Sadykov after he was referred by TERN and completed Kerb’s Inkerbator programme in February 2019.

Transforming into a social enterprise means the company now has more money to invest in its work with these charities as there are no shareholders or dividends.

“If you buy a bowl of plov from Muzaffa, not only will the the money go straight to him, but any pitch fee he pays Kerb is reinvested back into supporting early stage food businesses to help them grow through the Inkerbator,” said Gavin.

Kerb partnered with both charities and new partner homeless charity The Connection at St Martin In The Fields, to launch its first big move for the new social enterprise in the summer.

It partnered with McCain for initiative Streets Ahead offering free workshops to 100 less advantaged people. 

“We’re already seeing individuals that The Connection has worked with referred to us and we’re supporting them either into work or talking about how they would go about setting up their own food businesses,” said Gavin.

Jan Manrique from RiceON.LDN serves Korean bulgogi and graduated from the Inkerbator in March

“We’re always looking for new partners and more support and we would like to do a lot more because there’s so much food talent out there and individuals that would love the opportunity to do it.

“But there are still a lot of barriers in the way, which we’re working really hard to remove.”

Gavin said next year was going to be a big one for Kerb.

“There’s loads of things in the pipeline that we’re excited about,” he said.

“Not least, working with all of the charities I’ve mentioned and removing those barriers to entry into food entrepreneurship for individuals who are just leaving prison or have refugee status. 

“It really does feel as though we’re in a unique position – we’ve got so much to offer.”

He added: “I’m passionate about supporting small, independent businesses and have yet to come across a business that is better at doing that than Kerb.

“It’s a privilege to be able to be the person doing this for Kerb. 

“It’s had such success over the first 10 years and I’m determined to make the next 10 years equally as successful and ground breaking.”

He hopes West India Quay will continue to embrace its new traders as they diversify and hopefully extend the number of days they trade there next year.

“We’ve had such amazing support from the customer base,” said Gavin. 

“It hasn’t been as busy this year because with hybrid working not everyone’s in the office all the time.

“But what we have seen is real support from people who want to make sure that we remain there.

“People tell us they plan their days in the office around market day and some people come over and order 30 different meals to take back and make it into an office event.

 “Kerb’s remit has always been to breathe life into spaces, to bring some colour, diversity and flavour to an area that might otherwise be less vibrant. 

“I really think we’ve done that at West India Quay but also in the wider Canary Wharf area. You see so many more small food businesses there now and I like to think Kerb played a small part.”

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Canary Wharf: Skuna Boats offer 50% off voyages around West India Docks

West India Quay-based firm has BBQ boats and hot tub boats plus a prototype hybrid

Tommo of Skuna Boats with hybrid River in the background
Tommo of Skuna Boats with hybrid River in the background – image Matt Grayson

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For the past three years – lockdowns excepted – West India Docks has been home to knots of folk in swimsuits gently slipping through the water in curious bright red craft.

Some sport captains’ hats and sip beverages, most wave to passers-by as they inevitably become the subject of social media updates or enthusiastic messages to friends.  

They are customers of Skuna Boats, a company based at West India Quay and founded by CEO Stuart ‘Tommo’ Thomson. 

“I originally saw the hot tub boats in Holland – they’re made by a guy in Rotterdam and I spotted them when I was on holiday and thought it looked a lot of fun,” said Tommo.

Despite enforced closures due to the pandemic, his business has had its busiest summer since the first of pillar box red vessels silently sailed away from its moorings and, with a new boat in the pipeline and plans to expand operations to more sites in the UK, the future looks bright.  

Hot tub boats can take up to seven people

“I had a go in one and thought it was brilliant and that it was definitely something that should be in the UK. 

“We  started in the Regent’s Canal near Old Street for a year and then moved to Canary Wharf.

“The docks here are a lot more expansive – the boats can travel further and it’s a more interesting journey.

“The Regent’s Canal has locks so you could only go about 500m. Here the boats can explore a lot more of the dock system so it’s a much better place to go out on one.”

The hot tub boats normally cost from £225 and have a maximum capacity of seven people equating to less than £33 on weekdays.

They are filled with fresh, pre-heated water for each party which is kept at around 38ºC by an on-board stove that is stoked with enough eco briquettes to last for the duration of the 90-minute experience.

Refreshments, including limited alcohol can be purchased direct from Skuna.

“Whatever the weather – sun, rain, snow – the water will stay at 38ºC,” said Tommo.

“We’re much busier in summer but the best time of year to take a trip on one is in the winter when it’s freezing cold outside. 

“We haven’t had snow in Canary Wharf since we opened, but we’re hoping for some because it will be a great experience to sail the boats in those conditions.

“The trip lasts an hour and a half – we have a recommended route, which takes up the duration of the hire time.

“There are a few limits on where the boats can go but otherwise customers are free to explore the dock system. They travel at a couple of miles an hour for a relaxing, serene experience.”

BBQ Boats have a grill in the middle to cook whatever you like on
BBQ Boats have a grill in the middle to cook whatever you like on

Skuna also operates BBQ Boats for up to nine people who can cook on a grill at the centre of the doughnut-shaped craft. 

Restricted to North Dock by the pedestrian bridge from Crossrail Place to West India Quay, sailors are nevertheless free to bob around the struts of the floating bridge while making their food. Hire starts at £150 and drinks must be purchased from Skuna.

“You can enjoy a trip while cooking your own food with Canary Wharf in the background,” said Tommo. “It’s amazing to see all the wonderful things people prepare. We do packs of food too that people can purchase or they can order from Pizza Pilgrims.”

 Expansion beckons, with a pop-up already in place at Lakeside shopping centre. But of greater excitement to Wharfers is the company’s new prototype, currently tied up at West India Quay as it undergoes testing. 

“We want to expand the hot tub and BBQ Boats to other locations in the UK,” said Tommo. “The ones we currently use are made in Holland so we’ve developed a prototype that’s partly made of recycled plastic bottle tops, designed and built over here.

“It’s a multifunctional vessel that will be able to transform from a hot tub boat to a BBQ boat to give us greater flexibilty. It’s not ready for customers yet, but it certainly should be at the start of 2022.”

In October and November 2021, Skuna Boats is currently offering 50% off Hot Tub Boats booked Monday-Wednesday. All BBQ Boat bookings are half price until November 30.

Use code BOATOUT for the former and AUTUMN50 for the latter.

BBQ Boats are restricted to West India North Dock
BBQ Boats are restricted to West India North Dock

A PERSONAL JOURNEY

I have to admit to a certain scepticism about taking a ride on a hot tub boat. I thought the novelty would quickly wear off, that a quick 20-minute spin would be enough to get the gist and then it would be back onto dry land.

Then something remarkable happened. I’m not sure whether it was the deep warmth of the water, the process of learning to sail the jolly little craft or the dreamlike progress we made through the water, but time seemed to stand still.

The boat was extremely easy to manoeuvre, its tiny engine providing just enough thrust to make it feel like we were getting somewhere without ever careering out of control, even at full throttle.

The juxtaposition of one’s body, essentially in a hot bath, floating on deep cool water with Canary Wharf’s towers rearing up all around is peculiar.

It’s a rare expedition of near total decadence in a world of purpose and direction – a chance to escape for 90 minutes into an experience that’s pure fun and pleasure.

Everyone waves. People shout that they wish it was them. The tiny electric motor is silent, the stove doesn’t even crackle.

You’re a swan gliding effortlessly over the darkness of the dock, between the shadows of the buildings into the sunshine.

Then all too soon it’s over and, mentally, you start planning your next trip before you’re even changed. Stirring stuff. JM

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West India Quay: London: Port City exhibition set to tell the story of the docks

The Museum Of London’s multi-sensory display is created using the Port Of London Authority archive

Co-curator Claire Dobbin helped put the exhibition together
Co-curator Claire Dobbin helped put the exhibition together

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Vibrant colour, sounds, sights and smells will fill the major exhibition space at Musuem Of London Docklands when it opens its doors to visitors again on October 22.

Inside, the freshly joined pine of packing crates, resplendent in blues, reds and printed with photos, house the cargo of London: Port City and are set to tease and provoke the eyes of viewers as they explore the displays. 

Held in partnership with the Port Of London Authority (PLA), the exhibition is both a look into the past and a snapshot of the present, as it explores the impact that the arrival and departure of cargo has had on the capital since 1800.

Taking the era when the building that houses the museum itself would first have been used as a warehouse as its starting point, the display draws heavily on the PLA’s vast archive and includes 222 objects that make up an interactive timeline, revealing stories of smuggling and infrastructure. 

“The museum has been managing the archive for quite some time and there are some small aspects of it already on display there, but this is the first time it has been mined to this extent,” said co-curator Claire Dobbin.

“The port and its impact on London is massive – not just historically, but today. 

“Handling over 50million tonnes of cargo a year, from our morning coffee to the clothes we wear and materials for the buildings we live and work in, it plays a vital role in our daily lives and national economy.

“It’s moved down river – and for many of us out of sight – but the port is still very much part of London. Our riverside cityscapes are also peppered with echoes of its history in its architecture and street names.

“Our cultural landscape too has been shaped by centuries of global exchange – by people, products and ideas passing through the port. 

“This influenced and enriched language, diversity and communities that underpin the city we know today.”

A railway carriage leaves for Africa from Royal Albert Dock in 1947 – image PLA Collection/Museum Of London Docklands

Inside the exhibition, visitors will see archive photography and video, hear oral history recordings – first-hand accounts of life on the docks – and even be able to smell the odours of some of the cargoes received by the port.

“We didn’t want it to be a chronological display – that would have been too dry,” said Claire. “Instead we’ve aimed for something more interactive, so that people can connect with things.

“Everybody who comes will connect in some way, because they are here in this building. Many will come who are from the area and know some of the stories very well. We hope everyone will find some relevance in the displays.

“We knew we wanted to focus on the impact of the port on different communities in London and also the lived experience of the people working on the docks.

“For that we’ve drawn a lot on the oral history collections, which are fantastic. There are voices as well – two sections where you hear lived experiences and little anecdotes. The oral histories were done in the 1980s, so some people talk about the beginning of the 20th century, and it’s amazing to hear that first-hand. 

“This exhibition has been a real team effort – staff at the museum have spent huge amounts of time going through the archives both physical and digital to select exhibits.”

The PLA itself was created in 1909 to take over the running of the Port Of London from myriad rival private companies that built enclosed dock systems throughout the 19th century as an alternative to the comparatively poor security of the Pool Of London’s wharves.

“Because we’re covering the period from 1800, the team has been trawling through huge amounts of material such as minute books from the companies that pre-date the PLA,” said Claire.

“The wonderful thing about archives and documentation is that what they captured is what needed to be minuted at the time – what was important to that company in that meeting. It’s a different perspective.

“The real beauty of an archive exhibition is the bringing together of a range of different material.

“For example, we have a diving helmet in the exhibition, which we wanted to show, but equally wanted to bring to life, and we were able to find a film of people using the equipment.

“Honestly I could only watch it once as the thought of being under the Thames even with modern gear gives me nightmares.

“Then you have documents – we have one of the ledgers from 100 years ago showing the offloading – exactly what was coming in.

“Samples would be taken to document the quality so we’ve got some sample pots of spices and other commodities. 

“What comes through in the oral histories is that working on the docks was a sensory experience, quite a harsh environment.

“People would say you could tell where you were in Docklands by the smell of the warehouses.

“We wanted to recreate a sense of that as well as what things looked like, so there are various smells people can experience.”

A group of young Asian men on board a ship in 1908 – image PLA Collection/Museum Of London Docklands

The exhibition is also about the titanic enterprise that is the modern operation of the PLA.

“Right from the beginning we wanted to bring the docks to life and that means the current practice of the port, which is very much hidden from central London,” said Claire.

“I didn’t know much about it at all, when we started this project – I probably knew more about the historical docks than I did about the current operation and the impact it has on our lives. So we wanted the exhibition to be three-dimensional, to show the scale and dynamism of the PLA today.

“The design is a big part of the exhibition, with lots of interaction, but we wanted to get lots of hard facts in as well. I hope visitors will be interested to learn more about where they live and work and that they see the area through new eyes on leaving.”

Laid out thematically, highlights include the opportunity to discover the stories behind 80 words, phrases and place names that have their origins in the Port Of London with a focus on the its relationship to the slave and sugar trades, including a document commemorating the unveiling of the statue of slave owner and merchant Robert Milligan, which was removed from outside the museum in 2020 in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. 

The exhibition will also feature Trade Winds: London a new work by artist Susan Stockwell using archive material to explore trade, economics, migration and empire.

London: Port City runs until May 8, 2022.

Entry is completely free although tickets should be booked online. Donations to the museum are welcomed.

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