Isle Of Dogs: How Leslie Nkansah is set to take over food at The Space Bar

The arts centre, restaurant and bar on Westferry Road is getting a new head chef, formerly of Fat Boy’s Diner

The Space Bar’s new head chef, Leslie Nkansah

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Tere’s something brewing at The Space, steeping, infusing, intensifying.

Ingredients are coming together and there’s change in the air.

That’s because The Space Bar – the arts centre’s food, drink and occasional event venue – is all set to welcome a new head chef.

Leslie Nkansah became a cook “by mistake”. Unsure of what to do after leaving school in Shepherd’s Bush at 16, a careers advisor mentioned the idea of an apprenticeship.

“They said I’d get paid while I worked and a qualification as well, so I went along,” said Les.

“That was at Mezzo in Wardour Street, which was owned by Conran.

“It was one of the biggest restaurants in Europe at the time and I spent four years there under head chef John Torode.”

Suffice to say, the Masterchef presenter isn’t the only big name influence on Leslie’s CV.

From Mezzo, he went on to work with Henry Harris of Hush and Racine fame, spent a year in Switzerland and came back to the UK to work with Gordon Ramsay, opening the York And Albany near Regent’s Park – now closed and recently occupied by squatters.

“I fell into doing a few events after that like Royal Ascot and then went back to work for John Torode at Smith’s Of Smithfield, where I was head chef in 2011,” said Leslie.

“I was then asked by them if I’d like to go back to Switzerland as they were opening a restaurant and I spent three years working there mainly in the ski season. 

“That’s when I heard about the super yachts – people would head down from the mountains to Nice and Antibes, so I jumped on that.

“I worked on some amazing vessels – the amount of money and produce just blew me away. You can’t experience how those people live until you’re in that environment. 

“I stayed out there until 2017, when I decided to come back to England – I had some savings and decided to start Black Star Kitchen.

“I got the name from the Ghanaian flag – my dad’s from Ghana and my mum’s half Scottish.” 

Having returned to the UK, Leslie set about cooking anything and everything – including creating pop-up Ten Radius, a fine dining residency in Brighton where 80% of the ingredients were sourced from within 10 miles of the venue.

“Then Covid hit and put a spanner in the works for a lot of things,” he said. “After the pandemic, I found Fat Boy’s Diner at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

“I took that on for just over a year but unfortunately the footfall and the cost of living crisis meant my pockets weren’t deep enough to keep it going. 

“That was a shame because it’s a beautiful establishment and I had a lot of ideas and plans for it.”

Bar board chair at The Space, Andrew Finnegan

a move to the Island

It was also there that Leslie met Andrew Finnegan, bar board chair at The Space, whose interest was piqued by a serving of deep-fried olives.

Discussions that started around Leslie doing a pop-up took a different turn when a vacancy for head chef at the venue came up.

Now he’s set to take over the kitchen full-time from mid May, 2024.

“We relaunched the kitchen approximately 18 months ago and we always knew that food was one of the levers we could pull to increase trade at the venue to support the work The Space does,” said Andrew.

“We’d launched brunch in October and the idea was to have pop-ups and guest chefs.

“Pre-Covid it was a lively spot and now we have a full-time chef again, we want to get back to that. 

“Menu-wise it’s about getting re-established, attracting that footfall and then we can experiment.” 

fresh direction

Leslie added: “I got really excited when I saw the building and the outside space – there’s so much potential.

“I want to create a community hub where people can come to meet up, grab a good snack and mingle. 

“Everyone needs a place where they can come, no matter what their background, have good food and good drinks and enjoy the vibes – that’s my intention.

“Food-wise I’m looking at doing the same sort of thing I was doing at Fat Boy’s.

“There will be burgers and snacks, but I also want to play around with traditional English dishes like scotch eggs.

“I have a vegetarian one with beetroot and another where I use duck to coat the eggs.

“The layout at The Space is quite informal, so it will be grab-and-go – accessible dishes.”

supporting The Space

The plan is very much to make use of Leslie’s talents to build up the venue, with dishes that fit alongside the multitude of shows and events it hosts.

Andrew said: “It will be really nice when we get this going.

“Our brunches have been successful and their growth has been organic – people try it once and then come back.

“The more people who come here for the food and drink means the more money The Space has and the more shows it can put on its stage.”

While the bar has naturally been a stop-off for those coming to the Island for performances, it’s long played a dual role as a meeting point and welcoming haven for local residents.

Initially Leslie’s menus will aim to serve both communities with dishes appealing to wide audiences. 

However, further down the line there will hopefully be scope to experiment – an obvious step with such serious talent in the kitchen.

“I really do like to cook everything,” said Leslie.

“I love good ingredients, I love playing with food and putting ingredients in which wouldn’t normally go together and seeing if they work.

“At the moment, I’m really getting into fermenting things.

“Of course I like cooking traditional dishes – I’ve learnt from every kitchen I’ve been in – and I think my Sunday roast is among the best in the country – although that’s yet to be proven.

“I also love smoking meat, brisket or even cauliflower. I like sweet flavours with spice – lots of chillies but with maple syrup.

“My signature dish was wood pigeon with trompet mushroom puree, caramelised shallot and tapenade.

“If all this works out, I definitely want to discuss the idea of a supper club here.”

We can’t wait… 

key details

The Space is located in Westferry Road on the Isle Of Dogs and is easily reached in less than 10 minutes from Canary Wharf via the D7, 277 or 135 direct buses.

Current opening hours for The Space Bar are noon-11pm Mon-Thurs, noon-midnight on Fridays, 10am-midnight on Saturdays and 10am-10.30pm on Sundays.

Find out more about The Space Bar here

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Isle Of Dogs: How The Forge Art Fair is set to fill Craft Central with vibrant creations

Carolina Kollmann has founded the week-long event to showcase contemporary artists’ work

Artist and founder of The Forge Art Fair, Carolina Kollmann

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Carolina Kollmann wants to build something.

Originally from Argentina, the artist and teacher studied in Buenos Aires and at Central Saint Martins in London in the 1990s before relocating to Asia in the early 2000s.

Having returned to the UK to live on the Isle Of Dogs in 2019, she took a studio at The Forge, Craft Central’s Westferry Road facility, where she works and runs classes (often involving a glass of wine or two).

Now she’s eager to use the former industrial building as a venue to showcase her work and that of other artists by creating an annual event – The Forge Art Fair.

“I’ve always been very independent and I never paid a penny to expose my art,” she said.

“When I was in Hong Kong, I was a member of a group and we’d find sponsors to put on exhibitions.

Detail from one of Carolina’s works

“Here it’s different – it can be very difficult and when I found that one organisation wanted to charge me £800 to have my work in an art fair, I decided to start my own. 

“It took a while to find the right artists for this.

“The main idea I had was that it should be at The Forge – it’s a great place and it needs to be known as creative and artistic.

“I thought that if I created a proper contemporary art fair here, that will create some noise and help draw people from outside the local area to come and visit.

“I knew we couldn’t do 100 artists, that we’d start small and then, if successful, we’d grow.”

The Forge Art Fair is set to take place from October 20-26, 2023, with a private view on October 19 from 6pm-8pm.

The exhibition will feature work by eight contemporary artists including Carolina herself.  

“This is not a collective – for that, the people involved would need to have something in common,” she said.

Detail from a painting by Pierre Benjamin

“For the fair, every artist’s work has to be different from what’s next to it.

“I hope it brings people into The Forge and that we amaze them with what’s on display here in east London.

“There aren’t many places where you will find a beautiful gallery with fantastic artists all together, showing you their art, that’s also free to visit.” 

Visitors to the fair will find work by painter, sculptor and NFT artist Pierre Benjamin, silkscreen printmakers and collage artists Jairo And Nicola and sculptor and designer Arturo Soto.

Also on show will be paintings by Jasmine Honor Mercer, work by painter and illustrator Tammy Walters, photographic abstraction from Het and pieces from digital artist Leah Ibrahim Sams.

Carolina herself works in a range of media, often blending painting with 3D printing to create pieces that literally burst off the canvas. 

“The Forge is a wonderful building but it’s not ready for art – it doesn’t have enough wall space, so we’ll be using display boards for the pieces,” said the Isle Of Dogs resident, who created digital collages from images of Mudchute Park And Farm during the pandemic and sold them to help raise money to feed the animals.

Detail from a work by Leah Ibrahim Sams

“I really hope that people will be able to see what I saw when I came to The Forge – that it’s a beautiful place.

“My work is inspired by my own life.

“For example, there’s breast cancer – a horrible thing like this where you lose friends, so I wondered how I could make it beautiful? 

“I mixed in fashion – Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Versace – for a series called Looking Up that’s about cancer and death.

“There are also pieces to do with the menopause, age and health. It’s all the same thing – it has to be about my life.

“When I was growing up in Argentina we had a military government. People were disappearing – there were so many horrible things all around us.

“When I was little I didn’t know what an artist was.

Detail from a piece by Tammy Walters

“My parents definitely never mentioned that I should study drawing or anything like that.

“But my grandma, who travelled a lot and loved art, said that I should be allowed to study, so I went to art school when I was 14.

“That was an amazing time in my life, when I was studying art – it was like an explosion of creativity as the military government was coming to an end.

“I met amazing artists, including Philippe Noyer, who is still alive and influenced me a lot. He showed me how to express my ideas.

“It was while I was in Asia that I had the idea of bringing my pieces more to life in relief, but I couldn’t think how.

“I couldn’t use papier mache or anything like that, because it would have been damaged by the humidity.

“Then a friend of mine – a very bright and creative person – who was one of the first people to have a 3D printer, suggested I could try using one.

Detail from a work by Jairo and Nicola

“He said he’d heard there was someone in Japan doing it.

“But I thought it wasn’t very artistic and so I said no. This is always me – I say no at first. 

“It took a while but then I had an idea and started designing what I wanted to create. The technology does have its limits but you work with it.

“First I paint on the canvas, then I put the 3D element where I want it and paint over the top in acrylic to make the finished piece.”

While the forthcoming fair is primarily about showcasing the work of the exhibitors involved, visitors are also invited to participate in various events over the course of the week.

Animal illustrator Tammy Walters will be running live drawing class I Love Dogs on October 21 at 3pm, with NFTs: Empowerment Through Art scheduled for 6pm on October 23.

Carolina will be hosting 3D Artist Exhibition Tour, covering her work and a printing demonstration on October 25 at 5.30pm and visual artists Jairo and Nicola  will lead Fairytale And Surrealist Screen Printing on October 26 at 5.30pm.

The latter costs £5 with participants taking home a finished screen print. 

Detail from an sculpture by Arturo Terraquio

Carolina is also a qualified fine art teacher and runs regular classes at The Forge – so for those unable to visit the fair, there are other ways to get involved in art.

She is currently offering Ladies Night sessions – which run over the course of a month with participants producing a finished artwork over four classes. The next begins on October 10. 

“I’d taught in Hong Kong and one of the classes which was very popular there was this concept for women,” she said. 

“We open some wine, but we learn about art too.

“Each month we do a different project – we might look at acrylics or watercolour, for example.

“We’re all busy working on our pieces but it’s also an opportunity to chat. 

“We look at painters and take inspiration from them – especially English artists as we are in London.”

The sessions cost £100, which covers four 90-minute classes over the course of a month. In October these take place on Tuesday evenings from 6pm.

You can find out more information or book the classes online at carolinakollmannartdesign.com

The Forge Art Fair runs from October 20-26 at the Craft Central venue. It will be open from 11am-8pm Friday-Sunday and from 4pm-8pm Monday-Thursday. Entry is free.

You can also find links to all the artists featured via this link.

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Isle Of Dogs: How you can learn to sail on the waters of Millwall Outer Dock

Docklands Sailing And Watersports Centre instructor Leila Moore on teaching adults and kids

Docklands Sailing And Watersports Centre instructor Leila Moore

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“Anyone can come here – it’s an amazing place to go out on the water whether you’re an adult or a kid,” said Leila Moore, sailing instructor at the Docklands Sailing And Watersports Centre (DSWC) on the Isle Of Dogs. 

“I grew up on the Island and was nine when I first tried out sailing, windsurfing and kayaking at the centre – I’m 22 now and I’m still here.”

Leila remains a part-time instructor at the centre while studying for a degree in ocean science and marine conservation at the University Of Plymouth.

“I love the water and I always wanted to be a marine biologist, so sailing has given me a chance to be out on the dock and ocean a lot,” she said.

“I think the DSWC is something not many people expect to find in London and it’s a great facility.

“I really enjoyed all the watersports I tried when I was a kid, but then the weather started to get colder so I stuck with sailing, which was on the water rather than in it.

“By the following summer I was racing and I loved it.

“At the centre, kids have the option to become volunteers if they are doing well at the age of 14 and can start shadowing instructors on courses.

“That’s what I did, which was quite interesting as sometimes you’re teaching adults while still a teenager.

“At 16 I did my instructor’s course, which then gave me a job that I really enjoyed and gave me even more opportunities to be out on the water.”

Leila now works at the centre whenever her studies allow, helping children and adults discover sailing and develop their skills.

The centre is located on Westferry Road on the Isle Of Dogs

“The minimum age is eight for our sessions and we run a youth club on Monday evenings and Sunday mornings as well as sessions in the holidays and over half terms,” she said.

“The kids learn how to sail from scratch – the parts of the boat and how it works.

“We teach them all the way from Royal Yachting Association stage one to stage four, which covers everything from the very beginning to starting to race. 

“The RYA certificates are recognised globally and are evidence of how much sailing a person can do.

“For adults we do something similar with levels one to three available, although most people only do up to level two, which is what’s generally necessary to hire a boat.

“If someone has done level one with us then we’re happy for them to go out sailing on our boats – then we have open sessions all day, every day apart from when we’re hosting private events.

“Anyone with an RYA Level Two, or equivalent experience can go out sailing without instructors.

“Annual membership is £150 for adults and only £30 for children so it’s very good value.

“There’s also family membership for £300, which includes two adults and four children. 

“Of course, anyone can come and hire a sit-on kayak or a stand-up paddleboard for an hour so long as they are water confident. 

“We get all kinds of people who come to try things out – passers-by who didn’t know we were here, locals who want to get out on the water, tourists who have found us online and workers who regularly travel to this part of London for work.

Watersports take place on Millwall Outer Dock

“We believe in safety all day, every day and we always have instructors on or watching the water.

“Our safety boats are always rigged and ready to go so we can get from one end of the dock to the other in under a minute if we need to, although it’s very rare for kids or adults get into a situation that they can’t sort out themselves.

“Everybody wears a buoyancy aid and there are no exceptions to that rule apart from the open water swimmers who are also based here.

“The water itself is very clean – we check it regularly and I can confirm I’ve been in and out of the water since the age of nine and have managed to survive. 

“For me it’s close to home, of course, but the reason I keep coming back is that the people are really lovely – it’s a great environment.

“Some of our adult racers have been coming for many years too – I was racing against them when I was a kid – it’s just such a nice place to be.

“We’re very reasonably priced and, compared to similar places nearby, we have the greatest variety of boats and offer the most sessions on the water.”

While an injury at 16 curtailed Leila’s solo career she has since moved on to sailing racing yachts as part of a team.

In addition to competition and recreation, her experience with boats has also opened doors for her academically.

“As an ocean scientist, the sailing has helped me a lot,” she said.

“I spent all of January and most of February on a yacht in Turkey doing some research and I only got that opportunity because of my skills as a sailor. 

“The project was for people doing PhDs, but they needed somebody who could handle a boat and there have been a few things like that.

“A surprising number of people who study the ocean don’t have sailing skills, so it’s been really useful.”

It costs £15 for non members to hire sit-on kayaks at the centre for an hour

Leila has started taking her nieces and nephews out at the centre too in the hope that they might follow in her footsteps, admitting that her siblings are not water people.

However, while there are all kinds of craft piled high in its yard, DWSC is about more than the activities on the dock itself.

“We have a bar upstairs that’s usually open from 5pm on weekdays and from 1pm at weekends as well as a Tiki Bar downstairs, which is very exciting,” she said.

“We also have a space that can be hired for weddings and birthdays or any kind of party along with the bar.

“We do corporate events too such as team building, where companies can hire the whole site – we do activities such as dragon boat racing, which is a great thing to do with colleagues paddling together.”

Sit-on kayaks and paddleboards can be hired for £15 for non-members and £5 for members.

A full list of activities and prices can be found on the centre’s website alongside booking links.

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Isle Of Dogs: How Ottisdotter is bringing Henrik Ibsen’s Lady Inger to The Space

Specialists in lesser-known works are set to perform the playwright’s most brutal work

Mark Ewbank, joint artistic director of Ottisdotter

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The Space arts centre on the Isle Of Dogs is gearing up for 10 performances of a rarely seen work by Henrik Ibsen.

Specialising in lesser known and obscure plays that feature the oppression and subversion of women in society, theatre company Ottisdotter is set to present Lady Inger as June turns into July. 

“It’s by the second most performed playwright in the world after Shakespeare, but Ibsen is most famous for his last 12 works,” said Mark Ewbank, joint artistic director of the company.

“He actually wrote 26 and for a decade we have been exploring his earlier canon – the pieces he wrote while he was developing as a playwright.

“Lady Inger is fascinating because it is based on the history of Norway and people who actually existed.

“Ibsen took some liberties with the story to make it more dramatic, but in essence it is a medieval epic from the 1500s.

“Lady Inger is trapped between two opposing powers. Norway was a kind of region of Denmark at that time and the Norwegians were subjugated by both Sweden and Denmark.

“Lady Inger herself represents the nearest thing Norway has to a queen but, as it’s a regional province, she’s a bit like Nicola Sturgeon – the head of a devolved nation – and she has to make sure that everybody else is happy.

“Nils Lykke represents Denmark and has come to Norway to make sure Lady Inger is being consistent with what his country would like.

“There are also some Swedish rebels who want Lady Inger to support their cause, so that Norway can become free. In the play, she is really stuck between a rock and a hard place while trying to get the best for her country.

“Ibsen is famous for writing about women and this piece shows a female leader who is trying to do as well as possible for her people.

“The ultimate story of the play – without any spoilers – is that everybody is undermining her and even her own people are sceptical about a woman being up to the job.

“You’ve got Denmark trying to play political games with her – to test her – and Sweden trying to work out if they should support her.

“One of the reasons it’s so rarely put on stage is that this is a medieval epic and most companies don’t want to do one.

“It’s very like Game Of Thrones – quite a big piece to put together.

Kristin Duffy plays the titular Lady Inger in the forthcoming production

“It was the first play Ottisdotter – which takes its name from Lady Inger’s surname – put on back in 2013 and it was a wild success.

“Lots of people are interested in Ibsen and wanted to see it – there was a gap in the market because everyone does The Doll’s House or Hedda Gabler, but not his early works.”

Helping flesh out the story this time round are Kristin Duffy in the titular role and Ivan Comisso as complex antagonist and Danish emissary Nils Lykke.

“Lady Inger is like Hilary Clinton – someone who’s spent her entire life feeling the call to be a leader for her people,” said Kristin, who auditioned for the part after learning about the production via The Space’s newsletter.

“Despite her qualifications for the role, she’s continually brought down by the men around her.

“Like Hilary, Lady Inger gets a reputation as someone who is not always so kind but that’s because she’s constantly beaten down.

“When I saw this role come up, I read the whole script and thought it was such an interesting, three-dimensional character that I wanted to audition.

“The play is written in a way that makes portraying Lady Inger challenging because like all the characters, she is flawed.”

“In the play, I’m very much the underminer,” said Ivan, who appeared in Ottisdotter’s previous show at The Space – Emilia Galotti in 2016 and recently starred in emerging Netflix rugby hit In From The Side.

“You would consider Nils the antagonist but he has his own agenda.

“Denmark is technically the owner of Norway at the time, so as a Dane he’s come in, sniffing out trouble from the Norwegians and the Swedish. He’s there to keep an eye on things.

“He’s a very interesting character. Ibsen portrays a lot of his thought processes and there are a few asides between him and Lady Inger.

“You can see these political titans going head to head and this is one of the main driving forces of the play.

“I always call it a political drama like House Of Cards.

“It’s fun to see these people circle each other – almost as equals, even though Norway is subjugated.

“This is what Ibsen does with women, he portrays incredibly powerful female characters who go head to head with men and convention.”

Ivan Comisso plays antagonist Nils Lykke in Ottisdotter’s Lady Inger

Key to Ottisdotter’s decision to revive the play is its continued resonance despite dealing with events hundreds of years ago.

“It’s exciting to see this play because it could be a contemporary work,” said Mark.

“The play is set in 1528 and Ibsen was writing it in 1855, but you could say the things that happen in it are still happening to this day.

“It demonstrates the theatrical machinations that Ibsen had to go through to show that women are poisoned by society and could only succeed if they were not continually undermined.

“His work represented the birth of realism in the theatre and has that timeless quality to it.

“Every one of his works shows how Ibsen thought society shaped us and how it continues to do that.

“None of his plays needs to be situated in Norway, for example. They could be set anywhere in the world. His focus is on how people interact as human beings. 

“We’re also lucky with the setting. The Norwegian Embassy sent me to Trondheim in 2013 to research our first production so I’ve seen Lady Inger’s castle with its whitewashed walls and ironwork.

“The Space can easily represent a medieval castle so the work and the theatre go together really well. 

“Ibsen plays are generally best when they are presented with minimalist design and we’ll be performing it in the round so the audience really becomes part of the production.

“The actors will be in amongst the audience so they can really feel the energy.

“Without giving anything away, Lady Inger ends with a twist – there’s no happy ever after.

“It’s known as Ibsen’s most brutal play and it’s definitely one for audience members to digest.

“In a way, people have to provide their own ending – nothing is wrapped up in a bow for you and it continues to make people think long after they have seen it.

“It’s such a rich work that, even after all this time when we’re rehearsing it it’s still possible for me and the cast to find new things in the piece. 

“Because we have a cast of such talented actors, they push our understanding of the piece. Come and see it for yourselves.”

  • Lady Inger is set to run at The Space from June 27-July 8, 2023. Performances start at 7.30pm and tickets cost £16. 

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Isle Of Dogs: How Dovetailed London makes vibrant clothes at Craft Central

Owner Adaku Parker on the African wax print fabric business she created after leaving her legal career

Dovetailed London owner Adaku Parker is a former barrister

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Walk into Adaku Parker’s studio at Craft Central on the Isle Of Dogs and it’s impossible to miss the core element of business.

Everywhere there are metal shelves piled high with vibrant African wax print fabrics.

Every glance takes in a rainbow of bright, iridescent hues.

Then there’s Adaku herself, eyes glowing and dressed in a blue and yellow Camille dress from her new ready-to-wear range, set to launch later this year.

Colour is Dovetailed London’s business – an operation with many strands to it.

Adaku imports and sells the fabrics she uses, with pieces available from as little as £3.50, with scrap bags and charm packs also available to minimise waste.

For those inspired to sew for themselves, she produces patterns for crafters to recreate her creations and offers monthly subscription boxes so customers can build their collection of fabrics, thread and haberdashery.

A sequel to her first book Sewing With African Wax Print Fabric is due out in the autumn and she also runs weekend and Monday night workshops, where participants can learn to work with the brightly coloured materials and make some of her designs.

She imports, sells and makes clothes from African wax print fabric

It’s a business that has grown from a chance encounter with an episode of The Great British Sewing Bee in 2016.

“I’d wanted to be a barrister since I was 14 – I went to a school where we were encouraged to aim quite high,” said Adaku.

“Being brought up in a Nigerian home, I was expected to be either a barrister, a doctor, an engineer or an accountant – to enter a profession which was safe, secure, where you were guaranteed an income and you could look after yourself and your family. 

“So I started on that route. I went to university to read law, went to law school, entered pupillage and was taken on as a criminal barrister and practised for about 15 years.

“I did a lot of white-collar crime – fraud, confiscation, money-laundering – and I really enjoyed that, because the numbers can never really lie, I liked the certainty in that.

“I have no background in sewing or fashion, but when I went on maternity leave in 2016, I just knew that I wanted to try something new.

“I was channel hopping and there was The Great Pottery Throw Down, but that wasn’t for me, so I kept on going and saw what was literally the final of the Sewing Bee.

“I liked that there were professionals on it – people who worked with their creativity and that was really attractive to me.

“I thought that if they could be interested in sewing, then maybe I might be too.”

So Adaku began dipping her toe into the fashion and textile world, taking courses and experimenting.

She also sells sewing patterns and subscription boxes

“I did about 20 different classes – tailoring, garment alteration and decorative techniques – and I would always take along African wax print fabric.

“I could see the tutors thinking: ‘Oh no,’ because pattern matching and things like that can be quite tricky.

“But I took to sewing really quickly and it didn’t take me long to get quite good at making things I liked – bags and skirts, for example. 

“It gave me a real boost. I feel passionately about the fact that a human being can do many different things even though we often narrow ourselves and go down certain paths.

“Many skills are transferable, and I’d always felt that deep down, but I’d never experienced it, even though I knew it to be true.”

Dovetailed as a business emerged incrementally from those beginnings.

“I was making for myself, but then family and friends wanted things, too, and they were commissioning projects and items that they could buy from me,” said Adaku.

“Then I had the idea to take some to a small market to see what would happen.

“It felt amazing and so affirming, that somebody would part with cash for something I’d made by hand.

“I hadn’t grown up in that environment, I’d just bought things in shops never really thinking about who had made it.

“I’d never sewn on a button before I did that first workshop.

“Then in 2018 I was on maternity leave for the second time and was really thinking about doing something other than the law – that’s when I committed to really running the business.

“Now sometimes I have to pinch myself – I do really big fabric shows around the country in London, Birmingham and Surrey.

She designs and makes ready-to-wear clothes as well as bespoke pieces

“I’ve been on shopping television and Dovetailed was featured on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas with Kirstie Allsopp.

“I sell online through my website and I’ve been featured in magazines – it’s really been amazing.

“Appearing on shopping television and telling the story of African fabric was that seminal moment for me – Dovetailed was no longer a hobby.

“Navigating the journey to becoming a business that pays for my lifestyle and employees is exciting and I’m having a great time doing it.

“Dovetailed curates a range of African wax print fabrics that are produced using a very specific process – a mechanised form of batik.

“I buy them from Ghana, Nigeria and Holland with a focus on quality.

“You can get very inexpensive African fabrics but they will look and feel cheap, so I prefer to import and sell really good quality material.

“There’s a density and a weight to it and it looks very different – people just love it.

“The designs make colour very wearable, it’s about finding what suits you and matching the right fabric to the project.

“My designs just come to me. Although I haven’t had a background in fashion, I’ve always been quite fashionable and I love colour and dressing up – I’ve never really stopped.

“Even when I was a barrister I loved passing on what I know.

“I really enjoy encouraging and inspiring people – writing the books is part of demystifying the craft of sewing.”

Adaku also runs weekend and weeknight workshops from her base at Craft Central on the Isle Of Dogs

To that end, Dovetailed is set to launch a series of six-week workshops on Monday evenings, starting on April 10, running until May 15.

Participants can choose from a selection of projects including dresses, tops, trousers and pinafores. See prices online.

As for the future, Adaku has big ambitions for her brand.

“My ultimate dream would be to have my ready-to-wear garments on sale in Selfridge’s,” she said.

Read more: How The Qube is offering creators studio space in Canary Wharf

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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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Isle Of Dogs: How TLZ Movement is tackling waste in fashion from Craft Central

Founder Nadia Piechestein repairs, reworks, alters and creates clothes at The Forge in east London

Nadia Piechestein of TLZ Movement

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At the heart of TLZ Movement is the joy of taking something that already exists and changing it to make something new.

Nadia Piechestein studied fashion in Buenos Aires before going on to found one of the first ethical fashion brands in Argentina. 

Her clothes were made with sustainable khadi cotton, made by a cooperative, with the clothes produced by another cooperative in the city that offered classes to former prisoners to help with their rehabilitation.

As a dancer herself, her styles focused on costumes for performance as well as pieces to exercise in.

Relocating to London a few years ago, with her husband Herman, she arrived with her collection in the UK, bought a sewing machine and initially started making clothes here.

“But then I decided not to make any more clothes at all, because I think we already have enough on this planet,” said Nadia. 

“My idea was to make existing clothes better so people can keep them rather than throwing them away.

“So I stopped making clothes and I started repairing, customising and altering them. 

“That’s what I do for customers, but I also teach people how to do it themselves.”

Nadia at work in her Craft Central studio on the Isle Of Dogs

TLZ Movement is now located at The Forge on the Isle Of Dogs’ Westferry Road and is a member of Craft Central, the charity that runs the facility.

Nadia essentially offers three core services.

She reworks existing garments, using up-cycling and dead stock materials from other producers that would otherwise go to waste.

She uses these to refresh and customise clothes for their owners to give them a new lease of life.

Nadia also offers a more standard alterations and repairs service to ensure clothes fit correctly to start with or to rescue damaged garments.

For this she is happy to create visible or invisible repairs depending on her customers’ desires.

Then there are her workshops at The Forge, where participants can learn mending techniques, how to use a sewing machine, copy their favourite clothes, weave and rework. 

“I’m not against the theme of having a bright new garment – that’s my inspiration,” said Nadia.

“If you’re bored with a piece in your wardrobe, you can bring it to me and I will put something new into it.

Nadia uses scraps of fabric to create new clothes

“That way you get the feeling of having a new piece of clothing again.

“The best way is to think of it as caring for your clothes, as keeping them and continuing to love them. It’s also something nobody else will have.

“For Christmas this year, I asked friends for garments they no longer wore – I didn’t tell them what I was doing.

“Then I reworked them, gave them back and my friends were amazed. When they wore them, they had that story to tell.

“When I make visible repairs or additions, the more people can see the time and effort that has been put into something.

“It connects the owner with the maker and shows how much you care about a garment.

“Here at Craft Central and in London, I collaborate with other makers and textile businesses a lot, using pieces and scraps of fabric that would otherwise go to waste.”

Nadia also sells iron-on patches to repair of customise garments with

In a world of ceaseless pressure and communication, the convenience and discount pricing of fast fashion is an ever-present temptation.

Never in the UK have so many garments been available to consumers so cheaply. 

But at what cost to those engaged elsewhere in the world making them – or for the planet in terms of the resources necessary to produce them and the inevitable waste mountain they create?

To help address some of these issues, Nadia has created iron-on patches that can be used both to repair and customise clothes.

Made with khadi cotton sourced from India, they can be applied with a normal household iron, so no need to get out the thimble.

Available in a variety of designs with prices starting at £18 for six, they are aimed at time-poor individuals looking for a rapid fix or update to their apparel.

“Patches can go in the washing machine at less than 40ºC and should last a long time,” said Nadia.

“I would encourage people to think that wearing them is a statement about Planet Earth.

“It shows that you care about the environment and it spices you up as a person.

“People can buy them online and use them to create any shape they want – they just need to cut them.

“It’s something that can be really creative and they are great for kids too who are always putting holes in things.

“With TLZ I’m really happy with what I’m building here now.

TLZ Movement’s patches can simply be ironed on to clothes

“I’ve been part of London Fashion Week and London Craft Week – I really want to boost what I’m doing now and expand in east London and into the City. 

“It would be great to see the patches stocked in small shops so that people can embrace repairing and customising their clothes.

“The majority of my customers are from the Isle Of Dogs and I have so much gratitude for that – there are no words. I love them.

“I also want to reach a new audience through teaching so people can understand all the good things they can do.

“That’s why I’ve started creating team building events for businesses and organisations. 

“People can come with their colleagues, have some drinks and learn the basics of sewing before being challenged to repair a garment that they can then take away.”

Nadia also works with arts companies to give performance costumes new lives after their stints on stage.

TLZ Movement’s next event is set to take place on February 18.

People are invited to bring damaged garments to The Forge for a free mending session using her signature patches between 11am and 4pm. 

Read more: How Dishoom Canary Wharf is all about a story

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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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Isle Of Dogs: Why Craft Central’s director is reaching out to the local community

Jo McLean says she’s excited to play her part in building the makers charity back up after Covid

Jo McLean has taken over as director of Craft Central
Jo McLean has taken over as director of Craft Central

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For the last two years it has been heads down at Craft Central to keep things ticking over.

The creative charity on the Isle of Dogs had to bring in outside funding for the first time as the effects of the pandemic took hold.

But there is a new director at the helm – Jo McLean – who is ready to build the organisation back up and is looking around her to find its future direction.

“I took the job because I was really excited by the idea of a creative hub,” said the former professional musician, who knits and silversmiths in her spare time.

“I’m very much driven by community engagement. I think artists should sit at the heart of communities and be a really great resource for them. I see the potential for that to happen at Craft Central.”

A classically trained French Horn player, Jo spent 12 years touring internationally before packing away her instrument and starting a career in arts organisations.

“My first proper job was at Cove Park, an artist residency centre in Scotland,” said the 52-year-old.

“I was in charge of a capital project bringing in more accommodation and supporting the visual arts and crafts residences. That was when I first got interested in design and craft.”

A graduate of the Royal Northern College Of Music in Manchester, Jo lived in Scotland for 25 years working for organisations such as Uz Arts and The Touring Network and overseeing the creation of her own home, which gave her a new appreciation of architecture and buildings.

“I’ve always been really interested in good design and craft,” she said.

“So that’s kind of where my path into this area has come from.

Craft Central is based at The Forge on Westferry Road
Craft Central is based at The Forge on Westferry Road

“I’ve led organisations across all genres of arts, from performance through to visual arts, theatre, literature and lots of consultancy work as well around organisational development, which is, I suppose, where my real interest lies.

“This job brings together my two passions, which is great.

“It’s been a turbulent few years and the charity wanted somebody who was going to come and build up the organisation again and I have the skills to do that.”

It was love as well as work that brought Jo to the capital as she met her husband, a Londoner, and they tied the knot a few years ago.

“We had a long-distance relationship for quite a long time and decided we needed to come together,” said Jo, who recently dusted off her French horn to play on a new album by The Bluebells’ of Young At Heart fame.

She first moved to London just before the pandemic to work for Clod Ensemble, based on Greenwich Peninsula, but returned to Scotland after a year. When she saw the role at Craft Central she knew it was her chance to move down here for good.

“I was ready for a challenge, said Jo, who now lives in north London. “I’ve done organisation internally in CEO type roles but this role was very much building based, which I’d never done.

“The pandemic has left its financial mark on the organisation. 

“It’s always been self-sustaining, but the next couple of years are slightly trickier in terms of how we make the business model work as well as it used to.

“All the parts are there, it just sort of needed an architect to put them all together and help everybody to make it work, which is what hopefully I’ll do.”

She had never set foot in the area before, but had heard of Craft Central from friends who have studios there.

Formed in 1970, the arts organisation spent 40 years in Clerkenwell, but in 2017 moved to The Forge on the Isle Of Dogs – one of the last buildings from the golden age of shipbuilding in the area. 

Located on Westferry Road, it was built in 1860 for CJ Mare And Company and constructed the keel for battleship HMS Northumberland.

It fell into decline in the 1900s, but was restored and transformed into studios and workspaces used by Craft Central, by the construction of a virtually freestanding two-storey birch plywood structure within the existing Flemish bond brick walls.

“I was blown away – it’s a stunning, incredible building,” said Jo, who is currently hunting for a facilities manager to help take care of the site.

“What I really liked about it is there’s a connection to the west coast of Scotland, which has a really rich shipbuilding heritage and I’ve been told that a lot of Scottish people moved to the Isle Of Dogs for the shipbuilding industry down there. 

“So being in that sort of very heavy industrial building feels quite comforting to me.”

The Forge's studios are home to more than 70 makers
The Forge’s studios are home to more than 70 makers

With around 77 makers based there, the studios are almost full, but Jo is concerned about the effect the cost of living crisis will have this autumn.

“Artists are going to be really hard pushed to afford the luxury of having a studio,” she said.

“I am anticipating people will have some very difficult decisions to make and I’m thinking about how we can make sure that we have a full space and keep the business model working.

“Our rent review will be due next year and I’m sure the utilities will go up. We are going to have to face some harsh realities about increases to our costs. 

“I’m going to do my very best to make sure we don’t pass those on to our studio holders, but it will largely depend on whether we can find some support to help us.”

The pandemic already saw bosses seek outside funding for the first time, from the Foyle Foundation and Garfield Western Foundation. Jo said more would be needed this year to make the figures work.

“My ambition is that in two years we won’t be relying on any sort of trust, foundation or public funding in order to operate as a centre for craft, but we would be looking for funding to run programmes with the community,” she said.

Jo is hoping to forge relationships with companies in Canary Wharf and beyond to help spread its work further into the Island.

“Craft Central isn’t just about the building – it’s going to be really important to take the brand beyond that,” she said.

“I’m trying to find as many places to connect to as I can, locally and more widely. I’ve inherited a really fantastic team and we’re looking forward to the future.

“For a while its been head-down, let’s hold this together and the team did a fantastic job of that. Going forward, it’s our ambition to be much more embedded in the community. 

“Ways we can work with residents and local groups is going to be a definite focus.”

 Jo already plans to register Craft Central as an Arts Awards venue to help broaden its work with young people.

“I think it’s really important that we engage with children,” she said. 

“Craft isn’t taught so much in schools any more and I think a part of what we can offer is a window into another world for young people.

“We want to work more with older people, because the motor skills associated with craft are a recognized benefit in ageing as well.

“There are so many benefits associated with art of any type, but particularly in craft. It connects you to yourself.”

Craft Central's makers work in a range of different areas
Craft Central’s makers work in a wide range of different areas

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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