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Stratford: How Westfield Stratford City puts community and sustainability at its heart

URW head of shopping centre management talks passion and outreach at the east London mall

Katie Wyle of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield – image Matt Grayson

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Katie Wyle never intended to go into retail.

Growing up, she worked in the village shop her parents ran and swore off the sector when she went to university to study English and drama.

“But what do you do as a student? You work in shops,” she said.

“I worked for Tesco, Jigsaw, Disney and more.

“I did a wonderful ski season after university, but then realised I had a loan to pay off so I went to work at Marks And Spencer, initially in the men’s pants and socks department as a Christmas temp.”

It was the start of a journey that would see her rise to deputy manager of the brand’s Bluewater store.

A stint at Fortnum And Mason followed and then Selfridges as assistant store director before she became assistant general manager of Westfield Stratford City in 2014.

Now head of shopping centre management for the whole of the UK at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) – the company that runs the massive malls – her responsibilities include overseeing its east London operation, the busiest in Europe by footfall.

And, despite the pressures of catering for more than 51million visitors each year, she’s smiling.

“It’s just so varied,” she said. “You can come in, have a conversation about toilets, fire safety, Christmas, the community, capital investment or how we’re planning our budget processes for the next five years.

“You have to change your thought processes completely from one meeting to the next and the people we work with are all so genuinely passionate about this business. 

“I think everybody should work in retail and hospitality at some point because they give you experience of so many areas.”

The passion of her colleagues is one reason Katie continues to smile throughout our interview.

“Westfield naturally faces problems and challenges, as any business does – especially on a site welcoming millions and employing thousands.

Westfield Stratford City is the busiest shopping centre in Europe

But there’s an underlying pride in the mission, which is about much more than providing retail units to big brands.

“We take being part of the community very seriously,” said Katie.

“That’s not just the managers in the centre, but everyone in the team – we are all focused on the social impact of our roles.

“The company set itself objectives when it first came into the UK from Australia – to create jobs and value locally around each of our centres.

“We have a community manager and her job is to work at grass roots level with individuals, organisations, local employment support groups and schools.

“We are so focused on improving our social value every year – what we can do to keep it going and build on that.

“We assess what’s going on in the community and where investment and support is needed.

“She then works up a community resilience action plan for each centre that is bespoke to its needs.

“That’s in partnership with the London Borough Of Newham here and Hammersmith And Fulham over at Westfield London.

“Then we measure that impact. That’s not just URW, that’s our contractors as well.

“If you talk to anyone here, community and sustainability are our biggest themes, as they affect everybody.”

On the community front, Westfield Stratford City is a founding partner and official sponsor of the Foundation For Future London – a charity founded in 2015 to connect the various cultural institutions that are coming to East Bank with local people.

“The team here has done this huge project with the East Bank Creative Futures Fund – £10million of investment – which is now in its fourth year,” said Katie.

“It’s phenomenal, with 155 community organisations funded and more than 23,000 participants.

URW has invested £10million in the East Bank Creative Futures Fund

“Each year the applications for funding are open for small, medium and large projects, ranging from £3,000 to £50,000.

“So far they’ve awarded more than £2.5million for a wide spectrum of organisations including community facilities for cycling and skateboarding, local creative businesses and talent development programmes.

“We know our customers want to feel more holistic and joined-up when they come here and the regeneration of both Shepherds Bush and Newham has been a testament to the success of the Westfield centres.”

On the sustainability front, URW is pressing forward with its Better Places 2030 strategy, which aims to reduce its centres’ environmental impact.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Katie. “It’s not just about reducing the energy we use, but making sure we’re only getting it from green, renewable sources.

“We already operate with zero waste to landfill – all of our food waste, for example goes into a digester which processes it down into pellet form and now we’re working on how we can transform that into compost so customers can come and take a bag for their gardens.

“We want to create a complete cycle.

“There are so many initiatives – we already have rainwater harvesting and we’re looking to install ethically sourced solar panels on both Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush this year.

“It’s vital we know where they are coming from and that there’s no involvement with modern slavery.”

It’s this attention to detail that indirectly should also prove  attractive to future residents of Coppermaker Square – URW’s residential venture in Stratford.

“This is somewhere you can now live, work and play,” said Katie.

“They are fabulous buildings and the scheme will be finished next year.

“There are nine blocks and it’s the first time we’ve done build-to-rent in the UK so it’s really exciting for us.

“Why would you not live somewhere like this? The facilities will blow you away.

“There’s a co-working space, a fitness centre, lounge, roof garden, outdoor terrace, concierge service – it’s what people expect now.

Westfield is set to host a Future You event at Stratford in October for young people

“The surrounding area is so beautiful with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and all the other attractions of east London.

“It’s incredible and has transport connections to Essex, Kent and all across London including the Elizabeth Line from east to west, which is amazing.

“Our centres continue to have major brands invest in them, showing their trust and faith in what we’re doing.

“For example, Sephora is set to open its second UK store at Stratford in November and we’ve already seen the halo effect with other beauty brands doing well around it after it opened in Shepherd’s Bush.

“Westfeld Stratford City is a beautiful shopping environment and, while retail is having a tough time at the moment, that means we need diversity. 

“Young people don’t necessarily just want to come and spend money on buying things – they want experiences and we need to cater for that too.”  

Younger shoppers are very much on Westfield’s radar, with another of its Future You events set to take place from October 19-22 aimed at engaging with 12-to-18-year-olds. 

Katie said: “We’ll be putting on loads of free activities. Last year there was a really popular one with Finfluencers and FinTokkers, although I’m not really cool enough to know about that.”

As a measure of the success of Olympic legacy and regeneration, it all makes for an impressive achievement.

  • Prices for homes at Coppermaker Square start at £2,480pcm.

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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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Stratford: How BabaBoom combines its founder’s love of travel, running and kebabs

Latest branch of London business at Westfield Stratford City will offer £1 meals on its launch day

BabaBoom founder Eve Bugler
BabaBoom founder Eve Bugler

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A little like the kebabs her company serves, there are lots of ingredients to Eve Bugler.

There’s the degree in PPE from Oxford, time spent working for a Democrat in the States, a stint at McKinsey and a spell at a development bank in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island.

Then there’s the lifelong passion for distance running culminating in selection to compete for England at ultramarathon distances, a prospect stymied by Covid cancellations and now on hold due to the fact that she’s currently pregnant.

We’re here to talk about all of that, because it’s all relevant to her move into the hospitality industry and the decision to start her own business – BabaBoom – which is set to open what will technically be its third location at Westfield Stratford City in April.

- In celebration of its opening on Thursday, April 21, 2022, Bababoom will be offering kebabs for £1 between noon and 2pm with all proceeds going to Greenhouse Sports, a charity that supports and mentors children.



- There’s more: Starting May 1, BabaBoom will be sending its Kebab Chase from its Battersea branch to its new Stratford location and back. Participants should turn up at Battersea from 11am, do the run by 4pm (proof via selfie), and get a FREE kebab for their trouble. Usually chases take place on the first Sunday of the month. Find out more about the Kebab Chase here

“When I was in Haiti working on an infrastructure project, I realised that the people having the greatest impact were the entrepreneurs,” said Eve.

“I came back with the idea that I really wanted to start my own business, and I wanted to do hospitality – it’s great for social mobility.

“It’s the only industry where you can come in completely unskilled, and you can move up really quickly.

“Because I’d worked behind a bar in Greece and in a ski chalet in France, I knew it was a really positive industry to be part of – when you’re working in hospitality it’s easy to make someone’s day.” 

A selection of the dishes available at BabaBoom
A selection of the dishes available at BabaBoom

Having returned to the UK, Eve first landed a role at Nando’s, working for the company for four years, first in London and then Johannesburg and Delhi.

She then secured investment from the hospitality giant’s then CEO, among others, to develop her own business, launching BabaBoom in Battersea in 2015.

“Boom is my favourite word – it’s filled with positivity,” said Eve.

“My dad has been a massive influence on me – an Irishman who came to London and someone who’s always interested in the next opportunity.

“Baba is the Turkish and Arabic word for father and the two together just means we’re doing things with energy.

“BabaBoom is a passion project. As an elite runner and someone who’s lived around the world, I always found myself gravitating towards kebabs as the best sort of fast food.

Eve says kebabs are a comparatively healthy fast food
Eve says kebabs are a comparatively healthy fast food

“I can’t really eat pizzas and burgers when I’m training properly, whereas kebabs are generous, protein-filled with salad, fresh bread and good Middle Eastern flavours.

“I thought that somebody needed to do that in the UK and make it a fast food accessible and welcoming to everybody.

“Kebabs have often been marginalised as a late night snack but they’re good all day.

“We’re all about making really fresh kebabs with good quality ingredients and cooking over charcoal, which helps the flavour.

“We import a lot of our spices and flavours from the Middle East and that gives our products a fresh taste. 

“It’s bringing the fire to the table and I think that’s why we’ll stand out at Westfield – customers want that immediacy but also that theatre of cooking.”

Eve after completing the Paris Half Marathon while pregnant

Having launched in Battersea, BabaBoom’s second location in Islington fell victim to the pressures of the pandemic but with restrictions receding, a fresh opening beckoned.

“Westfield came along as an opportunity, and it’s great for us,” said Eve.

“To have a site which is a stone’s throw from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is incredibly exciting, because it fits the upbeat, energetic nature of our brand.

“It’s really easy to slag off kebabs, but small businesses largely run by immigrants are really successful, and I think there’s a real vibe in kebab shops – they’re a refuge, there’s a sense of fun, you chat to the people next to you.

“When people come down to us they will be struck by our friendliness – we say we’re gluten-friendly, vegan-friendly, but overall we’re just friendly.

“Then it’s about freshness and the generosity of our portions.

“Time Out said our food was as healthy as people want it to be and that’s hitting it on the nose.

“We’re not here to preach or to make you eat low-calorie food. We’re here to provide really generous plates that can be really good for you.

“Then, if you want some curly fries, you deserve them too. We’re here to be accessible to everyone.”

That extends to kebabs made with beef (a cheaper option than lamb), chicken and plenty of options for veggies and vegans.

“In Middle Eastern food, the vegan thing isn’t a cop out, it’s accidental,” said Eve.

“For example, our super green falafel and sweet potato hummus are entirely vegan, as is our Triple-B sauce – a fiery condiment made with Aleppo chilli.

“Our bread is baked fresh and all our kebabs come with slaw with apple in it, which gives it a sweet crunchiness. We’ve thought about  the detail to make everything delicious.”

Super green falafel at BabaBoom

Read more: How Humble Grape in Canary Wharf is raising its food game

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