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November 2, 2016

Traditional ideas about curry, what it is and what it stands for were butter-nut squashed at Bengal Bites last Friday: the second in a series of innovative pop up supper clubs in East London. Community enthusiast and former school teacher Imad Ahmed challenged a diverse, eclectic crowd of diners to think beyond the Brick Lane confines of an ‘Indian,’ providing an intimate space for authentic Bengali cuisine to be the food of rich conversation and cross-cultural exchange.

Variety was very much the spice of this event, set in a hipster-esque pocket of Clapton, just above the infamous Palm 2. Greeted at the door by friends from Bar Bedoun, preparing a refreshing array of middle eastern mocktails, the aromatic rose and pineapple savours watered our palettes and opened our minds to a cosy, sensory filled evening.

Imad’s sister Shopna Nessa, whose name literally means ‘dream’ in Bengali, was very much the inspiration for the whole thing. She was born in the mountainous, tea-growing lands of North-East Bangladesh. Her skill at cooking became famed in her village and surrounding areas even as a young girl. Having moved to the UK over twenty years ago, she continued to cook and share her passion with others, and naturally assumed the lead as Head Chef for this.

As we took our seats at the long, candle lit dinner tables, Imad spoke of life as a ‘son of immigrants,’ and his desire to invite us into a space that felt like ‘home.’ But not necessarily the home cultural stereotypes might assume for a practising Muslim of Bengali heritage, living in East London. More home in a visceral sense: the home he has created for himself, drawing on the ingredients from the cultural melting pot within his reach.

He described exploration of his identity, growing up in a space very different to that of his parents, who were born in Bangladesh. An East Londoner himself, he displayed enthusiasm for the way the area has evolved over the years, drawing much inspiration for the evening from the diversity of inhabitants he has been exposed to along the way. Hackney has undergone a period of rapid development, expansion and gentrification over the past ten years and with that has evolved a diverse population, visibly evident as you roam the Clapton streets. The elements of the evening focused on fusion, encouraging the mind to break free from cultural classification and area stereotyping. To make use of the collective dining space to dig into things a bit more deeply.

It didn’t take long to recognize the breadth of experiences brought to the space that evening and the enjoyment gained from sharing perspectives alongside refreshing Bengali cuisine. He purposefully chose the Turkish run space to host the evening, on the basis of a shared love for food and community. The live jazz band, who were the soundtrack for the evening, were ex-colleagues from the local school. The floral details and eclectic wooden feel were distinctly hipster and Imad admitted to having drawn upon local inspiration for this. After working in Clapton for some years, he’s made connections with inhabitants and business owners all down Lower Clapton Road and the range of diners sat around the table reflected this.

The concept of ‘Shopna Nessa Supper Clubs’ helps us to think beyond the conventional. To look beyond the superficial definitions of curry culture that we are familiar with and past cultural experiences we might classify as distinctly ‘different’ from our own. It invites us to try out new flavours of thinking. To open our minds and our palettes to blend new definitions of the spaces we share, using food as the fuel to dream up meaning for the shared places in which we live.

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October 11, 2016

A question we have asked ourselves time and time again at Creative Retreats UK is how we unlock creative potential. What is it within ourselves that, if successfully plugged in to, can power us a truly creative and fulfilling life?

***And the intention is not to provide the answer to that question, even if just fresh from Retreat*** Because we know we simply do not have it. We cannot tell you how to unlock your own creativity. We cannot give you the key. But we can reassure you of something: that we definitely believe in you. One of the things we can tell you right now, is that the key to your creativity is you. You are the best resource you have ever and will ever have in understanding your own creativity. And the more thinking time and space you give to that process of unlocking it, the easier you will eventually find it to turn on your creative key.

Here’s what we do know. We know that creativity isn’t bound by any single definition. That it comes in all shapes and sizes and doesn’t necessarily fit into the stifling molds that our schooling might have limited us to. Nor should it have to. The creative process allows us the unique freedom to express ourselves individually and explore what’s on our minds and in our hearts. Our commitment to plugging in to that dimension gives us access to a whole new level of creative electricity.

We also know how important a factor environment is in supporting creative pursuits. The humdrum of the city becomes an inevitable distraction off that path and it’s easy to feel puzzled in the search for a suitable place for creation. Especially in shared spaces and with little time in a day.

Beyonce Fitness by Kate from Eat and Learn

Ed from Inspire & Build shares his ideas about creative productivity

But with openness and comfort, it is possible to switch off the external world. To free up the space to begin the important work of plugging in to something deep within. We begin to ask bigger questions. We give pages, song lyrics, head space to our ideas, and in turn contribute to the process of unlocking. We begin to realise, that the only thing standing in the way of living out a truly creative and fulfilling life: is ourselves. It is our will to search for the door, find the lock and push forwards: our will to continue that creative pursuit lovingly as we walk through. To be present for an idea we have that has been pestering us on the bus to work. To listen carefully to the narrative that keeps coming back to us in our dreams. To keep giving time to the projects we procrastinate with. To put paint to sketchbook and go with it, despite the competing elements of our lives that pull us away from that thing.

***DISCLAIMER*** The journey to unlocking one’s own creativity is not always a straight forward one. But, through the act of giving time and space to our innards, we begin an inevitable process of purging our creative sins. Of drawing out and moving on from failed projects, bad ideas, previous rejections: of moving away from faulty electrical wiring and towards an understanding of what helps us with ignition. Some will stop when it gets hard, and it does. They will stop producing if they feel they are stuck, or lose themselves in their own creations. They will find themselves looking for something to liberate them, blind to the fact that commitment to the process itself is what will eventually set them free. That every time they show up for this side of themselves, they add form to an internal key.

Bridget from creative organisation Flow – in flow.

We are learning what helps us to be creative. It seems like being creative could be as simple as picking up a pen. And for some it might well be. Some people have reached a point of simply grabbing their tools and plugging in. And that feels magical. What seems to be the case more often than not though, is that living a creative life is not about being either gifted or terrible at doing this. Creativity is a practice. It is a way of life akin to that of a marathon runner or a martial artist. It requires dedication, persistence and encouragement. It requires hours, it requires grit, it requires sportsman’s resilience. The creative muscle must do its reps if it is to be strong enough to dismantle the portcullis that stands in our way: if it is bold enough to continue formulation of an internal key.

Mindset is everything. Creativity is not a gift, nor is it just reserved for the gifted. It requires work for us to feel its benefits. It requires warmth, safe space, encouragement, continuous nourishing, and nurturing to set the foundations of a healthy bond within. Some might start creating and soon give up. They begin to play the piano and it sounds beautiful, but then they short circuit. They forget the notes, they cannot read that piece in the music, they become tired. Their hands start to feel too small for the keys. They quickly brand it something transient, they talk about it in the past tense as something they ‘had a go at last week.’  They believe it’s lost.

The way we relate to our creativity is a reflection of how we relate to ourselves. If we do not eat, we will starve. If we do not continue to give our time to the creative spirit within, the same happens. What emerges as crucial from all this, is the shaping of our creative keys via an internal source of love, dedication and kind nurturing. The inner confirmation that we do not need the approval of others to validate our productions. Of understanding that the best and most fulfilling creative experience is first and foremost with ourselves and for ourselves. It is the fun process of painting what we want, penning what we wish, of listening to the melody within and inviting that character to sing.

Jenna from Komorebi Nature and Wellbeing runs session on Forest Schools

The key to unlocking our creativity is closer to home than we might first think. With the appropriate belief, love, support, connection and resilience – we can get on our way to exploring what we enjoy, what we are truly made of, and find our own answers as to how we wish to live it out as we realise it’s there within.


Big love to our October ’16 Creative Retreaters <3

 By Maxine


July 31, 2016

Sunday Funday or Sunday Blues, it’s safe to say Sunday is the day of the week we’re less busy, or at least more inclined to take on ‘leisurely’ activities. This might be the time of the week to fold out the broadsheet, follow your nose through a cook book, begin an inventory of the back garden flower beds, or set a meeting point for friends at the park to go and soak up the sun. With such little time and so many possibilities, it’s natural to feel a bit like you’re missing out, or at least missing something: You want to relax in the garden, but you’ve been feeling a bit cut off recently. You want to enjoy yourself alongside friends, but you’ve also been meaning to dedicate a bit of solo time to catch up on things independently.

This is where Sunday Papers Live (SPL) comes in. Fresh out of a recently successful SPL Special at Citadel Festival, this novel idea doesn’t deliver the newspaper to your door. It doesn’t fit through the letterbox, neither is it brought to you by a panting dog, (although I’m sure they are on that one!)

John Hudson at Sunday Papers Live, Citadel Special

What’s the idea?

At Sunday Papers Live, each section of the Sunday Papers is presented by an expert speaker, performer or group. As part of the audience, you sit back without the need to turn a page, manage reader’s cramps, or suffer the inconvenience of inky handed lethargy. In this format, you kick back, relax and listen carefully as the paper is brought to life right in front of you. Normally the concept takes place in an over sized living room in central London, but at Citadel in Victoria Park, it was housed in a tent laden with sofas and intimacy. Sheltered from the sun, the performances of each section of the paper took place on a stage plonked right in the middle. Belting out the perfect balance of silly and serious, the experience is a positive one and you can’t help but feel connected to the fellow audience members who populate the vicinity.

From Olympian turned Comedian Eddie ‘The Eagle,’ that had the audience in stitches going over his experiences in both industries, to the UK Military’s very own Survival Instructor John Hudson heading up the Travel news, there were some fantastic opportunities to engage and be entertained concurrently. By far the best bit for us was the novel, section designed to give a voice to audience views, namely Talkaoke.


Talkaoke is a polo shaped pop-up talk-show that gets conversations going quickly and inspires open, candid expression to take place with ease and energy. Providing an answer to the comments section of the SPL newspaper, ‘Talkaoke’ facilitates freestyle chatter and creates a safe space for contributors to disclose uncertainty. At Citadel, festival goers were invited to take a seat around the table and encouraged by the host to speak their mind on chosen topics quite openly. We tuned into the edition just as they were on the subject of hair – a perfectly universal theme allowing contributors to get involved almost immediately. And quite magical were the results. A contributor with little hair is left empathetic to the challenges of the life full of dreadlocks experienced by the guy seated opposite. In a short space of time people are finding common ground and developing empathy in the parts of discussion where they may think differently.

Talkaoke hosting the Comments section of SPL at Citadel Festival 2016

Sunday Papers Live puts the love into Sundays, not just for its ability to present you with the norm unconventionally, but for the freshness of the concept to inspire you to engage in the news experientially. You’re no longer the passive reader of the newspaper after this experience, but warmly welcomed to contribute and develop with it enthusiastically and collectively.


Find out more:

Get your ticket for the next one in London in October:


May 12, 2016

Wood came before concrete, yet somehow we have evolved to navigate better through the streets than the woodlands: through Tesco Metro supermarket aisles better than our own back gardens. We know how important our survival is to us and how much we love to be outdoors on the rare occasions the British weather allows, but the current priorities of city living mean that if it wasn’t for the conveyor belt food culture that provides for us, we’d be left, quite frankly, starving – without a clue of what to do. Why is it that our ability to self sustain has dwindled? How is it, that if one day we ventured down to the Sainsburys Local and the shelves were empty, we’d be left with an empty stomach and not even a morsel of knowledge as to how to engage with our natural surroundings to fill it?

To be creative with what surrounds us is to look more carefully at the land we live in, make it our friend and understand how best to work with it…

In a house of five in Dalston, we struggle to keep the lawn mowed, let alone cultivate our own vegetables. Self sufficiency is selecting a recipe from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals and finding the supermarket which sells its ingredients. It’s knowing where to get good food stuffs over knowing how to. So, bar the staple herbs out the back that pretty much look after themselves, or the token chilly plant on the kitchen window sill – the garden is a leisurely space made for sun lounging, booze and barbecues. But, even if we don’t have time to consider how we can put our hands and lands to use in this way, when we venture away from our doorsteps and into the wild, we generally have little idea of where to begin. Anything that’s not grass in a patch of land discarded as ‘weeds,’ an unfamiliar berry regarded ‘inedible.’ And this is symptomatic of the way we have learnt to see. With little time on our hands to observe our surroundings more closely, us city dwellers and townsfolk grow estranged to the lands in which we live. Commuters in the walk down by the river, laid out in the back garden simply for sun, irritated by the overgrowth of weeds. But, to what extent can we connect with our surroundings and be creative with what nature provides us?


It was only a few steps into the Foraging walk as part of Edible Landscapes last week and we’d already been pulled to a halt by Joan Yeardon, the local Permaculturist and expert on anything wild and edible. She was pointing to a pot full of Calendula from afar, explaining how over the years it has been used medicinally. Although this one’s not edible, we’re amazed by its brightness and versatility. To ‘forage’ is to obtain food or provisions by searching, and everyone on this walk is keen to make this more of a possibility. As we head towards the River Lea, we’re quickly fascinated by what we’re encouraged to see. We’re handed a bunch of Mahonia, a deep purple berry formerly considered to be ‘poisonous,’ so it’s a bit odd as we’re passed it to eat. It’s bitter, with a light green pulp and nowhere near as sweet as it looks, but it’s ‘perfect for jams and slows’ explains Joan enthusiastically.


We’re only on your average Homerton roadside and already we’ve got in a pickle with the Cleavers (a.k.a Sticky Willies). But we’re soon soothed by the soft scent of Lemon Balm – identified, crushed with the fingers and tickling our noses. A trip on a foraging walk like this encourages us to get searching – as if one were stepping out of the realms of the ordinary and into a Secret Garden that those who are interested in can see. Just a minute’s walk into the park, we’re halted by what appears to be a harmless bush, yet on inspection it’s much more than it appears to be. ‘Look with your eyes not your hands’ Joan says, as we’re familiarized with the instrument of Aristotle’s assassination – namely Hemlock, an unusual suspect that blends in with the rest of the green, but is actually incredibly noxious. Joan picks it up, glove clad and places it within safe distance. It’s chemical smelling and has light black ink splats along the stalk which helps us identify. We listen from afar as she explains to us this is something we ‘definitely shouldn’t attempt to eat.’


As we stroll down paths at an extremely slow speed, covering just a small patch of land, Joan points out the forest of resources available to us. Nettles for which to make gruel or pesto; Dead Nettles which can be used in the same way as Spinach; Elderflower from which to make cordial, champagne or vinegar; a handful of different strains of garlic that smell truly wonderful and are warming and flavoursome when we let ourselves go enough to tuck in to the treat. A flowering pear tree; Dandelion petals, that when mixed with Elderflower are a cure for hayfever; the glowing blush of Hawthorn amongst the leaves to flavour jellies, jams and syrups. We’re completely astounded by the abundance and plenitude of what populates the area and we start to collect up bunches of what we realize we can use for feed.








In conversation with the founder of Edible Landscapes, Jo Homan, whose aim is to get Londoners more engaged with their surroundings and begin to grow their own food, it becomes clear that foraging is still more of a sport than a way of life in the UK (unlike Italy and Greece, where permaculture and foraging are more of a necessity.) Working alongside places such as The Kabin at Hackney Marshes and enthusiasts like Joan, the aim is to create a community of people interested in reviving our bonds with nature and pulling up the magnifying glass on our green patches, so we can understand them better and use them in our lives more creatively.


Get out there beyond your Tesco Metro and walk further – near your house or around the park. Find the wild spots and try to look carefully to identify what exactly it is you can see. It might feel like a hobby to begin with and definitely more of a challenge than calling upon the Supermarket Attendant to locate your ingredients, but starting to engage more deeply with nature and understand what it is we are surrounded by, is probably one of the most sensible and responsible things we can do.

Helpful tools:

-Try this great free Pocket Urban Food Guide from the Wild Food School to get you started.

-Like that Garden app for smart phones can be downloaded to take pictures of flowers and plants and identify what it is that you can see. Download here.

-Podcast on foraging and permaculture Listen to the Founder of Edible Landscapes, Jo Homan on Shoreditch Radio

-The Scented Kitchen – Cooking with flowers recipes and how to bookMore info here.

Join the next Foraging Walk to have a go yourself and learn more about how to identify, collect and even prepare your own food.

By Maxine Clay


April 29, 2016

I’ve never forgotten the tense moments at school in History lesson when the teacher would cold call on me to recall an important date, or recite the intricacies of a moment of ‘significant importance’ in history. Despite wanting to have an answer and most preferably the ‘right’ one, I would freeze up, victim to my lack of attention. Out of panic, I’d just blurt out anything – promptly get laughed at – made to explain why I didn’t know the answer – and instructed to repeat it verbatim before getting thrown out of the classroom for not listening.

So when I was recently invited to attend an ‘Eat and Learn’ evening on the Israel/Palestine conflict and told that there was ‘no preparation required,’ I was instantly catapulted back to those memories. But it didn’t take me long after I arrived to realize that this evening supported a different philosophy of learning completely. It was the first event of its kind, with the novel idea of creating a safe space to be entirely clueless about a given topic and provide an informal, comfortable vibe to develop knowledge and understanding. Everyone has brought along a dish and as the plates are passed around, we are each invited to explain why the subject’s of intrigue.

It’s comforting to find there’s a range of experiences and motivations. Hannah Prytherch, the host, has lived in the region for a year; others are graduates of International Relations or History; then there’s some of us who’ve only really engaged with Israeli/Palestinian affairs through the news – or a heated docudrama such as The Promise on TV. Amidst an initial freestyle discussion, we realize that our collective knowledge only scrapes the surface of this immensely complex and volatile issue. To help us to explore the conflict more deeply, there is Grazia who brings with her over seven years experience working for a Palestinian NGO in Ramallah and spoonfuls of patience for our questions, ideas and misconceptions.


Before we tuck in to a range of home-baked dishes, Kate Weiler (the organizer) gives us the chance to consider our own questions. This is a key part of the evening and allows us to clarify what it is that we would like to understand about the conflict for ourselves: to make it a personal and relevant issue. Some want specific details of things they’ve heard, others want to know what they can actually do about it: all input is welcomed and accepted. Grazia is incredibly knowledgeable and makes an impressive attempt to fit centuries of history into edible mouthfuls. The openness of the conversation means we have the chance to throw in further questions. Hannah seasons the historical references with stories from her first-hand experiences of affairs such as checkpoint crossings, (which are notoriously difficult for Europeans trying to enter Palestine) and her insights of the challenges for those living on either side of the conflict. This includes the story of her friend Abu Sakha, a Palestinian member of the state circus who was detained by the Israeli Military for unknown reasons last year and whose sentence continues indefinitely.

Kate Weiler (above) is a January 2015 Retreater and the Organizer of Eat and Learn.

By the time it’s dessert, we’ve been fed up with ample food for thought and inevitably a lot more questions than answers. Although I’m still not at the point of teaching the topic to others, I’m definitely more confident and informed as a result of attending. Mainly down to the level of ease and openness from the crowd and Kate’s laid back approach to facilitation. We end with a video of the Palestinian Spoken Word Poet and Activist Rafeef Ziadah who is campaigning for a boycott on Israeli products from the international community. The reality of the struggle for all parties who are suffering from the conflict really hits home at this point and we’re left with a powerful and thought-provoking comma in our thinking.

Do you have an appetite for learning? Be part of this great idea:


By Maxine Clay