Listen to a Londoner Interview: James Sweetman

This is James. He kayaks to work sometimes (can you tell?). He also has a fabulously entrepreneurial spirit, co-owns Stickyboard – a virtual London community noticeboard site – with his brother and is on a search for 100 Great Things About London. When he asked me to contribute, I asked for an interview. We met at Sacred Cafe on Ganton Street where James bought me an Earl Grey tea entertained me with stories of man dates, a giant tunnel where kayakers dare not paddle and 1940’s swing dancing parties.


LLO:  Tell us about yourself. Are you originally from London? What do you do? Which area of the city is home? 
JS: I’m originally a Londoner, born and bred. Grew up in Ealing, went to university, did a little travel and came straight back. Me and my brother started a business together, which is a website called Stickyboard. It’s all about bringing a community together in the form of online noticeboards.

LLO: Any hobbies?
JS: I’m an active guy. I enjoy sports a lot. Kayaking! Ran the Paris Marathon recently. Unfortunately the London one is quite oversubscribed. I play a lot of lacrosse as well.

LLO: What’s the best thing about living in your postcode? 
JS: It’s W5. I’d say access to green spaces. There’s Ealing Common and Gunnersbury Park down the way. If you want to go a bit further, you can go down to Kew Bridge, Kew Gardens. When I’m training, it’s really nice to have a space to run around.

LLO: And where to do you work? 
JS: We work in King’s Cross at this amazing place called The Hub. It’s a start-up place for social businesses.

LLO: I’ve heard you kayak to work? Why did you start doing that? 
JS: I guess it’s because my brother and I were sat there after work drinking one day at a bar on the canal as you do. He’s the older one. It was a beautiful day. We were talking about getting on the tube, how awful it would be right then. I started saying it would be nice to go home along the canal. So it started out as a bit of a bet between me and him. One thing led to another.

LLO: Do you kayak to work every day? 
JS: (laughs) No, no…

LLO: How often? 
JS: It started last year when the weather was pretty solid up until October or November. It was a couple times a week then, but it turns out it’s really tiring!

LLO: What’s the journey like?
JS: I finish work, go down to the canal by the Guardian building, inflate the kayak, get in it, travel about four or five miles. Get off at Paddington and get on the train, 8 minutes to Ealing. It needs a bit of refining. It’s an inflatable kayak as well so it’s not streamlined. Maybe buy an actual kayak to start.

When I first got it, I wanted to get lots of miles under it. Sometimes I’d finish work on a Friday, go for drinks after work and I’d end up carrying the paddles and the kayak to the pub. Then stay with friends and figure out how to get to the canal from there. That’s really nice, when you have a long stretch of summer.

LLO: What do you see along the way?
JS: On my regular trip? I go through Little Venice. There’s a bit of a tunnel and then I go through Regents Park which is stunning. There’s a birdcage at the London Zoo which looks like it’s from Jurassic Park. One morning I went down. It was October, really misty and I went through the park hearing all of these bird calls. It felt like the jungle. Then there’s Camden Lock which is quite colourful with all the restaurants on the side. I have to carry the kayak around the locks and then a big stretch to King’s Cross with a huge tunnel at Angel before you can go on that side of the network. That is quite bad for kayaks. You’re not supposed to go down it.

LLO: What time do you have to wake up to kayak to work on time? 
JS: Fortunately since we own our own company I can go in at 10 and work late. I used to get up at 7:30 so not that bad. It became a bit like the gym. You’re nicely worn out by the time you arrive. Quite a few times I got rained on, turned up drenched. You feel life is against you then. You know what I mean? (laughs)

LLO: Where’s the best place to buy a kayak in London?
JS: Oh god, um, eBay! There’s lots of clubs where you can try it out if you want to. A lot of people in London own a kayak and want to sell it so eBay is actually quite useful.

LLO: Apart from the canal, where else is good for kayaking in London?
JS: There’s obviously the canal which extends across the entirely of London, all the way from Ealing, loops across the top and extends all the way to the other side in East London. There is a company that does kayaking on the Thames and quite a few little clubs dotted along the canal. There’s one up in Camden, one in Islington, Ealing, Brentford. So you can just dip in if you want to.

LLO: You have a website called 100 Great Things About London. I can think of more than 100 things. What happens when you get to 100? 
JS: We start at zero? No, we’d love to take the 100 articles written by people who live in London to share their favourite things and bring it all together with a map.  You could be anywhere in London and figure out where the best little places are nearby or you could map out a date or night out and link them together. I’d like people to become regular contributors. That’s the dream.

LLO: How many contributions do you have so far? 
JS: About 34 or 35. Each one has its own voice.

LLO: And of those, which are you most inclined to experience? 
JS: (laughs) There is one done by a friend of mine called The Man Date. It’s ridiculous.

LLO: What’s a man date?
JS: It’s a funny piece on going out with a guy friend. It’s because a bunch of guys and I had a day for close shaves at Trumpers, the classic male shaving place. Then we went to round the corner to Pitt Cue, a great place for ribs. It just happened that Six Nations was on so we watched that in a sports bar. It’s just a day for men. It’s ridiculous, a very jokey article.

LLO: So a full day of man-dating?
JS: I don’t think anyone can take that!

LLO: Do you have a woman date?
JS: Well this is where you come in. You can do the response.
LLO: Maybe I will!  

LLO: What’s your own favourite London discovery?
JS: It’s really hard to narrow it down. I’m a huge fan of the Lates at the museums. We went to one at the V&A the other day. Really good. These places stay open late and they have DJs or silent discos, dancing, drinking. You wander around the exhibits. When we went to the V&A one, you could paint your own pants. Creative things.

LLO: Any more favourites?
JS: Secret Cinema. Amazing. We went to Prometheus the other day which was astounding. Such a good time. Incredibly random but good. Then there’s the Blitz Parties and Prohibition Parties. They’re monthly parties, basically swing dancing. You dress up in 1940s clothes or war time clothes. An amazing night. Definitely worth checking out.

LLO: Tell us more about Stickyboards and what you’re planning to do with it.
JS: It’s using the concept of a village noticeboard, online, by borough. The idea is that people can come on and share news, events, services, bringing communities together. We’re working right now with Ealing Voluntary Service with an add-on so people can donate time, money and goods to support local actions. We’re piloting it in Ealing, then hoping to expand it across London.

LLO: Changing direction, we’re looking for a place to go for dinner and drinks tonight. Any recommendations?
JS: Get an early dinner, maybe Meat Liquor or Lobster & Burger. Then the Piano Bar on Kensington High Street. Saturdays are lively nights.  There’s a charming pianist who takes requests, does a bit of humour and you sit around the piano. There’s lots of drinks. It’s bustling. There’s also the Troubadour in Earl’s Court. Or Ronnie Scott’s. Soho Theatre always has lots of great comedy on for about £10-12. There’s the Toucan Bar right next to it that has the best Guinness in London. Probably more of a guy thing though.

LLO: Tell us about a Londoner you know who’s doing something interesting worth talking about. 
JS: There’s a great blogger called The Londoneer, a really nice guy who writes about London. There’s a Big Issue guy who works with us. What they do is amazing.

Thanks James!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

5 comments on “Listen to a Londoner Interview: James Sweetman

  1. That is so cool. In ottawa, Ontario we could do the same thing, so this is a fab idea!! The only problem is what would you do in the winer? lol

  2. Pingback: Number 36 of 100 Great Things About London | Little London Observationist

  3. Pingback: We Talk Business Profile – Stickyboard « wetalkbusiness – sharing business experience

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