Georgina Gray: Bikram Highbury& Islington owner

2 Jul

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  How do you strike the right work-life balance? Close to Holloway tube is bustling Hornsey Street with its flats, gyms, medical centre, eateries and the lovely Sacred Café. Go a little further and you access Islington Household Reuse & Recycling Centre (aka the dump) – but the occasional waste lorry doesn’t seem to spoil the atmosphere. Bikram Highbury & Islington co-owner Georgina Gray explains why this bit of Holloway is the perfect location for a Bikram yoga studio.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Georgina Gray from Bikram Highbury & Islington speaks Polish, Russian, Spanish and English.

Georgina Gray from Bikram Highbury & Islington speaks Polish, Russian, Spanish and English.

“I’ve met so many incredible people since we opened Bikram Highbury & Islington,” says Georgina Gray in a chic blue business dress over coffee at the Sacred Café, which she dubs her “unofficial board room”. “People have been so welcoming. We all find it friendly whether we’re newcomers or born and bred here.”

Although Georgina, now 46, has lived in London for years. She moved here from Poland when she was 27, then spent a decade in demanding jobs for the BBC and several huge corporate media companies including Fox Kids (now Disney).

“When I came across Bikram yoga [yoga done in a humid room heated to 40C] I found it really helped me cope with the demands of my daily job,” she says. “The mental and emotional benefits were so powerful. I regained my sense of calm and peace. It meant I could deal with anything.”

She became such a fan of Bikram yoga that not long after marrying her Yorkshire-born husband Carl she ditched the corporate world, with its relentless travel, so the pair could settle in Bristol. “We set up the first hot yoga in the South West of England,” explains Georgina, proud that this business is still thriving on Bristol High Street.

Although the pair still love “beautiful” Bristol, they missed London terribly. “We didn’t have children and we liked going to the Barbican, independent cinemas, music and galleries,” explains Georgina. “For everything we wanted to do we had to travel to London and then stay on people’s sofas.” The obvious answer was to move back. So they did and now live in a tiny flat in Camden with a dream of one day moving to Islington where the pair opened their second Bikram studio a year ago.

 

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Places Georgina loves in Islington

  • The Farm Direct shop on Ronald’s Road was an amazing discovery. It’s where you can buy lovely lamb, organic cheeses, non-pasturised dairy and vegetables. You can see which farm it came from and see a picture of the people who made it. I eat a lot of soups and salads, but because I come from Eastern Europe so I believe there should be a nice warm soup on the table every day – and it’s an easy way to eat your seven types of fruit and veg.
  • Sacred Cafe on Hornsey Street is like our board room. Every fortnight at 8.30am there’s a community networking meeting at Ez and Moss, organised by Ruth at Rowan Arts.
  • I love walking up and down Holloway Road to discover new things. I like the antiques shop, the little bistro La Muse (119 Holloway Road) by Vagabond and Love For Flowers, the new flower shop run by a Spanish guy at 115 Holloway Road.
  • I go to Zebra (98 Highbury Park) to get my hair cut.
  • As Georgina lives with a real Mr Gray her choice of reading matter has to be probed… “I have 50 Shades of Grey on my shelf. I bought it because I saw everyone reading it, and I’m interested in the way women are portrayed in the media. But I haven’t read it yet!”

 

Georgina Gray: Thanks to Bikram yoga I meet so many amazing people every day - seeing 60 English people, men and women, in their little tops and pants sweating together really warms my heart! Once you reach a certain age and aren’t at school you don’t meet like-minded people. We organise drinks every first Thursday so people can chat. Our vision is to be the most loved business serving the local community, and to build partnerships with other local businesses.

Georgina Gray: Thanks to Bikram yoga I meet so many amazing people every day – seeing 60 English people, men and women, in their little tops and pants sweating together really warms my heart! Once you reach a certain age and aren’t at school you don’t meet like-minded people. We organise drinks every first Thursday so people can chat. Our vision is to be the most loved business serving the local community, and to build partnerships with other local businesses.”

“We wanted to open Bikram yoga in Islington because it is densely populated with young people. They need fitness to give them balance to their lifestyle,” says Georgina who tries to do Bikram three times a week, so knew there wasn’t much Bikram yoga on offer in the area.

She also wanted to play a bigger part in Islington’s community again. “In my early 30s I wanted to put some credit in my Karma bank so I volunteered at weekends at a detox place on City Road – that was around 1999, I’m not sure it’s there any more,” says Georgina.

Turned out that volunteering with the heroin users was more a friendship mission. “We’d go the swimming pool or have coffee – that’s how I got to know Upper Street. It was full of independent shops then, and there was Tinderbox – all the people I took to Tinderbox loved it. But by 2013 Upper Street was a different place. I talked to the antique sellers on Camden Passage and they were saying they were disappointed that big business was pushing the independents out.  We looked at Crouch End which has a great community, but it was difficult for transport links.”

Next choice, Holloway, ended up the winner.

“In many ways this is the perfect area,” says Georgina. “It’s rough on the edges but authentic: I never felt unsafe. But before we opened we talked to marketing consultants and everyone would say Holloway Road has such a bad reputation. Our personal feeling was very different. I think people have an attitude that is from 10-20 years ago and it needs to change.”

For a while Georgina planned to call their business Bikram Lower Holloway – “like the Lower East Side in Manhattan” but in the end the marketing advice won out hence Bikram Highbury & Islington.

“Going away from London to Bristol made us very conscious of what it means to give back to the community – we wanted a business that is not only about the profit. Bristol is very independent, and proud of it. That’s what we were looking for – and Holloway felt that way too. People have been very welcoming, friendly and supportive – they want us to do well.

Media dreams
You’d think Georgina and Carl would be fully stretched with two Bikram yoga studios but Georgina also hopes to launch a new women’s magazine. “It’s for the ambitious woman. Something has to be done about the way the media portrays women as nothing but the long leg, the fake tan, pneumatic breasts, Botox lips and long blonde hair,” she says fiercely. “Women contribute to politics, science and technology but do we read about this?”

Sadly we all know the answer to her question, but if Georgina’s plans go ahead we may be seeing a very different publication about women out next spring.

It’s a big juggling act running a studio that’s open seven days a week from 6am-11pm – with six reception staff and 15 freelance yoga teachers – at the same time as launching a magazine, but testament to Georgina’s own abilities to do Bikram yoga and keep her mind on project timetables. Go Georgina!

Bikram Highbury & Islington has classes from 6am-11pm seven days a week. The heat helps muscles stretch making it suitable for absolute beginners with no previous yoga experience, the unfit and for all ages including 60+.  To help tempt in new clients there is an introductory offer of £35 for 20 days, and there are lots of discounts for key workers –nurses, firemen and council workers – and for actors and artists.

Bikram Highbury & Islington, Studio 19, The Studios Islington, 8 Hornsey Street, London, N7 www.bikramhighburyandislington.com  tel: 020 7700 3363   info@bikramhighburyandislington.com

Islington Household Reuse & Recycling Centre opening times and info here.

==

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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