History buffs take to the streets!

An interactive heritage trail is being launched this week on the streets of Barking.

The digital trail, which can be accessed on a smart phone using the pioneering Street Tag app, uses augmented reality technology to encourage people to tour the streets of Barking to discover its rich history and tell their own stories.

The app allows users to see images from the local archives, hear stories and read about Barking’s past at key sites such as the Abbey ruins, the Curfew Tower and Town Quay. Crucially, participants can also add their own photos, reminiscences and even poems, and the app rewards participants who walk and share the most.

The Barking Heritage Trail is the first stage of an ambitious new collaborative project – the Pen to Print Digital Storytelling Trail – which will be extended across the borough over the course of the year. The heritage element uses content developed by Barking’s heritage volunteers, with backing from Valence House archives, Be First and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Later stages will feature a host of other creative input, such as poetry, illustration, photography, podcasts and film reflecting the creative talent of the borough.

Councillor Saima Ashraf, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Community Leadership and Engagement, said: “You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy this exciting new heritage trail. The Street Tag app is really simple to use, so whether you’re on your way to work or just out walking the dog, you can find out more about Barking’s past and share your own stories at the same time!”

Simone Panayi, Be First’s Heritage Engagement Manager, said: “Our heritage volunteers worked with the local archives to research Barking’s key historical monuments, and then teamed up with Street Tag inventor, Seun Oshinaike, to bring their stories to life and available to all.

“Street Tag is fun to use and encourages people to walk and exercise more, providing information about interesting places to visit and engage, and offering points for getting involved”.

Lena Smith of Pen to Print, added: “The Barking Heritage Trail is the first element of the Pen to Print Digital Storytelling Trail that we plan to launch during this year. Focusing on the Becontree Estate in 2021, we’re asking local people to start sending us their stories, fact or fiction, about anywhere in Barking and Dagenham and in almost any format to add to the trails now. Details of how to do this are on our website.”

More information, including how to download the Street Tag app, is available here.

Big hearted pocket park

An east London pocket park co-designed by local residents is set to open in Barking next month.

The pop-up Phoenix Park will open on 1 June for residents of the Gascoigne neighbourhood which is currently being redeveloped.

The new pocket park is a result of a grassroots project involving Gascoigne Residents’ Forum, Be First, engagement specialist Urban Symbiotics, landscape architects Fabrik, and construction firm Wates Residential.

It has also been chosen to be part of this year’s London Festival of Architecture.

Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Councillor Darren Rodwell, said: “I understand Phoenix Park in Dublin is one of Europe’s largest. Well, Barking’s Phoenix Park maybe one of Europe’s smallest but it’s big on heart thanks to its fantastic community involvement.”

Peter Murray, Be First board member and New London Architecture curator said: “BeFirst is delivering lots of new homes for the borough but is also focusing on great spaces between the buildings that people can enjoy. This is a fantastic inclusive project which has produced a great pocket park at the heart of a pioneering redevelopment of the Gascoigne neighbourhood.”

Sadia Ur-Rehman, Community Engagement Coordinator at Be First said: “Residents were at the core of this collaborative creation. The park will be a great place for the community to enjoy this Summer.”

Ayesha Riaz of the Gascoigne Residents’ Forum said: “It was fabulous to work on the pocket park and especially now we’re coming out of lockdown as I met so many people from the forum I hadn’t met before. This is what this park is all about – bringing people together.”

Adrian Fennessy, Operations Director for Wates Residential said: “To us, construction is more than just building, it’s also a chance for us to positively impact the communities where we operate. As a contractor of Be First, it’s a pleasure for the Wates Residential team to work in collaboration with all the key partners and most importantly the Gascoigne Residents Forum to create this space, it has been an experience that Wates Residential and its supply chain have been proud to be part of.

“This park demonstrates great social value, right from the co-design, the hours that residents have volunteered and the donations of time and materials from the Wates supply chain, for example the storage unit, the gym tyres and much more.”

The park is designed around four themes identified by local residents; exercise, play, growing and contemplation. These are brought together at the heart through a stage, which can be used for gatherings, events, communal dining, games and more.

The park includes: a natural play area, a gym corner, a seating and stage area for a space to relax in, a garden area, a large feasting table and a growing plot.

As part of the park launch, there will also be an exciting programme of events including:
• An open exhibition with display boards available throughout all of June.
• An online panel discussion as part of the London Festival of Architecture, on 9 June from 6 to 7.30pm involving residents, Be First, Fabrik, Urban Symbiotics and Wates Residential.
• Phoenix Park Launch Festival on Saturday 26 June, 12 – 4pm – Gascoigne residents are invited to celebrate the new pop-up pocket park with an afternoon of family friendly fun for everyone.

See here to book or find out more.

Massive improvement in quality of life, say new tenants

Tenants of new council flats met with Councillor Cameron Geddes this week to show off their homes in Sugden Way in Barking.

Cllr Geddes, Cabinet member for Social Housing and Regeneration, said: “It’s great to meet Pam and Dan and see them settle into their new homes.

“I am very impressed with the quality of the homes and, because they were largely built offsite, we were able to house tenants such as Pam and Dan more quickly than we would have done if we used traditional build methods.”

Pam and her partner Dan and their two young boys, moved into their new three-bedroom home in the Spring from a two-bedroom flat in Barking.

Pam and Dan said: “We love our new home. Our old home was too small for us and the space we have now is great for us and our two boys. Our home is really well made. Moving here is a massive improvement in our quality of life.”

The 13 homes were built by Rollalong using modular technology from their factory in Dorset. They were delivered to the Barking site and finished under the management of Be First.

The homes include a one-bedroom flat, nine two-bedroom flats and three, three-bedroom flats.

Sam Parry, Construction Manager at Be First said: “We’re very pleased to see the tenants enjoying their new council home. The use of modular technology is proving crucial in our mission to build thousands of top-quality homes for local people at rents they can afford.”

Council consults on planning power to prevent poor quality development

Barking and Dagenham Council is inviting views on its proposal to seek extra planning powers to prevent poor quality development.

The new powers would give local residents and Council planners the right to scrutinise developers’ plans for additional floors on existing buildings in residential parts of the borough.

The Council hopes that the change to what are known as ‘permitted development rights’ will allow them to intervene when applicants seek to build low quality or unsightly additional storeys to existing buildings. It will also enable the Council to insist that the developer makes a contribution towards social infrastructure, such as schools or affordable housing.

The new powers are known as an Article 4 direction under the General Permitted Development Order. They would compel developers to use the standard planning route if they are considering this adding floors and allow planning staff, local residents and other stakeholders to consider the quality of any proposal in terms of design, infrastructure provision and affordable housing contributions.

Councillor Cameron Geddes, Barking and Dagenham Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Social Housing, said: “We’re determined to raise standards of development in the borough.

“We are therefore seeking these extra powers to make sure we don’t end up with any eyesores, and to insist developers make a contribution to the local community, from affordable housing to infrastructure improvements.”

The Council has posted formal notices and has invited the public to comment here.

The consultation ends on 21 June 2021 and, if it is positive, the council will publish a confirmation statement setting out its intention for the direction to come into force on 22 February 2022.