‘We’re talking ‘bout real regeneration’, says east London council leader

Real regeneration is not about bricks and mortar, but hearts and minds, said east London council leader, Cllr Darren Rodwell this week.

Barking and Dagenham council’s leader was speaking at a topping out ceremony to mark a major milestone in the redevelopment of the Gascoigne Estate and the launch of Be First’s Social Value report, Reasons to be cheerful.

The report highlights how the organisation’s building programme has been designed to stimulate wider regeneration in the borough, including providing more jobs and educational opportunities for local people, boosting local supply chains and creating a more sustainable model of development.

Cllr Rodwell said: “Real regeneration is about using our investment to power the local economy in a way that gives local people better opportunities. It’s much more than bricks and mortar, it’s about winning hearts and minds.”

Cllr Rodwell was at the ceremony hosted by Wates Residential to top out the first of 201 homes in its part of the development along Abbey Road in Barking.

The redevelopment of the Gascoigne neighbourhood will eventually deliver over 2,200 new affordable homes, tree-lined streets and new parks.  The new Gascoigne will be among the greenest and sustainable neighbourhoods in London with new ‘green’ roofs, including solar panels over 1,800 cycle spaces, and will be powered by a local District Heat Network.

Since Be First was established in late 2017, it has pumped £39m into the local economy, boosting local businesses and supply chains, while delivering quality modern homes for the people of the borough.

And around one in five of Be First contractors’ employees are local people.

Jared Birch, Deputy Construction Director, at Be First, said: “Wates Residential has been superb in helping us redevelop the Gascoigne area into what will be one of London’s most affordable and liveable neighbourhoods. They share our ethos of making sure our regeneration benefits the borough, environmentally, socially and economically.”

Adrian Fennessy, Operations Director at Wates Residential said: “Working with Be First, Wates Residential has put people from Barking and Dagenham front and centre of this project to provide over 200 new homes. As an example, 487 local residents have worked on the site, and 37 of these have been new opportunities. We will also be providing over 20 work experience placements.

“This will go a long way to leaving a lasting legacy that will benefit the borough. And as we near completion, people and families, who all deserve a great place to live, will be moving into these apartments next year and calling them home.”

Memorial mosaic honours movie mogul’s hall

A mosaic of a former East London landmark which was damaged by bombing in the Second World War is set to be installed on the site where it stood this week.

The artwork depicts a former Wesleyan Chapel in East Street in Barking, which then became a new Central Hall in 1928 thanks to funding from British movie mogul and Methodist J. Arthur Rank.

Artist Tamara Froud will be creating the artwork at Short Blue Place, the site of the old hall, as part of Barking Heritage Project’s heritage trail – which is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and managed by Be First, Barking and Dagenham Council’s regeneration organisation.

Tamara said: “This is the first of a series of mosaics I will be creating to celebrate Barking’s rich history – hopefully people will be inspired and discover more about local heritage through the artwork.”

Simone Panayi, Be First Heritage Officer, who was born and bred in Barking, said: “The hall was a real landmark. It’s fantastic we are starting our heritage trail by resurrecting the memory of such an important historic building for the community on the site where it stood for so many years. It’s a comeback Rank Films would be proud of!”

The hall seated 1500 people and as well as worship it could be used as an entertainment venue, managed as part of the alcohol-free Temperance movement.

During World War Two War damage claims and salvaged furniture were dealt with at Central Hall.

It was hit by a V2 rocket in 1945 and partially destroyed.

The whole building was demolished after the war, around 1951.

East end students sample slice of London’s Hollywood

East London students enjoyed a taste of Hollywood this summer thanks to investment from the owners of London’s newest and largest film studios.

Barking and Dagenham College students Mohammad Hussain, 20, Demar Bellamy-Foster, 20, Carla Kelleher, 18, Afridjan Bracaj, 19, Jasmine Mustafa, 18, helped out film crews working on productions by Amazon, Apple and Netflix in the east London borough which is fast becoming known as London’s Hollywood.

Their placement with the media giants was the result of an education and training endowment fund set up by Hackman Capital Partners and The MBS Group (HCP-MBS) the new owners and operators of Eastbrook Studios in Dagenham and The Wharf Studios in Barking.

AJ Bracaj, 19, from Dagenham, said: “I had a really interesting experience working as a film marshal. This has been a great way to train for and enter the film and TV industry!”  

Carla Kelleher, aged 18 from Dagenham, said: “We had a great time on a new show for Apple TV. We worked for over a week and got paid! The production company seemed pleased with us and we also got the opportunity to work at the Tate when the production company filmed there.”

Mohammed Hussain, 20, from Ilford said: “We had a fantastic time at Warner Bros and were put up in a hotel for six weeks on a salary. Pretty good going for a summer job!”

Demar Bellamy-Foster, 20 from Ilford, who completed the work experience with classmate Mohammed Hussain, aged 20 from Ilford said: “We were super excited and we’re super proud to be a part of an experience like this!”

Councillor Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, who met the students this week, said: “I am so pleased these students enjoyed their taste of Hollywood – they’ve certainly had a summer to remember!

“But this is just the start of many great things for young people in the borough and it’s because progressive companies like HCP-MBS understand their responsibilities to the community.

“They realise, like us, that Barking and Dagenham becoming London’s Hollywood is not just about making movies, it’s also about inspiring young people and helping them realise their dreams.”

Lisa Dee, Head of Film LBBD, which coordinates film making in the borough and who helped place the students, said: “I am delighted the students had such a fabulous time working on the productions and I am very grateful to Apple, Netflix and Amazon for their time and generosity.

“The fantastic support from HCP-MBS has been phenomenal. They absolutely get why we want filming and studios here – it’s about benefiting the local community.”

Jason Turton, Chief Operating Officer, Barking & Dagenham College and East London Institute of Technology, said: “There really isn’t a more exciting time for young people in east London to train for and enter the film and TV industry. With the new studios opening up locally and the amazing media facilities at the college, including the industry-standard Idris Elba Film Studio, there is no better time for them to choose to study media. Our close links with Film LBBD mean that our students get amazing real life work experience. It’s the perfect combination to get them into a great career.” 

David Harley, Head of Regeneration at Be First, which led the film studio site tender process, said: “Right from the start we said it’s no use building London’s largest studios if they don’t benefit the residents of Barking and Dagenham. It’s clear HCP-MBS is investing in hearts and minds as well as bricks and mortar.”

This week HCP received approval from Barking and Dagenham Council to an amendment to their planning permission.

Stephen Hursthouse, SVP for UK Studio Development at The MBS Group   said: “It was great to meet the students and congratulate them on their hard work and success. We are absolutely committed to ensure local people, and especially young people, benefit for having what will be London’s largest film studios on their doorstep.

“We look forward to delivering a world-class studio campus in the borough. Eastbrook Studios, and our wider HCP-MBS team, will continue to

to work together with the Council and Film LBBD to ensure we remain focused on diversity and inclusivity, while creating opportunities for local residents.”

Location Manager, Georgette Turner, who worked with the students and studied performing arts at the College twenty years ago, said: “The group of students I worked with this week were a great bunch and I wish them well in the future and hope to see them out there on set soon.” 

Tenants show off their stunning new homes

Councillor Saima Ashraf, the Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Community Leadership and Engagement, met two very happy Becontree Heath residents this week.

She popped in to visit Kyle Belshaw and Omolola Fashedemi who moved into recently built homes in Althorne Way in Dagenham to see how they were enjoying their new homes six months on. 

Both Kyle and Omolola’s homes were part of the development at Trinity South in Becontree Heath involving 170 homes built by Countryside, including 87 affordable homes for shared ownership and London Affordable Rent (equivalent to Council rents) for the Council’s housing arm, Reside.  The stunning new homes were let last year but Covid-19 restrictions prevented the councillors from visiting the properties until now.

Kyle said: “It was great to host Cllr Ashraf and it was so nice of her to pay a visit. I love my new home and it’s been a fantastic boost for me and my family.”

Omolola said: “It’s wonderful Saima paid a visit. My new home is lovely and I am sure I will enjoy many happy years here!”

Councillor Saima Ashraf said: “It was great to meet Kyle and Omolola at last, and I am so glad to see they have settled in so well.

“I can honestly say I was impressed with the quality of these new homes, which is so important, because these are the first of many hundreds of great new homes that Be First will be delivering for the Council over the next few years for local people at rents they can afford.”


On your bike!

No, not an insult but a programme or free activities to encourage cycling, and to mark cycle to work day. 

Now that the weather’s (a bit) better, we’re delighted to team up with Vandome Cycles and Barking and Dagenham Council to offer free bike checks and training, to children and adults, whether you’re an absolute beginner or an Olympic-inspired racer.

So, this might just be the time to dust off your old bike and get in the saddle.

Funmi Atolagbe, Travel Plan Coordinator at Be First, explains: “Cycling really helps to reduce congestion and in a flat borough like Barking and Dagenham, it’s a really practical way of getting around. It goes without saying that it’s healthy and good for the environment, but it’s also great fun”.

Be First planner, Anna Gibbs, took an improvers course, and said: “I definitely felt like I needed a refresher course to build my confidence to be able to cycle to the office. My training course from Richard at Vandome Cycles was brilliant and I highly recommend it to anyone whether you’re a beginning or want to improve your road skills.”

Vandome Cycling Instructor, Richard Jordan, said: “We teach people at any age and any ability and we offer all the equipment – helmets, bikes, anything you need if you haven’t got your own – and it’s all free.”

We are also working with the Greening the Fiddlers project to offer training and led rides to people that live or work in the Becontree Heath area.

Find out more about what we have to offer by following our series of videos or head straight to the cycling-in-the-borough website.

Big fun at pocket park launch

More than 150 people helped to celebrate the opening of Phoenix Park in the Gascoigne neighbourhood of Barking on Saturday.

The event featured a host of activities including table tennis, a children’s drawing competition and giant chess.

Local councillors, both Deputy Leaders, Cllr Dominic Twomey, Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Core Services and Cabinet Member for Community Engagement, Cllr Saima Ashraf, took part in the celebration which brought together community organisations from around the area.

Cllr Ashraf said: “It was such a great day and so good to see everyone having fun. The new Phoenix Park is fabulous but it’s no wonder because it’s been designed by the community, for the community and you can see they’ve put their heart and soul into it.”

Local resident and Gascoigne Residents’ Forum member, Kenneth Soko, said: “Having lived on the Gascoigne Estate for over 10 years and now being a member of the residents forum, I am sure my fellow members would agree with me that it is an honour to have been part of the co-design of Phoenix Park. I am thankful for Be First for engaging the community. This park is truly the people’s park.”

Sadia Ur-Rehman, Community Engagement Co-ordinator at Be First, said: “The amount of love and hard work put into making this park a great place has been breath-taking. Be First is proud to be a part of it but without the passion from local residents, the area would not have such a wonderful park.”

The park, which was built by Wates Residential, was 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. Access is via Abbey Road, Barking and the park is open 7am-9pm.



Riverside homes for working Londoners at an affordable price

Councillors at Barking and Dagenham approved an agreement with Weston Homes this week to buy 62 new homes on their Town Quay Wharf development along the River Roding.

The decision means once the development is complete, the council will get the homes for around £14.6mil and then offer them for rent at affordable prices to local people.

The council homes will be part of a wider development on the River Roding which is one of London’s most atmospheric but little-known waterside locations.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, said: “The River Roding is being transformed into one of the best places for waterside living in London. This new deal will give local people the opportunity to live in a fantastic development at genuinely affordable rates.”

Ed Skeates, Development Director at Be First said: “This decision is great investment for the council and local people. It means quality new homes at great rates in a superb setting.”

Bob Weston, Chairman & Chief Executive of Weston Homes says: “Weston Homes is delighted to have reached agreement to provide the affordable homes at Town Quay Wharf to Barking & Dagenham Council, these new Council homes will assist with the provision of much needed low-cost housing for local people. Town Quay Wharf will help to reconnect Barking town centre with the waterfront and create a vibrant new waterfront development with the apartments benefitting from a waterside and parkside setting.”

Bob Weston adds: “Weston Homes has established an excellent working relationship with Barking and Dagenham Council and Be First, its pioneering regeneration body, and this will be the company’s tenth residential development in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

“Town Quay Wharf and our neighbouring Abbey Quays scheme are providing the Borough with major inward investment and helping to revitalise the Barking waterfront, underlining Weston Homes role as one of the leading residential developers in the local area.”

Town Quay Wharf is a mixed-use development which will provide a total of 147 newly built one, two and three bedroom apartments, consisting of the 62 council homes and 85 private sale apartments, and 1,000 sqm of commercial space located in three new buildings designed around a public plaza overlooking the Mill Pond and River Roding.

The development is due to be completed in 2024/25 when the 62 new council homes will be handed over to the council.

To design the Town Quay Wharf development, Weston Homes worked closely with PRP Architects, heritage consultants Iceni, the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham and Be First, the Borough’s pioneering urban regeneration company.

The architecture is inspired by the adjacent mill and maritime buildings with pitched roofs with dormer balconies, industrial warehouse style brick facades in contrasting colours, floor-to-ceiling windows, generously sized balconies and colonnaded raised ground floors.

On the ground floor of the buildings there are food and beverage commercial units and workshops and artist’s studios, alongside entrance foyers for the apartments on the upper floors. Scheme is complete with parking bays and cycle storage.

Along the waterfront, immediately to the north of the new Town Quay Wharf development, is Abbey Quays by Weston Homes which will provide 1,089 new homes of mixed tenure alongside retail, commercial and leisure facilities.

Marks Gate students produce inspirational art

Pupils from Rose Lane Primary School were presented prizes by local councillors for their winning entries in an art competition run by Be First, Barking and Dagenham Council’s regeneration organisation.

Councillors Sade Bright and Simon Perry handed out the prizes to 11 children who took part in the Your Marks Gate competition inspired by the plants and wildlife that inhabits Padnall Lake and the Marks Gate area and also its wider history and heritage.

The competition ran for a month and included all year groups across the school.

Assistant Deputy Headteacher Lara Marsh said: “Participating in the ‘Your Marks Gate’ art competition has been a fantastic opportunity for our school. We launched the competition by dedicating a whole day to the study of the history of our local area and doing art workshops in connection with this. We were delighted with the take up from our students and, as a result of the enthusiasm about the launch day, we have introduced extra local history and geography study into our curriculum.

“At Rose Lane we are passionate about the creative arts and teach much of our wider curriculum through this medium, so the competition sat beautifully within this. It’s wonderful that our pupils have been able to use the creative arts to get in touch with their local cultural identity and be proud of their community.”

Sadia Ur-Rehman, Community Engagement Coordinator at Be First said: “It’s been wonderful working with Rose Lane Primary School and its community on this competition. We had such fantastic entries to the competition, our judges had a challenging time whittling it down to the winners! Well done to everyone involved.”

Up to three winners were chosen from each Key Stage, including Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): Nursery and Reception, Key Stage 1 (KS1): Year 1 and 2, Key Stage 2 (KS2): Year 3-6.

Be First is working with local arts organisation Studio 3 Arts and artist Elaine Tribley to incorporate all of the children’s entries into a final digital artwork that will be displayed on the hoardings for the Padnall Lake development site.

This will ensure that there is a legacy to the competition and give the children and school a sense of pride and achievement for the wonderful artworks produced for the competition.

You can see all the winning entries here.

Guinness world record holder raises awareness of modern-day slavery

A cycling Guinness World Record holder is set to visit Barking and Dagenham on his way to Wembley today (11 July).

Gordon Miller, who is leading a gruelling bike ride, The Premier League & Euro 2020 Cycling Tour, during Euro 2020, will visit Barking and Dagenham on his way to West Ham United’s London Stadium and finally Wembley.

Gordon is on his final London leg of an approximately 1,000-mile ride visiting 20 English Premier League football clubs to raise awareness of modern-day slavery and child trafficking in sport.

He will visit the east London borough, which was home to world cup winners Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Sir Alf Ramsey, to meet leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, and young cyclists from Barking and Dagenham Cycling Club (BDCC) who will join him on his short journey to The London Stadium.

Cllr Darren Rodwell said: “It’s great to welcome Gordon to our borough, which has produced so many great footballers. He is doing a fantastic job raising awareness about the scourge of modern slavery and we’re backing him all the way to ram this important message home.”

Gordon said: “It’s fitting that we’re visiting the home borough of several of our only previous major tournament winners on the day that England play in the Euro2020 final. The backing for Ride For Freedom from Be First and BDCC demonstrates their commitment to support our mission to raise awareness, educate and forge partnerships to end modern slavery.”

Russell Coe of BDCC said: “Hopefully in some small way Barking and Dagenham Cycling Club is contributing to rid us of this evil modern slavery trade.”

There are more than 40 million women, children and men worldwide in some form of slavery on any given day, according to the Global Slavery Index. The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) 2020 Report notes that “within Europe’s soccer industry alone, it is estimated there are 15,000 human trafficking victims each year”.

Pat Hayes, Managing Director of Be First, Barking and Dagenham Council’s regeneration organisation, which is backing Gordon’s bike ride, said: “Sadly the misery of human trafficking is all too prevalent in a number of industries , so we’re pleased to back Gordon’s effort to highlight this problem in sport, just as we do in the construction industry.”

Miller, the Ride For Freedom team leader and a human rights advocate, said: “Many of those trafficked in sport are youths. They are lured to Europe by promises of better lives and the opportunity of trials with professional football clubs that may lead to untold riches. It’s an under-reported crime that needs a light shining on it.”

The Premier League & Euro 2020 Cycling Tour will fund-raise to develop Freewheel by Ride For Freedom. Developed in partnership with, Unseen, the national charity that runs the Modern Slavery Helpline, Freewheel empowers survivors – women, children and men – of modern day slavery to cycle.

Miller set a Guinness World Record in October 2020 when he cycled 620.5 miles around England to spell the words “end modern slavery’. The verified challenge saw him become the title holder for “the largest GPS drawing by bicycle (individual)”.

Stunning new linear park opens

London’s Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, Shirley Rodrigues, and Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, officially opened the newly designed Ripple Greenway linear park on Thursday 24 June 2021.

The 1.3km park provides a beautiful new walking and cycling route for thousands of local people and a much-needed green space for residents.

The park links the existing community with Barking town centre and the fast-growing Barking Riverside area. This includes new housing, the new Riverside School campus and Barking Riverside Overground Station to be opened in 2022.

The Ripple Greenway now has natural “Play on the Way” features: wooden climbing logs; mini wooden bridges and a group swing. These are designed for children to have fun on their journey to school or when they are in the park.

There is an exercise equipment trail for anyone wanting to keep fit as well as picnic tables and benches. The smooth tarmac path is lined with oak benches which makes it easier to walk, wheel and cycle to work, school or just for fun.

This ambitious transformation of the Ripple Greenway was made possible with £440,000 from the Mayor of London’s Capital Green Grant and £350,000 provided by Barking and Dagenham regeneration experts Be First.

Councillor Syed Ghani, Cabinet Member for Public Realm at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham said:“I’m delighted to see that residents have designed such a beautiful, accessible art-trail, with play on the way, on this increasingly important green artery which connects the growing communities at Barking and Barking Riverside. I commend everyone involved for making it such a success.”

Local residents’ groups have been central to the design process which has given new life to this previously underused area that was overgrown and not easily accessible.

The following changes were popular among residents:
• Removal of spiked metal fencing
• Introduction a smooth tarmac path to make it easier to walk, wheel and cycle
• Addition of new oak benches
• Building natural play features for children to play on the way
• Lighting for personal safety which is sensitive to local wildlife
• New artwork commissions
• Planting hundreds of new trees and bulbs.