Your chance to shape the future of Barking and Dagenham

Be First wants to hear from Becontree Estate residents about their ideas, hopes and wishes for the future of the estate to help inform a new set of planning guidelines – known as a Design Code – that will preserve the character and heritage of the estate and decide the best way to ‘futureproof’ its homes.

The Becontree Estate Design Code will provide clarity to residents seeking to make changes to their home with the aim of simplifying the planning process. The Code will also inform the design of public spaces, such as parks, squares, and paths to ensure they are functional, accessible, and attractive for people using them.

The Becontree Estate, built a century ago, is a notable neighbourhood in Barking and Dagenham, made up of 29,000 homes and housing 40% of the borough’s population. It was developed with garden city principles in mind, providing affordable yet beautifully and imaginatively designed mixed tenure homes with gardens for residents.

Funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, works being brought forward will improve the energy efficiency of homes on the estate – reducing residents’ bills while enhancing the character of the Becontree Estate.

Amandeep Singh Kalra, Associate Director of Place & Design at Be First, said:

“We want to hear from Becontree Estate residents to ensure their ideas are incorporated into the Becontree Estate Design Code to help shape the future of this historic area.

“This programme will focus on retrofitting homes, promoting sustainable transport, and protecting and enhancing local wildlife habitats through improving the local landscape and, in turn, improving air quality across Becontree Estate. We look forward to hearing the suggestions and opinions of the residents”.

Residents are being asked to complete a two-part survey that will take 10 minutes to finish, and by completing both parts they will be entered into a prize draw to win a £100 Amazon voucher.

The survey is the latest in a range of community engagement efforts Be First has undertaken for Becontree Estate. The business has previously set up pop-up engagement stalls around Dagenham and has established the Becontree Design Forum with Becontree Estate residents that has conducted several workshops. In total over 200 people have been consulted and more than 500 insights have been recorded so far.

The survey is open from 13 February to 13 March. You can complete the survey here, and there will be printed copies of the survey available in Dagenham Library, as well as in several businesses on Dagenham Heathway.

Affordable, sustainably heated, new homes coming to Dagenham

Be First, the successful regeneration arm of Barking and Dagenham Council, and developer Hollybrook Limited, are bringing 149 new, sustainably heated, homes to the borough as they start work on a £36.5m development on a former office block site, located south of New Road in Dagenham.

The council-owned Transport House site, formerly home to Unite trade union, and the car park next to it, will now be transformed into brand new homes for residents, with undercroft parking also provided for the Premier Inn, next door.

These new flats will all be heated by air source heat pumps which mean they will be more efficient and cheaper to heat and reduce the development’s carbon footprint when the homes are in use. Air source heat pumps in a residential setting use up to 20% less CO2e than gas boilers and up to 70% less than electric systems.

To celebrate the start of building work on the ‘turnkey’ development, the Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell joined Daniel Brooks, Development Manager, from Be First and Kevin Parsons, Director of Hollybrook Ltd, on site.

The new development uses both public and private land to maximise housing delivery across the site. The ‘turnkey’ agreement means that once Hollybrook completes construction, the council will take ownership of 149 homes, consisting of one, two, three and four bed homes, with 31 at London Affordable rent, 47 at Affordable rent and 71 at private rent.

Daniel Brooks, Development Manager, Be First said:

“We are pleased to be starting work on this project with our partners at Hollybrook. This project supports our mission to deliver 50,000 new homes across the borough. Hollybrook will deliver the overall development scheme with Be First (on behalf of the council) managing the development process to completion.

“At Be First, we are creating places which everyone can be proud of and delivering homes that are sustainable, so we preserve our environment for future generations in Barking and Dagenham.”

Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, said:

“I’d like to thank our partners at Hollybrook for working with us to secure this site. This is an excellent example of how we are making the most of mixed-use land to deliver on our promises to provide much-needed high-quality, safe, well ventilated, and sustainably heated and affordable homes.”

Kevin Parsons, Director at Hollybrook, said:

“Hollybrook is very pleased to be embarking on another landmark housing project with Be First, following the great success of the recent Chequers Lane project nearby. This project has involved a complicated land assembly process which has taken over a year to conclude and which has only been possible thanks to close cooperation between Be First and Hollybrook working in partnership. “

The new homes, which will be bult using full Modern Methods of Construction, support Be First’s mission to deliver environmentally friendly homes that will be fit for residents and communities now and in future, as well as the council’s work towards reaching Net Zero.
This is the second collaboration between Be First and Hollybrook, having successfully delivered Chequers Lane development, last year in Dagenham.

Geoff Raw to become the new Managing Director at Be First, London

Following an extensive search that saw several impressive candidates, Be First, the regeneration arm of Barking and Dagenham Council, are delighted to announce that Geoff Raw will be joining Be First, in May, as the new Managing Director.

Geoff has been Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service for Brighton & Hove City Council, since 2015. He began his career with Brighton & Hove City Council in 2010 as Director of Environment, Development & Housing accountable for the commissioning and delivery of Housing, Regeneration, Planning & Building Control, Transport, Waste Management & Parks services. Previously Geoff has worked in various posts at a range of organisations including, the Mayor of London, the Housing Corporation, HM Treasury and the London Borough of Brent.

Lord Bob Kerslake, Chair of the Board, at Be First said: “Geoff is a highly experienced Chief Executive and brings significant skills, experience, strategic insight that will be critical to the next stage in Be First’s evolution. His passion and enthusiasm for place making was evident throughout this process and has been a central theme throughout his career. We believe Geoff will build on the success of Be First to date and help us to continue deliver on the significant opportunities within Barking and Dagenham and to accelerate regeneration in the borough, so that no-one is left behind.”

Geoff Raw said: “I am delighted to be taking up the role of Managing Director.  Place making, enabling economic opportunity, and developing housing to meet the needs and aspirations of diverse local communities are passions that have inspired me throughout my career.  I am very much looking forward to joining the Be First team which has a great reputation and delivery track record, as well as to working with a high calibre board and a strong, ambitious Council leadership to enable the borough to thrive.”

The role was previously occupied by Pat Hayes, who departed in October 2022, it is currently being temporarily filled by Acting MD, Kevin O’Brien.

Nine children from St Joseph’s and St Margaret’s Primary School in Barking take part in time capsule burial

A time capsule celebrating the past, present and future of the Curfew Tower in Barking has been buried by pupils from years one to six at St Joseph’s and St Margaret’s Primary Schools. As part of the project, children were asked to write experiences of Barking and imagine what it’s future might look like.

The Curfew Tower (formerly the Fire Bell Gate) is the only remaining gateway to Barking’s Saxon Abbey. It is a Grade II listed monument which was originally built in 1370. Its purpose was to remind people to put out all fires and lights before the nightly curfew – a practice which didn’t cease until 1900. Rich in history, the ‘Abbey Gate’ is the only gateway to Barking Abbey still standing, following its closure and demolition during Henry VIII’s reign.

As part of the landscaping works delivered by Be First (the council’s development and regeneration company) and contractors T Loughman & Co Ltd, the public realm around the tower will become an attractive and useful open space to the local community. While improving the current space, the works will also promote the local heritage too. A bronze model of Barking Abbey, with the Curfew Tower and traditional church path leading up to it will be installed, as well as up-lighting of the ancient tower.

To celebrate this, both St Joseph’s and St Margaret’s Primary School have been learning more about the Curfew Tower and its exciting heritage through a project which saw them bury a time capsule last Monday (30 January). All the children have produced written work and illustrations on Barking – its history and future. The burial took place on site, and to mark the occasion, the event was attended by the development team at Be First as well as pupils and teachers from both schools.

David Harley, deputy development director at Be First, said:

“Working with the two schools to move this project forward has been extremely rewarding. We’re proud to celebrate Barking and Dagenham’s history, carefully delivering works and improvements while retaining the areas heritage and character. It’s important the next generation learn more about the area they live in and can celebrate being part of this fantastic community”.

Joel Hartley, history lead and year two teacher at St Joseph’s Primary School said:

“This is exactly the kind of project we want to involve the children in. It’s a brilliant opportunity for them to connect with their local community and learn more about its history. It was a chance for them to express themselves and be creative too, by looking into the future and imagining what it could look like.

“We’d like to thank Be First for involving us in this project and inviting us to take part in the burial.”

The site will be open to the public in March this year. The children’s work has been placed in a stainless-steel time capsule which will be discovered at a later date. The project is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which also includes funding for the restoration of high street buildings.

Affordable homes coming to Marks Gate

Seventy new homes are coming to Marks Gate next year, as a housing block in the Padnall lake development nears completion. Delivered by Be First, the regeneration arm of Barking and Dagenham Council, the new block sits adjacent to the newly opened Padnall lake.

To celebrate the near completion, a topping out ceremony was held at the new block, called Newcombe House, with Mark Crane, Development Director at Be First, the Deputy Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Saima Ashraf and our contractors J. Murphy and Sons Ltd (Murphy).

Be First has a strong history of creating new, high-quality homes for people and communities in Barking and Dagenham, and through its work the borough has been named the most affordable for housing in London. At Padnall Lake, there will be 70 units in total, made up of 26 three-bedroom town houses and 44 flats one- and two- bedroom flats, all offered at affordable rent.

As part of the wider Padnall Lake development and its continued commitment to improving the borough for residents and communities, Be First has completely refurbished the area, breathing new life into the popular local lake in Chadwell Heath. The company improved the cleanliness of the lake, enhanced biodiversity, created new cycling and walking paths, delivered significant open space, and provided a new community space for residents.

Deputy Council Leader, Cllr Saima Ashraf said:

“It’s great to see more homes being built here by our partners at Be First and contractors at Murphy. We aren’t just building flats here, but family sized town houses too, so local families can stay local. We are delivering on our promises to build more affordable, safe housing for local people.”

Mark Crane, Director of Delivery, Be First said:

“This area of the borough has one of the highest levels of housing need and we are working with the Council to give priority to local people who want to live in the new homes. We are grateful to our partners Murphy, who have done such a good job building this development and tidying up Padnall Lake next door for residents to enjoy.

“At Be First, we are creating places which everyone can be proud of and are committed to creating a fairer borough and building opportunity for all.”

Miles Cobley, Specialist Business Managing Director, at Murphy, said:

“At Murphy our purpose is to improve life by delivering world-class infrastructure, and so we are particularly pleased to be delivering this project to provide high quality new homes for the benefit of the local community here in Marks Gate. We take great care to ensure that every project we undertake is executed to the highest standard, and this project is no exception. We are proud to be working alongside our valued client, Be First to bring this project to fruition.”

Work started in Aug 2021 and the proposed completion date is May 2024, with a move in date set for later that year.

The lake and the play area are all part of the Phase One project for Padnall Lake, which includes the flats, the houses, and a lot of investment into the lake and amenity spaces.

Be First secure £10.9m for major transformation of Dagenham Heathway

• Successful bid confirmed in second round of Government’s Levelling Up Fund

• Major development to rejuvenate Dagenham Heathway in consultation with local community

• Projects will deliver improved public realm, 316 new homes and protect 241 jobs

Be First, the council’s successful regeneration and development body, will push ahead with a groundbreaking scheme to reinvigorate Dagenham, after securing funding on behalf of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, through the Government’s highly competitive Levelling Up Fund.

The news comes hot on the heels of wider housing and improvement projects in the borough which has already seen significant investment through Be First with new homes and commercial opportunities including two film studios and the three markets of London – leading to Barking and Dagenham being known as “one of London’s biggest growth opportunities”.

The £10.9m funding will be used to breathe new life into the Heathway by replacing tired and dilapidated housing in Millard Terrace and creating 5000sqm of new commercial space alongside 316 new affordable homes and the creation of a new centre for Dagenham Heathway. The proposals will be developed in close consultation with residents, businesses and community organisations.

As part of plans to reduce carbon emissions and make the borough healthier and greener, there will also be a focus on new and improved pedestrian and cycle paths, with additional measures to improve and calm traffic in the area.

Cllr Darren Rodwell commented: “This is great news for Dagenham and the borough. The Heathway is long overdue a makeover. Be First’s successful bid will see it transformed with new shops, homes and a centre that will make it more of a destination for local shoppers. And it shows yet again we are delivering on our promises to provide much-needed high-quality, affordable homes. But truth be told, this is a drop in the ocean. We need far more government investment if levelling up is to be more than just a token gesture.”

Speaking as the funding was announced, Be First Managing Director Kevin O’Brien said: “We are delighted that the Government has recognised the strong case for investment in the Dagenham Heathway project, which was based on recommendations from the High Streets Task Force and has strong support locally.

“This latest project supports our mission to deliver 50,000 new homes across the borough and, more importantly, rejuvenate the local town centre for the people, businesses and local community – with plans to increase pedestrian walkways and make the borough more environmentally friendly.”

The grant will support the preliminary stages of bringing forward a future development at the Heathway; the project is still in its early stages. It will take some time for a redevelopment to come forward given the scale and the ongoing public engagement that will be central to this. The public realm works will be completed by 2025.

Wates Residential appointed to build 334 new mixed-tenure homes in Barking and Dagenham

Be First has appointed leading developer Wates Residential to create 334 new homes as part of the ongoing regeneration of the Gascoigne Estate. Construction will start in June 2023, with the homes due for completion by Q1 2026.

With a strong track record in delivering new, high-quality homes for people and communities in Barking and Dagenham, through its work Be First has seen the borough named the most affordable for housing in the capital. The latest phase of this major development will complement the award-winning regeneration of the eastern side of the Gascoigne Estate, where Be First is delivering 526 new flats.

In a testament to their collaborative and ongoing partnership, this will be the third project that Wates has undertaken for Be First in the Gascoigne area. The £142m Gascoigne East Phase B3 scheme will provide 277 apartments, 46 houses and 11 maisonettes as well as new public spaces connecting pedestrian and public transport links, centred around a Garden Square at the east of the site.

Be First places a strong emphasis on ensuring that local communities benefit as much as possible from the development and regeneration projects happening in the borough. Through the Gascoigne East Phase 3B project, Wates is planning 13 apprenticeships and a minimum of 40 placements for local people as part of £30m delivered in social value to the area.

The wider Gascoigne Estate will include tree-lined public spaces, a new 5,000 sqm park – Gascoigne Square – along with public art and stunning designs in a mixture of traditional and modern styles.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking & Dagenham Council, said:

“Despite the current economic climate our progress continues in the Gascoigne Neighbourhood, where we will continue to provide safe, warm, affordable housing for our residents. Once finished the new Gascoigne neighbourhood will be one of the greenest, most affordable neighbourhoods in town.

“This project is part of our wider commitment to build 50,000 new homes by 2037 across the borough. We look forward to seeing the development become reality and further increasing our supply of good quality housing for the people of Barking and Dagenham.”

Kevin O’Brien, Managing Director, Be First London, said:

“We’re passionate about delivering for Barking and Dagenham and making sure that the borough is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Wates shares our commitment and values and has demonstrated this on existing projects within the borough, which is why we are happy to be working with them on this latest phase of the Gascoigne Estate.”

Helen Bunch, Executive Managing Director, Wates Residential, says:

“Having recently successfully delivered 201 homes for people in Barking at Gascoigne West Phase 1 we are delighted to continue our commitment to deliver high quality homes to this community.

“We believe everyone deserves a great place to live, and key to this is the overarching economic, social and environmental benefit to local people and businesses that will be intrinsic to this project.”

Striding to school with Strider

WOW mascot encourages Barking & Dagenham pupils as they embark on healthy travel challenge

As we enter 2023, many people will be setting their New Year’s resolutions. For Barking & Dagenham school pupils, they’ll be encouraging their parents and carers to swap the car for the cycle, scooter or a walk – thanks to a recent school assembly visit by Strider, the WOW Walk to School Challenge mascot.

An initiative by Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, WOW encourages pupils and parents to take part in healthier school commutes by making it easier and safer for pupils and parents to ditch the car as part of their school commute.

Be First, the independent urban regeneration company wholly owned by Barking and Dagenham Council, is working with schools within the borough through the company’s Active Travel programme to get more school children involved in the WOW initiative.

Martin Nicholson, Headteacher at Grafton Primary School:
“Embarking on the WOW walk to school challenge has been fantastic for our pupils and our school. Walking, cycling, or scooting to school are great ways of helping our children feel happier and healthier. Our pupils are arriving to school more refreshed and ready to learn – there’s been a noticeable difference in their concentration levels.”

Cllr Elizabeth Kangethe, Cabinet Member for Educational Attainment & School Improvement at Barking & Dagenham Council, said:
“The WOW walk to school challenge is important on several levels for London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. From a student wellbeing perspective, it promotes mental and physical health. In terms of what it means for the borough, one in four cars on the road each morning in the UK is on the school run, so having fewer cars on the roads improves road safety around our schools, as well as reducing vehicle emissions in the area.

“We’re proud to work with Living Streets on WOW and to continue our school active travel programme to deliver a safer and healthier Barking and Dagenham.”

Stephen Edwards, CEO of Living Streets, said:
“It’s fantastic to join Grafton School pupils to celebrate the work they are doing to get more active on the journey to school.

“Our WOW schools typically see a 23 per cent increase in walk to school rates and a 30 per cent reduction in cars at the school gates, helping to reduce congestion, air pollution and childhood inactivity. It’s great to be working with the council to bring WOW and its benefits to more schools across the borough.”

Be First celebrate Barking’s Brilliant Homes for a Better Planet

Be First, is helping residents reduce energy bills by building eight, sustainable and affordable homes at Palomar Court in Gascoigne neighbourhood in Barking, east London, using Willmott Dixon’s innovative Collida housing solution.

To celebrate the topping out of Barking’s greenest housing block to date, Cllr Saima Ashraf, Deputy Leader of the Council, was joined by Oliver Lester, Operations Manager at Willmott Dixon, the contractors for the east side of the Gascoigne Neighbourhood, and staff from Be First, the urban regeneration arm of Barking and Dagenham Council.

All homes in the block are built to the leading international design standard ‘Passivhaus’, meaning that the properties deliver a high standard of comfort, health and energy efficiency. Crucially, Passivhaus design creates warmer homes that are cheaper to heat, helping residents reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions. Using modern methods of construction, the units were built off site and brought in meaning they were produced 50% faster and created less waste. The properties are also substantially better ventilated than older housing stock, greatly reducing the risk of damp and mould developing.

Cllr Saima Ashraf, Deputy Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council said: “This project is all about building homes that are future-proof to improve the lives of residents now and for generations to come.

“This is a significant step in our march towards Barking and Dagenham becoming the green centre of the capital and cementing our position as London’s largest builder of council homes. Once finished the new Gascoigne Estate will be home to the greenest, most affordable neighbourhood in town.”

In keeping with Be First’s commitment to prioritising community driven regeneration, four of the eight Passivhaus homes will be marketed at London Affordable Rent, and the remaining four homes will be rented at the cheaper Affordable Rent levels.

Oliver Lester, Operations Manager at Willmott Dixon said: “We’re delighted to be able to have the opportunity to work with Be First and Collida to deliver such highly sustainable and economical homes for the current and future residents of the Gascoigne neighbourhood. In line with our Now or Never sustainability strategy, these homes will be future-climate ready and optimise the health and wellbeing of the people living and working in them, for many years to come.”

Jared Birch, Deputy Director of Construction at Be First, said: “These homes are modern, high-quality, and affordable properties that will reduce residents’ energy consumption and improve their standard of living. It is exactly the type of property that we should be building in the context of the cost-of-living and energy crises and Be First will continue to deliver homes like these across Barking and Dagenham.

“We have conducted a rigorous design process, using energy efficient fabric to improve thermal efficiency and airtightness, as well as installing triple glazed windows to attain very high levels of insulation and protect residents from noise pollution.”

The new homes add to the 526 homes already being delivered by Be First on the eastern side of the Gascoigne neighbourhood.

A cleaner, greener Padnall Lake re-opens in Chadwell Heath

Padnall Lake, the popular local lake in Chadwell Heath, which runs next to the Mark’s Gate neighbourhood, alongside the A12, officially re-opened to the public this week after a major refurbishment, delivered by Be First, the regeneration arm of Barking and Dagenham Council.

Although popular with residents, the lake had suffered from a lack of maintenance which had resulted in overgrown vegetation, uneven footpaths and had led to anti-social behaviour such as graffiti, litter and household appliances being dumped in the lake.

Be First has now completely refurbished this area as part of the Padnall Lake development. Beginning with a community consultation to understand what residents wanted from the space, they then worked with their contractors, J Murphy & Sons and architects HTA Design to bring that vision to life.

The priorities for Padnall Lake which were listened to and delivered, include:
• Enhancing and connecting local biodiversity
• Improvements to the cleanliness and quality of Padnall Lake
• A safer approach to the central underpass
• Good quality open space with opportunities for play
• Cycle and pedestrian routes
• Community space for local residents

Opening the event alongside Cllr Darren Rodwell, the Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, were local Councillor’s Simon Perry and Michael Pongo and Councillor Faruk Choudhury, the local Mayor.

Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, said:

“It was great to see so many people turn up to see the lake officially open. The changes were much needed – having spent time in the area when I was younger, I can say this is a huge improvement and we’ve created a much more pleasant, safer, and enjoyable place for people to visit and spend time around.

“The lake, along with the wider Padnall Lake housing development, currently being built by Be First and our contractor J Murphy and Sons, has already created 57 new full-time jobs and two apprenticeships. This new housing development aims to build up to 260 high-quality, affordable council-owned homes.

“Working with Be First, we are improving local areas by creating jobs, building much needed housing and improving community spaces.”

Paul Hart, Contract Manager at J Murphy and Sons said:

“Construction work began in autumn 2021. Overgrown trees and vegetation were cut back, the banks of the lake were reinstated and repaired, we planted an array of new vegetation, improved footpaths, added picnic benches and a new dipping platform for the lake, installed litter bins,

“We’ve also put in bird houses and wildfowl fencing, Special plants have also been added for the likes of Coots and Moorhens, both seen on the lake at our open day event.

“We’ve had great feedback from those who attended the event, who were pleased to see the improvements we’ve made.”

There was so much positive feedback from local people who attended the event. Natalie from Marks Gate Relief Project (MGRP) said:

“The lake looks so much better and I thought it was an absolutely brilliant day. It was good to see so many people, particularly elderly people who you wouldn’t normally see walking about the estate.”

Maribel Mantecon, Senior Associate at HTA Design said:

“Following extensive community engagement and a thorough design process, I am very happy to see the transformation that Padnall Lake has undertaken and how it has become a wonderful area for neighbours to enjoy to its full and biodiversity to flourish.”