CEO Blog: It’s a Thames Life

Thames Life is a charity working across the borough, though our focus is mostly on Thames View and Barking Riverside – hence the name. We started as a new Lottery funded project in 2017 based in Riverside School before becoming an independent charity in 2020, with resident trustees as our bosses.   

Thames View and Riverside can feel like a bit of an island. If you’ve ever experienced the congestion of the A13 you’ll know exactly why. Our charitable purpose is about ensuring there are public benefits to urban regeneration and nowhere has more need of it than Thames View and Barking Riverside. It is both the site of major housing development, with the population set to quadruple in the space of a few years and some of the highest rates of deprivation in London and the country.   

Our approach is simple – we believe in resident-led change. Regeneration will only work when residents lead it. Lead not follow. Talking to residents many believe they can’t change anything, that the council and developers will do what they want regardless. There’s no denying that there’s a lot of hype and a corresponding sense of fatalism and frustration. But there has to be something more to life than that – there’s a magic when residents and local groups take control and when partnership becomes real. 

When we first started we formed a Young Citizens Action Group, where pupils of Riverside School persuaded Transport for London to invest £1,000,000 into local buses. The same young people won the keys for a community garden (Barking Food Forest) having successfully negotiated with Barking Riverside Ltd, our partner, to hand over keys to the site, where local people can now grow their own food and help with the cultivation and upkeep of the site.   

More recently we’ve been working closely with the NHS delivering GP pop-ups in local community spaces ensuring residents can see a doctor whilst also engaging with a range of community services and activities. Waiting times being what they are this has been very popular. We’ve done similar events out of Barking Learning Centre for homeless residents.   

Our community and green spaces are under pressure and never more needed than coming out of a pandemic and cost of living crisis. We have been campaigning for the reopening of the Ripple Nature Reserve, closed since 2018 and much loved by residents. Likewise threatened loss of the maker space known as the warehouse on 47 Thames Road has galvanised action by local people and funders, asking the council to reconsider their commercial and community priorities. If we don’t have places to meet and be together the regeneration will make people more isolated, so we want free maker and community spaces as a basic right.    

We do a lot of sports activities, training, workshops, forums, social events that are open to all – see our website and our free newspaper – the RiverView. We’d love to hear from you if you have any ideas for projects and priorities or time to give. 

Deputy CEO Blog: What is community work and why is it important?

Working for a Community Development Trust like Thames Life it is important that my colleagues and I are clear on what community work is and why it is important. Indeed, to be as effective and impactful as we can be it is necessary for all those in the area we work to be clear on this too – residents, community groups, health partners, council and developer alike! It feels like there is still plenty of work to be done to reach a point where all involved appreciate what community work is, who is best placed to do it, and why it is crucial to a healthy and sustainable community. 

As a team we were reminded of this in a recent task we all were set internally to answer these questions for ourselves and then share with the team. Interestingly many of us in the team do not come from a purely community work background and so we bring lots of different approaches and viewpoints to the table.  

For me community work is about supporting residents and community groups by:  

  • Meeting, listening and forming trusting relationships over an extended period; 
  • Creating opportunities for them to come together with each other, develop relationships, support each other, learn new skills and explore new ideas and projects; 
  • Shifting attitudes to and aspirations around power among residents, the voluntary and community sector and wider partners (like health partners, council and developer) to a point where all recognise the power that the community possesses, and support residents and community groups to play a leading role in shaping their neighbourhood and the decisions made about it. 

I first joined Thames Life as a Community Organiser back in 2017 when we first launched as Thames Ward Community Project, operating out of Riverside School as our host organisation. I had spent some time before this volunteering at another community development trust in North London (shout out to The Selby Trust) where I had worked closely with staff there and gained some basic community organiser training (and later went on to gain further community organising qualifications from another Community Development Trust in South London – shout out High Trees). However, I felt I had limited experience in community work coming into the role outside of my 10+ years coaching basketball in my hometown of Milton Keynes. Up until that time I had been in academia both as a student and a postdoctoral researcher studying urban diversity. I enjoyed my time in research but for a long time had a nagging feeling that it just wasn’t quite the right fit for me for two main reasons.  

Firstly, I began to feel like research was always starting in the wrong place. I was always researching either what I (or more often a more senior researcher) wanted to research and when I would be out meeting people in the community, getting to know them, conducting participant observation, interviews or focus groups I would realise that what I was asking about was not necessarily the most pressing or important issue for those I was speaking to.  

Secondly, I felt like research always ended in the wrong place. By this I mean that the outputs or results of my work were often destined for reports, journal articles or books which the people I had spoken to would never read and would ultimately leave me feeling a lack of real connection to or impact on the lives of the people I had met and come to care about. I wasn’t as motivated as others by the desire to get my work published because it didn’t feel like a substantive end goal for me.  

In shifting away from academia I wanted to find a way to feel like I was making more of a difference (cliche I know) and community work, specifically community organising, spoke to me at that moment. I had enjoyed meeting residents, young people, community groups and social businesses as part of my research and it was at this more local level that I felt I could make more of a positive impact and gain more job satisfaction. By its nature community organising starts in the right place for me because it begins with listening to the community and understanding what they care about, why they care about it and what change they want to see. Having established that understanding of ‘the world as it should be’ in the minds of local people and groups it is all about helping them to achieve that change by building capacity and relationships. In my experience local people and community groups are best placed to identify the priorities for their neighbourhoods and often best placed to identify and deliver the solutions too, or at least can add significant value when supported to work in meaningful partnership with wider stakeholders. 

In short, the future I am working towards for residents and community groups locally is one where they all recognise themselves, and are recognised by other decision-makers locally, as leaders with the potential to positively shape the future of their community. That feels important to me and it is what drives me to do the work that I do. 

Jamie Kesten

Deputy CEO

CEO Blog: JFDI – just do it. 

“Start doing the things you think should be done. 

Start being what you think society should become. 

Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. 

Do you believe in the truth? Then tell it. 

Do you believe in an open society? 

Then act in the open. 

Do you then believe in a decent and humane society? 

Then behave decently and humanely.


Adam Michnik, Polish historian, affiliated with the Solidarność Movement 


Simples, as the meerkat on the tele says. A friend of mine who was a teacher and then trained to be a vicar told me, over a pint, that human beings have eye disease. That we don’t see each other right, because if we did there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding. We’d have appreciation, awareness and our full attention on the miracle in front of us. We’d have trust, connection and belonging. I keep forgetting that I’ve forgotten that most times. It was over a pint after all, and pub talk is unreliable; we are all unreliable narrators of our own stories. 

On Friday afternoons I teach at London Metropolitan University to first-year students on the principles and practice of community work. I find it useful to have a side hustle because over the years I’ve been through enough redundancies, precautionary notices of redundancy and people trying to get me fired.  I love community work and I love teaching, so it is all good. 

Friday afternoons my students tell me how pessimistic they are about the future. I worked it out a long time ago that the trick was for me to do less talking and ask them the questions and get them to do the talking instead. They tell me things are getting worse. They ask me if I think community work changes anything. They ask me what I’ve got to say about that. I don’t rush to give an answer…   

When people believe they have nothing and are losing whatever hope they may have had, this is a very creative moment. How many times have I spoken to people in Thames View and Riverside who have told me it is a waste of time, there is nothing to be done, they won’t listen, they never do, they are just in it for themselves and so on? To agree would be another nail in the coffin. I don’t agree. I don’t rush to give an answer…. 

I like it when a conversation deepens. We change the world one conversation at a time. By unmasking reality. Asking questions. Why this? Why that? What happens if we do this? Speaking a true word. Generating new possibilities. I say this to say, action is always done based on prior reflection. We can’t not be in relationship with each other and with our world. We can’t not reflect on what is going on inside us and around us. What we believe and perceive becomes our reality and our destiny. How we see things becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – hence the comment about eye disease and not seeing each other right I guess. 

Archbishop Romero of El Salvador was assassinated for saying this sort of thing. He believed in accompaniment and spoke out against injustice. Accompaniment is journeying with people, not trying to fix them. It is about leadership from the bottom up. If we walk with each other rather than run on ahead, that dismantles oppression.   

Darren McGarvey, the Scottish rapper and author, has asked the question, ‘if all the best people are in all the top jobs why is Britain such a f****** bin fire?’ His answer is because of an empathy gap – what he calls the social distance between us, referring to both the pandemic and classism. We don’t walk alongside each other, we don’t share our lives, we don’t listen with all of our senses.      

I don’t want to tell anyone they are wrong for feeling what they are feeling. And I also don’t want to empower negativity in any of its many forms. I know, as surely we all must, that nothing comes from nothing. That if you don’t act you will be acted upon. It is very human to emote and be drawn to bouts of optimism or pessimism. Listen to enough daily news and it is hard not to be triggered by trama, the drama of trauma. But I think optimism and pessimism are two sides of the same coin – they are in a co-dependent relationship. How about some pragmatism – do what is in front of you. Just be it and do it. And if you fall short, then we are all in good company, that is no failure. Respect to Adam Michnik, whose words I started with.   


Matt Scott


Deputy CEO Blog: Reflecting On The New Free GP Drop-In Clinics

On the 12th May I had the pleasure of supporting the first of a series of Free GP Drop-In Clinics taking place across the coming six months and the experience really stuck with me. I’ve worked in the area since 2017 and pretty much since then have been aware of how much of a struggle it is for residents to get to see their local GP. I knew the basics, lots of new homes being built, a new health centre on the way, but in the mean-time long waits for residents in an area with particularly acute health needs in many cases. I also knew from the early days of working in the area how easily the connection between the housing growth and the already stretched health care facilities could lead to divisive sentiment between long-established and new residents.  

When we were first established as Thames Ward Community Project a big part of our mandate was to ensure that the community didn’t become (or remain, depending on your perspective) divided, rather that residents of all parts of what was at that time Thames ward, would interact positively with each other as part of one community with equally positive life chances. The challenges residents were facing then, and are still facing now, in seeing their GP were not the fault of the new residents moving into the area as it grew, any more than it was the fault of the residents who’d lived in the area all their lives. In fact, the difficulty in seeing the local GP was (and still is) experienced by all residents in the same way. I’d been in a few meetings with representatives of the local council, developer and health partners and seen a genuine desire to find a resolution, or at least some sort of remedy, from all parties but until recently none had seemed to make much of a dent in the issue. 

I came into the loop relatively late on this new initiative in partnership with the council and the local health centre (with funding provided by Barking Riverside Limited) as the work of Thames Life has been via our Health Outreach Officer Lucy Lee and CEO Matt Scott. But, what I wanted to do here was focus on my reflections from the first drop-in on the 12th May and what future Drop-In’s could mean for residents and Thames Life as an organisation.   

Due to covid it’s been quite a while since Thames Life (and I) have been involved in a large community event like the one that took place on 12th May. It was great to be in-person, meeting so many residents – in many cases new residents I’d never met before – and knowing that the event I was involved with was making a real difference to their lives in a very immediate and real way. I witnessed a real-time change from so many of the residents I met from feelings I interpreted as uncertainty, scepticism and distrust when they arrived, turn into relief, reassurance and gratitude. We heard from residents who said it had been years since they had seen their doctor, from those who had been putting things off for a while because they knew how difficult it could be to get an appointment, and from those who were raving about the positive experiences they’d had with some of the extended services present on the day, such as the hand and shoulder massage, talking therapies, blood pressure checks and cost of living advice. We heard lots of praise of the experience of being able to see a doctor within 20 mins or so without an appointment, where they would otherwise have had to wait months. We also noted lots of compliments on the overall vibe of the event feeling very different to a typical visit to the GP, with lots of community groups present to speak to those who could benefit from their services e.g. local faith groups, parent and youth groups, arts, health, wellbeing and bereavement groups too.  

All in all, it was amazing to play a small part in making the day a success and see the positive impact it had on so many residents. Knowing that I’m part of one of the organisations which made this initiative possible fills me with an enormous sense of pride and a significant amount of the recognition and respect for the results so far (and to come) go to our fabulous Health Outreach Officer (and local resident) Lucy Lee for making so much of this possible and ensuring each event runs smoothly. 

The next FREE Drop-In Clinic is happening monthly on Friday 9th June, and monthly thereafter on Friday 14th July, Friday 11th August, Friday 8th September and Friday 13th October. We have been out as a team leafletting at the local schools and left information at all local community venues and will do so just before each of the next clinics to ensure that residents know when the next one is.  

We encourage anyone interested to come along and see for themselves! 

Artivism & Live Music In The Area

Artivism is the intersection of art and activism, harnesses the critical imagination to design events and strategies that provoke new questions and new meaning in pursuit of more respectful ways of being”.  

Spring is here, maybe even early summer and Arts & Culture in Thames View and Riverside are set to come alive in our shared spaces. This is the spring of the imagination, you could see it as part of nature’s call to spring into action.  

SAVE THE DATE: 27th May | The Warehouse, 47 Thames Road.

 A number of artists are coming together to spark the imagination. Arts and culture are the building blocks of civilisation, and we are coming together with performing artists and musicians for performances to entertain and empower the community. Look out for the artists we are working with below very soon. 


Has been representing Latin music and the Latin community throughout London for the last four years. She has been using her talent in Argentina, taken part in a reality TV show in Honduras and studied Sound Engineering in Denmark. Ana mixes her styles in sound, and performs in community settings, Hip Hop circles and in Latino events. 

Her talent as a singer, songwriter and producer includes engaging in community integration between Hispanic and Latin communities with other protected groups. She also focuses her arts and work on the wellbeing of women and uplifting their struggles with creative expression workshops. We are keen to work with Ana’s critical input in empowering women’s voices with song writing and performances and hope she will deliver the practical elements of her learning to residents on Thames View and Riverside. 

Being one of the first female producers from Honduras, she has been challenging the rhetoric of inappropriate imagery and content from Latin music such as reggaeton and using an empowering and uplifting energy. In Thames View and Barking Riverside, we need to get our music and arts off to a strong start. Ana’s work displays strong feminist values. In an area where there is a lot of income deprivation and less community empowerment, Ana is due to trailblaze a voice to the locals that demonstrates what the socially uplifting music and arts we need in the area.   


UKON are a steel band collective who have been serving communities for a number of years, including performances at Barking Carnival, Notting Hill Carnival and various festivals across the UK. They have a library of Calypso, Soca and cover rhythms to inspire audiences. UKON, have been working towards delivering workshops in Barking and Dagenham, most recently at John Smith House.  

UKON have been delivering workshops in local communities in improvisation skills, the history of steel pans and confidence with team working skills. They build fun rhythms locally and nationally to get people ready for the uniqueness of African and Caribbean culture at Carnival every year and do bespoke events and learning sessions with local residents.  

Thames Life hopes to see the UKON Steel band work more regularly with residents in Thames Ward and Riverside to get residents together and celebrate cultural unity, bringing a sense of connection to the area with live music from the ground up.  


Starting his career in Breakdance in Italy, Emanuel was ‘getting down’ for a number of years battling and dancing across a lot of international competitions and dance cyphers. He decided to move into a DJing career, spinning soul and funk to audiences across Europe and with a residency in Brixton Hootananny with Floor Rippers, a hustle and Breaking event with live musicians and house band. For the last ten years, Emmanuel has moved his career onto drumming and has been teaching with Harrow Arts Centre and gigging every weekend in freestyle music sessions, pub band nights and weddings. 

EMC has taken up the drum kits and has been empowering local communities, drumming at community events alone and with his full live band, the Each One Teach One (EOTO) band. EMC has been teaching drums to young people as an outlet for creative expression and is undertaking live music sessions in community spaces and with organisations across London that want to provide music lessons to young people who may not otherwise be able to afford them due to income inequity. EMC offers his drum skills for free in online tutorials and with EOTO, performs at EPIC Jam twice a year. 

EMC is a community advocate and is often offering his skills for free with a passion of bring live music to areas where is needed. Live music events do not take place as often as we would like in Thames View or Riverside wards, and we are looking forward to EMC playing at an event we have coming up, where we can spark the community into artivism to raise community voice and spirits. 


Sabaman has been performing as a Selecta and rapper specialising in Roots Reggae and Dancehall, performing in Rome and Bologna in Italy and in Birmingham, and London in the UK. He runs a monthly night with Unity Radio, showcasing multi-cultural talent from the world. He has a number of rap albums and runs a record label called RahStars based in South London. 

Sabaman has been delivering workshops at urban arts festival in rap and has been a social uplifting force in the London community, working with a number of grassroots groups to keep the spirit of reggae alive, including ensuring BAME groups take part in the social integration music without losing touch of its African and Caribbean roots.  

We hope Sabaman might be able to stimulate some energy in Thames Ward where grassroots organisers and people will be able to feel there is a way forward to get movements from the ground up in creating social change and positive upliftment. Sabaman intends to drop some roots reggae and provide a cultural and historical context to his work in the reggae, rap and dancehall world.  


Hailing from Bulgaria, Ivaylo started his career as a breaker and has been winning competitions worldwide. He now works as an architect in a central London office and has been DJing for five years in countries including Spain (EachOne TeachOne, Malaga), Italy (Strictly Underground) and the UK in areas such as Newcastle (Just Jam), London and Cambridge (House parties). Ivalyo plays funk and soul, which keep the party going and guests entertained with the uniqueness needed to bring forgotten vibes of a bygone era back to life. 

Ivaylo has been donating his skills as an architect for community groups that need his design support, time pending, and is happy to share his basic knowledge in design. He has completed a number of workshops in community settings such as Crystal Place Festival and in Peckham Levels delivering scratch workshops for young people.

We are hoping that Ivalyo will be able to share his skills on the turntables, in architecture and with Break Dancing with local residents in the area. For these creative arts to continue to inspire residents, they are easily accessible and a prime way to get into playing music with portable turntables, AutoCad, the freeware for architecture design and body movement to funk and soul.  

So please do put the 27th May in your diary and watch this space for more info to come!

Sports Day Celebration Event: Fun & Fitness For All Ages

To celebrate the extension of our London Marathon Community Trust Sports Programme, families, friends and neighbours of all ages from all around Thames View & Barking Riverside gathered together for a sports day event, filled with fun and fitness activities at The Warehouse on Thames Road.

The day started off with a taster session of Learning By Playing with Romarjo, which was a hit among the young children. The kids had a great time learning to perfect their balance and new skills in a fun and interactive way.

After the taster session, everyone took a break to refuel with some healthy snacks. There was a variety of food available, including fruits, sandwiches, wraps, quiche, and more. Thank you to the young resident Donell who manned the smoothie station and custom made the smoothies according to people’s preferences. They were delicious, healthy and a hit with everyone!

Next up was the traditional sports day games, which included the classic sack race and the favorite three-legged race.

Romarjio’s second taster session was Functional Movement which provided a calm and energising activity for all ages.

After a quick break, the fun and games continued with more activities such as Badminton and Table Tennis.

Fermin’s Zumba class was definitely a highlight, with everyone joining in to dance and have fun.
Towards the end of the event, two awards were given out to residents; Lucy and Elaine who had been the most consistent attendees of Yoga, Walking group, and Badminton. They received a Fitbit and a bouquet of flowers as a reward for their dedication to their fitness and our classes.

All adults who signed up to an activity on the day received gifts, such as a super absorbent sweat cloth in a Thames Life tote bag, whilst children were given backpacks with water bottles, and skipping ropes inside. Local resident & instructor Fermin was also recognized for having the highest number of attendees in her Zumba classes.

The day ended with everyone joining in for a massive game of musical statues. Nikhil who oversees Barking Food Forest also gave away strawberry plants to every family as a memento of the day.

The fitness stands where people could sign up for various fitness classes and activities proved very successful as many of the classes are already being booked up, plus we spoke to residents using our cost-of-living triage and look forward to supporting those who requested assistance.

A special thanks to everyone who attended, especially Zee for her amazing work with the children on the day & Councillor Josie for making the time to come and support. To all the staff members and volunteers involved in the process, particularly Lucy for hosting the event. Many thanks to Participatory City for allowing the use of The Warehouse, we will miss this amazing warehouse which is closing for good in June. 😔

Overall, the sports day event was a huge success and we so appreciate the amazing support from you, the incredible residents. Everyone had a great time, and Thame Life looks forward to planning many, many more fun events in the future.

Watch this space!


Sofia Osmani 

British Red Cross Placement


CEO Blog April 23: Feeding The Wolf

An old Cherokee Indian was teaching her granddaughter about life. 

She said, “A fight is going on inside me,” she told the young one, “a fight between two wolves. 

The Dark one is evil – it is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” She continued, “The Light Wolf is good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you granddaughter…and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.” 

The granddaughter ponders this for a moment and then asked, “Grandmother, which wolf will win? 

The old Cherokee smiled and simply said, “The one you feed“. 


You may have come across this story before. I like it because it always jolts me into the present and the importance of choices and perception, how we choose to see things and what we choose to do. It feels very human and also gives a sense of destiny. 

However, it is also a bit simplistic. Our lives and their interactions are messy. It is not always good wolf, bad wolf. Then I found out it doesn’t end there; that there’s another version of the story, where the old Cherokee replies: 


“If you feed them right, they both win.” 


If you focus on one but neglect the other, you get pushback. You get polarisation, not resolution.   


Plato – the guy who gave us Socrates and Socratic wisdom, had an analogy about the human soul as a mixture of three things: a charioteer and two horses: one white, one black. In the busyness of our lives, we are the charioteer getting pulled in different directions and the horses are the engine room, making things happen, representing the purity of reason (white horse) and the drives of instinct and desire (black horse), which are often in conflict. Key point: the charioteer is not in control. 

Simply stigmatising the black horse as bad won’t help the chariot ride, which is bumpy enough as it is. Bringing it back a bit, simply telling ourselves who is right (good wolf / white horse) and who is wrong (bad wolf / black horse) and regimenting rigid boundaries in our lives, might make superficial sense but doesn’t transform the situation. 

This idea comes up a lot.  The snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan has extended his career by being a lot more chilled. He attributes this to Steve Peters who wrote a book called The Chimp Paradox. The book is simple evolutionary biology. Metaphorically we have three ‘operating systems’ inside of us, parts of the brain and nervous system. We all start from the same place, as a chimp which is the uncontrolled, emotional child within us.  Secondly, we grow up and become rational adults, and from time to time, revert to being chimps, when stressed or under pressure, get triggered, so adults become infantile, angered, out of control. Thirdly behind all of this is an unconscious part that runs most of our activities. To live happier and more successful lives, we need to better manage our Chimp. 


According to Peters, the chimp is five times stronger than the rational adult. Once the chimp has control, you can’t fight it so you need a different strategy. Basically, the only thing that works is to enable your chimp to chill.  It is not a rational thing, it is more elemental. Being kind to oneself and others turns out to be a really good strategy on all levels. 

Socrates said he knew that he knew nothing. I’ve always found that reassuring. When I look closely at things around me they don’t make immediate sense. I’ve never trusted formal explanations of anything. It has to be about lived experience. 


For me, residents have lived experience in abundance and much of the decision-making and services are the wrong way round and back to front. They don’t work very well. They get snarled up. There is always a rational explanation for this – a white horse, a sensible adult – trying to manage things, drive the chariot etc.  So much for the rational explanation from our would-be decision-makers, community workers and service providers. When I look at strategic plans, systems theory, new public management etc. I invariably feel it is nonsense. I bounce off them. I don’t relate.   

What makes sense to me and what I do get – is people living their lives, creating their own meaning outside of the plans and structures others have for them. Our Thames Life vision is for residents to drive change. Drive change on their own terms. That is a big vision. Maybe it is also a simple thing because it is happening all around us all the time and we don’t even notice.   


As a community development trust and as a community worker it is easy to get sucked up into thinking one is fighting the good fight. Maybe that is delusional, just feeding a different wolf. Sometimes I throw shade and it comes right back at me. Life is lived forwards and understood backwards. In fact, we don’t understand anything, what we get is experience and an overview – an overstanding. 


One of the many things I love about community work is the focus on reflective learning. Reflecting on what is going on allows the opportunity to do differently and get different outcomes.  There is a lot of value in that. 



Matt Scott


Deputy CEO Blog: Barking Food Forest: Sowing seeds of change 

My work supporting the Barking Food Forest (BFF) project so far has been a real eye-opener. At times it has been really thrilling and a joy to be part of, at other times no fun at all and a real source of frustration at how long substantive progress can take. 

It is only as I write this that it is fully dawning on me that I have now been engaged in the plan to bring what we now lovingly refer to as ‘BFF’ to full fruition for over 4 years. It started with the Young Citizen Action Group (YCAG) at Riverside School gaining keys to the land next to their school in December 2019 after a year of hard-work and persistence. The YCAG were passionate about the need for more green spaces locally and eventually convinced Barking Riverside Ltd to give them the keys to the site to develop a community garden space. All was going well and the YCAG along with other groups of Riverside School students were able to meet with Nikhil Rathore, a local resident and permaculture expert, to start developing a shared vision for the site. Everyone was full of excitement and hope, and it felt like it would be all smooth sailing thereafter…  


Then, only a few months into 2020 and with plans being made to take the site forward, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and all our plans for in-person engagement were scuppered for what felt like forever – so deflating! However, with resilience being a key lesson from what was a challenging time for all of us, we persevered and eventually were able to run several online co-design sessions with residents in February 2021 which yielded some really positive feedback and steer from local residents. Once everyone emerged out of lockdown, we were able to share the results of these sessions with the Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy (NCIL) panel and were able to win a joint bid with our friends at Barking Reach Resident Association for £10,000 to develop the site. This and other funding pots like it from Barking & Dagenham Renew, London City Airport, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), the Greater London Authority (GLA) and more recently the London Marathon Charitable Trust, have supported some amazing work on site with residents from all walks of life able to enjoy time in the garden. We’ve had some real highlights on site, like the pumpkin parties, Diwali celebrations, Easter egg hunts, herbal and the GROW festival in partnership with Creative Barking & Dagenham last summer, which all highlighted the potential of the site as a space for arts and cultural events in the future. At the weekly sessions and at these bigger events and celebrations we have been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and support of local people for the site, a powerful reminder of why all the hard-work is so necessary and important.  


However, plans for bringing a bountiful food forest to life have proven far more challenging than we could ever have imagined. We have painstakingly sought to overcome a (seemingly endless) series of limitations and obstacles associated with developing a garden on a site with power cables underneath and rapid development going on all around it – at times it has felt like death by a thousand cuts! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought we were about to steam ahead only to fall down another rabbit hole that takes months to get out of. Thinking positively though, it really does feel like we’ve got it this time (dare I hope?) and have very recently shared amended plans with UKPN, BRL, LBBD and Partnership Learning which, once approved by all stakeholders, will then be submitted for planning permission and hopefully unlock the full potential of the site with a polytunnel, pond, pavilion and lots and lots more planting! As if that wasn’t enough P’s the most important one that we need to bring to the site is PEOPLE and we are keen to get more residents involved in BFF by attending weekly sessions which will be relaunching this month and playing an active role in shaping how it develops and is managed by residents long-term. We’re also hoping that approval of our plans will soon unlock some long-promised £££s (POUNDS) from Barking Riverside Ltd which have been years in the making and feel close enough to almost touch now. Fingers crossed! 


We/I wouldn’t have got this far without some invaluable support from many stakeholders along the way who must be acknowledged: 

  • Morgan Sindall Volker Fitzpatrick (MSVF), the company who built the new Barking Riverside Overground station, provided a scan of the site to help us know exactly where the cables are as well as some materials and labour. 
  • UK Power Networks (UKPN), who own the power cables underneath the site, have always done their best to accommodate the community vision for the site and are also keen to help facilitate the donation of materials and volunteer labour to put the plans into fruition. 
  • Every One Every Day have supported several making sessions and planter building workshops at BFF and committed to part-funding a polytunnel alongside local people. 
  • Make:Good will be delivering a pavilion that will be able to host get togethers, performances and harvest rainwater which has been co-designed by local students from Riverside School. As if that wasn’t enough they have provided invaluable support in the form of scaled plans for the site which we hope to, one day soon(ish), submit for planning permission. 
  • McLaren Construction Group have donated trees and offered labour further down the line. 
  • Groundwork have run horticulture training programmes with local people and built bench planters and tree-boxes on site and will be returning in the summer to do more.  
  • Partnership Learning, the academy trust behind Riverside Primary, Bridge and Secondary, have confirmed their intention to offer Thames Life a long-term lease on the site – making it a real sustainable community asset, PRICELESS! 

When I grow weary of all the hurdles and delays to getting this project off the ground, I just try to remind myself of the enthusiasm shown by residents so far and of the green haven it can offer residents who may not have their own gardens or who crave a pleasant space to interact and grow together with their neighbours. I’ll continue to persist until the job is done and I hope as many residents as possible get involved in any way they can! 


Jamie Kesten 

Deputy CEO, Thames Life 

CEO Blog March 23: How Much Is Enough?

It seems hard for people going through a rough time to see any way out. A lot of people in Barking & Dagenham are going through a hard time. According to the London Poverty Index Barking & Dagenham has the highest premature mortality rates of any London borough. Think about that. Barking & Dagenham has the highest rate of premature mortality anywhere in London. And think about it a third time.   


I am going to approach this dilemma in two ways. The first one is more palatable: it states that everyone can change their emotional and physical health by their own direct actions. Health, wellbeing and happiness are things you can achieve by working at it. There are seven proven ways: 

  • Devote time to family and friends 
  • Focus on and express gratitude for all you have 
  • Engage regularly in acts of kindness towards others 
  • Cultivate optimism as you ponder your future 
  • Savour life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment 
  • Exercise weekly or daily 
  • Try to find and commit to lifelong goals 

I think all these things are worthwhile. I try to live by them. Probably most people do. 

I find people relate more to personal stories, to individual actions and individual responsibilities; about how they feel, their core affect. We relate to friends, family, kindnesses, pleasures, the great outdoors. The things that inspire love, connection, belonging empower us – as individuals.   


What happens if it stops there? 

Individual empowerment is not the same as community empowerment. I am going to exaggerate to make a point. Using the metaphor of the film the Matrix, people live in a system of control they remain mostly unaware of.   

Individual empowerment is the blue pill sold to us by the matrix. Policy makers are pushing this pill as the answer to health inequality. The operation of this world is via the mind, through deep programming which appropriates everything. In the Matrix there is no personal, political or ideological perspective that is not rendered wholly false.  It allows illusion but no action. This is how social control works.  

Why it is that people in Barking & Dagenham die sooner than elsewhere?   

Is it an act of God, government or individual fecklessness?   

Who should we hold to account?   

Should we just hold ourselves to account and literally jog on? 

Why do people in Barking & Dagenham die at higher rates than elsewhere?   


To ask certain questions is to take the red pill. Critical questioning as opposed to naïve or magical bromides alters the perception of the matrix. 

We’ve got all this growth going on, more housing units, lots of cranes on the skyline, so how come more people in Barking & Dagenham die at higher rates than elsewhere? How can we have both growth and rising inequality at the same time? 

We know that poverty kills. Life expectancy for women in Kensington and Chelsea is 87.9 years.  Life expectancy for men in Barking & Dagenham is 77 years, the lowest for any London borough.    

Poverty is a consequence of political and economic decisions. It is not wholly accidental. It is structural and systemic. If everyone in London started doing the seven proven ways to manage their wellbeing which I started with, people in Barking & Dagenham would remain in last place because something else is going on. 


A lot of my conversations with voluntary sector colleagues and other people in this borough inevitably tend to go to a certain place. We talk about social problems like how come people die sooner here than elsewhere and what to do about it. How come there is suffering and inequality and what do we do about it? Then we get to put our ideas on the table.   

The health system talks about behaviour change. The preferred way of addressing these problems is not structural, they are about individual choices. It is not that your landlord needs to sort out the damp, you need to stop smoking and do yoga. The voluntary sector often talks about stronger relationships and the need to connect and collaborate. The council developer lobby promises inclusive growth where social inclusion flows from above and no resident is left behind. There are competing narratives, lots of storytelling, lots of ways to try to describe the reality of people dying sooner than they should, why that is and what to do about it. 


TS Eliot said that humankind cannot bear too much reality. People prefer stories. The blue pill please. There are plenty of PR agencies and consultancies to help make the pill go down. The only way I see things changing is if people tell their own authentic stories, take action largely on their own terms and demand change from within their communities.   

I am hoping everyone devotes time to family and friends, focuses on and express gratitude for what they have, engages regularly in acts of kindness, cultivates optimism, savours life’s pleasures, lives in the present moment, exercises regularly and commits to lifelong goals.  


There was a glitch in the matrix. Normal service is now resumed. 

Be well. Be happy.  


Matthew Scott


CEO Blog Feb 23: Reimaging Adult Social Care 

It is 2023 amidst an era of technological wonderment so why can’t I get through to someone to sort out my sister’s benefits?   

Thank you for waiting. Please continue to hold and we will answer your call as soon as possible. Alternatively to look for work or other services please access our website at 

The care home where she lives, in Northamptonshire told me she was running out of money. It was a business thing – the accounts department were triggered by a lack of money. 

I am an appointee.  I had to fill out a load of forms via the DWP. I kept asking the social workers what these words mean – appointee, power of attorney etc. Comes down to money and who oversees or decides. I didn’t get the impression they cared much beyond that. They talk to me in a detached dry way. Sometimes when I explain I don’t understand they warm up a bit but it is always someone different to speak to. 

I have a brother and a sister, both born with severe learning difficulties. I am the eldest. We didn’t have the more empowering words and language to describe disability in those days. The words were stigmatising and unkind. I don’t remember the brief time spent with social workers being any help.  They seemed fake. I didn’t trust them or anyone else really. I’d remind my six-year-old self to always trust their instincts.         

So now I am on hold trying to speak to the DWP to sort out my sister’s benefits. It took an hour and a half to get through on the last two occasions. They had to pass me on to another department who were going to follow up. I asked them to give me a time when they would call as I have a full-time job and wouldn’t be able to pick up on the off chance. They called twice, both times I was in the middle of meetings. Missed calls.  Now I have to sit on hold, foreseeably for 1-2 hours.   

Thank you for waiting.  Please continue to hold and we will answer your call as soon as possible.  Alternatively to look for work or other services please access our website at 

Cue answer phone music – repetitive snatches of some bland tune… 

I can’t afford to wait an hour and a half. I really can’t. I feel stress in my body as I wait for the moment someone picks up.   

When my sister got thrown out of her last care home she was moved a hundred plus miles away to another county and region and the bank accounts and money was supposed to follow. I wrote to the bank and they ignored the letters. Eventually, the social workers, when I got through to their helpline, pointed me to the DWP. They suggested I would have to go to the bank with my sister in person. The bank is near Swindon. I am in London. She is near Corby. Not going to happen in the near future. I spoke to the social worker and the care staff and asked for advice and support. They told me I had to call the DWP. I am calling them now to figure out what the next steps are. I have a feeling this is never going to end. 

Thank you for waiting.  Please continue to hold and we will answer your call as soon as possible.  Alternatively to look for work or other services please access our website at 

I asked the care team and the social workers how come this wasn’t picked up on in their reviews. I asked them what they were learning from all of this? Literally no response to that.   

I get that they are pressured. But I have lived with that professional coldness and silent superiority all my life. My parents are old now, my mum has Parkinsons. My Dad can’t really deal with things. They have what lots of working people have – a deep distrust and deference to people in authority. I never understood that, based on the evidence and experience they had. I find it sad when people are talked down to, even sadder when they invite it, too weary for anything else. 


Taking part in the Barking & Dagenham Reimagining Adult Social Care forum was instructive. I won’t comment further because the personal and professional dimensions make it a bit too real for me. 

People talk about living their best life. Being blessed. I feel that. I feel every day I get to do community work is a good day. What I took from some of what I’ve covered is that surviving comes before thriving. But surviving isn’t living. For me to live well, means being in deep relationships with others, on an equal footing. I have that in my life. I don’t quite know how that came about but I do. I am lucky indeed. Some of the partnership and work environments we inhabit fulfil that. Some don’t. Many of the times I feel I have gone wrong in my life is when I have not been sufficiently open or in the moment but it is hard to do that when: 

Thank you for waiting.  Please continue to hold and we will answer your call as soon as possible.  Alternatively to look for work or other services please access our website at  

Matthew Scott 

Thames Life CEO

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