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Celebrating Women’s Achievements at BD Women’s Empowerment Awards

On 25th March, Barking and Dagenham Council hosted its ninth Women’s Empowerment Awards ceremony, showcasing and celebrating the exceptional achievements of women and girls across the borough.

Congratulations to all the winners and our very own Lucy Lee, who was the runner-up of the “Health and Well-being Champion of the Year” award for her work improving access to medical care through GP drop-in clinics.

Lucy shared, “It was an emotional evening, full of women who had achieved success after overcoming great adversity.”

Inside Thames Life: Miruna’s work experience

My name is Miruna, and I am a Year 10 student that obtained the delightful opportunity to complete my compulsory work experience spanning over a week with Thames Life.

I would define Thames Life as a charity that prioritises the community; from arranging various community events, to publishing articles by and for the residents of Barking Riverside, and many more projects. This charity strives to bring locals together to widen their connections with their neighbours and to, simultaneously, work towards an improved experience of their local community.


My first day at Thames Life began with an introduction to the majority of the team, specifically Zainab (Communication and Outreach Officer), Lucy (Health Outreach Officer), and Jamie (Deputy CEO). I discovered various intriguing facts about their roles. Following meeting some team members, I had an opportunity to get an insight into the process behind “The River View” community newspaper, and what stages it goes through before ending up at my, and 6,000 other homes, in Barking Riversidem, Thames View and Scrattons Farm. Learning about the process of managing the newspaper helped me realise and get a grasp of the importance of partner relationships in, not just Thames Life, but rather in any workplace.

To finish the day off, Vish (the new Young Action Group leader) and I collaborated on planning the YAG session for the day; I was encouraged to contribute my ideas to build up the session, and later even to lead a portion of it by myself. From this experience, where my perspectives and opinions were taken into consideration and where I was challenged to be more independent, it was made clear to me that Thames Life is, in fact, a charity that is generally committed to collaborating with the youth; it is not just an unsupported claim made to gain them good publicity, it is a responsibility all the team members evidently hold to a high standard.


A highlight of my day was attending the Resident Planning Forum at 6pm, which is an event where locals can meet together to discuss issues in the borough, and formulate plans and contribute ideas to fix them.

This week specifically, attendees were enlightened about the lengthy history Barking & Dagenham holds as a borough, and how the place has many historical ties to various historical figures. Coming together with other residents, as a resident myself, it was really reassuring to see others sharing my frustration and the same will to make a change.


I got the opportunity to formally meet Matt, the CEO of Thames Life, who gave me an insight into what the charity strives to do and the impact they wish to have on the community. Matt introduced me to the concept of “people power”, a term used to describe when people in a community come together and join forces to work together and take control of situations in their area, at times becoming more powerful than organisations. This is relevant to this borough as, with the numerous amounts of new homes being constructed in Barking Riverside, and the disappointing lack of community spaces, Thames Life aim to bring residents together to combat these social issues with their various community events, which help people meet each other and are a productive way for residents to voice their concerns about their area and formulate solutions. Thames Life acknowledges there is a lack of people power in Barking & Dagenham, hence why they constantly work towards giving the community a voice against bigger organisations.

I also joined the Green-Up Group along with Vish for their weekly session, where we did litter picking in Thames View for approximately two hours, followed by an artist-lead art therapy session for the remaining hour, a relaxing addition to end the session.


Thursday marked the day of the highly anticipated, grand event, the “Free African and Caribbean Health and Wellbeing Event” led by Lucy.

With the packed schedule and short amount of time we had to get everything set up, I recognised the distinction of time management and adequate event planning to make preparing events more straightforward and less stressful.

At 2pm, the event commenced, with many organisations joining to provide various services, such as The Source offering food, Project Embrace offering hair care advice for afro hair, and local GP Dr John offering healthcare advice and free check-ups. The energy in the venue at the Barking Learning Centre was extremely pleasant, with hundreds of people in attendance, enjoying the various stalls, and meeting new people. The feedback for the event was overwhelmingly positive, with many stating in feedback forums how informative the session was, (specifically due to the GPs on site) how much time was cut off to see a GP, and how the atmosphere with music and food really completed the event.


Ade and I made our way to Barking Riverside, where we had a walk with Matt and two London Met students scheduled in the area. Through our walk, we encountered and passed through many areas facing rapid development and gentrification.

We had a really thoughtful discussion about the community and the development of Barking Riverside was had, we came to the conclusion that the construction plan is quite flawed due to the lack of emphasis on providing residents outlets for self-expression and safe spaces. Ultimately, with a rising population, but a lack of community spaces for people to come together, it could only cause more harm than good: for example, there could be an increased crime rate and more gang activity, as young people will have nowhere to discuss their issues, and therefore result to crime to express their frustrations. We saw a community space in our local area, Everyone’s Warehouse, which provided a multitude of tools for self-expression, including a designated clothing design space, a podcast room, a communal kitchen, and so much more. Unfortunately, as many may know, the Warehouse was taken away from the community, disregarding the £9 million investment to get the place up and running, and the outrage and protests the residents had when it was announced the Warehouse was being shut down. As someone who used to use the Warehouse prior to its closure, I remember how upsetting the whole debacle was, as I myself witnessed how that place brought people together, how it made many feel safe and comfortable, and how it is now going to be replaced for even more housing.  

This educational conversation we had with the London Met students was very informative, and a lovely last activity to finish off my placement.

I would especially like to thank Thames Life, for giving me this special opportunity to have my placement at their charity: in the span of just one week, I had learnt so much and faced so many new experiences. Working at Thames Life was a pleasant break from my ordinary school routine, just as much as it was work experience; working with the community and helping the community was very enjoyable overall. I am beyond grateful to all the team, for supervising me and guiding me throughout my journey at their charity.

-Miruna S

Deputy CEO blog: Time for a change

After spending the past 6+ years with Thames Life I am moving on to exciting new opportunities at the end of March. I’ve helped develop the organisation from its humble beginnings as ‘Thames Ward Community Project’ to its position as an influential Community Development Trust, helping to support residents and local groups do some amazing work over the years, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I have gained along the way.

Looking back there are several aspects of my work with Thames Life that I am particularly proud of:

  • Establishing the Young Citizen Action Group (YCAG) at Riverside School who have won countless campaigns and awards for their work improving their local community (more EL1 buses to help with congestion, more bins near their school and securing keys to Barking Food Forest, to name a few).
  • Activating Barking Food Forest, offering the community the space and opportunity to come together with each other and get involved with nature and food growing.
  • Supporting residents to run The RiverView newspaper in partnership with Barking Riverside Limited, helping residents connect and share information, experiences and stories and remain informed of events and developments locally.
  • Playing a leading role in sport for development work in the borough via the Barking Sports 4 Change (BS4C) coalition, working with other amazing local organisations to improve the health and physical activity of residents.
  • Empowering grassroots organisations and residents with projects to help their community thrive following Thames Life’s ethos that meaningful and sustainable change must be led by residents.

It is important to me to leave the community in a better place than I found it, and I believe the examples above highlight how I have done just that. It has been wonderful to meet and work with so many different local people (including Thames Life staff and trustees), each with their own talents and passions, diverse in so many ways and yet united by their desire to help improve their community. Something special is taking place in Thames View and Barking Riverside beyond the colossal housing development taking place and it is inspiring to see the journey residents and community groups are on.

Jamie Kesten

Deputy CEO

Everyone’s Warehouse is now Nobody’s Warehouse

Recent resident campaigns, protests, and cries to save a much-treasured community space has unfortunately not resulted in protecting any social infrastructure. The dire consequences of the closure of Everyone’s Warehouse and Participatory City Foundation’s reduction of operations in Barking and Dagenham, has just started to be felt. There was no opportunity to keep the space open, and the Friends of the Warehouse group was not successful in securing a meaningful handover to a resident group for community purposes. Assets from the Warehouse have been redistributed to residents and other voluntary sector organisations. Residents are still able to get involved with activities at the Barking Food Forest, The Whitehouse, Thames Life and in with small pockets of groups across Barking and Dagenham.

The Warehouse was the UK’s largest maker space. It was not as busy as was to be hoped. Located in the quiet Thames Road across the street from Barking’s very own designated Ripple Nature Reserve. Participatory City offered access to a community kitchen, garden, pottery oven, co-working space, and woodworking area. It had a usable event space for members, free to use. Groups that would frequent the space were gardeners, young people, makers, community cooks and community groups. Bringing these groups into one space now poses a great improbability.

Resident engagement in participatory spaces now appears to be at a minimum in the borough. Third spaces free at the point of access with potential to create community spirit and integration is now scarce. The cost-of-living crisis presents a real case for social isolation and communities coming together for a positive and common cause is now at risk. Recent announcements have been made in LBBD from developers about the potential of more new homes. The question then needs to be asked- where do people socialise when they move into their new homes? Who are the groups most affected from lack of community space?

I am concerned about the scale of housing development in the borough, and hope quite sincerely, that residents, community groups and voluntary sector organisations do not suffer the consequences of the lack of community spaces.

Vishal Narayan

Health Strategy Officer

Thames Life awarded £5K from Mayor’s Community Resilience Fund

We have great news! Thames Life has been awarded a grant of £5K under round two of the Mayor’s Community Resilience Fund. The Community Resilience Fund is part of  ongoing work to ensure London remains resilient and prepared for future challenges. 

We join a network of 22 community organisations partnering with their respective emergency planning teams to delivery emergency preparedness strategies as unique and  diverse as the needs of each of the participating London boroughs.

The funding supports community organisations to work together with their local authority emergency planning teams to best prepare for emergencies in their London boroughs. 

Thames Life as a member of BD Collective accepted to act as an interim convenor with the scope of establishing a Community Resilience Network. The project, the BD Community Resilience Network, is an extension of our work with the British Red Cross and will focus on enabling better connections, accountability and trust between social sector organisations, existing networks and statutory responders to improve the resilience of Barking and Dagenham in the face of emergencies.

The development of a tailored Community Resilience Network as part of BD Collective will allow for the development of a transparent and accountable network that will provide a link between the newly established Barking and Dagenham BRF and the broader voluntary and community sector in Barking and Dagenham.

The Community Resilience Network will work with other members of BD Collective and their existing networks to develop an understanding of existing capabilities and needs within the sector and together with the BRF develop plans to secure increased preparedness and understanding of risks. This will include: Increased community preparedness for emergencies, through joint planning, improved relationships between VCS and statutory agencies, and improved communications channels for responding to emergencies.


Inside Thames Life – Meet Vishal Narayan Our New Health Strategy Officer

Peace. My name is Vishal, and I am a part-time Strategic Health Lead at Thames Life. I also work part-time as a Research Fellow at the University of East London at the Institute of Connected Communities and I am co-director of Every Person is Capable C.I.C, a Hip Hop/ well-being NGO doing local and international work under the UNESCO Hip Hop Declaration of Peace. I am a Thames Ward/Riverside resident and Chair of the Ripple Nature Reserve Steering Group. And to top it all off, I am currently undertaking a PhD based on my work.
I am active in a range of civic engagement activities and have a passion for king fu-martial arts, Breakin’ (Breakdance), Emceein’ (rap) and supporting agency for residents in community matters and in the arts.
My work at Thames Life works within the localities of Gasgoine, Thames and Riverside Wards, and this is working towards helping residents with health outcomes and supporting with the cost-of-living crisis by working with the Primary Care Network (NHS) and BD Collective. This takes place in a variety of ways, including support with our free sports programmes, other resident engagement forums and support with research and social cohesion.
I am grateful to be part of a charity with a distinct passion to help resident activation in an area where there is much potential for people to come together and make the most of sharing culture, language, and arts in the spirit of social upliftment. Being an instrumental force in shaping the future of my home with people from the area is my greatest honour.
My sentiments follow that of Martin Luther King Jr. in his book titled Chaos or Community? It is my earnest hope I contribute to the latter.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Vish Narayan
Health Strategy Officer

CEO Blog Jan 2023 – Co-production and the Future of London 

I was asked to speak on a panel at a Future of London event at the end of last year. The subject was co-production in the built environment.

I am not feeling co-production.

I am not feeling the built environment.

As in, when I examine my thoughts and feelings on this subject, there is a blank. Given I have been asked to say something, that emptiness will have to change. 


The audience was largely council housing officers, planners and developers.  That’s the other thing – you have to know your audience and read the room if you want some kind of connection and enlivening dialogue and I do want that. 


The event organisers define the topic as: 

“Put simply, co-production means a relationship where professionals and citizens sharing power to plan and deliver schemes or services together, such as a successful estate regeneration. Co-production is one way to rethink how we engage with communities – and collaborate with them in a more meaningful way” 


My blankness is because I believe co-production is vacuous. A nothing word. Power is not shared. Schemes are not planned together. Engagement is not meaningful. At best it can refer to what we try to do all the time, so why make it something grander than it is? At worst it is a deception and a fraud, claiming to share and care and doing the opposite – a top-down diktat with a bit of PR wrapped around it. To be fair I did say that to the organisers beforehand, so they know what to expect.  


If I was to talk to someone on the EL1, 2 or 3 bus about how they’d like to co-produce something, with me, the council, the developer or the NHS, what do you think would happen? The word would mean nothing. Why use words that baffle people?  But, if I pushed on and did a bit of translation, I’d still get push back. Usually along the lines of ‘they are just going to do what they always do’. In policy terms, I am being told to eff off.   


How do we get to what is real? 


I listened to people in the room, I tried to open myself up to what they were saying. I tried to put myself in their shoes. The alternative being to run my own movies on them, going to places I’ve been before in my head and in my day-to-day work. 


The question I asked my statutory and private sector participants was: how safe do you feel in your job role, to take risks? Alongside that, how comfortable are you with conflict? 


Those questions apply to anyone I work with. I should say, risks and conflict can and maybe should be fun and creative.  It doesn’t have to be heavy. A lot of co-production and partnership working is boring, enervating and we should reframe it. It needs disrupting.   


Maybe the question I am asking is how does it feel to be you, in your role? Is it safe, can it be dynamic?   


The responses I got tended to immediately fix on the limits of what the senior managers and leaders of private and public sector housing and regeneration staff would allow them to do. We hit a limit very quickly. No, there are very definite things I can’t do.  No, they don’t allow me to do that. What I understood was that for most staff the need to manage their safety and their relationships internally was far more important than co-production with residents.   


The place to start is with what is real for people trying to do co-production. Then we can have a genuine conversation, and then we can take genuine action. 


If co-production is about shifting power. It does claim to be that after all.  How can you shift power for residents when you can’t empower yourself in your own workplace? If you can’t take risks, you keep having to look upwards to figure out what you are allowed or NOT allowed to do. At its starkest co-production is the authorised lie you have to publicly tell people because you fear for your job. And you fear your bosses more than you fear residents and the community.   


There is a difference between words and deeds.  There is a difference between strategy and culture. There is a difference between hype and reality. In the workplace there is a difference between what we think and what we say. And residents pick up on that dissonance and reject it in a heartbeat. 


That is why only 2% of the population trust developers and 12% of politicians generally. That is why two-thirds of people distrust local councillors and landlords of private housing. (Sources here & here)


If there is this distrust. It is not my distrust. Mori document this year on year in their veracity index, then what is the solution and the action? For me, it is to talk about it, make it visible and, as much as possible, be as open as you possibly can be in actions and words. That vulnerability and candour becomes contagious, in a good way. Co-production is about pretence. What does the opposite look like? Do that.   


The other thing a resident said at the event was, rather than trying to play at being developers, shouldn’t councils and housing associations, fulfil their duty of care obligations and just do housing management better, like getting repairs fixed on time and keeping people safe in their homes? Strip it down to the basics, that made a lot of sense.   


Matthew Scott 

Thames Life Director 


Hey all, I’m Lucy and I’ve been a resident of Thames View for 18 years. I’m a creative at heart with a passion for all things positive that bring people together. I love to sew, paint, dance and play computer games/design using virtual reality.  


I came across Thames Life back in 2018 when it was TWCP and I was introduced to Matt by a local group I was planning to create sewing workshops for. Fast forward 3 years and many sewing sessions later, I began working as a peer researcher with Barking Riverside Limited & The Young Foundation on a project named Thames Futures. Here we spoke with over 140 residents with the aim of ensuring the decision makers delivering the new development, respond to the priorities decided by the residents of Thames Ward.  


After listening to the many views of my neighbours, the itch to become more involved in my community became so much more intense. I joined a local litter picking group, Roding Rubbish, to help with the clean-up of our green spaces and then got involved with the resident-led Ripple Nature Reserve Reach-Out group, where I found myself back in contact with Thames Life, as they are a hugely valued asset of the group. From then on, I was encouraged by both Nia and Matt to go forth and prosper with my passion and opinions about community resilience and civic strengths. As a result I put myself forward as the RNR’s social media manager and was voted in as Vice Chair of the Thames Ward Residence Association (formally Tenants Residence Association). 


As a self-employed small business owner of House Of Loulee, creating African Print children’s clothing, community, in general, was always at the forefront of my mind however I’ve always felt this deep connection to my local community and that I wasn’t doing enough via my business, so when I was approached by Matt to apply for the role of Health Outreach Officer, I jumped at the chance! This would be my opportunity to act on all the research findings and bring my neighbours with me to become a force to be reckoned with. I am a strong believer of strength in numbers, so let us support each other in building community resilience and take actions that will create a community our future generations will be proud to support. 


Lucy Lee  

Health Outreach Officer 


Inside Thames Life: Meet Zahra Awani Our New Communications & Outreach Officer

Hi all, I’m Zahra. A lover of food, travel and Netflix. I have been a resident of Phase 2 on the Barking Riverside estate since 2020 and thank the Lord my husband and I moved to a bigger place ahead of the pandemic! Born and bred a North Londoner, now an East Londoner for the past 7 years and absolutely loving it. Moving from the green of Hainault, to the more urban Barking Riverside, the community feel here is truly what makes this place feel like home.


Pre-Pandemic, I was working in Marketing Agencies activating events, print media and TV and radio ads for global brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Silver Spoon Sugar and Jura. I loved my time in the marketing world, the projects were pretty amazing, but it was quite a work hard, play hard environment, which I no longer found rewarding, fulfilling or complementary to settling down and growing our little family. I had felt the itch to move to a different sector but with no idea on what sector or how to make the move. 


After working in corporate marketing for 10 years, I found losing my job due to the pandemic, the perfect opportunity to search for a more fulfilling role. I soon found a part time job as Operations & Communications Lead for Church At Barking Riverside, and that helped introduce me to so many wonderful people in the community who make a real impact on those around us. It reignited my love for writing and inspired a dormant want to be active in my community. It led me to join the Resident Editorial Board for The RiverView, become a Trustee for Thames Life (previously TWCP) and be a part of the Barking Reach Resident Association. I have found a passion to make sure everyone on the estate and the wider Borough, has a platform to voice their opinions and concerns, as well as share their loves and joys.


Since getting involved with Thames Life and The RiverView, I was looking for another part time job to supplement my work at the Church. I then found out Zainab (Thames Life Communications & Outreach Officer) would be going on maternity leave and needed cover while she was off. It was the perfect opportunity for me to apply and luckily I was successful! It means I am back to being in full time employment locally and in a position to still be impactful in our community. It also gives me more exposure to the voluntary sector as a whole and all the stakeholders involved.


My hope for the Wards is for everyone to feel they have a place to have their say and speak their truth. Having a young family myself, I really hope this is the area my daughter and those of the next generation can thrive, in a safe environment. Thames Life is and will continue to be a driving force in making that happen and I’m so excited to be a part of the team, even if it’s just for a year!


Zahra Awani

Communications & Outreach Officer

Director blog December 2022 – How change happens

Funders often ask for a ‘theory of change’ statement. Here’s one I made earlier, from our 2017-2020 strategic plan:  

‘long term sustainable change is only possible when it is defined and led by local people, who initiate their own agenda and build it from within the local community.’

It is specific – change only happens when residents lead it from within their communities.   

It is also different from most of the other statements, which tend to assume change comes from working across sectors and sharing power. That assumes by working across sectors and sharing power, residents and communities will benefit.  That is a lazy assumption and a dangerous one.     

What I can confidently believe in, is that when residents and community groups come together, things can genuinely change for the better.  Everything else is much less certain.   

I put it to you that there are three basic ways to make change happen.   

  1. Change imposed from above by the powerful 
  2. Change from below (when those who are not individually powerful take collective action) 
  3. Change where we meet in the middle, with different levels of power, and thrash things out 

My feeling is most change is imposed from above – option 1. And what option 1 does is pretend to be option 3, claiming to be about equal partners finding common agreement.   

To avoid this, I go with option 2 as an antidote to phoniness. In archery the idea is to aim and shoot high because of gravity. I know option 2 is going to hit some headwinds, but to hell with it, let’s give it a go!

If we can agree in advance that community-led change often gets derailed, if we know this, in our guts, to be true, then let’s skip the statements about change being possible when powerful organisations come together with less powerful ones. Partnerships and power sharing can happen, but even when it does, it is less than what it is cracked up to be.   

Mostly we don’t think much about how change happens and settle for platitudes about how we are all in it together. Let’s be clear: we are not all in it together. There are very real differences of power, identity and money. There are different agendas and that is healthy. Without these differences being made visible and expressed, we might as well settle for dictatorship – see option one. 

Because change from above is brutal, we are supposed to all agree that partnership and meeting in the middle is possible and taking place. But it mostly is not. When you next go to a partnership meeting ask who chairs the meeting, who sets the agenda, who does all the speaking, who is getting paid and how much? It is unlikely to be residents or community groups. Better to call it what it appears to be: change from above.   

Another way to look at it is, who are the partners who are supposed to be sharing power? 

  1. Public Sector (example: council) 
  2. Private Sector (example: developer) 
  3. Community Sector (example: small volunteer group) 

Think of partnership as a three-legged stool. Council, developer, resident group. Then ask if all the legs are equal and how that might affect things.   

These sectors – public, private and community – are not remotely equal. The first two have organised people and money, the community does not. Having organised staff and millions of pounds of money is power. Not having money or people who work for you, limits your ability to act. Before buying into the warm words of partnership across sectors, it is worth thinking through how the power imbalance is likely to play out and not pay lip service to what was never the case in the first place. 

Partnership has been called ‘the suspension of mutual loathing in the pursuit of money’. That’s a bit harsh but you get the point. Partnership is where voluntary sector groups and ‘partners’ live. This generates gaslighting – mystical vague theories of change about power sharing, a triumph of hope over experience if ever there was one.   

If you can imagine a different world, where change flows upwards from communities, it is possible to take the actions to bring this, little by little, into being.  For some people this is unimaginable, and it stops there. Community-led change requires imagination and creativity. It will lead to endless frustration and disappointment. Worse than that, community-led change will get turned inside out, manipulated into serving the purposes of other sectors, public and private, endlessly made into a vehicle of convenience.   

But imagination and creativity will tell us it can be different, and we will find a way because that is what communities and people do. 


Matthew Scott 

Thames Life Director 


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