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Taking Action on Community Fire Safety

The British Red Cross began working with Thames Ward Community Project (TWCP), residents and the London Fire Brigade to create a series of workshops to develop a fire safety action plan with residents in response to the tragic fire in 2019.

On 9th June 2019, the Barking Riverside community in Thames Ward experienced a rapidly spreading fire, that affected more than 30 families, leaving those families displaced. Many community groups including the BRC and TWCP supported residents immediately after the fire.

The BRC and TWCP have recently organised a community day event, which took place on 1st October in Barking Riverside’s Rivergate Centre, and two fire action plan workshops on the 4th October and 29th November.

Each event has brought together local service providers and residents, one being the London Fire Brigade. At the community day event, families were excited to interact with the fire trucks and meet the firefighters who shared helpful advice in relation to fire preparedness. The event was also supported by the Coop at Minter Road who donated refreshments.

Both fire workshops were also well attended by local residents, with the most recent especially engaging families with local entertainment. The 29th November was a guided workshop where residents were invited to share ideas to help create the fire safety action plan for the community. Findings from the previous workshop on October 4th, were also reviewed. The evening continued food catered by the Good Food Collective and a showcase of local providers and performers including: art work by Emmanuel Oreyeni @oreyeni_arts, an experimental art workshop by University College London, and live spoken word by local poet Romeo Murisa @spokenwithvision.

The BRC and TWCP will continue to engage and connect with the community to improve resilience-building in the community and fire safety with the hopes of finalising a Community Fire Safety Action Plan that can provide direction on reducing fire risk as well as leveraging support from housing developers, LFB and other stakeholders in the community for fire protection and prevention efforts.

Riverside News’ Relaunch as Resident-Led Paper

We end November 2021 with the re-launch of Riverside News as a resident-led local newspaper for Thames View and Barking Riverside! See the digital version of the paper below.

The Project

Previously run by Barking Riverside Limited, until having been approached by local resident and TWCP steering group member in 2015, Yasir Imran discussed with BRL the possibility of joining up the newspaper with the work being done by TWCP, which was positively received. 

BRL have since partnered with TWCP and Social Spider CIC, providing funding to help transform Riverside News into a sustainable resident-led newspaper. The vision was to create a resident editorial board (REB) made up of local people who will lead in the design, production and distribution of this paper. The REB has now been established with currently three local residents; Emmanuel Oreyeni, Venilia Amorim, and Zahra Awani, being trained and supported by Social Spider to produce the current issue and next issue.


The Future

The hope is that Riverside News will be a social business that reinvests into the community and champions local voices and skills.

Riverside News will continue as a quarterly local newspaper providing local residents with updates about the latest happenings in Thames Ward and sharing community stories. If you have an idea for a story or are a local business who wants a feature in the upcoming issue please contact zainab@twcp.org.uk.

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Inside TWCP: 78 years in Barking – Allan Thacker

How did I get involved with TWCP & Why? 

Well, just over four years ago, Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge obtained lottery funding to set up a community project to ensure that residents of the rapidly developing Barking Riverside and Thames View could become involved in the changes that would affect both areas. 

At the time I held the position of chair of Thames View Tenants & Residents association, so along with a colleague was invited to sit on a panel to interview candidates for the project leader. Our choice along with many others recommended Matt Scott for the position, so TWCP was born! I became a “Founders & Guardians” member and later a steering group member. 

TWCP today has gone from strength to strength and its overriding aim is to involve and help residents “have a voice at the table” whether that be with Barking Riverside Limited or LBBD.

My vision for Thames View/ Barking Riverside?

Infrastructure. What I mean is that as Barking Riverside continues to expand over the next ten years, priority is given over to the pressures facing residents. The proposed “Health Hub” is coming, (long overdue), and the rail link is almost complete. We now have an excellent bus service with praise going to the young people of Riverside School for their achievements. The riverboat service to central London is coming, (well done BRL). Tunnelling the A13 is a major priority for residents who regularly have issues leaving and arriving at their homes. 

Transport for London will pick up the bill (£1 billion+)!  It would have been half that 10 years ago. 

So as I enter my 78th year as a Barking resident, lot’s to look forward to. 

Allan Thacker

Resident trustee of TWCP

Barking Food Forest and Riverside Bridge School receive £10K from GLA Climate Kick-Start Fund!

Barking Food Forest and Riverside Bridge School, supported by Thames Ward Community Project, have been successful in a joint application to the London Schools’ Climate Kick-Start Green Schools Grant, and will receive £10K for the projects! Out of all the schools in London that applied, we were 1 of only 5 that were successful. 

The proposal was for funding to create solar-powered rain-fed watering and electricity systems for both sites that will be fully self-sustainable and renewable, supported by a qualified permaculture teacher and electrical system consultants. 

The funding will purchase:

  • A durable greenhouse for the Riverside Bridge School edible garden, to replace their previous one that had blown away.
  • A performance stage for BFF with an integrated rainwater harvesting roof , under-deck water storage and solar powered irrigation system.
  • Solar panels for both sites.
  • A portable solar electric system for BFF.
  • Specialist consultations.
  • Teaching hours from a permaculture specialist.

Student and wider community engagement

The project will hugely increase the students’ exposure to local wildlife, climate and pollution issues, engaging them in regular outdoor activities. Students will see, hear, smell and feel the natural world and their own roles as custodians and guardians.The irrigation and renewable energy systems will enable the projects to continue food growing activities through the seasons and be a working example of regenerative resource management, modelling how we can aim to not only be neutral in our environmental impact, but actually climate positive.BFF weekly sessions have already begun and students have been bringing siblings and parents along to participate. The central and highly visible location of the project aids in the project acting as a bridge between the student body and the wider local community.Students will gain exposure to local, organic fruit and vegetable production: renewable electrical energy and the shared experience of working together with others to create a long term asset for the local area. As a result it will improve students’ sense of agency and give them a skill set they can take forward in their lives as young adults of the future.

Inside TWCP: “If you want to go far, go together” – Josiah Oyekunle

Having lived and grown up in Thames View for over 20 years, I have seen many changes in the area and always wondered how one becomes a part of change in the area. How can I be a part of something that is progressive in the area, and where is the opportunity to give back to the community that influenced the person I am today. With all the changes happening, are we building a community that future generations can benefit from and feel a sense of belonging? Do the young people have a voice/platform to be able to be a part of the community or just be labelled as a nuisance to the community. These are a few questions, which were constantly in my mind.

My involvement with TWCP started by being invited to a meeting at Riverside School about the Opera House coming to do workshops in the area. Due to my work as a music producer/DJ I was intrigued as to how this would work in the local area as this was all new to me. This began to spark ideas on whether I could run some music workshops locally. I was introduced to Jamie and had a great conversation where we spoke on the local challenges and concepts of resident-led initiatives, which would allow residents to be a part of shaping the community. This seemed like a perfect solution to some of the questions that I had and as time went on, I became more involved.

My new role as Co-chair

My new role as co-chair, first of all let me say it’s an honour! To be honest I never saw it coming however it a privilege being able to share my views on my community. I never want anyone to feel like I’m the only voice for the community because I’m not. Having lived in the locality I feel I provide a view point that is needed. I too am also in a learning process, which can be daunting but I’m happy to be here serving the community that has shaped me.

The Future of TWCP and Thames Ward

Coretta Scott King once said “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” My dad always used to tell me this African proverb “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

You may ask why I have said this, I feel the residents of Thames Ward have shown where its heart is via the various resident initiatives being set up reaching the community. I believe in order for us to go far together as a community group we need to be on the same page strategically showing how the community voice is heard. If we educate ourselves on the ways we can be solution-focused when talking to partners like the council, developer and other stakeholders, being bold but strategic in our asks to do great things.

I’m really excited to see the growth of TWCP within Thames Ward and the borough, achieving our mission of being a catalyst for sustainable community-led change. That goal may take on different forms and may be subject to change due to the nature of change happening within the borough. I would love to see in the near future community assets being placed in the hands of the community to run. It would be my dream to have a local music studio in order to develop young local talent within the area and provide work experience for those who have career ambitions in the music industry. Ultimately, whatever form sustainable change looks like, at its core it will always place the community first and create a space where resident voice is seen, heard, and valued.

Josiah Oyekunle

Co-chair and resident trustee of TWCP

Director blog November 2021 – Reimagining Adult Social Care

I’ve been attending a forum on adult social care – one of the BD Collective’s many networks, and now TWCP has taken on a convening role, so very much involved.  Adult social care covers a wide range of activities to help people who are older or living with disability or physical or mental illness live independently and stay well and safe.  It takes up a massive amount of local authority budget and is often a mandatory legal requirement as opposed to more discretionary services that get cut.  

My take on it, from a voluntary sector perspective is that most community groups deliver health outcomes but only a few of them get funded. That is really hard to change because statutory services are locked into top-down systems of command and control that provide bureaucratic reassurance by having a rigorous commissioning process that provides efficiency and economy, but in my view, not equity.  There are just too many hoops to jump through, hoops that are barriers to access and hence inimical to sharing the wealth across the community.  Like in Vegas, the house always wins.  A handful of charities may get minor commissions but 99.9% of the voluntary and community sector will be excluded from the process.  As it stands that remains good enough for the commissioners because, let’s face it, if you want different, you will do different.  My role – encouraging others to do different.   

My solution, and I’ve not been shy of offering it up, is ring-fenced funding automatically given to small groups and a social value commissioning process that rewards coalitions and consortiums.   

It is often met with silence. 

I’m taking it as a success indicator.  As community organising training teaches: the action is always in the reaction. Change is always resisted, greeted with ridicule or disbelief, but at a certain tipping point, becomes mainstream and people wonder how it was ever not the case. The former bishop of Barking, Peter Hill always used to say, you have to ‘disrupt the present to claim the future’. Works for him so works for me. 

There’s a lot of hype about systems change. Every collaborative meeting I go to seems to have consultants talking about systems change and how it will magically make everyone work in perfect partnership. Not true. Money and delivery on the ground are real – systems change is meaningless and abstract. Community groups need money not magical thinking that only eats up time and brings us no closer to accessible commissioning, to accessing money for resident-led activity. The commissioning system reduplicates inequality like a virus, to those that have, more is given. It doesn’t deliver equitable and effective change, it just moves money around the system. 

I’m struck by the existence of two different worlds that live next to each other. The kindness and support that flows upwards from community action and neighbourliness. The cold dead hand of administrative power that kicks down.   

In 2018, I had an experience of adult social care with Wiltshire Social Services. My sister got sectioned. The care home she lived in got taken over by a much larger firm. The staff changed overnight and my sister, who has autism, couldn’t cope with so much change and literally began to pull her hair out. The authorities’ response was to put her on heavy tranquillisers and place here in a psychiatric hospital. My parent’s efforts to work out what was happening got nowhere – they were on first name terms with social workers but none the wiser about why and when key decisions would be made. Eventually they moved my sister to a care home one hundred miles away, all the while complaining about the cost to the authority and the need to move her back at any time, to save money. The neglect is brutal and capricious. The most vulnerable can be uprooted at any time.               

Looking back, it might explain why I struggle to believe in a whole systems approach. If we were to re-imagine adult social care, it should not be done by tame consultants or already commissioned charities.  The system cannot and will not reform itself. It has no incentive to do so.   

Instead it should follow the logic of asset based social work which has 5 steps. The first one is to ‘change the narrative’. I think that’s what I’m doing here. I’m not up for telling how the current system is wonderful. Those who currently control the story and how it is told have got to get out of the way. We need to start from a different place. In my view, this is the activity of thousands of smaller community groups and millions of volunteers and carers.   

Steps 2, 3 and 4 of asset based social work is to map, connect and grow these assets. Then finally ‘learn’ from it (step 5). To repeat, several thousand never funded and never commissioned community groups and thousands more volunteers are what we should consider ‘assets’. What the asset based social work model doesn’t mention is money, which is a fatal flaw. Simply put what is needed is to put the money somewhere else. It is not enough to finally come around to seeing smaller community groups, volunteers and carers as assets – the money needs to follow value.      

A lot of this reimagining is simply about doing what it says on the tin, in this case asset based social work, or by extension the LBBD corporate plan around empowerment and participation, and to mix metaphors, putting the money where the mouth is.  We get bamboozled and worn down by overly elaborate professionally controlled conversations that are often the entire reason for not actually changing things. Wouldn’t take much to change that – just a bit more collective courage to move from issue to solution to action. 

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

A Month of Barking Food Forest

Here at TWCP, we pride ourselves on being genuinely resident-led, and there’s nothing that expresses this in its truest form more than the Barking Food Forest. From the beginning, the site itself was secured through the hard campaigning work and drive of the Young Citizen Action Group at Riverside School, who after 2 years managed to take possession of the keys for the community garden site from BRL. Community effort continued with successful grant applications supported by TWCP. Fast forward to our co-design sessions, which were a hit with young people and residents, the long awaited GPR scan of the grounds, and we were finally ready to start in-person sessions at the end of August. 

Where are we now?

It’s been a journey filled with collaborating, learning, and of course hard work. We’ve been steadily building momentum through various meetings with key stakeholders, co-design sessions with local people, collaborating with local organisations, such as Every One Every Day and taking others on that journey with us through our online channels. To note some key moments:  

  • JM2 Group have supported in maintaining the site. 
  • Going Picking have provided much needed learning in terms developing this project through meetings and a tour of their own site. 
  • Make:Good architecture and design studio has been working with Riverside students and the BFF team to design a Pavilion that will be built on the site. 

We are all grateful for the support we’ve received but our greatest and most important connection has been with the residents. Over the month, we have been able to engage with residents of all ages, from all walks of life, seeking a space where they can learn and be free in. Over the past 5 weeks we have enjoyed sessions building planters, building the compost area, planting bulbs, watering, digging and socialising! 

It's been a real whirlwind start to Barking Food Forest. It's encouraging to see lots of enthusiasm & hard work from the community so early in the project. Organisations have given invaluable support which really helps at this challenging start up phase. We've had a lot of fun & got a lot done, I'm really looking forward to seeing where we will be this time next year!

ARTiculate your journey this Black History Month

Over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work with our Arts and Culture steering group members thinking about the importance of Black History Month in the UK and in particular our locality of Barking and Dagenham. All having lived in the area for over 10 years, in reflecting on their own experiences of being Black in Britain wanted to create an event that would have others thinking about their own journeys to understanding their identity.

A successful application to the LBBD’s Equality & Diversity Community fund meant £500 being provided to plan a local event and the start of their own journey working together as residents. ‘ARTiculate the Journey’ is a free (donations are welcome) interactive and social painting event exploring the theme of ‘Journey’ this Black History Month, with food and refreshments provided. All funds raised will be reinvested into future arts events in Thames Ward. The event will showcase the talents of DJ @TheKingsDecree, Poet @Swvrthy and Artist @Oreyeni_Arts, supported by @ThamesWardCP. We will vibe to music, get inspired with some spoken word, and have some fun painting and discussing the journey taken by Black people throughout history.

There are many ways to express how we really feel, and that is the beauty of art. That's why this event allows us to ARTiculate our journey whilst exploring Black History through creative art forms of expression. We want to provide a space to express experiences creatively and to open up discussions around how the community truly feels.

Director blog October 2021 – The Power of Relationships

What did you do during lockdown? 

We had loads of online discussions with our resident trustees over lockdown as well as delivering courses and meet ups online; I lived vicariously on zoom and we got a lot done. We were careful to check how people were getting on.  It didn’t make sense to pretend these were or are normal times and to charge into business as usual.  The community organising training we’ve done starts and ends with relational power – with relationships – an organised community is as strong as its relationships. Communities may lack large buildings, large organisations, lots of money, but they will always have more people on the ground where it matters. So it is important that we look after each other because sometimes that is all we have.   

At our meetings we asked people what things they’d been doing – coping strategies, things for fun and so forth.  We generated quite a long list: lots of online yoga, pilates, learning new things online, trying new recipes, checking out new music, going for walks, exploring new places locally.   

One of the things I did was read a lot of books; that is my downtime.  All sorts of books, novels, history, travel, books about ideas.  It is a good counter to the online hyperactivity of social media and work and there’s only so much Netflix you can watch till it all gets the same.  A couple of books I did read were by the borough’s local MPs which were pretty eye opening.   

Jon Cruddas’ book on ‘The Dignity of Labour’ draws on his experience of Dagenham and looks at the importance of work and belonging. It made a lot of sense to me.  Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that where we live and what we do for work is central to how we feel and by extension how well society holds together.  The fragmenting of community and social ties driven by a precarious job market, where work is short term and liable to change any minute undermines human dignity.  We need to feel rooted to be fully alive and connected to one another.  There’s a lot of theory in it but that was the message I took away.  One thing I wanted to hear more about was the role of community groups.  That bit was missing for me.  People organise collectively by creating small groups, meeting in their front rooms, places of worship, tenant halls – that for me is what transforms the sense of isolation and builds community.  My complaint is that the community sector always gets forgotten about and yet it is the backbone to what gets done – hence BD Collective’s estimate of 7,000 community groups in the borough, mostly invisible. 

What I remember most about Margaret Hodge’s book ‘Called to Account’ is the Public Accounts Committee work.  The inside story of how hard it is to get a whole range of public servants and private sector companies to be accountable is something to behold.  The micro detail of what blocks transparency and openness about how things are run could hardly be more important.  You could have all the policies and plans in the world but if they get keep getting blocked that really needs to be looked at because otherwise there is a continual loop of failure.  I guess my takeaway is that it is right to ask questions and to keep on asking them, and not to stop.  Sometimes I feel that’s a lonely place to be and that the (non) answers tend to be hostile and evasive in equal measure.  My point about relationships at the start – we know when people are being open with us and that creates warmth and stronger communities. Other parts of society could learn from that.   

I love reading because it opens up new worlds for me; its immersive and whilst reading can cut you off for a while, it is good to take a break and those worlds within the words can deepen connections that might have been missed. Let me know any good tips of stuff to read.   

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

Director blog September 2021: Kindness; Vulnerability; Solidarity

We are revisiting our strategic plan over the next few months.  The last one we had was geared very much around the priorities of our 2017 reaching communities Lottery bid before we even had resident trustees or staff.  The fundamentals of the plan I worked to was essentially set out in advance – kind of like painting by numbers.   There was room for interpretation and innovation, but I was aware of, and appreciated, the framework set out ahead of time.  The objectives were fourfold with work focused on cohesion, health, skills and environment and by 2020, to have in place a community development trust (CDT).  When it came to values our 2017-2020 plan will show we came up with these: 

  • Energizing and empowering  

  • Entrepreneurial and can-do 

  • Relational approach  

  • Transparency and accountability  

  • Inclusive  

My older self looks back and thinks, okay not the worst but plenty of bingo buzzwords that mean what exactly? Paulo Freire, a Brazilian community educator wrote that to speak a true word is to transform the world.  Speaking a true word meaning something genuinely and unreservedly coming from the heart of oneself and one’s experience of the world – not sure the above list does that.  Looking back they feel mediated by professional jargon; my bad. 

At a recent discussion with trustees and staff led by Locality – ahead of board games people brought with them as a DIY social and refreshments sourced from a local resident business (happy to recommend), I jotted down the kind of words I wanted to be central as values for our new plan: kindness, vulnerability; solidarity.  They ended up on a stick-it note somewhere and may or may not make the cut as and when the plan gets signed off but I’m already feeling good about them.   

I’m sure we’ve all spent time over lockdown thinking about what is important to our lives; lots of people have suddenly left their jobs, moved away, simplified things.  Maybe that is part of what is on my mind – the appreciation we feel when someone asks how we are, when mutual aid networks reach out door to door, street by street.  The currency of kindness.  It is not forced or regimented; it flows out from communities.   

I think the pandemic has also shown us how vulnerable we all are – how quickly everything can change, how little control we have.  I’ve been thinking that maybe our vulnerability is actually our superpower.  I’ll have to explain this one.  Normally I bang on about structures – and that power resides with public and private sector bodies; with politics and money.  Normally I resist platitudes that claim it’s all about relationships as a partial truth at best.  At worst a con.  But it struck me, all the people I admire and respect are people who have struggled, suffered and in doing so grown and remained open and accessible.  Some kinds of power, where people fear you, are probably not worth having, so just maybe vulnerability is where our creativity and potential combine to empower us – individually and collectively.  You’ll have to tell me if that makes any kind of sense. 

Soon after I started working in Thames Ward the council’s director of participation told me the view from on high was that I was ‘old fashioned’ in my approach to community work. Pot, kettle, black. I didn’t really understand why but I imagine having an independent thought process can be alarming if you are not used to it.  Solidarity is an old school word; it is not trendy, it smacks of another age, but I reached for it anyway, as my third value.  Strip it down and it means being there for people, having their back.  I’ve always worked in the voluntary sector and I rarely see much solidarity but when I do I want to hold it close.  A youth worker friend of mine, who died earlier this year, always told me the way to get the sector to fight amongst itself was to leave a five pound note on the table.  Divide and rule is a powerful thing. My thought: we are divided and ruled until such time as we choose not to be, and then everyone wins.       

My final word I jotted down was enterprise, I didn’t highlight it here because it has a distance to it at odds to the rest of the blog.  My experience of Thames Ward is not of voluntarism – that doing stuff for free and let organisations with money drop a few crumbs, is not going to work out.  Kindness, vulnerability and solidarity are things to be and do – they are enterprising and creative; they don’t work if they are fenced in.  The pandemic has shown that control can be illusory but the re-set that is taking place can be liberating, depending on how we go about planning for it.  

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

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