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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.”

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.

Currently, BD Collective includes the following networks: FOOD NETWORK, YOUTH NETWORK, FAITH LEADERS NETWORK, SPORTS NETWORK, BD WOMEN’S NETWORK, LOCALITIES, B&D CREATIVE INCLUSIVE WORKSHOPS FOR YOUTHS, EARLY HELP COLLECTIVE, MIGRANT NETWORK, NEIGHBOURS NETWORK.

Inside Thames Life: My Placement

Hello, my name is Adebimpe Rosiji, and I am a final-year student at London Metropolitan University, studying BSc Leadership in Communities. In the beginning, I was very skeptical about this course. I thought it would not benefit me; however, it turns out that this course has a wide range of skills and practices that are crucial in my everyday life. I would have never thought I would adapt my management and leadership skills. Not only that, but this course gives an understanding of making a betterment within your community. I think I made the right decision to pick Leadership in Communities because it empowers individuals to actively shape and improve their local environments. It fosters collaboration, inclusivity, and sustainable solutions, addressing diverse needs within a community. I never took an interest in what was happening within my community, but taking this course has given me the motivation to take an interest in my community and research anything that needs improving. 

When I found Thames Life, I was amazed by how the organization supported the community and residents of Thames View and Barking Riverside. Although I am not a local resident, it is still part of my borough, and I was so fascinated by how their system works, literally amplifying the voice of the people. I decided to take on a placement at Thames Life because I knew this would enhance my knowledge and understanding of community development. I would love to encourage other interested students in community development to come to Thames Life and learn about the impact it can have. It’s a great way to improve the community and also unlock new skills every day and learn something new.

Inside TWCP: Meet our Governance Manager Margarida

Hello everyone, I am Margarida! I love spreadsheets, cycling, video games, cartoons and I believe that with love and community, we can make the world a more welcoming and lovely place for us all. 

I first came across TWCP through a friend who had just joined a new project there. The person who was supporting my friend was going on holiday, and she shared concerns about what that could entail. I offered to help and supported the team with some data analysis and tweaking some procedures and systems for that program. It was extremely gratifying to feel so appreciated and useful. At some point I met Matt. We had a great, long chat about our long life commitment to building community, social change models and we shared some of the stories we’ve gathered along our activism journeys. 

I’ve been involved in the volunteer sector for over 20 years and although my passions and the projects that I choose to give myself to are broad in scope and ever-changing, building community and improving the lives of marginalised groups has always been at the centre of what I do. 

Early this year I covered a maternity leave as Executive Director of a small organisation that works with families with young children in Barking and Dagenham, Early Years Cocoon C.I.C. . I got to know the needs and concerns of our families by working very closely with them. I also realised that families believe there is a huge lack of support and/or are unaware of the available services in the borough. There’s a lot of work to be done in this regard. 

When I learned about the Governance Manager vacancy, I knew I wanted it! 

What is Governance, you might ask? Governance is “the systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation” (according to The Governance of Voluntary Organisations, Cornforth 2003).  

I believe good governance in a resident-led charity is essential. If the regulations and procedures are well designed and clearly communicated, they empower and support staff in their work and help the organisation run smoother, which makes for a better service for everyone, therefore creating a self-feeding cycle of trust within the charity and everyone we encounter. This trust is essential for residents to participate and get actively involved; without which it’s very hard to fulfil the charity’s objectives. 

I feel privileged to be working for an organisation that is actively seeking to bring about improvements for the community through social change. I’m excited to get to know the residents and to put my experience in service of a cause I believe in. 

Margarida Lopes

Governance Manager

Director blog September 2022 – Riot Days

Maria Alyokhina wrote the book ‘Riot Days’ (Penguin: 2017) about her experience of activism and imprisonment.  Every page a testament to living one’s truth in the face of real and actual oppression. In her case, a feminist in modern day Russia as part of the punk band ‘Pussy Riot’. For those that don’t remember their protest in February 21, 2012, directed at the Orthodox Church leaders support for Putin during his election campaign, first of all where were you and second, never doubt the importance and impact of creative dissent.

Unlike much of the art we see in London, in galleries or regeneration makeovers where something communal or edgy ends up co-opted and corporatized, this is real. Something the powers that be couldn’t pretend they were down with.   

I mention it because I think so much of the way charities, the public sector and wider private agencies operate locally can feel like a mutual conspiracy to suck the life out of things. Deadly boring and deeply ineffective. On top of that, repressive – shunning different ideas and perspectives. Under the Best Value regime for commissioning and procurement government spoke of the guiding principles are being the three E’s – equity, economy, efficiency. This could now be updated as the three C’s – control, contract, con-trick.  That is sometimes how it feels, repeatedly – control, contracts, conning people. Three card monte.      

I am of course being deeply unfair if I leave it there. To quote a former council leader ‘we are all good people stuck in a bad system’ (Barry Quirk – Esprit de corps: leadership for progressive change in local government). He goes on to say: 

“Councils are public institutions and as such have a legal and constitutional status, but they are socially constructed. It’s the people in them that make them work or fail. It’s no good blaming the construct when the essence of organization is something that we have built ourselves… if local government is ineffective it’s our own feckless fatalism… that are at fault. If things are not going well, there is no one to blame but ourselves. We socially construct the system that we then claim traps us from being effective. So how can good people escape the trap? First, by being open and honest about the failings and deficiencies” 

Taking my lead from this council leader, I also want to be open and escape the trap. My sense is that all is not right, which is why I do community work. I don’t assume equal partnership is a given and I rarely experience it, either for myself but most importantly for community groups and residents. They are not treated as equals.  They do not get the justice and respect they deserve. The heating and water supplies often don’t work, the parking fines mount up, the rat problem isn’t tackled, the GP waiting times get longer, the cost of housing goes up and up. Land value rules everything around us – a license to print money. Since 2010 councils have on average at least 50% less money due to cuts. Think about what that means in terms of who does and doesn’t have power and remember ‘if you want change you need power’: land values go up – those who control land that can be developed control everything and stand to profit by it. The rest of us are trapped. So trapped it becomes routine. Which leads me to one of my favourite quotes from an Italian author Italo Calvino: 

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” 
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities 

Our new vision is about ‘residents driving change’.  Our mission ‘to create positive spaces and opportunities for resident empowerment and wellbeing’. Quirk warns of feckless fatalism, Calvino speaks of escape, exhorting those who would not be feckless and fatalistic to be vigilant and give such people ‘space’. Hence our mission – positive spaces. We want spaces – not just buildings and community centers that don’t cost the earth due to spurious notions of financial viability but also the head space and the oxygen in the room to speak up and not be closed down, shouted down, but space to be, to endure, to act in alignment with our own beliefs and agendas rather than incorporation into someone else’s ambitions. 

Yes I got all of this from reading a book about a Russian feminist. I do tend to read a lot of books though. It is how I decompress and feel enchantment with the world that is all too often dreary.   

Maria Alyokhina writes: 

‘You have a routine; you have a schedule for life and living. Do you also have a set schedule for thinking?  Why don’t you tell them no?  Why can’t you even think about telling them no?  Why does this thought seem pointless to you?  When did it become pointless for you?’  – p.75 / isolation 

Later on she quotes someone else: 

‘If you dream alone, the dream remains only a dream; but if you dream with others, you create reality.’ – Subcomandante Marcos 

Long may we dream and act together. 

Matthew Scott 

TWCP Director 

Wellbeing Navigators Comes to an End

As this chapter of working in Thames View and Barking Riverside closes and another begins I’ve been reflecting on our pilot, Wellbeing Navigators. The standout thing for me has been the relationships formed between all our participants and clients. There are so many different activities, groups and projects going on around here that once you open your eyes to them you start to see a different landscape: a network of residents striving to make their neighbourhood more connected, fun and greener. I have seen former wellbeing navigator volunteers and clients go on to work on the Henry programme, start cooking classes at the Participatory City Warehouse or leading campaigns to open up our local nature reserve. One thing leads to another as they say. 

During our pilot we have helped people retrain – learning skills in motivational interviewing, mental health awareness and social prescribing and to seek new opportunities for employment – coming out of the pandemic. It’s been heartening to have applicants call me to say that having been helped out of rough patches themselves they just want to give something back to their community having been locked away for 18 months of lockdown. This eagerness has allowed us to reconnect many isolated residents back with their community, get active and feeling healthier again. Just a few warm conversations can ignite a life changing transformation. One resident we were chatting to was unaware that our Barking Food Forest was literally on his doorstep, now he’s helping to run it! 

Over the course of walking groups, workshops, community events and 1-2-1s I have seen neighbours who have never met before, meet for the first time and form strong bonds of solidarity as they discuss the common challenges of bills, health, homes and overcoming loneliness in a busy city. It’s quite surprising sometimes how easily friendships can form. Despite the fact many of us spend most of our time looking at screens surrounded by four walls, once we are out and about talking to people we really are all the same: looking for a sense of connection and belonging within our community. 

Alex Anthony

Wellbeing Navigator Volunteer Coordinator

Ripple Reserve Reach Out 

Residents have been working together over the last 3 months to revive a movement long-forgotten  back to life. The Ripple Nature Reserve once stood, open to the public, with two main entrances on  Renwick Road and Marine Drive. Located behind the Barking Reach Power Station, today, it remains  closed. The site has a vast history in Thames View, Barking and Dagenham, and was once a place  where local industry deposited pulverised fuel ash. It’s even rumoured there was a farm located on site.  Residents were able to spot the smallest British Carnivore back then – Weasels and the elusive  woodpecker bird. They may very well still be there. History moved on and the land was deemed safe  for human use and became an accessible nature reserve with the site boasting gorgeous silver-trunk  birch trees, a pond and wildflower meadow blooming with colourful flowers each year in summer  bloom. Unfortunately, the site was closed a number of years ago, leaving nature to leave the Reserve untouched and wild. 

Thames Ward Community Project (TWCP), Barking and Dagenham CouncilRoding Rubbish and a  group of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to open the Ripple Nature Reserve to the general public. The aim is to make it safe once again for young children and the more mature,  responsible adults and dog-walkers alike. Residents are taking part in a number of activities such as  litter picking, planning and crafting so that we can once again bring the Ripple Nature Reserve back  to life and open for all. Consider this the Ripple Reserve Reach Out. If you would like to be  involved please contact us below. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas and for our joint contribution in opening the Reserve in full next year! More coming soon. 

Vishal Narayan, Local Resident on behalf of the Ripple Nature Reserve Resident Group

Email: Nia@TWCP.org.uk to get involved.

Instagram: @Ripplenaturereserve

Join us to celebrate GROW

Throughout August, we partnered with Creative Barking and Dagenham to provide creative workshops and activities for residents in Thames View and Barking Riverside. GROW transformed local spaces and allowed residents to connect, learn a new skill and just relax with family and friends!

Taking place Saturdays – Tuesdays across the Sue Bramley CentreRivergate Centre and our very own Barking Food Forest; the activities have ranged from weaving, sewing, textiles and craft, gardening, poetry and drawing. Residents have also enjoyed live music and catering from local producers!

Following our final workshops will be a GROW celebration event on Saturday 3 September at Barking Food Forest.

JOIN US: 12pm to 4pm

Barking Food Forest, Fielders Crescent, Barking, IG11 0FU

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