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Inside Thames Life: What would it take to stay here?

Mondays at Thames Life tend to be about the big introspective questions. Of course, we do the usual “how was the weekend” conversation but we often create the space for reflecting on our place in the community. I’ll blame it on our CEO, Matt.

Recently, Matt asked me how I feel as a local resident about the development happening around me. I paused for a few moments and just bluntly stated that I didn’t feel like it really mattered. Housing units being doubled felt like a definitive plan that I wouldn’t be able to influence. Sure, I could dance around polite conversations at consultations but the truth is that I feel like my voice doesn’t really matter. Profits speak louder and the interests of investors would most certainly take priority over my desire for a medium to low-density town.

I have lived in Barking Riverside for 5 years now, having now had two young children. As a family we’re deciding on the long-term. So, what would it take for us to want to stay here? To celebrate a recent milestone birthday, I headed to Kenya and came across a number of British expats and a few wants kept coming up: affordability, and an abundance of space. I want to feel inspired by where I live. For it to be a reflection of my values and be a positive thread in the upbringing of my children. For it to be financially attainable, allowing me the flexibility to afford more time for the things that really matter. I want a feeling of community without my space feeling overcrowded. To be able to go for walks and get lost in nature but have the familiar face at the local for a quick chat. A slower more thoughtful pace of life. Everyone wants the ability to enjoy life uninterrupted.

In my present context, if my voice did matter, I would say those things. I would humanise the masterplan and ask those who live elsewhere but work in Barking why they live in other parts of London and what keeps them there? Is it the Victorian style housing, or the trendy bakeries, is it the parks or nature reserves in walking distance. That ‘village green’ suburban feel. During the pandemic, Zoom offered us a window into each other’s homes and some of us transported ourselves to beach backgrounds, but I always remembered those who were proud of the background they called home.

It’s not rocket science. Residents don’t want to live in boxes all their lives, well at least I don’t. I want a home.

Zainab Jalloh

Communications Officer

Inside TWCP: Building Community Resilience – Zainab Jalloh

We’re living through difficult times; coming out of a global pandemic, struggling through a cost of living crisis and facing the real impact of global warming. We unfortunately are constantly coming to terms with the fact that we aren’t prepared and the most vulnerable of us experience the worst.

I’ve been living in Barking Riverside for 3 years now and I’ve noticed my growing fear of house fires. We all probably have some sort of bedtime routine or ritual, well a part of mine is reducing fire risks in my house. I start with all the plugs of various appliances, turning them off and removing them from the sockets. I blow out candles, and douse recently burned matches into the kitchen sink trying to remove any possibility of them re-alighting but that may not be enough.

Before working at TWCP, I never engaged with my community let alone sought out being in important conversations around housing, fire safety or resilience. I knew of the fire in 2019, Samuel Garside House, and how it had completely destroyed some homes and also damaged others. Displacing more than 30 families. I’ve watched as the wooden balconies and flammable cladding have since been removed but as I look out the window from my own wooden floored balcony I can’t help but worry about why it takes such tragedy for action to happen. Who is planning ahead, challenging developers, changing policies, equipping residents?

Thankfully, through being a part of the team at TWCP I’ve gained insight into the incredible work community groups are doing. TWCP has been working alongside the British Red Cross around increasing resilience in the neighbourhood and working on preventative strategies to help prepare residents during these difficult times. The Barking Reach Residents Association has been key in brining local people together to voice their concerns and make change happen. I want to be more engaged as a resident and I encourage you all to do the same! Most importantly we need our councillors to be more engaged in this work to spread awareness and impact!

 

Zainab Jalloh

Communications and Outreach Officer at TWCP and Barking Riverside Resident

Director blog June 2022 – Warm, Cosy Spaces

We were chatting at the corner of Thames View fields and the pathway to Thames Road. About thirty of us, one sunny Friday in March this year. It is a regular thing we do, walking from the Big Shops on Farr Avenue to the banks of the Thames, by the developers’ prefab offices. We walk and talk. We look around, absorb it all, open ourselves up to the overload. Stepping across the landscape of housing, roads, warehouses, schools, more housing, more roads, buses, vans and lorries. Walking, talking amidst the hum of wider movement on building sites and lives being lived.  

It is not just a social. We are researching. Asking what kind of spaces people wanted in the area.  All the building going on, housing units by the thousands, but yeah, what kind of spaces would you like for your community? Answer: cosy, warm spaces. Someone said it just like that and everyone immediately agreed. That was exactly it. The craving for togetherness, for spaces we can call our own.   

We’ve got a few community spaces but how are they working out? Are they places people want to go to? The group spoke about yesteryear, about the cinemas Barking used to have. About the fields and horses before the development. Each person taking turns spontaneously sharing memories. All the while the cranes on the skyline marked out remorseless inevitable changes.   

The arrival of 50,000 new homes in the borough, many of them in Thames View and Riverside, is impossible to really process, outside of the town hall or the top floors of Maritime House, Barking, home of Be First. How can you make sense of it? You can’t. The walk we did, makes sense in a different way, via the senses and feelings evoked. Looking at the pressures on existing spaces, the busy roads, the construction, people reflect on what they want and conclude: cosy, warm spaces.   

Another way of saying it is, people want an experience of community, not of estrangement.  Places of their own, where they get a say. Cosy, warm spaces. I love that, so simple. So clear, because only residents can truly get to decide what is and isn’t cosy and warm.   

I’ve been walking around Thames Ward, now Barking Riverside and Thames View Wards with groups of people, residents, visitors. Just walking and talking. Typically, I get to the end of a long week and get a Friday feeling, especially when the sun is out, of needing to decompress. When people ask me about the area, there’s so much to say, too much for soundbites. It needs to be experienced, absorb the changes that are underway – the HGVs, the people pouring in and out of schools, the warehouses and businesses, the ever-present building sites, pylons.   

If you do our walk you will end up by the river, the much-referenced riverside or view of Thames View, but you’ll have to dedicate a couple of hours for that, as we always start at Bastable because that way people get to experience the old and the new. The phase one housing units of Riverside rise like small teeth on the skyline from across the Thames View fields – the locals call it toytown. Different from the typically more spacious Thames View housing that was built on rafts because of the marshy nature of the area, so marshy that even now, mosquitos predominate over the summer and netting is required for many newer residents.   

There’s a new Amazon on Thames Road, a Lithuanian beer company, cake shops, so many businesses clustered in one place. Ripple Nature Reserve spanning the bottom end, with entrances padlocked so more recent visitors have never experienced the unique ten-hectare site, once a dumping ground for pulverised fuel ash, now a mixture of woodland, scrub and grassland.  We usually access Riverside via Crossness Road because you can see the exact point where Barking Riverside begins, a private estate. One side of the road is in disrepair, the other considerably neater and tidy, the side where resident’s pay council tax and a service charge.  Then the housing units with wooden cladding begins. We see small ponds with ducks and approach De Pass Gardens, site of the Barking Fire in 2019, where the cladding on that building has thankfully now been removed, if not yet elsewhere.   

The Rivergate Centre marks another stop-off point, a multi faith centre with a Christian Cross on the outside. Where Friday prayers takes place in corridors. A co-op alone in one corner providing much needed supplies for those that can’t reach larger supermarkets the other side of the A13.  There’s still a way to go to reach the river, another busy road to cross (River Road / Renwick Road), but once joining Fielders Crescent, there is a short footpath from the road to the river and the view of the Thames spreads out for miles, past Dagenham and into Essex. From the roar of roads and density of housing everything opens up – big sky, river sweeping out to the sea.   

The end of the walk marks another special place – often quite windy rather than warm and cosy – but nonetheless uplifting. Once again people want to stand and talk about what it evokes. No longer a rat run to rush through but a place of solace to share and hold close. When urban planners talk about assets and place shaping this I know – it needs to be warm and cosy, and it needs to inspire a sense of awe.   

Change is the one constant in our lives. Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts forever. Change refreshes and reinvigorates but can also leave people feeling unanchored, lacking roots. The property pages of the Evening Standard that I read on the way back from the walk tells me every housing development is the best there has ever been. From nine elms in Battersea, Greenwich Peninsula, Silvertown, Royal Docks.  Every corner of London in fact. Every square inch monetised. Money for advertising that props up free newspapers. Money that underpins planning decisions – they call it market viability. Money like change is double-edged. You can have too much or not enough. Money gives you control but it rarely creates warm, cosy spaces for all. For that to happen, we need communities to come to the party. The more community, the cosier it can be. The newspaper ads talked the talk; I wish they’d joined us, they could have walked the walk as well. 

Matthew Scott 

TWCP Director 

Residents Finalise Community Fire Safety Action Plan

Residents have been working with each other and local organisations such as the British Red Cross and TWCP to educate themselves on fire safety, compile information packs and undertake risk assessments among other actions. 

After months of outreach events, community days and two workshops – including advice and information from Fire Safety Consultants, UCL Bartletts School of Planning, Just Space, and a showcasing of local talent, the resident committee has begun finalising key actions. 

Residents of the Thames Ward and Barking Riverside area met last week to discuss the finalisation of their community fire safety action plan and its submission to the major stakeholders in the area: the Council, Barking Riverside Limited, the London Fire Brigade, the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor. Following the Barking Fire of 2019, residents have expressed the need to work with local organisations to address ongoing concerns to avert a future disaster.

Local poet Romeo Murisa, the Rainbow Collective and local residents will be producing a film to convey the key areas of concern that residents would like to work with major stakeholders to address such as remediation of flammable materials, extra fire safety equipment and improved transparency and information sharing between residents, builders and developers. 

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.

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