Here be Dragons: Barking and Dagenham (part 2)

By NikitaNemygin, April 1, 2015

On the silver screen
I stumbled upon two productions while searching for “movies set in Barking” and it is interesting to compare one to the other.

“Made in Dagenham” (now a cheesy West End musical) follows a bunch of female archetypes from the Ford automobile factory in the year 1968 going on an against-all-odds struggle for equal pay (spoiler alert: they win). It is a quality uplifting movie, with interesting characters, great on morale, no violent or dark issues.

“All white in Barking” is a documentary by Marc Isaacs following the jigsaw of human emotion and baffling destinies as well as irrationality against the newcomer, the different. Social and racial prejudices exacerbated by stumbling economic condition and loneliness of London. For example, how do you go about your life if you are a British National Party supporter, but your daughter has married a Nigerian dude and now you have a black grandson?
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The latter has more substance than the former, but I feel that it is all part of one story. They both show the social conflict of London in the past fifty years – but through a different lens. It is the feel-good versus the haunting, the construction of the society versus its seeming deconstruction, the big and the small, dichotomy versus humanity, all intertwined, all happening at once, each one a derivative of the other.

The conflict of the people who “built this country” after the war and fought for their rights both in the trenches and again in the court with the ones who ostensibly came just to reap the results. Those who fled their homes and loved ones in the search for the safe harbours are met with anger, disbelief and exclusion.

How has the fight for social equality changed? The conflict in “Made in Dagenham” seems to be clear cut, but not so much in “All White in Barking”. It could be in fact the very same people who fought for the fair pay in the 1968 were later having hard time to accept racial and cultural equality? Is it not a great theme?

And wouldn’t it be nice to have this powerful conflict exposed in the local museum for us to contemplate and ask ourselves: where do we stand? And how much do we really know, beyond tabloid headlines? What do we value? Where is the battleground now and what exactly needs to be done today to achieve true inclusion?

Except… there is no such museum!

Valence House acts as a local history museum and it is a very pretty, refurbished venue. However it is located in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of featureless streets within 20 (!) minutes’ walk from the nearest National Rail station “Chadwell Heath”, along a noisy road. It is quite nice and amusing and definitely recommended for local history lovers, but how can one put it so far from all other entertainment? I doubt that a lot of people who are not connected to the borough will ever come here for an exposition that only takes 40 minutes to see. There was also supposed to be a temporary exhibition on women workers of Dagenham, but when I came to visit, it appeared to be moved to another date without any notice, which was quite frustrating. Who is this museum for, anyway? Why wouldn’t they make one in central Barking for all Londoners to enjoy and leave Valence House for local community center only?
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Community Center (left) and Valence House (right)

Dagenham Corridor
At the end of the last century there was a trend of naming everything “Millennium”, millennium this, millennium that: “Millennium Bridge”, and even “Millennium Falcon”. I guess we were just hypnotised by those three zeroes in the date, so I was not surprised to see something called “Millenium Center” on my map located somewhere in the green realms of Dagenham.
Before going there I asked at Valence House what was the whole deal with that place, but out of five or so people no-one could testify.
“Well, so it goes. I will visit it anyway.”
When I came round, it was a gentle evening already. The Center, beautifully built up to sustainable standards of the time, was empty and unstaffed inside. By chance I have found a lonely ranger sitting in one of the rooms and he conveyed me some backstory.
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It happened so that on the very east side of Dagenham, at the border with Havering, there is something called “Dagenham Corridor” – as series of adjacent park zones roughly along the Beam river. Among others there is Dagenham Chase, a small nature reserve and a Park strangely called “Central” whith nothing around it so it is really only central to itself. The chain comprises about a dozen of different green areas, playgrounds and sports grounds.
And it is indeed beautiful and serene: idyllic openspaces, lakes and pathways make you forget for a brief moment you are in London. If Dagenham East tube station is convenient for you – this is definitely a place to spend quality calm time.
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The ranger told me further that the Corridor has big plans: Friends of Dagenham Chase are planning to expand the territory by incorporating some more parks in Havering and Dagenham and to further improve navigation and access. Both of us got as exited talking about it as schoolgirls before the prom night – it is so satisfying to find a person who shares your passion!
“So you’ll be like Green Chain Walk south of the Thames, won’t you? – I speculated, – I love long walks and I definitely will follow you online!”
“Sure, – the ranger was surprised with my knowledge, – maybe will do even better!”
One more minute of this conversation and we probably would start giggling and clapping our hands out of joy but I had to leave – the night was falling fast.
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I went out of the building and sat on a wooden bench beside in order to drink some tea out of my Thermos.
The dusk has fell and the early spring sun, tired by unusually long labour reluctantly lights up the dry grass beneath my feet and the Millennium Center and the wind turbine and myself (a bit cold and lost) and everything else. The traffic noise is fading in the distance, sometimes interrupted by the passing tube trains.
How beautiful London seems to be now, and how beautiful is this life we live here!
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Bottomline

I think Barking and Dagenham is the most interesting borough out of our scope by the potential it holds within. It is here that one of the most intense context took place. A lot of 20th century’s troubled history reverberated here more than in other places in London.

But for some reason the borough seems to shy away from this context, failing to verbalise and stress it. For example, it is much more interesting to read about the largest social housing project in the world in a blog, rather than going there and explore everything by yourself.

That’s why I loved “Made in Dagenham” not quite so much as a feature, but as a way of addressing this context. Maybe such movies and shows, as well as new infrastructural solutions, will help Barking to repeat Stratford’s success and become “the next big thing” in the similar niche.

Can you spend a day here:
if you are already living in the East London, Dagenham Corridor is a great place to relax and Dagenham Market – to get loaded with stuff. Overall interesting sights are minor and scattered all over the borough. To get better acquainted with the social development here, it may be more beneficial to take a look at the movies discussed above and only come here in order to be able to say, 20 years on: “well, look kids at this majestic locality! It used to be rather run-down in my time!”

Who should live here:
if for some reason you dislike Newham and Havering is a bit too far to commute.