Dagenham is one half of the East London borough of Barking and Dagenham. Originally a rural location in the county of Essex, Dagenham was transformed in the 1920s by the construction of the Becontree Estate, which led to the gradual urbanisation of the area and incorporation into Greater London in 1965. Valence House in Becontree Avenue is the last remaining of five manor houses in Dagenham. It is now the local history museum, which charts the transformation of the area from its origins as an agrarian, manorial estate in the English countryside to an urban and industrial powerhouse in East London.
Once celebrated for its abundant market gardens, Dagenham is adjacent to the River Thames and is famous for the Ford motor plant that once employed 40,000 people and was Europe's largest car plant. Due to decline of industry and manufacture, Dagenham can be characterised as a post-industrial urban location in London, with many of the political, economic, social and cultural consequences of the loss of work, livelihood and investment.
More recently, despite increasing precarity in the population due to post-2008 austerity cuts, the borough has benefited from regeneration of the area and economic revitalisation as a result of an active and effective local council, a pro-active London government and incorporation of the borough in the priority areas associated with the London Olympics of 2012. Dagenham is a long-standing working class area of London, with a recent history of in-migration, mostly of migrants of African origin, because of the affordability of housing at the peripheries of London's eastern boundaries.
A strong sense of working class pride and community involvement in Dagenham is kept alive by dedicated local councillors, tenants' organisations, faith groups, public sector institutions such as libraries, local pubs, church groups, local history groups, and sports organisations and youth clubs. The dedication of residents to locally-grown initiatives to foster multi-cultural community is noticeable and includes volunteer-led social enterprises, and innovative educational support opportunities for people of all ages. We have had the great pleasure of meeting with and learning from some wonderful people in Dagenham for whose time and energy we are enormously grateful.
Jeanette would like to thank staff and volunteers at Valence House for their hospitality and for lively, informative and challenging conversations.