Today the Deputy Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Councillor Saima Ashraf shares her thoughts about Dagenham. Her pride in the Borough is evident throughout.
“I love the history and community of Dagenham – and the great potential we
have that is being realised for the benefit of all of us. There’s a real buzz with
the University of Coventry Campus at the Civic Centre. The very first time I
entered the Civic Centre is one of my best memories of Dagenham; it is such
a beautiful building and I am really pleased it is now being put to great use as
a place of learning.
“Then we have excitement of the film studios being developed in
Dagenham East; the re-location of the three historic markets of London –
Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfield – to the former Barking
Reach Power Station site at Dagenham Dock. And there’s quality new
affordable housing and our excellent schools. But most importantly for me we have one community – Barking and Dagenham, and this is home. It’s where my
children went to school and where I am fortunate enough to be Deputy
I asked Councillor Ashraf how she thinks the rest of the country sees Dagenham and whether she feels that view is justified.
“When I used to say I lived in Barking and Dagenham, people would think
about some of our darker political times. But not only has the area changed
a great deal, we are also too quiet about our fantastic history and the many
things we can be proud of such as the courageous women of Ford, the
Becontree Estate and our amazing green spaces. Our Borough is not as far
from Central London as people think it is – but it’s very green! We have the
most publicly owned green spaces in all of London.“
“As you know, The Banjo Book Two has just come out. But did
you know that the term Banjo is peculiar to Dagenham?’ I ask.
“I didn’t know this until I had lived here for a while – but I know a lot more
now we have been making plans for next year’s Becontree Estate
I ask Councillor Ashraf next what she misses about the “old” Dagenham.
“While I wasn’t living in the area over 20 years ago, I love hearing all the
stories about the community spirit,” she says. “The street parties, the town
show and people’s pride for the area. I know that spirit hasn’t disappeared
and the Summer of Festivals and the Becontree Centenary Celebrations
which I hope will go ahead next year will showcase that.
“Do you wish they’d bring back the Town Show?”
“It was iconic but for many it had had its day, and people stopped going to it.
So we have to find ways to recreate the spirit it is fondly remembered for.
That’s what our Summer of Festivals is all about, and I like that we now have
different events throughout the summer and across the Borough.”
“There are two famous dishes associated with the area. Do you prefer fish and chips or pie and mash?” I ask.
“Fish and chips,” she replies without hesitation. “Although I have got rather
good at making pie and mash…”
“And finally, is it Dagenham Essex or Dagenham East London?”
“Both – because I think both identities are important to the area; one is its past and the other its future.”
That is a fabulous answer, Councillor Ashraf. Thank you so much for taking
the time to talk to me.