To celebrate the publication of The Banjo Book Two I have had the pleasure of interviewing some prominent Dagenham people to ask them their views on a place that’s dear to the hearts of so many of us.
I am delighted to announce that bringing the series to an end is the Member of Parliament for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon Cruddas. Jon and I have exchanged many fast and furious emails, especially over the Brexit votes in Parliament.
ES: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule, Jon.
JC: I’m happy and keen to take part.
ES: So, the answer to my first question is probably somewhat obvious, but what is your connection to Dagenham?
JC: I have been the Member of Parliament for Dagenham, then Dagenham and Rainham since 2001. Before that I was involved with the local unions when the Ford Dagenham plant was threatened with closure
ES: How do you think the rest of the country sees Dagenham?
JC: Dagenham is mostly associated with industry and manufacturing – the Ford Cortina and engine production. At one point the Ford factory employed around 40,000 local residents and was at the heart of the community but now the factory only employs 3000 people..
ES: What do you love about the place?
JC: The real shining light of the area is the people. There is a real sense of community spirit that harks back to the heyday of the Ford factory at a time when if you didn’t work in the factory yourself, your neighbour or friends did. That comradely attitude which can be traced back to the old East End really illuminates the area and there are still some real ‘old Dagenham’ characters living in the Borough who I hear from regularly.
ES: Tell us something about Dagenham you don’t think many people are aware of.
JC: When people think of Dagenham their mind often jumps to the Ford factory and industry, but the real jewel of the Borough is the amount of green and open space we have. The country parks cover a large area in Dagenham and the Council have put a lot of funding into making them very special places for residents to enjoy. I think there is a lot more to Dagenham than people see at first glance
ES: Did you know the term banjo is peculiar to Dagenham?
JC: I did know that banjos are particular to Dagenham, many of my constituents have lived in a banjo at one point or another.
ES: What’s your fondest memory of Dagenham?
JC: There have been lots of memorable moments over the years but the General and Local Elections back in 2010 were a special time. Literally thousands of people from across the country came to Dagenham to help us beat the BNP and kick fascism out of our area.
ES: Dagenham has undergone huge change in the last 20-30 years. Do you miss anything about the old Dagenham?
JC: Dagenham is one of the fastest changing communities in the country. That brings great diversity with many benefits but it is not without its challenges. As I’ve already highlighted, we have had a number of issues with the far-right at elections. However, the amount of investment that Dagenham has seen in the last few years has been phenomenal and there is more to come. London’s three historic markets (Billingsgate, Smithfield and New Spitalfields) are relocating to the area down at Dagenham Dock, and at Dagenham East we are getting London’s largest film studio in a few years time. We also have two more universities establishing campuses alongside Coventry University in the coming years.
ES: Many people have told me they miss the Town Show. Do you wish they would bring it back?
JC: As much as I loved the Town Show the reality is that the Council is now operating with 50% less budget and statutory services must come first to support our residents. The Town Show has been replaced in the last few years by the ‘Summer of Festivals’ which has been a huge success and draws in the talents of the voluntary sector, charities and the local community.
ES: How would you like to see Dagenham in ten years time?
JC: There is no doubt now that London is moving East, and I have every confidence that Dagenham will be a thriving hub for London’s creatives and that the developments planned for Barking Riverside and Beam Park will bring more investment in the form of opportunities for residents. With two new universities on the way, a training hub arriving with the three markets to train the butchers, fishmongers and fruiterers of tomorrow, and a film studio we are gradually filling the skills gap left by Ford and the Sanofi Aventis Pharmaceutical Laboratory. The future is looking very bright for Dagenham.
ES: And now two really important questions; Fish and chips or pie and mash?
JC: Fish and chips – the Golden Fish at the Fiddlers has consistently won the Award for Best Fish and Chip Shop in the Region, and it is excellent!
ES: And is it Dagenham, East London or Dagenham, Essex?
JC: Dagenham is the point where London meets Essex and it has a unique character that encapsulates the best of both. Technically it is now part of Greater London but there are still many residents who feel they are from Dagenham, Essex.
Now that’s a really diplomatic answer, Jon! Thank you so much for talking to me and sharing your memories and vision.
You can follow Jon on Twitter – @JonCruddas_1