Becontree Estate designed after Spanish Flu 'helped prevent Covid deaths'

An aerial view of the Becontree Estate (pic courtesy of Valence House Museum/LBBD Archive)

An aerial view of the Becontree Estate - Credit: Valence House Museum/LBBD Archive

The design of Europe’s largest council estate, built in the aftermath of the Spanish flu pandemic, may have protected people living in the “Covid triangle”.

More than 100,000 people live on the Becontree Estate in Dagenham, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. 

During the height of the second wave of coronavirus, Barking and Dagenham consistently recorded the highest infection rates in the country and the council estate was singled out as a particular hotspot.

The borough has seen 531 coronavirus-related deaths up to March 5 and more than 23,000 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, while infection rates have been extremely high, deaths have been lower than other boroughs in the "triangle" - which encompasses Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Newham and was coined after the boroughs were hit hard by coronavirus.

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Redbridge has recorded 843 Covid-related deaths, Newham 762 and Havering 897.

The Becontree Estate accounts for almost half of Barking and Dagenham’s population, yet it has seen fewer Covid-related fatalities according to ONS data, with 107 up until February 1. 

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Council leader Darren Rodwell said the estate’s low-rise design, large open spaces and individual homes meant people could isolate more easily.

Becontree Estate 2020

The Becontree Estate in 2020. - Credit: Jim Stephenson

Cllr Rodwell, who lives on the estate, said: “The people who live on Becontree are good working class Dagenham residents who have those key worker jobs. Cases exploded during the second wave because they had no choice but to travel into those hotspots on public transport. Many had to go to work because they couldn’t afford not to.”

At the time it was built, Becontree was the most ambitious public housing project in the world, with the families of soldiers returning from the First World War granted priority. 

Most were relocated from the slums of the East End, where Spanish Flu was rife, but Becontree offered residents gardens, indoor toilets and dozens of open public spaces.

In March 2020, the borough had 14,000 families on Universal Credit, today it is nearly 40,000.

Ilajn Cicek, who runs the Royal Fish Bar on the estate, said: “You can see people are struggling more. People who used to come in three times a week come in once a month now. People have less money. We all hope it gets better soon.”

Ilajn Cicek, who runs the Royal Fish Bar on the Becontree Estate

Ilajn Cicek, who runs the Royal Fish Bar on the Becontree Estate - Credit: LDRS

Two thirds of the homes on the Becontree Estate are no longer under council control, having been purchased under Right to Buy.

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