Dagenham estate’s life through a camera lens in Becontree project

PUBLISHED: 13:00 11 April 2015

Valence Park by Albana Vuthaj

Valence Park by Albana Vuthaj


The gargantuan post-war public housing project that is the Becontree Estate is set to be preserved forever through a photography exhibition.

Becontree mural by Sumaya AliBecontree mural by Sumaya Ali

Children at Eastbrook School and Hunters Hall Primary, both in Dagenham, have collaborated to create a display about the 27,000 houses constructed for war heroes between 1921 and 1935.

The “homes for heroes” were also built to rehouse residents of the east end slums and, for the first time, had running water, indoor toilets and private gardens.

One hundred photographs capturing the estate as it stands today were produced by the schools and are being exhibited in Dagenham library – alongside the launch of the Becontree100 community project since yesterday’s launch.

“Becontree Estate has a really rich history,” said Helen Spencer, local heritage education manager (London).

Eastbrook School by Amir Nathan (Photography teacher)Eastbrook School by Amir Nathan (Photography teacher)

“I think this project gets children to appreciate the area they live in and realise it’s historical. We try to make sure the children get to see what the buildings used to look like, by showing them a then and now.”

At Hunters Hall, children did projects on buildings and portraits while students at Eastbrook took part in after school sessions learning about the history of their school and the Becontree Estate.

Photography teacher Amir Nathan showed them how to take interesting images and how to turn them into works of art while both schools also benefited from a master class provided by Brazilian photographer, AF Rodrigues.

Some photos on display were taken during a minibus tour of the estate and others were shot in the school grounds and classrooms.

The students then selected 50 images from Hunters Hall to add to their own 50 to create the schools’ “B100” exhibition.

“The project was an excellent way of encouraging local children to look at the built environment in Dagenham with fresh eyes,” added Helen, 47.

“The images they have created are, in many cases, extraordinary and will be deposited with the local archive.

“They are creating an archive for future generations so they will be able to see what these buildings are like right now. It’s quite a responsibilty and very exciting.”

The schools project and exhibition has been organised by Historic England as part of the national Heritage Schools Programme.

Historic England has been working in Barking and Dagenham for three years trying to encourage children to take an interest in historical buildings in the area.

“One thing Eastbrook school is doing is recording the 1930s architecture of the building before it’s demolished in the summer,” said Helen.

“It’s a way of making the students look at the way we protect buildings, for example understanding why the Eastbrook pub next to the school is listed.

“They are contributing to the archives of how things have changed, especially when things change so quickly.

“In 12 months time it might look entirely different.”

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