Youngsters create film inspired by Dagenham's links to slave trade abolitionists


Students from Barking and Dagenham College's East London Institute of Technology shoot a film starring youngsters from Robert Clack School. - Credit: Neil Sherwood

A film inspired by Dagenham's links to the abolition of the slave trade has been created by a group of young people.

Youngsters from Robert Clack School star in and co-wrote the drama When Wilberforce Came to Tea, which was filmed by Barking and Dagenham College students.

The story is inspired by characters from Dagenham's past, including abolitionist William Wilberforce and Caribbean slave plantation owners.

Co-writer and historian Simone Panayi said: "The students have been amazing."


When Wilberforce Came to Tea was filmed at Valence House and will be offered for use in schools. - Credit: Neil Sherwood

Wilberforce, a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, lends his name to the film title. He was cousin of Henry Mertyins Bird, who lived in Valence House from 1778 to 1803.

His wife Eliza Bird was from St Kitts in the Caribbean, where her family-owned plantations profited from slave labour.

Henry's brother-in-law William Manning was an MP who was part of the West India Committee opposing Wilberforce. So Henry found himself stuck in the middle.

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Nollie Odoom, who plays Henry, said those involved in the film wanted to give a voice to black figures who weren't given a voice in history.

These include Prince Naimbanna, a black reformer and abolitionist played in the film by Racheal Osatimehin, and Charlotte (Ruth Balogun), a black maid "gifted" to the Bird family who later started a free life in Sierra Leone.

Nafizat Oladoja also makes up the cast, playing slave John Shrewsbury and Eliza's sister Sarah Manning-Vaughan.

"It was so important to know where our roots grew from, and Valence House is still there - it's just down the road," Nollie said.

The film is part of a Black History Month project and premieres on Friday (October 22).

Ryana recording

Ryanna Williams, 17, records her voice-over in the Shaun Escoffery Sound Studio at the college. - Credit: Neil Sherwood

Ryanna Williams, who appears in the film too, said: "This was an amazing opportunity which gave me a different insight into slavery and its ties to Dagenham."

Barking and Dagenham councillor Sade Bright said: "I want to thank all the students and everyone else involved in creating this impactful production for shining a new light on something we should all learn about."

Be First sponsored the costumes, with the remaining funding from Arts Council England.

The film will be available to watch via Valence House's website, with an exhibition about the project opening soon.