River community getting into the flow

Just over a year ago the most ambitious housing development Barking and Dagenham has seen in recent years opened its first school.

Around 350 eager pupils were welcomed through the doors of George Carey Church of England Primary in completely revamped Barking Riverside.

Three months later the first families moved into some of the 150 plus new Dutch-style eco-friendly terraced houses that form part of the 185 hectare site.

And last month the Rivergate Community Centre and church, which share the same building as the school, were officially opened to the public. The mammoth project, which will eventually see the construction of 10,800 sustainable homes occupied by some 26,000 people, may have some way to go yet (the predicted completion date is around 2035), but it is already clear a vibrant community is taking form.

When the Post paid a visit last week parents waiting to pick up their children from school were relaxing in the community centre’s foyer and forecourt, chatting, while toddlers played around them.

Many said they were impressed by the development, describing the area as safe, virtually crime-free and child friendly.

Mark and Katie Yallop and their four children moved to a three floor, four-bedroom housing association home on Riverside in February.

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“We lived in one of the Goresbrook Village tower blocks but had to move out because they’re knocking them down,” Katie said. “I remember when we came to have a look at this place we were both taken aback by how spacious it was.

“Even the bedroom described as a ‘box room’ is big. And we have a garden, a balcony and a terrace on the second floor, which is great.”

Mark said the eco-green design features of the house have saved them money too. “Some of our bills are definitely lower, its good to know you’re being a bit kinder to the planet,” he explained.

One sentiment that was echoed by every parent was praise for the school and its teaching staff. The Yallops agreed that their boys have settled well at the school.

“They really like it there,” said Katie. “The teachers are fantastic – quite strict but really supportive and good with the kids.”

There was also enthusiasm for Riverside’s nature reserve, which lies to the north of the site.

For the past 18 months Francesca Barker from the London Wildlife Trust has spent three days a week helping the reserve flourish and exploring the landscape with local schoolchildren.

But despite general praise, there were also a few criticisms. Two issues that came up time and time again were the lack of food stores and poor transport links.

There are plans for a 7,000 square foot retail space and a large supermarket, but these will probably not be completed for another two years. A mobile food outlet visits the site once a week.

Katie said: “I’d say the only draw backs of living on Riverside are that there are no shops and the fact there is only one, not very frequent, bus coming here.

“The shop thing is a real problem. I have to take a bus into Barking to get our food which with young children isn’t easy. It’s very strange they haven’t built a Tesco Express or something similar. There’s enough demand for it.”

Asked why no shops had been introduced already, Clive Bell, from Riverside Development Ltd, said it was common for homes to be built before services. He explained: “I do understand people’s concerns but we are opening a caf� in the community centre before Christmas that will sell things like bread, milk, butter and other essentials.”

He added: “At the moment there is just the one bus that runs from Riverside to Barking. We are in talks with Transport for London to add more services.

“We also hope that at some point either the DLR will come out this way or we can extend the C2C train service.

“We know that transport is an issue and we’re working hard to improve this.”