'Full circle': Boss in charge of Ford plant plans reflects on Dagenham past

Peabody chief executive Brendan Sarsfield

Peabody chief executive Brendan Sarsfield. - Credit: Peabody

The outgoing boss of the housing association set to transform the former Ford Stamping Plant in Dagenham has relived his childhood connections to the town.

Plans have been revealed to build more than 1,500 “genuinely affordable” homes on the land next to Dagenham Dock station, with Peabody acquiring the disused 45-acre site.

Chief executive Brendan Sarsfield has fond memories of growing up in Dagenham in the 1970s and said he hopes the organisation can play a role in shaping the area’s future.

“Looking back, it was a very different world. I remember the close Ford community, with the strong sense of community amongst the workers and their families,” Mr Sarsfield said.

The site

More than 1,500 "genuinely affordable" homes are proposed to be built on the site of the former Ford Stamping Plant in Dagenham. - Credit: Peabody

His dad was a forklift driver at the “huge” Ford plant and his mum was a district nurse in the area.

“Dad used to visit sick co-workers most Sundays to hand out cash from the union welfare fund,” he said.

“I had a paper round along Rush Green Road stopping just before the Ford Sports Ground – now one of West Ham’s training facilities.

“I also remember the Ford Christmas parties for us kids and the local supply chain, which kept thousands of others in work.

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“There was a lot that was good about those times that have diminished since the collapse of manufacturing and its supply chains in the 1980s.”

Mr Sarsfield said he isn’t “looking back through rose-tinted spectacles”, adding that society was polarised and racism and sexism were prevalent.

“It was a hard and brutal time for many, and the issues have most certainly not gone away,” he said.

“For grafting blue collar and manual workers, too, it could be a tough existence. Manufacturing was hard, low paid work, but it did at least offer regular and secure employment for families.

“This is something that growing numbers of people today could only dream about. If my dad was young today, he would probably be on a zero-hours contract working 60 hours a week, if he was lucky.” 

sketch of dagenham stamping plant homes

An initial design showing how part of the new neighbourhood could appear. Architects PRP have been named as the master-planner for the site. - Credit: Peabody/PRP

As a housing association chief executive in London for more than two decades, Mr Sarsfield said he has seen the impact of the gig economy.

“Widespread insecure and underpaid work – and the disconnect between wages and living costs – mean that it is very difficult for many people without a lot of education and training in today’s labour market,” he said. 

“We know this is a particular problem in the capital, and it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“There is a lot of important work going into securing London’s recovery, and as an organisation with over 3,000 employees and 130,000 people living in our homes, Peabody can play an important role in helping to shape this.”

Mr Sarsfield is stepping down as chief executive of Peabody later this year.

“As we look forward to helping London become a fairer, better city post pandemic, it feels like my own journey has come full circle,” he said. 

“It feels good to be back where I started.”

Peabody has launched a consultation on plans for the site.

Visit https://peabodyatdagenham.com/ for more information and to have your say.