Thames Ward has been described as one of the largest development sites in Europe, with 10,800 housing units planned for the Riverside development and a Borough Corporate Plan (2018-2022) that seeks to build an additional 50,000 homes, many of which will be across Thames Ward. In a short space of time, the population has doubled, and is set to double again. Thames Ward is historically one of the most deprived wards in the Borough, ranking 13th of 17 wards according to the LBBD Social Progress Index, with some of the highest rates of childhood obesity and indices of deprivation in the country. The local context of Thames Ward is therefore one of tremendous change in the built environment, acute social need and a window of opportunity to ensure ‘no resident is left behind’.
The development programme on Barking Riverside is attracting new investment from developers and national programmes that could benefit the whole community. However, without a clear strategy to engage the whole community, there is a danger that the changes will not benefit the older, established community and might even exacerbate divisions rather than bring people together.
TWCP has employed skilled community workers to help ensure that residents (in the older estates as well as the new properties) benefit from new opportunities arising from Barking Riverside, and also support them in developing the sense of ownership and control that is needed to build a more resourceful, inclusive and forward-looking community.
Riverside School lies at the heart of this community and leads the project, providing a base for activities and a connection into the community. The students participate in every aspect of the project, helping to involve their parents, carers and other residents, and encouraging new people to get involved, thus ensuring that the project is firmly rooted in the local community. Because the school serves the whole community, it offers a ‘neutral space’ where residents from different estates, people of different ages, faiths, cultures and backgrounds can come together to build a sense of unity and common purpose in this context of rapid change.