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The big picture: scenes from Black Widow were filmed in Dagenham.©Marvel Studios’ Black Widow


THE EAST LONDON TOWNIS SHIFTING GEARS AS IT PULLS AWAY FROMITS CAR- MAKING LEGACY. SETH O’FARRELL REPORTS


MadeinDagenham F


or generations, the US carmaker Ford gave Dagenham its livelihood. Since it opened its plant in 1931, itwas the centre


of its European operations and the main employer of the east London town, with many of its workers living in the neighbouring Becontree Estate, one of Europe’s biggest social housing estates. But when Ford closed the plant for vehicle


manufacturing in 2002, following decades of deindustrialisation, it cut off that lifeline, forc- ingmany of its inhabitants to seekemployment elsewhere. In the wake of this, Dagenham resembled a


northern former mining town far more than any London borough, shifting to the far-right in the late 2000s when 12 members of the British National Party (BNP) were elected to local gov- ernment. This, coupled with the fear that BNP leader Nick Griffin would win the Barking and Dagenham seat in Westminster, prompted Darren Rodwell to enter local politics. Mr Rodwell has been the leader of Barking and Dagenhamcouncil since 2014. Born and raised in the borough,MrRodwell


reflects on the wisdomhis parents passed on to him. “If youknewyour past, youknewwhat you stood for. If you knew what you stood for, you knew what to fight for to improve the future,” he states. “And that’s what I try to do.” Over the past few years, under Mr Rodwell’s leadership, Barking and Dagenham has wel-


August/September 2021 www.fDiIntelligence.com


comed billions of pounds of private sector investment. From data centres to film studios, a newfreeport to a possible high-speed rail link to Beijing via China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Dagenham is embracing 21st century change. “What I’m trying to do is to say to compa-


nies from around the world that this is the place to invest, because we are the gateway to the world and from the world to the country,” he tells fDi, as we drive from Barking TownHall past the developments on the riverside — or what he likes to call Barcelona-on-Thames — towards Dagenham. With more brownfields per square metre


and more under-16s than any other London bor- ough, Barking and Dagenham is well posi- tioned for innovative repurposing. Although Ford is not willing to cut its


90-year-long ties just yet, having set out new plans for the plant, withsomany of these ambi- tious projects only recently announced, resi- dents have yet to figure out what the untapped potential will mean for the local community.


Hollywoodof EastLondon Janet Coyle, managing director of business growth at London & Partners, the capital’s investment promotion agency, says that “Dagenham is a central part of [London’s] east- ward growth, attracting international atten- tion fromdevelopers and investors”. One of the most notable investments has


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