been US firm Hackman Capital Partners’ deci- sion to invest up to £350m in two studio com- plexes, Eastbrook Studios in Dagenhamand the Wharf site in Barking, with a combined total of 18 sound stages and the potential for 1800 jobs. For the past eight years, Dagenham has

become a film location and production site, drawing in the likes of streaming giants Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple. This has enabled it to develop a case to seek a private sector partner to develop production and post- production facilities. The town’s former Sanofi-Aventis manufac-

turing site, which treated former prime minister Winston Churchill for pneumonia duringWorld War II,hassinceprovidedthebackdropforMarvel blockbusters such as Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Doctor Strange (2016)andBlack Widow(2021). Lisa Dee, head of film at the London

Borough of Barking and Dagenham, says that over the past fewyears“wewere quite radical in our thinking, but the council were brave in commissioning a feasibility study and investing the money [in land and buildings]”. She adds that the wide roads and parking opportunities were also attractive to film crews. At first, the council repurposed some of its

own assets and Ms Dee brokered relationships with property owners, such as a local magis- trate’s court, to house the filming of a UK TV crime and court drama, before coming on to the Sanofi site.

Fromworking class to media class Now, with a new endowment from Hackman Capital, ahead of the studio construction to facilitate the upskilling of local workers, Ms Dee hopes this will leave a long-lasting legacy. “If they canembellish the borough withthe

skills, training and opportunity, then that feeds into the productions that are coming in, which will enhance the area and community. It’s going to be a whole new generation of film cre- atives,” she says. Global foreign direct investment into

motion pictures and recording studios has accelerated over the past four years, as stream- ing platforms have increased demand — some- thing that has been reinforced by the pandemic. In 2019, theUK became the leading destina-

tion globally for studio investment in terms of greenfield projects, overtaking the investment into the US for the first time in a decade, according to fDi Markets.


74 In December, Japanese telecoms giant NTT

also opened a data centre on the Sanofi site, which is slated to bring in up to 100 jobs, as part of its plan to invest £500m into UK data centres.

Ford’s future While pharmaceutical manufacturing has given way to film production and data centres, other manufacturing jobs, such as those at Ford’s plant, are currently being safeguarded. In March, Ford announced that its

Dagenham plant — now only used for engine manufacturing — will manufacture the diesel engines for the next-generation Ford Transit Customrange. In July, it entered into a memo- randum of understanding with emergency vehicle manufacturer Venari to make a new lightweight front-line ambulance. Oliver Montique, industry analyst at Fitch

Solutions, does not expect to see any electric vehicle (EV) production go to the Dagenham plant. “The repurposing is more for specialised vehicles,” he says. “As demand for diesel engines wanes, there

could be some more e-mobility components or e-vehicles coming to Dagenham, but I think for the moment it will remain a low-volume, spe- cialist vehicle producer.” This year, Ford also made a joint bid with

DP World and Forth Ports for the Thames Estuary freeport, one of the UK’s eight newfree- ports. It will link Ford’s Dagenhamplant with the ports of Tilbury and London Gateway, fur- ther east along the Thames, in Essex. With roughly 1700 acres of development

land assigned to it, the Thames Freeport says it could create 25,000 jobs across its supply chains, generate £400m worth of port invest- ment and introduce electric and autonomous vehicle technology into the economic zone. Mr Rodwell told fDi that the council is “in

early stages of discussions with Ford about a green autonomous vehicle lane on the A13 and a network for EV charging”. Ford said there were no EV plans at its

Dagenham plant and declined to comment further.

Local businesses “More jobs and growth in the digital, media and manufacturing sectors will support the economy and boost Dagenham’s reputation as an innova- tiondestinationintheUKandoverseas,”aspokes- person for the UK government’s Department for International Development told fDi. For the time being, however, the scale of

suchambitious projects is not quite so palpable for local residents and business owners, as they emerge from the pandemic. Karen West-Whylie, chief executive of

Barking Enterprise Centre, says local businesses recognise that there will be “huge opportuni- ties” in the future—especially for the food busi- nesses that will have increased customer foot- fall around the film studios. Ms West-Whylie remarks that all these August/September 2021

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