This month marks the 90th anniversary of the Becontree Estate, and recently we celebrated with a fantastic tea party at Becontree Children’s Centre. Elderly residents who have lived on the estate all their lives came to share their memories, and young children growing up there today sang for us. One lady had lived on the estate since the 1920s! She was 96 and her grandchildren now have their own grandchildren.
They had the most fascinating stories. Apparently the London County Council refused to put telephone lines in because they thought telephones were too much of a luxury for the working class!
They also made sure every house had a garden because they thought it would stop people spending so much time in the pub! They even awarded prizes for the best kept gardens. Every house had a privet hedge at the front and there was a squad of gardeners whose job it was to make sure they all stayed the same height.
And the reason Valence Avenue is wider than all the other streets is that a tram used to run down there while the estate was being built.
The estate was built between 1921 and 1932, to provide ‘homes for heroes’ who had fought in World War 1, and a better life for families living in the East End slums.
It was hugely ambitious; the largest council housing estate of its time in Europe. Even today it is one of the largest estates of its kind in the world.
By the late 1920s between 2,000 and 4,000 houses were being built every year. Many of the people who lived on the estate worked in the factory at Fords.
Compare that to today. We are crying out for that kind of investment in affordable housing. And we badly need more new jobs, particularly for our young people.
If I were Prime Minister, I would launch a massive house building programme, of 350,000 new homes across the country, half of which would be affordable homes to rent. This would create jobs that we so badly need and help kick-start our economic recovery.
I’ve been campaigning hard to get the Government to see the potential that Barking Riverside has to offer. It could provide 10,800 more homes. 4 out of 10 would be affordable. It is our best hope of providing the homes we need for families in the borough.
I’ve had one big success recently: at the last Election I campaigned for homes for today’s heroes, young men and women who have risked their lives for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m really pleased that the Council is now giving them top priority.
But we need to do so much more. Times may have changed. But we need to rekindle the vision and ambition that once saw us build the Becontree Estate, still standing 90 years on.