This Used to be Fields

Bringing residents together to create a shared archive of their estate.

Project Description

This Used to be Fields

Becontree Estate, Barking & Dagenham, London, UK

September 2013 – October 2014


Explore the collection


“Covers much people don’t talk about – gets you thinking about more positive things to do with Dagenham”

–Local resident, aged 34

Why was it run?

To increase connections in the local community, change perceptions of the area and involve people with low levels of cultural engagement in east London.


  • Create London
  • Valance House Museum and Archives (London Borough of Barking & Dagenham)
  • Historypin community officer
  • Support from Creative Barking & Dagenham and Barbican and Arts Council England

Residents of the Becontree Estate, east London.

What happened?

A Historypin community officer, Valence House Museum (home to the borough’s historical archive) and 15 local organisations including schools, community centres, local history societies, civic organisations, voluntary groups and libraries worked together to collect as many historical materials and memories associated with the estate as possible.

In total, over 40 local events were run, varying in format from reminiscence sessions to talks, and film screenings to workshops. All the materials gathered were scanned and uploaded to for a wider audience to enjoy.

Mural artist, Chad McCail was commissioned to work with the local community to create a new permanent public artwork in Becontree, a giant mural depicting the history of the estate. The design for this was based on stories and memories shared by Becontree residents. The project culminated in a celebratory event displaying materials collected and officially unveiling the mural.


“Good to share experiences of others who lived in Dagenham in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Certainly learned more about life on the estate.”
— Older participant

What was created?
  • Over 40 events to gather historical materials
  • Digital archive on of 155 photos and memories from the local community and over 1,000 photographs and 30 film clips from Valence House Archive
  • A mural depicting the memories

Explore the collection




The unveiling of the mural, described by Chad McCail, mural artist:

“It begins with images of the first residents moving in, still dressed in their military uniforms. It goes on to depict World War Two bombings, visits from Mahatma Ghandi and the Hitler Youth (both invited by famous pacifist and local resident Muriel Lester), the construction of the Dagenham Ford car plant, which inspired the film ‘Made in Dagenham’, and the defeat of the British National Party in 2010.”


  • 500 people participated.
  • 91% of participants surveyed would like to see more things like this in their local area and 75% would like to get involved with a similar project.
  • Over 60% of participants surveyed met someone new from their local area and 26% met someone new from a different generation.
  • 50% of participants surveyed had not been to a cultural event in the past 12 months.
  • The collection received over 2,000 visits by 1,500 people who spent an average of nearly 6 minutes exploring it.
Ongoing activity

Valence House and local organisations are using the digital archive and visits to the mural in their education and engagement activities.

Explore the collection