If you live in Britannia Village you are part of an experiment in urban planning! The area was redeveloped in 1994 to be an ‘urban village’. So what does this mean? Can a city contain a village? The Royal Docks Trust thought so,
‘The village concept broke from conventional town planning trends of segmenting business, residential and leisure areas. Instead, there would be a balanced community, where people could live, work and enjoy recreation in close proximity.’
That’s how Britannia Village was planned; a small-scale community with features of village life in the middle of the urban environment. It’s an idea with Royal approval. In December 1993 Prince Charles attended an early planning meeting describing the idea as, ‘A way to reintroduce human scale, intimacy and a vibrant street life to help restore to people their sense of belonging and pride in their own surroundings.’ The plan was set and work got underway.
The first thing to do was to demolish Cranbrook and Dunlop Points which stood right in the middle of what would become Britannia Village Green. These tower blocks, built by Newham Council in the 70s, were considered be an eyesore and not worth refurbishing. Those living in the 264 flats were re-housed. There were also 60 privately owned, original homes in the area, mostly around Mill Road. These were left and most are still there today.
Peabody Homes began to develop Britannia Village by starting 85 homes for rent on the four-acre site off Fort Street. The following year the Corporation sold 28 acres of land to Wimpey Homes to build 777 private dwellings and six shops in what was billed at the time as the largest housing development by a single private developer anywhere in Docklands. As part of the deal Wimpey agreed to provide the Village Hall. Meanwhile land was allocated by LDDC and Newham Council for 140 social homes to be built by the Peabody Trust and East Thames Housing Group at six integrated locations throughout the site.
The first residents of the Village moved in during 1996 and a charitable trust, the West Silvertown Village Community Foundation, was set up to support community activities in the village [Foundation website] The Foundation still exists and runs Britannia Village Hall.
We interviewed Edith about her memories of living in the original tower blocks and coming back to Britannia Village.
‘Most people might think living in a tower block would be terrible, but in lots of ways Cranbrook and Dunlop Points were little communities in themselves. I knew all my neighbours and our kids could play out together. It wasn’t ideal but there were lots of good things and we had great views!
Still, I have to admit, I was keen to get out and move away from the area. It had a bad reputation and was a bit ‘cut off’ from the rest of Newham. I tried really hard to move on altogether and headed out to Essex, so I was more surprised than anyone to find myself, years later, back in West Silvertown – although it was called Britannia Village by then. My daughter started to attend the local school – right next to where our original flats had stood. When I dropped her off I got my first invitation to join the Community Breakfasts at BV Hall – and through that I ended up falling in love with this part of the world! I found acceptance and community here and a place that where I could make a difference. Now I love the area and the community feel here. It is a village in lots of ways because you can get to know everyone. After coming to the Breakfast groups I surprised myself again by accepting an invitation to go along to Royal Docks Church, who meet in the same BV Hall. It was not at all what I was expecting! The people were friendly and down to earth and their meetings made me feel loved and encouraged. I haven’t looked back. I’m part of the welcoming team at church and I still go along to the community breakfasts making sure other people get a chance to connect to the best in community living
If you live locally, join us any Tues or Thursday 8.30-10.30 for a croissant, coffee and chat. You might find yourself at home here too!
Situated in West Silvertown next to Royal Victoria Dock. See the local Britannia Village Hall website for more information about the area. www.ilovebv.com