When my out-of-London dwelling friends ask me which area of London I live in, they seem deeply unimpressed when I tell them I live in Barking and Dagenham. When I explain to them that I rent a shoebox in the grey outskirts of London and that there are no pop-up shops on my high street, their brows furrow. They cautiously probe further, ‘you mean there isn’t a artisan doughnut shop where you live?!’ I burst their bubble when I tell them that the folks of Barking and Dagenham get their doughnuts from Greggs. It’s too much for them to handle.
Usually the most affordable areas of London are the ugliest; they lack the rustic, hipster vibes of Dalston and Shoreditch. In these trendy parts the coffee is strictly bespoke and is served to you by a vegan with pink hair who is offended by everything- including coffee.
My borough-Barking and Dagenham- is far less sexy than London’s trendy hotspots. You’d be hard pressed to find a craft beer brewery in B&D and you can’t for the life of you find a decent vegan juice bar. My boyfriend and I live in an suite studio flat within a house which I share with a selection of miscreants. If I’m quiet enough, I can here someone take a shit in the toilet across the hall. There is no Whole Foods where I live but my local Co-Op does have a considerably sized Free From section.
There are no bespoke exercise classes taking place in my local park; but I’ve heard – from reliable, stoned sources – that it’s frequented by a bloke who sells ‘decent’ weed. The rent here is considerably cheaper than a lot of areas inside London which is amazing because I can actually afford to eat. I’ve sacrificed hot Bikram Yoga and brunch for somewhat affordable living and I’m okay with that.
When people make fun of where I live, I remember that Dalston was once mocked for being a shit hole before being gentrified with quirky cafes and cocktail bars. Now Dalston is inhabited by young, middle-class hipsters and is considered one of the coolest places in London.
Its rustic, rough-around-the-edges look mixed with its eclectic outlets is enough to make any trendy millennial have a week long orgasm. In the land of gentrification, rent is extortionate but you’re all sorted for cat cafes and roof-top bars where cocktails cost more than a weekly food shop.
Barking and Dagenham is yet to become gentrified and so it’s still rough around the edges. The old houses here, with their battered exteriors, are Dagenham’s answer to the shabby-chic warehouse apartments of Dalston. As London’s affordable housing market dwindles, the affordability of Barking and Dagenham is attractive to most. That’s not to say that I – along with other residents – haven’t noticed increased rents and housing prices.
The area is by no means safeguarding from the burgeoning gentrification that’s sweeping its way through London. But the people who have lived here for decades haven’t yet been totally shipped out of their homes to make way for juice bars or boutiques – yet. And that’s way better than artisan doughnuts.