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Here is Your Invite to Dagenham

A special one, just for you

By DamilolaPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
2
A Dagenham bus stop

When I think of my hometown, I think about the people, as that’s the secret ingredient to making a hometown memorable, nostalgic and a place of comfort and refuge. For most people, bucket lists of places to visit contain some sort of tourist attraction, world-renowned museums and historical monuments.

The truth is many of us don’t get the opportunity to live in these places.

But have you ever visited a place whose core spirit is the diverse people living in it, ready to comfort you with a sense of normalcy, calm and an appreciation of simple things? Have you ever visited a place whose beauty is in the value of community, a place where you can experience life in its best form, amazing human interaction and a quick immersion into so many different cultures and people from different places? If not, this is your personal and special invite to Dagenham, and of course, you can bring your friends and family too!

Before you come here, let me take you on a photographic and personal tour of why I love Dagenham so much!

I moved here about 10 years ago, a young teenager struggling to find my place in a totally different country. Somewhat insecure, somewhat scared but with a huge sense of curiosity. I remember my first days in Dagenham very vividly, I arrived in spring, the difference in the weather being the most prominent first memory.

At first, I wondered how I’d cope, living in a town that was totally different from where I had come from. But Dagenham has a very special ability to morph into whatever you want it to morph into. The bustling daytime morphing seamlessly into a colourful peaceful night-time, and corners morphing into places for talented buskers to bless us with nice guitar melodies, and risky dance moves.

It didn’t take long to not only meet people who looked like me and spoke like me, but I was also immediately immersed into a world of many cultures, each one of them having very strong pillars of foundations in the town, with the shops, food and sense of community. None of them overshadowed each other but the different cultures intertwined so beautifully.

School was one of the places I had been dreading, I was going to be the new kid, with a very strong accent and slightly wonky teeth. But once again I was hugely surprised at how quickly I blended into the wide range of students coming from so many different backgrounds, my anxiety very quickly turned into curiosity mixed with excitement. The novelty wore off and I felt almost instantly at home. I can tell you for a fact that living in Dagenham will teach you the basics of at least 100 different languages faster than a language app will.

Do you wanna bet me on it?

Your first train window views

To get to Dagenham you might need to get a bus, or maybe a train on the famous London district line. Whichever one you choose to go with, you might look out of the window to soak in this new place you’re in. At first, you’ll be faced with rail lines and brown buildings, but the monochromatic feeling of that will be quickly replaced with so many beautiful graffiti, enough for you to publish a photobook. The people here express themselves in many different ways, in many different colours and many different shades.

A Train station with graffiti

The colours might speak to you and invite you in, or the political message behind them might get you thinking and ready to argue on Twitter, but one of my favourite things about Dagenham is the many beautiful artistic expressions in the form of graffiti. The best thing about them is you can see them even in residential areas, 2 seconds away from where you stay.

Beautiful graffiti down my street

As a young creative, seeing these graffitis inspired me to be bold in my pursuits, to be daring and to speak about pressing issues unapologetically through my art.

Once you step out of your choice of transport, you’re immediately immersed in a market-like feel, which consists of the many different shops with food from all over the world. The colours in the fruits and vegetables might encourage you to try out new cuisine, the kind shopkeepers giving you a very good deal on your mix of goods.

What would you like to cook?

The prices aren’t fixed in these markets, “£3.50 just for you Madame” they would say, beaming with so much hospitality you might want to pay extra.

A nice shopkeeper posing for a photo

Here, fashion is so diverse, your eyes will be blessed with colourful Indian saris, structured African bubas, handcrafted Japanese kimonos and all types of fashion from all walks of life, each standing out beautifully to represent the notion that everyone is appreciated and welcome here.

And just like the fashion, restaurants and takeaways are just as diverse!

We have Asian cuisines, African cuisines, European cuisines, north and south American cuisines, and of course the classic London fish and chips shops. £2 for a huge ration of your favourite protein and a generous serving of chips, a very good deal to satisfy your fast food cravings!

Have you ever tried Jollof Rice?

What makes these shops so special, is not limited to the mouth-watering food. I remember finishing school at exactly 3 p.m., from then on the race between me and my friends to catch the bus 175 at 3:15 begins. I would save my £2 lunch allowance just to go to these shops where we would congregate, laugh, and talk about the silliest things!

We were regular visitors, so the “bosses” as we would call those who run these shops, would not only remember our names but also know exactly what our orders were before we spoke a word. These times made my heart smile in unexplainable ways, the joy of eating became 100 times amplified by being surrounded with amazing people, the fabric of the community I found myself in.

We also have McDonald's here!

After trying out different cuisines, you might need a place to relax. Dagenham boasts of so many parks on each corner you turn, it’s very rare that you find many spaces of this kind in the very busy London, but there’s always a vast landscape of greens and lakes where you can lay out a picnic with fruits you bought from the market and stare into the deep blue sky, a perfect place for retrospect and calm.

Almost poetic, almost meditative.

You can choose places where you can socially interact with people or travel a few kilometres to spaces where you can be alone. The size of these parks gives you the freedom to either run around in a field singing your favourite songs with only cows as your spectators, or engage in conversations and make connections with new people. I have sung along on many different occasions with people playing guitars on nice warm summer evenings, and showed off my poor dancing skills with music playing distantly out of speakers.

There are also many nice neighbourhood spaces, with different types of playground toys, just in case you want to engage in more energetic activities and swing away with your kids, don’t let anyone tell you you’re too old for slides!

I’ll never be too old for slides

Sports communities are also available, just in case you want to pick up a new skill and become the next world-renowned football player. Talents are encouraged and nurtured here, did you know that the best defender of all time Bobby Moore is from this borough, and so is X-factor and loose women star Stacey Solomon?

At night, the town is quiet but beautifully lighted and peaceful, you could never tell the bustling colourful spirit bore the calmness that comes with the nights in Dagenham, not because the spirit of the town isn’t alive anymore, but because respect is another value that has been ingrained into our community.

You can visit Essex style night clubs after the pandemic is over, to dance away in red disco lights in the town centre, exactly the types you see on the TOWIE reality TV show. A night with your friends visiting buffets, drunk and singing along to love songs a mile away on the streets of Romford is also on the cards. In residential areas however, you’ll enjoy the natural sounds of birds chirping, rain tapping, and occasional sounds of the train passing by, accompanied with the nostalgic feeling of when you were just looking out of its windows hours ago.

A quarter moon makes an appearance

The nights here come with a different kind of vibe, a feeling of safety in the hands of your neighbours and a very peaceful atmosphere for a very good night rest.

My hometown might be small, but it’s not forgettable. With very quick transport links into the heart of London, it’s an experience anyone seeking to immerse in the cultural diversity and nightlife the city provides, but with the benefits of a peaceful countryside feel.

It represents gratitude for the simple life many of us find ourselves living and it’s what I’ve made of it.

So when you’re ready to come, I’ll pick you up from Dagenham Heathway station, with my favourite red scarf and a huge smile, waving at you with some flowers, in the spirit of my dear hometown.

My favourite red scarf

photography
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About the Creator

Damilola

poet, wanderer, writer.

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