Motoring Along!

A huge site on the Rainham and Dagenham border, where some of Europe’s most famous cars were built, is being transformed into a new community. Phase One of the Simple Life London Beam Park regeneration is almost complete, so here we look at its past, present and future.

Black and white photograph of parked cars

Flick through old A-Z maps of Dagenham and even if you are not a car aficionado, it’s easy to spot the links to Ford. Sierra Drive, Consul Way, Cortina Drive and Fiesta Drive all once weaved around the Beam river, the watercourse that runs through this area of Rainham to the south of Dagenham, emptying into the Thames. It’s a huge patch of riverfront that Henry Ford chose as the site for one of his first UK factories, initially to build light trucks, but going on to be the birthplace of many Ford car marques, as the road names reveal. It was also the inspiration for Made in Dagenham, the 2010 film starring Bob Hoskins and Sally Hawkins, which celebrated the efforts of female seat upholsterers in 1968 to secure equal pay with their male colleagues. The site where the strikes and protests took place, which is still in use today as an engine manufacturing plant, has shrunk as Ford car production has gradually moved elsewhere in Europe – however, the site has now made room for an impressive new £1 billion residential and leisure development.

Black and white photo of old Ford factory

Residents moving into Simple Life London’s Beam Park are living in an area rich with motoring history that began in 1931 when the first vehicles rolled off the production line at Ford’s now famous Dagenham plant, which had been in the planning since the 1920s. The vast 475-acre site was created out of what had been marshy riverside swamp – Ford used millions of tonnes of concrete to bolster the ground on which the factory was sat. The site went on to employ 40,000 people in its heyday during the 1950s and in total has built 11 million cars, trucks and tractors as well as 50 million engines. Dagenham was a marvel of industrial production even by Ford’s standards. It had its own coal-powered power station, internal railway, port and steel works, all glimmering behind a huge blue Ford sign. Car production at the plant ended in 2002 after the last UK Fiesta rolled off the line, but for 70 years prior to that Dagenham was a by-word for modern vehicle production and one of Ford’s flagship European sites. Famous cars built there included the Ford Zephyr during the 1950s and the Ford Anglia during the 1960s. The Anglia recently enjoyed a renaissance as a classic car after a restored and airborne example featured in several Harry Potter films.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Dagenham produced nearly a million Cortinas, and after that a similar number of Capris (which sold for £1,000 each), followed by three million Sierras and over a million Fiestas. Ford remains at the site today, even though mass production of cars has ceased, and it is now one of the largest diesel engine producers in the world. However, Ford Dagenham continues to surprise. In 2020, the company was part of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium which manufactured much-needed respiratory ventilators for the National Health Service during the pandemic. The company transformed an empty warehouse into an ISO 9001-accredited ventilator factory in just three weeks – a feat that would usually take a full year. But as car production has receded, so large parts of the site close to Dagenham town have become redundant. Covering some 70 acres of the original site, these unused areas are being rapidly transformed into a small town, and Simple Life London have recently launched the first 80 apartments exclusively to rent across two buildings, of what will be a large-scale presence within the rapidly-transforming site.

Phase One of Beam Park is due for completion this year, but by 2028 some 3,000 build-to-rent and affordable housing apartments will dominate the local skyline. Residents have started to move into the development, with the initial two blocks – Valentines House and Beechmont House – the first release of a much wider Simple Life London presence on the site.

External photograph of 4 storey apartment block

“Beam Park is already filling up with residents and the hard work at the site is paying off – nearly 90% of people we asked about customer service gave it a positive rating,” says Simple Life London Head of Lettings Management, Sophie Danes.

Web BP Kitchen 300x270

“We’re fully up-and-running there including a lettings team and two relationship managers who look after all the residents’ requirements such as arranging repairs, cleaning, and dealing with utilities, but overall delivering an exceptional resident experience.”

The stylish ‘built for renters’ apartments feature many of the benefits this kind of property is well known for. This includes upmarket fixtures and fittings, zero-deposit move-ins, and super-fast broadband.

There’s more to come. The site will also have a medical centre, primary school, shops and restaurants, nursery, gym and leisure facilities as well as a public park. There’s no doubt that Beam Park is motoring along!