If you know me well, or indeed a little bit, you will know that one of my passions, hobbies and interests in life is food and drink, more commonly known as hospitality these days. I like eating food, cooking food, and talking about food. I am a foodie.
I am also born and bred Barking and Dagenham some 50 odd years ago; and on infrequent visits home from my hospitality career, I would charm and elaborate to my parents with the latest food/wine experiences I had enjoyed in as my Dad described ‘fancy places around the world’. Now, my parents were of the generation that food was about nutrition and staying healthy, and mealtimes at home as a child were about eating quickly to ensure my big brothers didn’t offer to finish my meal. I look back fondly on all the arguments over traditionally British/east end fare; and the arguments about the skin of the rice pudding, and the best one why four brussel sprouts was not a good swap for a roast potato.
What I came to realise in later years is that at that time I was bought up in a food culture oasis, for several reasons, money was tight, and my parents were on a budget. Travel was not as widespread, and goods took longer to get to the UK, and there was not a whole industry in hospitality. Indeed, the only cooking show I remember as a child is the Galloping Gourmet! Now I am really showing my age! There, were a few takeaways, an Indian restaurant, a Chinese takeaway, and of course, Fish and Chips on a Friday was a ritual in our house.
I returned to live in the borough nearly 28 years ago and noticed immediately that food and drink had become more diverse. In every shopping parade there were new varieties of fruit and veg that I had only seen in my hotel and catering days.
One funny moment, hence the title of this blog, was about 23 years ago, I had some friends from my Hotel days coming for dinner and I needed an avocado. I went to Barking Market. In the market between two shop fronts was a fruit and veg stall called the ‘hole in the wall’. I asked the proprietor for an avocado he laughed loudly told his mate and then told me to get back to Kensington.
I am glad to say it is very different now, the range of produce is large and extensive and is available to all that live in the area. We can get holiday crisps (Lays not Walkers) in every shop these are especially needed in lockdown as we re-imagine those holidays again.
Now my interest in food and drink has intensified, my son both delighted and shocked me following into the hospitality industry. The boy did good! He made a meteoric rise in the companies he worked for in a short space of time, and at 26 announced that with his two business partners, they were going to go it alone in Peckham.
I have come to know Peckham and South London well. Food and hospitality have become an integral part of our family life, and part of the culture that binds us together. We are lucky we have eaten out a lot over the last few years…as well as frequenting our son’s place; in comparison to where I live. It really is the Peckham Riviera in terms of the hospitality offer and the wide range of independent shops and restaurants.
There is no denying that Barking and Dagenham does not have a huge night-time economy, nor the range of food offers other London boroughs have and is playing catch up. So, I am delighted to hear that the three markets of London are moving to Barking and Dagenham. In case you were wondering this is Spitalfields (fruit and Veg), Smithfield (meat) and Billingsgate (fish). With this will come a food market, new restaurant opportunities and a culinary college.
Now some cynics will say this is gentrification. I have a more optimistic view; that it is about placemaking and building communities. There is no denying that hospitality brings cultures and communities together.
On a sadder note, there is no denying that the hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19. There will be much to do to rebuild the industry. The BEC has been working with the council on the local plan to support retail and hospitality businesses reinvent and re-imagine the future.
However, personally I am excited by the future and looking forward to seeing these plans take shape and if you need a stimulus our colleagues at Be First made a short video about the plans for Barking. I personally cannot wait!