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Article by Ruth Bloomfield

As east London continues to reinvent itself, the next area in line for regeneration is Barking, where Weston Homes is building Abbey Quay – an exciting new landmark address on a prime riverfront site.

Vicarage Field Shopping Centre

Blazing a trail, Greenwich Peninsula in south-east London was a desolate industrial zone until the decision was taken to make it the focus for millennial housebuilding. The same was true of both Nine Elms and Sands End in the south west. And trendy Bermondsey in the inner south east of the capital was a virtual no-go zone until cool bars and artisanal restaurants started popping up.

Now it’s the turn of Barking, which sits at the confluence of the Rivers Thames and Roding, just 10 miles from the West End. It already has great transport links and good schools – and billions of pounds are currently being spent on creating what Barking & Dagenham council is calling a “mini Manhattan” of landmark towers, an upgraded town centre and tens of thousands of new homes.

At Abbey Quay, Weston Homes is building more than 1,000 luxurious new one, two and three-bedroom apartments beside the River Roding. The homes are on sale now, within a six-acre urban village that will also include a public plaza with shops and cafés, gardens, waterfront walks and a state-of-the-art gym. In a nod to Barking’s industrial heritage, there will be an area for local artists and craftspeople to display their work and host creative workshops.

Meanwhile, plans are already in place to redevelop Vicarage Field – Barking’s huge, dated and scruffy town shopping centre. This project should be a real game changer, bringing smart new shops and restaurants, a music venue, a cinema, a primary school and new flats to the local mix. There are also plans to upgrade the useful, but chaotic, local street market which opens four days a week and has a “food court” of street food stalls.

Barking Park is already a great local resource and Barking & Dagenham council has carried out a very successful and inventive Lottery-funded £7.5million redevelopment, complete with a café, community orchard, sports facilities, boating on the lake and a splash park at its long-disused lido.

Earlier this year it was announced that the City’s three historic wholesale markets – Billingsgate, Smithfield and New Spitalfields – will relocate to this east London borough. This is good news for Barking because as part of the deal, a new food hub, featuring independent outlets serving food cooked from fresh produce straight from the markets, is to be built in the town centre.

Although right now the sheer number of cranes to be seen on the skyline is proof that Barking is a work in progress, there are already some great places to hang out – if you know where to look for them. Like The Boathouse Café and Bar, overlooking houseboats moored on the River Roding, or the Barking and Dagenham Canoe Club where you can brush up on your paddling skills. Barking also has a shiny new leisure centre, and a theatre which, in normal times, offers an eclectic programme of everything from classical ballet to wrestling.

Barking Town Hall

For now, the town centre is useful rather than beautiful. Little remains of its history as a 19th-century fishing village. But you can eat your way around the globe in this vibrant, cosmopolitan corner of London, from Afghan cuisine at Ariana Restaurant, to Turkish barbecue at Wood Oven, to American-style diner food at Big Moe’s. There is also a fantastic selection of Indian restaurants, including MyLahore, while chains including Costa Coffee and Nando’s have scented opportunity and moved in.

For families, most of the local schools do well in the Ofsted ratings. For younger students St Margarets, St Joseph’s, and Northbury Primary are all rated “good” by the education watchdog, as is Northstar New School and, for older pupils, Greatfields School.

Barking’s transport links are a massive selling point, particularly for those returning to work in the City as coronavirus lockdown eases. Trains to Fenchurch Street take less than 20 minutes, and there are District and Hammersmith & City line Tube services.

Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park

Trains to Stratford are also a fast option – you could be exploring the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park or indulging in some retail therapy at Westfield Stratford City in less than 20 minutes.

And, later this year, Thames Clippers is due to extend its river bus service to Barking Riverside, for a more leisurely alternative to the train. Trips upriver to Greenwich or Canary Wharf will take 20 and 25 minutes respectively, while you could cruise to central London in 45 minutes.