The former Ford Stamping and Tooling Operations plant in Dagenham has been a significant part of the economic, social and industrial landscape of the area for over 70 years. Once a substantial provider of employment, housing and infrastructure – this industrial site left its mark on the historical record of the area and became widely known as part of Dagenham’s cultural heritage.
After the stamping plant closed in 2013, it was bought by Dagenham Dock Ltd to be redeveloped into much-needed housing for the London Borough of Dagenham and Barking. Carey Group company, Scudder Demolition, is principal contractor on this project, tasked with carrying out the demolition, site clearance and ground remediation on the 50-acre site – in order to make space for 2,650 new homes.
The project caught the eyes of local artists Joshua Law and Catrin Bailey, who are both fascinated by industrial and manmade landscapes. The pair approached Scudder Demolition in 2017 with the idea of documenting the site and preserving its memory through their own creative practice.
Deep-rooted connections to the area
Both artists have a deep-rooted connection to the area and the Ford Plant. Catrin lived in a former worker house close to the site for over 20 years. Originally from Neath, south Wales, she is a professional photographer, printmaker and tattooist who grew up in the shadows of the coal pits, which initially inspired her longstanding love of the industrial.
Joshua – a professional artist, teacher and recent winner of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers Prize – grew up in a council flat in east London and remembers stories from family members who sought casual daily work at the site to make ends meet.
Relying heavily on their working-class roots to inspire and inform their practice, both artists have a love for industry and the ghosts of the past left behind in its architecture – once the workers have gone and the machines have fallen silent.
Creating a body of work to celebrate Dagenham’s rich history
For three years, the pair devoted their time to investigating and exploring the history of the former Ford Stamping Plant. They also visited the site on numerous occasions to understand more about the project that will create new life in its space. Josh and Catrin used these opportunities to gather scrap materials and other items of interest for their growing collection of work.
Their resulting prints, sculptures, photographs and paintings collectively capture the moment in time that the tools were downed, and Scudder Demolition moved in to demolish the structure and regenerate the environment for the future.
A public exhibition made possible with the support of Careys Foundation
After Josh and Catrin displayed some of their work on the hoarding surrounding the site, the local council took notice and encouraged the pair to exhibit their work to the wider community. This was made possible with the support of Careys Foundation, which helped Josh and Catrin to purchase the materials they used to create the works and the frames to display them in. Careys Foundation also offered support with the planning of the exhibition.
The exhibition, which officially opened on Saturday 1st June at the Valence House Museum, is the culmination of three years' worth of site visits, documentation and creative practice. It aims to pose and answer a series of questions about the former Ford Dagenham plant. What was left behind? What is going on behind the hoardings? And what will never be seen again? It attempts to give the wider community a glimpse of the imprint that industry has left upon an urban landscape, as well as a look at the renewing process of regeneration.
This exhibition offers free admission, so that the story can be seen by all. It will run for almost two months, closing on Friday 26th July. There is a plan to road show the exhibition at other local venues in the borough and eventually donate some of the works to the museum, so that they are able to stay within the local community.