20. The Curator of Valence House Museum

A bleak grizzly day in January, I park, only one other car. Sounds and smells come from the green hut in the middle of the deserted playing field. There’s no one in the café to meet me, so I go over to the museum, where I’m welcomed by Debbie.

I request to meet the curator, Leeanne Westwood, I’m interested to know more about the people who keep this hidden resource alive.

Leanne has been the curator for nearly eighteen years, born and bred in the borough.Her grandfather had been one of the original inhabitants on the Becontree Estate.

“I went away to University to study ancient history and archaeology and always wanted to work in a museum. My dad told me about the job that came up locally, so I sent in my CV.

After six months, I went to Leicester to do a Masters in museum studies, spent some time in Wales, and then came back.” Leanne laughs. “It’s been quite a journey. In 2007, we received £8,000,000 to develop the whole building and create new displays and we got the Fanshawe collection recognised nationally.”

By 2010, visitor numbers had doubled to 36,000 a year and it’s now seen as a community hub for Barking and Dagenham and a safe place for families to come and visit.

Clearly extremely passionate about her job, I ask Leeanne what drives her.

“This is my history, my family history. If you don’t know your roots, you can’t move forward.

It’s all about learning from your mistakes, and finding your place in the local eco-system. I want to raise pride in the borough. “

And what’s next?

“We need to work with an engagement officer to go out into the community and make the connections, to attract in a more diverse audience.

In ten years? I’d like to be working in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery and put our collection into context.”

There is another visitor, who stops to congratulate Leeanne.

“I’m visiting every museum in London” He says “Here, I can get you really understand Barking and Dagenham.”

Yes, I think so too, she does.

Story writer/provider
Ali Pretty

Flag Designer
Jacci Todd

Kinetika Artists

Landscape Character Area
Dagenham Corridor

Thames Chase Trust, Pike Lane
Upminster, Essex RM14 3NS

01708 642970

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