On Friday 12 March the new footbridge between between Thurrock and Havering was officially opened.
This connects the Garrision Estate at Purfleet with the Rainham Marshes RSBP Centre and opens up the Thames Path cycle route along the north bank of the river as it flows past south Essex and through London.
As mentioned in a previous article on the Transformation Thurrock website, there is tremendous significance in the building of this bridge as the land is ‘married’ and reconnected (both the west end of Thurrock and the eastern part of Havering used to be in the original medieval Chafford Hundred). This has been emphasised by a sculptural gateway on the Purfleet side which locals refer to as the ‘Engagement Ring’ but which is fact meant to be a ‘Sun Disk’.
The new bridge was officially opened by Thurrock’s outgoing MP, Andrew Mackinlay, and the mayor, Cllr Maureen Pearce.
Rev Andy Hudson of St Stephen’s Parish Church in Purfleet has been involved in the project and was at the opening ceremonies. Transformation Thurrock emailed him a few questions which he has kindly answered.
TT: Hi Andy. The new Mardyke Bridge at the Garrison Estate was opened last week – how long has it taken for this project to come into being?
AH: At least three years, although some say it was first mentioned about twenty years ago, but the idea was dropped.
TT: Please can you tell us a bit about the development of the project. What was your involvement in it?
AH: My involvement came about when I wanted to do a sponsored cycle along the Thames Path. I had to ask a local how to get onto the track that I could actually see but couldn’t get to – I found that I had to do a 10 minute detour to get across the Mardyke!
I heard that the Charity Veolia were looking for a major project to fund in the area, so I approached Andy Furze who is one of the Trustees who I had met at a previous meeting. I asked the question, “What do you think about a bridge?”
I was asked to talk to locals and also to the Community Forum to asses the level of interest and support for such a project. I reported back to Andy Furze that there was a good level of support and that was my involvement.
Veolia found other partners – including Sustrans, RSPB, Essex County Council, Thurrock Council, and Thames Gateway Commissions East – funded the artwork, and so it has been a number of organisations working in partnership with the backing of the Community Forum.
TT: What exactly is the ‘gate’ on the Purfleet side meant to be? Does it have a meaning and why was that symbol chosen?
AH: It was supposed to capture the sunrise and sunset, with a time line on the inside listing or shedding light on the colourful history of Purfleet. I don’t know much more about the artwork even though I have met the artist.
TT: What does the opening of the bridge mean for the people of the Garrison Estate and Purfleet?
AH: I think that it’s good to see something positive coming out of all the regeneration that has happened. Purfleet has been told about a new infrastructure for the area, however all we have is more and more housing – but now we have something new to show for Purfleet.
TT: How will opening up access along the river benefit local people?
AH: I hope that more people will enjoy the fantastic Thames Path. We have one of the best views of the Thames this side of London, and also access to good fishing. The bridge also makes the Rainham Marshes RSPB Centre more accessible for the people of Purfleet.
TT: It’s kind of weird to think that just by crossing that bridge people are entering London. Do you think that’s significant?
AH: Living in Purfleet can feel quite isolated – we are part of Thurrock but we are actually inside the M25 which gives the place a very different feel to, say, Grays, or even West Thurrock.
Many people who live in Purfleet look towards Dagenham, Rainham and to London and now with the bridge we have a physical link with the Thames Path cycleway and the London Circular walk too.
TT: Do the RSPB on Rainham Marshes welcome the possibilities the bridge represents?
AH: RSPB offer free admission for Purfleet residents and I would expect the bridge to increase local visitors.
TT: What other events can we look forward to at the Mardyke Bridge?
AH: 6th June will be a community celebration with events at St Stephen’s Parish Church, the Heritage Centre and RSPB Centre.
TT: What other projects are St Stephen’s involved in at the moment?
AH: We continue to develop our services to children and parents with the ‘Stay and Play’ child development groups. The youth drop-in centre continues with weekly meetings for 13s and over.
Rock School is a new development trying to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and enjoy music with affordable access to lessons in guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and singing, with a mini recording studio.
We have a project called ‘A Song For Purfleet’ where anyone can come and record their favourite song, and from this we will compile and sell a CD. We also have a professional singer-songwriter writing a song for Purfleet with the positive message of the bridge as part of the theme.
Streetlife street dancing is also now available on a weekly basis for those 8 and over. So a lot going on!
TT: Do you have any dreams you’d like to see realised for the church and Purfleet’s community?
AH: We are looking to extend the church building to be able to offer more recourses for the community. We look forward to many other opportunities for Purfleet as a whole community coming together to enjoy and celebrate both our diversity and our talent.
TT: Andy, thank you!
Photos (top to bottom):
- Andrew Mackinlay MP and Cllr Maureen Pearce cut the ribbon with the help of local school children.
- Rev Andy Hudson with a group of children at the opening ceremony.
- Some of the first cyclists to cross the bridge that links the Thames Path cycle route – Thurrock Christian Fellowship and Gateway Cycling Club’s Richard Earll is wearing the blue top with yellow sleeves to the left of the picture.
- Thurrock’s MP and Mayor in the ‘Engagement Ring’.
- The solar flare motif on the ‘Sun Disk’ gateway.
- Tim Harold posing in the gateway later the same day.
Photos of the opening taken by Gary Seithel of Across Havering and the Thames Gateway Prayernet.
For more information about the bridge, please see April’s edition of Thurrock Council’s own newspaper About Thurrock and these links:
Thefts at the new bridge: