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The Past

In old days, when Hainault Forest extended right down to Marks Gate, it was said that the children of the farmers and foresters ran wild. The Victorians of 1847 had the answer. They built Hainault Forest School. Then, within five years, they cut down the forest.

Upright citizens paid for this new school, as was the custom of the times. Aristocratic Lady Mildmay contributed from her Hampshire mansion; New College, Oxford, sent along some funds and, closer to home, Romford brewer Mr Ind (of Ind Coope) chipped in as well. Even the government granted £102. Hainault Forest School had 76 pupils in one big room – more, it was said, on a Sunday.

In time, the school, now isolated in the fields by Collier Row (as it is now), passed to the control of the Essex council. Just before the Great War, it was enlarged. The coming of the electric trains multiplied the local population, and in 1936 the older children were sent elsewhere.

after WW2
After World War Two the state took over. The building, now a century old, was renamed The Oaks, a Church of England Primary School, but these were the expansive days of school modernisation in the 1950s, and the old Victorian building was deemed too small and crowded. In 1957 it lost its infant department and within ten years, ill-equipped and in need of repair, it was closed.

The Oaks was the most northerly outpost of the Borough of Barking and Dagenham, who decided to maintain the buildings, refurbished them and opened the site as a youth service resource centre, where it served an inevitably distant community for the next thirty years. By the millennium, however, the future was looking grim. The council had moved out, the vandals paid their visits, and the old Victorian building made an undignified appearance on a ‘Derelict London’ website.

However, the demolition men were held at bay by a council which recognised the building as a characterful reminder of much earlier times. Now 160 years old, the Oaks caught the eye of the visionary teacher Christine Redgrave and her team, who now take over the story.

OLd Oaks
Our involvement in the building started when Graham Russell (the project manager) saw the derelict site and made enquiries.

It was by this time owned by a property developer who wanted to build retirement dwellings but had been refused council permission for the level of development required. Without this good fortune (from our perspective), the opportunity to restore the building and its surroundings - and hopefully develop the centre as a place for young children would not have presented itself.

No funding materialised despite interest from various quarters. The only formal recognition we have is a plaque from Capital Growth - recognition for our allotment initiative.

vandalism stopped
The vandalism stopped from the time we began to talk to young local youths. This is to the credit of everyone involved.

In August 2010 we opened our doors for two weeks of children’s activities, led by the core team who have inspired the project. 48 children, aged from 3 to 11, enjoyed drama, dance, cooking, football, art and craft, and all kinds of fun, competitions and challenges.

The present

The Centre now provides a unique setting for our nursery and preschool ‘The Oaks Activity Centre’ and boasts
- a dance/drama studio, an art/craft workshop, a games room, an indoor gym, an outdoor play area, an astro-pitch and allotments. We are proud to be helping our children experience new exciting opportunities every day.
Surrounded by fields and a stone’s throw from Hainault Forest and Wellgate Farm we are able to regularly include trips out to learn about these beautiful natural environments.

We will continue to post our events and activities on our Facebook and Instagram pages. These keep our parents as well as prospective families up-to-date.
Activities for young children such as ‘Movin’ Monkeys’ which takes place on a Wednesday morning have now started. Do contact us if you would like to know more.
Do also feel free to contact us with your memories, photographs, ideas or suggestions about the past or future of the Oaks.

The Oaks