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The Nigerian way is Essex

ON THE MOVE: Nigerians are swapping London for Essex, according to the 2011 Census

A STROLL down Peckham’s high street will quickly confirm why it is affectionately called ‘Little Lagos’.

For decades, the southeast London area has been a longstanding and well-known Yoruba heartland for students who came to the UK to gain new qualifications, or the large-wave of skilled Nigerian migrants seeking fresh opportunities from the Eighties onwards.

In Peckham, Nigerian-owned businesses sell all the foodstuffs, Nollywood films and other products one would expect to see in any market ‘back home’. It is home to a number of churches and mosques that help cement the community bond.

Neighbouring area Thames-mead – where 35.6 per cent of the population is Black African [a term used by public bodies] – is another popular community for the thousands of Nigerians who were born or live in Britain. Nigerians form the largest of the Black African category, which accounts for nearly one million (989,628) of Britain’s population. A total of 174,000 were born in Nigeria.

Population statistics released in the 2011 Census suggest that Nigerian communities are now heading east, such as the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, where the Black African population nearly doubled from 4.4 per cent in 2001 to 7.6 per cent 10 years later.


And ambitious, upwardly-mobile Nigerians are not stopping there, but crossing London’s borders into Essex to set up home in towns like Basildon, Chafford Hundred, Chelmsford and Chigwell in search of affordable housing, better educational prospects or simply a break from city life.

A key area is the Essex borough of Thurrock – famous for being the location where the SS Windrush docked 65 years ago bringing with it Britain’s first wave of Caribbean migrants.


Today, nearly six per cent of Thurrock residents are Black African, according to the 2011 Census. The recent Thurrock Education Commission report published in September 2013 found Black African pupils comprise 12.4 per cent of the primary school population – the largest ethnic minority group and well above the national average. The report also noted: “The commission was repeatedly told by head teachers that Nigerian parents have the highest expectations and ambitions.”

In August, house prices in London and the southeast rose by 2.1 per cent. 

The average two-bedroom house in Woolwich was £165,000 compared with £139,995 in Chafford Hundred, one of Thurrock’s 20 wards.

Mum-of-two Ayodele Ogun-banwo and her children left Woolwich, southeast London in 2009 with the aim of buying a bigger house at a reduced price.

The 55-year-old who arrived from Nigeria in the Eighties to work as a nurse said: “It was impossible to find a three-bedroom house in London for the amount of money I had.”

Ogunbanwo, who lives in Chafford Hundred, said her new home was “bought at an affordable price.”

Thurrock councillor Tunde Ojetola said he left Barking in 2001 to buy a bigger house in Chafford Hundred to coincide with the birth of his child.  The 36-year-old Conservative said he has witnessed a “rapid change” in the area over the past decade.

“There are loads of Nigerians living here now,” he told The Voice. “Because more of us are moving to Essex, it encourages more people to do the same because there is a community around you.

“We can get the food and entertainment here. Some of the top Nigerian artists came to perform here a few months ago. There is a network to assist you in settling in.”

For Femi Awo, 32, part of the draw is “a big house and big space and somewhere quiet”, but is also still close to the action in London.

The music manager, who moved out of Plumstead to Chafford Hundred, said: “I just come in, sleep and go back out. I do not socialize with anyone in the area. I tend to go to loads of events in London.”

Nigerian-born novelist, Okechukwu Ngaha, 33, who also lives in Chafford Hundred, said the peace and serenity of Thurrock trumped London.

The Corin Chronicles author, who goes by the pen name Marvin Amazon, was raised in Battersea, southwest London but relocated following advice from his sister.

“I needed the peace and quiet for my writing,” said Ngaha. “Although I miss some of the things they have in London, living there is out of the question.”


Nigerian-born Peter Alegeh has capitalised on the shift of demographics.

The 37-year-old father-of-three who first came to England in 2007, is the owner of Lekki Restaurant and Bar, in Railway Street, Chelmsford.


Alegeh told his local paper: “Going to London was the best way me and my family could experience any type of African-style atmosphere. So we thought that instead of travelling to London we could open an African restaurant in Chelmsford.

“Then people from the African community and members of the public could try Nigerian cuisine without spending the money to get to London."

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