Anyone familiar with the work of the Wanstead Society, the independent organisation that works to protect, preserve and improve the area, will know Billie Figg.

One of the first people to join the society when it was founded in 1997, she was active in the local community for many years prior to that.

Now in her 80s, Mrs Figg still lives in the house on the Avenue she and her husband moved into in 1961, and Mrs Figg is as devoted and as passionate about Wanstead as ever.

The Guardian talked to her about her life in Wanstead as she celebrated 50 years in the area.

“I moved to Woodford from North London when I was just 18 months old,” she recalled. “From there I lived in Buckhurst Hill, Roding Valley and Epping. But I always had my eye on Wanstead.

“I love the amount of greenery here. We have towering trees which frame our skyline which means we get lovely bird song.

“I have always been happy here.”

Mrs Figg has been at the forefront of The Wanstead Society’s campaign to preserve the character of the area, playing a key role in Society initiatives such as the Smarter High Street competition and the Shopkeeper of the Year award.

She explained: “The High Street is still fairly vibrant, but it’s losing its character.

“I remember when it had enormous variety. We had three very good grocers, fresh fish shops, even a boat shop. You name it. We had it.

“If it’s going to survive in the face of things like this new shopping centre in Stratford, the High Street will need help.”

It’s not only the High Street which concerns Mrs Figg.

She’s also worried about the future of Wanstead Police Station, the sale of the Methodist Church and plans for the old Kinema.

“If you gouge all these things out of Wanstead, you destroy a big part of our history,” she explained. “Of course everything changes, but in some ways you need to preserve the character and meaning of buildings to preserve the identity of an area.”

And despite all the changes, she still maintains she’d never want to live anywhere other than Wanstead.

“I still feel like a newcomer here compared to a lot of people I’ve met down the years,” she said. “There are families here who have been living in Wanstead for generations.”

“When I walk up to Christchurch Green and look at the area, it still looks like a village. I love that. “That’s why the Wanstead Society are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the small shops and buildings which make Wanstead so special.”

Six Questions for Billie Figg • What’s your earliest memory?

“I think I would have been about three, we were living in Woodford Green. I can remember walking up Snakes Lane collecting armfuls of conkers. They were a big feature of my childhood. We still have a lot of horse chestnut trees in the area.”

• What scares you?

“I’m a complete coward! Lots of things scare me. I suppose being in the house alone is my biggest fear, but I’m lucky enough to have my husband in the house so it’s not something I have to worry about too often.”

• What was your first job?

“I would have been 19. I didn’t work before then because I contracted TB when I was 16 and spent the next three years convalescing. I got a job in WH Smiths in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I must admit I didn’t like it very much and only lasted three months. I really wanted to be a journalist which is what I ultimately ended up doing.”

• What’s the one thing you’d grab if your house was on fire?

“My husband of course! He’s the most precious thing in my life.”

• What’s your favourite book?

“My eyes aren’t very good now, so I don’t tend to read much. But I still love “Wanstead through the ages” by Winifred Eastment. She’s dead now, but I still refer to the book all the time. It really is marvellous.”

• What’s your favourite music?

“I loved my dad so much and he played Ragtime music on the piano all the time. The sound of ragtime echoed through my early life and I still love it today.”