VOTE 2014: TIMOTHY GODFREY, Croydon Labour’s arts and culture spokesman, says that encouraging culture, instead of axing its funding, is possible and can be done
Art and culture have a civilising influence on us all. They bring people together, they help to build stronger communities. They help people understand and belong. When business leaders are asked what attributes they look for when locating offices and jobs, they regularly cite two things: education and culture. When communities fracture, it is through culture and arts that people begin to fix and come to an understanding.
More than ever, Croydon needs a vibrant cultural scene. Yet we now have a cultural offering that has gone backwards maybe as much as 50 years. It was in 1962 that the Fairfield Halls opened and it was 1977 that the Warehouse Theatre opened. It was in 1995 that the Croydon Clocktower complex opened, including the David Lean Cinema, a purpose-built borough exhibition gallery, museum and brand new Riesco Gallery to house the prized Chinese ceramics collection alongside a state-of-the-art Central Library, which would become the busiest and best-used public library in Britain for several years.
The Clocktower developed an award-winning education service and secured a venue development grant of £100,000 a year from the Arts Council.
Croydon was on the road to an improved cultural offering, supported by all sides of politics, as Labour took control of the borough for the first time in May 1994.
It wasn’t until 2006, when the Conservatives took control of our borough council again, that the arts stopped progressing. The past eight years has brought a sustained and prolonged attack on the arts and culture in our town.
In 2005, nearly a decade ago, the then Labour-run council signed a deal with a developer to fully refurbish the Fairfield Halls. Designs were drawn up by renowned architect Richard Rogers.
Before the 2006 local elections, the Conservatives promised to refurbish the Fairfield Halls. Once elected, they cancelled the scheme.
Before the 2010 local elections, the Conservatives in Croydon made another promise about the Fairfield Halls, this time to £10 million immediately to bring them up to date.
In less than one week’s time, there will be another set of local elections, and the Conservatives in Croydon have this time around pledged to spend £34 million of public money to overhaul the Fairfield Halls building. Over the last eight years, they have spent tens of thousands of pounds of Council Tax-payers’ money to pay the fees of expensive consultants, but very little has been achieved in catching up on a huge backlog of maintenance or making significant improvements to the Fairfield Halls.
Elsewhere, the Conservative-run council decided to close down the Warehouse Theatre in the middle of a production targeting ethnic minority audiences. A decision that marked the end of any pretence of keeping a diverse arts offering in our borough.
The Croydon Clocktower arts complex has also come under sustained attack. Not only did the council walk away from a £100,000 Arts Council grant when it was about to be renewed for a further term, but they also closed down an energetic arts education programme that ran a broad range of activities from “Club Soda” through to masterclasses in film. The Tories have also closed down our purpose-built borough gallery. It had been built to provide up to date security so it could host valuable exhibits of note., such as works by Picasso in the opening exhibition.
The Conservatives closed down the David Lean Cinema. Fortunately, the independent Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign was relentless and finally – just weeks before the local elections – allowed to “hire” the venue to show films once again. In the meantime, with no income from screenings or bar receipts, the Council Tax-payers have been picking up the tab to keep the unused cinema secure for the past three years.
Any enlightened council would have worked with the David Lean campaigners immediately to run the cinema on a permanent footing. The idea of a David Lean Cinema Film Society running that side of the complex is one that should still be taken forward.
The Conservatives also ended the Croydon Summer Festival, world party and Mela. Events that brought communities together and gave Croydon a high-profile across the London music and culture scene. It is unthinkable that a town of Croydon’s significance doesn’t have a summer festival.
The attack on our cultural heritage has continued, with the sale of a large part of the Riesco Collection. You know an administration is morally bankrupt when it sells its cultural assets that have been left in trust for the people of your borough.
To me, that is why the Conservatives can never be trusted in Croydon ever again.
How would a Labour-run council be different? Three years ago I highlighted that the council spent 44.78 per cent of its culture budget on back office services, such as lawyers, accountants, call centres and payroll. Costs are still out of control at Croydon Council and we will need to tackle them urgently. We can then invest those savings in front line services.
It is clear that if we are to make Croydon a pleasant place to live, work and bring up a family, then we must ensure it has a rich cultural offering. That means we really must use culture to strengthen communities and give pride back to the people of our town.
We must ensure that the future of the Fairfield Halls is properly secured. We must re-establish the Clocktower as a centre of arts and culture. We must support the Warehouse Theatre to keep producing theatre in Croydon as they are doing this weekend.
It won’t be easy, but the Labour Party in Croydon is determined to rebuild our cultural offering and we will start that process with an open conference to draw together the talent and expertise we already have in our town. We are ambitious for arts and culture in Croydon. This is why electing a Labour Council is so important for Croydon on May 22.
Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:
- Policy analysis 1: The incinerator
- Policy analysis 2: Hammersfield
- Threat of UKIP forces Tories to press the panic button
- WEST THORNTON: Tories forget to include entire ward in election ad
- These are the councillors who voted to build on a public park
- Questions mount over political influence at council
- What Barwell fails to tell you and the myths of Council Tax
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- The list of candidates for the May 22 local elections
Coming to Croydon
- Mrs McMoon and Signor Baffo at Stanley Halls, May 17
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Warehouse International Palywriting Festival, May 17-18
- Riverside Animal Centre Open Day, May 18
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Songs From The Ledge, Spread Eagle Theatre, May 23
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- An Improvised Murder, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 7
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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