Have you had a look around Croydon the past couple of weekends? Notice anything happening?
No, not the usual puddle of half-dried vomit amid the fast food wrappers and empty beer bottles that scatter the pavements in the town centre on a Sunday morning.
Have you noticed anything like the Lambeth Country Show that was staged in Brockwell Park last weekend? No? No music festival in Lloyd Park then? No 2011 Croydon Mela?
What about anything linked to next year’s London Olympics? After all, this is Olympic Open Weekend, with a little more than a year to go until the Greatest Show on Earth comes to the capital, so you’d expect London’s biggest borough by population to be playing a significant part, wouldn’t you? No?
For a borough with pretensions of becoming a “city”, Croydon is in danger of becoming a cultural wasteland under the leadership (if that is the right word) of Sara “Book Token” Bashford.
Bashford is the council’s ruling Tory group’s cabinet member for customer services
, culture and sport. As well as overseeing the secret flogging off of Croydon’s libraries to an American firm, it has been Bashford who has closed down the David Lean Cinema and Croydon Museum to save cash (without realising that the Clocktower’s maintenance costs still have to be paid and that the thick end of a £1 million Lottery grant for the museum would have to be repaid). And on her watch the council has virtually declared itself to be an Olympics-free zone.
We know that Bashford supplements her £45,000 of “allowances” with another salary of around £28,000 for “working” as a parliamentary assistant for Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP. So perhaps we should not be surprised that Croydon’s disengagement from the Olympics under Bashford appears to mimic Barwell’s position.
Barwell has publicly admitted that he doesn’t “get” the idea of the London Olympics, and thinks that £9 billion is an awful lot to pay. Which it is.
What Barwell would discover if he sat down to listen to a prominent Tory peer other than his mentor Lord Ashcroft is that the position he has adopted neglects to realise is that the benefits – in cash and kind – of staging an Olympics if properly harnessed can be massive, just like any astute business development.
Unfortunately for the people of the “city” of Croydon, though, it seems that Bashford has gone off and unilaterally implemented a policy of total disengagement from the Olympic project. It is somewhat churlish and just a little bit sad.
This weekend, with nearly 300 Olympic-themed sports and cultural events going on elsewhere in the capital to mark One Year to Go, in Croydon there has been just a single activity – a Bollywood dance performance in South Norwood.
This is a classic cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-your-face posture by Bashford, Barwell and Croydon Council that risks sourly disenfranchising local people from an experience of a lifetime.
After all, the people of Croydon, along with all other Londoners, are paying for the Games in any case. Pretending that they aren’t happening ain’t going to make them go away.
Yes, the “Olympic Boroughs” in east London obviously get a larger slice of the action with the Games on their doorstep next summer. But there will be many other collateral benefits of staging the Games in London next year to the whole country. Anyone who has travelled on the East London Line from West Croydon will have already experienced one multi-million pound benefit of the Olympics.
Given some sort of vision and imagination from our “leaders”, the Olympics ought to be a massive opportunity for the “city” of Croydon. With hotel places in London at a premium in 2012, with Stratford and Wembley less than an hour away via train and Tube, and Wimbledon just a Tram ride away, Croydon could become a hub for many visitors from the rest of Britain and around the world, boosting local businesses. Who knows, if they liked it here enough, some might even come back.
Of course, not all Croydon Tories are ignoring the London Olympics. Croydon South MP Richard Ottaway, a master of filling in an expenses form but with no serious track record of involvement in sporting matters at Westminster, has found himself appointed to the chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary Olympic group.
Wonder whether that will see him pick up a few choice free tickets?
Two together for Usain Bolt, sir?
- Litter-picker Barwell now has a big mess to clear up (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon’s under-threat libraries: a timeline of council deceit? (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon arts policy: no librarians, but £1.5m for Fairfield Halls (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)