Concrete Croydon gets a pop-up youth club: for one night only

For one summer’s evening only, Croydon is going to be able to enjoy having a youth service. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

The Fairfield car park in central Croydon, the town’s latest night club. For just a few hours this Wednesday night

“The Croydon Club” will have an official opening. And then it will close just four hours later.

Deputy Mayor Tony Harris, who has five decades of his own proud service as a youth worker, will do the honours.

Croydon can afford a youth service for just 240 minutes.

At the same time that it is spending almost £1million in furnishing its new HQ building, our council has gouged a further £1million a year out of youth provision since the 2010 elections. It also has what it describes as a “new relationship” with youth provision which is about “Redefining the relationship between the Council and the Voluntary Sector in the context of the Big Society“.

Ah. The “Big Society”. Even Call Me Dave has abandoned that piece of empty rhetoric of late, so vacuous and distrusted has the “Big Society” become.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, put so at the weekend, “’Big society’ rhetoric is all too often heard by many … as aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable.”

The Archbishop dismisses “Big Society” as “a ploy”. It is a ploy that is self-evident in Croydon with the council washing its hands of the responsibility for mainstream youth work and leaving it to volunteer groups, who themselves have suffered 66 per cent cuts in funding grants since 2010.

The council says its aim is to concentrate on the most vulnerable youths. How that policy sits following the 8/8 riots is open to question. And here we have the council’s response to rioting: a “pop-up” youth club in unused multi-storey car parking space – one thing of which Croydon does have a surfeit.

London-based landscape architects KLA is to set about creating the background sets to the event tomorrow evening in the Fairfield Halls car park, hopefully at no cost to the denuded Croydon youth budget.

Oooo. Decorators. For a car park. Great

The organisers are “the decorators”, who have done other intriguing public art works, some aimed at improving the public realm and often with a food theme.

They describe themselves as having “met at Central St Martins and set ourselves up as a collective in 2010. We are a multidisciplinary practice. Architecture, psychology, landscape, interior and graphic design are our tools”. Hmmm.

The top floor of the Fairfield car park is not used for car parking. Security staff occasionally have to ask young people to desist from skateboarding and freerunning there.

KLA says, “The practice has a track record of innovative projects that combine a conceptual approach to the Art of Landscape Architecture with an enthusiasm for new ideas and an open approach to working with others. We win many awards for our work that often recognise our unique approach to collaborative working and the positive contribution this gives to regeneration. “

Without any sense of irony, the organisers say the transformation will allow for “a fictional members club for one day only”.

Youth provision in Croydon is, after all, a fiction these days. “We will be discussing the future of Croydon while playing football, roasting a pig, listening to some speeches and the sounds of some local bands while enjoying the best views of Croydon.”

The views from the top of the car park include the run down College Gardens, the inspiring Ikea chimney stacks in the distance, the London to Brighton railway track, the soon to be empty Nestle building and the Altitude 25 apartment building, which urban myth suggests is so called because it has never had more than 25 per cent occupancy. The Fairfield car park: can there be anywhere which offers a more depressing view of Croydon in 2012?

If you’d like to attend, do register to go along to eat the non-inclusive roast pig (hardly kosher, or halal, after all), talk about the “future” of the car park, or indeed to enter a five-a-side football team, by emailing

Fairfield car park: the future is green?

The future of the car park is an interesting issue. The Conservative-run council has re-purchased the car park from NCP, having earlier seen all town car parks privatised by Labour. Something of a role reversal for the Tories, who usually claim to be the party of free enterprise.

The council’s intention is to add the run-down car park into the £450 million portfolio of speculative investments that it wants to hand over to developers John Laing in playing the demoralised local property market at the risk of the local Council Tax payer.

If we are getting landscape architects in, it may be that one way to make a failing Croydon more attractive would be to “green” many of central Croydon’s flat-roofed buildings. Greened roofs are popular in many modern European cities, including central London, where the planting combats urban heat islands, encourages bio-diversity and improves the living environment.

Croydon is very short of allotments. Fairfield car park’s abandoned top floor could be given a more permanent transformation into a green oasis of productivity. This would be better than it being a concrete desert cursed by anti-social behaviour.

Peter Newbury, the chairman of the Croydon Federation of Allotment and Garden Societies, says that the car park site would be a good place for taster start-up allotments, as they have at Spa Hill allotments. These units can be as small as 8ft by 4ft and have been successful under the ambit of the Dale Park Community Allotment Club. The club was awarded an Eco Citizen Award by Croydon Council itself.

Newbury says that the waiting list for Croydon allotments is “getting worse by the year”. Anyone who applies now for an allotment might get lucky and get one in two or three years’ time, with about 500 applicants chasing the 2,000 mostly fully used allotments in Croydon.

So perhaps the landscape architects should be kept on to leave more than just four hours of a “fictional” youth club. Instead of a brief piece of empty PR puffery, they could help green Croydon’s crumbling concrete jungle along with the tranquil but productive effort of Croydon’s allotment holders.

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1 Response to Concrete Croydon gets a pop-up youth club: for one night only

  1. This article provides much food for thought.

    Croydon’s young people often get a bad rap, but I find a great many are good citizens in the truest meaning of the term. Also, as the recent Reith lecture outlined, the older generations are serving our youth very badly by burdening them with huge levels of public debt. Surely, we should strive for decent youth services as a small but important way of ensuring generational fairness?

    Although many of August’s rioters were shown to be career criminals, well into their 20s, or indeed older, a proportion were young people. Given this background, it seems both fair and wise to provide our young people with decent youth services.

    The really depressing revelation in this article is that the savage cuts to youth services are saving a very modest £1 million. This saving is tiny in the context of Croydon’s overall annual budget. It raises some unpalatable questions about our council’s finances and priorities.

    The magnitude of the help that Croydon needs to extract itself from its crisis is indicated by two metrics – the scale of our council’s budget cuts and the axed LEGI regeneration programme. Our council has been forced to reduce its spending by £90 million over three years.

    Many of the cuts have been focused on valuable services which are soft targets – youth provision, charities and culture. It’s telling that although LEGI was created in the good times before the financial crash, it had a budget of £77 million to halt Croydon’s long-term decline. Alas, LEGI was scrapped before it had invested even half the funds that had been allocated to it.

    Since the August riots, Croydon has entered a full blown crisis. Far from “future prospects being very bright” as Gavin Barwell would have us believe, we face almost 3,000 job losses as Nestle, Allders and Bank of America depart. It’s telling that given the searing riots’ experience, Croydon can’t afford even the most basic levels of youth provision.

    So, what has the Mayor and government done to help Croydon in this crisis? If you only listened to the local politicians and media, you would be under the impression that Croydon is receiving a tidal wave of help and investment. The reality couldn’t be more different.

    The Mayor has promised £23 million. A very modest £4 million has been pledged from a government quango called the “Growing Places Fund”. Our politicians also proclaim loans have been made available – at commercial rates of interest – to the developers of New South Quarter as part of the “Get Britain Building Fund”. But this fund is a national scheme – it hardly counts as specific help for Croydon. It doesn’t take an Einstein to deduce that the current Mayoral/government help is inadequate if you use our Council’s spending cuts or LEGI as benchmarks.

    Croydon’s political elite often reminds me of the relative who has fallen on very hard times but is too proud to admit their straitened circumstances. Croydon lost a golden opportunity in using the riots inquiry as a way of confronting the Mayor and government with the severity of Croydon’s crisis. Alas, I wonder if the Mayor and government still hold the 1990s stereotype of Croydon as being a quietly prosperous outer London borough? Or is it the case that Westminster, Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham completely dominate the London political agenda – at the expense of Croydon?

    As well as revealing what actually happened on 8/8, the riots inquiry could have spelt out just how serious Croydon’s problems have become. The levels of deprivation in some Croydon wards are now shocking by reference to national – as well as London – benchmarks. Although parts of Croydon still conform to the leafy suburbia stereotypes, much of the borough in 2012 has deep-rooted problems.

    Our politicians’ reliance on private investment pulling Croydon out of the mire is about as realistic as England winning the 2014 World Cup. Big developers such as Minerva, Arrowcroft, Menta and Stanhope/Schroders have promised the earth but have delivered virtually nothing to date. I fear that Westfield may be the latest instance of hope (hype?) over experience. It’s clear that only substantial Mayoral/government help – as opposed to private sector investment – will be Croydon’s salvation.

    The ludicrous lack of support for Croydon’s youth services poses some unpalatable questions on our council’s priorities. Leaving aside the almost grotesque situation where huge sums are being spent on the new luxury (and completely unnecessary) council offices, the little unallocated money that the council does have seems to be unerringly spent for the benefit of the large developers.

    Our council is spending £6 million on the East Croydon footbridge – where the two largest beneficiaries are Menta and Stanhope/Schroders. The £4 million from the Growing Places Fund is being effectively gifted to Stanhope/Schroders. It’s all the more galling that as youth services are allowed to rot, the big developers – who to date have achieved very little – receive our council’s scarce funds.

    If Croydon is to break out of its death spiral, it will have to swallow its pride and go with its begging bowl to the Mayor and government. A situation where we can’t provide even a semblance of adequate youth provision evidences our crisis. Croydon voters have been loyal supporters of the Conservative Mayor, Assembly Member, council and national government (two out of three parliamentary seats). It’s time now for that loyalty to be repaid with meaningful help in our hour of need.

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