And once again, the Croydon Establishment pushed itself to the fore this morning, for handshaking and photographs, as Prince Charles and Camilla visited the borough. It was another Croydon triumph for style over substance, for PR spin instead of real practical help.
Mike Fisher, the leader of the ruling Conservatives on Croydon Council – a councillor for Shirley in the south of the borough – made the trek to the northern part of the borough and got in on the glad-handing, as did Croydon’s £248,000 pa chief executive, Jon Rouse, who infamously left his office on the afternoon of the riots, clearly to attend to more important business.
Also with them was Kenley councillor Steve O’Connell, deputy Tory leader Dudley Mead, all the way up from Selsdon, while Eddy Arram, who as the borough Mayor has been far too busy to attend the traditional annual service at Croydon Minster, somehow managed to find the time to ensure that he was available to have his picture taken with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. That’ll be nice for the grandchildren.
Of course, none of these senior councillors or the CEO were available to attend the emergency Gold Meeting called on the morning of August 8 last year in an effort to avert the civil disturbances that led to one person being murdered, dozens losing their business and livelihoods, and many more being rendered homeless. Funny that, eh?
In a brief visit to Croydon that lasted less than two and half hours, after the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visited Croydon Voluntary Action to catch up on how London Road had fared since the riots of last August, they were then whisked away, to Surrey Street and hence to Croydon College.
At Croydon College, a plaque was unveiled to mark the institution’s ability to offer degree-level courses, in some cases for “students” who have not managed to pass any A Levels.
We had been told by Croydon Council that the USP of the visit was a return for Charles and Camilla to those areas worst hit by the 8/8 riots last year.
So in Surrey Street, the royal couple was taken to Matthews Yard – the coffee house and co-working space that did not even exist when the riots happened, but is firmly implanted at the centre of various Portas Project-related schemes.
No chance of the heir to the throne being asked while there, by an angry trader, about why compensation under the Riots Act had yet to be paid out. No risk of someone that lost their home asking awkward questions about what has happened to the Mayor of London’s £23 million recovery fund.
No, instead of real victims of the riots, or even any of the employees of Allders – more than 800 staff, plus workers in concessions, all about to lose their jobs as a consequence of the downturn in trade since 8/8 – in Surrey Street the royal party was introduced to carefully selected, council-friendly entrepreneurs: the “brains” behind the laughable Croydon Tours, the owner of the grandiosely titled “Croydon Conference Centre”, and the man behind the mic at Croydon Radio.
Malcolm John, the award-winning chef who recently closed his South Croydon restaurant, blaming the council’s post-riots neglect, was sighted there: maybe he had a word in Charles’s shell-like to bring him up to speed with reality?
Another new business owner, the PR man who helped set up this element of the visit, John Lavabre, was on hand. Lavabre’s press release from Hillcrest PR claimed, “The visit to Matthews Yard… was arranged to show that areas of Croydon devastated in last year’s riots are on the mend.” Except that, as the release also points out, this was a venue untouched by the riots.
“There was so much pro-Croydon saccharine in the room you would have got diabetes from being there,” said one eye-witness. Glee Club anyone?
Lavabre may have taken off his PR man’s hat, though, when he posted this online this afternoon: “A visit from Charles and Camilla is not going to fill the Nestle Tower with tenants bearing fat wallets, it will not turn London Road or Surrey Street into a replica of the 16th Arrondissement of Paris and it will not save the David Lean Cinema or Croydon’s libraries.
“It may, however, showcase the borough to the outside world and raise awareness of an increasing array of smaller businesses and other ventures that are based here. To my mind this can only be a good thing.” Which is entirely a fair point.
But when does the “raising awareness” end and real action to assist the worst-hit by the riots begin?
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- From riot-hit town to royal visit: Charles and Camilla to see how Croydon is rebuilding itself (standard.co.uk)
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