School’s new building may be dazzling, but not in a good way

Golden claddingDon’t know much about art, but know what you like?

How about architecture?

Inside Croydon received a plea recently to provide an “article more balanced than the original” after the new golden facade of part of Whitehorse Manor schools in Thornton Heath got a bit of a beasting in the ever-declining Croydon Sadvertiser.

“It’s an absolute abomination and a disgrace.”

That was the opinion of one person, but that was enough for the local rag to run a story. It must have been a slow news week. Again.

According to Jolyon Roberts, the “joint executive head” of the Pegasus Academy Trust which operates Whitehorse Manor infant and junior schools and Ecclesbourne Primary (the three schools have two “executive headteachers”, plus a “head of school”), neither he nor his colleagues were contacted by the snoozepaper for their comment on the development work going on at the Whitehorse Road site. The work is due for completion before the end of the year.

The piece of opinion that gave the article its impetus came from Richard “Nasty” Hough. The article failed to mention that Hough is a busy activist for the local Conservative party and a failed candidate in local council elections in wards in the north of the borough.

Richard Hough, as pictured in this week's Croydon Guardian: not a media tart at all

Richard Hough, as pictured in this week’s Croydon Guardian: not a media tart at all

Hough has become notorious as a bit of a rent-a-quote who knows only too well how to get himself into the local papers: a quick phone call to the news desk on the right day, a couple of suitably outraged and often ill-informed comments that can be stuck inside quote marks, and 300 words and an excruciatingly posed picture later, there’s a guaranteed lead story for Page 94…

It is not difficult.

In fact, in these days of much-reduced staffing, local papers will often publish any load of old bollocks just to fill space.

Hough has used this facility for manipulating the local media agenda for more than a decade, as he has fought a single-issue campaign in his own interests, to prevent his shabby-looking garage, Autoclutch, close by Norwood Junction, being demolished to make way for a development of much-needed new homes.

Hough has nagged, protested and lobbied for 12 years, delaying the development while the buildings around his business have been emptied and left derelict. Offers of alternative premises have been ignored and refused, all for the local Conservative party member to stand in the way of progress.

This week, Hough received notice to vacate the area outside his garage to allow the owners of the neighbouring properties to secure them. Hey presto, Hough’s back in the papers.

Hough is pictured in the latest edition of the Croydon Guardian outside his Autoclutch garage building. Nice, it isn’t. An eyesore in the opinion of many.

An absolute abomination and a disgrace, some might suggest.

Anyway, back to the aesthetics of the school buildings.

Jolyon Roberts was very concerned that the coverage in the Sadvertiser was overwhelmingly negative.”It was quite disheartening,” he said.

“We believe that there is no more lazy a stereotype than ‘all modern architecture is rubbish’.

The school on Whitehorse Road as it was: it is the buildings to the left which have been covered by the golden roof

The school on Whitehorse Road as it was: it is the buildings to the left which have been covered by the golden roof

“The inconvenient truth is that there was plenty of opportunity to register a complaint about the design during the planning phases and nobody did so. This project was scrutinised by the planning committee at Croydon Council, the urban design team, as well as officers of the education department.” Does this tell us an inconvenient truth about how the planning process is handled by Croydon Council?

According to Roberts, the Sadvertiser failed to attend the formal opening of the new building. Too long a journey from the editorial offices in Dorking, perhaps?

The £5 million development will help to provide a new nursery and seven new classrooms – all double glazed, acoustically designed and eco-friendly; there are also seven refurbished classrooms and an expanded hall.

Well, do you like it? The golden spaceship that has landed on Whitehorse Road school

Well, do you like it? The golden spaceship that has landed on Whitehorse Road school

There is also an admin block at the centre of the school; facilities for special educational needs pupils, including a lift; wi-fi (whatever that is) throughout the site; and new cooking and serving facilities for school dinners.

All of which seems to be good. It is also worth noting that the facade has replaced a 1950s concrete hall and kitchens built in 1981. But the golden spaceship appears to have landed right next to the original, locally listed school buildings, which date back 120 years.

“It is a tribute to the architect and the design team that they have managed to build so much additional space without significantly enlarging the ‘footprint’ of the schools,” Roberts said in a notice to parents.

Thing is, though, and this is not often heard said in Inside Croydon Towers, “Nasty” Hough and the Sadvertiser may actually have a point. The new building is utterly unsympathetic to its surroundings. Doubtless, the good people of Thornton Heath may grow accustomed to it in time. But will they ever truly like it?

So, to offer Roberts and his hard-working team at the school the “balance” that they crave, we’re offering Inside Croydon’s loyal reader the chance to express their view…

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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11 Responses to School’s new building may be dazzling, but not in a good way

  1. davidcallam says:

    Just imagine: if the planners are prepared to inflict this eyesore on a suburban school, what might they be contemplating as an addition to Fairfield?

    • Don’t get it. You mean this part of the road is suburban but a few yards down the same road it’s urban? We know what they might be contemplating for Fairfield though. Saffron Square, Landsdowne Road, Westfield. Presumably you think they’re all abominations?

      I live in Fairfield and can’t wait for them tbh – all subjective I suppose.

  2. Meg Fretwell says:

    I like the idea of expanding the school but it is a rather hidious colour, just imagine what Prince Charles would say!

    As for the verbal slaying of Mr Hough perhaps the writer of this article should do a little research. The buildings falling down around Autoclutch belong to the same developer as is trying to close Mr Hough down. He should be keeping them in a good condition but will not as he is only interested in bulldozing the place and selling the land to make a quick buck. He has already tried at auction but failed.

    As for ‘building much needed homes’ on that land- not only has Mr Hough been fighting to prevent this happening but so have many residents of South Norwood. The plans show a block of flats with balconies and two shops below. Who wouldn’t want to sit on their balcony eating breakfast overlooking the railway line, the station toilets and an alley where drugs are dealt with the wonderful surrounding aroma of chicken shop.

    Mr Houghs’ garage which is threatened with closure is used by many and he also takes in many children doing work experience, a very valuable commodity in this area. The only progress that Mr Hough is impeding is the expansion of the developers bank account.

    • “The verbal slaying of Mr Hough”? Do you expect to be taken seriously with a remark like that? Nothing in the piece is unfounded in fact. Hough has for years manipulated the local press to his own ends; this reflects more badly on the local papers than it does on Hough.

      But casting Hough as some sort of victim is verging on the realms of a sick joke.

      The area around Autoclutch is badly run-down. It is more run-down now than it was when this whole saga began a decade ago. Much of it needs bulldozing, re-building and selling on: that is what developers do. The role of the local authority is to ensure that it is done fairly and within the planning laws, to some benefit of the neighbourhood. Checks and balances. We are unaware of any allegations of illegal or unlawful activity or development by the developers on this site.

      What Hough has done for a dozen years is prevent that development happening. Whether this has been in the best interests of the local neighbourhood, or in his own self-interest, is a matter of opinion. Maybe if the area was redeveloped and cleaned up, the issued with drugs abuse and chicken shops might also be better addressed.

      You seem to conflate a business with its premises: it is well-known Hough has had very favourable offers to re-locate to alternative premises nearby. His “much-loved” business has had ample opportunity to continue, providing the quasi-social work you suggest he provides.

  3. How can a comment about a eyesore in the making (i am an ex pupil), out of character with its surroundings etc, turn into a vicious attack on Mr Hough. Yes he is conservative and you are the worst type of LABOUR supporter, hiding behind the scenes but wanting your views to be heard. I met many of your type whilst i was in the print union. Mr Hough has not broken any law, and is defending his business and livelihood, anything that all of us would do. You may or may not agree with him but it is obvious you are turning it into politics, and as such have lost any argument your may have been making.

    • “How can a comment about a eyesore in the making (i am an ex pupil), out of character with its surroundings etc, turn into a vicious attack on Mr Hough?”

      Easy answer: it isn’t.

  4. I will point out that Autoclutch is a much loved local business and that during his long battle to prevent his business being demolished he has consistently had the support of the public.

    Richard Hough has contributed a great deal to the local area, from assisting with the set up of the hugely successful South Norwood Community Festival to giving Work Experience to hundreds of children from within the borough which has been instrumental in helping with their development and education.

    The motives behind the proposed block of flats outside Norwood Junction are not progressive but merely profit-driven. This is capitalism at its most brazen.

    Your comments about Mr Hough and his business are not only ill-informed, but they show the true depths of your bile and disregard for reality.

    • Like the various other members of your family and Hough’s fan club, you confuse business with premises. His “much-loved business” has had several offers of help to re-locate, on particularly favourable terms. It is a mystery of Norwood worthy of Conan Doyle why Hough has refused to accept these offers.

      Interesting that you highlight Hough’s role with local arts festivals. Are your views shared by the People for Portland Road and the very hard working volunteers who work on the South Norwood Arts Festival? Hough is such a divisive figure that somehow, Norwood finds itself with two competing local festivals. That would be enough to baffle Sherlock Holmes.

      Your devotion to Hough also sees you resort to exaggeration: work experience for “hundreds” of children? If Hough had been conducting such a programme for a quarter of a century, that suggests that he has provided at least eight work experience placements every year. Is that actually the case? Elementary arithmetic, Watson (as Holmes never said). Perhaps you meant “dozens”? As worthy as that may be, helping young people is hardly unique. So you’ll have to excuse us if we don’t join the campaign to get a sainthood for Hough any time soon.

      You seem to think that it is wrong for developers to make a profit from their business. Presumably Hough makes a profit from his work in his grotty-looking garage. Is there something wrong with that?

      Our understanding is that the majority of the proposed flats in that area are intended to be “affordable housing”, so the profit margin for the developer is much reduced compared to many other schemes planned around the borough. Is it the affordable housing that you and Hough object to so stubbornly?

      As for your utterly baseless assertion of “bile”, it appears that it is you and your mates and family who have disregarded reality. Go back and read the piece again: it outlines how Hough has manipulated the slack local papers to his own end for a decade. How is that a “slaying”, as one of your number has suggested? The article goes on to agree with Hough on the disagreeable nature of the new cladding at the Whitehorse Road school.

      It looks very much that, after more than a decade of being a rent-a-quote for the local rags, Hough is beginning to believe his own publicity about being some sort of victim, and you have bought into that wholesale. You’ll have to excuse us if we remain unconvinced.

  5. Meg Fretwell says:

    It would appear that your hatred of MR HOUGH is encroaching on the argument here and so I will make no further comment about it in this column. Please do not take this as a victory but I feel that you are so vehemently against Richard that you will twist any argument that is given in his favour. I do however find it absolutely appalling that a journalist , who is meant to be completely impartial, could refer to another human being by his surname only. This is not only biased but also incredibly rude.

  6. Richard Hough certainly divides opinion and he also inspires some loyalty. I have some sympathy with Meg and Liam Fretwell defending their friend. That is what friends do.

    Are they really helping Richard Hough? This battle was always going to come to an end, and the Fretwell’s; however well intentioned they have been in encouraging Richard to fight, appear to have given him false hope. It takes a real friend to tell you that you have done very well but now is time to give up the fight!

    Consider this: do the Fretwell’s believe that area of Norwood Junction should be left to continue to decay or should some action be taken? Is it fair that any work experience placements are placed in danger because of the decaying buildings around them?

    It is not unreasonable to wonder why Richard Hough has not fixed up that area, after all, he has spent thousands already. That money could have turned that buildings from an eyesore into something rather nice and in keeping with the area. Maybe he has a good reason?

    Sadly, the area around Autoclutch is constantly filthy and congested with cars that I’m told are parked there illegally? Maybe there are, but I think that they be parked inconsiderately? Richard’s space is immediately outside his garage, not the whole area; however, he reportedly continues to use land that does not belong to him.

    Why does he not make the area outside his garage safe for pedestrians? There is always an oil slick that is usually there causing a hazard. Is this acceptable?

    James Groux and Greathall have not covered themselves in glory throught this saga and must accept some of the responsibility. After all, Mr Groux owns that building. It belongs to him (apparently). I understand that he has refused to give Mr Hough the lower level of the development, because of this tedious battle during which Mr Groux is alleged to have been the subject of Hough’s threats.

    Apparently the Housing Association Horizon was also the subject of Richard’s anger and character assassination campaign.

    People such as well-known Tory supporter Dr Robin Walker, who have fervently supported Richard Hough through thick and thin became the subject of Hough’s bile and character assassinations because he dared to tell Hough that his campaign was over.

    Hough discredits people like Walker as not being in touch with the community because they recognise that a long-standing and largely pointless battle is over.

    Walker is understood to have gained the best possible legal advice for Hough, which came back with the same answer: the game is up! Hough refused to acknowledge that and is reported to have turned nasty towards Walker.

    Walker is supposed to have described Hough as ‘completely blinded’ by his own rhetoric and the press as becoming obsessed with Hough.

    They say pride comes before a fall…is this the calm before the storm for Hough?

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