Mike Fisher, the Tory leader of Croydon Council, misled a Town Hall meeting when he claimed to have received complaints from a council-funded service provider over the work of Nightwatch, the charity which provides a nightly soup kitchen for the borough’s homeless and vulnerable.
Fisher tried to suggest that some of the people using the soup kitchen have homes, that they are living on benefits, and that they go along to Queen’s Gardens each evening to hold some sort of drunken party. But Inside Croydon has seen a letter from an official at Westminster Drug Project, which is paid by Croydon Council to help those with dependency issues in the borough, which firmly rejects Fisher’s statements.
In November, Inside Croydon obtained an official briefing document which revealed Croydon’s Conservative-run council’s secret plans to stop the Nightwatch soup kitchen by “utilising all available bye [sic] laws and preventing the use of Queens [sic] Gardens for this activity”.
The council has plans to build out on to the public park at Queen’s Gardens to develop four brutalist blocks of flats that wouldn’t look out of place in Bucharest, but which could sell to yuppies for a total of £100 million; a soup kitchen for the homeless nearby might be an inconvenience to commission-driven estate agents.
The latest stage in the campaign by Fisher’s Tory council appears to be to defame and discredit Nightwatch and the valuable charity work of its volunteers.
In answer to a councillor’s question at a full council meeting at the end of January, florid-faced Fisher claimed that the efforts of Westminster Drug Project, or WDP, were being undermined by the Nightwatch soup kitchen which operates in Queen’s Gardens, just outside the Town Hall in the centre of town.
“There are [sic] a high number of people who are using the soup kitchen,” Fisher’s written response CQ053-14 said, “but are unwilling to engage with services,” meaning those services provided by council-funded outreach groups such as WDP.
“When approached by WDP they walk away and refuse assistance,” Fisher claimed. “A number of clients are not street homeless but have some form of accommodation and are using the soup kitchen for evening meals and a place to socialise.”
Using a soup kitchen to socialise? Is he seriously suggesting that? Mike Fisher must lead a very dull social life, or have no real idea of what it must be like to need to attend a soup kitchen on a cold winter night. This is right down there among the low Nasty Party utterances with blundering local Tory MP Gavin Barfwell’s now infamous bollock-drop of stating he was “delighted” to attend the opening of a food bank.
“Unfortunately,” Fisher’s formal answer to Town Hall questions continued, “these individuals cannot be coerced into accessing treatment for their alcohol misuse.” Fisher’s strategy, therefore, seems to be to try to starve them into submission by denying them access to food provided by a charity…
Fisher claimed that WDP had witnessed many eastern Europeans, people with mental health issues and “clients known to WDP who we know have access to housing and benefits” attending the Nightwatch soup kitchen.
In all, Fisher referenced WDP nine times in his answer, where he concluded that the Nightwatch soup kitchen – which he also claims he has not asked officers to have moved – “…seemed to be more of a social gathering and a reason to hang around in the Queens [sic] Gardens and continue drinking”.
But Danny Heckman, the service manager for Westminster Drug Project in Croydon, in a letter to Nightwatch which has been seen by Inside Croydon, says that his organisation, “do not recognise the statement or opinions expressed in our absence”.
Distancing WDP from Councillor Fisher’s remarks entirely, Heckman said, “The comments certainly do not in any way represent our views. WDP seeks to work in harmony with all Croydon service providers,” and he describes Nightwatch as “valued partners”.
Whether a politician who is prepared to lie about vulnerable people who need help is considered to be a “valued partner”, we’ll leave you to decide.
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Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: Basically Johnny Moped, Mar 27-28
- Crystal Palace Question Time, Mar 27
- Verdi’s Requiem, Fairfield Halls, Mar 29
- Croydon Half-marathon, Mar 30
- David Lean Cinema: 12 Years a Slave, Apr 3
- David Lean Cinema: The Great Beauty, Apr 10
- Norwood Society Talk: Crystal Palace, Apr 17
- David Lean Cinema: Inside Llewyn Davis, Apr 17
- Opening of Marlpit Lane bowling and putting greens, Apr 17
- Arts and Crafts Market, Exchange Square, Apr 19
- David Lean Cinema: Short Term, Apr 24
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- 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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