Time to rebuild cultural wasteland created by Croydon Tories

VOTE 2014: TIMOTHY GODFREY, Croydon Labour’s arts and culture spokesman, says that encouraging culture, instead of axing its funding, is possible and can be done

Part of the publicly owned Riesco Collection which the Tory-run council has flogged off. What has happened to the proceeds?

Part of the publicly owned Riesco Collection which the Tory-run council has flogged off. What has happened to the proceeds?

Art and culture have a civilising influence on us all. They bring people together, they help to build stronger communities. They help people understand and belong. When business leaders are asked what attributes they look for when locating offices and jobs, they regularly cite two things: education and culture. When communities fracture, it is through culture and arts that people begin to fix and come to an understanding.

More than ever, Croydon needs a vibrant cultural scene. Yet we now have a cultural offering that has gone backwards maybe as much as 50 years. It was in 1962 that the Fairfield Halls opened and it was 1977 that the Warehouse Theatre opened. It was in 1995 that the Croydon Clocktower complex opened, including the David Lean Cinema, a purpose-built borough exhibition gallery, museum and brand new Riesco Gallery to house the prized Chinese ceramics collection alongside a state-of-the-art Central Library, which would become the busiest and best-used public library in Britain for several years.

The Clocktower developed an award-winning education service and secured a venue development grant of £100,000 a year from the Arts Council.

Croydon was on the road to an improved cultural offering, supported by all sides of politics, as Labour took control of the borough for the first time in May 1994.

It wasn’t until 2006, when the Conservatives took control of our borough council again, that the arts stopped progressing. The past eight years has brought a sustained and prolonged attack on the arts and culture in our town.

In 2005, nearly a decade ago, the then Labour-run council signed a deal with a developer to fully refurbish the Fairfield Halls. Designs were drawn up by renowned architect Richard Rogers.

Croydon's Tories have repeatedly promised to refurbish the Fairfield Halls, but have never delivered on those promises

Croydon’s Tories have repeatedly promised to refurbish the Fairfield Halls, but have never delivered on those promises

Before the 2006 local elections, the Conservatives promised to refurbish the Fairfield Halls. Once elected, they cancelled the scheme.

Before the 2010 local elections, the Conservatives in Croydon made another promise about the Fairfield Halls, this time to £10 million immediately to bring them up to date.

In less than one week’s time, there will be another set of local elections, and the Conservatives in Croydon have this time around pledged to spend £34 million of public money to overhaul the Fairfield Halls building. Over the last eight years, they have spent tens of thousands of pounds of Council Tax-payers’ money to pay the fees of expensive consultants, but very little has been achieved in catching up on a huge backlog of maintenance or making significant improvements to the Fairfield Halls.

Elsewhere, the Conservative-run council decided to close down the Warehouse Theatre in the middle of a production targeting ethnic minority audiences. A decision that marked the end of any pretence of keeping a diverse arts offering in our borough.

The Croydon Clocktower arts complex has also come under sustained attack. Not only did the council walk away from a £100,000 Arts Council grant when it was about to be renewed for a further term, but they also closed down an energetic arts education programme that ran a broad range of activities from “Club Soda” through to masterclasses in film. The Tories have also closed down our purpose-built borough gallery. It had been built to provide up to date security so it could host valuable exhibits of note., such as works by Picasso in the opening exhibition.

The Conservatives closed down the David Lean Cinema. Fortunately, the independent Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign was relentless and finally – just weeks before the local elections – allowed to “hire” the venue to show films once again. In the meantime, with no income from screenings or bar receipts, the Council Tax-payers have been picking up the tab to keep the unused cinema secure for the past three years.

Any enlightened council would have worked with the David Lean campaigners immediately to run the cinema on a permanent footing. The idea of a David Lean Cinema Film Society running that side of the complex is one that should still be taken forward.

The grave stone of Raymond Riesco, in St Mary's churchyard, Addington. Locals have reported hearing a spinning sound coming from the vicinity in recent weeks after the council flogged part of his porcelain collection

The grave stone of Raymond Riesco, in St Mary’s churchyard, Addington. Locals have reported hearing a spinning sound coming from the vicinity in recent weeks after the council flogged part of his porcelain collection

The Conservatives also ended the Croydon Summer Festival, world party and Mela. Events that brought communities together and gave Croydon a high-profile across the London music and culture scene. It is unthinkable that a town of Croydon’s significance doesn’t have a summer festival.

The attack on our cultural heritage has continued, with the sale of a large part of the Riesco Collection. You know an administration is morally bankrupt when it sells its cultural assets that have been left in trust for the people of your borough.

To me, that is why the Conservatives can never be trusted in Croydon ever again.

How would a Labour-run council be different? Three years ago I highlighted that the council spent 44.78 per cent of its culture budget on back office services, such as lawyers, accountants, call centres and payroll. Costs are still out of control at Croydon Council and we will need to tackle them urgently. We can then invest those savings in front line services.

It is clear that if we are to make Croydon a pleasant place to live, work and bring up a family, then we must ensure it has a rich cultural offering. That means we really must use culture to strengthen communities and give pride back to the people of our town.

We must ensure that the future of the Fairfield Halls is properly secured. We must re-establish the Clocktower as a centre of arts and culture. We must support the Warehouse Theatre to keep producing theatre in Croydon as they are doing this weekend.

It won’t be easy, but the Labour Party in Croydon is determined to rebuild our cultural offering and we will start that process with an open conference to draw together the talent and expertise we already have in our town. We are ambitious for arts and culture in Croydon. This is why electing a Labour Council is so important for Croydon on May 22.

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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, Art, Cinema, Comedy, Dance, David Lean Cinema Campaign, Fairfield Halls, Music, Riesco Collection, Theatre, Timothy Godfrey, Warehouse Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Time to rebuild cultural wasteland created by Croydon Tories

  1. davidcallam says:

    That was a party political statement on behalf of Croydon Labour party.
    And it should be treated with an appropriate degree of scepticism.

    Why should we spend substantial amounts of tax-payers’ money tarting up the Fairfield? What evidence do we have that doing so will put any more bums on seats? The answer is none; because nobody has bothered to research the market.

    There may be a need for a modern arts complex on the Fairfield site, but I suggest it would have to be a lot more flexible than the present building. No amount of re-modelling will change the basic design, which comes from the same era as the Whitgift Shopping Centre, is now equally out-of-date and needs a similar solution – knock it down and start again.

    The Warehouse Theatre in a former cement factory in Dingwall Road was clearly unsustainable, since the withdrawal of a council grant caused it to close. However the Warehouse at Fairfield continues, apparently with considerable success, so by all means make provision for its various productions in any new arts complex on the Fairfield site.

    The Clocktower complex is an unpolished diamond: Lord Peter Bowness, a former leader of the council, once said it would be more successful if it wasn’t managed like a village hall. Other towns would cherish such a complex; a superb central library and cafe; the David Lean arthouse cinema; the Braithwaite Performance Space; a world-class art gallery and a suite of exhibition rooms. Sadly, Croydon lets large parts of it stand empty, despite the continuing cost of security and maintenance.

    • Yes, it is party political, David. Good spot: that’s what it says in the first line of the intro.

      Thing is, we’ve also published material from the Greens, Communists, LibDems and various independents.

      We have a standing offer to the Tories, but they refuse to engage with any medium that they are unable to control, whether through “council grants” or more nefarious means.

      We also suspect it is because they don’t actually have any policies beyond flogging off public property to private interests.

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  3. davidcallam says:

    Now the election is over and Tim Godfrey has responsibility for Fairfield, can he tell us whether he intends blindly to follow the Tory/Dudley Mead plan to throw large amounts of tax-payers’ money at the outdated arts complex? Or is it finally time for some new thinking?

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