On Thursday night, around 170 of Croydon’s not-so-great-and-good sat down in the Fairfield Halls to indulge themselves in some free nosh and a few glasses of cheap wine at the Mayor’s Banquet.
Meanwhile, across the road in Queen’s Gardens, another 50-or-so Croydon residents were forced to queue at a local charity’s nightly soup kitchen for what for many of them will have been their one hot meal of the day.
The Labour party in Croydon had suggested, many months ago in one of its many easily forgotten “alternative budgets”, that it would do away with expensive banquets and many of the self-serving Trumptonesque fripperies of civic ceremonials, the tricorn hats and gowns, which are so beloved of some of the more self-important members of the local council.
But on Thursday night, while the charity Nightwatch was across the road helping the borough’s poor and homeless, Croydon’s Labour councillors – and many Tory councillors, too – had their snouts in the trough, at an estimated cost of £15,000.
According to Nightwatch’s annual report, published last week, they are now having to cater for more than 100 people in Queen’s Gardens on their weekly food parcel run on Sundays.
Jad Adams, the chairman of the charity, says in his report, “We reached a record we never wanted to see this year, for the first time the number of people in the gardens exceeded 100 on a Sunday night. This is in keeping with a generally upward trend in numbers.
“A hundred was a high point, normally we see fewer, the average over the year was 84. Fewer are seen on weekdays – more like half that. This is mainly because we give out food parcels on Sundays.”
Nightwatch’s findings have been submitted as evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry on Food Poverty. The charity might also want to invite along the new Mayor of Croydon, or the banqueting MP for Lambeth South, or even the Leader of the Council, Tony Newman, to hand out cups of hot soup one November evening, so that they can see what they missed when they were enjoying their sumptuous meal in the comfort of the Fairfield Halls.
With the money spent on the Mayor’s Banquet in one night, Nightwatch could operate with the borough’s poor and vulnerable every night of the week for about three months.
Croydon Labour claim that the banquet was staged at no cost to the Council Tax-payers, because it was sponsored by two of the council’s contractors, including new IT suppliers Crapita. So there appears to be no concern that such largesse might influence the councillors or the council officials in their deliberations on the awarding of future contracts.
Some of those attending the sumptuous banquet endeavoured to assuage their consciences by taking along as a guest some deserving member of their local community. None seem to have considered inviting to the banquet the hard-working Nightwatch volunteers and a couple of dozen of their soup kitchen’s hungry clients, some of whom have young children.
“A junket’s a junket,” was how one one veteran observer of Croydon council matters described the banquet quite pithily.
The high numbers attending the soup run reflects the true state of the economy, as many of those seeking Nightwatch’s help simply cannot afford to pay their rent and to feed themselves or their family.
In his annual report, Nightwatch’s Adams says, “The large numbers we are seeing are due to two factors: eastern Europeans coming looking for work and an increasing impoverishment in society which means that we see people who otherwise would not have come on a soup run. Our range of clients is now homeless, near-homeless, former homeless and otherwise generally vulnerable people.
“In these difficult times, quite a number of the people we see have somewhere to live and are working but don’t have enough money to live on, so come to us for food.”
- If you enjoyed yourself at the Mayor’s Banquet and now want to make a donation to the Nightwatch charity, click here to visit their website
Coming to Croydon
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- St Peter’s Village Fayre, South Croydon, June 28
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Croydon Careers Fair, North End, June 30
- David Lean Cinema: Calvary, July 3
- Coast to Capital business briefing, July 4
- Basically Johnny Moped at Stanley Tech, July 8
- David Lean Cinema: We Are The Best!, July 10
- Croydon Folk and Blues Festival, July 12
- David Lean Cinema: Half of a Yellow Sun, July 17
- David Lean Cinema: Pantani: Accidental Death of a Cyclist, July 21
- David Lean Cinema: Tracks, July 24
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- David Lean Cinema: Locke, July 31
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- 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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