It was the epitome of a mid-summer’s weekend.
The longest day may have been and gone for another year, but the balmy weather offered a mostly perfect setting for a range of community summer events across the borough, even if some needed to dodge thundery showers in the evening.
You can tell it is the height of summer when the flying ants appear, along with the annual fetes and fairs.
There was the low-key dog show organised by a Friends group in a blooming Haling Grove, a hidden gem of a green oasis in South Croydon. The vicious, teeth-bared fight between a couple of participants before the event had got underway showed that this was no dog-day afternoon. Shame there wasn’t an obedience class on the programme.
The blues and jazz festival at Ruskin House pulled in big, family crowds throughout the day and into the evening, and all for a good cause. Keen suburban gardeners up the side of the valley from the Brighton Road threw open the doors of their home on Sunday, and enjoyed some good receipts for Breast Cancer charities from their fascinated neighbours.
And then there was something called the “Surrey Street Summer Fayre” on Saturday.
“None of it makes no difference to us,” said one of the long-established stall-holders on the market when asked about the impact of the “Fayre”.
This was the latest offering from the questionable Portas Town Team, which has managed to squander the thick end of £100,000 of public cash on cake bakes and other ill-considered efforts supposedly to revive the fortunes of Croydon’s historic street market. Even the former chairman of the scheme in Croydon agreed with Mary “Queen of Flops” Portas – the Portas Pilot has been a failure.
So what of this latest “initiative”? “It’s been busy, but that’s just because it ain’t raining,” was the trader’s blunt assessment.
Resentment is growing among the hard-working stall-holders over the manner in which they feel that they have been largely ignored. The loss of their traditional inheritance rights over their pitches is a long-running sore point. Recent efforts by the market management to attract new traders offering cooked food is also distrusted. And the manner in which so much Portas activity, and money, has tended to be directed at Exchange Square – where one of the original Town Team’s officers happens to run a start-up – was seen through long ago.
“They don’t ask us,” said another trader on Surrey Street. “They never have.”
In the Dog and Bull, at the fulcrum of the street market, the regulars filled the bar area, while all the tables in the large beer garden were busy throughout the afternoon, as burgers and other food was being served. With the backing of Young’s brewery, the pub has been more fortunate that many other Surrey Street businesses in being able to benefit from some serious investment. So having public money spent to promote new, rival businesses by the Portas group may not be entirely welcome.
There are some, perhaps more effective, changes coming in Surrey Street. Roy Wayre has been appointed as the market’s development manager. He has connections with Jo Negrini, the council’s planning chief, through having worked together in local authorities in east London. Wayre is keen on managing the market’s rubbish better, by getting perishable stuff off to local allotments, which should please the ecologically aware Transition Town people. Most important of all, Wayre has a good reputation for promoting markets, something Surrey Street has lacked for too long.
In truth, the Surrey Street Summer Fayre was a pretty desolate affair by mid-afternoon. A few strands of Union Jack bunting strung between the buildings is hardly transformational. The poor Scouts on the first two stalls at the top end of the market looked worse than bored. But at least they had hired a plot or two. A number of the stalls and expensively acquired gazebos were left unoccupied, the vacancy disguised with a few Croydon Council leaflets strewn across a table.
Kids’ entertainment – face paint, a children’s entertainer jumping up and down to some taped music, and “farm” animals all the way from… Rotherhithe – kept a few under-sixes delighted for a while. But yet again, the focus of a Portas event was in an otherwise empty Exchange Square. Down the market with the “real” traders towards Church Street, it was business as usual.
Some locals complained that they had not heard about the Summer Fayre (clearly, they need to read Inside Croydon more often), but they really need not have worried. They did not miss much; meanwhile, the seasonal fruit and veg – Surrey Street’s USP – was as outstanding as ever and terrific value, and it will be there again today and tomorrow, just as it always has been.
(HT for the video on this page to local residents’ association’s Sarah Wickens)
- Questions remain over Croydon’s “flop” Portas Pilot scheme
- Portas Pilot one year on: more shops have closed in Croydon
- Let them bake cake: Croydon Portas team’s £16,000 spend
Coming to Croydon
- South Norwood Arts Festival, July 5-20
- David Lean Cinema: Half of a Yellow Sun, July 17
- Love Norbury launch event, July 19
- Boom Band plays the Half Moon Putney, July 19
- Summer butterfly walk, Farthing Down, July 20
- Picnic in Grangewood Park, July 20
- 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
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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