Five months into the newly elected Labour council in Croydon and you begin to see the rewriting of history by the Tories now they are in opposition.
They wasted eight years in power, doing more harm than good when it came to the arts and culture in Croydon. Under the leadership of Mike Fisher, they gave the culture portfolio to two people who couldn’t give a damn about our town’s cultural offer.
First Sara Bashford held the post, and despite being good friends with Fisher, he acknowledged how bad she had been on a range of issues, from flogging off our libraries to closing down the Clocktower, that he abolished the culture portfolio altogether. The remaining scraps were handed to Tim Pollard, who proceeded to decommission the Braithwaite Hall, moved adult education service into the arts education service offices and workshops, and moved the local studies library into the purpose-built borough gallery.
Of course, he also sold off much of the precious Riesco Chinese pottery collection.
Meanwhile, over eight long years, Tim Pollard and Sara Bashford sat on the Fairfield Halls refurbishment plans, preventing the place being updated. Just like Boris Johnson and the tram extension announcement, they talked about ever-ambitious and expensive works to transform the Fairfield Halls. The only problem was those works never materialised, just like Boris’s tram extension.
I am proud to say that the Labour group in Croydon used our eight years in opposition to listen. We heard the call that politics in Croydon had to change. We needed to be more positive and get on with things. Politics in Croydon are said to be poisoned, and the latest outburst last night sort of proves this right.
This from the group of councillors who dismantled much of our arts in Croydon and closed the Clocktower, the David Lean Cinema and the Warehouse Theatre!
We won the local elections in May on a positive manifesto of “Ambitious for Croydon”. We are definitely Ambitious for Culture. That is why we have a dedicated cabinet post for arts and culture for the first time in several years. That is why we have held real consultation events with residents. That is why we pushed ahead and over the summer funded the Fairfield Halls to carry out Stage 1 of refurbishing the Arnhem Gallery, installing digital cinema and live broadcast equipment in the Concert Hall, and created a 120-seat Studio space in the former Green Room.
We took a paper to the council cabinet to empower the excellent director of regeneration, Jo Negrini, to get on and start the Fairfield Halls refurbishment works as part of the College Green redevelopment board. For the first time that paper to cabinet empowered council officers to get on with it. That means that this autumn we will see time lines agreed for works to Fairfield Halls. That is a breakthrough for a council that spent the last eight years procrastinating.
At this point I must say that we remain frustrated by the pace of local government. We want to get things done quickly. However, it is still only five months since we changed how this council does business and, as I’ve said in the Town Hall chamber, “this is the season of delivery”. We are going to get on and catch-up with 50 years of a building naturally ageing and undertake some improvements for the customer and cultural offer.
The key thing for us is not to shout about big bucks being spent at some mythical point in the future; rather, we get on and modernise the Fairfield Halls. We want the people of Croydon to see and benefit from change.
The Fairfield Halls is an integral part of the borough’s cultural offer. We must move on as a borough from cheap gesture politics to a mature debate that recognises the importance of the Fairfield Halls as our large-scale venue, and then seek to widen the cultural offer right across our borough.
So, to be crystal clear: the Fairfield Halls is well looked after by the Fairfield Halls itself and by the council as landlord. It has no health and safety issues. This was a simple case of opposition for opposition sake.
The election marked the end of divide and rule over our town’s cultural offerings. It’s time for all of us to be Ambitious for Croydon and Ambitious for Culture.
- Timothy Godfrey is a Labour councillor for Selhurst ward. He is also a council-nominated director and trustee of the Fairfield Halls
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- SNATH free film festival, Scratchley Hall, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- SNATH free film festival, Lord Napier, Oct 29
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- SNATH free film festival, Norbury Park tennis club, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- SNATH free film festival Halloween event, Stanley Halls, Oct 31
- World War I centenary concert, Ruskin House, Nov 2
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Brook recording studio open day and party, Nov 9
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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