Thornton Heath volunteers clock-on out of civic pride

AMY GELSTHORPE-HILL reports on efforts to smarten up the high street 

The clocktower in the centre of Thornton Heath is one of the area’s best known landmarks. Built in 1900, it is one of many hundreds of community clocks erected during the Victorian age to let workers in newly industrialised areas know where they were in the working day.

A symbol of Victorian civic pride, the Thornton Heath action team wants to restore the clock to its former glory

A symbol of Victorian civic pride, the Thornton Heath action team wants to restore the clock to its former glory

As Victoria’s reign drew to a close, Croydon was still very separate from London, and pride in the local area was shown through civic buildings such, which was partly funded by public subscription.

Lots has changed since Victoria’s day, but even in 2015 there remains pride in the community. Last weekend, local people gathered to help make the Thornton Heath clocktower the heart of the high street once again.

The Thornton Heath Community Action Team, a group made up entirely of local volunteers, had been awarded a grant from the Mayor of London’s Capital Clean Up Fund specifically to improve this area.

Croydon Council donated two large planters and also had their specialist staff power wash the paving around the clocktower, as well as having staff from the local enforcement team on hand to provide litter picking equipment and to collect rubbish afterwards.

The Action Team, advised by one member who is a professional gardener, spent the money available on a host of perennial plants, quality compost and water-retaining gel to help keep the new displays healthy, as well as buying paint for the railings and some extra plants for the existing flower beds.

We have kept the remaining money to plant bulbs in the autumn and add seasonal flowers to ensure the clocktower area looks colourful throughout the year.

The focus of the day’s project was to clear, clean, paint and plant. Around 20 local people split into teams, some painting the chipped and dirty railings in black gloss, some braving the traffic to pick litter in the central reservation on Parchmore Road, and some taking charge of the floral displays.

The drinking trough has been "re-discovered", and is now a blooming feature in Thornton Heath

The drinking trough has been “re-discovered”, and is now a blooming feature in Thornton Heath

The Edwardian cattle trough and drinking fountain, a little-known historical feature on the central reservation opposite the entrance to Tesco car park, was also cleaned and re-planted, transforming what was an almost invisible part of Thornton Heath’s heritage. A new planter was also added on the railings either side of the bus stop outside Tesco. The end result is a riot of colour which will be looked after by local people to ensure it stays blooming.

Perhaps most significantly, the attention the group received from local people was universally positive.

Everyone could see the dramatic improvement just one day of work had made to this key area – a cleaner, greener space for all to enjoy. One nearby resident brought down cold drinks from his own flat as thanks, and many pedestrians and cyclists stopped to chat about what was going on, many being very keen to get involved with future work.

The manager and staff at Tesco deserve special mention for providing buckets of water for the new plants, giving the volunteers drinks and for volunteering to help with ongoing watering arrangements.

The day went very well and is illustrative of the community spirit and positivity in residents who are working really hard to make Thornton Heath greener and cleaner. This wasn’t a council-led project – it was something done entirely by local people who want to make a difference to where they live.

This project is just the first of a huge number of similar improvements the Action Team has planned. Working with Croydon Council, the group is feeding in to consultations on the allocation of nearly £3 million of funding for civic improvements.

Volunteers get to work by painting the long-neglected

Volunteers get to work by painting the long-neglected railings

To push this forward the Action Team has launched a Spacehive page where you can donate towards the “Five Quick Wins” scheme – every pledge made, no matter how small, improves the chance of achieving match funding from the Mayor of London. Anyone who saw the work on Saturday, or who wants to be part of a better future for Thornton Heath, can pledge here:!

If you would like to know more about the Thornton Heath Community Action Team, or join the mailing list to hear about future projects, please visit You can also follow us on Twitter @THCAT1.

About insidecroydon

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
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