Watson ‘backing’ business, after halving his charity’s income

Above is the scene in Surrey Street Market in early afternoon yesterday, Wednesday January 3, 2018.

It is about six months since the council, in a plan pushed through by the soon-to-be-ex councillor Mark Watson, spent £1.2million, on “upgrading” the market street. Previously, Watson had described the authentic, cheap but wholesome produce street market in Surrey Street as “tatty”.

Before Watson’s enforced three-month closure of Surrey Street Market, there were regularly more than 50 stalls trading along the street. Even after a steady decline for a decade, until last March, on good days around 70 stalls could be trading along the whole length of the street.

Yesterday afternoon, you could count the stalls on the fingers of one hand.

The market is described by Croydon Council as, “historic” and “one of the oldest markets in Britain, trading since 1276. It operates seven days a week, selling a range of items, including fresh produce, fruit and vegetables Monday to Saturday”.

By the look of the market yesterday, Surrey Street is fast becoming a matter of history, rather than a part of Croydon’s future.

“Surrey Street,” the council website says, “has a great atmosphere and is bursting with independent traders, street food, homemade and artisan produce, arts and crafts. The market has recently been refurbished to help create a vibrant, pedestrian friendly zone, making it a great destination for shopping and relaxing in the heart of Croydon.”

Why was the scene in Surrey Street yesterday significant?

Oxymoron: Mark Watson

Because yesterday saw the launch of another Mark Watson “initiative”, what the council announced as “the inaugural Croydon Year for Business”.

The council – yep, the same bunch of people who have made such a bang-up job of Surrey Street – say that, “Croydon Means Business 2018 aims to support and encourage the growth of local businesses and inspire further innovation among the borough’s business community”. They don’t mention the 50-plus small businesses who used to trade on Surrey Street Market, but hey…

“Over the coming year, the council and the Croydon Business Network will deliver a programme of events that aim to help Croydon’s businesses continue to develop and grow, creating new job opportunities for local people and boosting the local economy.”

Much like they said that spending £1.2million on “tatty” Surrey Street would achieve.

“The year will continue the legacy of the council’s work with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the borough, which follows the work of the Small Business Commission last year.”

Or as one business manager working in Surrey Street told Inside Croydon over Christmas, “The arrival of Mark Watson to ‘help’ business is about as welcome as the sight of the Grim Reaper at an old people’s home.”

The view from the walkway over Surrey Street yesterday afternoon, less than a year after a Mark Watson-inspired £1.2m spend. Hardly a “bustling street market”

Of course, Surrey Street is not the only example in Croydon where businesses are struggling. Stagnant office vacancy rates suggest that other business sectors, outside retail, are hardly  thriving, while high street banks continue in their policy of branch closures across the borough, and the country as a whole, another aspect of the sad, and slow, death of many high streets.

The inaptly named “Restaurant Quarter”, half a mile away in South End, now has a slew of empty and abandoned shops, bars and ex-restaurants, despite the council – when under Tory control – spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a bit of paving and to tart-up properties, many of which are owned by the borough’s biggest landlord, the wealthy Whitgift Foundation.

Elsewhere, after a £3million sweetheart loan deal from the council, even Boozepark is shedding food outlets. Despite the financial leg-up the venue was given by the council, to the disbenefit of many existing and established town centre traders, business there is struggling under the burden of rates, rising bills, reducing margins and the general downturn in the economy which sees the public having less disposable income.

And in Croydon town centre, there’s the seemingly never-ending development blight caused by Hammersfield, the £1.4billion shopping mall redevelopment by Westfield and Hammerson, which has over-shadowed all other business interests in the borough for six years now, and where building work is still not due to begin on the ageing Whitgift Centre until 2019.

None of this was mentioned in yesterday’s press release from Croydon Council.

Instead, they spewed forth some re-hashed empty phrases, such as “an action plan for delivery”, “cross-organisational working”, and “unleash Croydon’s growth potential”.

Nor did the council press release mention Councillor Watson’s extensive business expertise… probably because he doesn’t have any.

A former civil servant who lost his Home Office job when he fraudulently issued a visa to a friend, Watson has most recently been running an “ethical travel” charity, as a part-time executive director from an office address in central Croydon.

Watson, right, and his mate Tony Newman in one of Croydon’s empty bars

In the past four years, Tourism Concern, with Watson in charge, has seen its income more than halved, from £158,644 in 2013 to £72,288 in 2017, according to the most recent set of figures filed with the Charity Commission.

In its annual report, Tourism Concern describes 2016-2017 as “a difficult year for us”.

“As expected, income didn’t materialise, and we made a loss of £16,500, which meant we had to use some  of our reserves….  savings have been found by reducing running costs,” the report states.

Undaunted, yesterday Tourism Concern’s part-time executive director, while jauntily wearing his Croydon Council cabinet member’s hat, was telling business operators in the borough that, “Businesses have a vital role in the local economy…” no shit, Sherlock.

“… and I hope this year-long programme will help to increase business pride in the area, further our engagement with local businesses and improve business confidence in the borough.”

Businesses of Croydon may be interested to note that Mark Watson is standing down as a councillor in May, something which, of itself, should do a great deal to “improve business confidence in the borough”.

  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Boxpark, Business, Mark Watson, Pubs, Restaurants, Surrey Street, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Watson ‘backing’ business, after halving his charity’s income

  1. It is becoming more and more obvious that the current administration’s efforts are all a bit like the King’s new clothes. Everything is announced with great puff, and apart from spending shedloads of our money, very little seems to materialise. The continuing decline of small businesses around Croydon combined with crumbling 60s architecture (anything ever going to happen to the Nestle building, St George’s Walk and associated vacant offices?).

    How much longer can Newman, Negrini & Co. keep up the pretence that they actually have the faintest idea of what they are doing.

  2. Crossed the top of Surrey Street this afternoon. Could see a couple of stalls in the far distance near Crown Hill. The market has been destroyed.

  3. derekthrower says:

    Perhaps Watson is doing some future planning?

    He might be looking to launch Croydon as a tourist location demonstrating a Dystopian 21st century where the current Cabinet and Senior Officers lurch out of the Town Hall and in a zombie-like state clamber past endless derelict properties and businesses towards Matthew’s Yard for an Americano to revive them. That will be a sight for tourist concern.

  4. Lewis White says:

    Having been to Surrey Street a number of times since the makeover, I think that quite a good job has been made of the paving design, which, in keeping with a grimy market environment, is of a dark colouration which won’t show the inevitable staining.

    As the Inside Croydon photo shows, it is really sad to see so few stalls trading now, but just as sad is to see the small range of produce on sale. Almost all stalls sell exactly the same – oranges one week, satsumas the next, mangoes the next. Sorry to hark back, but in the 60’s , 70’s and 80’s the range of produce on sale was awesomely huge, with some stalls selling almost everything veggie or fruity, to some stalls just selling the rock bottom bargains in one or two types of fruit or veg cheapest up at Covent garden that week. Giant cos lettuces — beans—- peas—- those were the days.

    There are still some stalls which sell a very good range, notably a Chinese veg stall and a traditional type market stall or two of the old school. It’s a delight to see these, and buy some of their produce.

    Is this limited range because no one goes up to Covent Garden every morning before dawn, to buy veg any more? Is it that there is very little on sale up there now, as the supermarkets take everything direct from the growers? Is it that there still is decent range of veg and fruit on sale up there, but it goes to posher areas, perhaps because it is too expensive for the Croydon market shopper?

    And is the reduction in numbers of stalls due to the 1970s stallholders’ younger family members deciding to become brain surgeons and pharmacists, car dealers, builders, indoor shopworkers and NHS workers, rather than follow hundreds of years of working outside in the freezing cold on a draughty market stall in sunless wintertime in Surrey Street?

    Probably, yes.

    I feel rather selfish– having experienced the rumbustious joy of the incredibly busy markets of old, dodging the stalls and porter trollies being moved (“Mind your backs!!”) and hearing the old cries ” ‘alf a pound of ripe tomaters, ‘alf a pound of SALAD tomaters!! What ever happened to those delicious “Rock ‘ard and sweet as a nut ” Canary Island tomatoes of the 70s? Gone! Maybe to be sold in Germany.

    Looking to the future, I wish all the current stallholders well, and will visit, and buy. But how can more stalls be attracted?. How does the pitch rent compare relative to other markets?

    The stalls have changed at other London markets, such as East Street in Walworth, where the old fashioned veg stalls are now very few in number, replaced by hundreds of clothes stalls.

    The demographic there has changed, the old white community reduced, and the strong African community still likes buying clothes and other goods in the market. It has saved the market, but the market has changed as a result.

    What is notable about Croydon is that in London Road West Croydon, there are lots of superb Turkish and Middle Eastern shops selling loads of different types of fresh veg, meat fish, fruit, so people are still buying. It is still thriving and viable. It is also clearly run mainly and staffed by business people who were born abroad, or whose parents came here over the last 30 years . Good on all of them

    Crown Hill has two butchers and a really good fish shop. It still seems busy.

    Surrey Street itself has a fish stall and a wet fish shop, and several very good food shops, a caff or two, a fish and chip shop of quality, maybe a butcher, plus the remaining stalls, some old, some new, but sadly, it never seems busy. Has it been the weather this summer since the refurb?.

    The coming Spring and Summer will tell whether Surrey Street is resilient, and is still alive, or is dying. I personally like the colourful canopies, although not sure how they perform in rain and wind.

    Maybe all the remaining stalls should be shunted down to the Crown Hill end (I think they should, to make it look busier) and the top area devoted to ……. what? A giant beer garden ? A hand car wash ? Finding something to fill the void will not be easy.

    Is the real problem for the market that, in 2018, we are all boring, car-bound, suburbanite, supermarket-going zombies, who lack the time to visit the market, and would rather watch an episode of Rick Stein or Jamie Oliver visiting a market in Italy, to doing the same ourselves in good old Croydon?

    Is the problem me? …and you ? And the supermarket-oriented times we live in, Not the politicians?

    Happy New Year, Surrey Street. May your stalls and shops thrive again ! I hope it’s a better one for all who sell there!.

    • All of which was discussed, at length, in the months before Cllr Watson opted to spend £1.2m on the nice new paving slabs, and forcibly shut-down existing traders for three months last year, in a blatant and transparent attempt to gentrify the market area to something more in keeping with his own tastes.
      Yes, trading conditions have changed massively in the past 40 years. Yes, there’s an ebb and flow of family workers going into the family business. But that’s been true for centuries.
      Never before has a single councillor managed to drive away so quickly quite so many small businesses from the place that was the beating heart of the town since the Middle Ages.

  5. I think this is a slightly exaggerated story….and I’m no defender of Croydon Council. Surrey Street has been very empty this week, but my guess is that people are taking an extended Christmas holiday. I am sure next week it will be busy again with both venders and customers.

    • Yeah, David. About 50 small businesses all together opting not to trade for 1/52nd of the trading year, when potential customers might be seeking their first fresh fruit and vegetable purchases for a fortnight. Sounds entirely plausible… not.

      In any case, the point here is the couunterpoint: the council’s apparent concern for small businesses, while presiding over some of the most crass mismanagement of the local business environment and, to be brutal, offering no real solutions at all.

    • Michael Hajioannou says:

      I agree. This is a very misleading article. I walk through the market everyday as I live around the corner. I had assumed the lack of stalls on Wednesday was because of the storm and high winds. There were much more stalls today (Friday).

      • It’s “many more”. But how many? Are we back to the 70 stalls who traded in Surrey Street until Mark Watson’s £1.2million intervention last March? No? Qu’elle surprise…
        So how many?
        The photo is only a snap shot. We are clear about when it was taken. It shows the nadir of the market’s state.
        Watson’s still claiming things are getting better. If you want to accept that narrative, that’s up to you.

  6. Lewis White says:

    I think the problem for Surrey Street is that the trendification that has happened at some “up-markets” in East and North London can’t yet happen in Croydon because, as yet, there aren’t enough incomers with high incomes able to support the new type of stalls.

    Because most of central Croydon is offices, many now empty, there still just aren’t enough people living here. Maybe things will get better when the many new residential blocks get completed.

    Suburban Southern and Eastern Croydon probably never visits Surrey Street, not for 20 or so years. They shop in Tesco or Waitrose et al, and now at Aldi and Lidl. Will these people want to rediscover a renewed Surrey Street? I fear not many of them, but hope I am wrong. Sad, as many of them will once have shopped in Surrey Street, back in the 80’s and 90’s.

    I would love to see a rejuvenated Surrey Street lined with trendy and traditional bakers, brewers, ethnically-varied eateries, coffee shops, fish and meat shops and many more, plus a thriving market with many traditional stalls for fresh veg and fruit at low prices, as of old, and a range of other useful and new stalls.. Fantasy perhaps, but one has to have a vision !

    When ever I visit Surrey Street, I yield to temptation, and buy far too many kilos of veg and fruit, so end up hardly able to lug my numerous bags back up hill to the nearest bus stop. It might help get the market back into the public consciousness if all the buses could have an automatic voice to announce- “next stop Surrey Street Market”. Accesibility, and publicity.

    Maybe a drive-thru veg and fruit area, staffed with runners. Not beans , though runner beans would be great too, but cheeky Croydon youngsters who could nip down and get a kilo of oranges and peas, a sweet potato or mooli or bunch of coriander, and be paid a fee better than the national minimum wage for their efforts.

    Yes, That would be fantastic.

Leave a Reply