Hammerson and Westfield are back in town, only this time they’re offering a bit of artwashing in the disused Allders department store building.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Fabien Riggall, the founder of Secret Cinema, today confirmed Inside Croydon’s report earlier this week that he will be bringing his latest enigmatic piece of performance art to central Croydon this autumn.
Called Lost, Riggall says he is “designing a new format of entertainment”.
Inside Croydon reported earlier this week how Riggall had established a new company and had submitted a licensing application to use two of the four floors in the disused Allders building in the town centre, as a venue for dance, music, theatre and cinema.
Today, Riggall revealed that he is working hand-in-hand with the Croydon Partnership, the joint venture formed between Westfield and Hammerson 10 years ago that promised a £1.4billion redevelopment of Croydon’s Whitgift and Centrale shopping malls, but which has so far only delivered only a decade of development blight to Croydon.
Riggall’s licensing application is for a 12-month period, starting in September 2022.
Riggall describes his latest venture as “a turning point for the future of entertainment”.
Riggall says his project is “a new cultural movement looking to regenerate former retail districts into art and entertainment spaces”, with the first “Lost district” being Croydon.
The former film producer prefers to use all capitals when referring to Lost, which does not appear to be anything to do with the US blockbuster sci-fi mystery television series which ultimately disappeared up its own fundament in around season three…
Inevitably, some locals will suggest that Croydon lost its way some time ago. They will take no more confidence in the scheme upon learning that backing the scheme alongside the shopping centre multi-nationals Westfield and Hammerson also the Whitgift Foundation – Croydon’s richest charity and owners of the freehold of the Whitgift Centre – and Croydon Council, in the form of part-time Mayor Jason Perry.
In common with his Secret Cinema concept, Riggall’s Lost plays itself as making some kind of a stand against an increasingly dystopian society where mobile phones, tablets and digital devices dominate everything that we do.
It does this by sending out press releases by email and using an online website featuring a digitally edited end-of-the-world style video – which includes clips of Oscar-winning actor Peter Finch going slightly mad in the classic movie Network, railing against the dominance that screens play in our daily lives.
There is more than a sense of some artwashing going on here on behalf of the Westfield and Hammerson executives who between them, helped by the likes of ex-MP Gavin Barwell, Tony Newman and Jo Negrini, have managed to make such a mess of Croydon town centre.
And whatever else it might turn out to be, the Lost announcement today serves to underline that there will never be the glitzy supermall in Croydon that Westfield, together with Boris Johnson and Barwell, so confidently promised in 2012.
“Lost is a group of artists, thinkers and creators that are looking to take over former retail centres around the world to design new cultural districts that will become ‘Lost City’,” Riggall said today.
“We shall showcase new forms of art and entertainment alongside reinvented retail experiences.”
This appears to where the artwashing kicks in, with a vengeance.
“To be lost is to lose oneself in art, beyond digital culture, where we can connect in the real world, in deeper and more meaningful stories,” Riggall said.
“The future of art is in the high street, in department stores, in shops where we can experience new ideas whilst connecting in real life with real people.”
Yes, he actually said that. Riggall, clearly, is no Banksy.
“We are excited to be working with the local community in developing a richly diverse programme whilst also hosting artists from around the world,” said the man who has so far kept all his plans strictly confidential from everyone apart from a handful of Town Hall habituées.
“We will also be working closely with the Croydon Partnership and Croydon Council as we develop our first Lost district at Allders, the beautiful former department store.”
It’s fair to say that what separates Riggall’s latest announcement from other, previous promises of something being done to transform Croydon’s high street is that he does have a track record, with Secret Cinema, of some success. And Secret Cinema, too, encountered some well-placed scepticism at first, as it sometimes struggled to match the ambitions of its founder.
In the press release accompanying the announcement, it said, “Lost will transform the space into a multidisciplinary venue that celebrates entertainment art, and retail, in an entirely new form. The district marks the beginning of Lost City that will be built together with the lost community.” So Croydon’s a “lost community” now…
“The aim of Lost as a cultural organisation is to reimagine the exhibition and distribution of physical experiences, by designing a new format of entertainment. A disruptive force set to regenerate forgotten high streets and subvert the current system, Lost will build a new sub-culture uniting local and international artists together in a unique community on a global scale.”
This is all, without any hint of sounding in any manner messianic at all, is part of a “masterplan” together with Westfield, Hammerson and the council “to regenerate Croydon with new occupier uses and concepts including entertainment brands”.
Apparently, Lost will be a “hub” (we don’t think that’s a typo) where locals and visitors will “interact in the real world”.
They promise that Lost “will generate thousands of job opportunities within the area across the next five years”. When Barwell and BJ first blew the trumpet for Westfield and Hammerson, they were offering 6,000 jobs that never materialised.
The shift in emphasis over what might, if anything, if ever, gets delivered by way of the long-overdue regeneration is contained within the footnotes provided with the announcement today.
Retail giants Hammerson and Westfield are now looking at “a mixture of new homes, retail, restaurants, workspace, leisure and entertainment concepts…”: housing now comes first. There’s more profit to be had these days from being residential developers than there is in building or managing retail.
And for the record, demonstrating his part in this latest chapter of the “Hammersfield” saga, part-time Mayor Perry said that he’s “excited” by the arrival of Lost. Perry said that he “can’t wait for residents and visitors to discover what’s in store for them at the Allders building”.
Perry said, “The arrival of this project will be the start of the change we want to make and an important boost for the local area, as a strong vote of confidence in the culture, communities, and connectivity that we know our borough has in abundance.”
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