EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The decision by the Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry, to call a Borough of Culture funding stream “The Ignite Fund” has been slammed for being crass, ill-judged and insensitive by victims of the Croydon Riots.
The announcement of the Ignite Fund was made by the council’s propaganda unit yesterday.
This weekend marks the 11th anniversary of the Croydon Riots, the biggest civil disturbances ever seen in the borough, when police vehicles were fire-bombed, shops were looted and dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed through arson. A 26-year-old man, Trevor Ellis, was shot and killed on Warrington Road in South Croydon during the disturbances.
Rioting in Croydon had followed similar disturbances in the days beforehand elsewhere in London, initially in protest at the death of Mark Duggan. Few of those who would loot and pillage in Croydon, however, were doing so for any cause of social justice.
As commuters made their ways home in the early evening of Monday, August 8, police closed the entire area around West Croydon Station. As it got dark, tensions were rising, and running battles between police and gangs, mostly of young men, soon broke out.
Looted shops included branches of Argos, Iceland, House of Fraser, PC World, Comet, Orange, Maplin Electronics, Cycle King, Richer Sounds and Tesco.
In Croydon town centre, the police, even when reinforcements were ordered in after the situation was already out of control, could not cope. The Fire Brigade was also overwhelmed by the volume of 999 calls and number of fires it was trying to deal with.
The flames from the Reeves Corner furniture store in Croydon Old Town could be seen across south London, and images of the fire were shown around the world, becoming an emblem for rampant lawlessness across the British capital.
The Mayor of London at the time, Boris Johnson, refused to return from his holiday immediately to try to deal with the emergency.
So, even after 11 years, setting up an arts fund in Croydon and calling it the Ignite Fund takes a special level of imbecility.
Tory Perry, who was elected as Mayor of the bankrupted borough in May, quickly announced that he would plough on with the plans for Croydon’s Borough of Culture, which is due to begin in April 2023 because Croydon cannot get its acts together by January.
According to Mayor Perry, the Borough of Culture arts programme “is truly community-led, with local residents, artists and cultural groups at the heart of all our plans”.
Trouble is, no one asked the community what they thought of their choice of name for the fund.
Bushra Ahmed has spent the past decade helping the community of Broad Green.
On August 8, 2011, Ahmed’s family business and home were both destroyed by arsonists. They lost everything in the flames, and it would take years for Ahmed and her family to build a new home and receive the compensation they were due.
Today, she described the council’s decision to call its arts funding scheme “The Ignite Fund” as “misguided and insensitive”.
Ahmed said, “Calling this Croydon Borough of Culture fund ‘The Ignite Fund’ in a town devastated by riots – with visible scars of that legacy still, 11 years on – is both misguided & insensitive. It needs to be fixed as soon as possible.”
Ahmed has had no response to her public appeal to the council.
The council is encountering other problems around the Ignite Fund, too, with issues around its administration because of shortage of staff to sift through the applications, according to a Katharine Street source.
The application period for the grants – initially with just 10 grants of up to £50,000 to be awarded – has had to be extended until August 12 “due to high demand”, if the council is to be believed.
Yesterday, August 5, was the first time that the council managed to issue any press release about the fund or publish any news item on its website.
“Through the Ignite Fund we are making it possible for hundreds of people and organisations of all sizes to be part of this very special year for Croydon, and I’d encourage anyone thinking about it to apply,” Perry, Croydon’s £81,000 part-time Mayor, said.
In their release, the council propaganda department said, “Artists and cultural organisations can apply now for grants of up to £50,000 to deliver unforgettable moments as Croydon kickstarts its regeneration with London Borough of Culture 2023.”
As another victim of the Croydon Riots said this morning, “For many who lived through the riots, August 8, 2011 will always remain an ‘unforgettable moment’.
“This shows Mayor Perry and the council to be crass as well as incompetent.”
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They should call it the ‘Croydon Council Corrupt Fund’
Art is important–I hope that the fund, what ever its name– results in some public art of high quality that will improve our streets for decades to come, –as well as some great music and performance.
If only every school in Croydon could be given some funding to enable professionals players to give live performances to inspire children –whether music or dance.
The fund is an excellent demonstration of quite how clueless the council is.
At this stage, with 2023 less than five months away, the council is trawling for ideas, any ideas, because they don’t have any.
A Borough of Culture programme ought to be the outcome of three or four years of strategic arts planning, identifying venues and potential, reliable providers of artistic content. Including, as you suggest, a series of touring concerts, exhibitions and performances from a range of art forms going into schools.
This fund is a desperate last act of throwing a bit of money (not enough, and too diluted), crossing their fingers and hping someone will come up with something… Croydon’s arts sector, yet again, forced to scrabble around for crumbs.
Remember, this is the council that squandered £40million over-budget on the Fairfield Halls, and has no idea where that money went.
Crass doesn’t even come close to covering it.