If the 2022 Open House Festival is anything to go by, then when Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture next year, the capital could be looking at a cultural desert.
There are only nine venues in the whole of the borough of Croydon booked in as participating in Open House, as it returns after the covid hiatus.
None of the Croydon venues included in 2022 Open House are council buildings – such as the wondrously costly Fisher’s Folly, the nobly civic Town Hall, nor the expensively refurbished Fairfield Halls.
Also not participating are any of the impressively maintained buildings of organisations such as the Whitgift Foundation, the borough’s largest charity, with its schools and almshouses.
Where’s the Water Tower? The historic Dog and Bull pub on Surrey Street? Braithwaite Halls? Stanley Halls? Ashburton Hall? How about Addington Palace? The Whitgift Centre? Or the world’s tallest prefab? Or one of London’s smallest flats (where a tour might take just 30 seconds, and visitors are asked to bring a cat to demonstrate its lack of swingability)?
In short, and not for the first time, Croydon is a bit of a disappointment.
Open House Festival, which starts this Thursday and runs until September 21, is “a two-week celebration of London’s housing, architecture and neighbourhoods”. Perhaps Croydon’s part-time Mayor, Jason Perry, and his culture supremo, Councillor Andy Stranack, can take the opportunity to visit some of the venues in other boroughs to get some idea of how it’s supposed to be done…
Croydon’s, or rather the council’s, relationship with the Open House organisers in the past has been a bit patchy, with the tight-fisted Tories when they were previously in control of the Town Hall refusing to pony-up for a few copies of the event guide to distribute from the borough’s libraries.
Mind you, with most of the borough’s libraries now only open for a couple of days each week, even doing that might be seen these days as an exercise in futility.
In truth, in the post-pandemic city, staging any kind of gathering which does not risk becoming a superspreader event is fraught with difficulties for the hosts and organisers – hence the cautious emphasis around London on predominantly outdoor visits.
But the Croydon offering strongly suggests that there’s no one left at the cash-strapped council to do even the most basic of organisational tasks to make something like this work.
All of which makes the prospects for a half-arsed, half-cocked and half-baked Borough of Culture in 2023 seem all the more concerning…
Those bold Croydon organisations that are participating in Open House 2022 include Croydon Minster, where the estimable local historian, David Morgan, will be leading a couple of tours, and St Mary’s Addington, the oldest church in the borough, which traces its history back to the Domesday Book.
The Love Lane gardeners are happily welcoming visitors this weekend (September 10-11) to see how you can turn a patch of wasteland into a kids’ playground and productive nursery for veg and fruit.
Not too far away from there, in South Norwood, on September 17, the supporters of the Brutalist library are celebrating its survival from the clutches of Brick by Brick, while there’s also a walking tour, The Inventions of South Norwood, being held on September 17 and 18.
And in Waddon, there’s a photography exhibition on September 14 and 15 at the Elis David Almshouses, an institution which dates back to 1447 (although it now houses its residents, including a couple of minor Croydon celebrities, in more modern accommodation…).
Open House also offers hundreds more events around the capital, including this year a first chance to visit the “new” City Hall, on Kamal Chunchie Way, Newham, which is probably not as well-loved as the old new City Hall.
But it’s cheaper to rent for the Mayor of London, and it offers views of another lasting memorial to the expense incurred by the hubris and ego of his predecessor, Boris Johnson – the Dangleway.
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