Nearly 800 people have already signed a petition calling on Croydon’s Tory Mayor to reverse a “hasty decision” to shut down a council-owned garden centre which has provided valuable livelihoods for local people with learning difficulties for more than 30 years.
The Cherry Orchard Garden Centre is nestled along St James’s Road, West Croydon. The council has announced it wants to close it next March, part of its cut-backs and closures caused by the borough’s bankruptcy.
Mayor Jason Perry’s council has also been accused of a “cynical ploy” by exaggerating by 10 times the cost of renovations required at the centre in its reasoning for the closure.
As a significant town centre site, the garden centre might prove an attractive to property developers, and could generate siginificant funds from a sale by the cash-strapped council.
The garden centre is part of the council’s Cherry Hub, a council-run centre for people with disabilities to use as part of their activity programmes which also serves as the base for the council’s Active Lives service and Croydon Autism Service.
The garden centre is run mainly by volunteers with learning and other disabilities. “Volunteers learn new skills like horticulture and customer service, and can meet new friends,” according to the council’s own website.
It is the only garden centre in central Croydon, and sells a wide range of plants most of which are propagated and grown on site. They also sell seasonal products, including Christmas trees and festive wreaths.
One of the Friends of the Cherry Orchard Garden Centre, Charles Baber, told Inside Croydon, “The amount of money the council might save is a mere drop in the ocean when the real size of their debt is considered, and yet the proposed closure would devastate the lives of the people that work there. It would make the local community poorer.”
Barber says he started the online petition because he “was so angry about this decision”. If the petition reaches 1,000 signatures, it will trigger a debate at full council.
There is also a paper petition being run at the centre, and the Croydon public is being encouraged to visit the centre in the next couple of weeks, perhaps to make a purchase, even to order a Christmas wreath, and demonstrate the true value of the centre to the borough, and to the council.
“I hope we won’t have to march on the Town Hall with our spades and forks, but am willing to do so, if necessary,” Barber said.
In a letter sent to Mayor Jason Perry, Barber writes that Cherry Orchard Garden Centre, “provides employment for people with learning difficulties who carry out their duties with a cheerfulness and dedication many other businesses would envy”.
Barber writes, “I know that it has become an almost a default position with many councils to sell off publicly-owned assets to cover shortfalls in budgets, but part of the reason Croydon is now seen by many locals and visitors to be in a state of almost irreparable decline is due to such a policy.
“I do not believe that councils should have the right to sell off community resources, which generations of people have made use of, just because they do not have the competence to manage council funds.
“I was also angry and disappointed to learn that the council claimed that the renovation that is needed at the Garden Centre would cost almost 10 times more than the actual amount needed.
“This is a typical cynical ploy, which I have across before, whereby the scale of the problem is exaggerated so that the Council can more easily get its way.”
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