Mayor accused of ‘cynical ploy’ over garden centre closure

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.

Under threat: the council-run Cherry Orchard Garden Centre

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.

To sign the petition, click here.

Property speculation: the council might seek a buyer for the garden centre site

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.”

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
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8 Responses to Mayor accused of ‘cynical ploy’ over garden centre closure

  1. Throwing people with disabilities onto the dole? That’s Croydon Tories for you

    • Billy James says:

      They did it with Crossfield as well.

      • Er, up to a point, Billy.

        It was in fact Labour who closed down Crosfield, a Croydon council-owned business that specialised in employing people with disabilities.

        The Council leader at the time the shutdown decision was made was somebody called Tony Newman. Whatever happened to him? In January 2006 he said “Croydon Council has absolutely no reason to apologise for closing Crosfield. If we deserve any criticism at all it is probably because we should have recognised reality and closed it before now. I am 100 per cent satisfied the council has no viable alternative to closure.”

        Displaying the kind of heartless arrogance that 15 years later led to not only his own downfall, but also broke the borough he twice led, Newman gave Crosfield the thumbs down and consigned 85 people and their jobs to the dustbin.

        The Tories disagreed with Newman’s decision to run the place down to the point it was no longer viable. When the battle was raging over its future, Tory Councillor Margaret Mead (the June to husband Dudley’s Terry) said only a small sum would be required to keep the place open and pledged that “if the Conservatives win the election in May (2006) we will keep Crosfield open”.

        However, that promise was broken. When Mike Fisher took control of the Town Hall, he made feeble excuses about it costing too much to revive the place (less than £1.5 million) and instead blamed Newman for sabotage in selling off factory equipment.

        History is about to repeat itself.

        • Billy James says:

          They are both as bad as each other then.

          I was at the garden centre recently and they have absolutely no heating in the greenhouse – apparently they are waiting for a part, a likely excuse to kill off the tender plants.

          Perry and the rest of his South Croydon property developing cabinet are not content with getting rid of a valuable community resource and taking away opportunities for the most disadvantaged in our society they also want to discourage the volunteers and clients by making it too cold an environment to work in.

          Sorry but they are just pure evil and heartless.

          • Lewis White says:

            The closure of Crosfield mentioned in the comment by Arfur Towcrate above, reminds me of the closure of “Remploy” by the Government and closure of other workplaces owned by the RNIB or its pre-decessors.

            Almost every week, for around a decade, I used to see and talk with a blind man who travelled several days a week, from Croydon up to Peckham, where he worked in a sheltered factory. We both travelled up to new Cross Gate. We enjoyed the chat and company.

            His journey cannot have been easy , as it involved a walk or bus from his home to East Croydon, a train to New Cross Gate, and then a bus, plus maybe another walk to his workplace. All in the end part of the morning rush. Plus the homeward journey.

            Yet, in spite of the long and arduous journey, he seemed cheerful. He clearly enjoyed his job and working with colleagues.

            As someone (me) who cannot stand being stuck indoors, on my own, in the silence (with up to two radios on for company), I hate the isolation. I sometimes wonder if my blind fellow commuter found satisfying new work after his workplace closed down? Or did he find himself in unrewarding work, or a constant state of “Job Seeker ” limbo?

            I hope that something good came along or him and the others who worked at the site, so, but I fear that a new job might not have had the same camaraderie, nor the sense of purpose given by making items for sale.

            I hope that the garden centre is saved, for the sake of the people who work there, and the public who want to buy plants and items there. The garden centre is right next to the “Hub” Centre for people with disabilities, and clearly complements the benefits of the Hub.

  2. Billy James says:

    Absolutely disgraceful decision.

    I have visited the garden centre on many occasions and always found it friendly and hospitable, and the staff are always helpful.

    I used it regularly during the pandemic. It was a godsend to many of us who were stuck at home who took up gardening to keep us sane. It was probably one of the rare Croydon council facilities that were actually open to the general public.

    Charles is correct on the cost of renovations. They must have had the quote from Brick by Brick.

    Perry has probably sold the land already for flats to one of his property-developing tory mates.

  3. Ken Towl says:

    It is a great community asset – and good value, too. A place like this ought to be seen as a source of pride for any council that has its priorities right.

  4. Susan Mortimer says:

    As always, flabbergasted by Croydon’s shit ineptitude.

    Jason Perry sat on the panel that stupidly elevated Jo Negrini to CEO and then sat on the panel that awarded her a huge golden handshake, totally underserved.

    Had that money gone to the Cherry Orchard Garden Centre….?

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