Nightwatch blocked from feeding homeless by council building

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The volunteers from an award-winning charity have been kicked off the steps of the council’s office building, in case they put off prospective business tenants of the cash-strapped authority.

High demand: Nightwatch has been banned from serving meals to the homeless from outside the council offices

Croydon’s £82,000 per year elected Mayor, Jason Perry, who lives in a £1.3million house with its own swimming pool, has allowed the council to block charity volunteers from feeding the homeless from the steps of the council offices.

The move has prompted the local MP, Sarah Jones, to issue a critical letter to the council, seeking action to find a suitable town centre location for Nightwatch.

The painful truth is that the private developers have been allowed to stage a landgrab, all but taking over Queen’s Gardens for the private use of their home-buyers and tenants, and they don’t want a bunch of homeless people converging outside their “luxury apartments” each evening.

And meanwhile, the council’s chief exec, Katherine Kerswell, appears to have calculated that operating a soup kitchen from outside her offices will lower the possible rental income from potential tenant businesses, too.

For decades, Nightwatch had run a soup kitchen and provided other support for the homeless and working poor from Queen’s Gardens, opposite the Town Hall.

The charity’s years of service to many of the poorest and most vulnerable in Croydon was recognised last year when it received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the MBE of community volunteering.

But Nightwatch is finding barriers being placed in its way by the very people who should be welcoming their interventions and helping them: Kerswell, Mayor Perry and the council.

When the then Labour-run council handed over a large chunk of the town centre’s only public park for a multi-million-pound housing development, Nightwatch lost its regular pitch from where it had offered hot meals, warm clothing and a range of other services for decades.

Spaced out: there’s not much of Queen’s Gardens left, and no space for Nightwatch

Back in 2017, when the Queen’s Gardens developers, Hub, were trying to impress the council’s planning committee with their generosity and good intentions over Nightwatch, they included in their submissions, “It is apparent how valuable the services [Nightwatch] provide[s] are to [the] homeless people accessing them.

“The proposed development may impact on suitability of the Queen’s Gardens as a site from which Nightwatch wish to operate, but we remain committed to working with them beyond the planning application submission and supporting them to continue to deliver services locally that homeless people rely on.”

The harsh reality in 2023, after the builders completed their work and residents started to move into the five new blocks, is that the developers of the 500-odd flats don’t want a bunch of homeless people congregating in what they have effectively annexed to become a private green space for their home-buyers and tenants.

Turfed out of Queen’s Gardens, Nightwatch found what appeared to be a solution, setting up their trestle tables and urns of hot drinks on the steps of the council offices, Fisher’s Folly (what the unenlightened sometimes refer to as Bernard Weatherill House). It even had the advantage of being, at least partially, under cover.

But according to the his annual report delivered last week by Jad Adams, Nightwatch’s long-standing and widely respected chair, even the nightly delivery of help to the homeless has become a “challenge”.

No expense spared: there was no shortage of food at the garden party attended by Conservative Party chair Greg Hands MP staged by Tory Mayor Perry (right) at his £1.3m home last weekend

“We went to meetings where we were assured by the designers of the gardens and the developers that there would be a place for us in the ‘new’ Queen’s Gardens,” Adams wrote.

“As the development proceeded, the gardens were boarded off and we worked under the canopy of Bernard Weatherill House.

“When the hoardings came down it was clear the new gardens, with large play areas and a part of the land taken by new-build housing, was no longer right for our service, there wasn’t a place for us.

“To add to our problems, the council wanted to let part of their property and didn’t want us to be in front of their building when they were trying to attract tenants.

“We had discussions with deputy mayor Councillor Lynne Hale and council officers about where we might be if we weren’t there, but the council did not come up with any solutions.”

Nightwatch has continued its nightly service, operating from further down Fell Road, within sight of the council buildings and the gardens, to maintain continuity and ease of access.

“The space isn’t ideal,” Adams told Inside Croydon.

“It is too confined and has only one efficient exit. We would happily pay to have it improved with a new entrance (so clients could walk through) and a shelter, but we would have to have the right to stay there.

“The council says they want to develop this area, but not where they will be getting the money from.”

Shunted aside: Nightwatch volunteers keep up their regular service, no thanks to Croydon Council

Adams says that the council has been trying to shift Nightwatch out of Queen’s Gardens since the previous Tory council administration of Mike Fisher in 2011. “We were still there 10 years later, so we won’t be rushing,” Adams says.

The council, Adams says, is “failing to come up with any constructive suggestions of what we should be doing now the gardens have been so reduced and developed that there is no place for us”.

MP Jones told Inside Croydon, “Nightwatch is a fantastic organisation which represents the best of Croydon and has been caring for people who are homeless in our borough since 1976.

“In the last 10 years, Jad Adams and his team have served over 170,000 meals to people in need.

“The Nightwatch team are out in the town centre every night, whatever the weather, and it’s clear that a shelter or cover is vital to allow them to do their important work.

“I’ve made representations to the council, encouraging them to support this vital local organisation, and I’m delighted to support Nightwatch’s campaign.”

Read more: Mayor condemned for ‘cruel’ treatment of street homeless
Read more: ‘Too often councils are failing in their duties’ on homelessness

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This entry was posted in Charity, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Croydon Nightwatch, Croydon parks, Housing, Jad Adams, Katherine Kerswell, Mayor Jason Perry, Queens Gardens, Sarah Jones MP and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Nightwatch blocked from feeding homeless by council building

  1. Leslie Parry says:

    They can’t sell B by B housing, they don’t provide supported housing or give enough support for the homeless now they have decided not to allow a charity to feed them.

    Those who are guilty of this should hang their heads in shame

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    The fact of the matter is
    1. that there are too many homeless and hungry people in Croydon.
    2. that this Council fails each and everyone of them daily.
    3. that this Council is trying to maximise revenues as its first priority.
    4. that the situation they created in the first place interferes with its revenue streams.
    5. Ergo cover up and remove issue from sight and say nothing except to piggy back on others work to mask the little it actually does.

    And that sums up how this administration washes its public image on the backs of others work when they stand up to fill the gap the Council leave with excuses ad nauseum
    Basking in reflected credit whilst quietly undermining the efforts of others is sordid.

    Why not just provide a Central site from those empty assets they have? Provide that to Nightwatch and let them run it until there is no longer a need for them to do so?

    Combine that site with a 10 – 16.00 food bank hub and drop in to maximise usage.
    Use that site for other services to visit and set up help/advocasy for those homeless and hungry and so begin to reduce and address the root causes of Hunger and homelessness in the own.
    Then bask in the acclaim for being a forward thinking administration despite being broke.

  3. Chris Flynn says:

    Maybe they’ll be moved onto the Webb Estate.

  4. Lewis White says:

    The presence of all those volunteers in luminous jackets in the evenings, happily chatting and smiling while serving food to hungry street sleepers, make one feel much safer there in that part of Croydon that in most other town centre areas, where there is a night time dystopian feel . An absence of the figures that represent society– police on foot patrol, and council roadsweepers– and the presence of overspilling bins, and litter — are the hallmarks of contemporary central Croydon after dark.

    If the new residents of the Queens Gardens area really object–has anyone actually asked them?– perhaps Nightwatch and its clients and supporters could up sticks, and move down to the bottom of Crown Hill, and set up shop on the island site of Reeves ex Furniture store.

    It’s a pleasant green oasis at present– but probably due for redevelopment with a boring 36 to 56 storey tower .if we are unlucky.

    By day this parklet could have a use as precisely that- a mini park.
    Why doesn’t a homlessness charity take it over and look after it?

    They could train homeless clients to become gardeners. The going rate in parts of Croydon for a gardener is now up to £ 30 an hour.

  5. James Seabrook says:

    This is beyond heartless, it’s utterly cruel.

    I’ve seen some nasty people before but this is vile.

    Most homeless people aren’t homeless by choice and this council and Perry really does not care. it seems their care is only for their own gain and that of their rich mates. Very similar to the current government.

    I’m in despair at how low this council can go.

  6. Peter Underwood says:

    This is heartless and cruel but sadly typical of the attitude of the Council under Mayor Perry and the Conservatives. They are not interested in tackling the real problems that leave people homeless. They just want to move those people out of their sight so they don’t have to face the consequences of their failures.

  7. derek thrower says:

    When you travel unexpectedly into central Croydon it is a shock to see the huge numbers of people having to use the services of this charity. Rather than provide support to the vulnerable we have a useless Lump that is hounding them without providing any useful alternative choice or assistance. What else can you expect from the underlying problem that is causing this state of affairs.

  8. Sarah Bird says:

    Homelessness is not all drugs rock and roll. Far from it. It can be due to a break up of a relationship , illness, ex care or being in the armed forces-many whom are living rough ,which is an utter disgrace. We all owe our liberty to their bravery. The law is clear on what is homelessness. It includes sofa surfing , living in unsuitable dangerous accommodation etc. The Council has a statutory Duty to say the least, of a Moral Duty to assist , but upon the most cursory review of the homelessness, it fails to do so. Certainly, the many homelessness people I speak too, tell me this. If , as appears, the council do not want charities helping those vulnerable and in need outside their offices ;then the answer is very simple, step up to the plate and act in accordance with the law and Nolan Principles. If the council’s position is lack of money then what efforts has it undertaken, to chase the money ? Put very simply where has the money been spent to accrue the debt and when?

    • orangeamber says:

      About this council, that is revolted by the homeless and those that just want something to eat and company. I f you go into hospital and a nurse treats you they will help you regards of what you look like, your circumstances, they want to help you as a human, this should be the attitude of us all with those in need, YES MAYOR YOU AND YOUR STAFF, you are teaching them how to spite down to those in need, only unless they can win you a vote. YOU as a person should not need any principles to have a heart, it is part of the human condition, not a dark heart as here has been displayed. We are back in the 18th century, with money, class. The kind nice people that volunteer do what YOU mayor should be doing, of course only if you want a vote, then you get around as many places to be in the picture, yes you do, it was a mistake you in the council, the building we as the people in Croydon own, and all that goes on there we pay for, remember 15% TAX hike. So put down your champagne and snacks, and go and help the volunteers outside our building, and also sort their needs out, this should be natural, you should not have others writing in telling you how to be a decent human that should come from YOU…..

  9. Laurence Fisher says:

    I think they should set up outside a certain house number on Castlemaine Avenue.

    • Ian Leggatt says:

      “Eat at ate” ?

      • Laurence Fisher says:

        Absolutely – his royal nibs, AKA mayor, can supply the champagne. Why not, its a pavement out there. I’ll be the first to don a pinny and a large spoon to help feed the hungry. Would he?????????

  10. Pete Jenkins says:

    What about from the front of Fairfield Halls, under the large canopy? Plenty of space to operate and for parking.
    If the Halls was open on a particular night and if there was any audience, they should have departed by then. And it’s well away from any residents.

  11. Laurence Fisher says:

    What’s that chap’s name who brought his film crew to Regina Rd? Ring him up. Get him with the crew down to Cost A Mint Walk, set up as normal outside The Folly, and watch our glorious mayor, in all his best role for an audition for RADA suddenly turn up to help with a smile which only a Harley street plastic surgeon could remove.
    And it would happen, i have no doubt.
    Ohh, what a tosser.

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