Culture should be ‘on every doorstep, in every locality, in every community, and in every life’ as the ‘key to connecting communities, and creating vibrancy and opportunities to thrive.’ (Croydon Creates. Our Cultural Plan for Croydon 2019-2023. p. 5)
‘Creativity helps us to see the world differently and understand our place within it. A rich cultural heritage contributes to our sense of self and community …’ (Inform, Involve, Inspire & Create – Croydon’s Cultural and Libraries Plans. Para. 3.2.9)
The Croydon Council Cabinet will adopt its new Cultural Plan at its meeting on Tuesday 7 May. In addition to the already printed Plan there is an officers’ report outlining the main features.
The two documents can be downloaded here:
Cultural Ambitions for Croydon
The Plan’s ambitions are for Croydon to be a place:
- where culture is for everyone
- where people come first
- with a stunning, inspirational public realm
- that is energising and dynamic
- that celebrates its past, present and future
- a place of cultural entrepreneurialism and creative business
The Plan will be ‘integral to the Council’s wider ambitions such as regeneration and economic growth, localities working, outcomes for young people and improving health and wellbeing.’
New Cultural Developments
The officers’ report accompanying the new Cultural Plan states that it is launched at a time of new cultural developments:
- the refurbished Fairfield Halls due to open later this year
- the residency of Talawa, the UK’s premier Black theatre company at the Halls
- recent funding announcements such as Croydon’s selection as one of six new Creative Enterprise Zones for London and one of five national Arts Council England funded youth performance partnerships
- a growing music scene building on Croydon’s historical success in this sphere
- the Council’s cultural partnership fund attracting over £3 into Croydon for every £1 of council investment
- an annual calendar of events e.g. Croydon Pride, Mela, street arts festival
The Council says that the Plan can only be achieved through partnership with Croydon’s Cultural Network, local schools and colleges, the Local Strategic Partnership.
Diversity and Outreach
The Plan takes into account the recommendation of the Strategy & Overview Committee that actions in the Cultural Plan should cover the whole of the Borough and be a reflection of the diverse population in Croydon. As Croydon has the highest population of under 25s in London, it particularly highlights the need to reach out and engage young people.
Economy and investment
Understandably the officers highlight the economic importance of culture.
- ‘Culture plays a significant role in making a strong case for inward investment and in creating direct employment and secondary economic impacts and this is reflected in the Cultural Plan.
- The creative economy is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, in the last five years.
- The digital and creative industries are highlighted by government as a priority for growth, and Croydon has, and will continue to contribute much to this agenda. (paras. 3.27 & 8)
‘Croydon’s heritage is built into its very fabric – from brutalist architecture to the remains of the 12th century Old Palace.’ The assets include: Stanley Halls, Whitgift Alms Houses and schools, Croydon Airport, Fairfield Halls. The list could have included Shirley Windmill and the historic parks. Without stating its name the report acknowledges Croydon History & Scientific Society as ‘one of the oldest historical societies in the UK still active with a 150 year track record’. (Croydon Creates. p. 15)
‘A rich cultural heritage contributes to our sense of self and community, it affirms our identity and helps us to build resilience.’ (Ditto)
The Redevelopment of the Clocktower and Museum of Croydon
The redeveloped Clocktower ‘will house a new museum that will be a truly meaningful space to reveal Croydon’s past, present and future, cohesively and dramatically.’ It will ‘tell different stories that are relevant and matter to people – how society is changing, freedom of speech, equality, social justice, environmental action and immigration.’
The Clocktower and Museum will:
- become ‘the landmark that puts creativity and participation at the heart of the town’s regeneration
- make Croydon’s heritage more visible by working with crosscultural partners across the borough’
- be ‘the focus for achieving Croydon’s cultural potential, by championing our cultural agenda in all developments’
- celebrate ‘the links between contemporary culture and Croydon’s music heritage through creating Croydon’s music heritage trail’
In general the new Culture Plan is welcome. There is much in it that echoes what I outlined in my 2013 discussion paper used in the South Croydon Community Association’s initiative to consider the future of Fairfield Halls which in turn led to the formation of the Croydon Arts Network. https://southcroydoncommunityassociation.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/the-future-of-fairfield-halls.pdf
Croydon’s Culture Network. The report does not explain its role or its membership. A previous officers report states: ‘Croydon’s Culture Network, a legacy of the process of bidding for the London Borough of Culture, is now a regular meeting of around 50 people individuals and organisations. The purpose of the sessions is for networking, keeping up to date with current initiatives and opportunities and it takes place monthly in different cultural venues around the borough. This provides both a channel into the sector and a collective voice of the sector. (Cultural Plan Update. Cabinet. 11 June 2018. Para 3.1.3)
- How many of the local cultural groups are involved?
- If the Cultural Plan was subject to discussion with some groups, which ones were not asked to take part?
- Which of those involved in the former voluntary Arts Network were invited to be involved, and which not?
- Given the importance given to heritage why was the Local Studies Forum of local amenity, heritage sites, history societies and independent historians not consulted?
The lack of a list of those consulted mirrors the failure of the Cabinet report Towards a Cultural Programme for Croydon on 20 June 2016 to list the then approx. 50 cultural organisations that had been spoken to by the Creative Director along with a summary of their views. In my comments at the time to Cabinet members I pointed out that such a list would enable them to assess whether or not the report adequately reflected the thinking by the organisers and initiators of the thriving and growing cultural offer.
The issue of broad consultation has been around for over four years. In the list of questions I submitted to the Scrutiny & Overview Committee in November 2014 when it questioned the then Cabinet member for Culture I suggested it ask:
- ‘How does he plan to involve the history and heritage organisations in the development of the heritage aspects of cultural activities?’
- Will he set in motion the return of Local Archives to its original premises in the Library so that all the material that was publicly accessible becomes so again, and to turn the ground floor room used by Local Archives into a gallery for the whole of the Council’s art collection?
The new Culture Plan does promise to ‘Expand and enhance’ the Network. It is to be hoped that this will happen soon in an open and transparent way.
Partnership. Some cultural organisers may regard the Plan as yet another top down creation, suggesting there is no fundamental change in the Council seeing itself as the driver, requiring ‘partners’ to do what it wants, and failing to address the concerns from the grass roots of Croydon’s cultural scene, which has grown up independently of the Council. Previous examples of the top-down approach were the failure of a previous Cabinet member for culture to organise follow-ups to the meeting held to talk to the grass-roots in July 2014, the imposition of the narrowly focussed Ambition Festival, and the declaration of the Cultural Quarter.
Some funding for culture can only be applied for by Croydon’s community, cultural and heritage organisations. The Council’s role has to be as a supporter and facilitator, not as lead partner or controller. Partnerships can only develop and work if the Council treats other partners as equals regardless of the differences in levels of resources. Ignoring and overruling the wishes of others only damages partnerships, and stokes the cynicism that many cultural (another other) activists have about the Council.
Culture and Economy. The Plan’s stress on the importance of the cultural activities in the local economy echoes the views of the Croydon Trades Union Council in its report What kind of economy do we need in Croydon? Croydon Council’s Growth Plan and District Centre Investment; Growth For All. A Commentary with Recommendations (August 2014), stressed the importance of understanding the inter-relationship between local heritage, culture and arts and the local economy. It pointed out that at the launch of the Just Croydon website on 13 August and in an interview with Develop Croydon published on 26 August 2014 Council Leader Tony Newman stressed the importance of the cultural offer in attracting employers. The Growth Plan did not discuss this.
The Council Sustainability Review document being consulted upon at the time referred to the Croydon’s Sustainable Community Strategy (2010-15) which ‘states that the creative sector should play a significant role in driving arts and cultural enterprises to support regeneration and establish Croydon as a cultural destination.’ The TUC recommended that the Sustainability Review consider suggestions:
- to promote growth of creative industries and development of centralised hub to support creative businesses;
- to support temporary use of vacant buildings and sites for creative/cultural activity;
- to ensure that all communities have access to leisure and recreation facilities, and that these should be examined as part of the Growth and the Places Plans.
Tourism. The Plan does not address the issue of the cultural attraction for tourism. The Council as planning authority needs to do more to protect those elements of the built heritage which people value. The damage done to provision of information to visitors to the Town Centre whether Croydonians, Londoners from other Boroughs or foreign tourists, by the Business District’s closure of the Visitor Centre where Boxpark now is has been huge. The work of the pink suited guides who talk to people has not made up for there being no Centre. If tourism is to be encouraged then it is important to ensure that there is a new Visitor Centre. The Council ignored the closure at the time and seems to have continued to ignore the issue since.
Musical Heritage. The recognition of the importance of Croydon’s heritage is recognised (Plan. p.15). However, this section is flawed and superficial. I urged the Cabinet of 20 June 2016 to ensure that the report Towards a Cultural Programme for Croydon should recognise ‘heritage as a major component of culture and as a stimulus to cultural activities and tourism’. The Plan report is particularly weak on the history of the musical heritage. The fact that famous performers like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones performed at venues like Fairfield Halls, is important and interesting, but they were just passing through. It ignores the rich classical and folk scenes. There is no mention of the classical composers Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and William Hurlestone who grew up in Croydon and ran musical events involving local musical talents like the Petherick sisters. Nor does it mention other residents such as Ralph Reader (Gang Shows), Kathy Stobbart (jazz saxophonist), and Ewan McCall and Peggy Seeger (folk singers nor the musical importance of the National College of the Blind. Nor does it mention the rich music hall history or the way in which music was central to the social and public activities of the wide range of faith, charitable, labour movement, friendly society, and faith organisations, and of campaigners such as the suffragists and suffragettes. There is no excuse for this, given that some of the detail has been written about in Croydon Citizen, given the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor year long Festival in 2012 organised by Jonathan Butcher with the help of Surrey Opera and the Borough based Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network, and the Petherick family exhibition at the Museum.
Clocktower Redevelopment. There is no mention of what will happen to the Local Studies Reading room and whether the resources that used to be on open shelves in the former Reading room which has been locked for many years will be available once again on open shelves. This issue was first raised by me with the Scrutiny & Overview Committee in November 2014 when it questioned the then Cabinet member for Culture. I suggested it ask ‘Will he set in motion the return of Local Archives to its original premises in the Library so that all the material that was publicly accessible becomes so again, and to turn the ground floor room used by Local Archives into a gallery for the whole of the Council’s art collection?’ The suggestion was no acted upon.
When the Council remodelled the Reading Room and included the art gallery space it was too small to display the whole of Croydon Art Collection. A large number of the art works were donated to the Library Service for the benefit of Croydon residents. These donations were reported in the annual reports of the Council’s Library Committee. Examples include: Tatton Winter, 4 water colours of Croydon, 1883; donation by Mrs F. W. Wilkins of Purley, of 13 water colours of Surrey subjects by J.B. James; and donation by H. Maynard Carter of 16 water colour drawings of Croydon and the neighbourhood. (Public Libraries Annual Reports 1924 and 1924-25). The Museum of Croydon confirms that these donations are still in the Collection (email to writer last month). i.e. none had been quietly sold. The problem is that the whole of the Art Collection may not be on view in the re-organised Clocktower.
The Riesco Collection. In the lead up to the 2014 Council elections the Conservative administration sold items from the Riesco collection of Chinese porcelain which is on display in the Clocktower. The money was supposed to have been allocated to the budget for renovating Fairfield Halls. When the sale money was received the new Labour administration allocated it to general funds. My requests that the administration rescind the policy of sale, and promise not to sell any more items was not acted upon. (My proposed Council resolution in December 2013 at How Can the Rest of the Riesco Collection Be Safeguarded?)
Therefore there is a continuing potential threat of sale of more items from the Collection. In June 2013 I outlined an approach to re-presenting the collection to reflect the historical context of Britain’s relationship with China e.g. the two Opium Wars, and Croydon’s training of East India Company personnel about which I have given talks. http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-radical-history-perspective-on-reisco.html. Because the new Cultural Plan does not explain in great detail the redevelopment of the Clocktower it is unclear what the intentions are for the future of the Riesco Collection.
Engaging Schools. The Culture Plan does not explain how it will engage schools. Given the pressures on schools it is very difficult for them to take full advantage of the cultural offer, even when it links with topics within the National Curriculum. Academies and Free Schools do not have to follow the Curriculum. The concentration of primary schools on the three main core subjects has prevented many of them developing a cross cultural curriculum which includes these along with the non-core subjects like geography, history and science. They often struggle to be able to take advantage of the local study element of the curriculum encouraged by the Government. When the Cabinet discussed Towards a Cultural Programme for Croydon’ I recommended that it should be re-written because of a number of serious omissions, including the need for proposals on assisting LEA schools and the problems involved in seeking to influence non-LEA schools develop their cultural programmes. The Museum runs first-rate education work with those schools that ensure they take advantage of what is on offer.
Equality and inclusion. Equality and inclusion are important themes of the Plan. The problems inherent in engaging schools in cultural (including heritage) activities raises questions about the way in which schools promote equality and inclusion. In November 2015 in my evidence to the Fairness & Opportunity Commission I wrote: ‘Over the years BASA (Black & Asian Studies Association), the former national organisation that promoted research, and publication about Black and Asian history and culture in Britain, found dealing with the DfEE, Ofsted, Qualifications Authority and Teacher Training Agency very frustrating in terms of trying to get real qualitative change. Whatever the problems involved in achieving the national frameworks and support, there are clearly potential avenues in this work for voluntary and community organisations, through helping schools with curricular activities, and with extra-curricular activities, e.g. around community days, arts festivals, religious festivals, International Women’s Day, Black History Month and Holocaust Memorial Day. Progress appears very hit and miss and seems to depend on initiatives by individual teachers. A campaign had to be run to ensure that people like Mary Seacole were not taken out of the National Curriculum by the former Secretary of State Michael Gove. A Conference held on 8 November 2015 entitled ‘Putting the Black in the Union Jack? Black British History in Education’ expressed concerns about the continuing problems involved in helping teachers to use for example Black and Asian history material in their teaching.
A wide range of activities provide community and voluntary organisations with opportunities for practical activity to celebrate cultural diversity and to encourage anti-racism, including: community and religious festivals, after-school clubs, older people’s clubs, holiday play schemes, arts activities, International Women’s Day, Black History Month, and Holocaust Memorial Day. The organisation of these in Croydon in recent years appears to be very hit and miss.
My experience is that the way in which the Black History month is organised in Croydon leaves much to be desired, as it does not include those of us who have researched, talked and published on aspects of British Black History for years. I have raised this concern with Cllr Patsy Cummings who is leading the Windrush Generation project. Having been given funding by the Government more than matched by the Council, there will be a Windrush exhibition and display from June to October in the Clocktower and other activities, which I am helping with.
Public Art. The emphasis in the Culture Plan on the role of public art in regeneration projects is welcome. It also gives much emphasis to street art (pps.10 & 11), which it wants to further roll out across the Borough. However, the Council and the street artists need to realise that for many people many street art paintings are threatening uncomfortable images, and highlight the run down nature of the Town Centre. Public and street art needs to give a positive visual image should be central to its spread to other parts of the Borough, and the planners need to be more pro-active to encourage developers to incorporate it. Although the Norbury Residents Associations’ Planning Committee suggested the provision of public art features in the redevelopment of the Norbury Police Station the applicant did not include any in its application and it was not insisted upon by the Council’s Planning Committee.
The Role of the Local Plan. In its comments on the Local Plan consultation in 2015 the Arts Network emphasised the need for a wider range of cultural venues, especially with the proposed closure of Fairfield Halls for refurbishment. It recommended that the Plan be amended by:
- the inclusion of ‘SP3.4A. The Council will encourage the provision of a wide range of different types and sizes of performance spaces.’
- the addition at the end of ‘Para. 4.35. The Council remains committed to: protecting existing capacity for activities such as theatres, cinemas, art galleries,’ of ‘pubs and bars, restaurants and cafes with performance spaces, community centres, etc, and promoting new capacity.’
- the addition at the end of Strategic Policy SP3.5 of ‘and will work with cultural and creative industry organisations to identify suitable venues and assist in negotiating their use.’
These recommendations were not accepted.
Council Planning Policy
Policy DM14 of the Local Plan 2018. adopted in February last year, states:
‘To enhance and express local character, the Council will support the inclusion of public art and require all major schemes to include public art that:
- a) Is integrated into proposals at an early stage of the design process;
- b) Enhances and creates local distinctiveness and reinforces a sense of place;
- c) Responds to local character;
- d) Makes a positive contribution to the public realm; and
- e) Engages the local community in its creation.’
The justification for the policy is given in the following paragraphs.
‘6.139 Despite its size there are relatively few examples of public art within the borough. The Council acknowledges the important role that public art can play in enhancing the setting of a building and creating a visually stimulating public realm and strengthening local distinctiveness.
6.140 There is a need to ensure that opportunities to incorporate public art within new developments or public realm improvements are taken and that it relates to the local character, contributes to the sense of place and reinforces local distinctiveness.
6.141 The incorporation of public art offers the opportunity to work with the local community to create distinctive works that help engender a sense of ownership and strengthen the sense of place.
6.143 By considering public art during the early stages of the design process and clarifying the scope at the beginning of the pre-application process, opportunities can be taken to integrate public art into the fabric of the development itself in more imaginative ways. Public art should not be confined to statues, but can be incorporated in imaginative, simple and cost effective ways such as bespoke paving, gates, lighting, signage, street furniture, playground equipment, railings and landscaping, murals (painted or ceramic), decorative bargeboards or works of art incorporated on elevations where they will be visible to pedestrians.
6.144 The Council expects all public art to be of the highest design quality and craftsmanship and whenever possible, encourage the use of sustainable or recycled materials. When commissioning public art, developers should place equal weight on creating the right piece of work, the craftsmanship of the artist. Major schemes are defined as being over 0.5 hectares or residential schemes over 10 units or developments over 1000m2 and those installing the piece and the maintenance after it has been installed.’
6.143 partly reflects the recommendation during the Local Plan (Partial Review consultation in 2015 by the Arts Network In its comments on the Local Plan (Partial Review) consultation, that the then existing policy be strengthened by the addition of ‘and mural paintings, ceramic murals, decorative roof pelmets, and substantial works of art of flat roofs especially where they will be visible to pedestrians given their location’.
There is a Public Realm Design Guide adopted back in 2012, which may need to be reviewed.