Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Engaging in Cultural Activities

The summer round of Festivals in Croydon has started: Purley’s  on Monday night, Crystal Palace and South Norwood Arts on Thursday with the later running through to 14 July, and the annual Folk and Blues Festival on Saturday 13 July at Ruskin House.
Croydon’s community activists are showing that positive cultural activity can be organised regardless of what the ruling Tory Group decides on the future of Fairfield Halls,  the sale of Riesco collection items, the closure of the David Lean Cinema and the shafting of the Warehouse Theatre.

Monterey Pop Film Show

On Monday night I was in the 100+ audience for the film Monterey Pop (1968) of the festival held in 1967, shown by the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign as the evening launch event  of the Purley Festival.

It certainly brought back memories. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix still have the same effect as they did when I first heard them  in the 60s; Simon & Garfunkel – what can one say?; Otis Reading - what a performer; Ravi Shankar – brilliant. The Animals, whose version of The House of the Rising Sun remains for me one of the best songs from 1964-5, sang the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black.  

Organising a film show requires a lot of time and effort. So imagine how much has to go into the organisation of Festivals. The costs, the health and safety and licensing requirements are a nightmare by themselves. But have a look at the programme for the Purley music events on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30, ensuring there is a packed line-up of acts, the staging, sound systems, the food, the organisations stalls, and the children’s activities.

Lambeth Riverside Festivals 2005 & 2006

The budgets required are large. I know from experience. In 2003 the Vauxhall Festival had money thrown at it, and an ambitious programme was mounted. In 2004 – no money,  so Lady Margaret Hall Settlement put on a scratch programme just to keep the Festival alive. Then in 2005 and 2006 as worker for Riverside Community Development Trust it was my job to co-ordinate the Festival re-named ‘Lambeth Riverside’. The programme was constructed largely the efforts of  local residents and organisations putting together a varied programme across two weeks and three weekends. I also arranged the publicity. This was all done on a small central budget or paid for out of their own funds. There was no money for an open-air weekend music event.

Attendances in 2005 were marred by the bombings of 7 July,  the day before the opening event, as people felt it was safest to stay indoors. I launched my first History & Social Action Publications title, the story Mother Seacole by Jason Young,  during the Festival. The budget for 2006 was even smaller. With the help of students on placement I was able to produce a display on aspects of the musical life of Lambeth since the 17thC.

For both years I organised talks by Professor Penny Corfield on Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. These were turned into Vauxhall. The Invention of the Urban Pleasure Gardens, published specially for the international Conference on the Gardens held at Tate Britain in 2008.  A second revised edition was published last year Vauxhall. Sex and Entertianment.

Wandsworth Heritage Festival

As a member of the Heritage Wandsworth Partnership I know how much effort has gone into the planning of the annual Heritage Festival since 2009, although this year I did not organise any talks or walks.  I opened the 2009 Festival with a talk on Edwardian rolling skating,  in which musical accompaniment played an important role. Leisure and sporting activities are of course part of cultural life. 

I also published another History & Social Action Publication Battersea’s Global Reach. The story of Price’s Candles by Jon Newman (Lambeth Archives). One of the talks I gave in the 2010 Festival was on aspects of the history of musical life in Wandsworth.

Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival

Last year saw the Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival master-minded by Jonathan Butcher, as Artistic Director, with the support of the members of Surrey Opera. A year long Festival with a tiny budget. My role was simply to keep up a stream of publicity going out through the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network which I co-ordinate. I set the Network up with Jeff Green, the composer’s biographer and Fred Scott, a Croydon piano teacher and director of the Soundpractice agency.  Acting on my suggestions Fred encouraged two teenage girls pianists to compose and perform a duet based on a theme by the composer, while a male teenager to improvise another in jazz style. I also published Jeff Green’s Coleridge-Taylor. A Centenary Celebration. I administer a small fund for my mother, a former piano teacher, which helps pay the costs of young pianists in Croydon from low income families to take part of the annual Soundpractice summer school.

Other Cultural Activity

My other forays into cultural activity have included being historical adviser to a Durham County youth theatre group for a play they wrote on slavery and abolition, and to Kennington based Alford House youth centre’s HLF project looking at the influence of black American youth culture in Britain. I have researched, spoken and published on the career of Paul Robeson in politics and culture in Britain. I have carried out research into black actors and themes in theatre for the Trading Faces project.

Black Music in Britain 1900-1920

Currently I am the historical adviser on Coleridge-Taylor in the Nubian Jak Community Trust’s London Schools Remembrance Project looking at the influence of black music in Britain between 1900 and 1920, based on Coleridge-Taylor and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra which helped to introduce jazz from the United States. This has involved me in running workshops in a primary and a secondary school. I talk about this as a panel member in the one of the panels at the 1 June launch of the British Black Music Unit at the University of Westminster, whose staff include Mykaell Riley, formerly of the reggae group Steel Pulse. I continue to promote the Network. e.g. on my history stalls at the Croydon Heritage Festival event on 8 June, at the forthcoming Wandle Park Revival Day on 6 July, and at the Folk & Blues Festival. I am also speaking about the composer in the South Norwood Arts Festival programme on 5 July.

Wide Range of Skills Needed To Organise and Promote Cultural Activities

I have no musical, literary or artistic ability. So as you can see from what I have done, you do not need to have any such ability to play a role in promoting cultural activities. Whether you see their value from a community building, development and cohesion perspective, or are just as an enthusiast, everyone can contribute to further enriching the wide range of cultural life of their local area. They can be part of  building and sharing cultural knowledge and understanding. Cultural organisations and programmes need organisers, information disseminators and generators of ideas.

Tara Green has written a piece in Croydon Citizen about the crucial role of volunteers in putting on the Purley Festival. You may have all kinds of skills that are needed by Festival and cultural event organisers. Have you considered what you can offer?

If  Festivals and cultural events are seen as building local communities, then ways need to be found to introduce people to those they do not know. Otherwise people just turn up as individuals or as a group of friends of family, and do not get the meet anyone one else in the area. How this can be done presents a real challenge. The minimum is people who meet and greet to make people feel welcome for coming.

Purley Festival. www.purleyfestival.co.uk
Crystal Palace Festival. http://crystalpalacefestival.org
Folk and Blues Festival. www.folkandblues.org
Trading Faces website. Currently off-line.
Tara Green. Kudos to the community: the Purley Festival is here! http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/kudos-to-the-community-the-purley-festival-is-here 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Events Diary To End of July

To September. The impact of the 1919 Police Strike on Birkenhead. Exhibition.  Wirral Archives Service, Lower Ground Floor, Cheshire Lines Building, Canning Street, Birkenhead CH41 1ND. Tel: 0151 606 2922. Monday to Friday:  9.30am - 4.30pm. www.wirral.gov.uk/my-services/leisure-and-culture/wirral-archives-service/news-and-events.

To September. Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 Exhibition. Wirral Archives Service. See above.

Friday 28 June – Sunday 14 July. South  Norwood Arts Festival. See full programme at www.peopleforportlandroad.org.uk/arts.html.

Friday 28 June.  6pm.  ‘Telling the people’s story: writing, representing and selling the past in the age of affective history’. Talk by the distinguished historian of Chartism Paul Pickering (Australia National University Canberra). Peak Lecture Theatre, Sheffield Hallam University's City Campus. Please contact Matthew Roberts for further details: Matthew.Roberts@shu.ac.uk.

Friday, 28 June. 6pm. Whose Remembrance? an investigation into how communities are addressing the colonial experience of the two world wars. Birkbeck College. In 2012, the Imperial War Museum's Research Department did a scoping study funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of how far communities are aware of the role of colonial troops during the two world wars. Whose Remembrance? a 20-minute film, directed by Alastair Uhlig, describes the findings. The screening will be followed by a roundtable discussion with Dr Matt Cook, Director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre, Ansar Ullah Ahmed (Swadhinata Trust), Suzanne Bardgett (IWM), Professor Ian Christie (Birkbeck), and Toby Haggith (IWM Research Department). To book your free place go to http://whoseremembrance.eventbrite.co.uk.

Friday 28 June.  8pm. 'Albert Hill: Tooting's Olympian'. Talk by Kevin Kelly following Wandsworth Historical Society AGM.  Friends Meeting Hose, Wandsworth High St, SW18.

Friday 28 & Saturday 29 June. Mobilising London’s housing histories: the provision of homes since 1850  Conference. Senate House, Malet St, London, WC1.The programme is available at: www.history.ac.uk/sites/history.ac.uk/files/housingprogrammea4.pdf. For more details, including how to register, please visit the conference page at http://events.history.ac.uk/event/show/7235.

Friday 28 & Saturday 29 June.  Business history in the 21st century Conference. Full programme at:
www.uclan.ac.uk/conference_events/assets/ABH_conference.pdf.  For more details, including travel and accommodation advice, see the event website at

Saturday 29 June. Chartism Day 2013. St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane in Sheffield (a building with distinctive connections to Chartism). Send a cheque for £13, payable to Sheffield Hallam University, to: Matthew Roberts, Owen Building Department of Humanities, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, S1 WEB. (Email Matthew.Roberts@shu.ac.uk)

Saturday 29 June. 1pm. Socialist History Society Annual General Meeting, plus talk at 2pm - The Economics of Killing—How the West fuels war and poverty in the Developing World by Vijay Mehta, author and chair of Uniting for Peace. Marchmont Centre, near Russell Square, London.

Saturday 29 June. 1-4pm. Tailored Trades: Clothes, Labour and Professional Communities (1880-1939). Dr Charlotte Wildman (Manchester University) will speak on ‘Working class women, fashion, glamour and shopping in Manchester, 1910s-1939' and Leanne Tonkin (Textile Conservator at the People's History Museum) will speak about her work. There will also be an opportunity for people to see exhibits from the People's History Museum and WCML collections. People's History Museum. Admission free - places can be reserved from http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/research/networks/tailoredtrades.

July – August. Housmans Bookshop Annual London’s Burning Season
Events will include:
The Two Marys – a music and theatre piece featuring Victoria Ross as Mary Shelley and Sasha Hails as Mary Wollstonecraft, accompanied by cellist David Chernaik.
Ruth Cherrington presents her book on a social history of London’s Working Men's Clubs.
Geoff Marhsall discusses his book on London's industrial heritage and its political impact.
Some of the recruits will share their stories, an
oral history of which has been collated in the book ‘London Recruits: Secret War Against Apartheid’.
Lloyd Bradley discusses his new book ‘Sounds Like London: A Century of Black Music in the Capital’.
Clive Bloom will launch his new book ‘Victoria's Madmen: Revolution and Alienation’, exploring the radical legacy of London’s Victorian dreamers and revolutionaries.

Tuesday 2 July. 7pm. E. P. Thompson's "The Making of the English Working Class". Discussion about the impact and continuing importance of "The Making", as well as how perspectives have moved on since it first appeared. Willie Thompson and John Stirling will introduce. NELH First Thursday meeting. Tyneside Irish Centre, Newcastle.

Wednesday 3 – Friday 5 July. 7.45pm. Oleanna by David Mamet. Play put on by New Stagers. Wandsworth Museum, 38 West Hill, London, SW18. More info & to purchase tickets: newstagers.co.uk/oleanna or call 07814 611239. www.wandsworthmuseum.co.uk.

Thursday 4 July. Croydon Towns Transition Meeting. First floor of Stephenson House, Cherry Orchard Road (by East Croydon Station). See Croydon News below.

Friday 5 July. 7.30pm. An Evening with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Talk by me  with recordiings and performances of his work. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Centre, 194 Selhurst Rd, SE25.

Saturday 6 to Sunday 14 July. South Norwood Tourist Board Blue Plaque Week. SNTB will be working with pupils from Ryelands Primary School to bring the streets of South Norwood to life with “Blue Plaque week”. The pupils will be creating blue plaques to decorate their homes, highlighting a historical fact about a past resident or an aspiration of one of the current residents for the future. See the plaques - made from paper plates - on display from 6th July onwards and find out something new about South Norwood and its residents.  www.southnorwoodtouristboard.com. Editorial comment. What a brilliant idea that can be adapted to working with residents. What an interesting way to test residents reactions to the possibility of permanent plaques.

Saturday 6 July. 11am-6pm. Wandle Park Revival. A Community Day to Celebrate the Regeneration of Wandle Park. I will be running a stall. Further details from Eleanor@whitelabelconsultants.org.uk. 

Saturday 6 July. 1.30pm. Women's Suffrage Centenary Celebration. Speakers Eileen Murphy and Hilary Eastham will be joined by singers from Kadenza and Bolton Clarion Choir. Outside Bolton Town Hall. 4pm picnic at Rivington in Liverpool Castle Folly with On the Go theatre group performing ‘Saint or sinner'. 100 years ago Edith Rigby burned down Lord Leverhulme's bungalow at Rivington in support for the campaign for votes for women. Local trade unionists and campaign groups are set to commemorate Edith. They say: "Edith will always be a controversial figure because she burnt down Lord Leverhulme's house. That said she went to considerable lengths to ensure that he was out of the country and that there was no one inside. She used a suffragette newspaper to set the property alight. "Lord Leverhulme was seen as representing a government that not only opposed women's right to vote but also supported the barbaric force feeding of women on hunger strike".

Monday 8 July. 7pm. Technology out of control? Drones, Killer Robots and the Arms Trade. Remote controlled drones have already caused many civilian casualties in the 'war on terror', and people in the target zones and in Britain are campaigning against their use. But the military is moving towards letting battlefield 'killer robots' take their own decisions without human input. Should we allow computers to decide who lives and who dies, and who is legally responsible for their actions? This first meeting in our 'Breaking the Frame' series on the politics of technology will address some of the ethical and 'existential' issues raised by the march of technocracy. There will be plenty of time for informal discussion.’ Fairly Square cafe, 51 Red lion St, London, WC1. Introductions from: Anne-Marie O'Reilly - Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Chris Cole - Drones Campaign Network; Richard Moyes -  Article 36 & Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. For more information visit www.luddites200.org.uk, or contact luddites200@yahoo.co.uk.

Wednesday 10 July. 2pm . Invisible Histories - keeping the memories alive. Talk by Neil Dymond-Green. WCML's Invisible Histories project has collected fascinating memories of three Salford workplaces. ‘Now hear how we're keeping these stories alive by working with local high school students to create new Radio Ballads in the tradition of Ewan MacColl.’ Working Class Movement Library, Salford.

Friday 12 July. People, Pedals and Pavement Conference on the history of cycling in London. London Metropolitan Archives; the tickets can be booked on http://cyclinglondon.eventbrite.co.uk. £10.

Saturdays 13 July, 14 August & 7 September.  2 pm. Bishop’s Park Tours  – inc Fulham Palace. Free. Meet. Putney Bridge Entrance to Bishop's Park. Re-Palace see: www.fulhampalace.org.

Saturday 13 July. Folk & Blues Festival – see above.  I will be running a stall

Saturday 20 July. 1pm – 7pm.  Family Fun Day. CSEP, 32-34 Sydenham Road Croydon CR0.  Call 020 8686 7865 for details.  Admission: £2 adult £1 child Family Tickets £5 (Note: Family of 4). Croydon Supplementary Education Project (CSEP).

Thursday 25 July. 7pm. Writers and M15 Surveillance 1930 to 1960. Cold war spying on writers, artists and musicians. Talk by James Smith (Durham University) on his new book. For booking details go to:

Friday 26 & Saturday 27 July. 10am-5pm. Making Freedom Conference. Windrush Foundation. Senate House, Malet Street/Russell Square, London,WC1. The programme will feature contributors from a wide range of specialists, and will include Carol Dixon, Sharon Tomlin (Genealogist), Dr Denise Noble (Ohio State University, USA), Dr Christer Petley (University of Southampton), Dr Robbie Shilliam (Queen Mary, London University), Dr Hakim Adi (University of Chichester), Dr Kimani Nehusi, Dr Lez Henry, Dr Ron Ramdin, John Siblon, Professor Gad Heuman (Warwick University), Sir Keithlyn Smith (Author of: To Shoot Hard Labour), and others. Conference topics include: EMANCIPATION 1838:Caribbean Freedom (?), Caribbean Family Life after 1838, Finding Caribbean Ancestors, Indentureship, Education, Religion, Emigration (from the Caribbean), Labour Relations, Employment, Race Relations, Caribbean Identity, etc. Admission free. Limited seats. Allocation on first-come basis. Available only via http://makingfreedomconference.eventbrite.co.uk/#. Closing date: 12 July. Further information from: windrush.event@gmail.com; 075 0890 3634.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Two Commemorations to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Portrait in PRS Boardroom

A sculpture and park bench and a modern portrait of Croydon's composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor who died in 1912 were unveiled on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 June respectively. 

The bench and statues of the composer, the comedian Ronnie Corbett and the actress Peggy Ashcroft, are in Croydon's Charles St. The portrait was unveiled in the boardroom of the Performing Rights Society in Berners St off Oxford St. The PRS came into being following the composer’s death.

The Choice of People

The choice of famous Croydonians for the bench statues was made in a public poll last year in which SC-T came top. Those attending the unveiling included Jonathan Butcher, who was Artistic Director of the Croydon Festival last year, and Stephen Harrow, the Chairman of the Festival Committee.

The Croydon Advertiser queries whether the choice was correct and has asked for people’s views. One respondent posted: ‘Coleridge-Taylor - surely not - that's a windup?” I have tried to log in to post the following reply without success.

‘SC-T was top of a poll well ahead of Ronnie Corbett and Peggy Ashcroft. Up to his death he was perhaps Croydon's most famous resident as a highly popular composer, conductor and Festival adjudicator in Britain, and whose Hiawatha was a major fixture of the musical calender in the 1920s and 1930s at the Albert Hall and revived after the War. The 100 years of his death was commemorated in a Croydon Festival throughout last year. His death led to the formation of the Performing Rights Society so that composers earnt royalties when their music is played.  A new generation of performers have been discovering his music and last year Croydon teenagers performed  at Fairfield Halls; two playing their own piano duet composition, and a third performing a jazz improvisation based on works by SC-T. I have recently being running workshops on him with primary and secondary school pupils.   There are of course hundreds of people who should be commemorated in some way, whether through benches/statues or plaques, but few have a continuing influence like SC-T does. To find out more go to https://sites.google.com/site/samuelcoleridgetaylornetwork.’ 

PRS Portrait
The portrait in the Performing Rights Society Board Room was arranged by Kwaku of the Black British Music organisation and SC-T Collective. The image was commissioned for the 'NARM (Naming And Role Model) Highlighting African British Male Role Models 1907-2007' (BTWSC 2010) book.

Guy Fletcher, the President of PRS, officiated at the unveiling. Kwaku also spoke. I said a few words about last year’s Festival and the opera Thelma, about the Jeff Green booklet about the composer, and the London Schools Remembrance Project school workshops. 

I also indicated that last week I found in the South Western Star in the early 1920s a letter by the conductor of the Battersea Borough Council Municipal Concerts series complaining about the PRS expecting him to apply for a licence. The PRS said he had played several pieces for which he needed a licence, including one by SC-T. I will be following up this story with PRS to see what there is on it in its archive.

Those attending the unveiling at the PRS included Jeffrey Green, SC-Ts biographer, Mykaell Riley of the Black British Music Research Unit at Westminster University, and representatives of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Choral Society.

THE PRS Link with SC-T

When SC-T he died in 1912, there was great furore in the media after the poor finances of his estate was revealed - he sold outright the publishing rights to his biggest hit “Hiawatha‟s Wedding Feast‟ for £15.75. The PRS was founded in 1914 partly as a consequence of the deliberations over Coleridge-Taylor‟s finances.

Although his heirs did not own the copyright to many of his compositions, they shared in the performing royalties later collected by the PRS.

Guy Fletcher Chairman of PRS commented, “Samuel‟s contribution to the musical world at a time when his colour could have held him back is nothing short of incredible. It is right his life and work is celebrated and we would be honoured to have his picture centre stage in our office.”

PRS for Music represents the rights of 95,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK. As a membership organisation it ensures creators are paid whenever their music is played, performed or reproduced; championing the importance of copyright to protect and support the UK music industry.

It provides business and community groups with easy access to over 10m songs through its music licences. In an industry worth £3.8bn, it collected £630.8m in 2011. 

Taking Croydon's Housing Debate Further

I attended Tuesday's Scrutiny meeting discussing the welfare and housing issues (see previous blog). 

Although Dr Jason Cummings, the Chair, knew I was there and that I had said I might want to speak, he did not ask me whether I wanted to do so. I decided not to ask and the next day was working on an email follow-up to him when he sent me the following:

‘I just wanted to say thank you for your interest and contribution on this paper. I hope you found the meeting enjoyable and covered some of your areas of concern. It is something scrutiny intends to 'stay close' to over the coming months.’

Importance of Acknowledging Public Engagement

This enabled me to do a lengthy response commenting on the debate but also stating:

·         ‘I was surprised that you moved to the next agenda without referring to the fact that a member of the public had sent all members and the Clerk a copy of a discussion note, and did not ask me whether I wanted to say anything.
·         It is important that if members of the public do try and engage through written submissions that this is recognised and formally mentioned in the minutes. Otherwise those who are cynical about engaging with the Council will see non-recognition as a sign of contempt for public engagement.
·         I decided not to interrupt and ask to speak, as I did not see why I should have to, given you knew I was present and had emailed you that I might want to speak.
·         I hope that when you report the minutes to the main Scrutiny Committee you will make a statement that a submission had been sent to members and that should be a matter of public record by being mentioned in the main Scrutiny minutes.
·         I also hope that you will ask the officers to give the Sub-committee members and myself a full reply to the questions and suggestions made. I attach an additional note which includes discussion on CPOing.’

In my email reply to Cllr Cummings I made the following observations on the debate.

‘Intentional Homelessness’ Due to Housing Benefit Cuts. ‘Cllr Mead should be congratulated on pressing on the issue of whether people should be deemed intentionally homeless if they fall into rent arrears because of the under-occupation housing benefit rules. Since he cannot get an answer from the Department, perhaps he could brief the three MPs with a view to them asking Parliamentary Questions. They also might be requested to ask for the details of how the pilot is to be monitored and will the report by publicly available.’

Council House Building. ‘I was pleased about Cllr Mead’s statements about the need for a bigger housing building programme and that the Council has started down the CPO route.’

‘Behaviouabkle Change’. 'I am uneasy about the talk of ‘behavioural change’ rather than enabling people to increase their opportunities to get out of the welfare problems they are locked into. There is an element of ‘Big Brother’ control/diktat in the last pages of the welfare presentation. I welcome the flexible approach to fraud/error, as it is very easy due to lack of knowledge to slip technically into ‘fraud’.’

Role of Social Workers? ‘It seemed clear from the discussion that more thought needs to be given to the role of Social Services. To what extent are all  social workers trained in welfare rights advice for all the people they help?’

Moving Into Worse Situations. ’Emphasis was put on the fact that some deemed intentionally homeless find their own solutions. Out of desperation people often find ‘solutions’ that make the situation worse; going into smaller accommodation meaning they are overcrowded; moving in with friends and relatives who may not have sufficient space to accommodate them; moving to other parts of the country disrupting their children’s schooling; losing jobs in London;  and losing their friendship/family support networks. If they move out of Croydon and crises brews again, it will be another Council that has to deal with the situation.’

Effect on Schooling. ‘It would be interesting to talk to the Heads of 2/3 primary schools serving an area where there is a high concentration of private rented lettings and people on benefits to find out what the turnover in registered children is and what the Heads know about why families are having to move, what disruptive effect this has on all children’s education and any additional costs on the schools budgets. It would also be interesting to know whether special sessions are provided at schools on welfare benefits advice.’

Helping Those With Mental Health and Learning Difficulties. ‘I was very pleased about the recognition that people with mental health and learning difficulties need to be supported in ways that recognise the problems they have to cope with. One of the negative consequences  with sending letters which are difficult to understand is that it can create great anxiety and a reaction to ignore the letter rather than seek advice. For those with mental health difficulties it can led to crises that may require medical and mental health professionals help – which is costly. I was not quiet clear on the exact involvement with MIND but  it would make sense to try and avoid sending letters to those with known mental health difficulties – whether officially registered with a mental health or just users of voluntary sector services, and make arrangements to talk with them face to face. When people are discharged from working with a mental health the responsibility for dealing with any further mental health problems rest with their GPs.  Has any consideration been given to discussing the welfare issues with GPs and health visitors and how they can assist  the work? Are other voluntary mental health support providers also being consulted along with MIND?’

Continual Flow Of Housing Benefit Problems. ‘While the emphasis is on supporting those who are identified from the benefit etc records, given the high turnover in the private rented sector there is going to be a continual flow of new people who will be affected by the welfare reforms who will need support in the future. While I hope Cllr Mead is right that private sector rents will decrease, there has been a upward trend in house prices in London and a lot more activity in buying to rent.  Therefore it is likely that private sector rent levels will rise adversely affecting another tranche of tenants.’

Managing Private Sector Lettings. ‘Given the problems with private sector lettings and management agents is there any scope for the housing associations to set up a lettings/management agency to which the Council could steer the private sector landlords it is working with to sign up with. This hopefully might reduce the management costs and therefore help to keep rent levels stable?’

Elderly Under-occupation. ‘On the issue of under occupation by elderly people in Council housing, rightly it should not be about compulsion. However it may be that there are single people/couples in the late 50s and 60s who would welcome the opportunity to be assisted to move to smaller accommodation, reducing their expenditure, especially energy and water.  The longer providing such assistance is put off then more likely there is to be an adverse reaction if in later years when they are faced with not being able to cope properly in over large properties and will then have to move. If I understood it there is an empty sheltered housing block. If this is in the form of self-contained dwellings then this might be ideal to assist those who want to move from their under occupied homes.’ 

Scrutinising Croydon's Housing Crisis and the Effects of Welfare Reforms

Well done to the lady on last night’s Question Time for raising her concern that the first phase of the new Coulsdon housing development is the luxury large not the ‘affordable’ small housing. It is one aspect of the distortion of new housing development in the Borough as elsewhere in London's growing crisis of homelessness, rising house prices and private sector rents.   

Every Council is having to deal with the additional complications caused by the ConDem Government’s punitive welfare and housing reforms.

The officers’ reports on the effect of those reforms to Tuesday’s Health Social Care and Housing Scrutiny Subcommittee show that a great deal of imagination has been used to try and deal with the problems.

However given the size of the problems and the possibility of the effects being underestimated, the search for further ways to increase the support of affordable housing, and to protect households from the effects of welfare and market changes, will be needed.

In the spirit of my argument that we should engage with the Council (see 13 June blog below), I sent Sub-committee members a discussion note asking a lot of questions  and making a number of suggestions for consideration for additional action.

Using the same Shelter data source as the Officers I show that other Boroughs place more homeless families in Croydon than Croydon does outside the Borough. 

The paper addresses the following matters:
·     Whether Shelter data on Croydon which I appended was accurate?
·     The need for more analysis on the causes and geography of homelessness and other types of housing need such as the Council waiting and transfer lists.
·     More analysis on the nature of private rented landlordism.
·     Approaches to identifying empty properties.
·     Issues to do with placing homeless families outside the Borough and other Boroughs placing them in Croydon inc. appending Shelter statistics on the latter.
·     The possibility to reprioritise Section 106/Community Infrastructure Levy monies into Affordable housing.
·     The effects of private new build on price levels.
·     The potential for Living Over The Shop initiatives and re-locating offices in former housing property.
·     Improving welfare and housing advice, including ensuring energy and water re-sale rules are adhered to by landlords.

I have also prepared an additional note on Council action to improve private rented sector living conditions, including taking over management and compulsory purchase. 

Copies of both notes are available from me at sean.creighton1947@btinetrnet.com

See next blog for discussion on the Scrutiny meeting.

Is Steve Reed Still Unsure About His Role?

No one says it would be easy to change from being Leader of a Council to an Opposition Member of Parliament. It requires a major change in political strategy and tactics. Steve Reed, elected as Croydon North’s MP eight months ago, still seems to be in that process of change.

·      The last entry on his blog was back in January: http://cllrstevereed.wordpress.com.
·      His recent emailed newsletter mentions the forthcoming Jobs Fair he is organising with no details as to time or venue, and there are no details on the Croydon Labour website.
·      Still no news on progress with his other initiatives announced earlier this year.

He gets brownie points for his keeping  up the pressure on the non-payment of riot compensation which he raised in the House on 5 June: see www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/06/05/mp-steve-reed-riots-compensation_n_3392029.html. He could up the pressure with more campaigning at local level and with MPs in other 2011 riot hit areas.

But he missed the opportunity to castigate  Croydon’s cultural disengagement in the Labour Opposition led debate about Britain’s cultural industries in the House of Commons on Wednesday  19 June.

Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman proposed:

‘That this House 
notes the importance to the UK of the arts and creative industries, with art and culture enriching the lives of individuals, reinforcing a sense of local community, and being vital to the economy, generating more than £36 billion a year and employing 1.5 million people;
calls on the Government actively to support the arts by developing a strategy for the arts and creative industries;
believes that this should include putting creativity at the heart of education, ensuring that creative industries have access to finance and funding, protecting intellectual property supporting the arts and creative industries, including museums and galleries, in all nations and regions of the country, not just London, and attracting inward investment and providing support for exports;
recognises that it is not only right in principle that the arts should be for everyone but that the arts thrive when they draw on the pool of talent of young people from every part of the country and all walks of life;
and believes that a strong Department for Culture, Media and Sport with a Secretary of State standing up for the arts is crucial.’

Reed only raised as questions to Labour colleagues matters relating to the libraries and to the BRIT school.

·         ‘My hon. Friend makes a powerful defence of public libraries. Does she share my concerns about Croydon council, which is not only proposing to privatise its libraries, but to hand them over to the bidder that offered the worst value for money of the three bids that it received?’

·         ‘My hon. Friend is making a great case for the strength of the cultural and creative industries in the UK, and the music industry in particular. Will he join me in congratulating the BRIT school, which is located in the constituency   that I have the pleasure to represent, for the great contribution that it has made to the music industry, not least through artists such as Amy Winehouse and Adele?’

No mention of the closure of David Lean Cinemas, the shafting of the Warehouse Theatre, the proposed sale of items in the Riesco Collection, or the take- over of majority control on the Boards of Fairfield Halls and the London Mozart Players.

The full debate can be seen through www.parliament.uk/business/news/2013/june/opposition-debate-on-the-arts-and-creative-industries. 

What Should Be in Croydon Labour's 2014 Council Manifesto?

Croydon Labour has started a consultation on its local elections manifesto. It is holding meetings and  running an on-line questionnaire : www.croydonlabour.org.uk/manifesto. The first meeting was on Wednesday 19 June on Green policies.

It is too early to decide on what the priorities should be given it is early days re-the effects of the welfare and benefit reforms. Priorities for consideration should include:

·     altering  the current welfare reform strategy of the Council away from the emphasis on changing behaviour and dicktat control to mitigating the effects of benefit  cuts and increasing opportunities to solve the resultant problems
·     no housing of people outside the Borough where their family and friends networks, schooling and work would be adversely affected
·      a tougher regime against private sector landlords who have poor management and repair records
·     a larger new building and house purchase programme
·     a promise not to sell off any of the Council's cultural assets and donated collections
·     a condition on future tendering that all bidders must wave commercial confidentiality so all information is publicly available
·     the establishment of a partnership with organisations on cultural and heritage strategy
·     an aggressive approach to identifying and taking action to bring empty housing back into use
·     establishment of ward, area and neighbourhood forums to encourage more participation in the decision making process
·     encouragement of the formation of Friends of Parks and Open Spaces
·     negotiate to ensure that there are more people with cultural experience on the Board of Fairfield Halls
·     re-open David Lean Cinema and Braithwaite Halls
·     re-formulating the Scrutiny process to ensure that proper enquiries are undertaken with organisations and individuals invited to submit their analyses and views
·     re-negotiate the agreement with the developer to have the Section 106 monies returned to the Warehouse Theatre

Labour is asking people for their ideas on reducing the Council’s back-office costs. It is very difficult for members of the public to comment on this since budget documents are not easy to understand. Labour will need to publish a lay person's guide to back office operations and costs to make it easier for people to understand and make suggestions.

Sale of Riesco Items Hots Up - Developers Could Fund Fairfield Halls

Well well a petition in favour of the sale of Riesco items!  Some people have been fooled into thinking that the only way to fund Fairfield Halls refurbishment is to sell off Riesco items. Off course developers, especially Chinese investors in London, could do so, and ensure the Collection is not further depleted.

Last Sunday Croydon Radio ran a series of interviews on the proposed sale. You can hear the podcast at www.bit.ly/Intheloop19a. Tory Councillor Tim Pollard part justified sale on the grounds that items had been sold on previous occasions. Sorry -  but the fact that was wrong then is no justification for being wrong again now. There is  a lively debate on Croydon Citizen: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics/for-and-against-the-riesco-sell-off.  

Developers Could Fund Fairfield Halls

There is plenty of Chinese money pouring into London. The latest is the proposed sixty storey towers proposed for Nine Elms, in a £700m  deal signed in China by Dalian Wanda Group.These will be higher than Prescott’s Folly, officially known as St. George Tower at Vauxhall. The former Labour Secretary of State's decision against the views of Lambeth Council, local campaigners and the planning inspector,  gave the developers in the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area the go ahead to push their proposed towers higher and higher. UNESCO is now seriously concerned about the heritage impact on London’s skyline which could lose it official World Heritage status.

Perhaps its time Croydon Tories asked Chinese developer and investment vehicles operating in London to make a tax-free charitable donation to cover the costs of refurbishing Fairfield Halls allowing it to drop the proposed sale of items from the Riesco Collection.

Perhaps their favourite developer’s parent company which also operates in the Far East might like to chip in as well. J Laing is owned by Henderson Group - see the next blog. 
They could always ask the Westfield /Hammerson partnership on the redevelopment of Whitgift Centre to help fund not only the refurbishment but also a pedestrian friendly linkage to Queen’s Gardens.

Mind you whether that partnership will survive remains to be seen now that Hammerson have announced they are going to go head to head with Westfield north of the river by canopying over Brent Cross shop centre.

A big thanks to yesterday's Evening Standard for covering the Nine Elms, UNESCO  and Brent Cross stories.

Other Riesco news:
·      My radical history perspective on why the Collection should be retained as a whole can be seen in the previous blog.
·      I was interviewed by the Chinese UK Times on Wednesday 19 July. This publication is in Chinese. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Radical History Perspective on the Riesco Collection

As the campaign against the proposed sale of items from the Riesco Collection of Ming porcelain gathers pace, with over  330 people signing Oliver Lewis’s petition,   and a growing debate on Croydon Citizen, Cllr Sean Fitzsimons  indicated on Tuesday night at the Scrutiny and Strategic Overview Committee that if the decision to sell is approved it will be referred to the Committee. This came in the debate on the future work programme of the Committee last night, triggered by my suggestion that the Committee should consider the Cultural and Heritage Strategy in a more open enquiry approach encouraging community and voluntary groups to submit their views.

Cultural Vandalism

The proposed sale of items is an act of cultural vandalism.  It represents  the continual withdrawal of Croydon Council from broad based cultural activity. The claim by Cllr  Mead that the money will go into Fairfield Halls is disingenuous. There is no guarantee that a refurbished Halls complex will rejuvenate cultural activity there unless there is a fundamental change in the relationship between the management and the wide range of organisations and individuals involved in culture in the Borough, as highlighted by the South Croydon Community Association initiative (see below).

Betrayal of Donors

Selling off donations/gifts/bequests of people who have given things for public benefit is a betrayal  of their intentions. If  they had wanted to make money to donate to the Council they would have sold them.  Cllr Tim Godfrey is right that it would potentially cost Labour a lot of money if a judicial review is mounted, but then Labour should not have suggested it would do so over the Library tendering. In any case it is possible that a law firm would be prepared to undertake pro bono work on the issue.  The least Labour can do is to ensure that the will and donation documentation become public documents.

Valuing Nothing But Money

It is clear that the projected sale is part of  an obsession with needing money, of narrow thinking, of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. The Collection should not be seen as a collection of things which can be turned into money, but as a priceless asset that illuminates key areas of British history and heritage. Re-interpreted it could introduce Croydon pupils and residents  and visitors, to the complex story of the inter-relationship between Britain and China, especially through the East India Company which of course has a Croydon connection.

Part of OUR Heritage

The collection may not seem part of OUR HERITAGE but it is. Although the Ming dynasty collapsed in 1644 the porcelain industry it fostered continued. Chinese porcelain was very popular in  Britain and Europe, English potters were inspired by it, launching our own fine china industry. See section with reference to Wedgewood  at http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=35.

The Importance of the China Trade

The trade with China was very important part of  the development of the British economy in the 18th and 19thC Centuries. See for example:  www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelpregion/asia/china/guidesources/chinatrade.

East India Company rule in India fostered the growing of opium which was then forced on the  Chinese and led to two Opium Wars against China, not to ban it but to ensure its continual sale there.  An excellent video of this story can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJksnNM2P-c.

Lascar Seamen

The Company’s  fleet of ships led to the employment of Indian seamen (lascars) who have a long history of visiting and settling in Britain: see Southampton University research project at 

Slavery Connections

The Company also had its connections with the British slavery business. The University College London Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project Blog has the following posting  ‘Connections Between the East India Company and the Caribbean’ by Chris Jeppesen . http://lbsatucl.wordpress.com.

EIC Officials in Croydon

In 1774 Charles Samson, was here as a ‘Negro Servant’ to Robert Chatfield, who worked for the East India Company, becoming paymaster in 1802, serving as  Justice of the Peace, and a beneficiary of Thornton Heath Common land enclosure and is buried in St John the Baptist Church. George Smith, the elder (1765 – 1836) was a banker and director of the East India Company and MP living at Selsdon. He received compensation for slaves on St. Kitts. His son George Robert (1793–1869) became a partner in in the family bank of Smith Payne & Smith, which was heavily exposed to the failure of the West India merchant firm of Manning and Anderdon in 1831. He also became a MP and lived at Selsdon Park. There is a memorial to him in All Saints Church, Sanderstead

Heritage Lottery Bid
It should be possible to draw up a Heritage Lottery bid with the Council and other partners to undertake a project that would create an exhibition centring around the history of the Company, its presence in Croydon, with the Riesco Collection as a centre-piece.

This posting is also in my EDiary/News 40. Details of the Croydon Radical History Network are in Issue 39.  Both are available from me at sean.creighton1947@btinternet.com.