Sunday, 6 April 2014

Croydon Arts Network Powers Up

Holding arts events under the Croydon Flyover was perhaps the most exciting idea to be suggested at the Croydon Arts Network workshop and social held on Sunday 30 March at Matthews Yard.

The Network came about because South Croydon Community Association was concerned about the programming and costs of hiring Fairfield Halls, and the context of the cultural disengagement by the Council, through, for example, the closure of the David Lean Cinema, the ending of grant support to the Warehouse Theatre, the sale of Riesco Collection items, and since then the cut in funding for the Croydon Music Service.

The resultant campaigning has led to a number of changes in direction by the Council including: letting the Cinema Campaign start to use the cinema again, and the display of items from the Art Collection on the ground floor of the Clocktower.

The inquiry that SCCA set up on Fairfield Halls led to the idea of having an independent Arts Network. These developments have taken place alongside initiatives to add to the mix of cultural activities on offer e.g. at Matthews Yard and the Spread Eagle public house, and in film shows at Ruskin House and some churches. Perhaps the most ambitious cultural event in the Borough put on with no Council funding in recent years was the 2012 year long Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival.

Main Conclusions From Discussion

The Network evening started off with a fascinating account by Clive Alando Taylor of his own life journey in the arts and his work with young people. He also discussed the value that some homeless people find in reading their poetry at the Poetry Café in Central London.

We then chatted in small groups on particular topics suggested on Post-it notes by those attending. Perhaps the main conclusions from these were:
  •  The need for a vision.
  •  Encouraging groups to think outside their own silos and work together.
  •  The importance of providing the basic information of what is going on and who is    undertaking the activities.
  •  The importance of reaching out to people who are not on the normal communication  networks, especially those not on the internet and those not currently participating  in the arts.
  •  Having events in the open so people can sample and perhaps be enthused by them.
  •  Finding ways to show people whose daily lives are a struggle how they can have a  positive engagement with cultural activity.

Learning from Museum Experience of Public Engagement

The formal part of the evening ended with Rhiannon Green giving an explanation of her work in community engagement at the Design Museum and previous experience at the British Museum. What came out clearly from her talk was the fact that engaging people with institutions like museums requires different ways of finding out why visitors and audiences might be interested. She spoke in particular about coming to understand the needs of a particular group of refugees and asylum seekers by working in partnership with an Iranian Community Centre. Funding for community engagement projects is often short–term, and engagement is difficult to sustain without funding. There are however, insights to be gained from museum staff hearing about the alternative interpretations offered by members of the public. It is sometimes these contributions that enables re-writing to happen.

Network Developments

Many people attended a Croydon Arts Network event for their first time and were feeling their way with what it is and what it might be able to do. After the formal part of the evening several attendees stayed to chat, and to get to know each other better.

While the web site for the Network is being set up, communication is through email, placement of paper version of the notes in key locations in central Croydon and via social media, especially Twitter.

Behind the scenes, the website and its database of activities is being finalised, with the Board of the proposed Community Interest Company working with a group of Friends of CAN on this project. Additional Board members are needed, especially from organisations working in cultural activity in the BME sector. Less formal support is also being sought from Friends of CAN – people who would like to support the growth of the network by running events, circulating publicity and assisting with other specific projects.

The next get together will be on Tuesday 22 April upstairs at The Spread Eagle. This will be a less structured opportunity to come together again with others in the arts, do something creative and get to know people better. This will be followed by another more formal meeting on Thursday 15 May at Matthew’s Yard. For details of the events, keep an eye on the CAN website.

What else can be done by individuals who want to help develop the arts in Croydon?

·      Why not go along to the monthly West Norwood Feast on Sundays and get inspiration from what the local organisations and Lambeth Council are doing especially with the Open Works project at Portico Gallery, 23 Knights Hill, SE27.
  • Have a look at the ideas around Fun Palaces ( Croydon will be hosting its own Fun Palace. Visit to find out more, or drop by the Croydon Fun Palace stall at the arts and crafts fair in Exchange Square (by Matthew’s Yard) from 10 am until 4 pm on Saturday 19 April. Needless to say given the name, it’ll be a lot of fun!
  • Give some thought to whether there should be a campaign to use the space underneath the Flyover for open air cultural events eventually leading to the development of a community trust to build facilities under it, as was done from the 1970s under Westway. Key questions for examining the potential in Croydon: who owns the land? will the owner let the use of the land at a peppercorn rent? will Westfield/Hammersons, other developers and the Whitgift Foundation be prepared to donate substantial sums to a Croydon Flyover Development Trust? have the political parties the will and imagination to back such an idea and help facilitate it through the Council?
  • Have a look at Croydon Turf Projects. This potentially exciting new culture and open spaces initiative can be read about at
  •  Have a look at Croydon Forest School
  •  Offer to put on a cultural activity at one of the forthcoming community Festivals, e.g. South Norwood Arts and Purley.
  • Offer a display for the Heritage Festival on any cultural activity which has been inspired by a local heritage theme.
  • Attend Heritage Festival events to see if any of the topics being discussed might lend themselves to a cultural activity such as music, a play, poetry etc.
  • Question candidates in the local elections on what their party’s future cultural strategy will be.

Croydon Arts Network: Its temporary website is

Croydon Heritage Festival
For discussion on the Heritage Festival see my blogs at

Previous Contributions on aspects of Croydon culture:

·     See Croydon Citizen and search ‘Creighton’.
·     See my discussion paper ‘The Future of Fairfield Halls’ with Appendices ‘The relevance of cultural and historical activities’ and ‘Broader issues relevant to developing a cultural strategy’:

I can be contacted at

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