Wednesday, 2 August 2023

The Scandal of the River Wandle. Wandsworth Trades Council Report 1929

 

Between 9 and 24 September there will be the Wandle Fortnight celebrating the history and ecology of the river. 

Part of that history involves the highly populated state of the river between the Wars.

In 1929 the Wandsworth Trades Council set up a Committee to investigate and recommend how things could be improved. It published the report The Scandal of the River Wandle on the findings of its preliminary investigation at the end of December.

Report on Preliminary Investigation.

Fellow Workers,-Your Committee herewith presents its report of the preliminary investigation into the conditions relating to the River Wandle.

This little river, which flows from the region of Beddington, in Surrey, through the pretty Carshalton lakes, through Mitcham,  and on as a boundary between Wimbledon and Wandsworth, into Wandsworth as a dividing line 'between the Parliamentary constituencies  of Putney and Central Wandsworth, empties itself finally into the River Thames.

The River Wandle is an interesting and historic waterway.   Once upon a time it must have been an extremely beautiful and delightful river, flowing through rich green meadowland, with its banks overhung' with willow trees. Izaak Walton, in his " Compleat Angler," tells of his fishing' experiences in the Wandle. Fishing—as far as the lower portion of the river is concerned—is no longer possible. No fish could survive in the Wandle nowadays: they would immediately croak from poisoning. The once clean, swiftly-moving waters are now black and muddy, cluttered with evil-smelling', putrescent flotsam, and rendered foul and malignant by the outpouring's of industrialism.

An 0pen Sewer.

The river has not merely been neglected: it has been deliberately, wantonly turned into a kind of open sewer. The bottom is littered with old tin cans, scraps of old iron, broken bottles, miscellaneous rubbish of all kinds particularly menacing to the feet of the children who frequently bathe and paddle in the water. Dead cats and dogs can often be seen floating' down the stream, or caught in some backwash of the river's banks where they decay and rot. Refuse from the streets, the houses, and the factories and workshops finds its way to those waters, resulting in frightful pollution.

Pestiferous.

Your Committee, in the course of its investigations, felt the need of expert opinion. Being workmen without scientific training', it is impossible for us to give you a chemical analysis of the deleterious matter contained in the water. It would require an authority on river pollution to do that with any degree of thoroughness. That it is deleterious to health there is no question in our minds, and the wonder is that the inhabitants by the lower reaches in Wimbledon, Putney, and Wandsworth are not fever-stricken as a consequence. During the warm weather the river is even more pestiferous and germ disease breeding. As we say, this aspect of the matter calls for scientific  analysis  and  medical examination. We could judge of the condition of the water of the Wandle with our eyes and our noses— particularly our noses. The stench in places, such as by Haydon Park, by Trevint-street, Garratt-lane, and by the Baulk, was awful.  Then we needed with us the presence of an experienced surveyor, who could, no doubt, have made more precise and more detailed recommendations than it is possible for us to make.

Our cursory survey was made from where the Wandle enters Wandsworth, by the bridge in Merton-road, at Colliers Wood. There is a by-path which follows the bank of the river from there to Mitcham, which, in our opinion, could be easily transformed into a delightful parkway, but which is in a derelict condition. We did observe some cleansing operations in progress by the mills close to the bridge.

Patches and Parks.

From the Mills at Merton Road Bridge right to the place where the Wandle enters the Thames at Boll Lane Creek, the whole stretch of river runs through land which is, alternately, industrial patches, where factories, works, laundries, power stations, etc., border the water—patches which are given over to sewage, rubbish dust shoots, industrial refuse dumps and public refuse dumps, where every imaginable kind of muck, filth, and putrefying matter is heaped and exposed to the open air— patches of waste ground, and patches where it is evidently intended there shall be playing fields or parks, such as the ground facing Garfield-road, Wimbledon, and Garratt Park and King George's  Park, Wandsworth. These parks are only parks in name; in reality they are peculiarly neglected muddy fields. With no flowers and no amenities or conveniences usually associated with parks. King George's Park — which we will refer to later — named after the present King, is a crying scandal and an insult.

A Grotesque Mix-up.

It is all a grotesque mix-up. At one place, within the immediate vicinity of Haydon Park, is a cemetery, which, we understand, belongs to the Lambeth Borough Council. It is said that the smells arising from the dead citizens of Lambeth give offence to the living citizens of Wimbledon.   There have been protest meetings of the citizens of Haydon Park Ward against the malodorous smells which come from the Wandle, the Cemetery, and the Sewage Farm. Certainly the noxious odours that are wafted about the Wandle constitute a general public nuisance. 

On  Saturday afternoon. November 30th, your Committee visited what is known as the Baulk, entering Southfields. This is a road—a private road, we  are given to understand—which crosses the Wandle from Guelph-street. This road is used by hundreds of workers every day to obtain access  to a number of factories and industrial concerns. It is a slough of muddy pools, and one has literally to wade through mud.  There are no lights upon it, and at night it is  a very unwholesome place, to say the least, for women and girls. It passes through King George's Park, part of which is used as a rubbish dump by the Borough Council.   On our visit we observed quantities of dirt, dust, and decomposing vegetable refuse thrown down with reckless abandon, unquestionably a source of positive danger to those who use this so-called park for recreative and playing purposes. There are two derelict bridges crossing the Wandle at this part—in a state of general disrepair—from which, we were informed, it was the practice of youngsters to bathe in the black and turgid stream.   One bridge crosses from Guelph-street, Wandsworth; the other from Lydden-road.

A Danger of Flooding

Just at this particular spot, at this time (of the year, the river is swollen. Some time ago the houses of Lydden-road-from what is known as the Rag-and-Bag Wash to the Columbia Record Factory- were flooded. There is a present danger of flooding. Those houses are old, and are, indeed, slum property; they are inhabited by poor people. The Columbia Record Factory has spent  considerable money,  and ensured safety from flooding by increasing the height of the embankment. We see every reason why the embankment backing the houses of Lydden-road should be similarly heightened if the public authorities have any concern at all for the safety and well-being of the poor inhabitants.  Another flood from the Wandle would ruin those little homes completely. In the river just here we noticed a bed mattress and an old bath amongst the litter.  

There are places, along what is called "Wandle Bank,'' where the Wandle flows by the Belle Vue Laundry, Copper Mill-lane, at King George's Park, and so on, where it would be possible with very little effort and public expenditure, to immeasurably beautify the riverside with the planting of a few trees and flowers, and introducing seats and other amenities. There is a large piece of ground, almost adjacent to the playing field fronting Garfield-road, left waste, scraped over by a few chickens, which might well lie turned into a playing field also. Indeed, there are several such places. We are of opinion that not the slightest serious attention has been devoted to seeing what can be done with the land through which the Wandle flows as regards making it of public service to the community. The so-called parks are a tragic joke, Wealthy industrial concerns have been permitted to befoul the river and befoul the atmosphere with smoke. Their ugly buildings and monstrous chimneys spoil the scenery of what otherwise would be remarkably beautiful suburban country. Everything appears to have been done, and permitted to be done, to make the vicinity of the River Wandle as hideous, as unhealthy, and as filthy as possible.

Even the municipal authorities of Wimbledon and Wandsworth have, with a kind of wilful deliberation, purposely added to the ugliness, the unhealthiness, and the general litter; they have made the river banks the dumping grounds of waste and sewage, and turned the river itself into a running cesspool.

A Dirty, Germ-Breeding Pestilential Ditch.

It is all a scandal and a shame. The River Wandle is so obviously a menace to public health in its present condition: it is a source of disease and death ; it does not enhance the dignity of the neighbourhood to have what has been reduced to a dirty, germ-breeding, pestilential  ditch running through our borough amidst the crowded habitations of our people, spreading noxious matter around, polluting the atmosphere, and making life wretched. It is a grave danger to have children bathing and paddling in those filthy, poisoned waters. The ill-disciplined spread of industrial ugliness along the banks of the Wandle is such as to degrade our whole community.

Immediate attention  to the state of affairs appertaining to the Wandle on the part of the public authorities is demanded. Drastic alteration is imperatively necessary. It is possible to cleanse those waters, clear the litter from the river's bottom, ensure a steady flow in those parts where the water has become stagnant and rank, build embankments to prevent overflow, clear away the rubbish and debris from the shores, do something with the  adjoining land, and enhance, improve, and beautify the entire environment of the Wandle. What is urgently needed is a full, comprehensive public inquiry into the whole matter.

We do suggest that a thorough, properly-conducted survey   would show innumerable immediate improvements that could be made, in addition to those indicated in this report. We are of opinion that the river could be deepened in parts so as to permit of pleasure boats during summer  months. We are of opinion also that greater access could be provided to the banks of the Wandle than is now the case, and that pleasant walks, tree-lined and flowered can be established on its shores. We are certain that all the dust and rubbish can be dumped elsewhere, and that real parks and playing fields can there be instituted which will permit of healthy enjoyment on the part of the inhabitants. We do not believe it is impossible to restore much of the old-time beauty of the River Wandle and its adjoining country. On the contrary we are confident that a little practical work on the part of the responsible authorities could effect wonderful change in that respect. We are certain that the Wandle can be so transformed as to give character and distinction and charm to the respective localities.

The Need for Strong Public Opinion.

 We know that nothing will be done unless there is a strong body of public opinion to compel action on the part of the authorities. We therefore urge all members and organisations affiliated to the Wandsworth Trade Council to bring the matter before the public in every way open to them by passing resolutions at their trade union meetings, by assisting with public meetings, and by communicating to the Press. We urge them to be active and vigilant in  this matter and to compel the responsible authorities to do their duty. It is the intention of the Wandsworth Trades Council to press forward in every way conceivable.


Our Aim. 

Our immediate aim is to get a joint conference of the  Town and Borough Councils of Mitcham, Wimbledon, and Wandsworth, so as to prepare a scheme in regard to then regional planning of the course of the River Wandle, and then to make the London County Council and all having responsibility in the matter proceed with the practical operation of that scheme.

On behalf of the Committee,

S. PECK. Chairman,
A. LATTA. Secretary,
J. GREGORY, Treasurer.
Wandsworth Trades Council'

 

Back of published report

 

On Tuesday, 17 December 1929,

 

His Worship The Mayor of Wandsworth stated that he had received this report, and referred it to the Public Health Committee and the Highways, Sewers, and Lighting Committee for the consideration and report.

 

We are awaiting news of what steps these Committees propose to take.


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The successor organisation to the Wandsworth Trades Council is Battersea & Wandsworth Trades Union Council.

Tooting and Balham Gazette

Sunday, 25 June 2023

The Founding of the NHS

Many members of the Windrush Generation came here to work in the newly created National Health Service, particularly as nurses, including an elderly Norbury resident who came in 1956.

The leaflet sent to every household in June 1948 explained that the NHS ‘will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone — rich or poor, man, woman or child — can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a “charity”. You are all paying for it, mainly as tax payers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.

Before the NHS was introduced there was a complicated health system, of general practitioners,  voluntary and local authority and private hospitals. Up to 1911 those in work could pay into health schemes provided by friendly societies and trade unions. Under the National Insurance Act from 1911 workers  paid national insurance topped up by employers and the Government in partnership with the friendly societies and trade unions. Workers not in the scheme only had access to health services through charitable support or by having to pay doctors. Women and children were not covered.  In 1948 only 21m workers were in the National Insurance scheme.

Black Doctors In The Pre-NHS System

Working in this system in the Edwardian, First World War and 1920s period were doctors like:

·       the Trinidadian John Alcindor, a GP in North London who took over as                  President of the African Progress Union from John Archer, the former                  Anglo- Bajan Mayor of Battersea, and friend of the composer Samuel                       Coleridge-Taylor; 

·   the Bajan Charles Duncan O’Neil who practiced in the Sunderland area whO after his return to Barbados helped set up the helped form the Democratic League; 

·       the Demeraran neurologist Dr John Risien Russell, who as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corp was a visiting consultant at the Victoria Patriotic Hospital in Battersea as a specialist in shell shock.

The Problems With the Pre-NHS Health System

As the Labour’s Aneurin Bevan who piloted the NHS legislation through the Commons was to explain the system had many other severe problems.

 

·       Hospitals and gps were unevenly distributed over the country. In South Shields for example before the war there were 4,100 persons per doctor but in Bath 1,590; in Dartford nearly 3,000 but in Bromley 1,620; in Swindon 3,100 but in Hastings under 1,200.

·       The condition of people’s teeth was  a national reproach.

·       75% of people had no financial support system to obtain their spectacles and get their eyes tested.

·       Insufficient attention was given to deafness and the provision of cheap hearing aids and their proper maintenance.

·       Mental health was separate from the rest of the health services.

·       GPs were intellectually isolated.

The Development of Ideas for an NHS 

The idea of the NHS was first outlined by Dr Benjamin Moore, a Liverpool physician, who went to found the State Medical Service Association, which became the Socialist Medical Association in 1930, which still exists today.

Initiated by the first Minister of Health in 1920 ideas were developed for a network of primary and secondary health centres. The 1929 Local Government Act allowed local authorities to provide medical treatment.

In 1930 the London County Council  took over from the abolished Metropolitan Asylums Board responsibility for 140 hospitals, medical schools and other medical institutions.

Based on his experience as a gp in Welsh coal-mining communities Dr A. J. Cronin’s 1937 novel The Citadel  was influential on the debate about the need for an NHS. 

He stated in an interview, "I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug ... The horrors and inequities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system."

In 1938 the British Medical Association supported the idea in its pamphlet A General Medical Service for the Nation.  

Developments During The Second World War

During the war the Coalition Government under Winston Churchill and Clem Attlee ran the Emergency Hospital Service employing doctors and nurses to care for those injured by enemy action and arrange for their treatment in whichever hospital was available.

From 1941 the Government proposed to ensure that there was a comprehensive hospital service available to everyone in need of it and that local authorities would be responsible for providing it. 

In his Cabinet commissioned report on social security William Beveridge stressed the importance of having an NHS.

In 1944 the Government published the NHS White Paper setting out  the founding principles of the NHS: services to be provided by the same doctors and at the same hospitals, free at the point of use, financed from central taxation, and everyone eligible for care.

Initiated by the Labour Government under Attlee the NHS Act was passed to create an entirely new hospital service by taking over the voluntary and local government hospitals.

Two months before the start of the NHS the British Medical Association voted not to join the new service over members fears of loss of independence. Bevan offered lucrative payment structures for consultants. He was later to say that ‘I had to stuff their mouths with gold" 

Tackling The Financial Distress Of Illness 

In his speech on the second reading of the NHS Bill on 30 April 1946 Labour’s Aneurin Bevan stated that It is cardinal to a proper health organisation that a person ought not to be financially deterred from seeking medical assistance at the earliest possible stage. It is one of the evils of having to buy medical advice that, in addition to the natural anxiety that may arise because people do not like to hear unpleasant things about themselves, and therefore tend to postpone consultation as long as possible, there is the financial anxiety caused by having to pay doctors’ bills.’

‘A person ought to be able to receive medical and hospital help without being involved in financial anxiety.’

The NHS Proposals

The proposed NHS would therefore be ‘available to the whole population, and not only is it available to the whole population freely, but it is intended, through the health service, to generalise the best health advice and treatment. It is intended that there shall be no limitation on the kind of assistance given – the general practitioner service, the specialist, the hospitals, eye treatment, spectacles, dental treatment, hearing facilities, all these are to be made available free.’

The plan was to provide health services through taking over the voluntary and local authority hospitals grouped together to create 1,000 bed spaces,  the creation of health centres, the employment of doctors as self-employed contractors allowing them to have private fee paying patients, with some hospital beds being available for them, and doctors actively participating in decision making.Bevan concluded his speech saying: ‘When it is carried out, it will place this country in the forefront of all countries of the world in medical services.’ ‘I believe it will lift the shadow from millions of homes. It will keep very many people alive who might otherwise be dead. It will relieve suffering. It will produce higher standards for the medical profession. It will be a great contribution towards the wellbeing of the common people of Great Britain.’ 

BMA And Tory Opposition

Most of Bevan’s speech to the House of Commons on 9 February 1948 on the planned 5 July start of the NHS was devoted to his discussing the opposition of the British Medical Association and the Conservatives. He regretted the attempt by the BMA to prevent the NHS being born.

 

In a speech on 4 July 1948 ‘We will set that resistance on one side. We shall meet the struggle because we know exactly what we want to do, and how the Tories will react to it.’

‘We now have the moral leadership of the world, and before many years are over we shall have people coming here as to a modern Mecca, learning from us in the twentieth century …..’

Referring to the general election due in 1950 he said “we shall face you again with all our programme carried out. And when I say all, I mean all. …(W)e are going to establish a new record: that of being the only British Government that ever carried out all its election promises.”  

 

Research into the BMA archives when I worked there 1969-1971 showed that the doctors’ support for the BMA’s opposition was rapidly falling. If Bevan had held out he would not have needed to stuff their mouths with gold. The independent employment status of consultants and gps has been an Achilles heel for the NHS ever since.

 

Illness As Misfortune

 

One of Bevan’s lasting quotes is:




 

‘Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.’

 

I think that if Bevan was alive today he would be appalled at the current NHS crisis due to underfunding and inadequate pay levels.


Notes:


Apologies for this posting being in Capital Letters. The text was turned this way when I put loaded it.

 

This posting is based on short talks at the Croydon Unite Retired Members Branch meeting on 10 June and the Windrush75NHS75 event at St. Oswald’s Church on 24 June.

 

 

 


Saturday, 17 June 2023

The Significance of the Empire Windrush and its Polish Passengers



Public display by Knitting Norbury Together group

The arrival of the Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury symbolises many things about Britain at the end of the War.

  • The return of Caribbean ex-servicemen who had contributed to the wartime effort against Hitler     and the Nazis.
  • The arrival of people from the West Indian colonies wanting to contribute to the re-building of       a shattered Britain.
  •  The irony of having been a ship used to provide Hitler Youth with holidays around the Baltic         before the war.
  • The fear in some quarters that was generated by what the Daily Graphic called ‘invasion ‘of         just  under 500 people, representing imperial racist attitudes.

If you saw David Olusoga’s TV programme a few years back on the Government attitude to the Windrush and immigration then you will have been shocked by the long roots of the hostile environment which has been so damaging to members of the Generation. It has been a reminder that far from being welcoming and liberal Britain has been, divided between racists and anti-racists with a large bloc in between of people whose views were and are based on fear, with unscrupulous politicians exploiting the tensions that are created. 

So it is important that we continue to research and tell the story of the Black contribution in Britain during October’s Black History Month and on the annual Windrush Day. This includes the fact that Ivor Cummings, the Anglo-African Government welfare officer who met and helped the Windushers had grown up in the Croydon area in the 1920s. It is also important to tell the post Windrush story of anti-racism and for white Britons to reflect on their parallel and inter-connected lives and what the impact of the Windrush Generation has been on their lives. 

The Windrush Poles

But hidden from sight until recently have been the 38 adult women, 26 children and one male Poles who were also on the Windrush having embarked in Mexico coming to Britain to rejoin their Polish husbands and fathers who have served with the Allies. Among them was Stefania Nowak aged 28 and eleven year old 11 year old Janina Folta, with her mother and sisters going to rejoin her father and brother.

Janina remembered the hacienda that housed the family she had regular food, warmth, safety and education.

On board the Windrush, Janina and the other children didn’t know how to use cutlery to eat the food that was provided. The food in Mexico had been mostly stew and tortillas; in Asia they had eaten whatever scraps they could find. Janina remembers the crew trying to teach them to hold a knife and fork, and how this embarrassed the older girls.

They travelled in berths below the waterline, paid for by the British government. Janina recalls it being musty and dark and they were all seasick. They were not allowed to roam freely on the boat; they could only go out on deck in escorted groups and she never saw any of the other passengers.

Journalists ignored the Poles concentrating on interviewing and reporting the Jamaicans and Trinidadians.

The arrival of these 66 Poles was the result of a government-sponsored scheme to gather Polish nationals scattered across the globe and reunite them with partners and families in the United Kingdom. 

After the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the invasion of Poland by both parties, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of 1.5m Poles to Siberian labour camps. In the camps the dead had to be buried twice, because the ground was too hard in winter so they were preserved in deep snow until spring. After two years, some of the captives escaped but fewer than 10% survived the 3,000-mile journey to get out of the Soviet Union and into Iran, eating dogs and tortoises to survive. Later Stalin agreed that men could leave and join the exiled Polish Government’s armed forces, but provided no help with their transportation.

In the summer of 1943, after Polish, Mexican, British and American negotiations some 1,400 Poles, mostly women and children, were transported to Colonia Santa Rosa, a refugee village near the city of León, Mexico remaining there until 27 March, 1947.

Britain passed the Polish Resettlement Act to Polish servicemen to stay in Britain, provide assistance to integrate in Britain, enable their dependents in exile throughout the world to join them and initially house them in  residential camps such as at Shobdon, Blackshaw in Staffordshire, Lynn Park Camp in Aberdeen and Roughan Camp, near Bury St. Edmunds.

The Windrush passenger list records them as ‘Alien Passengers’ and the women as household Domestics.

Poles in Britain Post 1948

Over half of the Windrush Poles put down roots in the UK and lived out their lives as British citizens.  Lucyna Procinska, for example, made her home in Manchester, twice marrying Englishmen.  Her brother, Mieczysław, went on to marry a resettled Pole and resided in Northamptonshire.  Janina and her family were reunited with her father and older brother. She remembers it was cold and damp, a contrast to Mexico, and she hardly knew her father. They had to register as immigrants and report to the police if they moved house or job or got married.

Nowak with her husband 35 year-old Andrzej was among at least twenty-seven who moved on to Canada or the United States.  The Nowaks went to Canada in November 1948.

The late 40’s and early 50s  saw thousands of Poles coming to Britain.

More than 100,000 Polish refugees from Siberia came to the UK after the war on other ships. 

A book n the Windrush Poles by Jane Raca will be published later this year.

My previous discussion on the Windrush during the commemoration in Croydon in 2019 organised by Councillor Patsy Cummings can be seen at:

 https://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.com/2019/07/thoughts-about-windrush.htm

The Croydon connections with the Windrush can be read about in my pamphlet Croydon’s Black and Anti-Racism History 1948-1979.

Further Reading

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jun/22/the-other-windrush-generation-poles-reunited-after-fleeing-soviet-camps

https://culture.pl/en/article/the-windrush-poles-from-deportation-to-new-life

https://www.windrushpoles.co.uk/

https://www.britishfuture.org/windrush-poles/

https://www.facebook.com/1012848052157546/posts/sixty-six-poles-came-on-the-windrush-in-1948they-were-among-hundreds-of-thousand/1522809991161347/

 

 

Thursday, 15 June 2023

A New Future for Culture in Croydon – Does The Borough of Croydon Programme Meet The Challenge?

 In July 2014 the newly elected Labour Council held a Culture Seminar to discuss its vision for culture. There had already been discussions in the Croydon Arts Network in response to the debate initiated by South Croydon Community Association on the future of Fairfield Halls.

I produced a discussion paper A New Future for Culture in Croydon. Nine years later we have the Borough of Culture programme. In it I argued that ‘Of course no one should be under any illusions that the Council will be able to provide money from a stretched budget which will get tighter and tighter under further central government cut backs from 2015/16. It is the change of attitude towards culture that is important. Labour will need to convince cultural activists that a shift in attitude will contribute to creating a greater sense of cultural activities being valued, genuinely encouraging community groups and representatives to collaborate, and finding creative ways to support their initiatives.’

The basis of the Borough of Culture was created by the Labour Council and inherited by the Executive Mayor who had been a member of the pre-2014 Conversative administration. None of the measures I suggested for reversing the Tory damage were implemented by Labour.

I suggested that two very important aspects of culture should be reflected in any overarching Vision statement.

·        development of people's skills and talents to their fullest potential

·        broadening people's intellectual and creative horizons.

 I discussed various aspects of culture, including heritage as culture, town and local centres, educational and training institutions, community cohesion and diversity, the cultures of health, physical activity and sports, musical and arts heritage, culture and recession, the concept of ‘spiritual capital’, heritage and culture of BME and newer settlers, racism, public history, the history of mutuality, protecting the built environment, the limits of the Digital World, and heritage objectives for cultural strategy.

If any of this has any continuing validity, it may be helpful is assessing whether the Borough of Culture programme has met the challenges.

The Discussion Paper

We're ambitious for Croydon with a vision to see the borough established as a genuine destination for both visual and performing arts. We have some great spaces for exhibitions, theatre, music and dance and we have a wealth of local talent plus the opportunity to build on what we already have to ensure we have a vibrant, exciting and diverse cultural offering that is attractive to people from across Croydon and further afield. Nobody is pretending this will be an easy task to achieve, but we're absolutely determined to unlock Croydon’s potential over the next few years.’ - Councillor Timothy Godfrey, Cabinet member for Culture, Leisure and Sport - June 2014.

The future of culture in Croydon is much brighter now that Labour is in control of the Council. It brings to an end the Tory ‘Know the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing’ cultural vandalism approach in which for 2013/14 they deliberately planned to disengage from cultural activities.

Meanwhile a range of cultural initiatives have been taken by community groups and cultural practitioners, inc. the establishment of the Croydon Arts Network, the Croydon Fun Palace Project, Matthews Yard as a commercial venue, the David Lean Cinema Campaign, the Stanley People’s Initiative, the resurrection of Warehouse Theatre at Fairfield Halls, the Croydon Heritage Festival, with supporting debate through Croydon Citizen and Croydon Radio. 2012 saw a year long festival to commemorate the death of Croydon’s black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. There are the community festivals such as those in South Norwood, Purley and Thornton Heath.

Cabinet Culture, Leisure and Sport member Timothy Godfrey’s initiative in holding the seminar on Tuesday 8 July is an important first step in allowing people across the whole cultural (inc. heritage) scene in Croydon to engage in constructive dialogue on the way forward.

Councillor Godfrey and his deputy, Oliver Lewis, will use the evening to encourage those attending to share their own views and generate new ideas. These will be built into a plan which is being developed with a view to boosting the range and quality of cultural events staged in the Borough. There will be presentations from speakers representing the existing diverse cultural offer in the borough in addition to a frank and open opportunity to listen to Croydon residents and organisations.

Financial Realities

Of course no one should be under any illusions that the Council will be able to provide money from a stretched budget which will get tighter and tighter under further central government cut backs from 2015/16.

It is the change of attitude towards culture that is important.

Labour will need to convince cultural activists that a shift in attitude will contribute to creating a greater sense of cultural activities being valued, genuinely encouraging community groups and representatives to collaborate, and finding creative ways to support their initiatives. 

Reversing the Tory Damage

There are several things that need to be done to reverse some of the damage caused by the former Tory administration.

  • ·     The adoption of a resolution stating the Council will not sell any more Riesco Collection items, will re-think the way the Collection is displayed, and re-open the former investigation into setting up a trust for the Collection.
  • ·     Renegotiation of the Section 106 money taken over by the Council to invest back in Warehouse Theatre.
  • ·     Reversal of the cut to the Schools Music budget.
  • ·     Reversal of the decision to build on part of Queens Gardens.
  • ·     Re-negotiation of the library service contract to ensure that libraries develop improved cultural activities programmes.
  • ·     Re-enabling public access to all the materials on open shelves in the former Local Studies room.

Labour’s Cultural Strategy 2006

 

‘Concentrating cultural activities housed within historic buildings, attractive open space

along with restaurants, cafes, bars and shops is seen as a way of reinforcing Croydon’s popular appeal –

 balancing commercial and architectural progress with entertainment and public participation.’

– Tony Newman, Council Leader up to May 2006;

and now Leader again commenting the ‘Be inspired’ cultural strategy 2005-2008.

How much of the previous Labour administration’s ‘Be inspired’ cultural strategy 2005-2008 is still relevant and feasible to implement:

  • ·     More facilities for young people such as multi-use games areas and children’s entertainment in parks
  • ·     More traditional pubs, outdoor cafés and family-friendly restaurants
  • ·    Safer, cleaner parks and open spaces
  • ·     Improved borough-wide sports and exercise facilities for all ages
  • ·     Opportunities for a more varied programme of entertainment including theatre, live music, classical concerts and cultural activities helping to celebrate cultural diversity
  • ·     Encouraging open-air markets, small independent shops and creative businesses
  • ·     New studio/exhibition space in the borough, supporting local artists
  • ·      A new jazz café in Surrey Street
  • ·     Investigating funding sources to redevelop Ashburton and Thornton Heath libraries

The Tory Years

Has Labour tracked what happened to its plan during the Tory years?

How much of the above has been achieved by the Tories, made irrelevant for the future, and will Labour still wish to continue endorse? Have the Tories achieved anything positive? After all large scale cuts were not required in their first two years because the world recession caused by the banking system had not happened. What elements of the Labour plan did the Tories decide not to implement and for what reason, or did they absorb some aspects into their changing plans?

Tracking what happened and the changing approach is difficult. For example the Croydon Cultural Partnership group within the Local Strategic Partnership (the LSP) was renamed the Croydon Development and Cultural Partnership by the Tories. Although it is listed on the Croydon On-line website there is no link to detail about it, unlike with the three other themed sub-partnerships of the LSP. www.croydononline.org/get_involved/local_strategic_partnership. In fact it appears that the Strategic Partnership and its themed partnerships are held behind closed doors.

A Vision for Culture

Two very important aspects of culture should be reflected in any overarching Vision statement.

  • development of people's skills and talents to their fullest potential
  • broadening people's intellectual and creative horizons.


A Draft Vision Statement

We would like everyone to have the opportunity to participate in a variety of cultural activities which will: help them develop their skills and talents to their fullest, broaden their intellectual and creative horizon; increase their well being; promote community engagement and cohesion through an appreciation of Croydon’s diversity, and; foster a sense of place and belonging within the neighbourhoods and communities of the borough, and contribute to protecting and celebrating the past as reflected in the local built and open space environment.


Heritage as Culture

Croydon’s development has been a complex process of social, economic, cultural and political engagement, including conflict, compromise and consensus.

Town and Local Centres

Promotion of an individual identity and sense of place in the Borough’s town and local centres can provide a foundation for future vitality and viability. This concept seems to be increasingly recognised as of growing importance. However, whether people want to take advantage of cultural activities in the centres will depend on what is on offer, the ease of public transport and car parking and the feeling of safety especially at night. The quality of the built environment can play an important role here, with the need to preserve the best of the historic environment, the improvement of run-down buildings, and the replacement of redundant buildings by good quality human-scale new developments. The need for a mixed economy of residential, small and larger businesses and leisure facilities will require the Council's planners to ensure that no centre becomes over dominant by one type of activity.

Educational and Training Institutions

These institutions can be 'ghettoes' only catering for their students  without vibrant interaction with the local communities around them. Discussion is needed with each institution to see what more they can do to open up activities to the wider public, including use and hire of facilities, courses, exhibitions, dramatic and music performances, and taking their cultural 'products' around the Borough.

Community Cohesion and Diversity

One of the most difficult aspects of cultural strategy relates to its contribution to community cohesion and diversity. The cultural diversity of the Borough's residents from different national and ethnic backgrounds is showcased in various ways throughout the year. However, events do not necessarily attract large audiences from other national or ethnic groups. A good diverse attendance, however, does not mean that people attending will talk with each other, as most people find interacting with strangers difficult. There are no easy answers to how to encourage people to meet each other across different national and ethnic divides. It needs the small core of event organisers to make the effort to introduce people to each other and facilitate conversation. The occasions which offer the most potential are:

  •        Festival events, especially those based in parks and open spaces.
  •        Street festivals serving a small number of streets or an estate are excellent ways of beginning to encourage neighbours to meet and get to know each other better.
  •       Multi-faith cultural activities, especially as many faith groups have diverse national and ethnic congregations.
  •       Community Centres putting on events in which different user groups showcase their activity.
  •       Re-packaging School Fetes and Bazaars as Neighbourhood Festivals to attract non-parents.

Festival organisation is not easy and requires a reasonable level of funding for core organisational costs, as well as meeting all the costs relating to venue and equipment hire, health and safety, licences, as well as paying for performers.

The Cultures of Health, Physical Activity and Sports

Most adults will not be interested in participating in hard and elite sports. Many more may be encouraged into soft sports and games. For many walking may be more inviting, which can also involve families and people in wheelchairs. More attention could be given to supporting 'healthy walking' through heritage and open space walks with a learning component. e.g. local history, ecology. This may need the development of a programme for the payment of experienced heritage and ecology leaders for walks.

Sports are a part of cultural activity. A wider cultural interest in sport can be encouraged through the Borough's rich sports heritage especially those activities run by the large number of mutual, community and voluntary groups over the last two hundred years, the amateur sports organisations, and the role of sport and games activities in parks.

Musical and Arts Heritage

Similarly work on the history of music and music making and arts and arts manufacturing in the Borough can add a new dimension to understanding local cultural heritage. It can also inspire the production of new cultural works. The Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival in 2012 showed what can be achieved.

Culture and Recession

It is difficult to assess what effect the economic recession has been having on cultural activities. Certainly there has been:

  •       reduced funding from local and central government, cultural agencies and charitable trusts
  •       reduced surplus income meaning fewer people can afford to take part in cultural activities as              audiences
  •       increased entertainment and leisure activities in the home.

 On the other hand there may be greater demand:

  •         for involvement in cultural activities to ensure increased levels of enjoyment
  •         to develop skills in cultural activities to give people an interesting hobby or to develop income generation or to increase chances in job prospects when the economy improves.

Cultural strategy can be linked in with regeneration and neighbourhood renewal strategies. Such strategies talk about ‘social’, economic’, ‘environmental’ and ‘social exclusion’, and ‘social’, economic’ and ‘environmental’ capital. Yet the fear of crime, the general decay of the state of the local environment, the lack of prospects, can all have adverse effects on individuals’ sense of well-being and mental health. The experience of social exclusion or the onset of sudden crises, whether economic or health, can adversely affect the way people feel. The constant experience of negative material conditions has an adverse effect on the human spirit. We should also be talking about ‘spiritual capital’. This not the same as the religious concept of ‘spirituality’. A non-religious example is the conclusion of longitudinal historical medical research from the United States that the more intellectually stimulated very old people remain, the healthier they remain.

The sections of the population most likely to be adversely affected by a general low level of 'spiritual capital’ and be particularly further disadvantaged by the economic recession, the cuts to benefits, the lack of a London Living Wage, and the no guaranteed hours work contracts, are those in lower and fixed income groups, and those who are socially isolated because of economic and cultural reasons. Therefore an important element in developing a Cultural Strategy may be encouraging cultural activities which enable participation on a free or very low cost basis. To identify those most likely to benefit will require careful discussion with a range of other organisations, especially community and voluntary groups.

Heritage and Culture of BME and Newer Settlers

Many of the newer communities settling in the Borough are comprised of children, teenagers and young adults. The Strategy should include a statement about ‘working with people from all communities', and that ‘work with older people is particularly important to ensure their reminiscences are recorded and not lost.'

One of the important ways in which different communities and groups can be engaged more in the Borough's heritage is by ensuring that there is an emphasis on exploring what are called 'hidden histories': working class, women, religious minorities, Welsh, Scots and Irish, and Black, Asian and other ethnic and national minorities in Britain. It takes a lot of research and advocacy to uncover ‘hidden histories’. In respect of the history of Black and Asian peoples in Britain, the door has being opening. The Croydon Radical History Network has begun to build on the previous good work undertaken in Croydon several years ago. The talks I give on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor introduce listeners to the contribution of Black visitors and residents in Britain and their networks, as well as the influence of Black music. 

Racism

Part of the social glue function of community organisations should be to build a common sense of justice, understanding, and positive interaction between all the different sub-groups and interests within neighbourhood communities. There needs to be activity that brings people together, especially in those areas adversely affected by racism and ethnic segregation. One way is through cultural diversity and heritage activity.

Across different curricular areas the education system as a whole has failed to fully reflect the contribution that Black and Asian and other ethnic minorities have made to Britain's development.

A key element in fostering community cohesion, tackling existing racism, and trying to reduce the number of racists who develop in their childhood and youth, should be to improve the degree of knowledge and understanding of the Black and Asian historical presence and contribution to the development of British society over the last five hundred years. This needs to be celebrated in its own right, as well as be an integral part of the way in which people understand British history. The growing hostility to new arrivals, especially East Europeans, shows the need to undertake similar work on Britain’s past interactions with, and the contribution made by previous settlers, from that part of the world.

Public History

‘Public History’ at local level encompasses such activities as:

  •               the celebration by the residents of an anniversary of the building of their estate
  •               the anniversary of an important building or neighbourhood
  •               the fight to save built environment heritage
  •               an emphasis on the lives of ordinary people
  •               an emphasis on the role ordinary people and their organisations have played in                                shaping their area
  •               a re-imaging of British history to include women, the working class, black and ethnic                    minorities and other excluded groups

'Public history’ is a development on from work on separate 'hidden histories' enabling connections to be made between them. All historical specialisms and approaches are useful routes into the historical picture. The challenge is to integrate them so that a more holistic and inclusive story of the past is told.

 

Work on ‘Public History’ is important because it helps to inform ordinary people, and community organisations struggling to obtain improvements in their neighbourhoods today, that they are heirs of a long tradition of ordinary working people creating organisations to meet particular needs, and engaging in collective activity to influence their lives and lobby for economic, political and social inclusion and justice.

The History of Mutuality

Another area of 'hidden history' are the mutual collective organisations for political, social and economic inclusion, justice and improvement: the fraternal, friendly, loan, building and co-operative societies, trade unions, and today’s community and voluntary groups. Fraternal and mutual organisations:

  • provided a glue that linked people together at work, and because work and home were often close, between work and community
  • built an infrastructure of social welfare and income support in the absence of a Welfare State
  • were seedbeds for building experience in running organisations and in participative and representative democracy
  • forced a response that made Britain more inclusive in electoral politics, and moderated the worst effect of economic forces through social and employment reform

 

Protecting the Built Environment

 

Large numbers of people wish to protect and celebrate the past as reflected in their local built and open space environment. The work of amenity societies and other organisations in popularising and campaigning on this should be acknowledged. The loss of pubs in recent years, especially to local supermarket retailers’ stores, has raised the question of what more the Council can do to use a wide range of powers to protect those that are valued by their local communities. Other ways to protect valued and interesting components of the built environment may need to be examined though the listing of buildings of local interest, assessing whether Conservation Area policies are being properly adhered to, and seeking Grade II listing status for buildings. A further way to mark the important of particular buildings is through a programme of plaques to commemorate interesting people, organisations and businesses by the Council and community and specialist organisations.

 

The Limits of the Digital World

A lot of cultural activity depends on publicity through digital means: email, Facebook, Twitter and websites. But this is dependent on people knowing about them in the first place. Many people I have spoken to at my history stalls do not know about the web based Croydon Citizen (CC), Inside Croydon (IC) or Croydon Radio (CR). This means that the information and debates on them are not reaching everyone who is potentially interested. This is only in relation to people with access to the web. There are large numbers of people who do not have home or mobile access to the web and have to use their local library or internet café. 

This digital divide between the connected and the unconnected has been a challenge for Government and the regulator Oftel/Ofcom for nearly 15 years. It is an issue that can have solutions at local level. For example, when local authorities installed entry-phone systems it was possible to have provided phone and internet access at the same time, but this usually did not happen. I hope that Croydon Tech City will explore how local digital businesses can help come up with local solutions. Perhaps the Council should consider funding overcoming digital divide projects using Community Infrastructure Levy monies paid by developers. 

Heritage Objectives for Cultural Strategy

As well as stating a vision (see above) a Cultural Strategy will need to set out key objectives. These could be ones related to the heritage component.

  • Promote the histories of working class people, children, women, the disabled, religious minorities, Welsh, Scots and Irish, and Black, Asian and other ethnic and national minorities in Croydon.
  • Promote the Borough’s historical connections with different European nationalities, especially those from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
  •  Promote the histories of community, faith, mutual and voluntary activity and their roles in developing, democratic participation, political, social and economic inclusion, and community cohesion.
  • Develop ways in which teachers and pupils can be supported to use cultural, local history and heritage material to illustrate topics they are exploring, including Citizenship, English Literature, Religious Studies, History, music and art, and Geography.
  • Provide support to schools to increase their ability to undertake activities in the classroom related to special cultural and historical commemorations.

 Where Next?

This discussion paper is a contribution to the debate that has already been going on among Croydon culture activists, and which will heat up as a result of the 8 July seminar called by Councillor Timothy Godfrey. A draft cultural strategy will emerge and go through the Council decision making system. Hopefully the draft will be looked at by the revised Scrutiny and Oversight Committee procedures, giving cultural activists the chance to submit verbal and written comments. Because of the importance of linking culture to regeneration and to ‘spiritual capital’ cultural strategy will need to be looked at by the Fairness Commission Labour is setting up. The existence of a new Council Cultural Strategy does not mean that there is no need for an independent community cultural strategy as has been discussed in debates in the formation of the Croydon Arts Network. The whole range of independent cultural activists need  their own joint perspective which will strengthen their interaction with the development and implementation of the Council strategy.