Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Amazing, pioneering African Briton - Ottobah Cugoano

"Is it not strange to think, that they who ought 
to be considered as the most learned and 
civilized people in the world, that they should 
carry on a traffick of the most barbarous 
cruelty and injustice and that many ... 
are become so dissolute as to think, slavery, 
robbery and murder no crime?”

So wrote Olaudah Equiano’s contemporary and comrade, Ottobah Cugoano, in giving an African view of the horrors of the slavery business in the last quarter of the 18thC. In his new biography Cugoano Against Slavery (Hansib 2014) Martin Hoyles demonstrates that Cugoano was an ‘amazing, pioneering African Briton’, who ‘deserves to be placed at the very centre of the history of the  anti-slavery movement’.

Very Readable Book

Martin has adopted the same approach as he used in his exceptional William Cuffay. The Life and Times of a Chartist Leader (Hansib 2012). Why exceptional? Because he has done much more than present what is known so far about Cugoano’s life. He sets him within the wider British and international context of slavery, and the anti-slavery movement supported by over 130 illustrations. His style is down to earth, not stuffed with impenetrable language or the distraction of footnotes. Like Cuffay this is a book for the general reader and a first class introduction to broader aspects of British history of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

From Kidnap to Freedom

The 13 year old Ottobah was kidnapped in West Africa in 1770, sold into slavery and shipped to Grenada. He was lucky to only endure the life of a slave on a plantation for a short while, as he was brought to England in 1772 where he gained his freedom. He learnt to read and write and was baptised with the name John Stuart. He became a servant to the painters Richard and Maria Cosway at Schomberg House in Pall Mall. A print survives showing them being served by an African servant – presumably Cugoano. It was at their home that he wrote his Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic and Commerce of the Human Species. This went into three editions in 1787 and then was translated into French in 1788. In 1791 he published a shorter version. Nothing is known about him after 1791 or the school for Afro-Britons he proposed to set up.

The anti-slavery movement

Hoyles sets Cugoano within the context of the anti-slavery movement. From 1786 he was lobbying against the slave trade working with Granville Sharp to free Harry Demane from being forced aboard a ship bound for the West Indies, and writing letters to key people. Hoyles discusses the role of William Wilberforce, rightly highlighting his campaigning limitations, hostility to the role of women in mass petitioning and the sugar boycott and to political reform radicalism, and his seeming dislike of meeting Africans. More important to the movement were Glanville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson. He highlights the popular radical petitioning campaign, in towns like Manchester and Sheffield, where the cutlers petitioned in 1789 against the trade wanting their goods to be traded in Africa for non slavery purposes.

He discusses the differences with some of the religious groups. While most  Quakers supported the anti-slavery cause, some like Samuel Galton were deeply involved in selling guns to slave-traders and providing finance for the business. Among Methodists George Whitefield supported it. Like John Wesley on the other hand Samuel Bradburn was opposed, the later saying  in 1792 that the 

‘Negroes have as a good a right to invade Great Britain, 
and make slaves of us, as we have to invade Africa
 and make slaves of them.’

Radical Support for Anti-Slavery

Martin argues the importance of anti-slave images like the drawing of the slave ship Brookes which ‘showed better than words the horrors of the middle passage’ and of poems and children’s books in spreading the message. From 1792 London and other Corresponding Societies campaigned against slavery alongside for universal suffrage and annual parliaments. Equiano was a member of the London Society and friend of its leader Thomas Hardy. Another member John Thelwall toured the country in 1794 and 1795. The followers of Thomas Spence, the radical reformer and pro-land nationaliser from Newcastle, advocated support for slave rebellion and emancipation. This sets the scene for details of some of the (at least) 57 major slave rebellions in the Caribbean between 1735 and 1834, particularly the success in and the formation of Haiti.

The Middle Passage and Ship Revolts

In exploring Cugoano’s life Martin draws on the Thoughts and on material that helps to add context such as the book by the slave owner Bryan Edwards the West Indies British colonies (1793): the slave forts and castles on and off the West African coast, particularly Cape Coast Castle, where Cugoano was held before shipment across the Atlantic and the experience of the terrible Middle Passage journey across the Atlantic; and the slave rebellions on the ships, especially as Cugoano was involved in an attempted one of the ship he was on.

He refers to the other set of victims of the trade, the ordinary seamen on the slave ships. One of these Edward Rushton went blind  when ophthalmia raged through his ship. He became an anti-slavery campaigner in Liverpool. In 1775 there was a dispute with slave ship owners over wages, leading to 2-3,000 sailors attacking the Liverpool Exchange building.

Even though he was only on Grenada for a short while Cuguano saw the cruelty inflicted on slaves, even for practising Christianity. Such cruelty was written about in 1784 by Rev. James Ramsay, who had spent 19 years on St. Kitts  The slave system on Grenada is summarised leading to Fedon’s rebellion in 1795/6.

The Sierra Leone Experiment

In the section on Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments Martin weaves into discussion his clear views on why West Indian slavery and the conditions of the British workers were not the same, on the role of Africans in the trade, and on European colonisation and suppression in the Americas. Like Equiano he was initially in favour of the Sierra Leone scheme for Africans in Britain to settle there but then predicted disaster because it was sited in an area of active slave trading. The sad story of the settlement’s fate is then told.

Those Responsible for the Slavery Business

For Cugoano there were two groups of people particularly responsible for slavery, ‘the men of eminence and power’ and the clergy who justified it. In addition to his own letters to the King, the Prince of Wales and politicians like William Putt and Edmund Burke, he was joint signatory with Equiano and others as the ‘Sons of Africa’. Martin  discusses the differences of views between William Pitt and Charles Fox – the former seeing the abolition of the slave trade as a blow to the French, and Fox who believed the trade was a crime.

Common Humanity and Free Labour

Cugoano believed in our common humanity and descent and that God created the variety of mankind. His ultimate goal was the abolition of slavery, but he knew this would take time. He argued that free was more productive than slave labour, and that if sugar might cost more under free labour it was a price worth paying. But free labourers must be paid fair wages, and there should be full employment. He saw the potential of developing non-slave trading with Africa, a point also argued by James Field Stanfield in his Observations on a Guinea Voyage (1788).

1820s Remembrance of Cugoano

We do not know whether he lived to see the abolition of the official British involvement in the slave trade in 1807, or saw the growth of the anti-slave ownership campaign from the 1820s. In that new African British voices were active like the Spencean Robert Wedderburn with his book The Horrors of Slavery dedicated to Wilberforce. Knowledge about Cugoano did not die. In 1824 the year that the African American Ira Alridge was playing Othello at the Royal Theatre, Cugoano’s short biographical piece in his Thoughts was included in Thomas Fisher’s The Negro Memorial, or, abolitionist’s Catecism. He is also mentioned in the Newcastle Courant the same year, which has significance because of the strong anti-slavery movement on Tyneside. In 1825 his Thoughts are mentioned in the Morning Chronicle

Hansib Publications

The book is available from Hansib. 

Broadview Press Book 

While Cugoano is mentioned in many studies of the anti-slavery movement and the black presence in Britain the only other recent study of him was published in Canada
Thomas Clarkson and Ottobah Cugoano: Essays on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, edited by Mary-Antoinette Smith (Broadview Press, 2010).

There is also a detailed page about him on Brycchan Carey’s website at http://www.brycchancarey.com/cugoano/index.htm. Brycchan is one of those who Martin acknowledges for his help and advice.

Broadview Press is an independent Canadian academic press. Its publications include the following novels which seem little known in Britain.

·       The Clockmaker. Thomas Chandler Haliburton. Ed. Richard A. Davies. (2014). 1835-5 novel which was highly controversial, particularly for its treatment of women and black Canadians.
·       Hamel, the Obeah Man. Cynric R. Williams. Ed. Candice Ward & Tim Watson. (2010). Novel set against the backdrop of early nineteenth-century Jamaica, and tells the story of a slave rebellion planned in the ruins of a plantation. Though sympathetic to white slaveholders and hostile to anti-slavery missionaries, it presents a complex picture of the culture and resistance of the island's black majority. 
·       The Woman of Colour. Anonymous. Ed. Lyndon J. Dominique (2007). Novel of a black heiress's life immediately after the abolition of the British slave trade.
·       Bug-Jargal. Victor Hugo. Trans. & ed. Chris Bongie (2004). Novel about the Haitian Revolution.
·       Guanya Pau. A Story of an African Princess. Joseph Jeffrey Walters. Ed. Gareth Griffiths & John Victory Singler. (2004). The first book of long fiction by an African to be published in English, this novel tells the story of a young woman of the Vai people in Liberia. Guanya Pau, betrothed as a child to a much older, polygamous man, flees her home rather than be forced into marriage, and the novel recounts her subsequent efforts to reach the Christian community where the man she loves awaits her. Walters died in 1895.

Further details at https://www.broadviewpress.com/

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Croydon Festival 2015 – Dilemmas and Opportunities

The proposed Town Centre Festival for July next year being funded by Croydon Council poses both dilemmas and opportunities for grass roots cultural activists.

At the Croydon Arts Network get together at Matthews Yard on Thursday 13 November, John Bownas outlined his role as the Council’s Festival organiser with a budget of £100,000.

Some attending thought that rather than have a Town Centre Festival the money should be put into the community initiated local festivals like Purley and South Norwood. On the other hand it was noted that many people in different parts of the Borough will be prepared to go to the Town Centre, but not to local Festivals in elsewhere. The local Festivals should continue to grow organically.

It was noted that the Festival is a one-off event being funded from the surplus at the end of the 2013/14 financial year, the same pot that funded the free swimming in the summer and the extra money to Upper Norwood Library. However, there was concern about the potential budget impact on the local festivals, and this needs clarifying.

John explained that his aim is to attract big names from outside Croydon to show that Croydon is a place to come to. The Festival will not be named ‘Croydon’ but the title will not be announced yet.

Top-down Decision Making

Concern was expressed about the top-down nature of the political decisions to have the Festival, the lack of a steering group for it, and the declaration of the Cultural Quarter. The Quarter starts from opposite East Croydon Station  and includes Croydon College and the Fairfield Halls, Queens Gardens, Braithwaite Hall, the Spread Eagle, Matthews Yard, Exchange Square and the Minster.

Festival as Opportunity

I suggested that whatever the reservations about the top-down political decision making  (which needs to be continually challenged), the Festival can test the viability of the part of the Town Centre covered by the Cultural Quarter. The regeneration of the Town Centre cannot wait on the Westfield/Hammerson development which is now going to start and finish a year late. If the cultural initiatives do not work then we will see the re-closure of the excellent venue of the Braithwaite Hall and the closure of Matthews Yard (because it will cease to be economically viable). Therefore it is important to ensure that the Festival is a success.

£100,000 is not a substantial budget for a Festival to be held over 4 days. Obviously many events can be charged for, although free events will also be needed for the benefit of those with limited budgets. John spoke about the possibilities of sponsorship, but there will be many who will be worried if Westfield and Hammerson and other Town Centre developers become sponsors.

The Problem of Attracting Audiences

John  explained how he is using the Croydon Culture facebook to publicise events, which are now being fed into The Croydon Advertiser, and his hope to produce a brochure of all the cultural events in Croydon. He was urged to use the Just Croydon site as well.

There was a discussion about cultural activities as ‘businesses’. They need to attract audiences to cover their costs. Artists, venues and equipment etc  have to be paid for.  A passionate defence of the wider non-business value of cultural activities was made.
Croydon faces two problems. Firstly, the negative image it has so that artists and audiences are not prepared to come into the Borough. Secondly, the problem of audiences. The continued problem of small audiences at many events at Fairfield Halls  was a reminder of the fact that this was one of the issues that led to the South Croydon Community Association’s initiative to discuss the future of the Halls that in turn led to the setting up of the Arts Network.

John stressed that audiences will come to events that people want to go to. But they cannot be expected to attend those they are not interested in. This was challenged by the argument that the narrowing of what is put on to meet the vagaries of public taste will be at the expense of minority and more challenging events.

It was pointed out that a number of venues in the Town Centre had closed or stopped running cultural events, that appropriate venues were a problem for many people organising events or see themselves as promoters.

Limitations of Social Media

The potential emphasis on the current way in which social media  is used raises concerns about it as major mechanism to grow culture in the Town. There are large numbers of people not on social media. The absence of ethnic groups  at the meeting and the above average age of those attending illustrate the problems of engaging younger people and those from different cultures. It is obvious that to get a younger crowd interested other, more up to date  routes must be sought by the Arts in Croydon and  this Festival in particular.

The dilemma facing the Network is that it has not developed in the same way as TechCity whose monthly meetings encourage people to come. The Just Croydon website needs some tweeking so that those registered on it are alerted to what is being posted up on it, rather than simply being alerted to individuals or organisations being followed.

Small venues and street based activity

While John can work with promoters and Fairfield Halls and Croydon College managements to attract big names to encourage  Croydonians and people from outside Croydon to come to the Town Centre, the real challenge is going to be how to put on programmes of events in the smaller venues: e.g. Bernard Weatherill House community spaces, Braithwaite Hall, Spread Eagle and Matthews Yard. Can these be utilised  throughout the day?

Then there is the need for street based activities, and the use of open spaces like Queens Gardens and Exchange Square, and the combined use of open space and the church in the Minster area. Cultural activities will need to be seen in their widest definition, including heritage. People should be able to move through the Cultural Quarter area from one event to another and back again. Some events, like indoor theatre and film, should be repeated at different times of the day. Whether Park Hill Park whose Friends are planning festivals should be included as an open space was also discussed.  

The mural initiative of RISE gallery needs to be a key feature of making the walk through the Cultural Quarter a discovery experience.

High Risk

The Festival is therefore a high risk venture, but one well worth trying to make successful. Even though the Council is unlikely to have any money to fund culture from 1 April 2015 because of the next round of cuts it is expected to make by the ConDem Government, success will encourage it to find non-financial ways in which it can support cultural developments.

John has a personal track record of festival organisation, including involvement in past years at Glastonbury, and has a very down to earth common sense approach. It is to be hoped that he will be allowed to be innovative, flexible, develop ways to have a continual dialogue to shape the Festival so that organisations and individuals want to take part, and not be subject to political interference. His emphasis on music however is a concern for those involved in other types of cultural activity.

People with Technical Expertise

There is a group of Croydon residents who do not appear to be linked into the Arts or other networks: those working in event organisation, in promotion and in technical support like lighting and sound. The technical teams working on the Kate Bush show, for example, included two Croydon residents. Ways need to be found to identify them and discuss with them what contribution they may wish to make.

The  Transport Problem

The problems of transport into and out of Croydon Town Centre could make or break the Festival. The Council will need to negotiate with Network Rail and the train companies not to have any works affecting trains coming into East and West Croydon, and a moratorium  (apart from emergencies) on any street works that will adversely affect the time it takes to get into the Town Centre by bus.

The Council’s small grants programme was  drawn attention to, and those attending urged to look to funding from organisations like the Arts Council given that the report to Scrutiny Committee shows a low level of funding into the Borough from such sources.

More about John Bownas

John was interviewed about the Festival by Croydon Advertiser:

You can find more about his background experience at:

You can see his slide show ‘Press Release. Getting Your Story Told’ at 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Black Poppies - A Review

‘The near-total exclusion from our history books 
of black servicemen in the First World War is shameful….
Some black servicemen made the ultimate sacrifice … 
and like Walter Tull, died on the battlefields but with 
the passing of time, with the exception of Tull, 
the contributions of black servicemen have been 

The story of Britain’s Black Community and the First World War is told by Stephen Bourne in his book Black Poppies, which has sold 1,500 copies in the first three months since publication. It is therefore shameful that despite his past involvement with the Imperial War Museum he and others were not consulted on the new First World War exhibition. There is growing anger that it does not include any noticeable recognition of the African, Caribbean, Chinese and South Asian contribution.

Divided into three sections about the experiences of black servicemen, citizens and communities,  Stephen synthesises existing knowledge with new research in a very readable style. It is not intended as a comprehensive or definitive account.  He explains that ‘more research needs to be undertaken for a fuller appreciation and understanding of the subject’, especially as David Killingray suggested back in 1986 in the War Office and Colonial papers at what is now The National Archives.

Rich in detail it is a valuable handbook  for people wanting to prepare talks especially at local level as part of putting ‘Black’ into the public’s consciousness about the true nature of the First World War over the next few years.  It is not just London, Liverpool and Cardiff, but from Newcastle and North Shields down to Folkestone and Bournemouth, and across from Truro to Leamington Spa, Oxford and Northampton.


A unique section gives the responses of Patrick Vernon (Every Generation Media), Lorna Blackman (Chair, ACLA Cultural Committee, Hornsey and Hackney), Garry Stewart (ex-servicemen), and Nicholas Bailey (actor) to the following questions:
     Why do you think the stories of African Caribbean soldiers in the First Wold War have been ignored or forgotten?
     How/when did you find out that African Caribbeans served in the First World War?
     Do you think that the British school curriculum should include the stories of African Caribbeans in the First World War?
     Why do you think the British school curriculum mainly focuses on African Americans from history, such as Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks?
     What do you think we should do in 2014-2018 to ensure that young people in Britain are made aware of the important contribution made by African Caribbeans to the First World War?

These questions are a useful list to pose at events on the First World War in general and on the Black role in particular.  


Stephen discusses the confusion over interpreting armed services rules about recruitment of black men and whether they could be accepted for officer training. It is clear that whatever the formal rules may have suggested, it was left to individual recruiters and officers to take the decisions.

There is a chapter reviewing the experience of the men in the British West Indies Regiment. Stephen is able to quote from the unpublished war memoir of its commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wood-Hill.  There are reminiscences of members who survived, and chapters about Herbert Morris, the shell-shocked 17 year old Jamaican shot for desertion, and the 19 headstones with the BWIR crest among the Commonwealth War Graves at Seaford Cemetery in Sussex, and on the regiment’s mutiny at Taranto in December 1918 over bad treatment while they waited demobilisation.

The Royal Flying Corps which became the Royal Air Force in April 1918 had several Indian fighter pilots and a Jamaican.

The Home Front

Stephen tells the stories of several families who lived either side of and through the War, details of black entertainers performing around Britain. Descendants of some of these families are active today in Britain. I hope that his chapter on the two composers Amanda Ira Aldridge and Avril Coleridge-Taylor will be the start of in-depth studies by Stephen.  

Black Britain 1919

The third section on the Race Riots in 1919 in Liverpool,  London’s East End, South Shields, Newport and Cardiff gives eye-witness accounts and details of how the local black communities reacted.

In the final chapter ‘Black Britain 1919’ Stephen summarises the picture of the Black presence, particularly in London, and its level of organisation and their activists: African Times and Orient Review, and African Telegraph, the African Students and the African Progress Unions.  

In his  Author’s Note Stephen acknowledges his debt to earlier works by Sir Harry H. Johnson, Peter Fryer, Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, David Killingray, Jeff Green, Ray Costello, Glenford Howe and Richard Smith, and to documentary producers Tony T. and Rebecca Goldstone at Sweet Patootee for their film Mutiny about the BWIR.

This book is a must to have on your shelves; like Peter Fryer, Jeff Green and Stephen’s previous books it will remain a valuable reference book for years to come.

Black Poppies

Britain’s Black Community and the Great War

The History Press

ISBN 978-07524-9760-0


Is the Croydon Cultural Quarter a Top-Down Pipe Dream?

At its 15 September meeting the Croydon Council Cabinet approved the designation of part of the Town Centre as a Cultural Quarter from opposite East Croydon Station encompassing Croydon College and Fairfield Halls, Queens Gdns, the Town Hall and Clocktower round to Exchange Square to the Minister.

Many reservations have been expressed. It is important for the Labour administration, which claims to be committed to openness and transparency and wanting people to engage in policy development, that it listens to these reservations, engages with those that express them and fine tunes what it has already agreed to take account of good ideas that will emerge. As a top-down initiative is it a pipe dream unless the Council engages in an open and transparent way on how it is to be developed in practice?
This blog discusses the reservations expressed by the Croydon TUC Working Party on the Council’s Growth Plan (CTUCWPCGP) in commenting on the Cultural Quarter paper.

·         Tinkering

While welcoming the development of a more positive strategy to supporting cultural activity in the Borough CTUCWPCGP suggested to Councillors that the proposed Cultural Quarter appears to be just a re-packaging of an approach based on tinkering with the existing business not community model of planning driven by property developers not the needs of Croydonians.  The Working Party fully supports the need for investment in Fairfield Halls to ensure it is repaired and modernised. It is more than just investment in the building’s structure that is needed. It is also needs to develop programmes which attract bigger audiences at affordable prices especially among those Croydonians experiencing inequalities and social deprivation, and create a venue that people wish to visit, meet friends and family and socialise in.

·         Pedestrian Access

CTUCWPCGP indicated that it is not clear how there will be improved safe pedestrian access between Fairfield Halls and Queens Gardens across the main road so that people will want to go into the section of the Cultural Quarter on the western side. Further thought will be needed to how to make the route past the Clocktower round into Surrey St and into Exchange Square more attractive, and ways to ensure that the empty units are let to make the Square an attractive place to want to visit.
There do not appear to be any proposals for what to do to either improve or replace the underground and multi-storey car parks on the Fairfield/College Green side of the main road.

·         Lack of Consultation

Apart from the company in charge of Fairfield Halls, Fairfield Croydon Ltd, the Cultural Quarter Cabinet paper does not state which are the key cultural stakeholders already consulted.

Para 7.3 of the report states that the ‘Cultural Quarter is part of a wider conversation with residents and cultural groups’ and refers to the 8 July culture seminar. While some of the proposed improvements in the Halls were explained, no mention was made of the idea of developing the Cultural Quarter so those attending could express their views on it. Further the credibility of this seminar and proposed future ones declined as every week passed without the completion of the full report on it – finally circulated with a letter dated 29 September signed by the Cabinet member for Couture, Timothy Godfrey.

The Working Party recommended that the officers inform the Cabinet at the meeting which key cultural stakeholders had been consulted so far on the vision of the Cultural Quarter; of the date that the full report of the 8 July culture seminar would be published, emailed to participants, and put on the website, and of the dates for the proposed engagement of communities on the development of the project. These suggestions were completely ignored.

Elizabeth Ash submitted the following question to the 6 October Council meeting: ‘Which key cultural stakeholders were consulted on the vision of the Cultural Quarter, and what are the dates for the proposed engagement of communities on the development of the Cultural Quarter project?’ Godfrey replied ‘The vision for the “Cultural Quarter” has been discussed with key cultural stakeholders at a high level, at our ‘Ambitious for Culture’ seminar on 8 July.’ The notes of the seminar submitted as an Appendix to The Cultural Landscape of Croydon report to  the Scrutiny Committee for its meeting on 11 November does not mention the idea of a Quarter. (See previous blog)

Josi Kiss submitted the following question: ‘Why was the idea of the Cultural Quarter not consulted on through organising a second seminar prior to the submission of the paper to the Cabinet meeting on 15 September, and why does it not include Park Hill Park?’ Godfrey replied:  ‘The concept of the Cultural Quarter is at an early stage in development and further consultation will take place as part of its development and the borough’s Growth Plan, with consultation and engagement being undertaken to ensure the area is meeting the needs of communities in Croydon. As soon as dates are in place for any engagement they will be announced by the Council. We have and will continue to work with users and groups around Park Hill on their aspirations for Park Hill Park and we are looking at ways to improve not only this park but parks around the borough. …. I am very encouraged by the ideas that the friends group has for the development and support of the park, and I am sure that we will be able to work together to make many of the improvements that have so far been suggested.’ His lack of explanation as to why Park Hill Park is not included in the Quarter should be noted.  His answer to a Councillor question on the Park helps to build up an eye of his thinking on it.

·         Equalities Impact

Welcoming the proposed full Equalities Impact Assessment (EqIA) of the Cultural Quarter initiative, CTUCWPCGP recommended that given the complexity of needs and aspirations of such a diverse Borough as Croydon that the draft EqIA be made available for public consultation especially with those involved in providing and developing cultural activities and those organisations whose services are targeted at meeting the needs of different diverse communities. While not mentioned at the Cabinet meeting the importance of the issue does seem to be reflected in The Cultural Landscape of Croydon report submitted to the Scrutiny Committee meeting being held on 11 November.

·         Options

CTUCWPCGP welcomed the inclusion of the section in the Cultural Quarter paper about options that had been considered and rejected.

Option 1. ‘Cease the Fairfield Halls project and the College Green development and continue maintenance regime for the Halls to keep business going – This was rejected as it would lead to business closing through the high number of failures within the building and no refurbishment of modernisation to enable the business to continue.’ CTUCWPCGP considered that this has wide spread support following the initiative of the South Croydon Community Association to start a public debate about the future of the Halls which led to the establishment of the Croydon Arts Network.

Option 2. ‘Standalone Fairfield Halls and College Green developmentsThe approach outlined in the November 2013 cabinet report to progress the modernised Fairfield Halls and the College Green development separately. This has been rejected to enable the Fairfield Halls to be better integrated into the College Green area and act as a focal point in a wider Cultural Quarter.’

CTUCWPCGP considered that this made sense in order to maximise the potential for the public use of the Green and enable Fairfield Halls to have an entrance directly onto it.

Option 3. ‘Include the Fairfield Halls project within the College Green development through the London Development Panel (LDP) – A second approach outlined in the November 2013 cabinet report to progress the Fairfield Halls project within the LDP tender for the College Green development. This has been rejected as the panel does not suit the new vision for the area as a Cultural Quarter.’ CTUCWPCGP would have preferred to have seen more detail about this and the reasons for the officers rejection of it.

Option 4 was the Cultural Quarter. CTUCWPCGP  expressed concern that options were rejected at officer stage rather than being presented in full to Councillors to make the decisions.

·         SEGAS House

At the time of the Cabinet meeting on 15 September the Council was locked into having to buy SEGAS House for the proposed Oasis Academy School. This has now been abandoned. Those who have been arguing for the building to be purchased and turned into a Museum and Cultural Centre see this as an important extra part of improving the cultural mix in the Quarter. So far the Council has been quiet about its view on the matter, but the Scrutiny Committee has the opportunity to raise this with Cllr Godfrey on 11 November.

·         Exchange Square

At the moment Matthews Yard is isolated down a steep slope into Exchange Square that act as a deterrent to some people because of age and mobility problems. The Yard is caught in a Catch 22 dilemma. Its service of food and drink is slow, but it is difficult to speed this up without either improved kitchen equipment and or staff, the money which can only be generated by extra customers who come because there are other attractions in the Square. The shop units in the buildings around Exchange Square are empty and boarded up. Perhaps it is possible that the Cultural Quarter idea may help to stimulate their letting.

·         Signage and Trail

An important first step towards beginning to publicise the Cultural Quarter will be street publicity, including:
·         Cultural Quarter signs to each venue and space.
·         A heritage trail map and phone app.
·         The identification of more plaques.
·          Information boards, inc. on bus stops about the Quarter.
Could these be funded out of Section 106/Community Infrastructure Levy monies allocated to culture?

·         Continuing Debate

Creative dialogue must be a continuing part of the process. It would make sense for Godfrey to convene a Culture Seminar on a quarterly basis, and invite Friends of Parks and the local history/heritage groups to take part as well. The dialogue among activists needs to continue without waiting on what the Council may or may not do.

Dialogue Opportunities

Croydon Arts Network: Thursday 13 November. 7pm. Matthews Yard, off Surrey St. Share your ideas with John Bownas, the Council’s newly appointed Festival Officer, about Council plans for music and arts. 

Croydon TUC Croydon Assembly: Saturday 15 November, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd;  includes workshop on cultural concerns. See http://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/promoting-croydon-assembly-15-november

Councillor Questions at 6 October Council meeting

The Cultural Quarter paper to 15 September Cabinet can be accessed at

For more on proposed Council Festival see:
Find out more about John Bownas at:

Can the Council Contribute to Improving Croydon's Cultural Landscape?

Culture encompasses:

‘…the performing and visual arts, craft, fashion, media, television 
and video, museums, artefacts, archives, design, libraries, 
literature, writing and publishing, the built heritage, architecture, 
landscape, archaeology, tourism, festivals, attractions, 
and informal leisure pursuits.’ 
(Department of Culture, Media and Sport. 2000)

At first sight the report The Cultural Landscape of Croydon by Jane Doyle, Director of Community and Support Services, that will be considered by the Scrutiny and Strategic Oversight Committee on Tuesday 11 November, looks very welcome with its use of the above definition. 

However a careful reading suggests that the way forward by the administration and the officers is a top down bureaucratic strategy which ignores the grass roots activists.

Inadequate Reflection of Grass-roots Activity

A short para. discusses the cultural landscape in Croydon. Note that it does not include the developments of the last three years such as the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival, the area festivals like the one in Purley, the Save the David Lean Campaign, the activities of the local history groups, the Croydon Heritage Festival and Fun Palace. But the most significant omission is that of the grass-roots Croydon Arts Network that developed out of the review of the management of the Fairfield Halls initiated by South Croydon Community Association, and its involvement in initiating the Just Croydon website for organisations and events.


Doyle’s distillation of the key themes that emerged at the Culture seminar on 8 July into five draft overarching objectives seems to be spot-on.

·         To increase participation in, and attendance at, venues, events and cultural activities

·    The provision of services that reflect the multi- cultural nature of Croydon and promote  racial equality and harmony
     To have a value for money, sustainable, borough-wide, community led approach h to the delivery of cultural activities
     To recognise and maximise the contribution that arts and cultural activity makes to the health and well-being, education, cohesion and economic regeneration of Croydon
     To raise awareness of the broad image of arts and cultural activities on offer in Croydon already.

     The discussion of the need to understand the barriers to cultural participation is very welcome: economic, social, geographic, communication, perception, aspirations, and safety and convenience.

     The next stage of wider community consultation is seeking the views of targeted and under-represented groups and includes a survey which can be completed on the web up to 31 December: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ambitiousforculture

     Key questions are:

·         Is the Council doing enough to ensure that culture is important across the Borough?
·         What are people’s three top priorities for culture in Croydon?
·         How do we make sure that culture in Croydon reaches as wide an audience as 
          possible - including those that do not traditionally participate in or attend events?
·         The Council is designating an area of central Croydon as its 'Cultural Quarter'. What
          activities should be happening there to best meet the needs of you, your family and
          your community? 
·         If you never attend a cultural activity in Croydon please tell us why not.

     The consultation work will be undertaken in three strands: youth, protected/marginalised groups, wider community (inc. older people and ethnic minorities). It gives examples of the organisations and activities through which views will be sought. Missing from young people is mention of schools and Croydon College, and in relation to wider community audiences events run by cultural organisations involved in the Croydon Arts Network.
     Minimum Public Subsidy

     The paper recognises the problem well understood by grass roots cultural activists that there is going to be minimum public sector subsidy. The new Labour administration has inherited from the Tories the idea in the Croydon Challenge of ‘bringing together a broad range of cultural services that face similar financial challenges together in a new delivery vehicle’, drawing on financial resources from the redevelopments and investment that are underway in Croydon.

     Criteria for Model
     The following criteria ‘have been identified as being critical for any future model in Croydon’:

·         Identity and independence to grow and innovate
·         Capacity and resources to deliver the Cultural Strategy
·         Enables local participation
·         Minimise council financial risk ongoing
·         Maximises tax efficiency and income generation
·         Reputational benefits and enables partnership working.

     The ‘early thinking’ is to set up a charitable Trust with company limited by guarantee status to be the delivery vehicle. The plan is to report to Cabinet in December on the concept of a Trust and ‘the principles that could underpin such a development.’

     The paper includes appendices on an officer briefing on Arts Council England’s funding in Croydon written in October 2013, Lottery funding. These show how poorly Croydon cultural groups have done.

     Bureaucratic Approach

     The obsession with key outcomes and possible success measures as set out in another appendix, plus the Trust idea seem to be an incredibly bureaucratic way of moving forward. There will be many cultural activists who will see this as potentially stifling, and will reinforce their view that they need their own umbrella group (Croydon Arts Network) and strategy in order to engage in discussions with the Council from a position of strength. 

     Opinion seems to be divided as to the extent to which the new administration is listening on culture.

     The Cultural Quarter, which is not mentioned in Doyle's report, was unveiled at the Cabinet meeting without public discussion or pre-Scrutiny review. The claim at the 6 October Council meeting by the Cabinet member for Culture that the vision of the Cultural Quarter was discussed at the seminar on 8 July is not supported by wording in the report of it  included as an Appendix to Doyle’s report.

     The announcement that there will be a weekend Croydon Arts Festival in the summer was made without consultation, picking up suggestions at the 8 July seminar, but not the reservations many hold because of the way local Festivals and the Heritage Festival have developed. 

     While the definition of ‘culture’ includes museums, artefacts, archives, the built heritage, architecture, landscape and archaeology, the report does not reflect the admission by the planners that over the years the heritage of the built environment has been damaged, and does not address the heritage aspect of culture. 

      The brief for the Cabinet member for Culture does not include an explicit brief on ‘heritage’.
      Questions for the Scrutiny Committee

     The Scrutiny Committee can obviously question Jane Doyle on her report, but political issues can only dealt through questions to Timothy Godfrey. There is no paper by him dealing with them. So what questions could be asked of him?

·         Should his post’s terms of reference specifically include a brief for ‘heritage’?

·         How does he envisage the need to develop a strategy to make good the damage to          the built environment the administration  has inherited which the planners admitted 
          in their Sustainability consultation?
          When will he propose a Cabinet resolution that there will no more sales of items from      the Riesco Collection and that the former idea of a Trust for the Collection be re-            examined.

·         Will he cite which sections of the notes at the 8 July seminar indicate discussion 
          of the Vision for the Cultural Quarter?
          When will he seek to set up a forum with the Friends of the Parks and Open Spaces?

·         How does he plan to involve the history and heritage organisations in the
          development of the heritage aspects of cultural activities?

·         Will he set in motion the return of Local Archives to its original premises in the
           Library so that all the material that was publicly accessible becomes so again, and 
           to turn the ground floor room used by Local Archives into a gallery for the whole of 
           the Council’s art collection?
           Does he support the idea of trying to acquire SEGAS House for a Museum and                     Cultural  Centre?         
           How does he propose to end the conflicts of interest he and other Councillors have
           through their membership of the Fairfield Halls Board of Trustees?
           When will he propose a Cabinet resolution to rescind the Tory decision to take
           control of the Board of Fairfield Halls?

          For aspects of the background see: