This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen 27/03/2018.
Moving forward: Croydon’s Cultural Vision 2018 reflects on Borough of Culture loss
A panel is setting its sights forward after Croydon lost the bid to become London’s first Borough of Culture in 2019.
The London Borough of Culture award was a new initiative launched by the Mayor Sadiq Khan in June 2017. The award offered more than £1m of funding to two winning boroughs, Waltham Forest for 2019 and Brent for 2020, to stage a programme of cultural events and initiatives.
At Croydon’s Cultural Vision 2018, an event aimed at exploring Croydon’s cultural vision and prompting discussion on how it will help to change perceptions of the borough, Neil Chandler, Venue Director at the Fairfield Halls, Paula Murray, Cultural Director at Croydon Council, Joseph Watson, London Creative Director for the National Trust, and Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, founder of Croydon’s RISEgallery provided their insights regarding the progress of Croydon’s cultural impact. The event was originally scheduled for two weeks earlier: 15th March, two days after the borough learned that it lost the bid, according to Murray.
“That’s one of the most important things for me: that we could have done it”
She said, “I think that I would have found it quite hard to talk to [this audience], and smile at the same time, on that Thursday. I was really, actually, bitterly disappointed. We were robbed”.
She added that the audience should remember that “it was a very good bid, and that Croydon could have delivered that year”.
A reputation change
Murray said that the one thing that a win would have given Croydon is a reputation change.
“It wasn’t even really about the funding at the end of the day. It was about the title”, she said, “and the credibility that that title would have conferred upon us”.
As part of the bid, Croydon highlighted youth, the importance of culture amid the change in the borough, the importance of supporting and developing the cultural sector, and the health and wellbeing of residents.
A cultural calendar
Murray said that Croydon is seeing more arts council money coming into the borough. She suggested the idea of a regular series of programmes and events that happen in Croydon at around the same time and in the same places. She dubbed this a ‘cultural calendar’.
Murray said that residents can already see a cultural calendar coming into fruition with some events such as the upcoming Festival of Peace. “So that people start to just absorb [the events] into their DNA, and they just become part of the place”, she said. “You really can’t underestimate the importance and the impact of that.”
The focus is still there
Matthew Sims, Chief Executive for the Croydon Business Improvement District (BID), said that Croydon has energy, passion, culture, and history attached to it regardless of the bid loss.
“With or without the money, Croydon will move forward. As [councillor] Tony Newman has mentioned before, we’ll be the alternative Borough of Culture”, he said. “Yes, we didn’t win the bid, but the focus is still there.” He added that the current interest in culture in the borough is huge, but the priority of culture should be inclusivity.
“It is about bringing together the community that we have in one of the largest residential boroughs in London, so that we can all work together”
“One of the key points for Croydon in the next five years as we go through regeneration and development is to look at and work with lots of the partners so that we can develop cultural strategy”, Sims said.
Sims said that what’s important in the future is that the business community recognises where Croydon is going.
Sims said that BID has invested money in culture in the past, but intends to do a lot more.
“We will focus on festivals, events, arts, culture, music, and we will work with partners to be able to deliver as much as we can within the budgets that we have set. In terms of the spend, you’re looking at a quarter of a million”, he said.
Strengths and challenges
Murray said that some of the cultural strengths in Croydon include the people and organisations which the borough has.
Murray added that one of the biggest weaknesses was lack of infrastructure.
Watson said that another strength was Croydon’s heritage and history, “You’ve got this kind of long history of ambitious people trying to create a place”, he said.
Zuchowski-Morrison said at the end of the day that it’s important for Croydon to be original.
“There’s a lot of people now who are saying, ‘Croydon could be the next Shoreditch’. Who wants that?”, he said.