A Bridge Too Far

By - Monday 13th January, 2014

Can the name of a bridge strengthen ties with our twin town? Andrew Dickinson explores

Image taken by Bob Walker and used under Creative Commons license.

The new pedestrian bridge at East Croydon opens in the same month that news comes of the council proposing to cut funding for activities linked with our twin town Arnhem, in the Netherlands; all to save just £10,000. We have been linked since 1946 but we are to suffer  another cultural blow to save a few pieces of silver.

It has been stated that the fund is under-used and that recently only £2,000 had been applied for from it. Well, how about publicising it a bit better or creating ‘Arnhem Awards’ or ‘Arnhem Grants’ to give to worthwhile causes in the borough? It is our money after all.

There was probably enough in loose change found rattling around Taberner House under vending machines, desks and cupboards when clearing the place that could meet that sum of £10,000 for another year.

Every resident knows why Croydon is linked with Arnhem, as every Croydon school child is taught very early on in their civic educational journey why this is so. But, just in case you missed those lessons, let me briefly remind you.

Both Croydon and Arnhem suffered extensive bombing in World War II. In 1946, a meeting between two Dutchmen and members of the council occurred and decided to start an informal friendship and form cultural and commercial links between the two towns. Over the years many organisations have established links with their counterpart. Eventually, in 1985, both towns agreed to formalise the arrangement. Every year there are events between the twins, including student exchange visits. For the last six years police officers cycling to Arnhem to lay commemorative wreaths every September.

To perpetuate the link we have the Arnhem Gallery at the Fairfield Halls. With this lack of financial commitment I wonder whether they will continue to call it this once the centre is refurbished? Personally, I see it is an early indication that this might happen and the gallery re-branded the ‘Cut-Price Riesco Gallery’ or the succinct ‘gallery formerly known as the Arnhem Gallery’ (GFKAtAG).

Plaque inside Arnhem Gallery, Fairfield Halls

I seem to remember ‘Welcome to Croydon’ road signs with the words ‘twinned with Arnhem’. Perhaps these might re-appear with ‘twinned with Westfields Stratford’?

Arnhem can trump Croydon comfortably on many levels when comparing scars of the horror of WWII. As well as the bombing suffered, the town is known for the fighting of Operation Market Garden. This was an Allied plan, conceived by General Bernard Montgomery, to use airborne troops to capture eight bridges that spanned the various waterways of the Dutch/German border. This would allow Allied armoured divisions to power in to Germany to possibly shorten the war by six months. The backdrop to this was that the D-Day invasion forces were encountering heavy German resistance around Normandy and their progress of breaking out and thrusting on was being slowed. The capture and holding of the Arnhem road bridge was crucial and the airborne forces held the southern end for four days preventing German armour from crossing before being overrun by superior numbers.

The irony for me is that as this funding for Arnhem activities is being considered for axing we are celebrating the opening of a different ‘crucial’ bridge; the £20 million pedestrian footbridge at East Croydon station. This new footbridge is linking east to west, to enable better exiting of the station and to herd workers and shoppers quickly to the retail centre (itself, soon to be regenerated) and main business areas.

The irony for me is that as this funding for Arnhem activities is being considered for axing we are celebrating the opening of a different ‘crucial’ bridge

So we are cutting funding for Arnhem activities, with all that weight of history; which rose to prominence in people’s minds because of this military operation, just as the council has celebrated the opening of a £20 million bridge and probably spent the best part of £10k on the opening event. What a good time to bury bad news!

I don’t think such brave, honourable men who survived or died at Arnhem and whose graves are visited each year by the Mayor of Croydon would have any time for bean-counters deciding on a mean, petty, seemingly unnecessary act of cost cutting.

Why not keep the budget for one more year and then blow it in a big event in which we invite the Arnhem principals over for a September ceremony in which we unveil the bridge at East Croydon station as the Arnhem Bridge? I don’t doubt for one minute that commemorative plans are already being put in to place for the September anniversary with Arnhem, but this would be a real and substantive statement about our relationship.

But wait. We already have an Arnhem Bridge don’t we? Just past the law courts the bridge over the railway track is already christened so. Opened in September 1994 for the 50th anniversary.

Therefore residents of Croydon, if we are to have an anniversary event to honour and to reinforce our ties with our twin town and to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the historic event, the bridge at East Croydon needs a name. The Arnhem bridge in the Netherlands was renamed the John Frost bridge in 1977 (after the British officer who commanded the troops) so perhaps we could use that and it becomes the ‘Frost bridge’.

What a nice touch this would be. However, Croydon doesn’t do nice touches anymore does it?

That would be A Bridge Too Far.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • Anne Giles

    Oh well – I do agree with what this Council are doing and shall certainly be voting for them this year. :-)

  • Ian Hobbs

    Sack the lot of em

  • Michelle Owens

    I’m embarrassed and aggrieved to hear of yet another cultural cut to Croydon. Do the Croydon council really think so little of their residents-they think we are all uneducated jobs hanging about street corners wearing hoodies. When Westfield comes to Croydon ( not nearly soon enough) people will want to do more than just shop, like maybe visit a museum. But now that the Reisco collection is all but gone, how will we manage that?! Are the council really so short-sighted that they cannot see that the more you offer visitors, the more they will spend time and money in the Borough. And people coming in to spend their money in Croydon is worth more to businesses in Croydon than all the councillors put together .

  • Taff

    Good article but the 2nd Para Battalion supported by 9 Para RE held the Northern part of the bridge for 4 days – they were cut off from XXX armoured Corp who were making the advance from the South and the rest of the 1st Airbourne Division who were cut off to the West who eventually pulled back across the Rhine after 9 days of fighting leaving almost British 8,000 casualties.