Creative Croydon: a nesting ground for Oscar winners and African champions

By - Monday 11th March, 2013

Famous Croydonians are everywhere – and to succeed,  the town needs to produce more

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Selhurst, you would not expect the area surrounding the station to be home to two distinct breeding grounds for global superstars. The month of February 2013 was richly rewarding for this pocket of Croydon, and points to the fact we should celebrate these excellent academies more, and use them as inspiration for the rest of the borough.

I am, of course, talking about the BRIT school and the excellent academy at Crystal Palace Football Club. On the 24th February, BRIT school graduate Adele scooped her first Oscar for the theme song to the Bond film ‘Skyfall’, having already been rewarded with Grammy and BRIT awards. A fortnight earlier, former Crystal Palace footballer, Stanley Technical and Whitgift School graduate Victor Moses won the African Cup of Nations with Nigeria, being named in Team of the Tournament and given an individual player award in addition to this. These two star names are only scratching the surface of the talent to come out of both of these academies.

Having moved to Croydon from Africa, Moses and Zaha progressed through hard work and no lack of skill to the world stage

In many ways, Crystal Palace FC symbolises what Croydon should strive to be. They may not be the most fashionable name in football, and may not have a museum full of shimmering trophies, but they are very good at what they do – bringing through young talent. CPFC represents not only Croydon, but a large area of South London, Surrey, and Kent, and is a focal point for young footballing talent in this area. Croydon should be no less ambitious; the town has the catchment area to be the best place outside of Central London to attract young talent in all industries. Whilst most Palace fans (I confess, myself included) would love to be European champions, realistically we will settle for entertainment, provided by stars of the local community. Alongside Moses, current player and Selsdon High school graduate Wilfried Zaha will complete a £15 million move to Manchester United in the summer, having already represented England at senior level; other former Palace youth players include TV pundit Gareth Southgate and England manager Roy Hodgson, amongst others. Palace and Croydon can be particularly proud of Moses and Zaha though; both having moved to Croydon from Africa (Zaha was born in the Ivory Coast) and progressed through hard work and no lack of skill to the world stage.

Croydon should be no less proud of the BRIT school, and indeed feel themselves fortunate to have such an establishment within the borough. There is a long list of graduates who have gone on to fame and fortune, amongst them Adele, the late Amy Winehouse, and Jessie J; Oscars, Grammys, and BRIT awards abound. Once again, scratch the surface and there is an array of talent making a great contribution to culture besides the star names.

Attracting the ‘Creative Class’ is a chicken and egg scenario

It seems however that Croydon does not make enough of this great positivity; most of the press you will hear about Croydon’s youth reports on more negative news. How can we take advantage of this great potential for Croydon becoming a hotbed of the ‘Creative Class’? Whilst Croydon can be proud of its BRIT school graduates, the fact of the matter is that many of the star names never lived in or enjoyed what Croydon has to offer; this needs to be addressed, particularly if Croydon hopes to attract the young, wealthy professionals, or fashionable cultural contributors its developments such as Altitude 25 and St George’s House are aimed towards. Much is made of the regeneration of Croydon from a top down perspective, but it is people who will make a real impact on the town.

Richard Florida, proponent of the ‘Creative Class’ theory surmises the three T’s which every town should have in order to regenerate themselves into a Creative society; Talent, Tolerance, and Technology. I’ve touched upon just a fraction of the Talent Croydon has, and as mentioned I believe this exists in copious amounts across all skillsets; this very website has a section devoted to Croydon’s potential as a Tech City; Tolerance is harder to measure and often the most criticised part of Florida’s theory, but is perhaps something Croydon needs to address.

Admittedly, attracting the ‘Creative Class’ is a chicken and egg scenario; Croydon needs the wealth of young professionals to help provide these recommendations, but won’t attract them if there is nothing in the town for them. So more positivity about what we have is needed. Websites such as Croydon BID and the Croydon Chamber, amongst others, make a positive difference to perceptions of the town, and it is important Croydon residents get behind these. If Croydon can house the top young footballers and singers globally, the opportunities are endless.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    Nice one Tom.Croydon always has had a lot of positives it’s just that we tend to ignore them.If you look (hard enough) there is usually a corner of Croydon that has positives about it that we don’t realise.The Croydon Tech City has brought to my attention dotmailer and was it Cinix here in the borough as a few examples if you look hard enough.

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    I agree with both of you. I often wonder why some people in this town seem to almost delight in taking the easy route in putting it down much to their own detriment. I feel like theres a community growing who are going to do some great things with our combined enthusiasm that will make Croydon a more exciting destination for locals and outsiders.