From third city to third place via critical mass

By - Wednesday 13th March, 2013

On Saturday 9th March, Croydon’s creatives descended upon Matthews Yard to discuss their plans for Croydon. Wes Baker was on hand to report and consider their chances of success

I sat down to be informed about the creative future of my hometown and came away with the question: how do we reach critical mass in relation to a creative community? The talk covered the reasons we need creativity at the very centre of our town to have a truly sustainable regeneration. The point James Naylor picked up on was our lack of a critical mass of creatives, and until we have it we are unlikely to see that sustainable regeneration happen.

Everyone knows the Croydon with the back offices, or the retail hub of south London. Neither of these as they stand today is close to being ‘a third place’. By ‘third place’ I mean a place of fun – it’s sad but true; I had to nod as I heard these words and this was the nice way of putting it. The idea is the first place is home, second is work, and third place is that place you want to keep going to and stay there as long as possible because it excites you.  The sad reality is that the grim view of our town to many is as a cultural and creative wasteland.

The importance of a creative Croydon means we have a community who, unlike our back office workers and half empty retail districts, stay. They stay and they produce; they produce items you can only buy in Croydon, they genuinely care about Croydon, and because they have an invested interest in their local and passion they fight for it, and they take us from third city to third place. I often choose to cycle 11 miles to Shoreditch, Canary Wharf, Stratford, you name it, when I could get to our town centre in ten minutes because I see the same community we should have here and it’s colourful, always fresh, and all these positive things. I’m not saying we need to be a clone of Shoreditch, but we are big enough to change and small enough to affect it.

You may love or hate Westfield and I admit I love it whilst realising its not going to solve everything. I even understand why people don’t like big malls but James said it well when he likened the Westfield to being an adrenaline shot to Croydon. We get back on the map, so please see this as a chance to ride that adrenaline shot and use it to show those that come to visit that we have a great many important historical buildings, London’s original international airport, culture, characters and independent venues, and can offer more.

Still the question of how do we get to critical mass lingers. I admit I don’t have all the answers, I’m just a passionate Croydonian born in Lambeth who has never faltered in seeing the potential. Personally I approached critical mass by starting a Facebook page called Croydon in 2008 to photograph the icons, greens spaces, and redevelopment, and to focus on the positive side of the town. Little did I know that there was any sort of creative community, and month by month others started following to my surprise. I actually met James through this page, and in turn I discovered Matthews Yard and then the Croydon Tech City movement.  I have a degree in transport design but to me being creative isn’t about making art or being a celebrated starchitect in an elitist group. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniacki, Bill Gates: they all started out alone with ideas. We are all creatives and we just need to realise that we have the power to change our community. If you have an idea, or know someone who does, please, encourage them to attend events like Croydon Tech City or a meetup, or start one.

Community makes people feel empowered. Being part of the Croydon Tech City movement and having met other creatives through it has empowered me to utilise the skills and ideas I have with other local people to start a business here. Without Mr Rolls meeting Mr Royce there would be no RR.  I know I am a dreamer and that we can’t turn Croydon into the creative hub of south London overnight, but we all know Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Don’t let that struggling artist, Brit student, coder, or singer go to the bright lights of the city centre and leave us barren: encourage them to stay and help us all to be a third place.  I don’t have all the answers, but I welcome your opinions and ideas about how to grow and strengthen our creative community so we can arrive at critical mass and go forward from there.



Street photographer, 1st of the Frohicans and Croydon's No.1 fan according to my parents. I graduated in Transport Design at Coventry University summer 2012 and made my way back to the town I love to continue working on my Croydon facebook page. I eventually met some of the other local creatives with the same enthusiasm and soon knew it was my mission to engage with and hopefully help to get the word out about the creative potential and future of Croydon.

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  • Jonny Rose


    As someone who is definitely not a ‘creative’ but appreciates the transformative effect that a critical mass of creatives can affect – I am incredibly proud of what you’re doing in this space.

    Your work documenting Croydon’s changes on FB through particularly through dystopic and vibrant photos has given me a new eye for the area, which I’ve yet to find in other local photographers.

    Thanks, too, for making Croydon Tech City a space where creatives – design students, photographers, painters, videographers and musicians – will feel welcome and like they have a part to play.

    As I wrote in my ‘RIP Croydon’ piece – the potential for Croydon’s artisans to push forward the borough’s identity is unlimited. Keep up the good work!

    • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

      Thanks buddy, I refuse to put a white flag up and believe we are on a sinking ship. Its like Peter pan if you believe in something it can breathe life into it. I know theres a lot more than wanting to get this town great again but I’m sure its a start lol.

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    Thanks Jonny that really means a lot to me. Hopefully a shiny new phone next month and a repaired bicycle will bring a lot more content. I have a few new ideas for taking the page in a slightly different direction as I think we haven’t necessarily had much photography being posted which is what I think captured people in the way. The success of another Croydon page has me thinking and striving to make the page even better.

    I have to say even I probably didn’t realise how open tech city was to non coders till I met you. Your just so warm, open, funny and down to earth and don’t make it too serious and I want to make it my mission to be like a tech city mormon brother never stopping till everyone sees the light and worships at the alter of Croydon. Those that don’t will walk an eternity in Coventry but joking aside lol yh its great how tech city is so much for the whole town and we can own this town, add spice, culture, colour and not behind doors but right there for the world to see.

    • Bushra Ahmed

      I started reading your article and it is almost word for word how I feel about Croydon, albeit from the West Croydon side!
      I also feel we can achieve great things here and make Croydon a place people want to come, shop, relax, but most importantly be creative..
      As someone whose lived here all my life, also born in Lambeth btw, I find the transformation in Brixton fascinating and achievable here if we think big.
      I’m also not on Facebook like Kake, so is there any other way to share:-)

      • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

        I live in the north as well, Thornton heath and like you I was also born in Lambeth. I guess Twitter, email and face to face really or any other social media I’m unaware of. I think we that feel positively about Croydon need to self appoint ourselves as ambassadors for the town and just tell all about the great things that are happening here.

        Some people living here are very scared of Westfield but I like the expression on the faces of non locals. Its like really I must visit then. I guess if we can add our restaurant quarter and Matthews yard to the list we can show people how great it already is and how its going to get better.

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Hi Wes. I enjoyed your article and admire your passion for Croydon. What has Shoreditch,Canary Wharf and Stratford got going on that we could replicate? I remember these places as pretty run down so what have they done to make someone such as yourself cycle 11 miles for their offer? Keep up the writing!

    • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

      For me its interesting cause you go down side streets and see murals on the sides of buildings, there’s one near the overground station of Usain Bolt. Matthews Yard is a gd example of what Shoreditch has a lot of as well. 1st time I went into M.Y. I thought wow this is like stepping through a portal to somewhere cool in East ldn. I’ve attached a pic I took a while ago of Box park the shipping container mall. Ruskin sq is several times bigger than that site and in a similar sort of location.

      I didn’t catch the name of the two ladies at the talk but they had a temporary event on the college green which was the sort of thing that happens over there.The mural under Jubilee bridge is great and I hope we see so much more of this. I went to a bar with a wigwam tent on the roof and wood chip on the floor. The way you walked out of a building into this festival like setting ten out of that onto a roof was like going to Narnia via the wardrobe lol.

      • Andrew Dickinson

        Do you think the architecture/buildings make a difference, more nooks and crannys and interesting spaces – kind of leads to a more funky approach to things?

        • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

          That helps but take for example surrey street that isn’t that dissimilar to some of the streets in the area. Are you on Facebook as I have pics I can show you of what I mean. Your right the general architecture is different. I imagine Croydon might have looked more similar before we had all the office architecture, street widening and pulling down of high density housing in the town centre.

  • Kake

    Nice piece, thanks! Could you add a link to your Croydon Facebook page? I don’t have a Facebook account (so I can’t search for it) but I’d love to have a look at your page.

    Have you seen the Croydon and Croydon Photoblitz groups on Flickr?

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    Hi Kake I think we have chatted before on another page I have. Thanks for the links as well, here’s the link for my Croydon page

    • Kake

      Thanks for the link — we seem to have taken quite a few similar photos!

      Not sure where we’ve chatted before — I’m not on Facebook — but do let me know if you remember.