I’m on the side of change

By - Tuesday 10th January, 2017

Lauren Furey sees much to be optimistic about this year, but says that we need to keep local voices from being drowned out

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that an entire year can become a farce. You’ve no doubt seen the countless memes reminding us what a roller-coaster the last twelve months have been:

Me: 2016 is gonna be my year!
Narrator: 2016 would, in fact, not be anyone’s year.

The crisis in Aleppo, the continued and unpredictable spate of terrorist attacks, the US election, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, natural disasters and the broadcasters, actors and musicians who were lost well before their time. 2016 has definitely not been without its drama.

It’s also been a year of change. Not just on a global scale but on a local one too.

Croydon has seen a wave of change in the last 12 months. Fairfield Halls has closed its iconic doors for refurbishment, Westfield & Hammerson has (finally) committed to construction of their new shopping mall on the site where the Whitgift Centre stands and, of course, there was the tragic tram crash in November which completely shook our community.

It’s too easy to sneer at new developments, particularly if you’re unable to accept change

But that community is entirely what Croydon is built on. In the face of trial and adversity, Croydon has always triumphed and it always will. The spirit of Croydon is far too determined and headstrong to be defined by a shiny new shopping mall, a rebuilt performance centre or a restaurant hub built from shipping containers. We don’t forget our roots that easily. Sure, people are starting to come into town from all over London, and further afield, to sample what Croydon has to offer. But doesn’t that just heighten our reputation in a positive way? At long last? I think it does.

It’s too easy to sneer at new developments like the proposed ‘cultural quarter’ and Boxpark; labelling them as hipster communes designed for the middle classes. That’s too obvious a jibe and it seems to predominantly come from locals that are unwilling, or unable, to accept change. One thing I’m certain of is that Croydon should absolutely embrace change. No, it won’t be to everybody’s liking and there will be things that work and certainly things that don’t, but there will also be many opportunities to come.

For example, the ‘cultural quarter’ is due to emerge around the Fairfield site across the next two years time and, with that, comes the possibility that the Fairfield Halls’ new look will be that of a varied and expansive performance centre. In its heyday, Fairfield Halls was the venue to catch a selection of top bands, crooners and comedians. Everybody knows the famous Morecambe & Wise live special, right? It was filmed at the Fairfield Halls. Those classic tracks that you lovingly blare from your speakers from time to time – The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder… all of them performed at the Fairfield Halls.

The prospect of Croydon gaining a brand new concert hall is huge

Now think back to a more recent time and try to sum up what Fairfield came to be. A shadow of its former self. That’s not to say it was without great performances. You could still catch top comedians piloting their stand up material before their DVD specials. Panto was also still a huge part of Fairfield’s make up, as a staple of quirky British tradition. Jools Holland would even occasionally pop up on the billing for a big band spectacular. Fairfield was still respected, in its own way, but there was always room for improvement.

The proposal for a phased refurbishment would have been an ideal situation, not only for Croydon residents, but the staff who worked there. The good people of Croydon were very vocal and passionate about saving Fairfield too. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and there’s little that any of us can do about that now. So, instead of living in the past and focusing on the negatives, lets look to the future and the possibilities that lie ahead.

The prospect of Croydon gaining a brand new concert hall is huge! As the rest of Croydon continues to grow and thrive, the potential for big name artists and performers to return to the borough is certainly there. I know that I’d be ecstatic to catch a great band or comedian in my own hometown. Let’s wait and see what happens and try not to expect the worst.

The community spirit that keeps Croydon so grounded is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down

There was a big dose of unhealthy press about Boxpark coming to Croydon too but, since it opened its doors, the response has been positive. No, it won’t cater to everybody, but that’s just life. The Godfather is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film of all time and I know people that completely disagree. It will always be the way. You just can’t please everybody. And neither can Croydon.

St George’s Walk has been given a tidy makeover to remind residents of Croydon’s musical heritage – go and check out the fantastic prints that now decorate the college-facing entrance. The street art movement in Croydon has also gained massive traction, not just in local press, but national too. RISE Gallery is still a creative focal point in town, as is the much loved and respected Matthews Yard; and TURF are still running creative workshops and interactive family fun days! Croydon Tech City is also booming and making big waves with their pioneering work in the borough. In the summertime, Croydon Creative bring us the hugely successful Lost Format Society rooftop cinema, and then there’s unexpected gems like Croydon’s saffron farm and bee haven. The community spirit that keeps Croydon so grounded is still very much active and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.

These new developments are also doing something else that Croydon relies on – creating jobs. It’s too easy to see only the big picture and make broad assumptions but, at its heart, there’s a lot to be gained from these changes.

I still think that the issue surrounding Croydon’s nightlife has been dangerously overlooked

I’m on the side of change because I think that if you refuse to accept it, then you’re living in the past. That won’t do any of us any good. That’s not to say that I necessarily agree with everything that’s going on throughout Croydon. Absolutely not. I even feel conflicted about certain things that have come to fruition.

For example, I still think that the issue surrounding Croydon’s nightlife has been dangerously overlooked. Replacing a nightclub with a restaurant is becoming all too familiar in this town. Many of the vacant spaces still lining the streets of Croydon town centre are former bars and nightclubs. This is something which doesn’t appear to have been addressed. If a town is to truly grow in its appeal, then it can’t give up on that after 9pm. ‘Croydon after dark’ needs to be on the agenda.

The council has been relatively forthcoming in their allocation of funding in Croydon, this past year, but this has caused some controversy and it’s really not difficult to see why. I believe that the council should look to direct themselves financially in favour of homegrown businesses, if they want to see them thrive and survive in a constantly evolving neighbourhood. The worst thing that Croydon can do is lose touch with the very projects that are making it such an interesting place to be right now. Businesses come and go but we’re fortunate to have people from Croydon making big strides for Croydon.

We, the people of Croydon, will always stand up for what is good and honest

So, looking ahead to 2017, what can we expect? Really, who knows?! There’s been a few commitments and few inconsistencies in Croydon, as of late, so 2017 will no doubt be another year of unpredictable change. But we shouldn’t be frightened of it, and we shouldn’t be angry that Croydon is moving forward. We should move forward with it. By no means should we placidly accept something if it goes against Croydon’s community values, or threatens our homegrown projects, but we should trust that things have a way of working themselves out and know that we, the people of Croydon, will always stand up for what is good and honest.

It’s fair to look back over 2016 and say that it has been a year of ups and downs for Croydon, but that’s not to say that there still isn’t plenty to look forward to.

Lauren Furey

Lauren Furey

I was born in Croydon in 1988 and I've spent my life here, building friendships and experiences that have shaped me as a person. As a Croydon native, I have a big passion for local events, arts, history and culture... and the dearly departed Mexway. I now work as a freelance writer.

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  • Patrick Blewer

    Great piece, love your writing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it (more on this story later) but love your passion for Croydon.

    I really do agree with the nightlife piece. Whilst I don’t do clubbing anymore as was never really my thing, I wonder what happened to the thousands of customers that used to be in the blue schoolkid with me and my mates in the last years of 20th Century.

    I’m a big fan of Hideaway in Streatham – music venue with late licence and they’ve really made it work. It’s basically soul / blues / jazz / funk, with another room that does comedy. Good booze and food and room to dance. Why can’t croydon have that?

    • Lauren Furey

      Thank you, Patrick.

      That’s ok, we don’t need to agree on everything :)

      I couldn’t agree more. A versatile, late night, events space in Croydon would be an amazing addition to this town. Something like Peckham’s Bussey Building or the old Crucifix Lane venue in London Bridge’s arches.

  • BTejon

    I like music in bars and dancing, but not too loud as I’m old. That said I was in Turnmills every saturday in the 1990s…

    a pub/bar/grill with a stage for live music space for small dancefloor, and the odd DJ night with varying genres of music would be nice.

  • Michael Swadling

    Lauren I’m not sure it’s fair to say people ‘sneer at new developments’, and are ‘unable to accept change’. Maybe they simply don’t agree with the change. I agree central Croydon’s nightlife could do with reviving but South Croydon and many of the unsubsidised district centres are going great. We don’t need an expansive performance centre (and one to rival the Southbank as was suggested at one point) costing £30million in the Fairfield, we simply need a centre to service the town. I suspect many people’s concerns are rightly when the councils budget is being reduced, why not go for a centre that doesn’t cost the earth. Boxpark is great but again people have a right to complain when they pay for it. Boxpark in part was funded by a £3million loan from the council taxpayers. If the Boxpark was providing a service open to all it might be reasonable to make a case for public subsidy but it targeted at a very narrow and well off portion of the town. I suspect it many cases the sneering is not people fearing change, instead its people not embracing a change that takes money from their pockets for facilities priced out of their reach.