Ruskin Square Croydon, public art and a Festival of Toil

By - Tuesday 9th February, 2016

Andrew Dickinson attended a dinner to discuss public art in Ruskin Square Croydon. It really wasn’t hard work

Festival of Toil dinner

Festival of Toil dinner.
Photo author’s own.

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it” (John Ruskin).

I was recently a guest at the Festival of Toil dinner at Amp House, East Croydon. The dinner was hosted by MUF architects who are the firm working in partnership with Stanhope Schroders, the developers of the Ruskin Square Croydon site adjacent to East Croydon station

The invitation stated that the dinner is part of a brief for the development of the public art for Ruskin Square and takes the form of a debate on a contemporary revisiting of John Ruskin’s principles with the collective expertise of artists, artisans and social entrepreneurs, local decision makers and thinkers, the developer and representatives from the design and construction team”. You may wonder which one of those I am but, as I was supplying Cr’Oyster mushrooms for thirty guests for one of the courses via my social enterprise, it’s self-explanatory.

My relationship with MUF goes back a few years; they are the firm that will build a mushroom farm and a bicycle recycling facility in Reeves Corner by the end of March as a Meanwhile Use project in partnership with the council and the GLA. But more about that in a future article.

Ruskin recalled Croydon as being a ‘paradise’ in his youth

The event was in a room in the Ruskin Square marketing suite; it looked down on the development and the land that will be home to Boxpark later this year. (You can read more about Boxpark: the big unveiling here). The first sight that greeted me were two tables laid out and dressed for guests. It turned out that the tables and the benches were made from the hoardings on the original site, so for an avid recycler like me, that was very impressive.

More guests arrived, including familiar faces such as Alice Cretney from Turf Projects, Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison from RISE Gallery, Alistair McKinlay of saffron farm fame and Evelyn Findlater of Good Food Matters. Alistair had been asked to supply saffron for the soup and Evelyn and her team had cooked the food at her New Addington centre.

I’d been cramming Ruskin the last few weeks and got in to a conversation with a gentleman named Simon, who took great interest in the fact I’d bothered to read up on him and wanted to know what I could recall. It turned out that Simon was hosting the debate and in his opening remarks quoted some of the information that I’d mentioned, including the fact that Ruskin recalled Croydon as being a ‘paradise’ in his youth. It’s not often that you hear that word used about Croydon!

On the table we had just one utensil to eat with, which was a hybrid spoon/fork called a ‘spork’. And it turned out that not only were the tables and chairs made from site materials, the utensils were created from aluminium reclaimed from the site. It had been smelted and cast in to the basic shape and then ground and buffed using a grinder and buffer/bike frame combo, which basically meant that the craftsman sat on the bike and pedalled, turning the grinder to smooth the utensil into a usable condition.Plus, the beakers we drank from were made from clay gathered from the site and fired in a clay pit which – looking down from the eleventh floor – could still be seen glowing in the darkness.

Festival of Toil dinner bicycle

Festival of Toil dinner bicycle.
Photo by Andrew Dickinson, used with permissio.

The debate about art, craft and public space went on between courses and much lively conversation to and fro-ed. The gentleman on my right, Bart, was from Antwerp, had flown in just to be a guest and was flying home again in the morning. I think he will be returning to Croydon quite soon though to see what is going on, as I was laying it on thick as to how much there is!

The food was also very good (compliments to chef Muhammed Abubakar and his assistant TJ for all the hard work that went in to it) and we dined on a wonderfully seasonal and local menu consisting of:

  • Ruskin Square clay-oven-baked herb flatbread

  • Good Food Matters winter salad

  • Citrus, almond and pistachio cake with yogurt, honey and passion fruit

  • Cr’Oyster mushroom risotto and sage leaves

  • Good Food Matters Jerusalem artichoke and Croydon saffron soup with rustic rolls

It was gone 11:00pm when the proceedings came to a natural end and we disappeared into the night, clutching our sporks and beakers to remind us that, in the words of Ruskin: “Global mass production has broken this bond between makers, objects and users”.

Not only an enjoyable meal for our stomachs but food for our minds as well!

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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