Why I’m backing Croydon’s bid to be London’s first Borough of Culture


By - Wednesday 6th December, 2017

All the low-down on the borough’s bid, supported by the Citizen as a proud local media partner


‘Electricity’ by Gavin Kinch of ‘The Town That Love Built’, used with permission,

David Bowie famously used the word ‘Croydon’ as an insult. “God, it’s so f**king Croydon”, he would say.

Well, Bowie was no stranger to cultural re-invention and if he were still alive today, it wouldn’t take much to convince him that Croydon is ch-ch-ch-ch-changing. In fact, as an ex-student of Croydon School of Art, Bowie would have loved the tribute paid to his hero Andy Warhol around town this summer. The Warhol Croydon programme, organised by the wonderful RISE gallery, was the perfect example of Croydon’s cultural ambition. It was a groundbreaking series of exhibitions and events, which saw experts from the American art world hit the Cronx. From pop art to street art, Croydon is where it’s at right now.

It is against this backdrop that Croydon is bidding to be London’s first Borough of Culture – an accolade that would finally put to rest the tired jokes about our town and make the rest of London and the world get the message: Croydon is the most exciting part of our capital city. The shift in Croydon’s cultural cachet is brought into sharp focus by the seemingly constant shout outs from Time Out magazine. There is rarely a month that goes by without another article telling people why they should move to Croydon, or pointing out all the cool things happening on our doorstep.

Croydon’s bid is based on five things.

  1. improving young people’s lives
  2. building healthier and stronger communities
  3. changing the way people see Croydon
  4. promoting regeneration
  5. continuing to build a strong, vibrant cultural sector.
We’re opening people’s eyes to what Croydon has to offer

2017 was certainly another great summer, with a dazzling array of festivals throughout the borough, from South Norwood to Purley. We had our own Summer of Love in Wandle Park and once again the Lost Format Society was in town, converting the roof of the Centrale shopping centre into an impossibly cool cinema and bar.

Now that the weather has turned, we’ve still got our amazing community cinema, the David Lean – named after the legendary director and Croydonian, Sir David Lean and located in the magnificent Croydon Clocktower. And for some festive fun, we’ve got the brilliant new Winter Festival in Ashburton Park.

Boxpark continues to draw in local punters and those from further afield who are opening their eyes and ears to what Croydon has to offer. There have been performances by the Godfather of Grime, Wiley and local legend Stormzy – a man from Thornton Heath with a number one album to his name.

The refurbished Fairfield Halls is due to open at the end of 2018 and this will be the centre of the borough’s new Cultural Quarter. In the 60s and 70s, Fairfield hosted some of the biggest artists in British musical history on their path to fame. The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Clash and of course David Bowie himself all passed through its doors. It will be great to see live music on large scale return to Croydon, not to mention opera, ballet, drama, comedy and theatre. In the meantime, there is plenty going on in venues like the Oval Tavern, the Spread Eagle pub theatre and Matthews Yard.

It’s time for us all to be ambassadors for Croydon

It feels like we are on the edge of something really big in Croydon. 2018 will be massive for our borough with the return of Fairfield at the end of the year, and after that with work beginning on Westfield in 2019. Croydon’s arts and cultural offer is already strong, but Borough of Culture status would drive further innovation and improvement. It would put Croydon back on the map as a major cultural hub. The London Borough of Culture programme is being run by the Mayor of London’s office and will see the winning boroughs (one in 2019, one in 2020) receive over £1 million to invest in arts and cultural programmes. If we win, Croydon Council has pledged to match this funding and to stage an epic programme of yet more events.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a fan of Croydon. He famously used to treat his wife to a Maccy D’s and movie here when they were dating. It’s changed a lot since then. Let’s hope he recognises that when making his final decision in February. We deserve Borough of Culture status and it would be a fitting reward for many years of positive change, driven by a pro-active local council and genuine grassroots engagement. It is time for us all to be ambassadors for our town and to be proud of where we live and work.

I believe in the power of culture to drive positive change and I am proud to back Croydon’s bid. In ten years’ time, I want the word ‘Croydon’ to be used not as an insult, but as a yardstick of cool. “God, it’s so f**king Croydon”, they’ll say.

Martin Leay

Martin Leay

Martin has lived in Purley since 2014 and is passionate about the borough of Croydon. From 2015-2017 he presented and produced ‘Happy Sundays’ – an Indie, Rock and Pop show on Croydon Radio. His day job is in politics, carrying out research for Labour MPs. Martin became a Dad in September 2017 and is very proud that his daughter was born in Croydon.

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