Why is there a campaign to save Matthews Yard?

By - Wednesday 18th October, 2017

He hadn’t planned to launch this campaign, but then Matthews Yard founder Saif Bonar realised that the situation was not what it seemed

Artwork by Lis Watkins for the Croydon Citizen.

Earlier this year we found out that an offer to buy the building that Matthews Yard and the Croydon Conference Centre are based in had been accepted and that there were plans afoot to demolish it and bring forward a development of luxury apartments. When I found out, I wrote my first article for the Citizen. It was uncharacteristically calm, given the circumstances. In the article, I stated that there would be no campaign to save Matthews Yard. So, almost five months later, what’s changed?

Initial support was promising

A few weeks before finding out about demolition plans, we withdrew from a tender to operate a similar space in Catford. Our initial proposals were shortlisted by Lewisham council and we were confident of success, but, with significant changes underway at MY in Croydon, no spare capital and a team of two, we felt that it wasn’t the time to stretch ourselves any thinner than we already were. In the past eighteen months we have been approached by property developers, local authorities and commercial estate managers inviting us to tender for spaces across and outside London. From Bromley to Brixton to Brent and numerous spots in between. Evidently, Matthews Yard was firmly on the radar of regeneration professionals across the capital. This uplift in communication with local authorities, developers and property managers convinced us that the right opportunity would arise, sooner rather than later.

Since discovering the fate that developers had in store for us, we have been working around the clock to find a way to preserve Matthews Yard, in or beyond Croydon. We have spoken to officers at Croydon Council and the Greater London Authority. The support, advice and encouragement from both organisations, at officer level at least, has been incredible and a key factor in keeping our campaign balanced, strategic and on track. We even got a strong letter of support from Amy Lamé, the Night Czar appointed by the Mayor of London, who visited in March of this year.

We have walked the streets of Old Town and Central Croydon and scoured property listing sites looking for suitable spaces which are not scheduled for demolition or conversion to residential but, save for the old Pumping Station in Exchange Square, there is next to nothing appropriate available in Croydon to house Matthews Yard or the Conference Centre. The acute shortage of commercial and community space in Croydon town centre is an issue which was recently raised by Laurence Grant of Shaking Hands.

Fewer friends than we thought

In spite of the overwhelmingly positive feedback we were getting from the GLA, particularly the Night Czar and her team, our levels of concern began to grow. There is nothing out there that is either suitable, affordable or available for anything more than temporary use – a dire state of affairs for a town centre undergoing such intense regeneration and so much residential development. Even with the best efforts and intentions of the GLA and the local authority, the risk of losing everything is very real. To show blind faith in either would be irresponsible of me as a director. Now is not the time to leave things to chance or goodwill. We had to pull out all the stops. We owed it to everyone who has invested in Matthews Yard and we owed it to the community.

At the same time, the developers were accelerating their activity. After a barrage of negative feedback in a pre-planning presentation submitted to the council’s planning committee, the developers quickly went back to the drawing board and came up with fresh plans. They held a public consultation for market traders, who stand to suffer considerable disruption if demolition goes ahead, and, in what may have been an attempt to curry favour, they eagerly sponsored the recent (and excellent) Warhol Month events and exhibition organised by Kevin and his team at RISE Gallery.

While the petition is an important tool in our armoury, we would be naïve to believe that it’s enough to combat the forces at play

We needed to launch a counteroffensive and we needed to do whatever we could to mitigate the might and the millions of the developers. We launched a friendly petition at the end of August to secure signatures and comments of support while drawing attention to our campaign. The story got picked up by ITV news, which ran a long and favourable segment on our situation but failed to mention the petition. Still, we have secured 3,000 signatures and counting. While the petition is an important tool in our armoury, we would be naïve to believe that it’s enough to combat the forces at play. We needed to do more.

The Good Growth Fund

Over the summer we discovered that the Mayor of London had launched a £70m fund called the Good Growth Fund. After reading the prospectus it was clear that MY ticked all of the right boxes. It read like it was written with us in mind, so we submitted an application. We included our Impact Report, our plans for the future of the business, and an as-yet-unpublished document which put forward proposals to retain the building and create a landmark community, cultural and creative hub instead of luxury apartments.

But were we too late? The developers had already had their offer accepted, subject to planning permission being granted, contracts were in place, and our landlord’s hands were tied for the next twelve months. Crucially, the sale had not been completed and the building is still owned by our original landlord, an evangelical church and registered charity. This was almost our only chance, a golden opportunity to neutralise the developers and their millions, making our battle to save MY more winnable.

To us, and many of our supporters, saving Matthews Yard really is the most sensible approach to take

I have known about Asset of Community Value, the Community Right to Bid, and other mechanisms which were introduced by the DCLG through the Localism Act 2011 for some time. I have always considered the option, but with no money in the bank and various weaknesses in the Localism Act itself, it didn’t make sense to pursue it. With the potential for financial backing from the local authority and the GLA, obtaining ACV status became the most obvious next step.

What we’re doing now

We reached out to our most steadfast supporters who came together to form the Friends of Matthews Yard. Their first act was to nominate the entire building as an Asset of Community Value. Having looked into other ACV bids around the country, the nomination of 5-9 Surrey Street is probably one of the most significant and substantial to be brought forward since ACV protection became available; the powers have, by and large, only been used to date to protect pubs. The nomination cited not only Matthews Yard with its art gallery, theatre and community events space, but also the Croydon Conference Centre, one of the largest function spaces in Old Town, which has itself hosted thousands of events in recent years including weddings, religious services, live music events, council events, police events, performances, seminars, workshops, training courses, gaming events, and so much more. Given that the second floor was most recently used as a nursery school and that the entire building is owned by a church which continues to hold services there, we are convinced that the entire building, save for the pound shop, is a community asset worthy of protection, and we have great plans for the pound shop (but not before its lease has run its course).

We eagerly await news on the nomination for ACV status and our bid for funding from the Mayor of London. We remain hopeful that key decision-makers will do the right thing and put the people of Croydon before developer profits, at least in this instance. Our proposals will deliver more value to the borough, its residents, and the local economy, for current and future generations. To us, and many of our supporters, saving Matthews Yard really is the most sensible approach to take. Only time will tell if those who we need to come to the same conclusion will do so. However, if the council rejects the nomination, there is no right of appeal and our only option will be to seek a test case in the high courts and a judicial review.

Thank you to all who have supported our campaign so far; to those who still want to help, please sign the petition on change.org and leave a positive comment explaining why you think that Matthews Yard should be saved. Keep an eye on our social media for updates on our campaign and send us your love, luck, and, where appropriate, prayers.

The ‘Save Matthews Yard’ petition, with more information and comments from multiple supporters of Matthews Yard, can be found here.

Saif Bonar

Saif is a first-time dad in the making and the founder of Matthews Yard, a creative hub with workspace, art gallery, theatre and bar in central Croydon.

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  • Ted Craig

    The very best of luck!

  • Anne Giles

    This article was published yesterday in Inside Croydon. Where does this fit in?https://insidecroydon.com/2017/10/16/developers-appoint-hoodoos-to-run-rebuilt-matthews-yard/

    • http://matthewsyard.com Saif Bonar

      An agreement between someone who does not own the building and does not have planning permission to return to a smaller premises at a rental of more than double the current market rate at an undetermined point in the future isn’t really news. You should know better than reading Inside Croydon Anne! Also, Matthews Yard is a registered Trademark belonging to Matthews Yard, so whatever returns in the basement, if the developers are successful in their scheme, will not be Matthews Yard, nor anything close to it!

      • Anne Giles


      • Anne Giles

        Also, the Croydon Guardian published an article saying that Hoodoos were taking over.