The Croydon Forum’s back, so why not get involved in shaping our town’s future?


By - Monday 20th August, 2018

Be part of Croydon’s continuous transformation – please come along and join this positive-minded and informal organisation


Street art by @AlecLDN.
Photo by peter.g.ball photography, used with permission.

The Croydon Forum was launched in January 2018. Progress since then hasn’t been everything that its founder hoped for. Enthusiasm alone doesn’t carve out time in the busy schedules of the people who came along to Matthews Yard that day to share their ideas about how to make Croydon a stronger community and a better place to live in.

But the can-do spirit of the occasion and the positivity shown by everyone present have remained in my mind. It’s why the idealist in me is now seeking to take the forum forward.

I have read with interest some of the recent articles in the Citizen by Barnaby Powell, Liz Sheppard-Jones and Jonny Rose, and it seems to me that there is still a strong desire to find ways to make Croydon a more attractive, greener, more thriving, and better organised place for all of its citizens. There is a growing sense of people power, even if people don’t always feel that the council is listening to their needs and desires.

The café or the pub are where some of the best collaborations begin

I often hear it said that Croydon’s transformation is too ‘top-down’: that developers, not local people, are in the driving seat. We need more responsive decision-making and a real voice for local people. I therefore hope that the forum can step up to that challenge, and become a flexible, open-ended discussion group in which anyone who wishes can play a part. But most importantly, I would like them to be do so without having to make the major commitment of effort and time which is difficult for so many of us.

There is space for a more informal group to come up with innovative ideas and projects and play a part not merely in the conversation but also in colouring Croydon’s continuous transformation. I know that some of the best projects start over a shared coffee, glass of wine or pint of beer. The café or the pub are where some of the best collaborations begin to happen. The sharing and discussion of ideas can be both exciting and useful, and let’s face it, none of us has all the answers.

Being self-employed and interested in many different aspects of Croydonian life, what I really want is a time and a space where I can hang out and shoot the Croydonian breeze with anyone who cares to shoot with me. I would like to set up a more informal gathering of Croydonians who wish to talk about how we might make Croydon a better place to live and work – a kind of inclusive 21st-century Croydonian ‘salon’ that would be open to all who care about the future of Croydon, whether they be artists, techies, dustmen or civil servants.

I want to campaign for a new visitor centre in Croydon

So on the last Friday afternoon of each month, starting on 31st August, I’ll be working at Matthews Yard on my next great opus, ‘The People’s Guide to Croydon’, but from 4:30 pm will be very glad to have a break from working on this illustrious tome, and will be open to having a drink and a chat or even a game of table tennis with anyone who wishes to join me.

Of course, whether we make any meaningful difference to our borough will depend on what we talk about and what we then do. Yet, partly inspired by conversations at the last meeting, I have decided to put on a one-day event in the covered section of St George’s Walk on Saturday 26th August. I’m calling it The Croydon Visitor Centre Experience and intend to make it the launch pad for a campaign to create a new visitor centre/community hub in Croydon. It will be partly a light-hearted political act, partly a piece of inter-active public performance art and partly a valuable market research forum.

To create a better future takes more than thinking outside the box – it requires us to climb over fences

More details will be found on the Croydon Forum for Change Facebook page very shortly. I’m also looking for anyone who would like to be a Croydon Visitor Centre volunteer for the day to contact me. You can do so .

I like to think that I’m doing this because I wish to challenge some of the preconceptions that some people have about Croydon, and I believe that if only it had a bit more confidence in its own potential it could become an even more inspiring place in which to live, work and play. To do so, though, it will need to do more than merely think outside the box. It will need to think beyond it, and even climb over some of the fences erected by those whose views are, sadly, somewhat restrictive.


So if you’ve nothing better to do on Friday 31st August from 4:30 pm onwards – don’t sit on the fence, climb over it and come and join me for a drink and a natter about Croydon. Who knows, you might even get in the book.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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  • Mark Johnson

    The council as part of their agreement to give thousands of taxpayers money to Boxpark was that they would own eight units for community use. One or two of those could be a visitor centre.

    • Steve Thompson

      I wasn’t aware of this – good news. I would ask, though, why the Council hasn’t insisted that Boxpark actually delivers on this commitment, as currently there is no sign of any unit being set aside for community use.

      • lizsheppardjourno

        Important to remember, Steve, that Croydon Visitor Centre (which operated alongside East Croydon station where Boxpark now is) was funded not by the council but by Croydon BID and hence paid for by the BID’s levy on town centre businesses. Boxpark offered the council a unit (possibly more than one unit – I’m unsure) for a continuing visitor information service near the station, but this offer was declined.

        A lot could be said on this subject, but long story short: such a service is unaffordable (even if staffed by volunteers).

      • Mark Johnson

        The council has been questioned on this by backbench Cllrs but the information was witheld. With so many empty units it would help to have units free for community use.

      • http://www.thegreenstoryteller.com Charles Barber

        It sounds to me as though there was no political will from the ||Council to have such a unit there.

    • Tim Longhurst

      It was said that the money to be allocated to units was instead directed to an Ambition event to be held at Boxpark, instead of the town centre music event it had been previously. That event then became the Boxpark opening night gig.

      • Elizabeth

        What a crying shame

    • http://www.thegreenstoryteller.com Charles Barber

      I think a Visitor Centre in one of the empty units of Box Park might certainly be a viable option and is one that should be explored. At the very least, the Council should explain why they don’t want to have a Visitor Centre there.

  • lizsheppardjourno

    It’s important to remember that Croydon Visitor Centre (which operated alongside East Croydon station where Boxpark now is) was funded not by the council but by Croydon BID and hence paid for by the BID’s levy on town centre businesses. Boxpark offered the council a unit (possibly more than one unit – I’m unsure) for a continuing visitor information service near the station, but this offer was declined.

    A lot could be said on this subject, but long story short: such a service is unaffordable (even if staffed by volunteers).

    • http://www.thegreenstoryteller.com Charles Barber

      Whether it is affordable or not surely depends on how it is set up and how it is run. I would be interested to know if the old Visitor Centre actually made any money. I think it may be possible to make it self-financing, but it would need the support of the Council, the businesses and the people of Croydon. I believe it could be run as a community business, in which the businesses and people of Croydon could hold shares.