We can still save Ashburton Park

By - Thursday 13th June, 2013

Ashburton resident Stephen Mann puts the spotlight on community efforts to save an important space from ‘death by disrepair’

With the Croydon Heritage Festival taking place over the coming weeks, I feel it is worth time to raise the status of the unused and neglected former Ashburton Library building.

Many a Croydonian will recognise the distinctive character of Ashburton Park. Over the years it has played home to a racecourse (before living memory sadly), numerous tennis courts, carnivals, and indeed Ashburton Library. The Library, in a past life, was once part of a convent for the Woodside House estate that was demolished during the 1920s to give Croydon the green space we now have.

As a child, I remember often going to the book trail and playing cricket in the park. Sadly, no more local children can enjoy the great book trail in the fantastic old library building, which has been left abandoned for the past 7 years!

The Conservative councillors for Ashburton promised to do something with the building. This promise has been conveniently forgotten

With the café, long shut, alongside the library, the park lacks soul and is plagued by anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping. For such a large recreational space this should be high up the Croydon council’s plans for improvement. The Conservative councillors for Ashburton during both the 2006 and 2010 election campaigns promised to do something with the building. In 2013 this promise has been removed from their website and conveniently forgotten.

In 2010 Councillor Aram stated in the Croydon Advertiser “It’s a phenomenal waste of a building and it’s now fallen into such a state of disrepair I think it will probably cost about £1million to restore it.”

At the Addiscombe carnival two colleagues from the Labour Ashburton Action Team and I discovered that the library building had been broken into. Upon further inspection by a police officer it was found that the place had been gutted with fires lit inside the locally-listed building. If a fire had gotten out of control this centrepiece would be lost forever.

Upon my visit to Bailey Hall in Hyde, it became obvious that such a project is ideal for Ashburton Park

The mess inside is not a recent issue, and looked to have been building up over a period of months. Considering all it takes is a screwdriver to remove the boards it’s surprising it hasn’t happened sooner, or at least been identified sooner.

Recently, plans had been established for Oasis Shirley Park to use it as a sixth form centre due to an education covenant being in force on the building. Overlooking a children’s play area, it was far from ideal and has consequently fallen by the wayside.

One idea that could bring it back to life stems from Hyde, Greater Manchester. A similar building, Bailey Hall, in Hyde Park was brought back into use as a community café run by local disabled people, earning a wage and learning new skills. In turn they have started making honey and planting an orchard. Upon my visit there in 2012 it became obvious that such a project is ideal for Ashburton Park.

After the 2011 riots, the heart of Croydon was ripped out through mindless vandalism

A community presence in the park that occupation of the Library could bring would almost overnight restrict the amount of anti-social behaviour – if someone is keeping a watchful eye, trouble makers will go elsewhere. It will also get disabled people into the community, gaining valuable life and workplace skills, and hopefully meaning that they will be able to hold down a career.

Whilst it will take a lot of hard work for such a scheme to bring community assets into public use again, it can only be for the good of Croydon. After the 2011 riots, the heart of Croydon was ripped out through mindless vandalism. Community organisation and leadership such as a project along these lines will improve Croydon just like it has improved Hyde. Come on Croydon, let’s act to preserve our heritage before it is too late.

Finally, I urge you all to come down to Ashburton Park, take in the grandeur of the building, and join the campaign to restore this under-utilised asset back to public use as the centrepiece to one of Croydon’s best parks.

Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann

Born in Addiscombe bred in Ashburton, Stephen is a local Labour activist seeking to both improve the local area and develop Croydon's community facilities. He will bea Labour candidate for Ashburton at the 2014 local elections. He also works in cricket development, covering youth engagement, and has a past in politics, disability support and communications. A keen sportsman, he is often found either at the football or on a cricket pitch.

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  • Anne Giles

    The Council have not conveniently forgotten this. They just simply have not got the money. Or would you like your Council Tax increased again?

    • David Fisher

      I’d have thought Council Tax rises were pretty inevitable, sooner or later. As you say, there’s no money — possibly much more “no money” than any of us realise.
      (although properly collecting the current amount would be a start…)

    • Stephen Mann

      Behave Anne. Grant funding can cover a vast deal of it. At no stage in my argument have I stated the council funding it although matched funding would be worth it. Wasted money on the library sell off and the Laing deals or new HQs could have easily covered a revamped community hub here.

      How were your lot gunna pay to get it put back into use in 2010 in times of austerity? It has been out of use 7 years, the insides have been totally gutted. If you lot hadn’t “conveniently forgotten” about it it would have been properly boarded up to prevent further damage.

      • Anne Giles

        Behave? Come on boy. Show a little respect towards your elders and betters.

  • Adrian Winchester

    I’m glad you’re drawing attention to this building because it’s very sad to see the indignity it has suffered. Although it wasn’t my nearest library, I would occasionally use it simply because I loved its distinctive ecclesiastical charm and beauty. If it’s not a listed building, surely it should be! I’m appalled to hear about the fires; is it really “gutted” with interior features mostly ruined? At the recent Council Question Time, it was said that the building would be made available as a community asset transfer, which sounds positive – although obviously that’s a decision that should have been taken years ago, when it would have cost far less to make it usable again. But will there be one or more suitable community groups that are willing to make use of it? It’s also regrettable if the café is permanently closed and in decline, but perhaps a café incorporated into the library building could help to make a new initiative viable.

  • Kate Jackson

    I think creating a centre for people with disabilities is a great idea. I walk through Ashburton Park most days with my children and there is no doubt that it has the potential to be a wonderful space for our local community to use. As it stands, it’s unkempt and unappealing. I would be interested in finding out more about how we can try to make improvements to the park. I know that a lot of the local families would welcome this and I’m sure we could organise plenty of involvement to support this cause. I would also like to see more activities available for teenagers at the park – I think a lot of the anti-social behaviour stems from boredom.
    On another issue -can someone tell me whether dogs are allowed in the park without being on a leash?