Why I started the Croydon Green Fair

By - Tuesday 11th June, 2013

A little-known annual event that debuted in 2011 with humble beginnings and lofty ambitions

Each year, I am a regular attendee at the Carshalton Environmental Fair in Carshalton Park on the August Bank Holiday. I’ve been going since the days when it was run by a small team of enthusiasts with a few stalls, right up to the present day when a charity named Ecolocal now runs the large, sprawling event in a slick and professional manner. There’s a good mix of campaign, retail, and food stalls, as well as, down in the dip, a busy schedule of live bands on a solar powered stage. It’s been quoted to me that the event has up to 10,000 visitors through the gates with adults paying £3 for admission. Do the numbers and it’s quite an income stream for any organisation.

So each year I attend, get my bike checked over for free, listen to the music, eat some food, buy some pre-owned books and some herb plants, and wonder to myself, ‘why don’t we have an event like this in Croydon?’

The Croydon Carnival disappeared years ago, but we used to have two fantastic days. The World Music Day on a Saturday was followed by the Mela on the Sunday in Lloyd Park, both days drawing in huge crowds for the free entry event. And then it was gone – part of the package of unpopular cost-saving decisions that the council was forced to make. It left a huge gap in the borough’s calendar of events – perhaps never to come back. This is such a shame, as the whole weekend had really built up momentum each year and was beginning to attract some international musical acts.

In 2010, I launched my hobby website Green Croydon onto an unsuspecting borough with the intention of encouraging residents to be more environmentally aware. I wanted to perk up our environmental behaviour as a borough and make Croydon a greener place to live, work, and visit. While putting the site together I was overwhelmed by how many environmental groups Croydon could claim to have.

What these well intentioned groups lacked and deserved was their own annual event when they can all be together in one place

The list was impressive: Croydon Real Nappy Network, Croydon Friends of the Earth, Croydon CND, Croydon (and Sutton) Green Party, Croydon Vegetarians, Croydon Council Recycling Team, Croydon RSPB, Croydon Fairtrade Network, Croydon Online Orchard, Croydon Beekeepers, and Croydon Ecology Centre. What these well intentioned groups lacked and deserved was their own annual event when they can all be together in one place, get out there and engage with the public, and raise awareness to spread the environmental message and save the planet! Thus giving the town its own environmental identity and an event to be proud of.

So with the Carshalton Fair making me ‘green’ with envy, a gap in the calendar, and all these wonderful people being members of groups and doing their bit here and there, the Croydon Green Fair project fell into place. Our own environmental day, which can grow year on year to rival the previously mentioned one across the borough’s borders; you know, the borough that’s planning to build an ‘energy recovery facility’ (AKA an incinerator) and blow the smoke over us.

A date was set: the Saturday of the last bank holiday weekend in May. Where to have it? Indoors or outdoors? The weather on bank holidays is invariably bad, so I was leaning towards indoors. But where? It would involve a hire cost wherever it was held. I pondered this for a week or two while I did my part-time evening job in a day centre for disabled adults. I was thinking about how they held a Christmas fair there every year when the penny dropped. Why not hold the Green Fair here? Spacious, light and airy rooms, numerous tables, catering facilities, toilets, and a school car park nearby, close to bus routes, and to me it was free to use.

So the Croydon Green Fair went ahead. It boasted thirty stalls, a hundred visitors, money raised for charity, competitions with prizes from John Lewis and Permaculture Magazine, the Mayor of Croydon pedalling a bike to power an iPod, Europe’s first paint recyclers, fair-trade refreshments and home-made cakes, and talks on composting, fair-trade, the ecology centre, and beekeeping. There were councillors and council officers popping in, the Advertiser photographer roamed freely, electric cars were on display, and all stallholders enjoyed the day to network and raise awareness.

All events have to start somewhere, and start small and build gradually. But, after feedback, I was challenged to have the event in North End the following year. This would mean that footfall would be huge, and the engagement with the public therefore greater, giving the campaigners more opportunities. My only concern was that it would lose much of its compactness and identity stretched along North End. The layout of the area presents numerous challenges and something as simple as having an area for talks would be difficult.  However, on being asked, Croydon BID was very receptive to the idea of having it down there and so in 2012 it went ahead in the area from the Almhouses down to the Whitgift main entrance. Footfall was huge. Year two was under the belt.

The Croydon Green Fair will be the second largest environmental event in Greater London this year

For this year it is in North End again; it was deliberated whether to use Exchange Square but as good a spot as that is for an event, it’s hard getting people down there – a terrible shame, as it really lends itself to an event like this. A title sponsor from a green energy firm was approached, but declined for the moment and funding will come too late to be spent as applied for so we will make the best of what we have already going for us.

This is a community event for everyone. Although it has the environment and the planet at its core, like it or not we all affect the world around us – and affect it ourselves. The environment does not discriminate – it involves us all. So do your bit! Start by coming along and saying hello to the groups, and perhaps join some of them and get involved in what they are doing.

As it stands, the Croydon Green Fair will be the second largest environmental event in Greater London this year (after Carshalton’s, as the London Green Fair is cancelled), so it’s something to be proud of.

I’m already looking ahead to 2014 as I’m planning an environmental week culminating in the fair so get in touch if you would like to be involved.

Perhaps I’ll see you down there! Don’t miss the Croydon Green Fair on North End
Saturday June 15th, 1000-1630 (Not part of the Croydon Heritage Festival)

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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