wWw – To access the Croydon Speakers’ Corner website, please click here.
Croydon was settled by the Romans and subsequently the Saxons and according to the Domesday Book in 1086 it boasted a church, a mill and a population ofover 350.
In the Middle Ages Croydon became a market town and a centre for charcoal production, leather tanning and brewing. The coming of the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway from Croydon to Wandsworth in 1803 and six years later the Croydon Canal saw Croydon grow in importance both as a commuter town and as a recreation centre with its own spa and pleasure gardens.
A Croydon Speakers’ Corner Committee
SCT launched its consultation among potential stakeholders in the autumn of 2013 with meetings with the local NHS, Chamber of Commerce, Croydon Voluntary Action, the Council, the police, Croydon College, Croydon Commitment, Fairfield Halls, Age UK, Croydon Neighbourhood Care and the BME Forum. The response was universally positive and in January 2014 representatives of many of those organisations came together at Croydon College to establish a Founding Speakers’ Corner Committee to take the initiative forward.
A Speakers’ Corner for Croydon
The Committee met again in February to decide how best to identify a site for a Speakers’ Corner and discuss plans for a launch and activities throughout the borough. It decided unanimously on a single site on North End which it now discussing with the Council and the Croydon Partnership which will be commencing the comprehensive redevelopment of the Whitgift shopping centre in 2015.
The Committee proposes to launch the project during the Croydon Heritage Festival in late June/early July by which time it hoped that a website will be up and running and Croydon College students will have been able to design a logo for the project.
During the course of April and May, students of Croydon School of Art worked on designs for the project’s logo. Such was the quality that the Speakers’ Corner Committee faced a real challenge in selecting one from the three – by Kit Keighley and Michael Payne – on its final shortlist. However, in the end, it chose Michael’s for its simplicity and ease of application in a variety of media.
Pre Launch Event at CVA
On 27 June 2014, Croydon Voluntary Action hosted an event with the BME Forum designed to give local people a platform on which to speak about the issues they care about. It also saw the first use of the project’s new portable Speakers’ Corner.
There were thoughtful and often powerful contributions throughout the afternoon on a wide range of topics including the importance of voting, the impact on young black people of stop and search, the need for better protection from domestic violence and the importance of respect and equality between people of different backgrounds.
The event took place on the forecourt of the CVA resource Centre on London Road and the discussion and debate was augmented by a wonderful barbecue!
While all around the town centre torrential rain was falling, the launch of the Croydon Speakers’ project took place in beautiful sunshine on Saturday 28 June.
There were speeches, including warm welcomes from the borough’s Deputy Mayor Cllr Patricia Hay-Justice and from Amy Morris of the Co-operative which had sponsored the project as well as a series of impromptu contributions from passers-by.
There was music too from White Heath, who took the opportunity to release their new EP Out of Angles (available on a ‘pay what you want’ basis on their facebook page) and Marshall Burns. A couple of local traders even took the opportunity to promote their businesses.
Throughout the event an ever-changing but always appreciate audience listened to speakers of all ages and backgrounds speaking about a wide range of issues including the need to end the practice of female genital mutilation, the problem of bullying and racism in schools, the importance of recognising the historic contribution of soldiers from the Caribbean to the UK’s armed forces, the case for Scottish independence, the campaign for young people to use toothbrushes, the strengths and weaknesses of local services in the borough and the urgency of contesting UKIP’s arguments.
It’s hoped that the creation of a permanent Speakers’ Corner on that spot outside the old Allders department store on NorthEnd can becomea feature of the Croydon Partnership’s redevelopment of the town centre which is due to get under way in 2015.
In the meanwhile, a number of volunteers have come forward to help coordinate the project and plan a programme of events throughout the borough.
Architecture Students to Design Permanent Speakers’ Corner
Towards the end of 2014, the Speakers’ Corner Committee along with SCT formed an exciting partnership with a team of architecture students at the University of East London. Studio 8, a group of five
students working with their lecturer and architect Alex Scott-Whitby and Roland Karthaus of the University’s Civic Architecture Office, have taken up the challenge of designing a permanent Speakers’ Corner on North End as a professional studies assignment which will form a key element of their course.
As their joint ‘clients’, SCT and the Croydon Committee have commissioned Studio 8 to come up with designs for
- an important new platform for free expression, exchange and engagement (both planned and spontaneous)
- a powerful symbol of citizens’ rights
- a focus for citizenship and civic identity
- a significant contributor to Croydon’s reputation and prestige.
which can also serve as
- a stage for performance
- a major new civic landmark
- a new arena for activity contributing to the vibrancy and attraction of the city centre.
Studio 8’s four month project, which will include wide-ranging consultation, will produce a package suitable for planning application submission, including a fully developed design consisting of plans, elevations, sketches, scale models, construction proposal, public engagement plan and future site sustainability strategy.
Following a positive meeting with the Council’s planners in January 2015, Studio 8, with the help of a detailed scale model, presented to the Speakers’ Corner Committee their analysis of the site and preliminary ideas about how the design work might be approached. With feedback from Committee members, the first outline sketches will begin to emerge in February.
Design Concept Develops
In March, the students made a very well received presentation of their latest design approach to the Speakers’ Corner Committee, illustrated by the model showing the use of night-time lighting to illuminate a ‘thread’ of public spaces along North End. As the Civic Architecture Office’s Roland Karthaus explained:
“The concept envisages a ‘thread’ of linked public spaces which seek to draw pedestrians along North End by providing platforms for activities including performances, play, art, engagement with nature and of course, at the Speakers’ Corner itself, free expression. The platforms will be designed as public ‘activators’, by overlapping the physical public space of the street, with the idea of the public realm as a space for citizenship, debate, discussion and non-commercial human interaction.
“The concept allows the street to continue to function as a retail space, but encourages new and undefined programmes that are unrelated and possibly even challenging to this original function. The goal is to establish a new model for public space that incorporates the conditions for public debate, enables a shared sense of public ownership and allows the full range of public actions and activities that make for a socially healthy city.”
General Election 2015 – People’s Hustings
Chairing the event, Nicholas Hitchens, deputy editor of the Croydon Guardian, invited a range of local voluntary organisations to step up to the portable Speakers’ Corner to set out their priorities for the next government before Croydon Central candidates were asked to respond.
Members of the public then joined in a lively debate which took in issues as diverse as care for the elderly, the case for not voting, the future of the NHS and child support.
The BBC reported the event in considerable detail in a feature published on its website, quoting passer-by Levi as saying “this is fantastic. A lot of politicians dodge the question quite well and side step the issues. I think on TV they were just putting each other down, so to be able to pin them down like this is great.”
The article also quoted Valentine McDonald who contributed to the debate and was not certain to vote but, according to the BBC, nevertheless felt that ‘the People’s Hustings experience has gone some way towards repairing his faith in local politics’.
That’s a good start!