£1.3m in Culture grants, but not a penny for Croydon Writers

CROYDON COMMENTARY: As a herd of fibre-glass giraffes are distributed around the borough – paid for at least in part by a £50,000 grant from the Borough of Culture – ETHEL CORDUFF outlines how one of the borough’s oldest arts organisations has been snubbed

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Snubbed: world-famous author Cicely Mary Barker, Croydon Writers and the written word have been ignored by the Borough of Culture

We were promised a year-long series of events, activities, projects and creative commissions taking place while Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture.

I would have considered the written word to be a top priority on the list of events planned. But not a mention. Instead, fashion shows, food festivals and “art trails” involving fibre-glass giraffes.

Croydon Writers was founded as the Croydon Writers’ Circle in 1945. It must be one of the oldest cultural organisations in Croydon.

Cicely Mary Barker, the world-famous author of the Flower Fairies books, and John Gordon, the former Editor of the Sunday Express, were some of the earliest honorary members of the Croydon Writers’ Circle, and many well-known authors have been members. We celebrated our 70th Anniversary in the Fairfield Halls in June 2015, when we collaborated with Croydon Council at that year’s Heritage Festival.

Our publications continue to this day in a very active group which has published many books.

We are open to all ages and abilities and are ethnically diverse. We meet monthly and hold workshops, often member-led, with occasional speakers, regular competitions and a social function at Christmas and a summer garden party.

We have a quarterly magazine, which is mostly written by our members. We have collaborated with local schools, libraries and bookshops, including Waterstones.

So considering that £1.35million has been given by the Mayor of London to Croydon Council distribute to groups taking part in the Borough of Culture, Croydon Writers had high expectations of receiving a small slice of it.

Applications were invited by what the council caled the Ignite Fund from artists and cultural organisations big and small. There would be a hundred grants for small projects of up to £1,000 and 15 grants for medium projects up to £15,000, with the average to be given of £5,000.

Over the years, Croydon Writers had published several anthologies of members’ works, the most recent being in 2013, called A Solitary Act. With items from 15 members, it was a fully published book which had an ISBN, was available on Amazon and indeed was lodged with the major national libraries (published by Rainbow Valley Books, copies are still available for £9.99, or £8 for members).

The Borough of Culture in 2023 seemed to offer a timely opportunity to publish a new anthology.

Croydon Writers put in an application for funding for a medium grant of £6,000. This would include the following:

  • The production of an anthology of members’ writings, featuring up to 50 authors, for distribution to schools and libraries.
  • We would stage outreach workshops for schools using Croydon civic facilities.
  • Using website, we would organise a writing competition for Croydon school children, with prizes for the best entries.
  • We would also stage outreach workshops in libraries on Saturdays.
  • And we would use some of the funding for Croydon Writers’ quarterly magazine, enabling wider distribution to the borough’s libraries.

We carefully filled in the council’s nine-page application form. It included questions such as: “Tell us about the people and communities who will benefit from this specific project”, though they asked for only a “Max 100 words”.

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A Solitary Act: Croydon Writers didn’t want this anthology to be left on its own

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A Solitary Act: Croydon Writers didn’t want this anthology to be left on its own

The Croydon Writers’ grant application form was duly submitted before the council’s strict deadline of November 18 last year.

And we waited. And waited.

Those applying for Ignite Fund grants had been advised that all the decisions would be completed before Christmas, to allow the projects to be prepared to be ready in time for the delayed start of the Borough of Culture year in April.

But just days before the expected announcement, Croydon Writers, and presumably all the other eager bidders, received an email from council official Kristian Aspinall, the director of culture and community safety, who is in charge of the Borough of Culture project and distributing the Mayor of London’s £1.3million.

“Unfortunately due to illness we have not been able to finalise the awarding of grants this week as we had originally planned and communicated,” Aspinall wrote.

“I’m really sorry we weren’t able to meet this deadline, and can only apologise.

“We now aim to complete the medium ignite grant fund applications by the end of the week beginning the 9th January and then communicate to everyone on Monday 16th January.”

So, again, we waited.

And waited.

But even by February, with the start of Croydon’s year as the Borough of Culture now just weeks away, we’d heard nothing.

We emailed, only to be told our bid had failed. No reason was given.

Our chairman, Michael Round, sent three emails asking the council to explain its decision and for justification and their criteria, and enquiring who had been successful.

We never had the courtesy of a reply, which is extremely disrespectful to a reputable, long-standing local cultural organisation.

And so no one knows why Croydon’s Borough of Culture has no time or place for the written word.

Read more: £250 per day fees paid to lead on borough’s Heritage Trail
Read more: GLA has few checks on how £1.3m Culture grant is being spent
Read more: Having a giraffe! Business group spends thousands on statues

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