The Croydon General Hospital site

London Road has more than its fair share of boarded up, empty spaces. The largest is the site of the old Croydon General Hospital, which was demolished several years after it closed in 1996. The long line of hoardings is broken by the original iron gates, which give a tantalising view of the site and the magnificent trees near the boundary with Lennard Road.

Locals want a park or open space for the community to use. They also want some action to bring the site into use and get rid of the deadness of that length of London Road.

What they’re getting at the moment is some cosmetic window dressing.

Recently, the Council commissioned a project to paint murals on these hoardings (and on the Royal Mansions hoardings), to ‘visually improve’ them. The project is being managed by White Label Consultants, and the commissioned artists are Susan Beresford and Jeanne-Marie Eayrs, working together as Undercroydon. They have created other (permanent) murals in Croydon, including one called Stepping Out in one of the entrances to the Whitgift Centre.

Somewhere along the way, the project also took on the aim of bringing parts of the community together and creating harmony through the designing and painting of the mural. There were two problems with that, however: firstly, many of the locals were brought in too late to have any influence on the project as a whole – their input was on the details of the design; secondly, the budget was targeted so narrowly that it would never have been able to solve locals’ main priorities and requirements. These include a police station for London Road, effective deterrents against street crime and better street cleaning, as well as a public open space or park on the hospital site.

According to Graham Cadle, Director of Customer Services and Communications at Croydon Council, the project as a whole will cost no more than £10,000. This is money from the Government’s High Street Fund, which was set up after the riots. It had to be spent (allocated) by the end of March 2012.

Generally, people have no problem with painting the hoardings – although why did it take so long to get round to thinking about it? But to spend money on a commissioned ‘community-building’ mural on a temporary hoarding – locals’ first reactions were generally ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘what a waste of money’. They are also not against ‘visual improvement’ altogether: people generally like what has been done on the Reeves Corner site, using old photographs to show its history, and would have been happy with similar treatment on the hospital hoardings. However, for that to happen, a different team would have had to be commissioned.

Painting the murals – Saturday 21st April
You can see the artists in action on Saturday 21st April, when volunteers are invited to join in with the painting. Members of the new young people’s organisation Project Change, set up by Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell following the riots, will be taking part and also helping clean up London Road. They will be gathering at Croydon Town Hall at 12 noon, then walking up to London Road. When all’s said and done, as long as no election campaigning takes place (and a spokesperson from Project Change has confirmed that it will not), every effort to make London Road a better place – and everyone who wants to help – is welcome.

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