Croydon has launched its year as Borough of Culture 2023 — at an event at Boxpark this morning (14 March) — to the strains of a segment from 'Oratorio of Hope', a new commission performed by the London Mozart Players.
The borough could do with some hope right now. Bankrupted three times in three years, its residents have just been subjected to an unprecedented 15% council tax hike forced through by Mayor Jason Perry. London Borough of Culture is an initiative from the Mayor London to 'illuminate the character and diversity' of a particular London borough each year — with a grant given for various projects throughout the year.
Next month, the Oratorio of Hope will be performed in full in Croydon, with Grammy-nominated Tarik O'Regan leading the composition, helped by hundreds of Croydon borough's young musicians. 'Youth' is a running theme in this Borough of Culture programme, and rightly so — especially in an area of London that is home to institutions including the BRIT School and Talawa.
In June, a music heritage trail around town will demonstrate how music is in Croydon's DNA; from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to Stormzy via The Damned, it has been a pioneer of classical, rock n'roll, punk and dubstep.
August will see celebrations of 50 years of hip hop, with a performance from dance legend Popin' Pete, while in the same month, 30 eight-foot-tall giraffes will be peppered around the borough (similar to Liverpool's Superlambananas). The message: 'Croydon Stands Tall.'
September sees Liberty Festival — a season of cutting-edge events and new work led by and with D/deaf and disabled people including SoDaDa's cabaret and ZooCo's The Nightshift.
The following month, hip hop dance outfit BirdGang team up with Dance Umbrella, to perform a show incorporating dance, film, music and design, which brings together three generations. Also in October, Talawa's 'Our Croydon' will explore the borough's African Caribbean heritage through theatre.
Borough of Culture carries on until early 2024, culminating with a Queer vogue ball hosted by Collide in February, and a series of events held in March, showcasing young Croydon musicians.
The much loved Pollock's Toy Museum — which recently vacated its Fitzrovia home — will also pop up in Croydon's Whitgift Centre sometime later in 2023, while Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra will return to the UK for the first time in 20 years for a special concert.
In a speech at the opening event, Jason Perry praised Croydon as London's "largest, youngest and greenest" borough, saying that a wealth of opportunities will be created for all residents.
One question that remains is that of legacy. Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries Justine Simons told Londonist that as well as investing in various creative programmes, previous Borough of Cultures have led to the likes of the new Soho Theatre in Walthamstow (after Waltham Forest was Borough of Culture in 2019), and the Broadway in Lewisham (the south London borough was 2022's Borough of Culture).
There's no indication yet of plans for a similar bricks and mortar legacy in Croydon; let's see what the year brings.
Find our more about Croydon Borough of Culture on the official website.