Talk of the The Town: Art Hub, St Matthews Yard in Croydon

After years of uncertainty Croydon’s Matthews Yard is facing another setback due to the coronavirus pandemic, writes Tara O’Connor.

The much-loved Croydon arts hub was set to open its doors in a new location later this week but that will now be delayed until at least the summer.

Work is already underway to transform the former Maplin store near West Croydon railway station into a new home for the venue.

But social distancing rules mean that while some work can take place, not much can be done, and getting hold of materials has been nearly impossible.

The not-for-profit venue was founded by Saif Bonar in April 2012 and he runs it with his partner Leoni Descartes.

They found out three years ago that the previous site off Surrey Street would be demolished to make way for flats.

The team finally secured a new home in February this year after years of searching.

Luckily their new landlords have given Matthews Yard three months rent-free while the lockdown continues.

But to make the situation more difficult, they are not eligible for a Government grant because the rateable value of the new premises is just over the set limits.

The grants are available for businesses with a ‘rateable value’ of £51,000 or less, and Matthews Yard’s is £52,500.

Saif said: “It means we get nothing which doesn’t massively make sense as businesses in London pay much higher business rates than elsewhere.

“I know of about 10 to 12 independents in Croydon that haven’t got any help either. Though at least everyone has got a 12-month break from business rates.

“We are okay for the next three months or so in terms of the premises, then it depends on what the landlord does.”

In the meantime Saif and the team have started up a grocery delivery service which has proved popular and could be something which they continue to offer after the lockdown is lifted.

And as well as raising extra cash through an online fundraising page, supporters of the business have been buying gift cards to use when it reopens.

Saif added: “It has been phenomenal really, we’ve had a lot of people buying gift cards they can use when we reopen and membership has started to pick up again which we haven’t pushed for a few years.

“We’ve got a lot planned but we’re not booking any events in yet. As soon as we know we’re coming out of lockdown we’ll start booking artists, we’ve got an existing network.

“We should be able to open up two or three weeks after lockdown is lifted.”

Before the lockdown kicked in and after Matthew’s Yard signed a seven-year lease in North End, Croydon councillors gave the business a financial boost, pledging £13,000 to get the new premises up and running.

Fairfield ward councillors Chris Clark and Caragh Skipper offered £8,000 from their ward budgets towards a fit out of a new performance space on the first floor that will be known as Platform 2.

This is a reference to the fact that there is no second platform at West Croydon railway station, which was filled in to extend platform 3 in the 1990s.

Broad Green Councillor Stuart Collins pledged £4,000 while Councillor Manju Shajul-Hameed has given £2,000 for a defibrillator.

Saif described this cash as a ‘lifeline’ for the planned new projects.

The arts hub is still trying to raise £50,000 to cover the costs of moving and fitting out their new headquarters.


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