A number of Croydon charities are now fearing for the future of their services after discovering that the local authority is planning to sell off the buildings they operate within.

The council failed to inform over 16 charitable organisations of their intention to sell as part of their plan to balance the books.

These charities include the borough’s Mind branch as well as a number of other essential community facing organisations. 

These charities currently operate in council owned buildings and pay the council a nominal rent to provide essential public services.

Your Local Guardian: Cliff Hilderly hosts an 'understanding gangs' workshop at Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA) on June 20. (Credit: CVA)Cliff Hilderly hosts an 'understanding gangs' workshop at Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA) on June 20. (Credit: CVA)

Although these services end up saving the authority money in the long run, these charities only discovered the news after being alerted by the council’s scrutiny committee. 

Cornerstone House, one of the buildings affected by this recent asset disposal, is home to Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA) who coordinate voluntary groups in the area. 

Your Local Guardian: Cornerstone House is home to 15 charitable organisations, which according to Steve Phaure support people working to prevent murders on our streets. Credit: Croydon Voluntary ActionCornerstone House is home to 15 charitable organisations, which according to Steve Phaure support people working to prevent murders on our streets. Credit: Croydon Voluntary Action

Alongside the CVA, the building near Selhurst is home to 15 charities, which specialise in everything from refugee support and community groups to free mediation and accessible transport. 

Speaking to the council’s scrutiny committee last week, its CEO Steve Phaure said: “I see a blatant disregard for the financial sustainability of the voluntary sector, you’re almost saying we need to recover our position, we don’t care about yours.

"There are plenty of organisations in this borough that are already draining their reserves just to carry on providing services without council services being there. 

“We were under the understanding that we were in business together to try and do what’s best for Croydon’s community.

"If these go, there will be serious implications for our communities and organisations which are supporting people working to prevent murders on our streets.”

Croydon’s Mind branch, based at 26 Pampisford Road, Purley, are also due to be affected by tranche two of the council’s asset disposal plans.

According to their own figures, the charity supported 417 individuals with counselling in 2022-23 and the estimated value of the care provided to each person seen by Croydon Mind stands at £31,000 a year.

Despite having been based at the address since 1967, the mental health charity now faces an uncertain future and has made clear that it would not be able to afford to buy the property or move elsewhere if plans go ahead in their current form.

Speaking to the local democracy reporting service (LDRS), its CEO Emma Turner said: “We have expressed to Croydon Council that we are deeply concerned about the changes it is considering as part of its asset disposal programme and the impact that this could have on our ability to deliver services for our community.”

“While we haven’t been included in conversations about this so far, we are pleased that Croydon Council has acknowledged this and trust that, as a valued community partner, we will now be meaningfully consulted moving forward.

"We know that with the cost-of-living crisis and increasing numbers of people struggling with their mental health, it is equally important to our organisation and the Council that people in Croydon get the right support”.

For Mind as well as the 15 organisations based at Cornerstone House, they said the scrutiny committee’s intervention was the first they heard of the buildings being on the asset disposal list. ]

The current list, which follows the recent completion of the first tranche, lists 30 properties up for potential disposal by the council.

The official report made by the scrutiny committee following their visit to Cornerstone House demonstrates the apparent lack of communication between the council and charities regarding the list.

Chair of the committee, Counsellor Rowenna Davis said: “When scrutiny went to that meeting at Cornerstone House, I asked if this building was sold, and you couldn’t operate from here, how many of you would have to close? Every single charity raised their hand. They were really sombre.”

Turner echoed this theme of miscommunication when she spoke of the trouble with securing an updated lease from the council, who have so far failed to contact them.

She said: “We have rented it from the council since then. We had a lease from 2011 that expired in 2021. We have not had a lease renewed since then and it has been a rolling contract. We have never received information. Of course, I appreciate that in 2021 some fairly significant other changes were happening for the world, but we have not received any communication.

“The first time that we heard our building would be part of tranche two was yesterday morning at about 9am, when I caught sight of public papers for this evening’s meeting.

"So that’s very disappointing and very difficult for our organisation to consider that, as a valued and trusted community partner this is how the organisation has been regarded. The behaviour has not suggested to us that we are that.”

Both Phaure and Turner, who spoke on behalf of the affected charities at the meeting, spoke of the council’s lack of clarity as regards to possible future arrangements for their organisations.

Community asset transfer, i.e. the transfer of ownership of land from a public sector body to a community-based organisation for the benefit of the public, was suggested as an alternative by the council. However, Phaure pointed out its shortcomings in an animated address to council members.

He said: “What you’re inviting us to do here is a community asset transfer but with rent, but how does that make it a community asset transfer? Be responsible for all the utilities as well as the rent.

"Although you actually conceded there are no rent subsidies, no rate relief, no funding and that was on our own.

“It’s up to us to now provide revenue generation and create a business plan. The killer is that you want us, having done all that and income generated, to give half of that to you. That is a real dis-incentive for any business that’s trying to build relationships and make success for an enterprise.”

After hearing of their administration’s conduct in the council cabinet meeting the following day, both Mayor Jason Perry and Cabinet member for finance Jason Cummings were quick to address the issue.

Cummings stated:  “I’m conscious that anyone listening to what’s just been said could gain the impression that organisations in those buildings would not be receiving support or indeed conversations around their continued opportunity to operate from buildings, including the ones that are potentially are already set up for disposal if they hold leases on them or indeed opportunities to be relocated elsewhere.

“It is not the case that the council is simply selling buildings out from under voluntary organisations and that is not the intent to push them out of those buildings.”

Mayor Perry apologised to Mind during the cabinet meeting and said he was sorry if the lack of communication on their behalf caused any stress to the organisation.

He said: “I very much do regard and hold you as valued and trusted community partners and I apologise if that did not come across in the way that this was done.” While he maintained the asset disposal process was a decision rather than a consultation and that difficult decisions had to be made, he also made clear of the possibility of future community asset transfers.

In an official statement to the LDRS, the scrutiny committee said: “When difficult decisions have to be made, the way they are communicated becomes even more important.

“We have formally recommended that the Council gives notice to all tenants before public papers about their potential sale are released. We also welcome the Council’s decision to consider extending leases to tenants before any sales are made. Scrutiny will continue to monitor the Council’s asset sales to make sure the commitments they make are carried out.”

A Croydon Council spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work with organisations and tenants of the properties about any proposals and will work with them throughout the process to avoid any unnecessary concern. Each sale will be handled on a case-by-case basis in conjunction with relevant partners.”