A controversial decision to ban a homeless soup kitchen in Croydon has been reversed by the borough council.
Last week, a leaked council report revealed that Croydon Council planned on “utilising all available bylaws” to suspend a soup kitchen in Queen’s Gardens, due to concerns about potential antisocial behaviour.
The leaked report, ‘Town Centre – Food Provision’, was written by Tony Brooks, the Director of Public Safety at Croydon Council and discussed at a private leadership meeting which included Council leader, Mike Fisher, the commander of Metropolitan Police, David Musker, and other senior council officers.
The report argued that removing the soup kitchen will reduce antisocial behaviour: “It would mean there would be no reason for street drinkers and beggars to congregate in the area in the early evening and would assist with reducing crime and antisocial behaviour within the town centre.”
It also outlined bylaws, covering the area of Queen’s Gardens, which could be used to remove the soup kitchen and implement fines if regulations were breached.
The council has been the subject of mounting criticism since InsideCroydon leaked the report, and has now decided to change on its initial decision.
A spokesperson from the council said: “Having looked at a number of possible options it was decided that we would work with Nightwatch and other agencies to find a new approach that would tackle the current antisocial behaviour and ensure that those people in genuine need of support receive the most appropriate help in the most suitable way.”
A chairperson for Nightwatch, Jad Adams, said the council had not contacted him about the proposals. He said: “I have never been officially informed that they’re not going ahead with the ban.”
He added: “Although the council are now saying that they were never going to go ahead with the plan, this was not the impression I got at the time. Really this is a cover up. When I contacted them to find out what was happening, I left the conversation feeling certain that they were going ahead with the plans.”
Mark Watson, Labour’s spokesperson for crime and public protection, said: “He’s been trying to get an answer from them behind the scenes, so I think it’s a bit odd that they drop it as soon as the story is in the press. I think it’s a terrible way to treat the charity.”
Yesterday, Chief Superintendent Musker said: “In the long-term, soup kitchens are not helping to get people off the streets and turn their lives around.”
He explained that, in his experience, soup kitchens were not part of a sustainable solution and that they “actually contribute to antisocial behaviour and criminality” in town centres.
“The reality is that a number of people use the soup kitchen in Croydon in order to spend their money on alcohol rather than on food,” Musker added.
Nightwatch responded: “Mr Musker’s opinions are markedly lacking in factual substance. He does not think much of soup runs, and that is his right, but that does not mean he should be using the influence of the police to denigrate the work of fellow citizens in Croydon.”
Nightwatch’s daily soup kitchen provides food, drink, bedding, clothes and toiletries for homeless and vulnerable people living in Croydon, and serves up to 100 people a night.
Homelessness in Croydon is at an eight year high and the number of people attending the soup kitchen has increased in recent years.
Despite the report’s claim that “the volunteers have limited engagement with the attendees,” Roger Davies, a Nightwatch trustee and long-term soup kitchen volunteer, said: “We come into close contact with these people who are always polite and grateful that we are serving them.”
“We go there every single day of the year, 365 evenings a week and it never fails to amaze me how appreciative people are.”
Established in 1978, Nightwatch is the largest volunteer organisation in Croydon and has been running the soup kitchen for 37 years. It was awarded the Voluntary Organisation of the year award by the council last year.