How refreshing, a panel discussion about creating a new queer space and the narrative is outside the usual haunts. On this occasion it was looking past the East London gay scene, beyond Soho and even further South than Vauxhall - this conversation was about “Queering Croydon”. Taking place at the Croydon Arts Store in Whitgift Shopping Centre the panel and discussion coincided with Ruhul Abdin’s ‘Reclining Nude Scrolls’. So it was among a series of Indian Ink drawings exploring the reclined nude, a series of self portraits, all of which of Ruhul, his friends or his lovers no less, discussions followed an open question and answer session led by a panel.
Taking centre stage was Almass Badat, Ana Benlloch, Mandisa Apena, Fahmida Islam and Asifa Lahore and the session was chaired by Ruhul with floor contributions from David Page, Secretary of the Croydon Area Gay Society, and Fabio Schiffano, a member of the Croydon Pride Steering Committee. Panelists made their case for a new queer venue by sharing their experiences of places and spaces where they felt safe, and put forward suggestions such as mentoring schemes, events and cultural representations of the queer community in and out of Croydon. But the nuanced diversity that also exists within the LGBTQI community and the individual space those nuances might need was also touched on. The conversation also turned to the number of establishments that are no more, the swathe of gay or LGBT+ venues that have closed across London and Croydon too - but when put in the context of a new venue, that meant how could it be financially sustained. One idea was to capitalise on disused spaces like the Whitgift shopping Centre that is soon to be redeveloped and sits part empty with an abundance of retail units unoccupied.
There was definitely a feeling of optimism and interest for a queer space in Croydon with more than fifty people turning up to see the exhibition, at the end moving to the Loft for an enchanting live music performance by Tom and Jet of the Ninetales Collective amongst striking nude scrolls. A fitting place for a divers gathering of LGBTQ+ people engaging in discussion about urban place-making, a discussion that held dear the principals of a space for people of colour, people of different abilities and class and cultures - a safe space for all, a queer space for many and one in Croydon no less.