Croydon was named London Borough of Culture for 2023, claiming the title from worthy competitors across the capital to cop the £1.35M funding award.
The money will be used to host a series of cultural events and hundreds of community projects.
A new exhibition at the Museum of Croydon highlights the stories and influence of Croydon residents who have shaped the borough through their Caribbean roots but are often uncredited or under-represented.
Some of the people featured in the exhibition are the Metropolitan Police’s first female Black police officer, the late Sislin Fay Allen, sibling champion boxers Clinton and Duke McKenzie, and renowned musical director, composer, and performer, Ken Burton.
A Trinidadian, soca DJ and producer Ché In The Mixx, Ché Leonard, 54, is also featured among the Croydon trailblazers who have shaped the borough in the exhibition titled Citizen UK: Croydon’s Caribbean Influencers.
The exhibition is produced in collaboration with the Museum of Croydon, the National Portrait Gallery, artist Kyam (Camara Pinnock), Croydon Poet Laureate Shaniqua Benjamin, and a local volunteer group of Citizen Researchers for The Mayor of London’s London Borough of Culture programme.
It creatively tells these inspiring stories using archive material, spoken word by Benjamin, and portraits by Kyam, giving a snapshot of the local histories uncovered.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian Leonard said “I’m extremely delighted to have been selected and it is such an honour to be featured among other exceptional individuals of Caribbean heritage who have all made significant cultural contributions to Britain.
“It is such an honour to be featured among other exceptional individuals of Caribbean heritage who all have made significant contributions to Britain through music, Carnival, poetry and the culinary arts.
“It’s humbling that my personal journey over three decades has been captured in a full-length interview, visual installation, and short poem. I’ve been truly proud to showcase my country of birth, Trinidad & Tobago, and the wider Caribbean.”
He said even more exciting was the news that his recording will be shown at the National Portrait Gallery and housed permanently in their national archives.
“That’s a big deal for a little boy from San Fernando, Trinidad!” he added.
He said he was very thankful to have been selected for this recognition and wished to dedicate it to his late parents, Winston and Janice Leonard, who he knows are always watching over him. His wish is that they continue to sleep in eternal peace.
Leonard, a Caribbean cultural influencer, who has been living in England since 1989, also produced in conjunction with Machel Montano his Alternative Concept concerts. He lived in the borough of Croydon and was nominated to be part of the exhibition because of his involvement with music and food as he was also a chef. He is also involved in Carnival, anything to do with the culture of T&T and to a certain extent, the wider Caribbean as he also did work for Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada.
The exhibition shows how Caribbean people have helped influence the borough through their diverse cultures and their uniqueness from the various Caribbean islands.
Leonard explained that the exhibition is set up like a record shop and the established Caribbean tradition of sharing stories and songs, and visitors can hear clips of the people interviewed and flip through and select albums of the Croydon natives.
The walls have portraits of the people created by artist Kyam and Croydon’s first Poet Laureate Shaniqua Benjamin both used the interviews and stories about each role model, a prominent figure, and Croydon’s Caribbean influencers as inspiration for their respective mediums, in Kyam’s paintings and Benjamin’s poems.
Leonard said that the volunteer group Citizen Researchers from the borough of Croydon with an interest and connection to Caribbean heritage helped research and collect new oral histories of people bringing their Caribbean influence to their work, life, and community.
He said the exhibition also coincides with National Windrush Day on June 22 and will mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the passengers of the Empire Windrush to the UK. The day celebrates the contribution and achievements of the Windrush generation and their descendants.
Citizen UK: Caribbean Influencers exhibition is at the Museum of Croydon until June 30. Find out more about the programme for This is Croydon at culturecroydon.com and follow @culturecroydon on social media.