Croydon’s first ever Poet Laureate is celebrated spoken word artist Shaniqua Benjamin from Thornton Heath.

The announcement was made to coincide with National Poetry Day and Black History month which recognises and celebrates Croydon’s significant history of spoken word and poetry.

The former pupil at Winterbourne Primary School and Norbury Manor Secondary School, who was born and raised in Thornton Heath, previously wrote and performed poems to mark occasions of cultural significance for Croydon, including the reopening of Fairfield Halls in September last year.

Shaniqua 28, is also a writer and creative workshop facilitator who has used her passion for making a difference to found Young People Insight CIC, a platform that inspires young people through creativity, conversation and writing.

She said: “I love my home of Croydon and poetry is one of my great loves, so becoming Croydon’s first Poet Laureate means more than words can describe. I’m looking forward to hearing the voices of the beautiful people all over Croydon and making poetry more accessible.”

Last month, Shaniqua was joined by other local artists who have inspired her and been part of her journey, to celebrate her laureateship. She performed her first commission as Poet Laureate for Croydon, Come Together, which explores how the borough has united during the pandemic which can be viewed on YouTube.

She holds her laureateship until October 2023, when she will lead in the selection of the new laureate. Shaniqua’s journey to 2023 will see her undertake a number of residences to delve into the Croydon experience and identity, empowering others to find their voices through poetry.

Her first residency will start at the Museum of Croydon, where she will be supported through a Diversity Matters grant from London Museum Development.

It has been funded by Arts Council England, to undertake the project Voices of Croydon which will examine the extent and representation of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) voices in the museum collection.

They will identify any gaps and also reinterpret aspects of the collection and present them as an online exhibition.

Throughout October, Shaniqua has worked with Croydon Libraries to deliver an Instapoetry competition where young people are asked to write poetry inspired by a book, author or artist that inspires them, to be shared on Croydon Libraries Instagram page.