This article was first published on The Croydon Citizen on 11/07/2016
In what sense, if at all, is Croydon a community – and are you even a part of it?
‘Community’ – like charidee and diversity – is one of those words that we all are guilty of using without thinking critically about what it actually means.
To speak of ‘community’ makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. It is an unassailable good, and something that we instinctively want to be associated with to the point where it has even given rise to horrifically self-important (and invariably self-ordained) community leaders.
But what is a ‘community’? And where – if at all – does community manifest in Croydon?
What is community?
There are many competing definitions for ‘community’, but they can all be largely reduced to commonality of either place or interest.
Place community can be seen as where people have something in common, and this shared element is understood geographically. Another way of naming this is as ‘locality’. Examples of this in Croydon include South Croydon Community Association or the Purley Business Association.
In interest communities, people share a common characteristic other than place. They are linked together by factors such as religious belief, sexual orientation, occupation or ethnic origin. In this way we may talk about Croydon’s ‘gay community’, the ‘Catholic community’ or the ‘Chinese community’.
Dunbar’s Number is a principle which dictates that we can only meaningfully maintain relationships with up to 120 people at any given time. This is particularly interesting in the age of social media which can extend the number of people we can have social relationships with to the hundreds, if not thousands; something which I have found personally beneficial for fostering and maintaining communities of interest in Croydon (whilst others have found quite the opposite!).
Yet beyond dictionary definitions, shouldn’t ‘community’ mean more than just a group of likeminded people who happen to share the same postcode or love of the same football team?
The Croydon community Test
My test for whether you are in community or not boils down to three questions:
‘Does anyone outside of your house known your name?’
‘If you were ill tomorrow would those people come and help you?’
‘If you died would they miss you?’
If your answer to any of those is ‘no’, then you’re not in any meaningful sense part of a community in Croydon.
It’s no shame to come to this realisation: a community where you are not just known but where you are valued and give value is not an easy thing to find in modern Britain, let alone Croydon. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to rectify this.
There is no such thing as community in Croydon – or is there?
Maybe Margaret Thatcher was right: there is no such thing as society. Or maybe John Donne was right: no man is an island. Whatever your view of ‘community’, Croydon is certainly a town that contains many communities, both of place and interest.
At Grace Vineyard, when a family has a new birth, members of the church will go on a rota to deliver and provide them with home-cooked meals for as long as they need. As local friends of mine will attest, we will even do this for locals who aren’t part of our church community! It’s a great example of local community: we know one another, we care for one another, we miss each other when absent.
But outside of my own experience, I’ve been hugely encouraged by all of the instances of Croydon community profiled and celebrated in the Croydon Citizen, whether it is the infantry-commando-turned-pastor starting a new community in Addiscombe or the young apprentice who found her place in the world with the help of her community at Fairfield Halls.
Against this heartening backdrop, I am struck by the number of people in Croydon that continue to talk about community without actually being part of it. Community involves giving as well as taking. It means doing, not just thinking. It involves meeting, not just talking about meeting.
When people treat ‘community’ in Croydon seriously rather than academically, we all benefit.