This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 25/01/2018.
The Croydon Forum: a catalyst for positive change
The first meeting of the Croydon Forum for Change is branded a success.
Get a group of people together who care about the future of Croydon, who have different experiences and expertise, and let them chat freely about how such a new group might help improve our diverse and fascinating borough. This was more or less the remit for the first meeting of The Croydon Forum for Change. I knew that there were dangers in not setting an agenda, but I wanted people to be able to talk about what seemed important to them, and to have a chance to get to know each other. I suspect that such a format enabled all of us to learn something new about Croydon, and I was very glad that when discussion seemed to be veering in either a too-vague or too-technical direction, other group members were keen to bring the conversation back to what we could practically do to change Croydon for the better. Nineteen of us squeezed around a long table in the exhibition room at Matthews Yard, kindly loaned to us by Leoni Descartes, and the conversation flowed naturally and freely, so that we rather overstayed our welcome. Thus I’d like to apologise to the barman for not appreciating the official closing time and making him miss his bus. Yet, although I learned more about the history of Croydon’s town planning and housing, it was not until near the end of the meeting that a couple of comments suggested which direction such a group as ours might initially take.
At one point, someone pointed out what most of us around the table had in common. Although there were three people possibly under the age of 30, the rest of us were middle-aged, middle-class white people. How representative were we really of the multi-ethnic and diverse borough of Croydon? I wonder if any of us had ever been homeless or used a food bank? Yet we all agreed that the variety of people and cultures was one of the things that made Croydon more interesting and exciting. We wanted all Croydonians to feel valued and to be able to make a worthwhile contribution to our society – but how could we help do that, unless we had a bit more understanding of the problems and difficulties they faced?
The other comment was more specific and referred to the newly pedestrianised area in central Croydon. One of the group had cycled through it and was disappointed to find that, despite the lack of traffic, the area still had a very similar atmosphere as before. People weren’t stopping to have a chat, the strange planter/stage(?) that the council had put in was being largely ignored, and nobody quite understood its purpose. Admittedly, the British winter weather might not have made it quite so amenable at this time of the year for social discourse, but we all agreed more could be done to make better use of this section of reclaimed street. Could we perhaps use it to bring the communities of Croydon together?
A pop-up market would surely foster a broader sense of community
Thus we came up with the idea of having pop-up markets there, which would aim to include stalls from all the diverse areas and communities of Croydon. In such a way, we and others would learn more about our borough, and a broader sense of community might be fostered. Part of the role of such a group as ours should surely be to support and encourage all the community and charity groups that are already doing such a valuable job in Croydon. I see our other two roles as to put on different events that bring the people of Croydon together, and to do the necessary research to come up with innovative solutions for tackling some of Croydon’s many problems. Alas councils, struggling to cope with the latest austerity measures and balance the books, do not seem to have enough time and energy to be willing to explore innovative ideas that may provide solutions to the many problems of our particular patch of urban jungle. Yet, if we can provide them with the evidence that such-and-such a policy has been shown to work elsewhere, or that it wouldn’t cost that much money to take a slightly different approach, perhaps we may even begin to have some influence on our leaders.
Sadly Croydon still has an image problem. Though I, and probably everyone around the table may appreciate its diversity, its sense of community and the friendliness of most of its people, most people that haven’t been here are not really tempted to do so. Usually when Croydon makes the local BBC London news, it’s not for a good reason (the one recent exception to this being a complimentary piece about some of Croydon’s wonderful murals). Yet we in Croydon not only have a lot to give to each other, but also a lot to offer the world. I have met far more inspiring, innovative and compassionate people in Croydon in the three years I’ve been here, than I did in the 21 years that I lived in Woking. Also, Croydonians have a better sense of humour, and there is nothing like humour for breaking down barriers and bringing people together. Thus, I am proposing that the first event that the Croydon Forum put on is a one-day ‘Festival of Silliness’ to raise money for Comic Relief. There will be a ‘Silly Walk’ competition, a silly costume competition, a silly song competition… and hopefully many more events. We are looking for a councillor or council officer to be Minister of Silliness for the day, and hope it can take place in the newly pedestrianised area, and perhaps St George’s Walk.
Our next meeting will be held at 6pm on Friday 9th February in the exhibition space at Matthews Yard. Everyone who wants to make Croydon a fairer, greener and more dynamic society is welcome. We may start by being openly silly (and hopefully will never take ourselves too seriously), but we do have a serious purpose. After all, the future of Croydon is too important to be left solely in the hands of politicians.