This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 20/06/2018.
My hopes and fears for Croydon’s young mayor
So there I was, sitting in my choir busily thumbing the pages of my songbook when, suddenly, a leaflet was thrust into my hands.
I turned to see my good friend, grinning in my face, saying “My William is standing for young mayor… tell everyone to vote for him”. Given that I was about thirty years too old to vote in this young election, I studied his leaflet and promptly popped it into my bag. Thereafter, it was like those leaflets were following me. Even walking to East Croydon train station, there was William’s picture staring at me bidding me – and any young person who walked past – to put the cross in the box and vote for William Awomoyi.
As a slight aside, I have known William and his mum for years and he is a bright, smart and articulate young man, with a strong and determined mother. It therefore came as no surprise to me that he had set his sights high and that he subsequently won the election, too!
There are pockets in the borough where knife crime is a very real issue
So… What now? William’s manifesto focused on youth crime and safety. Anyone who lives in this area will be very sympathetic to this cause. There are pockets of this borough where this is a real problem. Too many stabbings and way too much knife crime for us as a society to be relaxed about these issues. So I’m really excited that this is being championed by a young person. Someone willing to stand up and say, “Guys, knife crime is wrong. Let’s do something better with our lives!”. He follows in the phenomenal footsteps of Eliza Rebeiro, the Croydonian founder of London charity Lives Not Knives. Eliza started the initiative at fourteen years old after a friend fell victim to youth crime and gang culture. Eleven years on, LNK is still working tirelessly to help our young people stay away from knife crime and gang culture and make a better choice, such as further education, apprenticeships and employment.
I’m excited that the issue of knife crime and safety is being championed by a young person. The mayor is ‘our first citizen’ and should be a terrific role model in our communities. I am honoured to have worked with our recent mayor, Toni Letts and the mayors before her during my tenure as chair of Croydon Chamber. They are phenomenal people who work tirelessly to champion good local community projects.
But we are all – sorry my friends… how can I put it? – experienced people of some (fine) age. Even when I do my own talks in schools and colleges, I can’t help but feel that they think that I’m slightly departed from the lives of young people today. It only takes my ten year old to show me the ‘floss’ dance to confirm that point!
I hope that our young mayor will be a true role model, using the platform to find out why we have this problem
Back to business. I hope that William will continue to speak up against knife crime in our area. I hope that he will be a true role model, getting out there and using the platform that he has been honoured with to gain access to our schools and institutions and have a real down-to-earth chat with people his age as to why we have this problem… And figure out what we can we do to fix this issue in our society. I hope that our beloved Croydon council (yes, Tony Newman – you know I am speaking to you) gives William the resources he needs to do this important work and importantly listens to him when he feeds back with the critical knowledge that we need for the future of our society.
One of the biggest positives for young people in the Croydon area will be the 2019 opening of the Croydon OnSide Youth Zone. This will be a purpose-built, state-of-the-art youth facility for the borough’s eight-nineteen year olds. You will know from previous posts that I am connected with David Melliss (community liaison) and Nick Sleep (chair) and I thoroughly support the initiative. If there is any corporate organisation inspired to help, please let me know! At a recent House of Lords lunch, we heard first-hand from two young people whose lives OnSide had changed. It is indeed a life-changing organisation. I hope that William sticks to his manifesto, and pushes it through to the best of his ability.
So enough about William – he’s good but we can’t leave it all on his young shoulders. What can we do? Well… we can get involved. Get involved with our local communities. There’s no point waiting for the government to fix things. Theresa May looks a tad busy with the whole customs union, after all. Why not volunteer to do a talk at a local school, offer an apprenticeship, get involved with OnSide, offer someone some work experience, do something to help our communities to be the best that they can be. What can you do to help to make your community a better place?