Why you should care about the Croydon Communities Consortium

By - Friday 10th January, 2014

Sean Creighton ponders what the newly created community consortium could achieve if political bickering is kept away

Image by pixelhut and used under Creative Commons license.

On 14th January the first public meeting is being organised by the  Croydon Communities Consortium. It was established after the former Neighbourhood Partnership was shut down by the council. But how the Consortium develops will depend on who takes part, its understanding of community, community cohesion, the nature of Croydon and the processes of change, and the development of a common vision.

Unless a strong, independent, integrated community action alliance is built, the ability to influence things will remain weak. This means that past personality conflicts and rivalries need to be put aside. Such an alliance is needed regardless of which political party wins control of the council in May.

There has been a lot of debate on many of the issues of concern in the borough here on The Croydon Citizen, and through the Future of Fairfield Halls and Arts Debate initiatives. These have brought a range of organisations and individuals together, showing the scope for joint working that the consortium can help foster in other areas of activity. There is a need to distil what the issues and the problems faced in community action in Croydon are. Sharing information and ideas provides mutual support and develops understanding.

But Britain is becoming a very fractured society and the negative aspects of human attitudes and behaviour are gaining ground – racism, for example, which is often portrayed as concern about immigration and Islam, or religious intolerance, or social intolerance. More and more groups become tarred as ‘the enemy within’: people on benefits (‘scroungers’), Muslims, immigrants from eastern Europe, single parents, people with mental health problems, young people under 25 – who next? – so called NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) who stand up for their local communities against unwanted developments? We see this played out in the posturing of the political parties, the behaviour of some of the media, and even in the rows within the Anglican Church.

Past personality conflicts and rivalries need to be out aside

The glue that holds society together is being dismantled. The chances of social disorder and riot will increase. People will become more and more frustrated with politicians who hypocritically attack living standards. Wanting salary increases for themselves, these politicians are failing to take action against the banks, the utility and pay day loan companies.

While Britain is made up of multiple cultures, their lack of inter-connectivity prevents it from becoming an integrated multi-cultural society. The worst offenders in this are those sections of the white British who forget their own immigrant roots, often consume the best of other cultures, but who expect everyone else to integrate into British society without taking steps to positively welcome and help the process. This pressures minorities to become inward looking.

Most of the economic, social, physical and environmental changes that are happening are in the control of people and businesses who have no lasting commitment to Croydon. Landlords who increase rents encourage further movement of people and change demographics. Commercial landlords who do the same force smaller businesses out, letting to ones which seemingly have no relationship with the needs of local people. Meanwhile developers of all types change the built environment and, in the case of larger developers, erect more and more inhuman scale tower blocks.

It is important to understand this context because it poses serious challenges for how community activists can operate. With the increase in the dormitory nature of Croydon it becomes more difficult to encourage people to become involved in local affairs and organisations.

Community Cohesion

The word ‘community’ is often treated as a single entity. It is not – it is comprised of many different overlapping communities, it includes people who move in and out of different communities, belonging to more than one community at any one time. Some communities are privileged more than others, while many communities can be excluded.

It can be defined as the web of personal relationships, groups, networks, traditions and patterns of behaviour that exist amongst those who share physical neighbourhoods, socio-economic conditions, or common understandings and interests e.g. users, disabled, ethnic, faith, gender/sexuality, age, interest, workplace, business, sport, hobby. Or that develop against the backdrop of the physical neighbourhood and its socio-economic situation.

The consortium should consider:

  • what are the many varied ‘communities’ in Croydon?
  • which are more privileged than others?
  • which are excluded or perceive themselves to be excluded?

The answers to these questions should form part of any analysis which underpins what the needs and aspirations of residents are as individuals and collectively in their different communities. There are several important networks in the borough that need to be borne in mind as part of the way in which people and organisations interconnect. They include the political parties, arts and culture networks, environmental activists, heritage organisations, trade unions, voluntary organisations… and not forgetting those who have connections going  back years who are also important sources of background knowledge.

All these networks contain people with skills and expertise and can be used to help communicate information and build interlinks.

One of the best definitions is that community cohesion is about the dynamic relationships between and within communities.

“A cohesive community is one where there is a common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities; the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued; those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and with neighbourhoods.”

Is this what the Croydon Communities Consortium should be trying to achieve?

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    The Neighbourhood Partnerships were very good and unbiased. We used to attend the meetings in Selsdon. Unfortunately, the new Chair of the Croydon Commmunities Consortium is a very, very left-wing activist and therefore we would not attend any of the forthcoming meetings.

    • Sean Creighton

      The fact that you regard Elizabeth Ash as very left wing does not mean the purpose of the meeting is left-wing. The aim of the meeting is to let people who attend to have their say regardless of their political leanings. It is perfectly possible for people with different political views and even different party affiliations to work together on particular issues of joint concern.

      • Anne Giles

        If it were any other Labour supporter as Chair I would go. However, she and I are arch enemies. Sad.

  • CroydonNeighbourhood

    Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down Sean. There was a period of inaction before the working group was put in place back in July 2013 meaning few know of CCC so the new committee have quite a task on their hands!

    CCC is apolitical and anyone is welcome to attend our public meetings.

    Any issue or concern can be raised, and item promoted.

    The aim is to promote open engagement, within and across communities in Croydon.

    If you are wondering what it is all about why not come to one of our meetings? The next is in Shirley on Tuesday evening.


    Details on our website: http://croydoncc.wordpress.com/