The Croydon Conversations: who wants to help to make Croydon a home for thinkers and intellectuals?

By - Tuesday 24th April, 2018

Let’s make our borough a place for debate and discussion

Socrates once allegedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.

Some people are content with an unexamined life; one that is not much more complicated than catching up on Netflix series, monitoring sale prices on ASOS and booking a holiday twice a year in the sun. Others, however, demand more – and are prepared to consider the ‘bigger questions’: Why are we here? What happens when we die? Do I have a purpose? Where can I find meaning? How, then, should I live?

We know that there is a hunger for this kind of debate: you only have to look at the phenomenal success of TED Talks in the past decade to understand the grip that great ideas and even better speakers have on people. I, personally, am an avid fan of Socrates in The City, Veritas Forum and Qideas, and I’m convinced that there are others in Croydon who would appreciate it if we could bring similar events to the borough to create a thought-provoking and stimulating culture of debate and discussion right here.

Afterwards, the people of Croydon could decamp to discuss ideas over canapés and beer

Imagine a Croydon where every night of the week venues across town hosted lectures and debates with titles such as ‘Bitcoin, crypto-currencies and the implications for Croydon’s economy’ or ‘How the artificial intelligence boom will impact employment for Croydonians’ or ‘The right and wrongs of sex work in Croydon’.

Afterwards, the audience would decamp to the many art galleries and pubs in Croydon to enjoy canapés and beer and discuss what they’d just heard. And after that, social media would light up with clips and post-mortems of what had just been discussed.

Café chatter would now go beyond the mundane to consider the metaphysical; the blogosphere would no longer be jeremiads about Croydon Council but meditations on the Council of Nicea. No longer would you have to hoof yourself to the British Library to hear the CEO of Twitter speak at the British Library. In this world, you could see Sam Harris or Steven Pinker or Julie Burchill in conversation live at TMRW.

Bian Li speaks at TEDx DesMoines 2011.
Photo by Jason Walsmith, used under Creative Commons licence.

The successes of RISE Gallery’s lectures, Croydon Tech City’s debates and Croydon Literary Festival’s panels prove that when the opportunity to hear thought-provoking and challenging ideas is presented, the people of Croydon will turn up.

The Croydon Conversations could take shape in a variety of ways. It could be:

  • Lecture series with different speakers each time, like this
  • A ‘fireside chat’ interview series with famous people, like this
  • A series of debates between two experts, like this
  • Or, an annual Festival of Ideas, like this

Whatever format the Croydon Conversations take, it’s crucial that these shouldn’t be boring, staid talks about politics and political parties. There’s nothing drier than listening to yet another debate about the impact of Brexit or the importance of the NHS or how to fund more police on our streets. Leave that to council meetings.

The Croydon Conversations should be the kind of talks that challenge personal convictions, make you uncomfortable and force you to re-evaluate your world view. Topics should include life, death, ethics and grand narratives with no favour or prominence given to any particular position. The Croydon Conversations should be a forum where Croydonians can hear speakers passionately and articulately take a big idea and explain how it relates to Croydon.

Just having an idea won’t make this event materialise

It’s one thing to have a cool idea. People have cool ideas all the time. But just having an idea won’t make it magically materialise.

Perhaps you’re reading this and nodding at how awesome it sounds. Perhaps you’re even being so good as to make a mental note to attend some of these talks when they are on. Thanks. But, again, that won’t make it happen.

I’ve got too much on post-Croydon Tech City to take on this task and do it justice. However, last year, I saw firsthand when I brought together a team for Croydon’s first literary festival, that there are people out there who are more talented, energetic and capable than I could ever be, who could deliver this vision of making Croydon a home for thinkers and intellectuals.

You don’t need experience of running events to get involved

Therefore, I’d like to assemble again a team of Croydon-loving volunteers who want to take the reigns of this idea and make it happen. You might not be a speaking expert or have experience running events, but don’t worry: this just needs people who are proactive and committed to the idea of making Croydon an intellectual hotbed and can use Google and email to find interesting speakers.

The Croydon Conversations team should consist of people that fit into these roles:

  • Project manager: this person is the organiser who can keep everything on track and can plan milestones and deadlines so the whole endeavour doesn’t collapse or run out of steam
  • The marketer: this person knows how to market an event by ringing up newspapers, writing about it everywhere, building an email list and being active on social media
  • The seller: this person will have a commercial/sales background. Even if no money or sponsorships are involved in delivering the Croydon Conversations, they will have the skills to ‘sell’ the idea or ‘convince’ others to help
  • The well-networked Croydonian: this person knows everything and everyone in Croydon – if a need or problem arises, they will know the Croydon person or establishment that can solve it, and proactively contact them
  • The well-networked enthusiast: this person may have had a career in academia or media, and knows lots of people who could speak fluently on a variety of subjects

The above are just guiding ideas of the sort of team required to make the Croydon Conversations happen. To be honest, it could be delivered by just two people if they were competent and enthusiastic enough about the idea.

That said, something like this can’t attract well-meaning individuals who get all excited, start strong, attend a few meetings, and then lose interest quickly. This will require you to dedicate at least three hours per fortnight (emailing, meeting, thinking, phoning, strategising, planning, etc.) by yourself or with the team. If you can’t even commit that small effort, don’t bother.

You don’t need to raise lots of money to deliver the Croydon Conversations

Crucially, this can all be done for free. No money necessarily needs to be raised to deliver the Croydon Conversations. In fact, it’s better to deliver it on a shoestring at first so as not to overcomplicate things. Local and London speakers can be booked to give talks for free. Venues can be booked for free. Marketing materials can be made for free. It just takes a winning (and winsome) team of people who have time, vision and drive and are enthused about it.

There is currently a cultural renaissance happening in Croydon: the art galleries and fringe festivals are making Croydon a home for artists and art-lovers. The Croydon Tech City boom made Croydon a home for inventors and creators. Croydon Literary Festival has made the borough a home for poets, playwrights and authors.

Let’s now make Croydon a home for intellectuals and thinkers, too.

If you would like to make the Croydon Conversations happen – in whatever form it eventually takes – please email me at with an explanation of how you can contribute. Once I have enough volunteers, I’ll connect you all and we can have a kick-off meeting.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Shujah Iqbal

    This is a great idea and agree this would be great for Croydon

    • Jonny Rose

      Thank you for the kind words, Shujah! I hope others agree and I can pull together a team to make this happen :)

  • Tony Skrzypczyk

    Very worthwhile article, the CNHSS to a small extent arrange talks as can be seen by their previous programme here fron October 2017-April 2018.Please visit their web site shortly for the new programme from May 2018. The Museum of Croydon have occasional talks one yesterdsy by the Croydon Airport Historical Trust was on the Zepellin Raid on Croydon during the First World War. Talks in Croydon are happening alhough perhaps on much smaller scale than Jonny is suggesting.I shall be watching any progress with anticipation.

  • Geoff Ranson

    All sounds a very good idea and I would go along to some of them when I am in Croydon. My only comment is that they need to be open and inclusive to all of the borough’s residents to avoid this being seen as another potential gentrification where those in the north of the borough might be discouraged to attend. A roving roadshow that goes to all the parts of the borough would be a possible solution to that.

  • Charles Barber

    A fine enthusiastic article but surely if you truly want to have a Croydon conversation, you shouldn’t put any limits on what can be discussed. One of the reasons I really like living in Croydon is that you can have fascinating conversations with people from all walks of life. If we want the Croydon conversation to be more than just a group of intellectuals engaged in debates that have little bearing on most people’s lives, surely we need those conversations to be about how we can improve Croydon for everybody, which means that everybody needs to be encouraged to take part in the conversation. I envisage a monthly Croydon Salon, where a Croydon bricklayer might discuss philosophy or the disciplined craft of laying bricks with a tech innovator, an artist and an engineering student. Surely also the profusion and success of various park and community groups throughout Croydon show that Croydon is best improved when people work with the Council and vice versa. At a time in our history when budgets for local councils have been scandalously cut, conversations are very much needed between the Council and residents about how we might best tackle some of the problems Croydon faces. As a bit of an old windbag myself, I’m very much in favour of conversation, but lets hope some of these conversations have some influence and lead to practical action.