What the Opportunity and Fairness Commission’s interim report is for, by its chair

By - Tuesday 10th November, 2015

If it’s to succeed, your Fairness Commission needs YOU, says Bishop Jonathan Clark

Artwork by Matt Bannister for the Croydon Citizen.

Launched in January 2015, the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission is working with the people of Croydon to release the potential of the borough. The commission is led by a group of volunteers with a wide variety of experiences and expertise. Our task is to understand the challenges facing Croydon – the causes and patterns of disadvantage and lack of opportunity – and to develop ways of overcoming them.

The commission’s recently released interim report was the product of hundreds of conversations with residents and others around the borough. We asked what kind of place people wanted Croydon to be, how disadvantages could be overcome, and what a set of shared ambitions might look like.

The report sets out six priority areas where we can make lasting and meaningful change in Croydon:

  • Building vibrant, responsible and connected communities
  • Using the town centre to lift the whole borough
  • Making sure no child is left behind
  • Finding homes for all
  • Supporting residents towards better times
  • Creating a connected borough where no one is left isolated

The experience that I and my fellow commissioners have had in developing these over the course of the year has been both inspiring and challenging.

It’s futile to rail against unfairness caused by decisions beyond our control

When we began, the ambition and scale of the task before us was daunting. We knew we were looking at finding ways to achieve change against the backdrop of a declining public purse, rising house prices and a unique set of demographic pressures. And we knew that to make a difference we needed to concentrate not on railing against the unfairness caused by decisions beyond our control – a futile task – but on looking at what we can achieve together as a borough.

Photo by the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission, used with permission.

Through my day job, I already had a sense of the richness of Croydon’s communities. My work over this year has brought this home in glorious technicolour. We’ve found a borough that is a hive of activity, with residents, businesses and those who work in our public services, all caring passionately about making Croydon a better place.

A thread that has run through many of the most inspiring and innovative things we’ve seen is that they come from the bottom up rather than the top down – through people with shared interests uniting to achieve the seemingly impossible. These kinds of change require new relationships and ways of thinking, but they also give the opportunity to lay deep and lasting roots.

Our starting point to achieve this was to explore what is right in Croydon instead of what is wrong: the brilliant initiatives that could be rolled out; the goodwill untapped; the conversation with the organisation in the next borough that might save us having to reinvent the wheel; the introduction of someone in need of help to someone in need of a purpose.Take the food banks that are helping some of the most disadvantaged in our borough – or take Croydon Tech City, London’s fastest growing digital start-up hub. These were not the result of ideas imposed upon people, but of residents getting together and seizing the initiative to create opportunities and relieve some the most acute challenges.

I knew the richness of Croydon, but now I see it in glorious technicolour

Many of the ideas in our report stem from this inspiration. They concern how people can come together to deal with our most pressing challenges. We’ve looked at how more power can be given to communities, so neighbourhoods can support their local businesses and Croydon’s distinct communities can make decisions based on their own unique needs and ambitions.

For example, to help relieve the pressure of perhaps Croydon’s most stark challenge – that of homelessness – we’ve considered how to bring together the generosity of those who own their home and have spare bedrooms with those who don’t currently have a room over their heads. Likewise, we’ve looked at how new forms of finance, such as social impact bonds, could bring different organisations together to provide homes. And we’ve looked at how communities can become more connected, joining up public services and volunteer groups, so no one is left isolated and lonely in their own homes.

Between now and January, the commission will be an incubator and an advocate for these movements and ideas. We will be reaching out to different groups, organisations and individuals to ask them to join us in making our ideas better and joining the change. We want everyone in every part of Croydon to join in and contribute ideas. This is a chance for us, as a borough, to confound people’s expectations of us and to unite behind the appetite for change which Croydon residents share. Croydon is a great place, but it can be so much better.

The commission can be a powerful instrument of change

The Opportunity and Fairness Commission will not solve all Croydon’s problems, but used in the right way it can be a powerful and effective instrument for change. For this to happen we need local people to join the change and use it to transmit their energy, ideas and passion.

Please read our interim report and urge others to read it. Some people have criticised the interim report because the policy suggestions aren’t complete: but that’s the whole point: that’s what makes it interim. So, before we produce our final report, we want you to tell us which ideas you think work, how we could improve them – and most importantly of all, how we can turn them into reality. With your help this can be a project which really helps Croydon to fulfil its potential.

We encourage you to get in touch at  and tweet @oppcroydon.

Jonathan Clark

Jonathan Clark

Bishop Jonathan was educated at Exeter University and ordained as a priest in 1989. He has had posts in parishes and in university chaplaincy in Carlisle, Bristol, Salisbury, Islington, and Hackney. He was appointed as Bishop of Croydon in 2012. Amongst other activities, he is now Chair of the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission. Outside of his church work he is a fan of Westray in the Orkney Islands, his favourite place for walking, reading and writing.

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  • Stephen Giles

    I wasn’t aware that chairs could write – I always thought that one sat on a chair!

  • Anne Giles

    I don’t use the word “chair” either.

  • Sean Creighton

    Oh come on Anne and Stephen haven’t you anything more serious to say about the Commission’s analysis and ideas. The argument about the word ‘chair’ is so old – and well past its sell by date. You may think it is a waste of time but the report is an important contribution to the debate about what the challenges facing Croydon are, how to improve the situation especially for the growing number who are finding life more and more of a struggle because of low income, rising rents, and the prospect of working families losing tax credits. And more and more middle earners are now feeling the squeeze and could plummet downwards if they lose their jobs or become ill. The debate also needs to take place around the Council’s Local Plan consultation because the planning framework is an important way to try and mediate the way in which future development happens.

    • Stephen Giles

      The argument about the word ‘chair’ may well be old, but still relevant. It is merely a question of correct description – chairman is masculine, and chairwoman is feminine. It’s as simple as that.