Croydon’s council leader promises a new relationship with voluntary sector

By - Wednesday 13th August, 2014

Sean Creighton attends a meeting which overruns, but no-one seems to mind

Bernard Weatherill House, Croydon Council’s new HQ.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

A very useful and well-attended meeting of the Croydon Voluntary Sector Alliance took place on Wednesday 30th July. Although it overran its allotted time, its success was clear when lots of people stayed afterwards, exchanging information and talking.

The new council Labour leadership is promising an improved relationship with the local community and voluntary sector (CVS). As a first step it is increasing the money available in the next round of applications to the Active Communities Fund by £50,000 to £150,000.

The voluntary sector has an important role to play

Faced with continuing government-enforced funding cuts, the council needs to completely review the long-term funding strategy for the CVS. This will be an important issue for the council’s new Fairness Commission to review.

The Labour administration elected in Croydon in May has made key pledges with regard to local jobs, local companies being able to bid for work and its wish to make Croydon an enjoyable place to live, work and enjoy leisure. The voluntary sector has an important role to play. In addition to the work of the Fairness Commission, the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) will be revitalised, with emphasis on promoting well-being, tackling inequality and social exclusion, and developing pride and a sense of belonging in Croydon. The community and voluntary sector has an important role to play in the work of the Fairness Commission and in delivering services.

Elderly people have been left isolated as day-time activities have been closed

Several people raised concerns about the adverse effects on previous Tory cuts to their funding, and how many people had been left isolated because their day-time activities had been closed. Mark Watson, councillor for Addiscombe ward, agreed that isolation, particularly of the elderly, was a problem. Unfortunately he could not give a promise about re-instating funding. On funding problems faced by advice services, Tony Newman offered urgent discussions.

Discussion on improvements to the way the council handles its communications with the public prompted a reminder that there is a digital divide, and that blind and visually-impaired people in particular still need large print and braille. Several people volunteered to help council Chief Executive Officer Nathan Elvery, who was present, ensure that the council used plain English in its communications.

The council wants strong relationships, even if the parties involved do not always agree

The scandal of empty housing in Croydon was raised in the context of the growing unaffordability of private sector rents. Acknowledging the housing crisis, Tony Newman was able to report on the recent initiatives on empty housing taken by the cabinet. CEO Elvery explained that because of data protection it is difficult for the council to share information about owners of empty property with others who would like to make use of these properties, but he was happy to discuss the type of properties wanted.

Concern was expressed about the accountability of Croydon Voluntary Action LINK given the large sums of money it handles. It was difficult for either Newman or Watson to respond on this other than to say they wanted a strong relationship with CVA based on mutual respect, even though the parties would not always agree.

The council must be on the side of residents

The public meetings organised by the Croydon Communities Consortium were referred to, and its predecessors the Neighbourhood Partnerships. Council leader Tony Newman said the latter were unlikely to be reinstated. He had considered there were too many and not many people had taken part.

It was stressed that the council needs to be more on the side of residents, to communicate more, to help connect people and foster involvement. CEO Elvery welcomed any ideas that would help make things more understandable and simpler by reducing unhelpful bureaucracy.

Finally, in an example of the positive benefits of so many different kinds of groups being represented together in one place, the organiser of Croydon Basketball Club was offered several possible venues for its activities, which have been taking place in Merton due to Croydon leisure centres’ hire charges. It was also announced from the floor that £380,000 would be available in Croydon from September 2014 from Sport England for sport in local venues.

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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  • Margot Rohan

    Your article mentions the Croydon Communities Consortium (CCC) and Neighbourhood Partnerships (NPs) but misconstrues the funding structures.
    The NPs were created, organised and funded totally by the Council from 2000-2011 (which, as a Democratic Services Officer, I managed for most of that period).

    There were 10 NPs, each covering 2 or 3 wards in the borough of Croydon (24 wards in total). Each NP met 3 times a year, in one of the partnerhip wards, enabling local residents to voice concerns and get responses from their ward councillors, Cabinet Members and council officers. The Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Steering Groups, which decided the agenda content for each meeting, consisted of local residents in the partnership area. When the Council ceased this initiative in 2011, the already existing Chairs and Vice-Chairs group continued, although not all the areas took an active part. The group formed the Croydon Communities Consortium, applied for funding from the Council’s Small Grants Fund and was awarded £5000. Whereas the NPs were totally Council-led and run, the CCC is entirely community-led with no Council support, other than this funding. However, its aims are along the same lines as the NPs but at an overall borough-level, providing support to geographically-based organisations, such as residents’ associations. Membership is open to ‘organisations, businesses and individuals over eighteen living in or operating in Croydon.’

    The CCC website has a lot of information about the history of its inception, with minutes of meetings etc:

    I hope this clarifies the situation.