A day spent listening to the voices of Croydon

By - Friday 19th May, 2017

On Saturday 8th April, the people of Croydon had many more conversations than usual

Photo author’s own.

The week running up to the Easter break was an interesting one in Croydon. To begin with, we had the Croydon incarnation of ‘Take Back Real Control‘, which took place in the TMRW start up hub in Croydon High Street on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th April. This initiative is supported by The World Transformed, which in turn grew out of the Momentum movement linked to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Its aim is to stimulate community involvement in the issues of the day, with a variety of themes being addressed, an obvious focus being the threats and opportunities arising from the decision to leave the European Union.

The programme started with a screening on Friday 7th April of the film I, Daniel Blake complete with a question and answer session with its director Ken Loach. It continued with a full day of debates and entertainment on the Saturday. I unfortunately missed the screening but I hear that it was an emotional experience, and disappointingly I’ve probably missed my sole opportunity to meet Ken Loach now.

I did however attend some of the sessions on Saturday 8th April. The event kicked off with an introduction on the theme of ‘What does Brexit mean to you?’. Journalist and human rights activist Ewa Jasiewicz led this and we were told to keep our position in the referendum to ourselves; however when we broke into small groups to discuss how we felt on the morning of Friday 24th June 2016, this instruction was comprehensively undermined. In the broader discussion that followed, this was pointed out.

How Croydon sees itself is often not aligned with the view of the wider world

Another notable moment was when Ewa used her best empathetic voice to sympathise with us over the tensions present in Croydon leading to the terrible assault on young asylum seeker Reker Ahmed. This caused a collective sharp intake of breath. The young man whose comment had provoked this sympathetic response was quick to say that he had grown up in Croydon and it wasn’t at all like that here. She had the good grace to apologise.

I moved on to the session on transport, only to leave when it got bogged down in the minutiae of whether or not train drivers should have control of train doors. Besides, I needed to head up the High Street, to the far reaches of North End, where a show of solidarity towards refugees was taking place. A fair crowd had turned out to support this and I arrived in time to join the march to Exchange Square. Subsequently, many of us were surprised that this event had made national television news, perhaps again an example of how what we take for granted in Croydon is not at all aligned with the impression the outside world has of us.

The word ‘affordable’ has totally altered its meaning

Returning to ‘Take Back Real Control’ after a lunch in Matthews Yard at BRGR&Beer (and subsequent gentrifier’s guilt), I caught the later stages of the debate on housing: ‘Home truths: housing in crisis’, featuring Dawn Foster (another journalist) and Alison Butler, deputy leader of Croydon Council with the homes, regeneration and planning portfolio. Although I’d missed the earlier parts of the discussion, much of what I did hear is covered in Alison’s article here in the Citizen. Again, we broke into small discussion groups reporting back to the panel. Plenty of support for rent controls was evident: my own view was that there is little chance of the current government countenancing that, a view which is shared by Alison Butler.

What was evident were the severe limitations on the power of local authorities to provide housing for affordable rent. Whilst initiatives such as Brick by Brick in Croydon have been started in order to get around this, there are still limitations. The venture has to break even, and what would have been the developer’s premium reverts to the council, allowing a greater proportion of what might be termed social housing to be included.

One thing that becomes apparent once housing is under discussion is that words assume new meaning. Nowhere is this more true than ‘affordable’. My day at least represented good value in terms of insights into the ways in which Croydon is addressing its current problems.

Ian Marvin

Ian Marvin

Ian is a product designer who moved to the borough in 2003. His interests in all things Croydon stretch from being on the committee of the Constructing Excellence Croydon Club to active membership of the Croydon Clandestine Cake Club. During the day he works on his interior lighting businesses which are also based in Croydon. In the unlikely event that he has any leisure time, he enjoys creating ceramic pieces and playing bass guitar. Any opinions expressed here are personal.

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  • Mark Johnson

    One thing that becomes apparent once housing is under discussion is that
    words assume new meaning. Nowhere is this more true than ‘affordable’.

    Quite right, People assume that affordbale means, well affordable! Which it doesn’t.

    A home worth £1 mil can come under the state’s definition if the market value of said property is say £1.5 mil. Bonkers.