Develop Croydon ostracises the very community that makes Croydon worth developing

By - Monday 21st November, 2016

Local businessman Devin Stephenson isn’t impressed with what Develop Croydon represents

Image by Lis Watkins, used with permission.

Every November, hundreds of speculative property developers and investors descend on Croydon for the Develop Croydon conference.

Many delegates are looking to buy properties and land, and use them to build luxury apartments that local people can’t afford. With tickets to the event costing £395, it’s clear that the Croydon general public is unwelcome. As far as I can tell from the descriptions on the website, very few of the speakers at Develop Croydon are from the Croydon community: they don’t live here or shop here or have any ties to the area beyond a profit motive.

Yet these are the people that have been chosen to speak for Croydon – and offer the town up to be built on, demolished or reused as these out-of-towners see fit.

The hundreds of colourful public murals that we all enjoy are a result of the work of locals that live, work and breathe Croydon

Which is a shame, isn’t it? Particularly as nearly everything that’s making Croydon marketable and desirable to people like this has been the result of Croydonians on the ground who have invested their own time, money and efforts to make the borough a better place.

I am a Croydonian born and bred. I spend my days with my videography business and brand Devoland documenting the people of the borough who have invested their lives into making it better for all. People like Kevin of RISE Gallery. These people are not onstage at Develop Croydon.

What about the arts? It’s people like Kevin, and Alice Cretney of TURF Projects, that have worked hard to create a grassroots art scene in Croydon. Those hundreds of colourful public murals that we all enjoy as we walk around each day, those art galleries that make Croydon unique, are not the work of random architects and consultancies, but locals that live, work and breathe Croydon.

I don’t believe that Develop Croydon should suddenly be given over to shouting matches with disgruntled members of public

What about the tech scene? Croydon didn’t become ‘the Silicon Valley of South London’ because of the new TMRW workspace on the High Street – it was because of the Croydon Tech City organisation that worked for years to build up a community of hundreds of volunteers from tech professions, relocated startup businesses here, run free events and classes to help educate locals, and has put Croydon in the national papers and the BBC. None of the CTC team is on the tech panel.

I’ve seen how Croydon has changed over the years. I’ve seen it become the UK’s fastest growing economy, I’ve seen it become a centre of street art, and many other good things. But I’ve also seen the rise in food banks, independent businesses being pushed out by rapacious developers and being made homeless.

I don’t believe that Develop Croydon should suddenly be given over to shouting matches with disgruntled members of public. Croydon has learned the hard way that that rarely helps anyone. But it’s not unreasonable to expect some of the day to discuss the impact of their investments. Developers should be considering how they can support people like Bobski’s Kitchen, rather than making life more difficult for them. After all, it’s these very same businesses and business owners that make Croydon a place worth developing in the first place.

The Develop Croydon conference takes place tomorrow. It should be an opportunity for the Croydon community to dialogue with, learn from, and educate the people that are carving up our town for their benefit. Instead, the Develop Croydon conference and the speakers that participate have ostracised the long-term community for short-term profit.

Devin Stephenson

Devin Stephenson

Devin Stephenson is a Croydon native and one half of Croydon-based vlogging duo Devoland.

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  • Ian Marvin

    I think there’s a place for community engagement on the future of Croydon, that isn’t really the role of Develop Croydon though. The speakers this year do seem further from the grass roots, in the past Kevin from Rise Gallery and Nigel Dias from CTC have addressed the event. There’s plenty of debate going on regarding the best way to overcome some of the barriers to public involvement, let’s hope we get somewhere with it.