Get involved: how to build a better Croydon community

By - Wednesday 20th December, 2017

Join the Croydon Forum: a new way to engage in debate and idea generation

Photo by The Sensible Garden, used with permission.

I am writing this on the day that the petition to save Matthews Yard will be debated in the Croydon Council chamber. The fact that a place like Matthews Yard exists is a symbol of all that’s good about Croydon – but the fact that people are having to fight so hard to save it is a symbol of an aspect to the local government of Croydon that I and many other ardent Croydonians find so annoying and dispiriting.

Too often, it seems, the council is happy to pay lip service to the idea that the arts can help in the regeneration of our town, but as soon as they see a glimmer of acquiring some funds from property development, they are willing to jettison community projects that local people have put so much work into setting up, developing and maintaining. Instead of building on and improving what already exists, too often Croydon is happy to needlessly destroy what shouldn’t actually be destroyed. The council claim to value the community projects that local people set up, but alas – their decisions and actions do not always match their words.

A great example of councillors and local people working together to solve a problem

It doesn’t have to be like this. There are also encouraging examples of councillors working with their local communities to improve their local environment and sense of community. At a recent Selhurst Clean Up, there were no less than three councillors, plus a council officer, helping to clear away some of Croydon’s rubbish. I was even lucky enough to meet and have a good chat with the councillor who had provided the funding for the Sensible Garden in South Norwood. Two local ladies called Janice and Rose have created and maintained this oasis of a garden in what was once a popular fly-tipping spot, and it is much appreciated by many in the local community. This is surely a great example of a councillor and local people working together to find a creative solution to a serious and unsightly problem. Another councillor has been very active in supporting and encouraging the the Thornton Heath Community Action Team, which has become an exemplar of community activism and engagement that many other areas of Croydon are keen to follow.

I daresay there may be many other examples of councillors working with their local communities to improve lives on the ground, but a feeling still persists that the council is willing to embrace the concept of community projects and participation only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of its grand plan for redeveloping Croydon.

Matthews Yard should be an intrinsic part of any redevelopment of Croydon

One of the things I actually quite like about Croydon is that it is continually changing, but surely a much-loved community and arts venue such as Matthews Yard should be an intrinsic part of any such redevelopment. The recent fiasco of a debate in the council chamber, which I have just watched on a webcast, did nothing to improve my opinion of the state of local politics in Croydon. Indeed, sadly quite the reverse.

The Labour councillor’s statement that they would try to ensure that those who currently work and use Matthews Yard would be provided with some form of new community space to use in the redevelopment of the town centre did not match what the current management of Matthews Yard has thus far been offered. The Tory councillor seemed keener to make political capital out of the situation, rather than coming up with any sort of constructive solution. This is a much-loved, respected and valued community hub in the centre of Croydon, and yet watching the scandalously short debate about it on the webcast, I felt that neither of Croydon’s main parties were really that interested in trying to take the necessary steps to save it.

Councillors need our help in making decisions to ensure Croydon continues to thrive

For me, it was a local symbol of why so many people have become disillusioned with UK politics, as the people who hold the real power fail to pay heed to the wishes and needs of the people. Yet, I still believe in the idea of representative democracy and have met a number of Croydon councillors whom I’d be pleased to have as my representative. However, they clearly need our help in making some of the decisions and changes that Croydon requires to ensure the majority of its citizens can have the opportunity to thrive.

With this is mind, I propose setting up something called the Croydon Forum, whose aims will be to come up with ideas and solutions that can tackle some of Croydon’s many problems. It will be open to all (as long as they don’t preach violence and hate and know how to behave themselves), and will meet once a month at Matthews Yard, starting in January 2018. We would encourage Croydon’s councillors to come along, as we need an insight into their problems almost as much as they need an insight into ours. The picture at the top of this article is from the Sensible Garden, which is a delightful symbol of what local people and one councillor can achieve when they’re willing to work together. I’d be pleased to hear from any Croydon residents or councillors that would be interested in being involved in the Croydon Forum, and look forward to many constructive and useful debates in the years to come.

The first meeting of The Croydon Forum will take place on Wednesday 10th January, at 8pm at Matthews Yard.

Correction added 4th January 2018: The Sensible Garden was actually created through a collaboration of The South Norwood Tourist Board and Crystal Palace Transition Town and Robbie Gibson was a driving force behind the project. Rose and Janice and a few other volunteers help to maintain and develop the beautiful garden.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

More Posts

  • Andrew Kennedy

    Charles, I’m not in favour of another talking shop but I am in favour of a new society that has some clout. Are you aware of the concept of a Civic Society? Civic Societies have traditionally been referred to by and had some influence on local councils because of the way they are established. Croydon had an influential Civic Society called the Croydon Society (whose archives are now kept by the CNHSS). Several people including myself would like to see a Croydon Civic Society revived and would be happy to meet about that.

    • Charles Barber

      Andrew, I’m sure Civic Societies did have some influence in the past, but my intuition suggests to me, that maybe in today’s political climate we need a new name and a slightly different way of doing things. I suggest that an entity called The Croydon Forum for Change could have the flexibility to work with both local groups, individuals and councillors to improve life in Croydon. However, if you can make the meeting I’d be interested to learn more about how Civic Societies were set up. It is always possible to learn from the past, but we should also be open to innovation.

  • Mark Johnson

    Are you not aware of the Croydon Communities Consortium. It does exactly what you’re talking about. No need to reinvent the wheel.

  • Tony Skrzypczyk

    Hello Charles,

    Regretably I will not be able to attend this meeting as I have a previous commitment,but hope the meeting goes well and reaches an outcome.Not wishing to unkind but looking at the Website for CCC it seems to be a very worthy and well meaning group,but some sections of the website are not upto date, being a member of other groups I know how time consuming this can be but as the public face of the group it is important to do so.

    I as a member of the Croydon Society Committee/Steering Group when it had to disolve as the members of the Committee some of whom had served for many years and some were well into thier 60/70s and wanted to step back,and despite having some 300 members there were not enough members willing to stand.

    Perhaps into todays world of Social Media Facebook or Twitter might be the way forward?

    Although face to face in a convival place would be better.

    If there was a comprehensive diary or list of meetings being held by all the groups in Croydon potential clases might be avoided althoufg there are meeting of one sort or other virtually every day.