Into the fire

By - Monday 3rd June, 2013

Paul Dennis explains why the riots did not put off his move to Croydon, and highlights the potential and community spirit of his new home

Croydon Riots

While I slept, Croydon burned. Photo by Peter G Trimming. Image used under Creative Commons License.

I awoke at 3am and within half an hour I was out on assignment.

During the next 15 hours, I covered I don’t know how many miles in open country, carrying what felt like a ton of equipment. A typical day for a photo-journalist. Not my specialist field, but one that I can turn my hand to. Every time I do it, I am reminded why it is NOT my specialist field!

As things turned out the job was a bit of a bust. It should all have been so much easier, but lack of opportunities for decent shots meant that we were constantly looking around the next bend in the river. Travelling in hope rather than expectation (especially after the first six hours). With the job as complete as it was ever going to be, my body decided on an early night. I slept the sleep of the righteously tired, unaware of developments in the not-so-deep south, where opportunities for a happening story were manifold.

The day was Monday, August 8th 2011.

I awoke the next day to a mobile ‘phone full of missed texts, missed calls, and frantic voicemail messages. From her house, my girlfriend could see Croydon burning. The riots had arrived.

‘Reeves Corner is alight,’ was the major content of one voicemail. Now, it may sound obtuse – but what the hell was that all about? I knew Croydon a little, but I knew nothing of the significance of Reeves Corner. It took me several calls and many sweet words to convince my girlfriend that I was not a heartless, unfeeling brute. I also had to allay her fears that I would not want to live in Croydon, that our plans to buy a flat there together would not, like Reeves Corner, turn to ashes.

She couldn’t understand why such concerns  made me laugh out loud.

‘Not come to Croydon? Why ever not?’

Within two months I was a resident, and glad to be one.

The transport links to almost anywhere are superb, local transport even more so

As a spotty youth (cliché alert – was there ever a youth that was not spotty?)  Croydon had one meaning for me – the Fairfield Halls. I knew of them only from the many recordings made there, but they were always ‘Live at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon.’ For me, the town was on the map. It had just as much rock history clout as Bill Graham’s Fillmore venues on the East and West coasts of the USA.

I was finally sold on Croydon  in no small part by my girlfriend. Thanks to her I visited parts of the old town and found them delightful.We had compared notes on some of Croydon’s  classic ’60s architecture (and the not so classic). We had eaten out at a wide range of Croydon establishments – punching well above their weight in terms of culinary excellence.

We had been able to do all of this with astonishing ease while enjoying real value for money. You get more bang for your buck in Croydon.

Croydon Riots - demolition

I believe Croydon WILL rise from the ashes. Photo by Peter G Trimming. Image used under Creative Commons Licence.

The transport links to almost anywhere are superb, local transport even more so. In the case of the latter, to paraphrase the quote from the film ‘Field Of Dreams’ – if you build it, they will use it. So often I have seen public transport fall into a death spiral, as routes are rationalised, so that inevitably they become less used, less profitable. Eventually, like a withered limb, they are removed. In contrast, Croydon’s public transport is well used. It is cheap, it is frequent, and most of all it takes people where they actually want to go. It is hugely less hassle than getting in the car. Why would you not use it? In some ways a working, efficient public transport system defines Croydon rather neatly.

It is a charming anachronism.

It is also something to be proud of, just like that other anachronism, a bustling market. My home town’s market wasted away a good twenty years ago, strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, at about the same time that rationalisation of public transport made getting to the market more difficult. Even worse, there was no parking nearby either, so – heavy shopping? No thanks.

Well, before angry fingers hit keyboard, it may be fitting to explain why I see Croydon as a charming anachronism.

In simple terms, Croydon is an anachronism just because it still has great public transport, terrific local shops where you can buy almost anything, including emergency DIY materials without driving to the outskirts of town, plus a lively market. But it also has people who want to do well for their town, as well as doing well for themselves.

Two years on Croydon is still burning, but it seems to me it is burning with ambition

This is another anachronism. In an era of dormitory boroughs, the sense of town and community is passed off with a shrug of the shoulders. In my experience, people in Croydon are very interested in what goes on in the town. Politicians of any stripe ignore this at their peril, for Croydon folk do take notice and they are not shy in voicing an opinion. I may not agree with all of them, but I celebrate the fact that they are willing to voice these opinions and take advantage of opportunities to do so.

For fear of damning Croydon with faint praise, there are many aspects of the town that are no worse than anywhere else, but there are many more that are far better, the chief amongst these being Croydon people. Less insular, friendlier, more helpful. That is what I have found since moving to Croydon in 2011.

Two years on Croydon is still burning, but it seems to me it is burning with ambition. I sense a real drive in the community, to not just improve the image of Croydon, but to do so with REAL substance, bringing in businesses, careers, opportunities in every shape or form. Word of mouth is still important in promoting goods, services, opportunities, and environment, and, though the modern equivalent is via Twitter, blogs and the many and various types of social media, believe me, Croydon is shouting – I can hear it!

Paul Dennis

Paul Dennis

An award-winning journalist, Paul has worked on angling titles for much of his career, including 16 years as deputy editor of Angler's Mail and 4 years as editor of Total Sea Fishing magazine. He is a regular freelance contributor for a wide array of non-angling-related titles, author of two books on angling and a widely-followed authority on the subject.

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    Thank you Paul for such a positive article. A belated, warm Croydon welcome to you.
    I hope our paths cross in the future and I will buy you a drink.


    Hi Paul, great article. Glad you’ve settled in so nicely!