The case for a naked Croydon

By - Wednesday 25th May, 2016

Liz Sheppard-Jones on why public nudity could be the way forward for Croydon

Image by the Naturist Foundation, used with permission.

An old friend of mine has been through a serious medical scare recently. Happily, he’s been given the all-clear and he was looking for a way to celebrate. A naked 5k run might not be the most orthodox response to such a crisis, but I liked it.

The race was to be held at the Naturist Foundation in Orpington (since riot and civil commotion would ensue if it was tried in Lloyd Park), and this location meant that everyone, runners and spectators, would be taking off their clothes.

Celebration was the meaning of the naked 5k

The more I thought about his choice, the less it puzzled me. We’re both runners (although as a seasoned half-marathon man, he’s in a different league) and we know that for all its apparent discomforts, running feels good. At its best, it’s completely exhilarating. Running unclothed adds an extra dimension: you’re in the wild, skin interacting with the sun and wind. (Although quite a few female naturist runners wear sports bras: it’s just too uncomfortable not to).

Running naked through the woods (the Naturist Foundation has a large gated park) is something like skinny-dipping in the ocean: as the waves rock you, every cell in your body remembers that long ago you and your species came from the sea. Such experiences celebrate the amazing-ness of being here, fragile creatures on a beautiful, fragile planet. The miracle won’t last. Seize every day.

This was the meaning of the naked 5k, along with rebuilding my friend’s damaged trust in his physical self.

It’s clothes that make naked people naked

The Naturist Foundation checked in pre-registered non-members carefully on the gate; both photo and address ID were required. Then you’re inside and it’s different here: the guy who directs you to the carpark is wearing a fluoro-bib. Just a fluoro-bib. When you’re assigned your racing number, they write it on you with lipstick.

It takes about ten minutes to adjust to everyone (or almost everyone, as it’s not compulsory) having no clothes on. It’s incredibly easy, after those first moments of strangeness. Clothes make naked people naked. Without them, we’re all just people.

Imagine the effect of such compassion on Croydon

People who are often without clothes become somewhat (or completely) de-eroticised to one another over time: it’s a challenge all long-term relationships face. In its place, though, comes something which doesn’t get talked about: a deep compassion. Now imagine that experience extended beyond sexual and reproductive partnerships, creating a world where we saw one another unguarded. What effect might widespread nakedness have on us all?

Right now, Croydon’s public life puts the tox in ‘toxic’. Consider council meetings, and our ’deliciously sociopathic’ Twittersphere, in the words of Tech City founder and thirty-seventh most influential person in Croydon, Jonny Rose. Several Croydonians have stated to me that while they would like to express their views on Twitter, they fear being attacked there. They have reason to be afraid. Lest I sound as though I’m placing myself above all this: I’ve lost my temper on social media too. Lost it, regretted it, and learned by it

Such behaviour doesn’t discredit all of Twitter: I also see what it does well and its value as a communication tool. But it is far too often abused. This is made possible above all by anonymity.

It’s hard to be an arse when people can see your arse

But talk to a naked person and you see that they are as vulnerable as you. Without clothes, there’s no way to be pompous: you can’t be an arse when people can see your arse. Undressed together, our sense of the humanity of all our fellows would grow. A naked Croydon would be a gentler, more connected Croydon. And most surely, a naked Croydon council meeting would be transformed.

My friend ran the race in twenty-five minutes, finishing in the top third of a field of 120 runners. For him, I think, it was the celebration he’d hoped for. In so many ways, there’s a lesson here for Croydon and for the world.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

More Posts - LinkedIn

  • Jonny Rose


    Thank you for what is thebest Croydon Citizen piece that I’ve read in a long while: who knew that a bout of nudism could be used to bridge ruminations on Croydon’s public (pubic?) life! :)

    Great stuff. Glad you didn’t catch a cold.