RIP Croydon 1086 – 2012

By - Wednesday 16th January, 2013

Old Croydon is dead. Long live ‘New Croydon’

St Peter’s Church, South Croydon

RIP Croydon 1086-2012

For a long time death has stalked Croydon, in one guise or another.

From the passing of Croydon North MP, Malcolm Wicks, to the closure of Allders, to the daily aborted hopes and aspirations of the populace, the borough that bears the aspirational moniker ‘Valley of Saffron’ often seems more like the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’.

In truth, Croydon’s demise is not a surprising occurrence. It has been a long-drawn-out affair, a chronic, unstoppable decline which can be ascribed to everything from changing business rates to almost criminally-comical mismanagement from successive local governments. All of these contributed to the prolonged death-spiral that culminated with the August 8th riots, which – as far as I am concerned – sounded the death-knell of Croydon.

Now, we are contending with Croydon’s rigor mortis.

The dominant response to this has been the seeking of the borough’s salvation through municipal and governmental redemption. As such, some in Croydon continue to make  superficial changes to the corpse, from staging ineffectual stunts and council protests,  to playing ‘Arthur Scargill 2.0′ and repeatedly tweeting Gavin Barwell – who is almost certainly laughing at them all – about libraries/David Lean/Boris/national policies that he has next to no influence over, etc.

Whilst lobbying local government may eventually get Croydon’s ‘value for money’ (whatever that is), it is becoming painfully apparent that we as a borough need to look away from the town hall and look to ourselves to build a ‘New’ Croydon that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of pre-riot Croydon. For this to happen, we need people to cast radical, holistic, and apolitical visions for what this New Croydon should be.

Croydon 2013: The Resurrection

Thankfully, a critical mass of pseudo-activists, interest groups, and ideological chancers have emerged – each wanting to recast Croydon in their own mould.

In 2013, expect Croydon to be gently introduced to the concept of becoming a ‘transition town’, as Gaia-loving Croydonians consider what it means for our borough to thrive in an age of climate-change and finite energy resources. With inspiration being drawn from as far as the glamorous wilds of Crystal Palace, I have no doubt this movement will be one to watch.

Croydon Cyclists – true to the popular (and completely made-up) aphorism “never mess with men in lycra”, are boldly rabble-rousing with talk of 20mph zones, increasing road taxes, and ‘going dutch’. (Note for the older, more staid reader: I have been assured this has nothing to do with Class C drugs.) Could Croydon one day become a utopia for two-wheelers?

For some, Croydon will lead with its food offering – capitalising on the smorgasbord of delicacies and cultures found in West Croydon. Indeed, if you keep your ear to the ground, talk is ripe (ha!) about grandiose weekend-long food tours, and perhaps even a cookery book based on Croydon foods! This, alongside events such as the Great Croydon Bake-Off and the rejuvenation of Croydon Eats Out! group, should mean it is not long before we have the likes of Michael Winner sniffing dismissively in Tacolisa.

Perhaps Croydon’s artisans, who are starting to put down their brushes and take up responsibility, will sculpt Croydon into an attractive haven for artists and creatives. Matthews Yard is already making quality space and residency options for transients and their exhibitions, but beyond that incumbent borough talent are looking to make Croydon the premier site for London’s creative classes, through occupying vacant stores, establishing arty pop-up stalls and, most fantastically,  devising a proposal to build a ‘container city’ within the borough.

Unsurprisingly, I am keen to trumpet my own vision – Croydon Tech City. Three months in and it is, to my mind, the most developed and realisable idea of what New Croydon should look like: an exciting and attractive home for early-stage tech and digital startups that shapes the cultural, economic and social landscape for years to come.

Self-aggrandisement aside, it is genuinely my hope that Croydon Tech City will eventually be but a small cog in the wheel of Croydon’s resurrection, throughout 2013 and beyond, as each of the above visions start to gain traction, and newer voices – that have yet to stick their heads above the parapet – make themselves known. Something that is sure to happen if each of us gets up from behind our keyboards and barstools, and start to actually do something, instead of looking to others to do it for us.

The death of a loved one is never easy to accept. Periods of mourning are usually prolonged and punctuated by hysteria, rash statements, and burying of one’s head in the sand. But eventually, we all have to move on: to new ideas, new leadership, new opportunities. Here’s to a New Croydon.

Stop reading about the change and be part of it:

Croydon Tech City is holding its 2013 Launch event on Thursday January 24th from 7.30pm at Matthews Yard -  put this in your diary NOW and come along!

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • david white

    Jonny is not alone in rejecting municipal or political routes to resurrecting Croydon. Neither party on Croydon Council has exactly covered itself with glory in dealing with the issues in recent years…or as far back as I can remember.

    Where action can be taken by the people, rather than through the bureaucracy of the Council, this is usually a good thing. For example the festivals held in Purley, Addiscombe, South Norwood etc have an energy which Council-organised events don’t often match. Matthews Yard and Croydon Tech City have shown that community inspired ventures can re-invigorate an area and foster community spirit in a way Councils would be envious of.

    However this is not the whole answer. We need a plan for the economic regrowth of Croydon, which doesn’t just rely on fading retail. We need the environment to be protected and an incinerator not to be dumped on out doorstep. We need culture and the arts to be fostered by re-establishing facilities like the David Lean Cinema, Warehouse Theatre and Croydon Mela.

    All of these require political action. This can go hand in hand with individuals’ efforts and single-issue campaigns. Between us we can work for a New Croydon.

  • Sean Creighton

    I hope this starts a good debate.

    Jonny talks about ‘apolitical’. There is not such thing. What he is saying is highly ‘political’; but not ‘party political’. Politics permeates everything. The moment you object to or support something you are acting politically. The moment you organise an interest group or a network you are taking a political step. It is political because you are seeking either to make a change in the system, however small, or to provide activities and
    services which the current system does not provide. It is a fundamental act of
    democracy, of a belief that people should be able to have influence on what effects their lives.

    Lobbying the local authority is always worth doing; if only to get on the record that there
    are alternative views and so that politicians cannot say they were not told
    about the adverse effects their decisions could trigger. Sometimes large scale lobbying has an effect in unexpected ways. Back in the early 1990s the 3,000 people demonstrating outside Wandsworth Town Hall did not stop the cuts to the community and voluntary sector, but it did lead to the Council reducing its planned cuts to schools. The 20,000 people who objected to the closure of Wandsworth Council’s Museum did
    not get their way; but the Council did change direction and gives serious attention to Heritage and has just updated its Heritage Strategy. In Lambeth all kinds of Friends groups came into existence to defend parks and open spaces from mismanagement and development, and to fight the closure of libraries. Having been successful they then began to work with the Council to obtain improvements.

    The development of new campaigns and organisations is the inevitable result of the
    emergence of new issues, of new ways of thinking, and of new ideas, as well as of disagreements about strategy and tactics, and of personality clashes among leading activists. It is important that where possible that new and existing campaigns and organisations are networked together by individuals involved in more than one campaign or organisation or through information sharing. The challenge is to involve more people in such networking so as the ideas and suggestions for action reach a larger audience of people in Croydon.

  • David Fisher

    I agree with your general sentiments, and I wish you all the best with Croydon Tech City.

    However, it irks me to read your haughty and dismissive tone towards other advocacy groups, even as you list them as “reasons to be cheerful” along with CTC itself. I understand your argument — that engagement in micro-politics is self-defeating, and that one must be a “doer” instead of a “talker”. But as previous posters have pointed out, how can one circumvent Council inertia when it comes to libraries, museums, heritage/cultural/archive facilities? What about our chronic housing shortage and the ever-increasing stock of empty offices and shops? I would argue that “talking” remains an essential part of resurrecting the town — even if it’s clearly not your cup of tea.

    I would hope that Green activists, library (etc) protesters, cyclists, foodies, artists and techies are all on the same side, and that all will have a part to play in shaping any New Croydon that may appear.

    • Jonny Rose


      Thanks for calling me out on my intentional snark. Although (mostly) tongue-in-cheek, it does belie a more deeply-held view that politics/activism of yore is failing us, and there are better solutions that can be met by those outside town hall.

      All around me, I’m seeing technology and ideologies such as ‘collaborative consumption’/peer-to-peer sharing marketplaces empower people to challenge and exceed indentured services formally managed by feckless/unscrupulous/indolent/genuinely over-worked and best-intentioned councils. For example –
      Angry about council levied parking costs? Create and use:
      Want to keep police accountable? Create and use local chap Aaron Sonson’s ‘Stop and Search’ App:

      The world is not the same as it was in 1997, or 1984, or 1979. And I don’t believe the solutions of those eras are appropriate either.

      Make no mistake: I’m not proposing an ‘either/or’ or a ‘damn the council’ mentality – that would be untenable in a liminal period such as this where (I hope) people are beginning to realise the possibilities of working *apart* from municipal and party-political bodies, on a grander scale than ever before, to effect a great change than ever before. The council is still needed (as Liz Sheppard articulates below) to tackle “big problems”. But, what I am saying is – without wanting to awaken my latent inner-Gramsci/Robert Greene – we need to start building alternative power structures that go beyond hyper-local concerns (‘no more car-parks’) and actually change the way the borough operates as a whole; culturally, socially and economically.

      Lobbying and the hectoring of our local politicians (or, Gavin Barwell, as I cited) is, of course, a good thing if one thinks ‘it’s good to talk’ and dialogue with our elected representatives. However, I’ve yet to see any discernible efficacy or tangible change in Croydon policy (either local or nationally) as a result – short of a few cabinet demotions/reshuffles/disingenuous apologies.

      I absolutely concur that “…Green activists, library (etc) protesters, cyclists, foodies, artists and techies are all on the same side, and that all will have a part to play in shaping any New Croydon that may appear”. As I maintain in the article, and in private conversation, there is no one totalising grand vision or initiative that will ‘rule’ Croydon and to an extent each is inter-dependent (e.g. Croydon Tech City would never have got off the ground without the creative opportunities and direction initiated by Matthews Yard). I look forward to seeing your last paragraph come to fruition in the forthcoming months :)

      Addendum: I suspect my above view(s) will change as I think this through further or particular events unfold. Until then, any further thoughts you have to shape my own would be appreciated – as I’m sure you’ve seen it all before and I’d welcome ideas/counsel.

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Very interesting piece of polemic. First of all I think that ‘Croydon riots’ is a big misnomer – the riots weren’t the culmination of anything that had happened in Croydon. What they demonstrated is that our transport links makes us easy to get to and that we were perceived (correctly) as a vulnerable area, and targetted Recovery efforts since are where you need to look if you want to draw conclusions about Croydon.

    Sean’s contribution is spot on. Nothing is a-political, but party politics is failing, locally, nationally and globally, and we can see this in our own backyard. Organisations such as The Zeitgeist Movement are starting to think more radically about how to address international problems such as management of declining resources and a future in which employment is not the norm, and propose real structural change. That’s exciting, but it’s early days for such new thinking.

    I still believe in big government, because I thnk it’s the only way to tackle big problems. I think history may be against me on that one. But we can’t give up on the existing structures before we have new ones. David White’s final paragraph gives Croydon our way forward.

  • Wendy Ager

    Great to read your views and the lively debate & comments below! All I will say is, actions speak louder than words. To make change happen you have to ‘do’ something and there are quite a few great people out there doing it for Croydon – get behind them – do something positive,