In what sense, if at all, is Croydon a community – and are you even a part of it?

By - Monday 11th July, 2016

Jonny Rose strikes at the heart of the Croydon Citizen by questioning whether ‘community’ exists in the borough

‘Community’ – like charidee and diversity – is one of those words that we all are guilty of using without thinking critically about what it actually means.

To speak of ‘community’ makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. It is an unassailable good, and something that we instinctively want to be associated with to the point where it has even given rise to horrifically self-important (and invariably self-ordained) community leaders.

But what is a ‘community’? And where – if at all – does community manifest in Croydon?

What is community?

There are many competing definitions for ‘community’, but they can all be largely reduced to commonality of either place or interest.

Place community can be seen as where people have something in common, and this shared element is understood geographically. Another way of naming this is as ‘locality’. Examples of this in Croydon include South Croydon Community Association or the Purley Business Association.

In interest communities, people share a common characteristic other than place. They are linked together by factors such as religious belief, sexual orientation, occupation or ethnic origin. In this way we may talk about Croydon’s ‘gay community’, the ‘Catholic community’ or the ‘Chinese community’.

Dunbar’s Number is a principle which dictates that we can only meaningfully maintain relationships with up to 120 people at any given time. This is particularly interesting in the age of social media which can extend the number of people we can have social relationships with to the hundreds, if not thousands; something which I have found personally beneficial for fostering and maintaining communities of interest in Croydon (whilst others have found quite the opposite!).

Yet beyond dictionary definitions, shouldn’t ‘community’ mean more than just a group of likeminded people who happen to share the same postcode or love of the same football team?

The Croydon community Test

My test for whether you are in community or not boils down to three questions:

‘Does anyone outside of your house known your name?’

‘If you were ill tomorrow would those people come and help you?’

‘If you died would they miss you?’

If your answer to any of those is ‘no’, then you’re not in any meaningful sense part of a community in Croydon.

It’s no shame to come to this realisation: a community where you are not just known but where you are valued and give value is not an easy thing to find in modern Britain, let alone Croydon. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to rectify this.

There is no such thing as community in Croydon – or is there?

Maybe Margaret Thatcher was right: there is no such thing as society. Or maybe John Donne was right: no man is an island. Whatever your view of ‘community’, Croydon is certainly a town that contains many communities, both of place and interest.

At Grace Vineyard, when a family has a new birth, members of the church will go on a rota to deliver and provide them with home-cooked meals for as long as they need. As local friends of mine will attest, we will even do this for locals who aren’t part of our church community! It’s a great example of local community: we know one another, we care for one another, we miss each other when absent.

But outside of my own experience, I’ve been hugely encouraged by all of the instances of Croydon community profiled and celebrated in the Croydon Citizen, whether it is the infantry-commando-turned-pastor starting a new community in Addiscombe or the young apprentice who found her place in the world with the help of her community at Fairfield Halls.

Against this heartening backdrop, I am struck by the number of people in Croydon that continue to talk about community without actually being part of it. Community involves giving as well as taking. It means doing, not just thinking. It involves meeting, not just talking about meeting.

When people treat ‘community’ in Croydon seriously rather than academically, we all benefit.

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 owns a lead generation company. 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 and a Linkedin lead generation service. 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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  • Cathy de Veras

    Maybe if the irritatingly prolific Jonny Rose would get his head out of the dictionary and actually go outside and talk to people himself, outside of his church, which nobody is interested in anyway, he would realise that yes there is a very strong community in Croydon, or actually many communities that somehow happily knit themselves together into a much maligned but ever pheonix like town. I can’t believe you wrote this article without mentioning the recent elections, we voted Remain, thank you very much, and we voted Labour, on the whole, and the Green Party is burgeoning. Also, and pay attention to this part Jonny dear, the riots? Where you even here? Or were you closeted away furiously tapping on your keyboard desperately trying to keep up your number of posts on this webpage?? Remember the sign outside the now reverted back to Sainsbury’s Wetherspoons in London Road? Remember the Post It notes on the window of the Green Dragon? Remember the armies with brooms???? NO, obviously. You are a complete nurk. Now shut up and let somebody else who actually LIVES IN CROYDON write something. You are boring.

    • Jonny Rose

      10/10 comment. Would read again.

    • John Gass

      Hi Cathy.

      You make a lot of valid and interesting points, so thanks for that. I do believe, however, that mixing these up with criticism of Jonny dilutes the strength of your reply.

      Jonny’s article is clearly a personal view on a matter that others might see differently. I’d be interested in reading any article written in response to this one, so maybe you’d consider doing that?

      p.s. Just to address an obvious point, I do know, and like, jonny because of his multi-faceted involvement in Croydon life, but we’re not personal friends and I have no reason to stand up for him – he’s very capable of doing that himself if he chooses to do so!

      • Harley S

        Cathy does indeed make some valid points.

        I suspect the criticisms of the author are due to the self-righteous tone and extremely narrow perspective of his piece, which I picked up and referenced in my own response.

      • Robert Ward

        Is that “valid and interesting points” in the same way that sick means really good?

  • lizsheppardjourno

    Hi Jonny – you do live in Croydon. And you do some very important things for your community(ies) and for our town as a whole.

    Margaret Thatcher wasn’t right. John Donne was, although his compass wavered. And whilst I don’t agree with everything you’ve said here, the parts I agree with, I agree with a LOT.

    In community, Liz ;)

    • Anne Giles

      Good for you, Liz. Jonny does a lot for Croydon.

  • John Gass

    A thought-provoking article. For me, the most interesting part is the idea of setting out criteria which define what community means to Croydonites. Surprisingly, no one has yet made any mention of ‘belonging’. Surely this is fundamental to all communities?

    I’d fail Jonny’s three-point test, but can obviously recognise local communities, whether they be racial, geographical, class (whatever that may mean), religious or cultural (interestingly, another word hitherto absent).

    I can also belong to Croydon communities without this being contingent on personal friendships. For example, I’m sure many people feel, as I do, a part of the Matthews Yard community, not necessarily because of friendships, but because it echoes their personal cultural values and, therefore, gives them a sense of belonging.

    So I’d suggest adding the following. The first to determine whether people think ‘community’ exists, the second to determine whether people feel included.
    1. Can you identify communities within the borough that you respect and think add value to Croydon life?
    2. Are there people or places in the borough of Croydon that give you a sense of belonging?

  • Allen Williams

    I can only answer from a historical perspective, as, although I grew up in the area, I left it in 1971.

    I think your three-question test of community feeling is off the mark. That would be a test of a local community feeling: a very local one at that. We did know our neighbours by name, they would have helped in the case of illness, but I doubt if we would have been actually missed. However, we are looking here at one street. While one street may have some sense of community, that does not mean the borough in which it is situated has any such spirit.

    While I did feel of Coulsdon as “home”, this never extended further, and never to Croydon, which was just the place I went to school, to the library, or to the shops for major purchases. I took an interest in local history and geography (that’s why I am on this site), and I knew where Croydon’s boundaries were, but I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of my fellow Coulsdon residents did not. Croydon was just the nearest big town, but there were alternative towns to Croydon: Reigate and Sutton could both supply some of its functions equally well. We didn’t feel like Londoners either for that matter; although my father worked there much of the time, mother and I almost never made the trip. Croydon (and London) are each far too large and diverse to generate any sense of identity with place.

    When Coulsdon & Purley UDC was amalgamated with the County Borough of Croydon, there was a considerable sense of loss of local identity in what was at the time one of the largest Urban District Council areas in the country. This was not dispelled by early examples of the new London Borough’s policies, which seemed to concentrate attention on the town centre and other areas of which we had no knowledge and nothing in common. We kept our green lamp posts and local papers and continued to think of ourselves as living in Surrey like our addresses said. One area (Hooley) even managed to get itself transferred back into Surrey, that feeling was so strong.

    I would be extremely surprised if there ever has been, or will be, a borough-wide “Croydon Community”.

  • Harley S

    Is there a particular reason why you have chosen to use an image of a crime scene in West Croydon? Perhaps you could explain the hidden meaning?

    Community is about where you feel you belong; it is about inclusivity.

    Your rather narrow ‘community test’ does not represent an inclusive perspective; neither does your transactional model around doing, giving, thinking and meeting.

    So many things happen at a grassroots level and operate in different ways beyond the confines of what you read here, away from the favoured and well-publicised groups, and outside Grace’s Vineyard.

    In trying to judge whether one is right to ascribe themselves as being part of a community in Croydon, and providing instructions on how one can validate and “rectify” their community status, you have inadvertently become one of the “self-important leaders” that you describe in paragraph two.

    Perhaps you should widen your perspective and experiences in Croydon, away from the bubble of the usual locations.

    • John Gass

      It’s usual for the Citizen to choose the image to use for an article.

      Personally, I see the photo, which I assume was taken during the riots, as relevant for two reasons. Firstly, there’s no doubt that the London riots tested the cohesion of communities across the capital. Secondly, and far more importantly, the image makes me remember the way that Croydon residents came together, determined that something good could be made from such challenging circumstances.

      • Ian Marvin

        I’d assumed Jonny had chosen the image as it included a branch of KFC . . .

  • Sean Creighton

    It is good to raise this question, especially as I don’t think the Opportunity & Fairness Commission adequately addressed it and the Council does not seem to understand it. I tried to address it in my Citizen piece
    It needs continual discussion as the context is in a continual process of change.