Ten reasons to get involved with the Croydon Assembly

By - Wednesday 7th December, 2016

From schools and hospitals to combating racism and disempowerment, this open group is taking on Croydon’s big issues

Chairs Kevin O’Brien and Patsy Cummings set out aims and actions for a People’s Plan arising out of the day’s discussions.
Photo author’s own.

A chilly room in Ruskin House adorned with colourful trade union banners was the setting for the Croydon Assembly’s event Wanted: A People’s Plan for Croydon, which took place on Saturday 26th November. This was my first Croydon Assembly event and I didn’t know what to expect. Bob Dylan growled through the PA system as I took my seat and, with a cup of tea in hand, I caught the early flickers of a positive and pragmatic vision for Croydon’s future.

Here are my thoughts from the day, and ten reasons you might want to get involved too.

1. You think that hospitals are important

I doubt a single person in the Croydon community won’t come into contact with the NHS at some point during their lives. Sandra Ash of NHS Campaign group Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH) spoke passionately at the Croydon Assembly about the impact of closing hospitals when the UK already has one of the lowest number of beds per 1,000 people in the developed world. The problem is particularly acute for Croydon University Hospital (formerly Mayday) which has run for years on a bed occupancy of 99% when the safe ‘top limit’ is 85%. Already stretched to capacity, the closure of nearby St Helier and Epsom hospitals under the government’s ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ would put yet more pressure on Croydon Hospital’s beds.

KOSHH believe local councils can block the move to close these hospitals and GPs who control budgets can help also. Writing to our GPs asking them to vote against the closures at their next clinical commissioning group is one practical step we can all take to make a difference.

2. You think that the children of Croydon deserve the best education

If you’re a parent you’ll be concerned to hear that a recent National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey found 70% of heads thought a lack of funding was affecting standards at their schools. During the meeting’s education and democracy discussion group, one participant shared the knowledge that Finnish schools are 100% state funded and Finnish students are among the highest scorers in the world. Finnish schools also put less emphasis on testing than we do. Perhaps we can learn something from this approach?

3. You think that housing should be a basic right

In the afternoon we broke into groups to discuss democracy in relation to several topics, including housing.The group facilitator, Professor Jay Ginn of King’s College London, had collected figures which showed that 3,000 people in Croydon were currently living in bed and breakfast accommodation and that seven times the number of people were applying for council homes than were available in the borough. Speculative investment in property, low interest rates and a growing population has meant that properties are now largely viewed as commodities not homes. I think lifting restrictions on council building is one way to increase supply and ensure people have a roof over their heads. Or perhaps more co-operative social housing is the answer? If housing in Croydon is an issue that has impacted you, come along and have your say at the next meeting.

4. You want to oppose Islamophobia and stand up to racism

Croydon is a giant borough encompassing multifarious voices. This borough’s diversity and eagerness to welcome new people is its strength, something that was clearly demonstrated when ordinary people from local churches stood outside Lunar house to greet the children arriving from Calais a few weeks ago.

Saturday’s meeting gave me the opportunity to hear Harold Wilson, an activist from Black Lives Matter UK, describe the movement. BLM UK began as a spontaneous street protest in July 2016 and has now become a broad organisation highlighting parallels between the problems of police brutality in the US and the UK. The facts are clear; black or minority ethnic people are more likely to end up dead after being in police custody in this country. Against the backdrop of rising right-wing nationalism and post-Brexit hate crimes, what Wilson describes as ‘a network of young, angry, active people’ are standing up for black lives. Their message is potent and they want your support.

5. You feel like politicians aren’t listening

Whether you’ve been impotently seething about transport issues impacting your commute or quietly perturbed about the growing class sizes at your child’s primary school, voicing your views at the Croydon Assembly might just be the antidote to your concerns.

Feelings of political powerlessness are rife among us and the referendum result was arguably a reaction to this: a middle finger to the establishment. Don’t be fooled into thinking that democracy only happens every four or five years. Democracy happens everyday, right under your nose. The Croydon Assembly is proof that that your voice matters and that together we have power if we actively participate.

6. You want to get informed about what’s really going on

The election of thin-skinned megalomaniac Donald Trump proved that we now reside in a post-truth society where every opinion is entertained as a fact by the mainstream media. Saturday’s Croydon Assembly meeting highlighted the need to be diligent when it comes to the language we use and absorb in political conversation. The word ‘crisis’ is frequently used to describe the state of the NHS but this word suggests something sudden and unexpected. In fact, the ongoing systematic decline is a result of a series of deliberate decisions.

The media can be misleading but together we can alter the field of discourse one conversation at a time. The Croydon Assembly offers a space to listen carefully to community activists, campaigners and ordinary people, often on the front line of local issues so that we can form our own opinions and find out what’s really going on.

7. You’re wondering who’s making the decisions

As part of Croydon’s David Bowie style reinvention, Boxpark landed like a UFO next to East Croydon station a month ago. For some, it has provided a much needed boost to the towns night-time economy. For others, it is simply too expensive. With Develop Croydon conference tickets costing £395 each, some locals might feel excluded from decisions about the future of Croydon’s public spaces. The Croydon Assembly offers a place to discuss these issues and is free to attend.

 8. You need some support and solidarity

In the midst of all the political doom and gloom it’s necessary to find some hope. At the Croydon Assembly, hope came in the form of charismatic former local politician Ted Knight. Knight’s introduction set the tone for the vigorous discussions which followed. One of the strengths of the meeting was the way the day was structured. Breaking into groups made expressing my opinions less daunting and everyone’s voices were heard and valued.

 9. You want to be part of something bigger

Croydon Assembly is part of a broader coalition of movements, all inextricably linked by the common desire for a truly democratic and equal society where people are endowed with the power to shape their communities and their lives. As Ellen Clifford of DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) highlighted toward the end of Saturday’s meeting, Croydon shares many public resources with neighbouring boroughs. It’s important that campaigners don’t operate in a silo, because by forming a collective whole and working together we become greater than the sum of our parts.

10. You’ve got ideas 

One of the questions up for discussion on Saturday was, ‘can you imagine a democracy where local communities in Croydon have control over resources and decision-making in a more direct way?’ If you can do that, then get involved. Croydon needs a coherent vision, imagined by local people, to move forward.

What I found tucked away in the high-ceilinged rooms of Ruskin House was democracy in action. A group of welcoming, warm-hearted and determined people fighting quiet battles for their community. If, like me, you want to play a fuller part in shaping Croydon’s future, this might just be the place to start. Now’s not the time for complacency. Now’s the time to get stuck in.

The next meeting of the Croydon Assembly will be announced soon. They can be found on Twitter @CroydonAssembly.

Jessica Debba

Jessica Debba

Jessica is an artist, web designer and proud Croydon resident.

More Posts - Website - Twitter

  • Michael Swadling

    It is great to see any active community groups in Croydon. Whist it is entirely their right to be, let’s not present the Croydon Assembly is anything but a left wing taking shop. It is perfectly legitimate to represent your group views and this group represents only one narrow part of Croydon

    I agree it would be great to see “local communities in Croydon have control over resources and decision-making in a more direct way” this is key plank of UKIP policy on local referendums and committee based councils. I do feel this needs to come with responsibility for raising the funds as well. Without tax and spend powers local groups would avoid a the key part of the decisions that need to be made.

    • Sean Creighton

      Michael, Many of the issues discussed are not just the concern of ‘the left-wing’, whatever that means now a days as British politics has moved very far right of the former centre where both main political parties used to be. I like your typo (we are all guilty of them’) ‘talking’ instead of ‘talking’. ‘Talking’ and debate lead to ‘taking’ action. Many of us who you will regard as left-wing have been advocates of devolved local government down to neighbourhood level since the 1970s.

      • Michael Swadling

        A left wing taking shop – it might have been a Freudian typo :)

        The current centralisation in Croydon clearly doesn’t work. The council appear to have little interest in representing any people outside their own wards and you can actively see them ignoring the views of the people of Shirley and Purley on the local plan.

    • Jessica Debba

      Thnaks for your comment Michael. May I suggest that being strongly wedded to a particular ideology can distract us from the causes/issues that I’ve mentioned above. I’m not interested in left/right divisions. I am interested in what is right and what is wrong. I think closing hospitals at this time is wrong and will cause suffering to many local people. Would you agree that, if political factions were less tribal and competitive and more cooperative, then we could build a broad coalition around these issues and make a bigger impact?

      • Michael Swadling

        Jessica I think it sounds very nice to be less tribal and more cooperative, but it’s not the reality. Many people simply have
        different world views. Legitimate world views but different. You yourself said in the article “The election of thin-skinned megalomaniac Donald Trump” that’s not being cooperative with the next president and ~46%
        of US voters who supported him.

        On balance I would agree closing hospitals is wrong, but I suspect there is a tradeoff between bigger better equipped hospitals and smaller older hospitals, it’s a tradeoff not an absolute. Throughout the article I think it’s fair to say you imply the solution to many problems is spending money. Its money we don’t have. Throwing money at problems I have found tends to just make the same problem more expensive. If we want our economy to grow and to raise more taxes cutting tax rates is the way to go. A view I suspect few in the Croydon Assembly would agree with.

        Building a coalition sounds great but these consensus politics with all the main parties in agreement on all the main issues is what people are fed up with and part of the reason for the Brexit and Trump votes. I firmly believe it’s better to have all viewpoints exposed and competing
        against each other for support at the ballot box.

  • Sean Creighton

    Thanks Jessica for contributing this assessment. I produced two pamphlets in time for the Assembly ‘Who Controls Croydon? a collection of some of my contributions to the Citizen, and ‘Croydon’s Crisis’ – some background facts. They cost £2 and 50p each plus postage from me at .

  • Mark Johnson

    I have to agree with Michael. The Trade Union Movement is a wing of the Labour Party, They share the same members, the same Leaders, the same policies, the same politics, the same offices and the trade unions supply almost all of the Labour Party’s funds. No organisation can ever be politically neutral and therefore can never represent anything other than a small group of people. Croydon needs groups that unites us not divides us by political belief.

  • Alex Smythe

    Really great article highlighting important issues that as a community we should all be thinking about and making sure we have our say. Croydon Assembly seems like it would be very welcoming and inclusive. As a gay resident I want to part of a community that is progressive. It’s good to know that places exist in Croydon where my voice would be valued. I will come along to the next event.

  • Corinna Lotz

    Really good article, Jessica and great presentation. Readers here might like to read this one too: http://realdemocracymovement.org/croydon-community-building-a-peoples-plan/