Since my plea for the ending of the toxic personality attacks in relation to Croydon Communities Consortium in Croydon Citizen, there has been a buzz on the grapevines of support for this plea. It looks like the AGM on 15 July will be well attended.
The central challenge for those attending is to ensure that the last few months of toxicity is put behind us, and that a fresh start is made with a completely new set of officers and committee members untainted and damaged by that toxicity.
Need for Vision
Whoever seeks to be elected needs to have a vision based on understanding that they have to put aside their own personal agendas and views because CCC is not about trying to reach a consensus view, but to facilitate debate, information and ideas sharing and networking. Its constitution states:
· To encourage and promote engagement of groups and individuals within and across Croydon.
· To disseminate information.
· To promote debate.
A potential new approach to the way CCC undertakes this work was discussed at the public meeting session that immediately followed the AGM last November. Unfortunately the current Committee were distracted from implementing that new approach because of the toxicity.
New approach to meetings
The minutes state: ‘The meeting opened with a question from the committee on what people would like from CCC meetings. Several suggestions were offered, including devoting the first half hour to specific issues. …… A suggestion that a set topic could be discussed for the first half hour with a view to taking a vote on how the community feel about one particular thing was suggested. Another suggested that themes could be built around presentation of four areas of accountability of Croydon Council - Engagement, good governance, financial transparency, and the issue of whether they are adequately putting into implementation their policies. This would help gauge public opinion. The Chair asked for an indication of hands to see who was in favour of this approach. A majority were in agreement.’
As the proposer of that last suggestion I hope that in their statements on why they should be elected that people will outline their vision, their view of the suggestion, their commitment to being non-party political in their elected role, how they will further develop the constitutional objects of the group, and their ideas for improving public participation in CCC’s meetings.
Toxicity is not unique to Croydon and CCC. It is becoming a dangerous phenomenon in British society as a whole, partly because Britain is becoming a very fractured society. The negative aspects of human attitudes and behaviour are gaining ground: sexism, racism, often portrayed as concern about immigration and Islam, religious intolerance, social intolerance as more and more groups become tarred as ‘the enemy within’: people on benefit (scroungers), Moslems, immigrants from East Europe, lone parents, people with mental health problems, young people up to the age of 25 – who next? – so called Nimbys who stand up for their local communities against unwanted developments?
We have seen this played out in the posturing of the main political parties, the behaviour of some of the media, and even in the rows within the Anglican Church.
The glue that holds society together is being dismantled and the chances of social disorder and riot will increase.
Britain is made up of multi-cultures. Their lack of inter-connectivity prevents it from becoming an integrated multi-cultural society. The worst offenders in this are those sections of the white British who forget their own historic immigrant roots, often consume the best of other cultures, but who expect everyone else to integrate into British society without taking steps to positively welcome and help the process. This pressures minorities into being inward looking.
Most of the economic, social, physical and environmental changes that are happening are in the control of people and businesses which have no lasting commitment to Croydon. e.g.
· Landlords increasing rents creating fast turnover of residents and demographic change and destabilising neighbourhoods.
· Commercial landlords rent increases forcing businesses out and letting to ones which seem to have no relationship with the needs of local people.
· Developers of all types changing the built environment and in the case of the bigger ones erecting more and more inhuman scale tower blocks.
With the increase in the dormitory nature of Croydon it becomes more difficult to encourage people to become involved in local affairs and organisations.
It is important to understand this context because it poses serious challenges for how community activists can operate.
What is ‘community’?
‘Community’ can be defined as the web of personal relationships, groups, networks, traditions and patterns of behaviour:
· that exist amongst those who share physical neighbourhoods socio-economic conditions or common understandings and interests e.g. users, disabled, ethnic, faith, gender/sexuality, age based, interest, workplace, business, sport, hobby
· that develop against the backdrop of the physical neighbourhood and its socio-economic situation.
The word ‘community’ is often treated as a single entity. It is not – it is comprised of many different overlapping communities.
People move in and out of different communities, and can belong to more than one community at any one time. Some communities are more privileged than others. Many communities can be excluded.
The Consortium should consider:
· What are the many varied ‘communities’ in Croydon?
· Which are more privileged than others?
· Which are excluded or perceive themselves to be excluded?
The answers to these questions should form part of any analysis which underpins what the needs and aspirations of residents are as individuals and collectively in their different communities.
The Importance of Networks
There are several important networks in the Borough that need to be borne in mind as part of the way in which people and organisations interconnect.
· The political parties with members across the Borough.
· The involvement of individual party members in various community and voluntary organisations.
· Individuals who have wide network connections going back years who are also important sources of background knowledge.
· The trade union branches and their umbrella group the Trade Union Council.
· The advice network.
· The arts and cultural networks.
· The environmental activists.
· The members of national voluntary organisations which may or may not have local branches.
· The heritage organisations and individuals involved in historical research and dissemination.
· Web based information networks and bloggers.
All these networks contain people with skills and expertise that can be used to help communicate information and build interlinks.
One of the best definitions of the concept of ‘community cohesion’ is about the dynamic relationships between and within communities.
‘A cohesive community is one where:
· there is a common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities;
· the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued;
· those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and with neighbourhoods.’
This is what Croydon Communities Consortium should be trying to contribute to.
The challenge of austerity
The potential harsh and devastating effects of many of the measures announced in the Budget, or on the back of it from benefit cuts to loosening planning controls, are going to make life even harder for many geographic and interest communities across Croydon. CCC can play an important role in encouraging debate and fact finding on what is happening in different parts of the Borough, and sharing information about ways in which different groups work to alleviate the worst effects. It is not its role to campaign on these issues; but it can feed the information and ideas into other groups so they can consider using it in their campaigns. Those wanting to campaign against the new round of austerity measures have political parties, trade unions, community and voluntary sector groups and the Croydon TUC Croydon Assembly as vehicles. Their attendance at future meetings of the Consortium will strengthen the way in which the Consortium can contribute to the wider good.