Croydon residents defend town from criticism

Croydon town centre. Photo: Julian Walker

Croydon residents reacted with surprise to recent comments from a local councillor and policeman, who accused the town of having an ‘image problem’ and being the kind of place contestants for the Jeremy Kyle show might originate from.

Speaking in Parliament, Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, went on to say that part of Croydon’s image problem could be attributed to its “reputation for unwelcoming 1960s architecture and for crime and anti-social behaviour”.

Local policeman Sgt David Deuchar, who is featured in a local poster campaign for Croydon council, further exacerbated local tensions by writing on Facebook: “research indicates all of Jeremy Kyle’s guests can trace their roots back to the lovely town.”

Croydon has long had a reputation as a slightly dreary, crime-ridden suburb – trapped between the sprawling web of south London and the leafy commuter towns of northern Surrey.

Significant investment in commercial infrastructure in the early 20th century saw Croydon develop into a thriving business centre, fuelled by government incentives aimed at encouraging office relocation outside London. The development of two major shopping centres – the Whitgift and Drummond centres – have further added to its appeal as a thriving urban centre on the fringes of London.

An extensive tram network – stretching across Croydon to Wimbledon – along with regular overground train services to central London and the new East London Line extension, has also made Croydon attractive for commuters looking for convenient connections to both London and the rest of the south-east.

But despite continual – and arguably fruitless – efforts to make Croydon a bigger, bolder place, there remains an almost unwavering perception of it as a place riddled with high crime, a growing gang-culture and a paucity of cultural attractions.

So what is it really like to live in the town? Is it really as bad as Gavin Barwell and David Deuchars suggest? East London Lines took to the streets of Croydon to find out what its residents think about the place they call home.

Chris, 37, an artist from South Croydon, believes the key to improving the town lies in a focus on the arts: “Drinking establishments have created a ‘binge’ drinking culture. More cultural stuff would help, as there are no art galleries and there are a huge amount of artists who don’t get help from the government,” he says.

A market stallholder, who preferred to remain anonymous, agrees that Croydon has its problems, but believes it is down to poor employment prospects. “Community police are doing a good job on the streets and there is only a minority spoiling it for the rest of the people living in Croydon. But there is so much unemployment here, that it drags the town down.”

The youth of Croydon however, believe Croydon to be a spritely, welcoming environment that is a far cry from the image of a wretched, crime-infested suburb that is so often portrayed by the media.

Norwood students Reham and Vena, both aged 17, said: “There is crime everywhere in London but we’ve never had a personal experience of it here in Croydon.” Damina White, 17 from South Norwood also agreed with these comments. He said: “I don’t even have problems at night time. I think news is a potential influence on creating a bad image of Croydon.”

The overriding impression of Croydon from those interviewed was positive – focusing on the abundance of shops and services, excellent transport connections, a sense of community and the ease of access to other parts of London. Like many towns and cities across the country, Croydon is suffering at the hands of the recession, and it may well be said that the lack of employment prospects and the resultant lack of direction for many young people is contributing to gang culture and therefore crime.

But that is a problem common to districts across London, so rather than forming an opinion of Croydon based on the latest damning crime report, why not take advantage of the new East London Line extension and come check out Croydon for yourself?

Additional reporting by Carmen Philetas

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