Gentrification and the high refugee population have been identified as core objectives for Croydon’s newest political party, the Women’s Equality Party (WEP).
Gill Manly, 54, head of the Croydon WEP branch, told EastLondonLines: “There is a danger right now that this borough is going to become yet another gentrified community and those of us that can cling to the wreckage of being able to afford to live here may not be able to do so for much longer.”
Following the national policy launch last Tuesday (October 20), calling for equal parental leave, gender quotas for MPs and unisex baby-changing facilities, the party made its first move to charm Croydon voters at a launch event at the Zakia Family Centre in St James’ Road on Saturday (October 24).
About 40 people of all ages and from a range of cultural backgrounds, including three female Labour councillors attended the event.
Speaking to EastLondonLines after the event, Manly, from South Norwood, said: “Croydon is being very swiftly pushed towards becoming a very affluent neighbourhood.
“We’re getting a Westfield and a Boxpark, but this is not affordable to everyone that lives in the borough.”
Last week, Croydon Council passed plans for the 80-unit Boxpark shopping hub to be built upon the derelict area next to East Croydon station.
The retail park is the latest addition to the borough’s growing number of “indie hotspots” but Manly believes this will only widen the gap between Croydon’s richest and poorest residents.
“House prices and rentals are going to shoot through the roof, which means that people will be pushed further out of the borough,” Manly explained.
“What strikes me about Croydon is that there is a very interesting divide in terms of the London postcodes and the Surrey postcodes and you can see where there is a definite need for us in the less affluent section of Croydon.”
According to Manly, WEP membership has grown to 45,000 since the policy launch, which is the equivalent of the current Green Party.
Manly said the first port of call for the WEP is to set up working parties that will hone in on specific issues affecting the borough, as well as creating a “base” for vulnerable people to access information and help.
“We also have a high refugee population thanks to the Lunar House immigration building in Croydon and the issues surrounding it and of course that is going to attract more people to the borough who have very specific issues,” she said.
Croydon, home to the UK’s only asylum-screening unit at Lunar House, is one of three “gateway councils” with the highest asylum-seeker populations.
Despite great political outcry last month, Lunar House suffered £4 million worth of cuts to its funding.
Only three politicians – all Labour MPs and all female – attended the event on Saturday, which Manly attributes to a “complete lack of interest”.
“It’s going to be a learning curve but my door is open and my mind is open,” she said.
“I’m aware that there are pockets of the Croydon borough that are very family ensconced in a certain belief pattern and it’s a little bit dusty and cobwebby and ‘I’m alright Jack’ in the mind set.
“Only time will tell, but we threw open the hand of invitation and it will remain open.”
However, Manly has issued a warning to her absent colleagues – “Work with us, or we’ll run against you” – but she thinks male politicians are afraid of change.
“If we were to bring more women into the House of Commons, the tone and texture of debate will alter, there is no question,” she said.
“But there’s a lot of history to work through.”
Manly, who has worked as a jazz musician, civil servant, refugee volunteer and community cafe owner, said she has “had to do a lot to survive financially” and was brought to brink of homelessness before moving to Croydon.
“I’ve encountered instances of discrimination as a female, as an employee, and as a disabled woman,” she said.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I got through it.
“There’s no question that some of it would now be classified as illegal.”
Manly explained that she didn’t have access to the kind of aid available to women now, and that she “just had to grit my teeth and get on with it.”
“I think this is part of what drives me now,” she added.
“It’s a duty.
“There’s no questioning it.
“There’s no debating it.
“It’s got to be done.”