What’s the point of Croydon?
Julian Ellerby, Director of Strategy and Partnerships, London Borough of Croydon, 11 January, 2018

It’s interesting finding out what others think of your workplace. I searched for “Croydon” to try to get a sense of an outsider’s perspective. Recently, it was about how hard it is to get to Croydon – while it is just 15 minutes from Victoria, perception is in the eye of the keyboard. Other stories cover innovation, new tech businesses and the music scene in Croydon – the home of Stormzy! There is a sense from many that Croydon is happening.

Here at the London Borough of Croydon, we are hoping to respond to this perception, and further shape it. Local government has previously struggled to do this, but the opportunity here in Croydon means that we should not let this opportunity pass us by. We can see massive investment coming into the town centre and it has just been confirmed that Westfield shopping centre is coming. Place shaping is nothing new, but what we can see from the investment and online enthusiasm is that there is an opportunity to shape not just the place but also the future of the people who live and work here.

To do this, there are three questions that we need to answer: why, what and how. We need to understand why the organisation exists or why partnership working makes sense in order to decide the best action to take. The final part is to work out how to get it all done. But in local government, this last question has become the strongest driver of activity – the pressures on budgets, the changes to workforce, the imposition of statutory rules all make us look at the how question.

Here in Croydon we felt that our need to keep up with operational delivery, coping with demand and coming in on balance had led us to be too reactive, so we looked at why we exist and asked ourselves some difficult questions.

Croydon is large. If it were a stand-alone city it would be the 8th largest in the country, and will soon exceed 100,000 young people. We have challenges with knife and gang crime. We have challenges with housing provision. The temptation is simply to react. But what we needed to ask ourselves and our partners is, what do we want for our future Croydon? Do we know what success means? We want a place of low crime, adequate affordable housing, that is well connected and successful and sustainable businesses living as part of an intense cultural and healthy community.

We agreed at our Local Strategic Partnership to make young people our mission, and we have spoken to them about what they think matters. Their top three aspirations are: to succeed and make money; to be safe; and to tackle mental health issues. These are now our top three issues. To realise our ambitions, it is no longer enough to respond to challenges – we need to shape the solutions. In the next few years we are likely to hear more and more about prevention. We need to see the relationship between proactive and reactive as one and the same, because a model based on real understanding of the citizen must acknowledge that lives are lived continuously as a combination of both. This means the issue is about how you use a proactive preventative approach to make your reactive activity solution focused, more personal and more effective.

This leads to an organisation that is resident led rather than service led. To do this well you need to look at the issues that influence and determine quality of life. We have identified a number of drivers that will have differing degrees of salience for residents based on where they are in their lives. These include family; safety; finance; work, access; health; education; interests; identity; and accommodation. By understanding how these areas interact and how they can be shaped, we can create policies and activities that will influence both prevention and reaction. This means data becomes hugely significant as it will allow us to determine where and what resources to use to impact on the lives of our residents.

Croydon has an amazing opportunity to grab onto the investment and growth, to understand the changes taking place amongst its population, and create a reactive system that uses a preventative model based on knowledge and insight. What will this mean for Croydon’s reputation a few years from now? If we get it right it will mean Croydon is most definitely on the map and people won’t be commenting about how far away it is – but more about when they are looking to arrive.