On a sunny August day in the middle of ‘recess’, angry local residents in Croydon stood up for their community and demanded change. Movement for Change has been working with members of Waddon Labour party for the past few months to identify the issues affecting the local community. Waddon is in South Croydon and very close to Reeves Corner – made famous during the riots last year. Many residents felt that the issues affecting the area were too large to tackle, safety and cleanliness being the key problems cited by most people. There was a general feeling that the area was cut off from the rest of Croydon and neglected.
After we had met with 20-30 activists in the Croydon area we found what every community organiser is looking for – 2 local activists hungry to get something done but just needing a gentle nudge in the right direction. Joy Prince and Hamida Ali stood as Labour Councillors in Waddon ward in 2010. Unfortunately, for the residents of Waddon, they were unsuccessful but this hasn’t deterred them from working hard in the area ever since and keeping the Labour message alive.
The first challenge was to reach beyond the loyal Labour activists and find some “inactive members”. In the Labour Party we label a huge part of our membership as “inactive” however, as organisers when we meet these supposedly inactive people we often find that they are incredibly active in their communities and work places – just not in the Labour Party. We started by contacting members in the ward individually to ask for a 1-2-1 meeting. Peter Queally was one of those who responded. Peter joined the Labour Party for the first time in 2010 as a show of support rather than through an intention to get involved. He had been a long-time Labour supporter, as had his father, but had never taken that step towards action.
The first meeting with Peter didn’t get off to a promising start – he was clear that he had no intention of attending Labour Party events; his commitments to a full-time job, his wife and baby son left no spare time to commit. Yet there was a glimmer of hope when Peter admitted, “Once I support something I throw myself behind it and give it everything”. He was referring to his football club and position as shop steward at his workplace, but it showed that where his self-interest and passions are engaged he has found time to act.
When asked what made him angry about his local area Peter’s response was immediate: “The underpass near my house. Dozens of pigeons roost there, it’s filthy and I hate taking my son through it”. The state of the underpasses in Waddon was an issue which had been mentioned by others on several occasions. So had the fact that the underpasses are poorly lit, filthy, threatening and subject to flooding. When asked whether he would attend a meeting specifically about the underpass, Peter responded enthusiastically. The rest, as they say, is history. The “inactive” Peter has since attended a half-day training session on the principles of Community Organising, three meetings to plan actions, a listening campaign among Waddon residents and a successful action targeting the Conservative Councillor responsible for the underpasses.
Having succumbed to targeted pressure from our growing group of activists, Cllr Phil Thomas, (Cabinet Member for Highways & Environmental Services) finally agreed to meet with residents next to the Jubilee Bridge underpass to discuss their concerns. The meeting was planned and led by local residents and culminated in Cllr Thomas signing a pledge agreeing to their concrete demands. While many had remarked previously that Waddon was a “forgotten area”, this win has galvanised local activists and sparked a new confidence in their ability to effect change. The result – which is a first stage in building collective power in Waddon – owes its success not primarily to Peter, or the Waddon Labour Action Team, but to the residents of Waddon who organised their power and stood up for change in their community.
Verity Taylor is the Director of Operations for Movement for Change and works as a Community Organiser in Waddon ward, Croydon.