If you’re reading this, you most likely know that there’s a serious fly-tipping/littering problem in west and north Croydon. People argue about it: who’s to blame, what’s been done and not done, what’s to be done next. Some of them seek to score political points from it. This article, which has met with a strong response across social media, describes the impact on me and my family of living for five years surrounded by rubbish. This one was written in reply by a member of Croydon’s Conservatives.
As you see, there’s agreement that something must change – but what?
Broad Green Residents Association (BGRA) organised the Broad Green community spring clean, which took place on Easter Monday, 17th April. It was well-attended: amongst the litter pickers were Labour councillors Stuart Collins (who heads up the drive to tackle litter and fly-tipping – and who wasn’t just there for the photos; he stayed and picked litter), Callton Young and Stuart King; several members of Croydon Conservatives including Stuart Millson, whose article is linked above; Robert Ward, who has crunched some data on this subject for the Citizen; a large contingent ofAhmadiyya Muslims, already known for their public-spirited clean-up work, but excelling themselves this time with an offer of lunch for all involved at the St James’s Road mosque when we were finished; and a troop of assorted other Croydonians, some of us local and others from further away. It was encouraging to see such a strong turnout.
Frankly, I needed encouragement. I’d been away for a break and the difference in how I felt was amazing: weeks had gone by since I’d last escaped Broad Green’s oppressive mess for more than a few hours. In beautiful, peaceful surroundings, I’d been able to draw deep breaths and relax. So returning to Litter Land on Easter Sunday was heartsinking, an experience that came up later in an interesting conversation with BGRA’s chair, Malcolm Bell.
Even equipped with latex gloves and litter grabbers to avoid constant bending, litter picking is nasty, smelly work. Since the day when a rat sprang athletically from a bin in my garden as I lifted the lid, I’ve been nervous about poking in piles of rubbish. If you’re tall and could do with a longer litter grabber, you’ll also have a sore back by the end. But there’s satisfaction too: the stretches of road that we tackled looked brighter and better when we were done. And there was a cheering response from neighbours: several thanked us, took leaflets about BGRA and vowed to help out next time. Whether or not they do, they’ve seen at least that they’re part of a community that tries to make things better.
The spring clean was also a chance to meet someone prepared to take action: Malcolm Bell, the BGRA chair mentioned above. He knows what it’s like to live in the middle of Broad Green’s debris: no daytripper he.
“Until I moved here in 2010”, he told me, “I had never realised how much my surroundings affected me. Then, after the riots, the lack of trees and plants and the litter-strewn streets seemed ten times worse. I started to find it depressing to come home after work, and became less likely to go out to get some exercise or do other positive things.
“I know that I won’t be able to afford to move out of Broad Green any time soon, and am determined not to waste any more of my life getting angry or upset. I need to fight back, but in a productive way. The community litter picks are just the start.”
It helps so much to hear that others struggle with the same things that you do. The two of us agreed that constant exposure to a trashed environment like ours causes real emotional harm.
Just as Malcolm Bell knows how a poor environment is demoralising, he also senses that an inspiring place can raise people up. His vision for west Croydon is one of community gardens, street art like the works that have so lifted the town centre, green walls and edible bus stops. Such initiatives give people a positive sense of themselves and the place where they live, re-building the vital connection with home that, right now, seems lost and that might encourage more people to care for Broad Green. We’ve seen, to give just one example, the powerful impact of street art on central Croydon: just imagine its vivid energy brightening the place. So yes – transformation is possible.
There’s much to be done, and as a meetings-skeptic, Malcolm would rather stop talking, get outside, and get on. “I want to live in a Broad Green residents can be proud of. I am going to do all I can to bring people together to make it happen”.
It’s still hard to feel positive right now. But some good vibes got shared around at the spring clean and for those, I am grateful. Malcolm Bell is right: to do nothing is just not an option.