The Great Fire of Croydon

I’m a Croydon girl. It’s true.

I certainly don’t live up to the stereotype. I made no effort to squeeze out 3 kids by the age of 15 and clog up the social housing list with my brood. Nor do I sport a “croydon facelift” or wander the streets in juicy couture knock-offs from Surrey Street market, swigging blue WKD and screaming abuse at strangers.

But a Croydon girl I remain.

I shouldn’t make sweeping generalisations like that, since it’s not strictly true. It’s a small minority of idiots that have given Croydon the reputation it has. It’s also this minority of idiots who have caused chaos all over England these past few days. And ‘idiots’ is putting it mildly.

Watching them tear up the high streets of our cities and towns, it’s certainly difficult to see them as a minority, whilst they mobilised themselves to wreak havoc, steal and harm. But they are a minority – the one we’ve bemoaned for taking over our streets. We’ve demonised for not understanding what we hold by the term “respect”. They’ve been stereotyped, they’ve been ignored and written off – nudged outside of society with no option but to form their own. A society that doesn’t play by society’s rules. Whilst that certainly isn’t an excuse for anything been seen over the past 5 days, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting something like this to happen. I think a lot of people are shocked at the level of violence seen over the past few days, but no-one seemed shocked by who carried it out.

Growing up in Croydon I’ve watched my community change a great deal over the past 10 years. I’ve seen multiculturalism blossom and succeed, but witnessed a seething tension amongst the poorest – in a society which measures success by material value.

Even I have a chip on my shoulder about coming from a working class background where money was tight. I get worked up when I feel those from a middle class background don’t seem grateful for the start they’ve had in life. It’s terrible thing to admit, but it’s true! I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit it. But the difference is, whilst I’ve had twinges of jealousy about it, my stable home life and peer groups have meant I’ve sought to change my lot through school, developing a strong sense of social justice and aspiration. I’d hate to admit to being middle class now (I TOLD you I have a chip on my shoulder about it) but in all likelihood I am. But you don’t forget your roots.

That’s why when away with my parents this weekend, watching a good chunk of my hometown being burnt down to the ground by the same sort of kids I grew up with, I felt sick. Sick with anger, helplessness and worry. Not just at the thievery and arson, but at the events to unfold. The public backlash, the knee-jerk reactions and wondering precisely is in store for a whole generation of young people. It’s complex, it’s depressing and it seems impossible to change.

Croydon will be back on its feet in the next few weeks. Tiger Tiger will be packed with revellers, kids will still be skating down by Fairfield and Primark ALWAYS looks like it’s been hit by a riot. The relationship the community has with its youth? That’s going to take a lot longer to repair.

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