Challenging perceptions of place at the City Makers’ Forum

  • The eighth largest would-be city in the UK by population
  • Has 84,000 young people under the age of 15, the largest number of any London borough
  • One of the most diverse council leadership teams in the UK

It might surprise you to know that we’re describing Croydon. The fast-growing London borough is undergoing significant redevelopment with landmark projects either launched or earmarked for the near future.

Beyond the cranes changing the borough’s skyline, it is changing perceptions that matter most to council leader Jo Negrini.

City Makers Forum June 2019
Chris Paddock (left), Jo Negrini (right)

On 17 June, Jo presented to a cross-sector group of next-wave city leaders at Future of London’s City Makers’ Forum on the challenges of local leadership. In conversation with event host Chris Paddock, Director at Hatch Regeneris, Jo provided some interesting lessons and top tips.

Since becoming leader of the council in 2016, Jo has positioned herself as a ‘positive disruptor,’ challenging the council to diversify its leadership and approach to regeneration. “Mono is in the past,” says Jo explaining the importance of mixed-use development, “it’s important to reflect the multicultural identity of the area.”

Jo has set out to deliver a vibrant destination through an ambitious programme of physical regeneration, including the transformation of 60m sq ft of stagnating town centre office space into a mixed economy that appeals to a broader spectrum of Croydon’s residents and businesses.

To do this, challenging perceptions is key and was the inspiration behind the “didn’t expect to see that in Croydon” internal campaign started by the council. Working closely with developers like Stanhope, the council were able to bring food and retail centre BOXPARK to a site outside East Croydon station.

Currently the largest BOXPARK in London, this marquee development became a catalyst for further investment. “It got people talking,” explains Jo, “and this produces more [development] as a result – the wheel keeps turning.” This momentum includes the anticipated Westfield Shopping Centre, reopening of cultural centre Fairfield Halls following a £30m refurbishment, an annual Pride Festival and other cultural events, coordinated by Creative Director, Paula Murray.

Jo is keen for the council to use its financial muscle to bring stakeholders together, with physical regeneration projects kick-starting conversations around social issues and developers and community groups working together. The council sets the tone, procuring suppliers who pay London Living Wage, provide apprenticeships for local people and agree to allocate developer contributions and corporate social responsibility goals to where they’re most needed.

There is still a long way to go. In 2018-19 Croydon had the second highest number of reported violent crimes of all London boroughs, but the influence of the physical environment on this and other issues provides an opportunity for the council to have a significant impact.

One way is through delivering quality, affordable homes. Croydon’s response to this and the Mayor’s housing targets has been long-term strategic delivery through their wholly-owned subsidiary Brick by Brick. Croydon’s local plan requires 32,890 new homes across the borough by 2036, with a minimum 30% affordable.

Brick by Brick aims to deliver this and aligns with the council’s culture – working in the public interest and prioritising partnerships with local contractors and employment opportunities for local people through the Croydon Works programme.

Public perception is not the only upshot of cultivating this type of culture. When the competition for planning, housing, regeneration and economic development talent is so fierce, this shift in perception has helped the borough to keep their brightest staff and attract new people at the same time. Croydon has prioritised its investment in people, promoting people internally where appropriate.

Croydon’s story is full of useful takeaways for all city makers. Specifically targeting members of London’s top urban leadership programmes, the City Makers’ Forum is an event series providing a platform for sharing experience and promoting honest debate about key issues.  The Forum invites guest speakers with insight to share with a diverse range of London’s next-wave leaders.

To finish her presentation, Jo gave her three top tips for the city makers:

  1. Be nice. Everyone is important!
  2. Don’t compromise yourself. Be authentic and be confident to know what you think matters
  3. Commit to things. Don’t change your mind because others tell you not to. Take risks when given the opportunity.

This event was kindly hosted by Hatch Regeneris. Find out more about the City Makers’ Forum including future events at futureoflondon.org.uk/networks/forum

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