In the wake of last August’s riots, I visited every secondary school and college in the constituency and a number of youth groups because I wanted to hear what young people thought was responsible for the riots and what should be done to stop them happening again.
On many issues, they agreed with the views of older constituents who had contacted me in the immediate aftermath but there were two areas where they had a very different view. First, they were much more hostile to the police and second they were angry with the way parts of the media sought to blame their whole generation for what happened when, as quickly became apparent, a majority of those responsible were not teenagers and only a small minority of Croydon teenagers were involved.
It was in response to this anger about the portrayal of teenagers in parts of the media that Project Change was born. The idea was to get together a group of young people who would do community work to improve our town - and hopefully in the process change older people’s perceptions of young people in Croydon.
So far, nearly 300 young people from virtually every secondary school in the borough have signed up and yesterday, after several months of planning, over a hundred met outside the Town Hall to take on our first project - brightening up the parts of London Road and Old Town most affected by the riots. They divided into a number of teams to:
• clear rubbish from the streets;
• clean up the old Croydon General Hospital site;
• help the excellent UnderCroydon paint a mural on the hoardings of that site;
• deliver a letter to local businesses and residents telling them what we were doing; and
Overall, it was a big success with some really positive coverage on ITV’s London Tonight (which you can watch on their website) and a good reaction from the local residents association.
There was however one unpleasant incident as a result of poor planning on my part. A number of young people were gathered on what we believed to be a little used driveway, waiting to take over the painting duties but it was actually the entrance to the car park of a local mosque and when some cars tried to gain entrance there was a heated exchange and accusations that threats and racial insults were made. I have apologised to the mosque - clearly there are lessons to be learned, but I hope this won’t detract from what was overall a very positive event when a large number of young people gave up some of their precious weekend to give something back to a community that was scarred by last August’s riots.
There are a number of people I need to thank.
First, local MP Malcolm Wicks, who came along to show his support. We may be from different parties but he has been a strong champion for the people of West Croydon and Broad Green in the aftermath of the riots.
Second, Mark Maher, the manager of McDonald’s on North End, and his staff who kindly provided a free lunch to all the young people - it’s great to see a multinational brand name supporting local community organisations.
Third, Susan and Jeanne Marie from UnderCroydon, who have been absolutely fantastic – and will be there from 9.30am-6pm every day until Saturday 5th May if you are a dab hand with a paintbrush.
Fourth, my staff who have put in a huge amount of work behind the scenes.
And finally, the young people themselves who - one incident apart - should be very proud of themselves.
Political debate understandably focuses on what the Government or the local council is doing but I passionately believe that the solutions to some of the problems our society faces are in our own hands - and I believe that our young people are key to many of those solutions, not one of the problems. That’s why, though running projects like this isn’t strictly part of my job as an MP, I devote so much time to it. If you agree and you want to get involved, you can sign up for Project Change here.
On24/04/2012 10:10:00David Whitewrote:
In principle this is a good idea and the young people in the video are great ambassadors for the young people of Croydon.
However there is a problem as I see it. Project Change looks very much like a Tory Party front organisation. It is run by you and your staff and (apparently) by other senior members of Croydon Conservatives. Whereas you could have set it up as a charity and involved people of all parties and none, it now appears as a publicity vehicle for you. It would appear that at least part of the motivation is to gain future votes and aid your climb up the greasy pole at Westminster.
The young people involved in the project deserve better than this.
On24/04/2012 13:27:00Gavin Barwellwrote:
Some of the people who work in my office are also active in the local Conservative Party (just as some of the people who work in Malcolm Wicks' office are active in the local Labour Party) but, them apart, there are no members of Croydon Conservatives involved in supporting Project Change. It is actually run - in the sense of choosing the name and the projects they intend to undertake - by the young people themselves, but I have helped to raise money, get the necessary permissions etc. It is being set up as a charity and people of all parties and none are welcome to get involved.
I have devoted a lot of time to this because I am passionate about supporting our young people, not because I think it is going to win me any votes. If that was my motivation, I wouldn't have spent hours of my time visting schools and colleges in Croydon South and Croydon North.
I hope this reassures you.
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