Many of you reading this will already be helping in some way, whether it’s caring for an elderly relative, occupying your children with activities that stop them trashing the house twelve hours a day or waving to your neighbour. But, if you’re lucky enough to have a little more space, here are ten ways you can help your wider community:
- Follow. The. Guidance. There’s no point playing the hero if you’re simultaneously infecting people and overloading the NHS. The reason we’ve pressed pause on our entire economy is because isolation saves lives. So before you do anything beyond washing your hands at home alone, read about how to help safely at Mutual Aid UK here or Queer here
- Check on neighbours and old friends. You’re not being patronising; this crisis is unprecedented. So, go through your address book, your old Facebook contacts – is there anyone worth checking on? Someone isolated or disabled or cut off? Starting with people you know is the safest way to help, because there’s a relationship of trust already there.
- Join your local Mutual Aid group. Croydon Covid-19 Mutual Aid now has over 3,000 members. Alongside the main group, there’s a network of over 60 WhatsApp groups covering particular areas, linking neighbours with local requests for help. Daily I’ve seen everything from people picking up prescriptions and sharing online education programmes for kids to people offering to redistribute guiltily hoarded toilet rolls. To find your WhatsApp groups or simply start a new one, click here.
- Donate to local foodbanks (find a full list below of those in Croydon). If you can’t spare food or leave the house, financial donations are really welcome. Foodbanks often have networks that mean they get good deals and financial donations give them the flexibility to buy what they need. Some supermarkets like Ocado even allow you to do this with an online shop.
- Volunteer formally through the NHS volunteer programme (https://www.goodsamapp.org/nhs) or the police. Croydon Voluntary Action is also recruiting volunteers and directing people to local charities. I also know that Croydon Nightwatch in particular is looking to recruit new volunteers to help the homeless in Croydon as many of their older, dependable volunteers are self-isolating.
- Adapt your skill and do something with it online. I’ve seen personal trainers shifting to online workouts, counselling services by video link, Carol Vorderman has made all her maths sessions for kids free online, Joe Wicks is running online PE classes, and there are even tango classes available. One couple I know has turned their home into a micro-bakery with amazing responses. If you are in a position to offer a skill for free, why not? You might just boost your profile at the same time.
- Get a job at a supermarket. Supermarkets say the biggest problem is not running out of food, but running out of staff. Whatever job you’ve done in the past, why not try working for a major food supplier? It’s more than important work – it’s a national mission.
- Get political. You might not be able to take to the streets, but there are plenty of causes that can be fought for online. Whether it’s making sure self-employed workers and those on zero-hour contracts get the same support as others through the crisis, or pushing for those without recourse to public funds to be given help to keep us all safer and healthier, there is loads you can do.
- Help build new social norms. If you’re out picking up the shopping, leave more than a 2-metre gap between you and others. Smile as you do it and nod – avoidance can feel accusatory, so do it in a spirit of friendliness. Give way. Cross the street to avoid people. Take your time. If you think someone is doing something irresponsible, don’t launch into a lecture – just ask them if they’re sure that’s safe.
- Spread the right information, and challenge the rest. It’s tempting to share that one photo of an empty supermarket aisle when the rest are actually OK, but try not to put your panic online. When you’re offering advice, make sure it’s linked to an accredited source. If you see something false, challenge it. We’re facing a pandemic of misinformation as well as corona and it doesn’t help. Take a breath, and click share on the thing that’s useful (or even positive!) rather than the thing that’s dramatic.
All of the ideas above I’ve discovered by watching people actually do them. Croydon is amazing. At a time when everyone has to keep their distance, thousands of us are coming together. At a time when millions of us are self-isolating, we’ve never felt so close. So, see if there’s one or two things you can add from this to your doubtlessly already long list. That way, we’ll continue to get through this together.
Knife crime is a growing problem in our city and a blight on young lives. As part of the ‘Safe Zones’ campaign I will be supporting Croydon Community Leaders in talking to victims and highlighting how communities can work together to tackle the issues on the ground and reduce the numbers of tragic deaths and injuries caused by knives.
Local people and the Council are working on recruiting local businesses to act as “safe havens” or “safe zones” for potential crime victims. And you can help grow them.
It works like this. Once a local business volunteers to become a refuge space, they can display a sign in their window that lets young people know they can run there in an emergency. Originally started by London Citizens after 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen’s murder in 2008, this also created a powerful network of London businesses that discuss and take action on safety concerns.
This idea has been taken off in Croydon too but with a twist. Croydon Community Leaders, together with @Unit-t, have been recruiting businesses in the borough. Under the inspiring direction of locals like Renee Lord-Lindsay, Cheryl Shaw and Leshah Samuels, they also offer free training to businesses in first aid and youth engagement as well as after care for business workers if an incident takes place.
Businesses have embraced the idea: many of them are concerned about this type of crime but are unsure about how to deal with it. When I went out this week with other volunteers led by Renee to the same road my student was mugged on in the town centre, many shop keepers were interested to know more, and we signed them up.
We’re lucky to have a Labour Council that champions these ideas. In the Croydon Labour’s last manifesto, there was a commitment to safe havens. Hamida Ali, cabinet member for safety and communities, believes this could be part of a community-led, preventive and public health approach to all forms of violence and is keen to support groups taking such initiatives across the borough. And there are other organisations who have also been working on this, from local chapters of London Citizens to groups in New Addington which are also working hard to help young people take a lead on this.
There couldn’t be a more important time to back safe places. Not long has passed since the horrific murder of Kelly Marie Fauvrelle and the baby son she was carrying, the death of Kye Manning in Purley and too many others. We need to act. Of course on their own initiatives like these are not enough. As Sarah Jones has rightly argued, we also need properly funded public services, meaningful engagement with families and young people, work with schools and much else besides. But initiatives like these are a start and they can make a difference.
If you want to help, please get in touch and let us know if you can volunteer to come and meet more businesses with us. If you’re a business owner yourself we would love to hear from you, if you’re a customer or resident maybe you could approach a business that you think might be interested. Give us your feedback. Let’s work together so that the next time someone is running, we give them somewhere safe to go.
Our air quality is dangerously bad. Research gathered by the mayor shows that over 300 early deaths are caused by air pollution in Croydon and Sutton every year. Will you join with me to help address this climate emergency?
You can see it in the grime cyclists wipe off their face from the fumes. You can hear it in the pollution alerts that mean some families can’t go out, or in the wheeze of an asthma pump. You can feel it as someone buries their nose in their sleeve or in the headaches and faintness that affect people after a day of standstill traffic.
Air quality is fundamental to the health of our people and our planet. Croydon and Sutton Councils have been right to declare a climate emergency; one important part of that is tackling poor air quality. That’s why Cllr Nina Degrads and I, along with other leaders including Thomas Bowell and Joseph O’Malley, have launched this campaign.
Air quality is emphatically a social justice issue – the poorest people very often live in the most polluted areas and so are even more vulnerable to the dangers posed by our poor air quality. Labour knows this. I want to work collaboratively to deliver initiatives like car sharing, increasing pedestrianisation, incentivising drivers to switch to lower-emission vehicles, and a raft of other measures which will improve the quality of the air that we breathe.
We are motivated by the health of ourselves and our people. The Royal College of Physicians has documented how air quality impacts the most vulnerable, particularly children and older people, and how it exacerbates conditions from obesity to cancer and heart disease. Research gathered by the Mayor shows that over 200 deaths in Croydon, and over 100 in Sutton, are caused by air pollution every year.
We are also very much motivated by social justice. We know that poorer people are more likely to live in highly congested areas or along busy roads. Many of us don’t have the financial means to move out to leafier, fresher areas. Families on lower incomes are less likely to be able to afford to send their child to school in an area with green fields and trees. Escaping the air emergency comes at a price that many cannot afford to pay.
Finally, we are motivated by climate change. Air quality is on the front line in the fight against global warming because it’s often where people feel air pollution most personally and directly. Many of the changes that would benefit our personal health and happiness would also slow the overheating of our planet. A Green New Deal to help fight climate change would also help cleanse the air we breathe – and provide jobs and investment in the process.
So for all of these reasons, we ask you to recognise the air emergency we are now facing and take action. We need your energy, your ideas, your time and your creativity. Will you join us?
LOCAL FOODBANKS ARE CALLING FOR EXTRA SUPPLIES IN CROYDON AND SUTTON TO STOP HOLIDAY HUNGER. LET’S USE OUR GREAT LABOUR NETWORK TO HELP THEM!
‘Holiday’ is not a word a child should dread. But if your home struggles from poverty, abuse or domestic violence, leaving school means leaving safety. Tragically, teachers know that many of our students return to school in September less happy and healthy than when they left us.
Holiday hunger is one of these challenges. At school, children on free school meals are guaranteed at least one hot and nutritious meal a day and breakfast clubs are open. In the holidays, this often gets taken away. On top of that, children may visit other parts of their family, so suddenly a single dad or secondary carer may be trying to feed children they wouldn’t usually budget for.
The Trussell Trust believes that over 87,000 food parcels were handed out in last year’s summer holidays alone and that over one-third of these goes to families with children. Volunteers from local foodbanks tell me they are running short of supplies right now, particularly for things like squash and biscuits that children love.
No one is arguing that foodbanks are the solution to our problems. After foodbank use climbed in Croydon when the borough was first used as a pilot for universal credit, we know that we need to fix our humiliating and broken benefits system. Beyond that, we need to help work on the deepest causes of poverty, from family breakdown to economic opportunity. To build a community where people can support themselves and their families without falling through the gaps, early intervention is essential, investment is vital and ending austerity paramount.
But all of these solutions take time – and a Labour government. They don’t help children who are hungry right now as you read this. Foodbanks are like our emergency services – for sure, it would have been far better if we’d invested in prevention before the accident, but once it’s happened you need to make damn sure one is there and fully resourced.
Volunteers and Labour campaigners have done great work on this issue. We’re lucky enough in our party to have a huge network of people who are compassionate and motivated to act by a strong sense of social justice: why not use that to get foodbanks what they need this summer? Our Labour party meetings could be used as drop-off points for food donations to make it easy for members to contribute. This Friday I’ll also be driving around Sutton and Croydon to pick up donations from anyone who wants a home pick up. If you have anything to donate, you can drive a car, or you just want to get involved, drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. With your help, I’m hoping our kids can return to school happier and healthier, and spend their summer thinking less about their stomachs, and more about just being kids.