How do you plan to create more job opportunities throughout the borough that suit the standards of younger generations, i.e. flexibility, good pay and equity?
With my manifesto, I recognise how important youth is for our community, If you look at Croydon, it has the largest population of youth than any other borough in the whole of London and frankly there isn’t enough investment put into there. I want to help youth become entrepreneurs and I feel in schools they’re not teaching how to set up business, how to set up an account, what you need to do. What I see is children who are bored on the streets, and they’re intelligent, they have got passion- everyone needs passion and purpose in life, they have the passion but haven’t got the purpose and it’s our responsibility to give that to them. I want to ensure that they’re asked what they want to do with their lives because at the moment the narrative they get told in school is they’re not worth anything and they can’t achieve anything, so when you’re having that fed to you in school, you’re obviously going to feel like you’re worthless and they do feel worthless. Any child that can take another child’s life must feel their own life is worthless, so we need to make that change.
We need to make sure we invest in the youth- I want to open Amplify, Amplify is something that works out of hours after school, it works right now in South East London, it’s amazing, I’m involved with them and it’s free from the ages of 6-21 and it teaches essential skills and things like music arts, performing arts, mentorship through music but I want to extend it further and make available everyday after school and on weekends where we can also do creative arts, filming, graphic design and apprenticeship, even trade, because I feel no child should be deprived- if they want to learn to play the piano or want to get into acting, we should be providing them with that opportunity. That’s something, even if they decide not to go into creative art, it’s been proven with youth once you get them into a creative headspace, it opens up their confidence, their mind, and that’s what they don’t have, that’s whats lacking. Part of that is opening up centres to help youth become entrepreneurs, put grants out there, help them open up their own businesses, because they are intelligent, and they really just need someone to invest in them and I want to be a borough that actually invests in our youth, listens to them and their ideas. I want to see them be the all-stars representing our country around the world, if anything, we’ve proven great things come of Croydon, great people. Even if it’s sports, sports are so important and we need to make it more available whether it boxing, martial arts, different activities to help our youth.
I want to bring humanity back, that’s what’s missing in politics, there’s no humanity. Because I’ve been mentoring youth for years, I’ve personally taken youth out of gangs, out of selling drugs and I’ve invested time in them and seen them turn their life around, get into university and start their own businesses so I know it’s possible because I’ve done it myself, that’s why I want to bring that same model of caring into what we do.
A report last year by drug advocacy group Volteface, has revealed the UK is missing out on a £1.2 billion medical cannabis industry and 41,000 potential jobs due to the outdated licensing regimes- seeing as you aim to create more jobs and opportunities for the people of London and Croydon, will this be an industry you consider nourishing to create these opportunities?
The thing with cannabis is only the government can legalise it. You do have for example, how the Mayor of London did a cannabis-free day last Saturday, so I do plan to be that advocate to lobby the government and get special permission to do trials in Croydon, whether that’s with cafes or certain things and I do feel I will be successful because if the Mayor of London is able to do cannabis free days, I do feel we will have the power to actually say we want to do a trial, we want to open a cafe, so I will definitely lobby for that because I see the sense and I see why it is important, it just needs a strong leader that’s going to lobby the government.
Even the CHB market, it's not even about the cafes but the medicinal products that come from it so that’s something we should be investing in as well, so that’s a market I do want to explore, I do want to set up manufacturing plants here in Croydon where we can make products to actually help address illnesses.
Whitfield Shopping Centre was intended to become the new Westfield shopping centre but movements seem to have ceased, what regenerations plans do you have?
Well, I want to get them back round the table because Westfield would have been a game-changer for Croydon. We used to be a thriving shopping centre years ago, people from Sutton, Bromley all use to come here. Obviously now people go from Croydon to Bromley because it’s shameful what we have, so we do need to have a shopping centre that we’re proud of, we need to have a food court we’re proud of, we need to have restaurants.
I plan to bring the West-end to Fairfield Hall so every few months we have a huge theatre production going on. It’s these small things but they’re big things where we want to drive people back to Croydon, so it’s about restaurants, it’s about the shops, it’s about culture and arts, even if it’s having jazz festivals, any sort of festivals during the summer months, it’s really about making people feel proud. I don’t see Christmas markets happening you know, we need to bring that pride back we’ve lost. And also I want to do things such as popups where we give small businesses the opportunity to start exploring business opportunities, so I don’t want them to go into an annual lease and their just starting their business, we can do popups or short term leases so that gives them a headstart to see if their business is going to work, if it’s going to thrive. But I really want to help empower small businesses and startups and something I will be doing is making co-working spaces, working with giants like WeWork and actually bringing that system here in Croydon, giving startups 6 months free co-working space to help them get out there. There isn’t currently a WeWork in Croydon so I plan to give them one of those derelict buildings and let them bring the magic that they bring.
I plan to actually get them back into use with ‘Tech Croydon,’ make it the tech city for Europe and London, and that’s basically going to Google and Apple and saying hey, here’s these redundant buildings, and they’re going spend the millions to actually regenerate them. We can get Apple to open a free coding space to teach anyone, any resident who wants to learn coding or computer literacy and the skills they need, so we build that talent base here.
With the increase number of women and girls feeling unsafe on the streets of Croydon and London as a whole, how do you plan to ensure safer streets for our women and girls?
If we look at rising crime, it’s because we have a rise in poverty, so we need to start lifting people out of poverty to actually improve society because that’s going to improve crime but for immediate safety, we need to make sure we have more police on the beat. I’m starting something called community patrols, where we have community leaders actually patrolling the streets as well because they know the offenders and things like that, so we have a presence there, but also I want to make sure the street lighting is good and there are a lot more cameras so there can be accountability because at the moment, criminals are getting away with it. I’ve been a victim of sexual assault myself so I know what it feels like being a woman, and that was in broad daylight during the day at 10:30 in the morning, so it’s not even about night time and the reason mine didn’t get caught is because of camera not looking the right direction. Its about people getting caught, and it’s changing the culture.
I would say 90% of sexual assaults don’t get reported because women feel there’s no point and it’s not going to go anywhere. Even people in the gay community get sexually assaulted and they obviously don’t, so people don’t report out of shame and so, it’s changing that narrative and letting people know you should report it because the problem is that person who sexually assaulted you is going to go on to rape someone and possible murder, because once they have a taste of it, it grows, it’s a sickness. So we need to encourage women to come forward, men to come forward, if you are a victim of any sexual assault, you need to come forward. I almost didn’t because I just thought, what’s going to happen but I then thought I feel a moral obligation to come forward because too many of us don’t, so I’m going to do it just to raise awareness and say we do need to come forward.
Medical cannabis in the UK is currently legal, yet prescriptions are extremely difficult to obtain due to lack of research and access. Is wider access to medical cannabis considered in your initiatives as Mayor?
Absolutely. Absolutely, because I know people that suffer, they have cancer, back pains and those things and they don’t have access and I think it should be widely accessible, it does have health benefits that’s proven and the problem is if you don’t make it accessible, you’re encouraging people to have to do it illegally so via illegal routes and probably have things which are harmful to them and that’s something we need to get away from. You break the power of the black market by legalising it and the hold it has on the children. Again what the Amsterdam model didn’t do, I would actually give growing licenses where you give permission for people to grow it safely- obviously, it will be heavily audited and include inventories and all of that to ensure nothing slips away, but I would encourage that because I know that way people will work together and we can actually then have people instead of getting into illegal businesses, do things legitimately, and yes, they’ll get taxed on it, but they’re not going to be criminals and be living in the ‘dark underground.’ I’ve seen so many people not only earn a great living of it but actually do things the right way and that’s all over the world. It’s also just a waste of police resources.
We share the same values at Rounders as you when it comes to the treatment and safety of homeless people in London. What actions can we as fellow citizens do to help reduce the number of people on our streets and what actions will you also be taking?
I’m glad you’ve asked this because I’ve been volunteering in the community for over 20 years, so I really understand, especially with the homeless community. If anything, we proved during the pandemic we can eradicate rough sleeping. I like to remind everyone we’re all 3 pay checks away from being homeless ourselves, because the moment you stop paying you’re rent and mortgage, you’re at risk of eviction and it can happen to anyone, homelessness isn’t just about drugs. Something I do plan to do is open free rehab centres across Croydon, so whether it’s someone who’s homeless, or youth, or anyone suffering any kind of addiction, we can help them there and then. I want to eradicate rough sleeping, have you heard of the shipping containers which have been converted into homes in the Dutch, beautiful homes by the way, like more than two stories, but I plan to actually open a special eco-village where we will convert shipping containers into homes where we can house people who have fallen on hard times and help them back into society, help them get jobs and I plan to open healthcare centres for the homeless for the basic essentials of humanity really, having a shower, having access to a GP, dentist, laundry- they don’t actually have access to these basic facilities. If you’re homeless and you don’t have an address you can’t have a GP, therefore you can’t get any medication. I just think that’s completely inhumane, there’s no shower, you depend on churches and places that can try and do that, that’s just not acceptable, I want hygiene centres available. It’s about lifting people out of poverty.
There are two types of poverty, you’ve got your rough sleepers who have been immediately made homeless and they’re now trying to have to live on the street, and then you get your long-term and it’s a way of a life, I like to call them the street wise not homeless, they probably have a home but they’re use to being on the streets begging because they’ve got no other way and nothing else to do because they’ve been doing it so long, so I want to get them involved in cleaning the environment whether it’s collecting plastics or gardening in the parks, teaching them the essential skills they need to actually help within society and actually pay them for the work they do. It’s because they feel worthless and we treat them like they’re worthless but they’re actually human beings and they have name’s and I want to bring that dignity back to them, and that’s not we’re not seeing.
Even without being Mayor can you still make actions towards those through the community work you do?
I have been, obviously when I did run for Mayor, the next day I woke up and guess what, I still cared. I said I’ll still deliver my manifesto through private funding and I haven’t stopped doing that so I’ve been getting involved in projects, I’ve been focusing a lot on the knife crime, between me and one of my partners ‘Binning Knives Saves Lives,’ love all the work and everything he’s done, collecting 1,300 knives off the street including machetes, a few guns, and this is just grassroots organisations so I really want to make sure that grassroots organisations are supported and continue to do what I can because I care.