Patel is out to save the planet, taking one small step at a time

On the up: Ria Patel has is one of Croydon’s first Green Party councillors. Pic: Louisa Gautrey

There’s been a lot going on for Ria Patel in the past year or so. Aged 20, she’s been in her final year of her degree course at King’s College while in her first year as a Green Party councillor.
LOUISA GAUTREY met her at the Town Hall to find out more about the work of one of the borough’s elected representatives

“It’s been such a long journey over the last year. I’ve learnt so much. I’ve really enjoyed being a councillor.

“It’s a lot of responsibility and there’s definitely challenging times,” Councillor Ria Patel says as we settle down in her office at Croydon’s grand, Victorian-built Town Hall.

“I really love the work I do.”

At 20, Patel is Croydon’s youngest councillor. When she was elected in May 2022 for the town centre Fairfield ward while still in her teens, it was suggested that she was one of the youngest, if not the youngest councillor ever to be elected in the borough.

One thing was certain: Patel is one of the first members of the Green Party (together with her ward colleague Esther Sutton) ever to be elected as Croydon councillors.

Formally, Patel is the leader of her party’s group at the Town Hall, a role she has been learning while also coping with the workload and exams of her final year of a psychology degree at King’s College, plus casework and continuing with the other voluntary work she has taken on.

Taking pride: Patel at last week’s Croydon Pridefest with Labour MP Sarah Jones (right) and councillor Stella Nabukeera

Asked about her first year as a councillor, Patel says, “My favourite part would probably be the casework and just really being able to make an impact on the small things, the day-to-day things that are really meaningful to residents in my ward.

“I’ve had one case where someone has been living in housing which was just completely inappropriate for her children, who are disabled.”

Another council tenant Patel has been helping has been having to live among “rats and mould” in their home. “I have had successful housing casework, when people have been moved and homes have been fixed, or mould has been removed, but this case has been really challenging.”

Patel admits that her first year as an elected representative has also seen her encounter prejudice and conflict. “I won’t deny that as a young councilor, as a queer councilor who is south Asian and neuro-divergent, I found it challenging to access things at the council.”

She believes that some of her characteristics may have led to “microaggressions from other councilors, challenging me and my ideas, maybe being a bit patronising and dismissing my ideas”.

She adds: “Particularly early on, there were definitely incidents of people mansplaining me.”

But overall, she says, “It is a fantastic role to have and, in the grand scheme of things, being able to make the impact that I do for individuals but also the wider Croydon community, in terms of pushing for greener issues, and pushing for social justice, which is something I’m really passionate about.”

For Patel is also the Green Party’s national equalities and diversity spokesperson.

“I spend most my time doing council work, because there’s so much to do, and I haven’t quite found the right balance, although I obviously do my uni work.”

Patel explains how she got involved in politics. “I was quite angry at the world around me, and I was reading the different manifestos of the different parties and none of them were really resounding with me until I read the Green Party manifesto.”

An email from a senior member of the LGBTIQA+ Greens about a campaign on domestic violence and homelessness saw Patel get more involved. “I have friends who are queer and who have been kicked out of home,” she said.

“It’s a responsibility to be able to take up that space in the room and represent people who would usually be unrepresented in politics.”

Patel is finding that her role as a councillor is already inspiring others to get more involved. “I’ve had lots of situations where people have come up to me and said, ‘You’re the reason I’ve done this’, and it’s really great. I think that what I want more of in the world is more positive action.

“I’ve learnt so much over the last year.

“I would say that young people are needed in politics because, without us, no one really thinks about us unless we’re the ones speaking up about it.

“You need to have a seat at the table to have a voice at the table.

“I think people put additional scrutiny upon me because they expect so much more from a Green who’s broken through, but also from a young person with all these other characteristics I have.”

Campaign time: the work never stops of Patel, who is at a Green conference this weekend

Among her council responsibilities, Patel is a member of the licensing committee, which oversees permissions for the sale of alcohol and hot food after certain hours.

“I also chair the streets, environment and scrutiny sub-committee. We scrutinise the work that the Mayor does on climate, on the planning system and the waste contract. We look at what needs to be improved and we make recommendations.

“It has given me insight to other people’s views.

The Green Party, Patel says, has “the boldest policies in terms of tackling the climate crisis, and that is something I really care about in terms of the future of our society.

“We can’t do that on a dead planet.

“This is why I’m here, because if I’m not here, people will still be thinking the same things and acting the same way, and no change will happen.

“So it’s small steps that make the big wins and although it can be really painful and it takes time and effort, in the end all those little wins add up to create a change.”

Read more: Green councillor criticises lack of action over climate crisis

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This entry was posted in Climate Crisis Commission, Croydon Council, Croydon Greens, Environment, Esther Sutton, Fairfield, Ria Patel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Patel is out to save the planet, taking one small step at a time

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    The reality here is that Ms Patel takes her role seriously and for the right purposes.

    If there were more Ria’s in the other party’s and less Perry’s there would be less problems.

    Irrespective Ria and Esther are what Croyon needs both now and in the future – Long may they continue.

  2. chris myers says:

    Good luck to her! But I want us to concentrate on saving Croydon – and that needs much much more than evangelical ecoism

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