20 January 2016 Insider’s Guide
Croydon is fast shaking off its suburban image. In 2014, the South London borough was declared the UK’s fastest growing tech cluster and there have been murmurings ever since that, maybe, Croydon is London’s latest answer to Silicon Valley.
Jonny Rose is largely responsible for this shift in attitude. He founded Croydon Tech City an organisation that helps local entrepreneurs navigate the different stages of setting up a business.
It all started in October 2012, when Rose wrote a blog post about his vision for Croydon to become a community version of the government-run tech city in East London. He asked for anyone who liked the idea to meet with him.
About 20 people turned up to the first meeting, then 40 to the second. The number kept growing and now the network involves around 1,000 businesses.
The Financial Times labelled Croydon as a “hub for the games industry, data storage and file-sharing management.” But businesses in the borough vary; from start-ups such as social network Famberry and fin-tech firms such as Quid Cycle to more established enterprise including email marketing software, Dot Mailer and travel technology company Intuitive.
Although Old Street (Silicon Roundabout) is still seen, internationally, as the epi-centre of London’s tech industry, Croydon has several tricks up its sleeve that are tempting tech-firms to move south. For a start, rents are 40 per cent cheaper in Croydon than they are in trendy Shoreditch. In fact, Croydon boasts the cheapest office space within the M25- £22.50 per square foot, compared to £107 in the West End.
Secondly, fast train connections mean the area is accessible from Central London in just a quarter of an hour – making it easy to forget that Croydon is 14 miles away from the city’s centre point.
Also, because the scene is still growing, Croydon’s tech cluster has much more of a communal-feel than its Central London competitors. Locals credit this atmosphere to the 2011 London riots – Croydon was one of the worst affected areas. But in the aftermath, Croydoners grouped together, forming inseparable communities, to think about how to future-proof the area; how to prevent another riot.
Now, there exists a new generation of locals hell-bent on transforming Croydon’s image from a deprived, crime-prone neighbourhood to a cool, aspirational area of London.
Matthew’s Yard is one of the area’s cool new-spots. A creative-hub that appeals to the young tech-crowd – it’s a trendy warehouse space that houses a bar, a burger pop-up, a theatre, a workshop and a radio station. Its event calendar is jammed full, with up to 90 events each month.
Its founder Saif Bonnar believes the Yard is integral to Croydon’s development process into a tech-hub. “The workers need somewhere to get a pulled pork burger!”
He taps into the idea that tech hubs need more than just tech. They need supporting infrastructure to make the area an enjoyable place to work. Matthew’s Yard fulfils the foodie aspect. But Croydon has also seen a recent boost to its arts and culture. In the past year, the area has seen three new art galleries open – RISE Gallery, Turf Projects and All City London. It now hosts Banksy exhibitions and independent film festivals. And this summer, East London’s Boxpark – a shipping container shopping village – is moving from Shoreditch to Croydon.
With central London’s rent getting higher and higher, more and more young professionals are moving to Croydon, looking for cheap rents and authentic London culture. With them, they’re bringing community newspapers, flat whites and independent restaurants. With all these developments, Croydon is hotly tipped to be 2016’s up and coming inner-city area. It’s uncertain whether the tech cluster is a cause or a symptom but one thing’s for sure, Croydon will certainly benefit.
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