As part of London Technology Week, Croydon is celebrating the success of its Tech City made up of 1,000 small businesses.
Croydon's entreprenuers say the area is going through a transformation period. The 2011 riots were a catalyst for change.
The area was named as the capital's fastest growing tech cluster and now hopes to rival East London's reputation as a hub for small businesses. But some residents still doubt the area can shake its reputation as a gloomy suburb.
Again and again, Londoners describe Croydon as “a shithole” and the August 2011 riots reinforced that image. The place became a focal point of disorder in the capital as rolling footage of the local furniture shop, Reeves Corner, engulfed in flames was broadcast worldwide.
Four years later, most still see Croydon as a depressing, industrialised suburb on the outer fringes of the city. Not even its own residents seem particularly attached to the place - 60 per cent of the 2011 rioters in Croydon were from Croydon itself.
Shaking the stigma of suburbia
But as Reeves Corner burned, Jonny Rose and James Naylor were having dinner together in nearby Purley. For them, that night was the area's turning point. “It was a decisive moment for Croydon,” says Rose. “That’s when everything changed.”
Bloody hell! How did we let things get so bad?
Saif Bonar thought the same. He was at a pub quiz in Crystal Palace when he started to hear an endless stream of fire engines rush past in the direction of Croydon. “Arguably the riots were one of the best things that happened to Croydon”, he says, “Without them, the progress we’ve made would have taken much longer.”
Individually, Rose, Bonar and Naylor made the decision to change Croydon for the better. "There was a sense in the air – ‘Bloody hell! How did we let things get so bad?’" says Naylor.
The internet helped this process a lot, says Rose. “In the wake of the riots, [Croydon’s] very engaged populace was talking to each other online.”
The Croydon tech cluster
In October 2012, 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 turned up for the second. "We met at Matthew’s Yard once a month and now, the network has grown to 1,000 businesses." And in 2014, Croydon was branded London's fastest growing tech cluster by the Office of National Statistics.