This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 03/08/2017.
My journey from Croydon outsider to insider
Before Sussex Innovation opened their new centre in One Croydon back in September 2015, I had never really spent any time in the Cronx. I – like many others before me, I suspect – only knew Croydon as a stop on the train line between my home town of Brighton and my gateway to the Big Smoke, London Victoria. I’d look out of the window at East Croydon as people piled on/off the train and thought nothing more of the place. My perception of Croydon, based on very limited actual experience of it, was that it wasn’t very nice and that it wasn’t really ‘in’ London.
Oh yeah, and the riots. Oh yeah, and Crystal Palace. Did I not say that I am a born and bred Brighton & Hove Albion fan? Worth me dealing with that now. Every sports team needs a rival, and as of the late 1970s, Palace are ours. I don’t care much for what I consider to be a ‘faux’ rivalry. Despite a violent incident between five Palace youths and my brother-in-law on the way to Selhurst Park five or so years ago. Plus my being told by an aggressive Palace fan on the way home from the same game to “take my f*cking hat off”. I don’t much care about the rivalry, although I must say I’m looking forward to the games and added bite to the atmosphere between both sides in the Prem this season. Anyway – I digress.
These days I find myself getting off the train at East Croydon and heading up the 50p/thru’penny bit building. It was a bit weird for us at first as my colleagues and I explained that we knew we weren’t in Sussex and why on earth we were in Croydon. As many readers will now know, it was to bring our unique brand of business support to the innovators and entrepreneurs of Croydon and South London, and – as it says on our tin – ‘Make Ideas Happen’. Now it may be expected that I would say nice things about Croydon and Croydonians given who I’m writing for here. You won’t be disappointed. But I say these words not (just) because I’m aiming to curry favour, but because I have been struck, and continue to be so, by the people who make up the borough.
The shortest hand way I can find to tell this story is the Croydon Business Excellence Awards. I have had the pleasure of attending them twice, and will do so again this year as we at Sussex Innovation sponsor the Entrepreneur of the Year award. I also get to attend the Sussex Business Awards. The very evident difference between the two events is what people say in their acceptance speech when they win. The Sussex Business Awards speeches hit all the expected notes: thanking those that have put them where they are today, then a bit of self-congratulation/disbelief that they’ve won and then they sit down. At the Croydon Business Awards the speeches are much the same, but with one vital ingredient added. Quite often they have said something to the effect of “I’m proud to have achieved what I have done, and to have done it here in Croydon“. There is a sense that people really care about the success of others beyond their own four walls and that their success is, in part, Croydon’s success. Back at the Sussex Business Awards, I’ve never heard “…and this is for Brighton/Uckfield/Haywards Heath”.
Having spent some time amongst you, I can now say the following things about Croydon. The entrepreneurial zeal and will to make Croydon a better place to live and do business is a credit to all those who live and breathe it. You know who you are. Long may it continue. The local Cronx beer is a good tipple, as is Boxpark a good place to eat. Thanks for making me feel welcome, and letting me support and share in your success.
No doubt Croydon has its problems, some unique to the area and some shared by others. No doubt Croydon will continue to evolve and not all change will be perceived as good. No doubt, my view of Croydon has changed for the better, I’m enjoying the ride with you, and am excited by what could happen next.
Vive la Cronx!