On the fringes of London’s Silicon Roundabout, this tech start-up is making waves and winning awards
As one of London’s most deprived boroughs, and one of the poorest areas of the country, Tower Hamlets is perhaps not the first place you would think of to set up your business. Indeed, it has both high youth unemployment and the highest overall rate of unemployment in London.
According to data collected by the Federation of Small Businesses for its Small Business Manifesto, 70 per cent of all new jobs in the borough are created through self-employment and by small businesses. However, it is impossible to say whether these jobs are being created by existing businesses or start-ups, as Tower Hamlets is one of the few boroughs that do not include statistics for the number of new businesses in their Local Authority Agreement.
Nevertheless, the important role that entrepreneurship could play in Tower Hamlets is publicly acknowledged. In March, Chris Smith, Green Party mayoral candidate for City and East, told EastLondonLines: “We need to encourage more local entrepreneurs to set up businesses. One of the difficulties we have in ‘Tesco Hamlets’, as it’s sometimes called, is we have a lot of stores like Tesco who pay very low wages. They’re not even on the London living wage.”
However, the south west of the borough, the area around Spitalfields, is something of a different story. Around Brick Lane in particular, numerous new companies are blooming, fuelled by the Silicon Roundabout tech business boom.
One such company is PLA Studios. Founded in 2011, the team of six 20-somethings, headed by Tom Page and Robin Lacey, produce games “for brands and educational purposes”. They have recently worked with Universal and Island Records to produce an interactive game promoting Blink 182’s latest single. On March 15, the company won the social games category at the TIGA games contest for their upcoming game, Squaddies.
PLA is one of a number of small businesses and start-ups that inhabit the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. The complex, which is close to Allen Gardens, houses over 250 businesses in the former brewery’s warehouses and yards. According to Lacey, the fact that there were other like-minded businesses and, importantly, potential clients not only in the area, but in the same building, is the primary reason PLA chose to set up shop in the Brewery.
Things will not change overnight for Tower Hamlets. As Lacey says: “It’s not really as if a start-up comes to town and suddenly everybody’s got jobs.” But, as new businesses become more established, they do create jobs both directly and through their suppliers and potential clients moving to the area. And that is why, in areas like Tower Hamlets, start-ups need to be both celebrated and encouraged.
Photos by Aaron Lee and Jane McCallion