Brockley firms use web to weather the recession

Photo: Emily Jupp

Local entrepreneur Edmund Bing, 28, is working on the Orchard pub's bar. Photo: Emily Jupp

New start-ups in Brockley are harnessing the power of the web, while making use of old-fashioned “community spirit” to give their businesses the best possible chance to survive the recession.

The most recent statistics (see table below) show Lewisham businesses are growing at a faster rate than the average for London, and enterprises springing up in the Brockley Cross area say blogging and “giving ownership to locals” are the keys to their success.

The Brockley Mess, a Lewisham cafe, opened eight weeks ago and has been so successful it will soon extend its opening hours into the evening.

Franco La Russa, the curator of the gallery section of the cafe, said: “Blogging was very useful to create a buzz about the cafe before it opened.”

Ross Feeney, director of business support for South London Business, a business assistance network, believes that blogs can help smaller businesses which can’t afford to hire a team to do market research for them.

Mr Feeney said: “The development of the internet allows companies to get some feedback and helps entrepreneurs to evaluate their business plans. Large companies can afford to do market research, but for a small business, blogs are the DIY version of market research.”

However, experts say there can be drawbacks to relying too heavily on feedback from the internet.

Mr Feeney commented: “You can use Facebook to create ‘fans’ who will then give you feedback on your business and tell you where you are going wrong. But there are drawbacks – if you are on a mass blog people could be against the development of your enterprise and won’t give helpful feedback.”

Mr La Russa admitted: “The boss has stopped reading the blog now, he prefers speaking face to face to get customers’ comments.”

Edmund Bing and Emily Conway, both aged 28, are locals turned entrepreneurs. The Orchard pub is their first joint business venture and it is due to open at the end of this month (28 November).

Mr Bing works as a photographer and has little experience of setting up a business, but has gained confidence through his close ties to the local community and through networking with other business owners through blogs and community events.

Mr Bing said:”We hope the local community will take ownership of the Orchard, there’s a real sense of community spirit here. We want to re-invigorate the area, which has suffered recently, and give jobs to local people.

“We definitely don’t want to exploit people like a chain – in fact we heard that we beat Cafe Rouge to the bid, which is great because it’s keeping it in local ownership.”

Sue Luxton, Green party councillor for Ladywell ward, said the area as a whole is resistant to chain stores moving in but on occasions the council lacks the influence to block such moves. “We don’t want to end up with a row of chains,” Ms Luxton said.

“We had an independent video shop in the area and it was made an offer by a betting shop and the council had little in their power to stop it.”

There are rumours that a Tesco is set to be built in the area, a move Miss Luxton says “could be damaging to local independent business.”

According to Mr Bing the business community provides help for new business owners rather than cut-throat competition. “The business community here is so supportive,” he said.

“We take the attitude that our businesses will benefit each other rather than thinking of ourselves as competitors. We want to start bringing people in, locals come here but we want to make Brockley an area that people travel in to go out.”

A spokesperson for the London Chamber of Commerce said: “The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) runs regular business events because members tell us time and time again that networking is the most effective and cost efficient form of business communication they undertake.”

Despite the new developments in the area, there are other businesses in Lewisham still feeling the pinch.

Ms Luxton said: “Some businesses are are struggling a bit, some stores have been left empty. At the moment there are about six empty shops on Ladywell Road which aren’t being let out to business. It puts a downer on the shopping parade.”

However there are several community groups which are driving business forward: “There are some very active groups in the area, such as the Brockley Cross action group, that care about it and want to improve it. ” Ms Luxton added.

by Emily Jupp and Laurie Whitwell

Borough Growth / net total of business (total births minus total deaths of businesses)
Lewisham 485
Croydon 330
Hackney 600
Tower Hamlets 810
Borough Business growth as proportion of all businesses in the borough
Lewisham 6.75%
Croydon 2.79%
Hackney 5.78%
Tower Hamlets 7.29%
London 4.68%
UK 3.19%

Table: New businesses in each borough in 2007 (Figures taken from Office for National Statistics)

Useful links

The Brockley Orchard

To apply for jobs at the Orchard please email

Brockley Cross Action Group

Green Ladywell blogspot

South London Business

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