Sprint to the finish, not floored by break-in or cash crunch

Last month, SAIF BONAR told of how he started in his quest to find premises in Croydon for a digital economy, post-riots new business. Here, he picks up the story of Matthews Yard, of budget short-falls and attempted break-ins – in fact, just the sort of challenges facing any start-up

Anyone that follows the @Matthewsyard Twitter feed will know that I’m doing a lot of the building work myself with help from a very small team of talented and dedicated individuals, the overwhelming majority of them from the Croydon area. It’s a point worth making that you can get the staff locally in Croydon.

The entire build phase of the project has been an incredible challenge. I have never taken on a physical project of this scale before and doing so with severe budget constraints (I started with £3,000 in the company account and a list of debtors totalling £7,000) has made it even more difficult.

Getting my head round building regulations has been tricky. Usually a building firm will be familiar with everything and the owner of a business wouldn’t need to get so involved in working out the required dimensions of disabled toilets or maximum gradient of disabled ramps and so forth. Thankfully, the internet provides a lot of answers – and whenever I have got stuck, the Building Control team at Croydon Council has been incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.

Having never run a food business before, I have also had to find out about licensing, hygiene and other regulations. As we are considering serving alcohol, there has also been a bunch of other laws to learn about. Once again the licensing, food safety and environmental health teams at Croydon Council have all been helpful.

Another challenge was changing the address – Basement, 5-9 Surrey Street – to something more meaningful. With a fee paid to Croydon’s Address Management Team we were quickly allocated our chosen address of 1 Matthews Yard. After a brief spell, Royal Mail allocated a postcode, CR0 1FF, although we anticipate problems for several months before all would-be suppliers have updated their postcode databases.

At times, getting materials delivered has been tricky. Surrey Street is Croydon’s street market and operates six days per week. The only day it is closed, so are most delivery firms. This has meant using a combination of brute force to carry tonnes of material into the premises from nearby Scarbrook Road, or getting goods delivered by smaller vans which could access our loading bay during the day.

Fiona, the Market Inspector, has been tremendously supportive and understanding – striking a great balance between understanding my needs and enforcing the regulations and representing the interests of market traders.

The small businessman’s juggling act

Other challenges have been keeping my existing business running to some extent and keeping a fistful of clients happy while also juggling all the work on this project and retaining my position as UK Country manager for Freelancer.co.uk – there really aren’t enough hours in the day.

Seeing the space clear of rubbish and debris, unblocking the first windows to allow natural light into the premises, seeing the reclaimed scaffold floor going down have been highlights of the physical build so far.

Getting a draft lease in the post was a real boost. Signing that off was a priority as I have invested signficantly more than I had anticipated into the build already.

Seeing our logo and then our social media branding and website all come together was great, I am really pleased with the image and think it fits perfectly with my aspirations for the venture.

Launching our advance member offers and getting three paying members within a few hours was a real buzz.

The highlight of all for me, which really made me feel like the venture has potential was securing our first event booking, with the Princes Foundation, in conjunction with the council, holding the Understanding Old Town event on March 30, which most reckoned was a real success.

And what about the low-points?

The sleepless nights – worrying about where or when the next lot of income would come from, trying to make the budget go as far as possible.

Discovering it would cost more than £3,000 to do the basic electrical installation so we had access to power in the premises was a huge blow. That doesn’t include any wiring, cabling, sockets, lighting – just the bare bones. It didn’t even include the fuses for the consumer unit.

Coming in one Sunday morning to discover someone had tried to kick, smash and pry their way into the premises was also demoralising. Thankfully they did not get in, but it was a real reminder that while so many people are striving to do positive things, there will always be an element of society hell bent on undoing them just as quickly.

Cash crunched: eBay bargains still need to be paid for

Probably the thing which has affected me the most was having to back out of the purchase of our espresso machine. I won it at auction on eBay from a great coffee shop in Brockley, but due to a temporary cash crunch and some unexpected cost over-runs I had no choice. I feel really bad about that, its not the way I like to do business.

We are now on the final sprint to the finish now, with the kitchen walls going up, flooring going down and doors being installed over this Bank Holiday weekend ahead of the official opening is on April 21, when all will be welcome between 9am and 4pm and there will be 50 per cent off coffee and food.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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