MY Matthews Yard: The Community Hub

Leoni Descartes, starts a new series where guest bloggers share what Matthews Yard means to them   

Over two years in and it’s still refreshing that I get excited and surprised by working at Matthews Yard. It is not just the thousands of people I see every week, or the hundreds you have that brief brush of conversation with, or the few dozen you will witness to be the future leaders and ambassadors for the Cronx. It isn’t Matthews Yard’s constant ability to adapt to changes and competition in the market so quickly either. The thing which has made me grow so fond – is the community that surrounds it.

I have witnessed Matthews Yard come to life and more importantly, give life, to so many start-ups, groups and in some ways, people, since I joined the business in September 2012, five months after it opened. I had been a regular customer for three months already.

Lured down to Matthews Yard and the potential of Exchange square by a quirky a-board promoting iced lattes at the top of the cobblestone hill.  I couldn’t believe I missed the square, despite being born in Croydon and frequenting Surrey street so often. I didn’t see the water pumping station standing triumphant over the Exchange, nothing.  I walked past and peeked in to this supposed cultural quarter. I was greeted, perhaps summoned, by a smiling, warm, waving Cat (Clarkson). I scurried off, not sure what to make of it at the time. That moment will always resonate with me. It’s been wonderful to witness so many customers go through the ‘initial experience’. The discovery of Matthews Yard.

I soon found myself wandering down Matthews Yard again, this time I walked in. What is this place? I couldn’t believe a person  would not intentionally ruin a gorgeous building and it’s original features, the décor, the floor. I wandered around and found the lift shaft. I was then bitterly disappointed. They did not serve syrup with their coffee. This is and remains a very serious thing for me – despite the ridicule I get to this date for my coconut cravings. I left, to continue to my regular haunt. For two weeks I made near daily trips to inspect more of the space, see its progress and cheekily ask if they had got coconut syrup in yet. Saif finally caved (he happens to now drink more coconut syrup than me). I often get asked how it came to be that I work here, It’s partly thanks to Cat’s persistence against his stubborn protests that I am where I am today. Coconut syrup. Probably not as glamorous or interesting as some might expect, but I am a simple woman, I’ve learnt that it is more often than not the simple things that captivate.

The intelligent, ambitious personalities of Cat, Becky, and Temi, drew me in then, and the like keep me here now. I hope we never lose the thing I fell in love with – the warm personalities. Staff listening to what the community wanted, particularly in a world where simple things like saying ‘good morning’ to a stranger becomes a more foreign concept everyday. To this date, we always try to hire local young individuals that stand out and have a creative element to bring to the team and therefore the Croydon community and the yard.

In 2015 we will continue to refine our model and our space until we are proud of each and every nook and cranny, I call it ‘tucking ourselves in’. December is our 32nd month in business – a living testament to how much has changed since the Riots. We can exist, there is room in the market for a diverse cultural and community space with a vintage-shabby chic vibe. Yes, even in CR0. We also reach the elusive three year mark for a business, we stop being a start-up. I find it refreshing that Matthews Yard is living proof that an independent business can not only survive and thrive itself, but can help incubate the next generation of entrepreneur and start-up businesses in the community. We also do blues nights.

MY continues to attract a mix of  local personalities with rooted motivations that span various talents to work with us, for us, or at our premises. Croydon Radio, the Croydon Citizen, Croydon Tech City, Transition Town, Trade School and the Women’s Institute to name a few. The staff, past and present, have contributed immensely to our success, despite finance woes. It continues to be one of the best experiences of my life watching everyone grow with the business, the networking possibilities. I remember fondly when Tech City was but a cluster, a new born. I worked those nights solo, often it was difficult to even justify being open in that first year. Nigel & Jonny, you should be so proud of your achievements –  the last event one of the best yet.

No longer a silent, unknown miss serving at an unknown place, it’s strange.  Now I’m tasked with proudly running this operation and representing the good that can come out of Croydon – writing this even.  Has this happened before? A concept originally envisioned as a small coffee shop & workspace transforms into a modern civic hub with a gallery, studio theatre, workspace, coffee shop, even a membership system?

Let’s face it. Leisure and community centres are dead. The foundations and ‘soul’ of any organisation are the staff and community it affects, too often forgotten once things get corporate. The opportunity for collaboration. Instead of frowning upon partnerships, we should be seizing them, that is why Matthews Yard is still here – because we didn’t try to farm the Croydon populous, more often than not we have subsidised their dreams, worked with the community and given a home to groups, working with whatever we had at hand. I have often found that many want to do things on their own, I get that – but what is the point when we all want the same thing, let’s all be successful – be part of the cultural movement that will revolutionise Croydon.

Matthews Yard looks to build further over the next year as it evolves and develops its established model, brand and success with the community. We also hope to finish the rooms, and stop calling it ‘a work in progress’. Over the next few weeks, I hope to document the future plans for Matthews Yard and the work being undertaken over the new year.

I hope you will all join me, now that introductions are out of the way.