Croydon’s best kept secret for freelancers

Walking through the rapidly regenerating and increasingly trendy Croydon (it’s got a Boxpark and everything now), it’s not unusual to come across a hipster craft coffee shop. But there’s one trendy little coffee shop that’s concealing a big secret.

From the outside, Byte Café looks like many other cafés in the area, but walk through the cosy hygge-inspired space and you notice a set of big glass doors. Behind them is the secret of Croydon’s creative Tardis: a massive, 21,000 sq. ft co-working space.

The space is TMRW, Croydon’s only major co-working space, which owns the appropriately futuristically named Byte Café. I’m introduced to this deceptively massive hidden space not by a rakish and roving Time Lord, but by its community and programme director, Marcela Donatello.

She tells me not only is the café a warm, welcoming space for Croydonians: sitting in it was also the first step for a lot of TMRW’s members: “There have been quite a few members who have joined after coming in for a coffee or a sandwich. They come in and end up asking ‘What’s behind those big doors?’ And they find out there’s the co-working space, meeting rooms, event spaces and much more.”

Marcela adds: “The café has been a bit of a marketing tool and a way to set the tone for the rest of the space. The experience you get with the café team is very similar to the experience you get upstairs.

“It’s a great coffee shop, it has good music, it has a good vibe and a great team – always super-friendly.”

In fact, Byte Café has won awards. According to Marcela: “One was the Best Coffee Shop to Work from in Croydon and the second was Croydon’s People’s Choice Award for Best Coffee Shop in 2017.”

Local produce for local businesses

It’s not just the coffee, though: “There’s great food too, including loads of vegan and vegetarian options. We buy everything fresh from the local market, which is part of our pledge to not become a bubble in the middle of Croydon.”

This localism, Marcela says, is very important for TMRW: “When Francois Mazoudier [the founder] pitched for the public tender for the space, he made a point that we would not become a bubble in the middle of Croydon.

“So, we hire locally as much as we can: whenever we need services – if I have to print business cards, buy T-shirts or hire glasses for an event – we always try and hire locally. We work to try and minimise the impacts of gentrification.”

This social concern is very much of a piece with the community vibe at TMRW. Because, even though the name of the space sounds futuristic – as if this creative Tardis has been flung into the future – there’s actually a very warm, comforting, community-focused atmosphere at TMRW.

Marcela explains: “We have a community that is quite involved with the space. Since the start, every member I’ve onboarded, I’ve told: I want this space to be more valuable to them than an office space. I want them to think of this as more than wi-fi, desk and chair: there’s way more that we can do together.”

She says the effort paid off: “We have a really strong core community – people who’ve typically been here since the beginning – and they are really welcoming to new members and spread the word about getting involved in our community.”

An atmosphere out of this world

The atmosphere at TMRW is also enhanced by the interesting and carefully crafted aesthetics. This isn’t a Tardis filled with the dials, controls and whooshing computers of the BBC series: far from it. As Marcela tells me, there is actually an airy, Scandinavian style throughout: “Francois [Mazoudier] spent three years working in Copenhagen and he is a big fan of their design.

“He spent quite a bit of time looking for creative and cost-effective solutions to make the space look great. Because he’s a fan of Scandinavian design, he also tried a lot to make the space look and feel bright. We have natural light throughout, which is a big attraction, enhanced by amazing [electric] lighting around the space.

“[Francois] also spent a lot of time thinking about how people’s creativity is fuelled, so one of the things you find here is that there are no straight lines. Angles and non-straight lines have been proven to help with your creativity. It’s very funny because we do open days and trials and very often people say: ‘I’ve been really productive here – I’ve been really creative.’”

That enhanced creativity and productivity really seems to shine through when you consider the immense amount of collaboration in the space. Marcela says the “community vibe ends up feeding and fuelling collaboration.

“Through that, in 2018 alone, we tracked over 60 contracts going around between members and over £250,000 exchanging hands between them. There’s one team in particular that made more money through contracts than they paid in rent.”

Overall, this creative Tardis, hidden behind a trendy little Croydon café, seems to be not only a warm and caring community, but also an inspiring hive of activity. If you’re in Croydon, consider buying a coffee in Byte Café and taking the first step into this remarkable hidden world.