Entertainment, Industry, Tech — Shoreditch Through the Ages
Shoreditch is one of London’s most popular districts among locals, tourists, creatives and more recently, tech entrepreneurs. So how did an area known for being industrial and alternative become a go-to location for tech companies?Market + Insights
17th Century Shoreditch
While today, Shoreditch is an established district in central London, in the 17th century it was considered a suburb outside the City. As the area wasn’t under the jurisdiction of the puritanical City Fathers, it became a popular location for taverns, bowling alleys and theatres. Home to the first playhouse in England, simply named ‘The Theatre’, Shoreditch hosted a great number of theatrical performances and became an early hub for entertainment. The arrival of wealthy traders and French silk weavers signalled the beginning of an industrial boom which would also bring furniture and textile manufacturers to the district. The industrial revolution in Shoreditch would be at the heart of its economic growth for decades, until many manufacturers gradually moved to other areas throughout the 20th century.
The Upside of Deindustrialisation
The deindustrialisation of Shoreditch in the mid 20th century resulted in a period of poverty and led to an abundance of abandoned industrial buildings. This would go on to harm the reputation of Shoreditch until the late 20th century. In the 1980s Shoreditch became a popular area for artists, designers and immigrants who began to occupy and renovate thold buildings which had become synonymous with the area. However, it wasn’t only creatives that spotted potential. The dot-com boom in 1995 was a transformative time for small businesses. A huge boost in the investment of web-based startups enabled teams with few resources to raise millions of pounds with just an idea. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, tech companies slowly began moving into the area around Old Street roundabout. In 2008 Old Street roundabout was jokingly referred to as ‘Silicon Roundabout’ by Matt Biddulph, co-founder of Dopplr, highlighting the drastic difference between the UK’s tech industry and that of the US, specifically Silicon Valley. The area’s nickname would not only stick but would truly live up to its name.
Financial Crisis or Opportunity?
Surprisingly, the 2008 financial crisis proved helpful to tech companies in the area as it put larger companies out of business, freeing up property and talent. The abandoned buildings were converted to stylish offices, perfect for small startups. The number of internet companies in the district quickly escalated from 85 startups in 2010 to 5000 tech companies in 2012. Between 2013 and 2014, a further 15,600 new businesses were set up in Shoreditch, almost 5 times more than were established in Canary Wharf at the time. A total of 305,000 sq ft of office space was rented to start-ups in 2013, about double the amount rented in 2012. The take-up of office space has continued to rise since, with the 4th quarter of 2018 seeing the highest take-up of office space in 20 years (3.9m square feet).
Following the initial success of young tech companies such as Dopplr and Last.fm, David Cameron announced in November 2010 that the government would support the tech cluster’s growth with a £50m redevelopment of Old Street roundabout and policy changes such as introducing the Entrepreneur’s Visa and tax breaks like the Enterprise Investment Scheme. The aim was to encourage young people to pursue entrepreneurship, generating more economic growth from high-tech innovation in the UK. Private industry had already begun to succeed as evidenced by Twitter’s $40m acquisition of a company that was only 3-years-old at the time, Tweetdeck. The area was able to grow without help from policymakers as technology companies began to attract private investors.
Today, Shoreditch continues to be a popular destination in London, largely due to the variety of cultures and exciting experiences. With a selection of trendy artisan coffee shops, gastropubs and restaurants, Shoreditch offers a very unique atmosphere in central London. The district has a strong and alternative culture, with incredible street art and other interesting structures. Areas including Brick Lane, Box Park and Old Spitalfields Market offer a refreshing contrast from the often predictable London cityscape. The borough also has a different shopping experience with a constant cycle of vintage clothing outlets and pop-up stores.
Cultural Chic Meets Digital Geek
Shoreditch continues to attract digital talent as it is one of the few places in London to offer a combination of proximity to the city centre, an abundance of infrastructure, transport hubs and access to digital talent who are drawn to work in an area with a history of counter-culture. The local community also benefits from having scale-ups in the area as they are complementary to the culture, reflecting the relaxed and diverse area in which they operate; as well as creating jobs. The district continues to attract millions of dollars of foreign investment due to its proven talent pool, alumni of successful startups and tech hub status. Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a white paper, an artist looking for inspiration or a tourist seeking something unique, Shoreditch is defined by its ability to accommodate and entertain people from all walks of life.
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