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Start Up Croydon’s former chair David Robinson looks back at 36 years of supporting borough’s fledgling businesses

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After 36 years of passionately supporting and harnessing Croydon’s entrepreneurial talent, David Robinson is stepping down from his role as a trustee of StartUp Croydon.

In David’s time at the charity, it has helped between 8,000 and 10,000 businesses start up, with courses and mentoring all paid for to help those getting into self-employment get on their way. Some of the businesses include a web design company which has now expanded significantly across the south east, an IT recruitment firm which ended up on the stock market, and a cleaning business which has around 500 employees.

“It’s our job,” he said. “We like to think that we can help them through the first year of their life in self-employment to get them up and running, take them through our courses and then see them on a regular basis, mentoring them, to help them on their way.

“Some will succeed. Some will succeed better than others and inevitably some won’t succeed. But there’s no doubt about it that those who have somebody to talk to have a better chance of succeeding. That’s where we come in.”

David first got involved with StartUp Croydon, then Croydon Business Venture, in 1985 when all the charity had was a small office in Barclay Road.

“We didn’t have much money, so we literally borrowed a bank manager, who would be provided by one of the top four banks, free of charge with the bank paying the salary while on secondment. The same applied for accountants and solicitors. I was the partner at a firm of accountants in Croydon and we agreed to provide one of our staff – and part of the package was someone would also join the board – so I was asked to join.

“I got sucked in and became very, very passionate over the years and it’s been quite a part of my life.”

David (pictured) became chairman in 2001, a position he remained in for 17  years.

“When Fintan O’Toole was appointed the new chair in 2018, I agreed to stay around for a year or so while he settled in, but I stayed a bit longer because firstly, it’s difficult to walk away from something you are quite passionate about it and secondly COVID-19 came along as well, but now is the time for me to call it a day.”

In David’s time, Start Up Croydon moved from Barclay Road to Acorn House on Cherry Orchard Road – provided by Croydon Council at peppercorn rent – where there were around 40 offices available to let to small businesses before moving to Weatherill House in Croydon’s New South Quarter seven years ago where there are also more than 40 offices available to let.

“We are now a very different organisation from when I first joined the board. We have a paid chief executive, members of staff and the whole thing is very much a professional organisation these days dedicated to helping individuals, particularly those less fortunate, which I am quite passionate about, into self-employment.”

The move to Weatherill House and the growth of the charity was a standout moment for David in his 36 years, but the support the charity has provided over the years to those less fortunate in helping them into self-employment has been his proudest moment.

“It is great to see new businesses succeed. I know that many would not if it had not been for our help in attending our courses and then being mentored until they were in a position to go on their own.”

“A few years ago, we changed our trading name to StartUp Croydon. This was important as well – as that’s what we’re all about and what it says on the tin.”

Has he enjoyed it?

“Very much so. You wouldn’t stay around for that period of time if you didn’t. As with everything, most of it’s been very positive, but as with everything there’s been one or two bumps along the way, but we’ve been able to address them and move on.

“I believe I leave the organisation with a good board of trustees, who have the varying skills a board needs and also with a new chief executive in Saffron Saunders supported by a good team and I think we’re in good shape to move forward and continue to help those into self-employment for many years to come.”

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