Meeting Mr Sims: interview with the Chief Executive of Croydon Business Improvement District

By - Thursday 2nd October, 2014

Bernadette Fallon talks skyscrapers, sandwiches and secrets with Matthew Sims, boss of Croydon BID

Matthew Sims.
Photo by Croydon BID, used with permission.

Banners promoting the activities of Croydon Business Improvement District hang all over the town centre, sending out messages of positive change to a population that still, to judge from responses to surveys in the local press, needs some convincing. Slogans include ‘adding vibrancy to our streets,’ ‘together a safer place’, ‘discover what is going on’ and ‘delivering a cleaner, greener and brighter Croydon’.

So I’m interested to meet the man behind all this, and ask what he really thinks about Croydon.

What, for example, does he think is the most important development in Croydon at the moment – the one that is going to bring the biggest amount of positive change to the region?

Most people would think automatically of the Westfield project – the planned construction in Croydon town centre of the third prestigious London retail development Westfield has carried out, to be completed in partnership with Hammerson plc. So too would he – and that’s based on the inside information he has as CEO of the company set up, in his own words, to “make a difference in the town centre”. So then – this must be something to really get excited about?

Negative perception of Croydon is one of the biggest challenges we face

“Without a doubt,” Matthew Sims says, “the Westfield and Hammerson project is the most exciting development for Croydon and will be a great catalyst for growth”.

Making a difference to Croydon.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission

But he’s also anxious to point out that this is not the only development taking place and that it must be managed alongside everything else that is going on. Croydon BID is running an event in late October at which local business representatives can come along and meet the CEOs of the Westfield and Hammerson groups for a Q&A session, to allow them all to make their own plans for the future.

The Croydon BID is, like all Business Improvement Districts in London, the rest of the UK and beyond, a not-for-profit company set up with the support of local businesses and paid for by them through an annual levy. Our local BID is in its second term (BIDs face re-election by the businesses that support them every five years) and has 580 business members. Levy money is then redistributed back into the economy through the activities of the company across five core projects – in Croydon’s case those of safety and security, cleaner and greener, business engagement, perception and image, and accessibility.

Croydon has some passionate ambassadors who can see its great future

“Everything feeds into perception and image,” explains Matthew. “We’ve been working with a lot of people to work at improving Croydon’s image, and have been affecting real change”. He tells me that crime in Croydon fell by 10% in the last year, and how work is continuing to cut crime in the areas of shoplifting, antisocial behaviour and street drinking.

“Within Croydon there are lots of people who are passionate about the area, they can see it has a great future, and of course a great history. It’s important that we present this side of Croydon to those outside as well. Negative perception of Croydon is one of the biggest challenges we face”.

The future’s high, the future’s Croydon.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Of course, big residential developments are going to attract new people into the area; two that immediately spring to mind are the planned apartment complexes close East Croydon station, some of which are already rising into the sky. But I asked Matthew about the potential difficulties of creating a community when one of the key selling points of these developments is their proximity to the station and a way out of Croydon fast!

“Yes, we have to acknowledge the great access Croydon has to central London – that’s a wonderful benefit,’ he says. ‘”It’s a major transport hub – and of course, also easy to return to”.

He does admit there is a slight concern about all the residential developments, explaining the need to keep a balance with commercial and retail also.

“But Croydon is awash with wonderful ambassadors and there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to make sure there is integration and to create a community”.

Walking into the almshouses is like stepping into another world

He’s quite a good ambassador for the region himself, eagerly sharing his recommendations for where to go and what to do in Croydon. So you’ll find him taking his coffee at Caffé Nero, near East Croydon station, which is a great place for conducting a meeting, he also reveals. His favourite restaurants are Bagatti’s in South End and Brasserie Vacherin on the High St; he picks out Zabardast in Dingwall Road, East Croydon, as the best spot for a wrap. Great tips – but what’s his favourite off-the-beaten track spot? Does he have any secret must-sees?

“There’s the Clocktower café, which is great, and the Braithwaite Hall next door, a brilliant venue. One part of Croydon that is sometimes overlooked is the almshouses on North End – you can go inside from time to time. It’s a very busy part of town, quite frenetic, lots of people and then you walk into the alms houses and it’s a little oasis, like stepping into another world. We have places like this and you think, wow, this is Croydon and it’s amazing”.

A CEO who believes the area he is employed to represent is ‘amazing’. That sounds like a fine partnership.

To find out more about Croydon BID and its projects, click here.

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at

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  • David Callam

    Great to see Matt still banging the drum for Croydon. He’s a real enthusiast, whose been extolling the town’s virtues for many years. He was doing so more than a decade ago as chief executive of Croydon Chamber of Commerce, when he was pointing out, quite rightly, as he is now, that the town’s negative image is its biggest problem.
    Successive council administrations have wasted large amounts of public money on PR over the years with no noticeable effect.
    We can but hope that Westfield and Hammerson, with the help of positive people like Matt, will light a small fire under the current council and galvanise it into effective action.