Four things that I learnt about Croydon by launching a start-up community

By - Monday 18th January, 2016

Will Dobbie shares a message of hope from his experience founding Redeemer Church in Croydon

From Hale Man’s art studio in Croydon’s Whitgift Centre.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Two years ago, I’d hardly heard of Croydon and had no connection with the place or anyone in it. In September 2013, my family and I moved here, quickly fell in love with this place, and plan to stay here for keeps. All because of something that had been tugging at our hearts for years: starting a church for people who don’t do church.

Frankly, the journey since then has been the most exhilarating, exhausting and fulfilling of my life. (And that includes being an infantry commander in combat in Iraq.)

The experience of launching and growing this church has also been a deeply bonding experience in relation to our newly adopted home: the glorious, exasperating, mystifying, frustrating, inspiring city of Croydon.

The church is Redeemer Croydon. And here are four things I’ve learnt along the way:

1. Croydon has stunning potential 

Here’s just one example of several: it boasts one of London’s very best value housing markets. It’s not a great market; in fact, it’s a horribly high-priced market. But it’s great compared to the large majority of London inside the M25. I know that the politics of Croydon’s housing market are fraught, but I can’t help thinking that we’re better off trying to redeem it (encouraging incoming residents to invest in and engage with our city) than resent it.

In the last few months alone, a handful of Redeemer members (present and future) have been having offers accepted on homes in Croydon. Not, I hasten to add, because we’re a church of wealthy people (we’re not), but because of the combination that I often see in Croydon: hard work, big sacrifices, double incomes, hard work, and heroic parental help. (And did I mention hard work?)

But I think that Croydon’s real growth dynamic lies in the killer combo of a) our housing market and b) our transport links. Internally, they’re the quickest to central London of any greater London town, and externally they’re London’s gateway to the South of England. Boom.

This means that Croydon is a place that young families, young professionals and young businesses move to, not from, which is a dream location for a growing community like Redeemer. I see the individuals and families in our expanding church being here to love and serve each other for decades to come.

2. Croydon has energy and optimism

Intangible and impossible to measure perhaps, but undeniable: sleepy it ain’t. From the hulking glass towers of Saffron Square, to the burgeoning East Croydon skyline, to the bustle of the Surrey Street market (running since 1236), to the various annual festivals, Croydon isn’t short of buzz.

And after hitting rock bottom in the 2011 riots, one of several positive rebounds is the redoubled and fierce pride that I often see in our city. I always smile when I see the strap line in huge letters down the sides of Croydon bin lorries: “DON’T MESS WITH CROYDON. Take pride”. Darn right.

3. Croydon’s Twittersphere can be nasty 

Not among most Croydon tweeters. And not towards me (@will_dobbie) or Redeemer (@RedeemerCroydon). Maybe I’m too bland and should be more provocative. But it’s Croydon’s political tweeters who sometimes seem compulsively to indulge in personal attacks, bitter sarcasm and sneering tit-for-tat squabbling, which always makes me wince. Especially since Croydon’s large and vibrant Twittersphere is one of our main adverts to the rest of the world.

Passion is vital, and I’d say that something’s probably wrong if we don’t find each other offensive sometimes. But a friend of mine recently parodied the problem well when he tweeted (to no-one in particular), “If I find you offensive, I can respond by being offensive, in which case my offensiveness isn’t offensive but a virtue”. Yeah, right.

4. Croydon has a market for hope and friendship 

Because despite points one and two above, Croydon clearly isn’t immune to the universal reality that life can hurt. A lot. It’s not short of social problems. From conversations struck up over the last two years on the tram or in the park or on people’s doorsteps, I’ve come across plenty of tragic stories.

Which is another reason to know that we planted Redeemer in a good spot. We deal in hope and friendship, and we’ve had the excitement of seeing it change lives (and, we would say, eternities) since we arrived.

Drop by on a Sunday morning to see what I mean. But even if you don’t, join us in being proud of this city and investing in it. As someone once said to me (with one of those ‘ear worm’ maxims that haunts you once you’ve heard it), let’s dream big, work bigger.

Will Dobbie

Will Dobbie

Will is the founding pastor of Redeemer, the church for people who don't do church. It's a rapidly growing community in central Croydon, in which lives are being changed. After gaining an MA in music, Will served in the British Army (infantry) for some years, including in Iraq, before going into full-time Christian ministry in 2006. He's married to Michelle and they have two young boys. For more info visit

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  • Frances Richardson Fearon

    I liked this article. Optimistic & positive, which is what we need. However, as the construction lorries rumble down our narrow terraced street, & the sun disappears behind concrete I find it hard to smile. Surrey Street Market is a pale shadow of itself & our rare green spaces are at incredible risk. Cllr Newman had a dig at me for being ‘All over Twitter’ but we MUST take the Council to task. The billboard messages? I see them as expensive PR which the Council can hardly afford. Keep the positive message going & I will try hard to keep up, but another young bloke with his dog will probably be on the streets for the first time tonight while Cllr Newman & his cronies rub their hands in glee at the council tax they’ll be raking in from the towers stealing our sky.

  • cpmatthews

    Possibly the only point here which isn’t already echoed elsewhere throughout TCC is the twitter sphere of Croydon, which just *is* horrible. It’s just as good at getting people together as it is tearing them apart. Of course, when I say “it”, I mean the people themselves posting the tweets and replying. Just awful. Lot’s of poorly informed, very angry people bating each other on their tea breaks.

  • Anne Giles

    Wonderful article. The comments about twitter are interesting though. I love twitter – through it I have had no end of help, from someone recommending a roofer when our garage roof was leaking, to a visit each day from friends after I had had a knee replacement. I am now following both your links. My tweets are protected, as I have no need for nasty people and there are a handful of them (but it is only a handful)! If someone is offensive, there is no need to respond by being offensive too. Just block the offender is the answer. Also – the written word can often be misunderstood by sensitive people because they can’t see the friendly face who is making comments. As far as politics goes – I have friends who are Labour, as well as Conservative – I see them as people. That is what they are.