The last time Croydon featured in the national press was during the 2011 riots. Since then, some Croydonites are changing London’s largest borough. Resident and co-founder of Croydon Tech City (CTC), Jonny Rose talks with Sheila Marshall about how his work has been helping to heal Croydon’s hurt. CTC is ‘a community of software developers, creatives, venture capitalists and tech startup founders who are committed to making Croydon an attractive home to early-stage technical and digital startups’.
SM: How did you become a Christian?
JR: I knew that Christ was with me from a very young age. When I was 12, I started to attend my school’s Christian Union. I felt a compulsion to meet with the other Christians, even though I could have played football and it wasn’t cool. I knew Christ was real and it never phased me to take on that identity in Christ.
SM: Why Croydon?
JR: First and foremost because I live here. With over 380,000 people, Croydon is the largest town in Europe and it has more economically active people than Birmingham. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, called it ‘the economic powerhouse of the South’. Over the next five years we will see the Gatwick expansion and will receive almost £2 billion in restructuring. That makes it a very exciting time for mission and for tech.
Post the riots in August 2011, I felt that nothing was being done to regenerate the area. It really needed a strong narrative to pull it up and promote it; something that all the people could be involved in. Tech seemed like a really accessible and exciting thing to bring to Croydon.
SM: Why is technology a good way forward?
JR: I know tech because it was the first job I got outside university and it’s been my mainstay for the last five years. The reason why I’m interested in Croydon Tech City and pushing that agenda is that it’s never been easier to start a technology company. You don’t need a lot of financial capital; you don’t need to be university educated; and you don’t even need space anymore. All you need is a laptop and Wi-Fi.
East London looked like Croydon did about 5-10 years ago. As a result of it becoming London’s Tech City, it’s become cool. Lots of tech entrepreneurs moved there and it’s been regenerated. My own thinking was, ‘Croydon could be what East London is — let’s pursue that vision!’
SM: Explain what you mean by ‘tech’?
JR: Technology means lots of different things, but I’m talking about creating software and mobile apps, things you use every day on your phone or in software programmes. These are made by people who are coders or programmers and they’re sold by marketers or salespeople.
SM: Is technology just for young people or for everybody?
JR: I am stealing a phrase, when I say ‘everyone gets to play’. When we thought about CTC, we wanted to be as inclusive as possible. The only barrier to our events is you not turning up. Being elderly is no longer a good excuse; older people are starting up businesses in tech just as much as young people. We put on free classes to teach coding and project management, to help people build and run a business; as well as other events, to help and inspire people in Croydon and south London to get into technology.
SM: Why have you decided to stay in London and not go abroad to do ‘mission’?
Compared to more overtly Christian activities through the church, which I do already, I’m trying to make the two realms coalesce. Wonderfully, people from church have started coming to CTC and tech people have started coming to church. And now my own church is seeing it as a mission field as well. We are exhorted by Christ to be load-bearers, and to do good where we are and live at peace with people as best we can.JR: One of my favourite phrases is ‘a missionary is not someone who crosses the sea. It’s someone who sees the cross!’ We used to be that great nation sending out people and now we’re secular and atheistic; ‘post-Christian’ is the popular phrase.
SM: Do you feel intimidated about sharing your faith?
JR: The Bible talks about not having a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). I have no fears about sharing my faith. My only fear is wanting to get it right. You want to honour Christ and make it look glorious. You want to be winsome. There’s that exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15: ‘Be ready to give defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear’.
I know the gospel message is offensive, but there’s a massive tension between trying not to unnecessarily alienate people, and yet being clear and unapologetic.
JR: What’s wonderful is that you have the Holy Spirit. When you are going off that path, conviction kicks in — in a good way: not condemnation but conviction.SM: How do you stay Christ-centred?
Practically, it’s important to be in a church where you are under headship and leadership; not in an oppressive, but in a relational way. I also have a very good circle of Christian friends and I read Scripture. You should always have a good group of people to keep you accountable.
SM: How would those nearest to you describe your faith?
JR: You really know the Lord is good when you’re going through hardship. The time I really realised how I’m wired was when I had leukaemia, just before my 21st birthday. I was at university and had to leave in my second year and was on a three-year protocol of chemotherapy at St George’s Hospital. It was a whole different mission field. It wasn’t sad to me. The only time I cried was from the pain. I thought: ‘This is interesting, Lord. Where are we going next?’
It was the peace that transcends all understanding, peace that the Lord talks about. ‘Bubbly’ is too loose a word. It’s the joy of knowing the Lord. So, how would my nearest and dearest describe me? ‘Effervescent’. Why? Because I know the Lord and I know that he’s good.
SM: Give three tips for being active in a local community.
JR: Timothy Keller writes on how Christians can live out their faith for the common good in the West. The book Center church is his tome — on how to be missional in an urban context.
Secondly, be part of your church first. Don’t go out and do something independently. I looked at the DNA of my church and worked from that.
Thirdly, follow your God-given passion. To my mind, we’re Christ’s workmanship, as it talks about in Ephesians 2:10. God is never going to call you to hardship, but he will certainly put you where you can use your talents for him. They will be obvious to you and it’s up to you to activate them in your local church.
For me, it’s tech and community building and social media. It’s about making sure that it’s all used to make Christ look glorious.