Launched in September 2016, in just one year South London Club has partnered with over 650 independent businesses to give residents a reason to shop, eat and spend locally. We caught up with founder Thomas Page to hear more about what the initiative hopes to achieve, and the personal inspiration behind it.
“Whilst studying economics at university it became clear to me how important small business owners are to the local economy,” Page told Business Advice.
“They employ local people. They source and stock locally produced products, which helps those local businesses. And crucially they pay their fair share of tax, unlike many corporations.”
Recalling the inspiration behind the project, Page explained that upon returning to his home town of Lewisham after graduating, high levels of youth unemployment and a disappearance of local shops had altered the area’s character.
“What once gave the area its own unique identity and personality, turned in to a stale, monotonous, clone of most high streets you’ll find across the UK today,” he added.
“I thought there had to be a way to help support our local businesses, so I came up with a solution – a local discount card. A membership card that would incentivise members by offering them a unique discount ranging from ten to 50 per cent off in these businesses.
“It would encourage them to visit them if they hadn’t been already and to visit them more regularly. The local businesses receive new and more regular trade, whilst local residents save money. It’s win-win.”
Fleshing out the concept, Page outlined the range of discounts available, from ten per cent off a total at an independent café, to 50 per cent off a food bill at a local restaurant. Three tiers of membership are on offer, starting from 79p per month. To date, more than 5,000 card carrying members have access to over 650 local discounts across South London’s 12 boroughs.
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According to Page, the scheme has generated statistics in its first year to demonstrate a boost in new and more frequent trade for participating businesses. He meets potential partners in person, and uses the data to prove how the membership card can benefit them.
As South London Club memberships grow, Page championed the local supply chain benefits in supporting small businesses in the area. He noted that 70 per cent of Lewisham residents who work do so outside of the borough, thus spending a considerable amount of time and money north of the river.
“If there was more of a business base in this area, there would be more people buying lunch in the area supporting local cafes, restaurants and with the uptick in demand it would result in more local jobs too,” he said
“With more local jobs, those people also become new local consumers and so there really is this great knock on effect to the local economy.”
The efforts of South London Club to foster greater community self-sufficiency echoes the local currency initiatives investigated by Business Advice. However, as we discovered with the Brixton Pound, the recent revaluation of business rates painted a bleak picture for South London’s entrepreneurs, who have been forced to absorb the added burdens of the Crossrail levy and London’s property market.
Page agreed the incoming tax hike is likely to test the resolve of many independents. “I think the biggest challenge facing local retailers and business owners is most definitely the recent increase in business rates.”
To help finance the ongoing Crossrail project, former London mayor Boris Johnson placed a four per cent levy on the 47,000 London firms with a rateable value above £55,000. It’s weight on inner-London business owners is set to become heavier under the new system, with a further 9,800 firms qualifying for the Crossrail levy.
Data from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) highlights the scale of the business rates rise for small firms in South London.
- Public house in Brixton, SW9 (with Crossrail levy)
- £69,750 to £151,000, 166 per cent rise
Despite financing national rail projects, local business owners continue to suffer from a disparity in transport links between North and South London.
Mind the gap
- Tube stations north of the river: 250
- Tube stations south of the river: 29
Looking ahead, Transport for London (TfL) has claimed its Northern line extension, adding two new stations in Battersea by 2020, will enhance growth. By 2029, the Bakerloo line is also set to add four new stations, reaching Lewisham.
As well as working to serve local entrepreneurs, South London Club has demonstrated its credentials as a growing business itself. From the outset, Page has worked to develop a community through a strong content marketing effort.
The website’s blog is updated almost every day, with posts celebrating independent restaurants, shops and points of historical interest. The blog entries also engage users with polls and competitions, and email subscribers are regularly sent free content that feeds into what South London Club preaches, without pushing into sales territory.
The social media strategy is working – an Instagram search for #SouthLondonClub produces over 1,000 posts of card members sharing experiences and tips.
When pressed for his personal motivation behind South London Club, Page said it was simply about maintaining the individuality of each area, and keeping local traders central to that.
“South London generally is more of an urban sprawl meaning it has been fortunate enough to maintain a lot of its character, culture and identity as opposed to other areas of London where it is full of tall, shiny buildings. Independent business and their traditional shop fronts contribute to this and should be protected.”
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