Generally viewed by city-dwellers as a part of the UK folks visit to wind down and escape the trials of urban existence, the south coast is seeing renewed interest from tech startups and young professionals. With 28% of Bournemouth startups based in tech, compared to London’s 8%, young people are increasingly viewing Bournemouth as a place to set up, not wind down, and the effect is contagious. Are we simply seeing bleed-over from the work-from-home practices begun during lockdown?
Are young people now realising that with internet connection they can work wherever they want? Or is Bournemouth itself becoming a sweeter deal, stepping out from the looming shadow of London to acquire its own status as digital hotspot?
The Covid effect
News publications earlier this year reported an ‘exodus’ of people and businesses fleeing the nation’s capital, seeking respite from the incessant noise of metropolitan life. The assumed marriage of ‘work’ and ‘office’ began to crumble, until even employers were wondering why bother with so many office-related expenses.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before pent-up urban frustration erupted and Londoners scattered across the country, and lockdown simply hastened this change. WiFi has been improving universally, urban housing costs continue to rise and economic decentralisation pulls power away from the big corporate entities into the hands of startups and fintechs. Indulging a luxury that didn’t exist some 20 years ago, young people can now ask themselves where they want to live, not where they ought to live.
The British Silicon Valley?
With beautiful scenery and hot weather, Silicon Valley seems better-suited to family holidays than pioneering tech startups. Paul Graham, founder of seed funder Y Combinator, explains that it is a question of people rather than location: ‘What it takes is the right people. If you could get the right ten thousand people to move from Silicon Valley to Buffalo, Buffalo would become Silicon Valley.’ So, while there is no inherent link between beaches and tech innovations, there is a snowball effect that occurs when the right people gather in a location.
If professionals look to the south coast as a more welcoming station in which to set up a business, and only a few hours from London, the attraction will only increase. TechCityUK ranks Bournemouth’s ‘tech sector growth potential’ at 91%, compared to Birmingham’s 67% and Newcastle’s 76%. Granted, potential is still just potential, but if what it takes is the ‘right people’, and these very people are leaving London in droves seeking new pastures, perhaps Bournemouth will soak up some of that talent.
Some might call it the Steve Jobs effect — CEOs in sneakers that want to be your friend, not your boss. In Silicon Valley, much of this image is façade, as employers demand a huge amount from their workers whilst all the while convincing them via free kombucha that they have their best interests at heart. But the trend still exists of more equal playing fields between employers and employees in young, new startups. Smaller workforces allow for a team-building mindset rather than ant-hive hierarchy. Mark Cribb is one such boss. Owner of Bournemouth’s Urban Guild, which runs restaurants and a hotel, Cribb is trying to cement his town’s position as a Silicon Valley equivalent.
The young business owner has gone so far as to release a rap music video expressing his work ethos in rhyming cadence. Whether or not you appreciate his foray into the world of African-American music, the gesture indicates his association with the new generation of ‘cool bosses’. Sure enough, these bosses exist in London too, but there may be an additional draw factor in Bournemouth as business owners recognise the team-building potential of a more intimate, neighbourhood-centric locale.
The work climate has undergone huge changes over the past year. Mass furloughs, remote working and rapid digitisation all transformed the way businesses ran themselves, with employers and employees having very little time to adjust. The former template for office working has been destabilised, and young people feel encouraged to stray from the beat and track. Who is to say that Bournemouth, and the south coast at large, will not pull more and more young professionals, until it boasts a digital culture to rival any major city? Ross Pike of Bournemouth-based web design agency Koreti Ltd comments, ‘For a long time we have been something of a footnote, of secondary importance to the Mecca that is London. It is time that we take up our own space on the front page.’ More power to Bournemouth, and more power to the young people questioning how businesses have historically been run.
Theo Reilly is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. He has been a content writer for Quadrant2Design. Theo has particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions and events.