Simon Deverell

‘I was a babe in arms when my family moved to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada from Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex. I spent the next 11 years of my boyhood in Canada, loving all it had to offer, the space, nature and school were all great. Seeing it as a land of opportunity, my parents had been excited to try a new life there. In the travel business, my dad was one of a circle of friends and business colleagues who had also moved there. Dad’s work allowed us to fly frequently—he had a briefcase full of blank tickets he could fill in on arrival at the airport. I loved that, once spending an entire transatlantic flight on the flight deck with the crew. My mum was doing an MA at the University of British Columbia, and for a while we lived on campus; I took full advantage of the facilities there, and the freedom that came with it.
Although my parents loved Vancouver, there were aspects of their lives they eventually began to miss. Family connections particularly, and some of the familiarities of English life like the pubs which we take for granted. The cultural differences were bigger back then. So back to Sussex we came. As an 11-year-old kid with a Canadian accent I stood out at school, the novelty accent (which very quickly disappeared) made me ‘interesting’. We eventually set up home at Shoreham Beach, my Mum and Dad, my sister, me, and a dog called Herman, and a new life of enjoying the seaside began. I soon became addicted to the sea, boats and fishing. My Mum would drop me off at the harbour arm, and my friend and I’d be there all night fishing, two 13-year-old lads with no phones and only some old guys for company! In those days it all seemed perfectly ok.
Secondary school really didn’t go well for me. Trying to integrate with a new education system was a struggle. Schooling in Vancouver, which is bilingual, meant I was nearly fluent in French, but I fell behind in every other subject, and did not get ignited by learning in any way. I disliked the teachers, they disliked me, and I left school with one GCSE just as the school was closing for good. But I then went to 6th form college, which I enjoyed. I maybe got one more GCSE, but more importantly there were teachers who were interested in me, and they inspired me. My uncle Budge had a small graphic design studio in Shoreham where I would hang out, and I became interested in the design and production processes. It was all pre-computers, and I began to see how the one subject, art, I had been inspired by at school could fit into that world. I managed to get on a foundation course for a diploma in Art and Design in Brighton, and I did that by begging, and borrowing. (Begging them to admit me and borrowing some portfolio work from my sister). There was an excellent tutor, who both encouraged and disciplined me, and I started to grow a real passion for graphic design. After the diploma course, I managed to get on a degree course at the London College of Printing. Some freelance design work before that in Brighton was valuable experience and helped me develop my interest in the commercial side of art and design. On reflection, I often feel very fortunate to have been able to study a subject I loved and have as a result enjoyed my work so much throughout my life. That good fortune also extends to the many amazing people I’ve worked with, and the entrepreneurial spirit that I can thank my family for.
In my second year at London College of Printing I discovered the Computer Room. Most of the work we did was by hand, using silk screen, hot metal press and learning all the manual typographic techniques, but Mac computers had recently appeared, which although slow and clunky, were able to design artwork which could very quickly be turned into print. Once we’d started to use them, the way we worked changed completely, and having acquired one for myself (thanks, Mum and Dad), I began to get freelance and collaborative work. So having grown up with a foundation in graphic design using traditional methods, I began putting it into practice using computers and design software—QuarkXpress became my best friend.
Having moved back to Brighton from London in 1996, I began to work more and more for design agencies, some of whom were showing interest in websites. Companies were moving away from displaying their wares in printed brochures to the whole online concept. I persuaded my boss to let me spend a day a week learning about how the internet worked and began designing websites. There was a business just down the road in Brighton called Victoria Real—I wasn’t sure what they did but it seemed really cool—who were experimenting in interactive television. I nagged them endlessly until they gave me a job, joining a team of about 20 people. And now, one of those people, Rob Love, is my business partner and co-founder of Crowdfunder, and I remain good friends with people I worked with at that time. That job was quite an experience. They were techy, I was creative, a good combination. We set up systems which enabled bookmakers, insurance companies, UEFA, the National Lottery, and many more to transact business with customers using their TV’s and remote controls, as well as online. We grew from a team of 20 odd to over 200 people—at one stage we were the fastest growing company in the UK, culminating in enabling the first ever truly digitally interactive TV show, Big Brother. The immediate success and scale of that planted a seed, a realisation that design and technology can be used to create behavioural change, through a combination of storytelling, real world events, and interactivity. All of course now having become the norm. This was in 2000, well before any social media existed. However, the next year, 2001, 9/11 happened, the bubble burst and everything started to fall away in that industry. We were acquired by a big London company, and at that point I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore, left and formed my own design agency.
We had approached Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his TV company about how we could help develop his River Cottage brand beyond the TV series. That work enabled us (my then wife and I) to move here to Bridport with our 2 children. The work for River Cottage expanded considerably and led to doors being opened to work with Jamie Oliver and others, such as campaigns with Channel 4, like Fish Fight, for which we got around a million signatures which we then took to Brussels to change the laws on fish discards. These campaigns helped me decide I didn’t want to work for commercial clients again, or at least in the same way. The experience sparked the idea of providing people with the means to bring about the change they want, in their communities, as opposed to just the causes we were highlighting. With this thinking, Crowdfunder began to take shape. The idea soon proved successful; one early notable campaign raised £40k in about 24 hours… so we quickly realised that all our efforts at the agency should now be focussed on Crowdfunder. We are now a team of around 45 people, widely based but mostly around here and in Cornwall.
Making Bridport my home was about much more than work. I needed to find more space and a calmer pace, and it’s only when you get past Bournemouth heading this way along the south coast you begin to find that. Since moving here, my mother and my sister have followed. Alfie and Dulcia, my older children, have had brilliant schooling locally, but they now crave more opportunities for younger people, and they are forging their own paths nearer the action.
There’s an amazingly creative community in Bridport, a diverse array of people from here and away. I’ve made life friends and have other fascinating opportunities outside of my day job, recently becoming a trustee of a startup charity, The Bank of Dreams and Nightmares. To stay calm, I have also re-connected with the water—spending time alone and with the family on our tiny boat. My wonderful wife Joanna is from Clapton here in Marshwood Vale; she’s the mother of our chirpy little boy Caspar, who’s into tractors and monster trucks.’