If the recent relaxation of some Covid restrictions has shown us anything, it is that many of us have missed visiting restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes, to meet friends and family.
True, the current tier system means some people remain quite limited in what they can do and who they can do it with. But where the hospitality sector can open and offer a safe experience, consumers are embracing the opportunity with gusto.
Clearly thousands of leisure and hospitality businesses have faced immense challenges in 2020. But in the longer term those same operators could play a vital role in the recovery and future success of both the property sector and the communities in which they operate.
Key to any revival will be those out-of-city town centres which feature a strong food and drink offer. They will bounce back more quickly than those which don’t, not least because many people who have worked from home during the pandemic will continue to do so as it recedes, spending more time – and money – in their local neighbourhood.
At U+I we have witnessed this local renaissance for ourselves. We’ve a number of outer London hospitality-driven sites, including St Mark’s Square in Bromley and Deptford’s Market Yard, where a strong recovery was already well underway before the second national lockdown kicked in.
The more suburban London locations saw longer dwell times, and residential sales are booming, factors which support the existing retail and food and drink offer.
Meanwhile in central Manchester, Escape to Freight Island, our Covid-secure hospitality and cultural venue, had already proved to be a hit, and it will be all set to encourage people back once Tier 3 restrictions are lifted.
It’s likely the pandemic will leave its mark on society, with change inevitable. But as recent months have shown, the desire of people to be together in welcoming, attractive surroundings is stronger than ever.
U+I is seeing the benefit of a leisure-led approach to development and regeneration. Designed to boost the prospects of business and local people, such regenerative efforts are central to what we do and have become more relevant than ever, particularly as we look forward to a prolonged period of economic recovery. That can only be a good thing.
Matthew Weiner is chief executive at U+I