This week our restaurants, bars, pubs and hair salons come back to life, but there is no date as yet for theatres to be able to open for live performances.
Fears are growing that we could lose many of the institutions which are such an integral part of our culture. We are already seeing closures. Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre has recently announced that, after 60 years, it is closing for good with 86 redundancies because its shortfall funding didn’t arrive in time.
Even the iconic Royal Albert Hall has reported that it will go bust by its 150th anniversary in March if it continues to lose money during lockdown. The London concert venue is said to have lost circa £12 million in potential income since it was forced to close. ‘Art is a catalyst, not just to look into ourselves, but to look around at how we can change the world’ said Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE, Artistic Director of the Young Vic Theatre in conversation with Patricia Brown at the My London Festival of Place webinar in association with U+I and Patricia Brown’s London 3.0 initiative.
We should support Patricia Brown’s twitter call to arms: ‘The cultural sector has given so much to our cities, places & development. As they struggle to survive they need our help. Join me in supporting #culture. Write to MPs, donate to your local or favourite places. Don’t be complacent! We will all be poorer if we allow so many to die.’
Another tweet requires a mention. This time it is from by fellow Property Week columnist, Peter Bill who tweeted: ‘ I barely understood a word of this report from Mishcon de Reya, prepared in cooperation with the Land Registry. But the import of being able to transfer a residential property in 10 minutes rather than 22 days is enormous. Dig in, techies.’
I suspect that Mr Bill, author of Planet Property, is being modest, as he is renowned for his ability to forensically dissect a set of a property company accounts and extrapolate that fascinating nugget of information that others may have missed. By way of context, the report he mentions is ‘a white paper’.
I was intrigued to find that the term ‘white paper’ comes from the historic practice of government agencies who provided data to Parliament to help in decision making in different coloured covers. The white covers denoted short, focused single topic reports. A concise document with information designed to solve a problem is now known as a ‘white paper’. Our white paper is a detailed research paper explaining exactly how our residential blockchain transaction conducted with HM Land Registry took place.
As Mr Bill says, our ground breaking technology facilitated the conveyance of a recently refurbished, semi-detached house in Gillingham in an amazing 10 minutes rather than 22 weeks. Don’t worry too much about the detail, if you aren’t that way inclined, but it is worth considering the implications and having a look at Part V for the potential wider applications of the technology for real estate which include construction and supply chains, building information modelling (BIM), title transfer or creation, buying and selling real estate, property search, real estate investing and tokenisation, management of real estate and financing and payment systems. The potential for real estate is enormous.
Also this week, I was delighted to chair the Movers and Shakers digital panel ‘Re-Purposing London’s West End - A New Dawn’ which looked at the short and longer term future of the West End. As one of London’s most vibrant areas, renowned globally for its shopping, dining, theatre, culture and history it is crucial that we get it back on track as soon as possible.
Our expert panelists included the Leader of Westminster Council, Rachael Robathan; Jace Tyrrell, CEO of West End BID, New West End Company; Brian Bickell, CEO Shaftesbury; and Sheila King, international retail consultant. As Tyrrell pointed out in his introduction, as a devoted and longstanding supporter of the West End shopping experience, I really was the ideal chairperson for this event!
Brian Bickell talked about the issues particularly for the niche specialist retailers and restaurants that Shaftesbury encourage and said, ‘The West End has a lot of aces to play in its whole offer. We have to get used to the fact that technology is changing faster than ever. Brands will need to keep reinventing themselves’. Tyrrell has said that in the next five years he expects to see as much as 30% less retail space, so we will increasingly see uses such as restaurant, cafes, leisure and other experiences.
However, he reported recent new retail letting deals in the West End and King referred to many new and exciting emerging brands coming through.
Landlords need to focus on these new retailers, she said. King also stressed the importance of understanding the role of the internet and ‘omnichannel’. We discussed that counterintuitively Oxford Street stalwart Primark doesn’t sell on line at all but had used social media to its advantage during lockdown with a 200% increase in social media engagement during closure.
The queues outside the Oxford Street store when it reopened were testament to the success of its strategy! It was interesting to hear from King that it is a similar picture for retailers in terms of regaining the confidence of consumers across the UK, Europe and USA with Paris and New York seeing parallel issues to London. Retail property owners the world over are having to be innovative to overcome the current climate, she said.
Westminster Leader, Rachael Robothan talked about the short and longer term challenges and opportunities for the West End. In terms of road traffic and air quality she said ‘We have a real opportunity to capitalise on the difference we have seen over the past few months’. The council will be looking to drive change with regard to deliveries, freight and waste collection with a view to reducing pollution. A focus on air quality will certainly improve the West End experience.
The West End’s shops, restaurants and bars are there to do business but as Tyrrell said the reduced footfall shows the link to the large numbers of people that normally work in the offices in and around the West End. Hopefully the government’s new “traffic-light” rating will soon allow quarantine-free travel to London from countries rated amber and green, so that overseas tourists will be able to return soon to help boost footfall and spend.
Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya