Living in the time of Covid-19 entails much uncertainty. It’s difficult to make plans either for business or personally with so much change being rolled out on a daily basis. 

Susan Freeman

Our professional events and meetings can continue digitally in a two dimensional and less colourful version of real life, but, speaking from experience, try arranging a wedding, not knowing from week to week whether your chosen venue will be shut down or how many of the handful of permitted guests will be allowed to attend, come the big day. On the world stage we have had to endure days of uncertainty this week over the outcome of the US election.

Nevertheless, the uncertainty seems also to be expediting some new concepts. One of the panelists on our recent Mishcon Future of the High Street digital event was Dr Jackie Mulligan of ShopAppy whose platform provides a one-stop local online shopping experience for independent retailers on local high streets.

She must applaud the advent of US based Bookshop which has apparently accelerated its UK plans as a result of Covid-19 and has gone online in the UK in partnership with more than 130 book shops. It aims to provide a viable alternative to Amazon, as it allows customers to buy books online while at the same time supporting their local independent bookshop.

Thank you to visionary Rethinking Real Estate author Dror Poleg for drawing to my attention to a ground breaking new sustainable office building in Norway created by Snøhetta, a Norwegian based collaborative architectural and landscape workshop. Remarkably, Powerhouse Telemark, as the building is called, will produce more energy than it will require over its entire lifespan, including energy used in construction and its ultimate demolition.

All fittings including flooring, partitions and bathrooms are identical on each floor with the interior layout designed to be flexible and to adapt to future needs. Powerhouse Telemark sets a new standard for environmentally sustainable buildings by reducing its yearly net energy consumption by 70% compared to similar newly constructed office buildings. Surplus electricity will be sold back to the energy grid. Sustainable materials used include carpet tiles composed of recycled fishing nets and wooden parquet flooring made from wooden debris. Is there a competition yet for the most outlandish and unexpected materials being recycled in office buildings?

We talk about Covid-19 as the great accelerator and it seems to be creating an undesired acceleration in cybercrime,our exacerbated by the move to remote working. My colleague Joe Hancock who heads MDR Cyber group is in much demand right now as his team of non-lawyer cyber specialists provide strategic cyber advice to help businesses develop and optimise their cyber risk management and, when things go wrong, to manage incidents and investigations. He tells me, ‘In the UK, 2020 saw a jump in the increase in reported frauds and cybercrime of about 45 per cent from March to July.

Since then, reporting statistics have shown a significantly higher number of reports than the early part of the year, before lockdowns took hold. UK banks also reported a 66% increase in financial frauds in the first six months of 2020 compared the last six of 2019 and a 61% increase in the volume of frauds between May and July. He adds, ’every sector is now targeted by financial crime – with some still believing it won’t happen to them. With working remotely now the norm, it is likely that new risks will emerge and that cyber criminals will take advantage of processes that were designed to work when a colleague or contact was a few desks away’. So, do make sure that you and your team are extra vigilant and act promptly if you suspect fraud or cybercrime.

In what is almost a fairy tale come true, the Dagenham film studio have secured a Hollywood funder. You may recall the imaginative ‘we’d rather be in Dagwood’ campaign of 2018 launched by Be First, the Barking and Dagenham Council regeneration firm responding to suggestions in a hotel advertising campaign that Barking and Dagenham wasn’t as glamorous a destination as Hollywood. Referencing their plans to build London’s largest film studios in the area, they sing the praises of the newly named ‘Dagwood’. 


Now Hollywood has come to Dagwood in the form of a bone fide US property developer whose film studios have hosted legendary films such as Gone with the Wind and TV shows including The Sopranos. The company is investing £300m over the next three years to build a Hollywood-style production complex in Dagenham, east London.

So eat your hearts out anyone who didn’t believe Dagwood could attract the stars!

This is a fantastic result for Barking and Dagenham leader Darren Rodwell and Pat Hayes MD of Be First Regeneration, especially as they were forced to seek a new investor after the original backer, Pacifica Ventures, pulled out last year over Brexit uncertainty. ‘Dagenham used to be famous for factories and Fords but in the future we will be equally famous for making films,’ said Council leader Darren Rodwell. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said, ‘This is a very special moment for Dagenham, our capital and all those who have been working hard to realise this bold vision of bringing a new world-class film studio to east London.’

As reported in Property Week’s View from the Top interview with Roelof Opperman, MD of the real estate technology investment team at California based VC fund Fifth Wall, they have announced the launch of a new fund to raise €100m to invest in European proptech with backers that include BNP Paribas Real Estate and Azora. The fund is looking for proptech start-up investment opportunities across the continent. I was particularly delighted by Opperman’s assessment of the UK. ‘It’s a major real estate hub and is probably still considered the real estate capital of the world. Almost every big institution in real estate has a presence here’.

If you get a chance, it’s well worth catching up on The Bottom Line episode hosted by Evan Davis on BBC Radio 4, entitled ’Commercial Property Wars’.

It is an excellent and candid discussion with Edward Ziff Chairman & CEO of Town Centre Securities and Mark Dixon Founder and CEO of Regus/IWG on how the real estate sector operates. Working on the premise that retail, hospitality and leisure businesses are suffering greatly due to the Covid-19 pandemic which is putting a strain on both landlords and their tenants over unpaid rent, it asks the billion dollar question, who should take the hit?

This discussion, along with similar ongoing debates, made me curious as to whether there are lessons to be learnt from previous crises affecting cities. The aftermath of the Great Fire of London which destroyed the city of London in 1666 is an interesting example. The Fire of London Disputes Act 1666, passed shortly after the fire, enabled the establishment of The Fire Courts which sat from 1667 to 1772 to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants where buildings had been destroyed. There was no insurance to fall back on so the courts had to find an equitable way to apportion the cost of reinstating the damage between owners and tenants. It may be that we will need special adjudicators to determine responsibilities following the ravages of Covid-19.

Ending with another positive and uplifting story, I wanted to mention the generous £1 million donation made by Sir Tom Hunter and the Hunter Foundation to Alzheimer charities announced on BBC Breakfast and which came as a complete surprise to the charity representatives who were on line. This was prompted by music writer Nick Harvey publicising via social media his father’s ability notwithstanding dementia, to improvise and compose some beautiful music.

His composition Four Notes has now been recorded by the BBC Philharmonic orchestra and is already a best seller raising money for charity and could well top the charts by Christmas.

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya

Related blogs by Susan Freeman:

Propertyshe perspectives: power outages, coworking during Covid-19, Wellcome Trust’s Peter Pereira Gray plus national treasure Stephen Fry

Propertyshe persepctives: making the most of virtual relationships, the importance of finding collaborative solutions and being seen to do the right thing

Propertyshe perspectives: the impact of Covid-19 on offices, construction site safety and personalised face masks

Propertyshe perspectives: Zoom, a podcast with Thomas Heatherwick CBE and a campaign to save our start-ups

Propertyshe perspectives: our new reality, climate change and the Mipim editor’s dinner

Propertyshe perspectives: news from Mishcon Singapore and IPSX; MIPIM virtual and actual; plus don’t cut marketing costs in a recession

- Propertyshe perspectives: time to get on your bike, the Covid-19 acceleration factor and the General Projects approach to development

-Propertyshe perspectives: technology and the dark arts, the holy grail, protecting your virtual property rights and the dreaded paternoster lift

Propertyshe Perspectives: Interview with London Transport’s Graeme Craig, embracing new retail opportunities, urban innovation and spending and looking after the pennies

Propertyshe Perspectives: preparing for a safe return to work, London transport and the role of technology in managing real estate

Propertyshe perspectives: The welcome return of retail, the climate crisis challenge call to arms, the future of the workplace, fixed and flex, making planning fit for the future

Propertyshe perspectives: London goes ‘al fresco’, the BIDs are still all right, Fly on the Wall with British Land’s Chris Grigg and emerging BTR sector needs to shout louder

Propertyshe perspectives: West End could see teddy bears’ picnics, we’ll hear more about B Corps, buildings could have bigger health impact than our doctors, keep calm and persevere

- Propertyshe perspectives: As theatres struggle to survive we must support our culture, Mishcon and HM Land Registry distributed ledger prototype enables digital transfer of property

- Propertyshe perspectives: The old high street model is dead, localism on steroids needed, Dagwood is the place to be for film makers, and don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

- Propertyshe Perspectives: Getting back to work, masking up, the future of the office in London and New York with The Real Deal and how Quintain CEO James Saunders became a convert to real estate

- Propertyshe Perspectives: London v New York real estate, more dialogue needed between government and local authorities plus; positive news for Lewisham

- Propertyshe Perspectives: Retail news and turnover rents, from Fifth Wall to The Fifth Space via the Reimagining Real Estate Virtual Summit, and the climate change emergency

Propertyshe Perspectives: Reactions to proposed planning overhaul, the role of SME builders, podcast with High Streets Task Force chair & an American view of creating successful shopping centres

- Propertyshe Perspectives: To mark Simon Silver’s announcement that he’s stepping down from the Derwent London board, some highlights from our 2015 ‘Step-brothers in arms’ interview

- Propertyshe Perspectives: The future role of the retail store, Chris Kane’s ‘Where is My Office? Reimagining the Workplace for the 21st Century’, office cubicles and the vital smart tool

Propertyshe Perspectives: Bring on the spray paint, British Land and Equiem tenant app for Broadgate, the survival of London’s West End and podcast with Grainger CEO Helen Gordon

Propertyshe Perspectives: It’s time for the new New London, alternative workplaces, CREW Network gender pay gap report and the late Lady Barbara Judge CBE

Propertyshe Perspectives: The office sector responds to pandemic, Podcast with Brian Bickell, good news for the hospitality sector, virtual networking and why too much green isn’t good for you

Propertyshe Perspectives: Making a virtue of early dining, revisiting ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, Labour Party Conference fringe debate sans dancing, BPF Futures and virtual working

Propertyshe Perspectives: Goodbye BST, Welcome collaborations and initiatives from Central London Alliance, City’s London Recharged report, MDRxTECH, and Grosvenor’s Power to Young People

Propertyshe Perspectives: A remarkable week on twitter, fake news and Woolworths, Mishcon Academy Future of the High Street, podcast with Liz Peace CBE, Bowie and the internet as ‘an alien life form’