As we inch towards our release from lockdown, it seems that our beleaguered hospitality sector is going to benefit from the huge pent up demand, with hotels and restaurants reporting that they have been inundated with bookings.

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

So, it seems that those of us who are disorganised and don’t book ahead could well be consigned to eating at home for eternity.

In a parallel universe, this week would have marked MIPIM, the international real estate convention held in Cannes. For over twenty years the prospect of a few days in the Côte d’Azur, networking and debating the real estate issues of the day with fellow property professionals from all over the world has kept me going through the cold grey winter months. Whatever the wonders of technology, the random encounters at MIPIM over the years have led to some amazing relationships.

Somehow, spending focused time with clients and contacts in the sometimes febrile ambiance of MIPIM made for a stronger connection than could be achieved from any number of meetings back home. Which of course raises the question of how many zoom calls you need in order to build that same level of trust?

After a year of being in social isolation, I particularly miss our legendary annual Tuesday night dinner at La Petite Maison in Cannes where, serenaded by the Gypsy Kings, we regularly assembled a roll call of some of the legends of the real estate world. The various courses would arrive sporadically, but then we were there for the sparkling conversation rather than the food.

And a particular shout out to my companions at our Thursday night MIPIM wind down dinner, which followed on from the hot ticket James Andrew International/Harvey Soning champagne reception at the Majestic Hotel. It was certainly nostalgic catching up on zoom this week with The Office Group’s Charlie Green at the exact time we would have been getting ready for these gatherings in Cannes.

Mipim 2019

So, Charlie Green, Tom Bloxham, Savannah de Savary, Aaron Block, Tyler Goodwin, Angelica Donati and Mark Robinson, here’s hoping we can reconvene next year to carry on our traditional game of two truths and a lie.

The flexible working sector is about to come under the media spotlight. This week saw the release of the trailer for the eagerly awaited We Work documentary, chronicling the company’s rollercoaster ride to date and which is set to stream from the 2nd April.

The documentary, ‘WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn’ examines how the co-working start-up became one of the world’s most highly valued companies and focuses on the charismatic founder, Adam Neumann and his mission to change the world. We can also look forward to the Hollywood blockbuster with Jared Leto playing Neumann and Anne Hathaway as his co-founder wife Rebekah.

I have previously written about the concept of the 15 minute city created by Sorbonne based Professor Carlos Moreno in Paris and now adopted by many international cities, so it’s good to see a UK town stepping forward to embrace the idea. Ipswich (or Ipswitch, as The Times creatively named it in one of its social media posts!) has unveiled its plan to become the UK’s first ‘15 minute’ town as part of a post Covid-19 initiative to revitalise its town centre. This will involve being able to reach everything you need within 15 minutes walking, by bike or by public transport.

The plan is to use the opportunity to reshape the high street as a neighbourhood rather than just a shopping destination. With the ever growing number of UK retail closures it makes sense to bring in more residential, restaurants, bars, cafes and offices. We are likely to see more flexible working space in town centres and suburbs as working near home becomes an attractive alternative to working from home.

Interestingly, the ‘15 minute’ plan was proposed by Ipswich Central, the town’s business improvement district (BID) and hopefully we will see more UK BIDS taking the lead in bringing together developers, local authorities and local businesses to reinvigorate their town centres.

In other city news, Forbes have reported that IKEA is looking to create the sustainable city of the future. Having already experimented with offering self-assembly, prefabricated tiny homes, IKEA, the Swedish furniture store is now planning a collaboration with an entire city, Helsingborg in the south of Sweden. They aren’t creating a flat pack city (just yet!) but the project will explore practical solutions to the challenges of urbanisation and will aim to make life easier for city dwellers.

The focus will be on developing some radical thinking with a view to, presenting by 2022 some real solutions for sustainable cities that are both affordable and practical. Watch this space.

Finally, in much needed happy news, the 2021 World Happiness Report has just been released, in time for the UN’s annual international day of happiness on March 20. Where researchers were unable to do face-to-face interviews because of Covid-19, they apparently focused on the relationship between well-being and Covid-19 in order to rank countries. On this basis, the UK dropped five places from last year, coming in at number eighteen.

Hopefully, our world beating vaccine rollout will push us higher up the rankings next year. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe, Germany is ranked at seven, which is up ten places from last year. Interestingly, China made the top twenty this year, coming in at number nineteen up some 74 places from 94 last year. Happy international happiness day readers!

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya