As we move out of lockdown and are finally able to eat and drink outdoors again at restaurants, bars and cafes, it’s good to see that hundreds of alfresco seats are being made available across London. 

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

Grosvenor are transforming Mayfair’s North Audley Street into what they term an outdoor dining room, whilst 150 seats are planned for Motcomb Street in Belgravia. There will also be seats in Grosvenor Square for takeaways and picnics. Across town in Covent Garden, Capco are providing an extra 500 seats on streets around the historic central piazza. With the uncertainties of the British spring weather, here’s hoping that umbrellas, heaters and blankets will also be provided for the less hardy!

It is sad to see businesses cease to exist, whether the casualties of Covid-19 and/or a failure to see the impending disruption affecting their sector. Nevertheless, it is exciting to see new businesses being born as we emerge from the pandemic. One of these is Patch. After almost a year’s work, Freddie Fforde has launched a new start-up business.

Patch aims to set up co-working clubs for the new ‘work near home’ era, which many see as a more viable option than working from home. Patch will provide co-working clubs for commuter towns across the UK, creating vibrant local spaces to work, connect and support local enterprise. Their focus will be on design-led interiors, high quality work infrastructure and a programme of community events for local high streets. If this is of interest read more about Patch’s ‘work near home’ concept here.

As Fforde told me, ‘the idea behind work near home is rooted in the experiences a lot of us had growing up. We get used to investing in people close to us, our families and neighbourhoods, but a lot of that disappears when we refocus so much time on the office. Professional networks are great too but it doesn’t have to be a binary choice.

We can choose to retain the best of both worlds.’ It will be interesting to see how this concept progresses as many of us have reached peak working from home and long to be able to create a divide between our home and work lives. As Fforde puts it, ‘the pandemic has taught us a lot of things, including how extreme the experience of working at home can be. Yes, it’s been intense, cramped, noisy and difficult to maintain mental separation. But in equal part, we have had more control over how to invest our time’.

Work discussion

Source: Shutterstock/ g-stockstudio

The pandemic has created a once in a lifetime opportunity ‘when huge, seemingly unassailable assumptions are challenged and turn out to be not so certain after all. The limits of what we ‘have to’ be in the office to achieve is a great example’.

Another new business launched this week is Compton. The former Hatton Real Estate team, Shaun Simons, Michael Raibin and Elliott Stern, have left Colliers after five years to set up Compton, which will specialise in office and investment real estate within central London, with a particular focus on the city fringe, which has always been their patch, if you will excuse the pun. They plan to operate the new business from St John Square in Clerkenwell in the heart of the area. Best wishes for the new enterprise!

It was a real tonic this week to be teleported to New York for the Urban Land Institute New York Tech and Innovation Council meeting as a guest from the equivalent group in Europe. The New York council is chaired by my friend Dror Poleg, author of the acclaimed book, Rethinking Real Estate. The keynote presentation was given by Flexe co-founder and CEO, Karl Siebrecht who, rather exotically, was addressing us from Hawaii.

In his book published just before lockdown, Poleg wrote that every aspect of commercial real estate was undergoing a tectonic shift and that retail assets were the first to feel the tremors. The sector that seems to have been largely unaffected to date is logistics. Apparently, even this sector is being disrupted. Flexe provides fulfilment capabilities and omnichannel logistics solutions to its customers, who are large enterprise companies.

A key part of Flexe’s platform is its warehouse management system software, which enables its customers to have a broadly distributed warehouse network but still maintain centralised visibility and control over operations, Siebrecht talked us through his business which he described as ‘logistics as a service.’ Flexe provide logistics in a tech driven, asset-lite way which is very different from the traditional approach. Working with operators rather than warehouse owners, Flexe finds warehouse space for its customers when and wherever required. Siebrecht explained that the $1.6 trillion US logistics sector is equivalent to 8% of GDP.

It involves all sorts of modes of transport, is asset intensive and stitched together by technology. He expects the sector to flip to being tech driven supported by shared assets. At present Flexe operates only in the US and Canada. Is this the future of logistics and is logistics as a service available in the UK and Europe?

Duke of Edinburgh

The Duke of Edinburgh

Source: Shutterstock/ Bart Lenoir

Finally it is so very sad to hear that HRH Prince Philip has died at the age of 99. I was fortunate to have met him on a number of occasions particularly in connection with my work on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award property committee and can confirm that he was every bit the colourful character that the news channels are talking about.

I was first introduced to HRH Prince Philip at a charity event at St James’s Palace hosted by real estate stalwart and DOE Award supporter David Pearl. HRH gamely met and chatted to all the guests and had a question or comment for everyone. One particular encounter led to my cameo appearance in Peter Bill’s book, Planet Property.

Fellow Property Week columnist Peter Bill kindly insisted on introducing me (again) to Prince Philip at a black tie event. He duly introduced me as a property partner at Mishcon de Reya. All was going well, but just as we were about to shake hands, Peter couldn’t resist saying somewhat mischievously, ‘you will have heard of them’, referring obliquely to our role in acting for Princess Diana in her divorce from Prince Charles.

This prompted a rather scathing comment from HRH about us doing real estate as well as ‘all the other stuff’. Prince Philip will be hugely missed and I am just grateful that I had the opportunity to meet him and work for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which does such great work supporting generations of young people, from all walks of life to successfully navigate adulthood.

I will never forget the experience of attending one of the Award ceremonies where the Duke made sure he had a word with each and every one of the hundreds of youthful Award recipients. He also took time to speak to the Award property committee, although we did have to explain that we raised money from the property sector for the charity, rather than being responsible for property maintenance! It is indeed the end of an era.

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya