Like London’s iconic red buses, good things have a tendency to come in twos after a long wait. And following a 10-year period that saw London become the world’s premier destination city, the reverse is now regrettably true as well.
Brexit was a blow for London’s arts and hospitality sectors – sectors that relied on freedom of movement. And then in 2020, the Covid lockdown descended, emptying London’s streets, darkening its theatres and shuttering its shops and attractions.
A happy paradox is that arts and leisure could be the great drivers of London’s post-Covid renaissance. Huge changes await London as a workplace, with a threat to the age of commuting and an explosion of agile working.
While workers on average prefer human contact, in a recent survey conducted by the universities of Cardiff and Southampton, 88% of respondents said they wanted to work from home at least part of the time. London could increasingly become more of a place to play than a place to work.
The last year has also had a big adverse impact on the hospitality industry, accelerating patterns that were already emerging in that sector – the rapid growth of takeaway and home delivery, the increasing attraction of local eating and the ‘Americanisation’ of mealtimes. As London’s boroughs and suburbs increasingly become live/work areas, a ‘delivery concept’ will soon become a fundamental component of nearly all F&B offerings.
By contrast, central London should expect a boom – not just a spike – in casual all-day dining, as the value and desirability of conviviality and destination eating have been brought into focus by the pandemic. There may not be the same office lunchtime demand, but the glamour of London as a destination has not worn off, especially with the clean-air measures and targets the mayor has put in place.
An exciting new London landscape awaits, one of creativity, attraction and desirability, with the arts at the forefront and leisure, tourism and entertainment driving the new London economy.
Julien Allen is real estate partner at Trowers & Hamlins