The Evening Standard has reported that the fear of future lockdowns, on a national or local level, and the rise in people working from home will mean increased reliance on the ‘London Village’ of local independent shops.

Paul Durkin, head of retail for property specialists CBRE, says: “Prior to Covid-19 we had struggling shops on many high streets. If they are converted to socially distanced flexible working space, it could be revolutionary — something between a public library and a Nineties internet café.”

Financial services firm VISA conducted research that revealed 80 per cent of Londoners polled during the lockdown intend to shop locally as often as possible, and much more than before the pandemic.

To make every high street relevant, there will need to be staple amenities such as childcare facilities, health care centres, and activities for senior citizens to create the right mix to attract people back.

According to Professor Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a consumer psychologist at University College London, high street health care is key. “A GP surgery next to a health food shop, a gym and a physio creates a wellbeing hub.”

He added that there must also be facilities to provide entertainment for children and that high streets need to create a sense of theatre and drama, perhaps with restaurants providing workshops and cooking classes.

There has been a growing interest in supporting independent businesses during the lockdown. The new mixed-use Ram Quarter scheme in Wandsworth has enlisted local traders for its new micro-high street to provide a sense of identity.

Currently, Cordon Bleu restaurant London Stock, Sambrook’s Brewery, The Dapper Fox barbershop and Mai Thai Deli, a family-run restaurant have premises on the site.

“Small businesses with a strong local customer base, who really understand the area, are a safer bet than big brands,” said Chris Daly, director at the Ram Quarter scheme.

However, while remote and home workers will undoubtedly bring footfall to the high street, developers are not looking for coffee shops to fill spaces, and there are suggestions that libraries should double up as co-working spaces, tied in with food halls.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that empty retail units can be converted into homes without requiring planning permission, but that hasn’t been overly welcomed by all.

“It misses the point of what the high street is about,” says Yolande Barnes, professor at The Bartlett Real Estate Institute.

“Ground-floor units must be engaging, with active storefronts, open studios and welcoming bars and restaurants. They must be flexible and adaptable and change to keep the high street fresh. Once a shop has been converted into a home, that is all it can be.”

The high street needs to be a place for living, working, making and playing, but it needs to be carefully considered and planned.

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