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Say Hello to the Hyper-Local High Street

By Nick Fairham 

Prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the workplace was already in transition. The workforce was already demanding more flexibility and choice in where, when and how to work. And employers were, slowly but surely, responding. Now, with companies having been forced to embrace remote working, we are in a whole new world, catapulted into the future in terms of working practices.

Many companies and employees are now questioning why they have an office in the first place, and whilst we will see some level of return to office-based working, working patterns are likely to look quite different. A global study by JLL showed that while some people are keen to return to the office as soon as possible, others have enjoyed working from home.

Half of respondents said they liked having no commute with 45 percent enjoying flexible hours and 31 percent benefiting from an enhanced work-life balance. Having said that, at most, people want one or two days of their working week at home. Meanwhile, employers are recognising the efficiencies that can be achieved through reduced travel to meetings and the value of video conferencing, resulting in a shift in culture.  

So, the likelihood is we will see a hybrid model of both working at home and in the office – and we recently launched a roadmap to help businesses with this transition here. What impact will this have on our retail sector? And will we see a new emphasis on hyper-local high streets and communities? My view is that we will. Unsurprisingly, we saw a record-breaking fall in retail sales as we went into lockdown, but as we gradually emerge there’s an opportunity for some businesses to benefit from this new way of life.

Our hyper-local high streets and communities are set for reinvention. People working at home are highly likely to use their neighbourhood shops, restaurants, pubs and cafes, leading to the emergence of new businesses in residential areas to service their needs. This could also include hubs home to office equipment like printers, photocopiers and scanners so people have all the tools they need nearby. Take the likes of Fishponds, Westbury Park, Redfield and St George in Bristol for example – these are prime candidates for the growth of the hyperlocal high street.

A good example of the type of building that might support a hyper-local high street is the Mulberry Park community hub in Bath, which we designed for Curo and was recently shortlisted in the RIBA South West Awards. It’s right in the heart of a residential area, but it has a school, nursery, enterprise space, café and flexible community spaces for a range of activities from yoga to ante-natal classes. So, a parent could drop the children off at school, use a flexible workspace, network at the café followed by a mindfulness workshop in the community space.

Of course, with existing shops having to adapt to new social distancing measures, for example caps on the number of people in store or keeping their customers outside until notified, there may be a different kind of hyper-local economy that arises out of the current circumstances too. Sports stadiums and airports already benefit from captive audiences in this way – so we may see pop-ups selling food and drink for customers as they wait.

The movement to support independent businesses as they’ve faced unprecedented challenges will play a key part in this behaviour change. The London Economic launched the "One Square Mile" campaign to encourage people to buy in local, independent shops within a mile from their home. And we’ve seen huge support for Bristol’s independent businesses in the past few months– with people urged to buy from them as they adapt to online deliveries and takeaways and as lockdown eases. The launch of the Bristol Food Union promotes ways people can support the city’s food and farming communities, whilst a group of volunteers provided Bristol with access to an interactive map highlighting independent retailers and producers offering delivery during lockdown.  

We now value our independents more than ever, remote working is here to stay and small businesses are looking to adapt to the ‘new normal’ – say hello to the new hyper-local high street.