Raconteur

Future Workplace 2020

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T H E F U T U R E W O R K P L A C E 18 Repurposing underutilised shopping centres or abandoned stores for urban workspaces could bring talent and customers to towns in need of new business Bringing unused shops and stores back to life ince the 2008 financial crash, the so-called death of the high street has been pre- sented as a cold, inevitable fact. Ex- perience in America, however, shows that with a bit of creativity, bricks- and-mortar retail may have life left in it yet. One of the most intriguing solutions so far has been to repurpose retail properties through the intro- duction of urban workspaces on site. This trend has proved so popular, in fact, that real estate advisers JLL estimate that urban workspace in US retailers will grow at a rate of 25 per cent annually through 2023, reach- ing almost 3.4 million square feet. "There's no denying that the UK has its problems, but if you take what's happening here and make it six fold, that's what they're dealing with in the States," says Tim Val- lance, head of investor services and retail chairman at JLL. In spite of all this, he believes that the panic surrounding retail is mis- leading. "First and foremost, despite the headlines, UK retail is still grow- ing, not shrinking. In 2019, consum- ers still spent £360 billion in shops and £404 billion online. With popula- tion growth and inflation, this could increase to £600 billion," he explains. A glimpse at Westfield in San Fran- cisco shows how repurposing retail spaces could offer a significant boost for businesses, the self-employed and retail properties alike. Urban workspace company Bespoke's mil- lennial-friendly, plant-filled offices house freelancers and startups look- ing for like-minded entrepreneurs right within the hub of the mall. The San Francisco branch is par- ticularly special, explains Bespoke director Judith Shahvar, because it offers easy collaboration on pro- jects that could improve the sector. "We're really a retail technology ecosystem. We can connect C-level executive with Silicone Valley start- ups to help them gain new insights. It encourages a sense of community; it's a feel-good space," she says. While these urban workspaces are open to anyone who wishes to rent them, Bespoke offers a discounted rate to entrepreneurs working on projects directly related to improving retail. As Westfield recently opened a 500,000-square-foot expansion of the space, with a host of new retailers targeted at its influx of office workers, its approach seems to be working. So far there are no models rep - licating San Francisco's urban workspace in the UK, but Vallance confirms that several retailers have already laid out plans to repurpose retail sites. And there's no reason why it shouldn't work out. He says: "As well as London, which is fairly obvious, providing urban workspaces could be a great oppor - tunity to attract new talent and cus- tomers to any of the big metropoli- tan shopping centres. This could work particularly well for any of the Russell Group university towns like Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester." The picture is slightly more com- plex for smaller towns, however. Gary Hemming, commercial lend- er at ABC finance, says the popu- larity of street food is an example of how shopping centre-urban workspace hybrids could breed ex- citing new businesses. "These flexible working environ- ments could well prove to be the breed- ing ground of tomorrow's high street retailers, as we've seen in previous years with street food traders going on to open their own restaurant," he says. The temporary nature of startups means there's still an element of risk involved. For major cities, this is not such an issue; for otherwise quiet market towns that have relied on the steady footfall for large, permanent department stores, it could be a very different story. It could prove tricky for landlords too, adds Hemming. "The main is - sue as I see it is the temporary na- ture of the tenancies. While it ben- efits tenants, it does create a very high turnover and a lack of certainty for landlords," he says. "While I do think this will be a big part of the high street in the future, it may be tricky without middle men as it will take a property from being an investment into a more time-in- tensive business, which may not suit all landlords." JLL's Vallance concludes: "There are going to be a lot of empty shops. But this really isn't a disaster. It's about accepting that to an extent; we need to let evolution do its work. We just need some clever people to think about how to use those spaces." Bespoke Collaboration spaces at Bespoke's offices at Westfield in San Franscisco The first major retailer to follow America's example, Selfridges has announced plans to redevelop a building close to its flagship store on London's Oxford Street and then rent some of it out to co-working office provider Fora. They've set out plans with Grafton Architects to create 45,000 square feet of commercial space of which almost half will be retail. The retail part will be configured as up to four individual units fronting Oxford Street and Duke Street. Fora will occupy six storeys of the building, on the corner of the development, hosting both shared and private workspaces. There will also be an event space which will cover two floors and feature an expansive terrace, as well as a barista bar. Selfridges group head of asset management Tim Reade says the flexible working space will enable the retailer to "cultivate a young, creative community in the Duke Street neighbourhood". Rachel Muller-Heyndyk S RE TAIL S TORE CLOSURES Net change in store numbers (openings minus closures) by chain retailers across the top 500 town centres in the UK; statistics for the first six months of each year only* R E T A I L S P A C E S Selfridges moves to co-working PwC/LDC 2019 *Chain retailers are classed as those that have more than five outlets nationally 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 -209 -406 -437 -503 -222 -1,123 -1,234 IR Stone/Shutterstock

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