The UK economy suffered its biggest slump on record due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While central London’s world-famous shopping district remains largely empty with normalcy not expected to return soon, green shoots of a recovery seem to be appearing on suburban high streets in other parts of the capital.
Reports have it that the number of unemployment benefits claimants in London more than doubled as of June compared to the beginning of 2020. The Centre for Economics and Business Research also recently stated that central London had missed out on £2.3bn of spending while people worked from home.
However, somewhere beneath this series of negative trends is evidence of a suburban recovery.
On the edge of London’s border with Kent is a place called Bromley, which has come to life as many of itsover 320,000 residents have stayed closer to home.In the centre of the borough is a pedestrianised street hosting traditional market stalls and independent shops as well as large high street retailers.
Shops and restaurants gradually reopened from 1 June after an order in March to shutat the start of lockdown.While big retailers are looking to get back on track, suburban areas appear to be the major beneficiaries as people prefer to meet and shop closer to home.
A Centre for London report revealed that while card transactions in central London shops have dropped by as much as 60% since January, spending had shifted to smaller town centres.
The strongest performing high street was Southall in west London, popularly known as Little India, with a 50-year reputation as one of the premier Asian towns in the UK making the area a destination for shoppers that want traditional Indian food, jewellery and clothing.
“People who feel part of a community are more likely to want to preserve the area they live in, and so are more likely to invest,” said Dr. Maria Loroño-Leturiondo, an expert in high street spending.
DrLoroño-Leturiondo, who works on the government commissioned High Street taskforce, said suburban high streets “offer more than just retail”.
“The shopping is more attuned to the local constituency needs but you can go there for leisure, enjoyment, employment.
“People are also valuing natural assets smaller towns provide, such as green spaces and beaches, more than before.”
“The impact of the pandemic has been to accelerate some social and economic changes – such as remote working and online retail – that were already under way,” said Mark Kleinman, Professor of Public Policy at Kings College London.
With new national restrictions put in the place due to the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the recovery pattern of the capital will be dependent on how it reacts to the next series of challenges.
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