‘Connections’ Ep. 3: Back to work

This episode is the third in our Learning from Crisis ‘Connections’ series, and is about how we’re getting back to work in the recovery phase.

As the lockdown eases, all sectors are under pressure to return to work and help get the economy moving. However, construction, higher education and hospitality are under the microscope perhaps more than others. This is thanks to the number of jobs they generate, and their high contributions to UK GDP.

These sectors also play a significant role in the viability of our local economies and urban spaces and their health has knock-on effects up and down their supply chains. They share multiple challenges such as ensuring employee health and safety, rebuilding consumer confidence and maintaining viability. The solutions they’ll need to find are distinct but transferable to other sectors and to practitioners also working to adapt their work to the ‘new normal’.

What can we learn from them? What are the long-term implications for these sectors and the economies and urban spaces that they’re part of? This episode, features three speakers:

  • Chris Wallace on construction. Chris is the construction director for UK house builder, Lovell partnerships. Lovell is a developer and contractor working on regeneration, mix tenure and contracting schemes and Chris managing construction sites across London and the South region.
  • Rose Luckin on higher education. Rose is the Professor of Learner Centred Design at the UCL Knowledge Lab and her research involves the design and evaluation of educational technology. Rose is also Director of EDUCATE, a London hub for Educational Technology StartUps, researchers and educators.
  • Ian Coll on hospitality. Ian is the founder and managing director of Mamuska. A 10-year-old London-based Polish restaurant located in Waterloo that prides itself on delivering authentic polish food and a strong track record for social responsibility, sustainability and local community engagement.

Listen to the podcast to hear from them and see a few of their key points below.

Key takeaways

The current landscape

  • Construction: sites have reopened and meet social distance guidelines for low-rise developments, but this is far more challenging on rise rises. Supply chains have also been affected causing project delays. Office staff have been working remotely but Lovell is gradually encouraging its teams back to the office where safe to do so.
  • Higher education: returning to work is about embracing digital education with a very limited face to face offer. How fast this will change is uncertain.
  • Hospitality: With fewer people in central London, restaurant revenue is significantly down. Despite diversifying by offering a takeout service and travelling directly to suppliers, trade is slow, and menus have to be pared back. The lunch and dinner rush has been replaced by a steady afternoon trade as work routines have become more flexible and people take advantage of the ‘eat out to help out’ vouchers.

Employee and customer perception in recovery

  • Construction: While enhanced safety precautions are carried out on site, such as temperature checks, well-spaced congregation areas and one-way systems, concerns about travelling in to work linger.
  • Higher education: With tuition fees high, international students are reconsidering the value of UK universities if they can’t benefit from the prestige and network effects of studying in central London.
  • Hospitality: Consumer confidence is the biggest hurdle. Concerns can be mitigated with outdoor seating, clear signage and adapted service procedures but fear of catching the virus is keeping people away. There are also practical challenges to maintaining staff social distancing, e.g. in the kitchen.

Government interventions

  • All: The furlough scheme has been very positive, keeping many people employed through the worst of the crisis and in a position to return to work as the lockdown eases.
  • Construction: The removal of stamp duty has supercharged the housing market and the ‘build build build’ announcement indicates greater investment in the development pipeline.
  • Higher education: the cap on home students, although now being amended by government, has helped lower profile universities capture students who couldn’t get into their higher profile choices. Government has supported university research programmes, many of which are Covid-19 related but hasn’t helped with the transition to digital education, vital to university survival.
  • Hospitality: Bounce back loans of up to £50,000 have helped many get back to trading and August’s ‘eat out to help out’ voucher scheme has boosted lunchtime trade but other schemes like the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme have been out of reach as it requires three years of accounts and a positive cashflow. Mamuska expanded their premises in 2019 giving them a negative cashflow going into lockdown and made them ineligible for the loan.

Sector interdependencies and ways forward

  • Construction: Building homes relies on steady supply chains and a skilled workforce. Brexit and Covid-19 have hit both hard and the construction industry must work with all levels of government, local councils and educators to ensure this remains stable. The Covid crisis could accelerate the need for more off-site, modular construction that incorporates office/study spaces into home design, and can be manufactured in controlled environments.
  • Higher Education: The future of large university estates and halls of residence are uncertain if they can’t safely be used by students and staff. Universities will need to invest in high-quality digital education while they slowly phase face to face activities back in.
  • Hospitality: The impact of home working continues to hit hospitality hard. With lower central London footfall, particularly around major employers like universities or transport hubs like Waterloo station. Revenue doesn’t stack up to costs and smaller, cheaper, outer London premises nearer people’s homes could be a way forward. But social spaces will still be needed by businesses and groups and converting into a ‘venue for hire’ could help restaurants justify the costs of keeping larger, central London premises.

Catch all podcast episodes on the City Bites page.

Get involved in FoL’s Covid-19 response and recovery programme: Learning from Crisis.

Featured image credit: Elliot Brown on Flickr. Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)