Claims the high street is dead have been exaggerated during 100 days of Leicester lockdown – at least according to city bosses desperate to get back to normal.
With strict Covid-19 restrictions still in place in Leicester and neighbouring Oadby and Wigston, company owners and managers are saying the resilience of the local business scene will help us through the downturn.
And most believe the city centre will bounce back – even if it takes until 2021 to do so.
Dean Eldredge runs Oadby-based sports marketing agency Soar Media, publisher of the Leicester City matchday magazine among other things.
He felt the area had had a raw deal with the Government’s “shambolic handling of the restrictions”, but would bounce back.
He said: “I think Leicester people, in general, have a resilient spirit, and I’d like to think that the majority of us are humble, yet proud of our city.
“No one knows what the future holds for us, but there is a strong independent business scene, and a great deal of creativity in the city, in places such as the LCB Depot and Phoenix Square, and I sincerely hope those businesses survive.
“The hospitality industry has been hit hard, but organisations like Cool As Leicester have done a fantastic job of promoting local business and safe ways for us to socialise.”
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Dominic Shaw, marketing director of the Creative Direction design agency in King Street, was bullish the family businesses that gave Leicester its identity would keep the economy going.
He said: “Unfortunately, the death of the high street has been talked about for years, and Covid along with lockdown will have added a lot of fuel to that fire.
“However, as rough as this may sound, for Leicester’s independent businesses Covid is a real opportunity and the ones who will succeed have already recognised this.
“At one level this has meant when pubs have reopened in the city, some have delivered a fantastic table service experience and I personally don’t think I’d ever want to go back to queuing at a bar.
“On another level, this has meant other businesses have thought really hard about why they do what they do and how they can make it better.
“The great thing is that our smaller businesses and independents have an advantage over large national players because they can adapt and move faster.
“I could be proven wrong, but I can’t help but feel this is a ‘honeymoon’ period for working from home.
“For our business, working collaboratively in person means creative decisions get made faster and our productivity is naturally better for it – there isn’t really much of a substitute for getting around the table and rolling your sleeves up.”
Eileen Richards MBE runs a recruitment firm in Salisbury Road, round the corner from De Montfort Hall, and is vice president of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce.
She said the latest chamber business survey suggested Leicester and Leicestershire employers were feeling more confident about recruitment, training and developing staff than a few months ago, which she said was “a great testament to their entrepreneurial spirit”.
She said: “Despite Covid-19 likely to have a natural impact on the high street and the presence of larger stores and branches, one element I believe that is expected to stay is the change in attitudes of consumers to shop, visit and support local, resulting in the remain of independent businesses and community spirit.
Fiona Debney, legal director at the Lower Brown Street office of law firm Gateley, was also confident life would come back to the city.
She said: “At Gateley, we are following the Government’s guidelines and have successfully and seamlessly moved to home-working since March.
“We foresee an agile approach to working continuing post Covid-19 but there is definitely still a place for the office especially when it comes to becoming central hubs for collaboration between teams and clients.”
Mukesh Patel, managing partner of law firm Freeths’ Leicester office, said he was looking forward to getting back to the office.
He said: “The messaging has been confusing at times, but I think that if lockdown is lifted then that should encourage people to be more positive about venturing back out, both for work and social reasons.
“I for one am missing the camaraderie that comes from being with colleagues in an office environment.
“That said, agile working is here to stay.”
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Duncan Green, managing partner of national property, infrastructure and construction consultancy Pick Everard, which has its head office in Charles Street, was more cautious.
He said: “It is difficult to feel anything other than the prolonged lockdown will continue to damage our city centre.
“But Leicester is open, and open for business.
“Massive efforts have been made by retailers and by the restaurants and bars, to ensure they can operate safely.
“It just needs us all to have the confidence to return, and learn to live with the restrictions.
“If we do, the city can start to thrive again irrespective of how long lockdown remains in place.”