In Focus

Can the night-time economy bring better days for the City of London?

Square Mile has potential to be an epicentre of finance and culture

London’s Square Mile is eerily quiet as the capital remains in lockdown. Office workers are set up at home and shoppers are busy buying online as the shutters stay down on non-essential outlets.

High streets and commercial centres across Britain have been hugely affected by coronavirus restrictions which left many as ghost towns. And in the City of London this is more evident than most. 

The financial district has “survived fire and plague in its centuries-long history”, says The Guardian. But with office workers, shoppers and tourists staying away, and buildings and streets left empty, will the Square Mile ever return to the way it was before Covid?

In pre-pandemic times more than half a million people worked in the Square Mile, but only 9,000 people live in the area. It’s a “tale of two cities”, said Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, the local authority for the district. 

‘Hybrid working’

According to research by commercial property firm Cushman & Wakefield, and George Washington University in the US, the number of office staff who will embark on “hybrid working” - where they split their time between different locations - is expected to double after the pandemic.

Eight in ten firms, up from three in ten pre-Covid, are expected to adopt hybrid working in the future, The Guardian reports. While just 10% of companies will promote an “office-first” culture. 

As a result, it may not be daytime activities that bring back the hustle and bustle, but actually what happens after dark... 

A finance and nightlife hub?

Writing in the FT’s Lombard opinion column, Jamie Powell suggests that the City of London should turn to the night-time economy for its revival, encouraging clubs and culture to fill empty office space.

Like London’s financial district, the UK’s night-time economy has also been ravaged by Covid. So could one solution potentially help both causes? 

Repurposing empty offices and shops into housing has been suggested as one solution for the City’s recovery. But Powell says that the Square Mile should consider having a “makeover” as a nightlife hub.  

With so few residents in the area “nimbyism” is “unlikely to be an issue in the City”, he said, but whether the Corporation is “willing to entertain night entertainment is another matter”. 

Powell concludes: “The City of London needs to rethink its purpose and consider a second act. Or it may soon find the only flashing lights are those of photographers seeking their best shot.”

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