The show must go on

by Claire Oldfield – Sep 11, 2020

It’s six long months since we were teetering on the edge of a nationwide lockdown. As fewer people started to come into the office, simple economics suggested there was about to be a big problem for business. We talked much then about our responsibility as an employer not just to our staff and to keep our own business going, but to the amazing city in which we work.

If we didn’t come into the office, local businesses would suffer without the footfall to help them. Pret became the shorthand for this rallying cry; if we didn’t buy our daily coffee then how could such businesses survive?

And so it has come to pass. As businesses suffer, the vibrancy of central London itself has gone, and has been replaced by a ghost town. The joy of working in Covent Garden will never fade but it has become a shadow of its former self. Many things have changed out of all recognition and as each day passes it becomes less clear that it will ever regain its former brilliance.

So much has been written about this. But since we are lucky enough to have an office in the once beating heart of theatre and shopping land, and on top of fast and reliable transport services, it feels as though we, as employers, have a new responsibility – to put the sparkle back into Covent Garden.

I have been into the office at least once a week since lockdown started – initially to act as IT support or to organise couriers, and then to oversee an office move – and finally I am back to being in the office most days.

And maybe, just maybe there are now signs that things are starting to sparkle again. Last week the local primary school returned, with queues of parents and children snaking down Drury Lane. It was a really happy sight – and sound. Elsewhere shops and restaurants around the Covent Garden Piazza are busier. The Ivy Market Grill – a good barometer of disposable spend – is bustling. And there is a reassuring queue outside the Apple store.

But for every sign of reassurance there are underlying reasons to despair. Nothing encapsulates it more than the hoardings outside the Gillian Lynne Theatre. They advertise Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella Musical with a sardonic note on the billboards: ‘Opening Spring 2021, if we are allowed’.

And here’s the truth: without the office workers and the tourists, the heart of Covent Garden won’t start beating properly. For those of us that love this city, we all have a responsibility to help repair that heart.

Published Sep 11, 2020

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