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monthlies OnOffice July9

21 Apr 2020

Can co-working spaces save retail?

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As traditional retail falters, a new breed of commercial development is bringing co-working space on board in a bid to change the way we live, work and buy, says Clare Dowdy

If leisure can rescue retail, then bizarrely leisure’s polar opposite – work – could also be a saviour.

Shopping is so old hat – bricks-and-mortar style shopping, that is. And there’s nothing worse for morale than a shopping centre awash with vacant units. So, shopping centre operators are renaming their venues (forget Norwich’s Castle Mall, it’s now Castle Quarter) and replacing the bust Blockbusters with fun activities. Bowling, anyone?

Newer premises are starting with this premise: signing up experiential brands alongside stores. And this is where co-working comes in. Because in these testing economic times, digital nomads look like good tenants.

At LCR and Lendlease’s International Quarter London (IQL) in Stratford, locals can take a spot at Workable. Designed by Fletcher Priest Architects, the shared workspace offers business mentoring sessions and wellbeing classes. Nice touch having Change Please running the cafe. The social enterprise provides homeless people with jobs, skills and training and access to secure housing.

Andrew Tobin, project director of IQL at Lendlease, lists the benefits of co-working areas to a mixed-use scheme: “They appeal to commercial occupiers looking for overspill space, to local residents looking to work closer to home, and to visitors to the area looking for somewhere to base themselves for a short space of time.

Co-working also brings more diversity to the area by attracting groups of smaller companies, startups and freelancers. The surrounding area is energised by having these different groups of people interacting in the same environment.”

Gosh, it all sounds so very win-win it’s a wonder mall operators haven’t been doing this for years. But there could be a catch for the coworkers themselves. If their working life really is as flexible as the hype suggests, what’s to stop these people skipping away from their desks for an indoor skiing session, or even some oldfashioned window shopping? If that’s the case, then production levels will fall and they might wish they’d stayed working from home where the only distraction is that pile of ironing.

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