Hospitality heroes to save our high street

Hospitality entrepreneur believes the high street isn’t dying, instead it is in state of transition, and pictures a new high street reinvigorated by hospitality and cultural experiences.

Spending habits in the UK have transformed significantly and the high street has been particularly hard hit in 2020. There are no signs of this downward trend slowing, after a year of city-wide lockdowns and non-essential retailers being closed.

Bradley Gough, is the founder of Groubook, and his team had spent months planning the launch of their new app that helps friends to organise and book group events, only to have their plans put on hold due to Covid-19. He is hoping that the hospitality sector will have a massive resurgence in the future and has some interesting ideas on how this will happen.

Chains and big brands have shifted away from physical stores and many businesses have been unable to reopen – leaving the question of what to do with all the empty space in the hearts of our communities.

Bradley Gough said: “I am hopeful about the future of our high streets, we would love to see hospitality and culture could play a major part in reinvigorating these areas.

“The departure of high street favourites like Debenhams, Top Shop, Burtons and Dorothy Perkins has led to thousands of job losses and a gaping hole in the high streets offering.

“But the high street isn’t dying, instead it is in state of transition away from the traditional one we have had for the last 50 years. Even before the pandemic, there was closures and a declining demand for retail space. Shopping online has been steadily on the rise for a decade, but lockdown has accelerated our use of it.

“We would like to see the disused retail spaces transformed into something new, ready for all of the fun to be had post-pandemic. Throughout history, high streets have been the centres of communities, playing important roles in commerce, business but also for social gatherings and events.”

The office buildings that have been forced to close could become revolutionary socially distanced, flexible working spaces. Easy to convert quickly and cheaply, they could become a haven for those sick of working from home as our attitudes towards flexible employee options evolve in the future.

The future high street might be a slightly different scape, but many have already seen an influx of independent businesses including bars, restaurants, community businesses and cultural venues.

Local people will still need access to service-led industries like the dry cleaners, key cutters, nail bar, bank and even the Post Office, but the high street could become dictated by the local populations requirements, their lifestyle patterns, and choices for recreation.

Bradley can picture the high street reinvigorated post-pandemic by hospitality and recreational experiences. Empty department stores could be transformed into hubs for leisure, a bowling alley on one floor, adult soft play on another and a laser tag course in the basement.

Despite the growth of an ‘armchair economy’ due to the pandemic, people will be keen to get out as soon as it is safe, ready to have fun and make new memories with their friends and family.

The next craze to sweep the nation could be a boozy ball pit-based night out, or themed restaurants which emerge you in beach or rainforest surroundings, from the comfort of your town centre.

The shops you spent hours looking around for your parents as a kid, could become city centre mazes instead. Bars could be tucked away, hidden in the basement of retail units, whilst the stores above become experience centres, where customers browse and try products on, before ordering online for delivery to their door.

Technology is the main tool to enhance a community hub and create a high street that meets a range of different consumer needs. A shift towards free Wi-Fi in shared spaces, improvements in eco transport links and more electric car charging points could drive people to their centres and high street to enjoy the post pandemic climate.

Groubook lets groups book, organise and arrange nights out online and take advantage of a wide range of discounts and rewards. Bradley believes the app can give independent bars and restaurants a head start when they’re finally able to open for business and help them recoup some of the losses from the pandemic.

The app was launched in Nottingham in August just after the first lockdown restrictions began to ease and saw rapid initial take-up with numbers growing by 250% in the first six weeks.

Bradley said: “Our plans for growth are ambitious and despite everything that’s happened this year, we’re confident we’ll achieve them.

“Once restrictions begin to ease, we’re ready to go full steam ahead and support the hospitality sector as it starts to rebuild.”

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