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Chris Henshall, Managing Director of Henshall & Partners, tells us what lessons Square Mile businesses can learn from Southwark when it comes to getting people back into the office.

Business is not about being stuck in your spare bedroom or on a kitchen table. A return to the office is essential. But the City of London is a few steps behind boroughs like Southwark when it comes to getting businesses bustling again.

The office and retail property market has certainly been tested since coronavirus turned life on its head last March. And at Henshall and Partners, a London-based commercial property agent, we have been bombarded with questions from clients and occupiers about how the market is responding.

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Great Suffolk Yard is a blueprint for how City of London offices should function.

The acronym WFH, working from home, has weaved its way into our everyday conversations. But while we would be lying to say it has not been a testing time for landlords and tenants to navigate, we also believe WFH is not a sustainable ‘new normal’.

Business is not about being stuck in your spare bedroom or on a kitchen table. It is about grabbing a seat in a café that remembers your coffee order, clinking drinks with clients on city rooftops and chatting to your cabbie on the way to your team meeting.

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The City is a market that has felt a greater impact of the pandemic due to the limited residential properties within the Square Mile. However, the sub-market of Southwark, where our agency is located, has proved to be very resilient and we believe it to be a few steps ahead of The City in its conquest to get us back to normal.

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The Last Talisman in Southwark.

The Last Talisman (Asian grill & cocktail lounge) on Bermondsey Street is a letting we completed during lockdown. This alongside selling vacant office buildings along Walworth Road, SE17 and Risborough Street in SE1.

It is the mix of residential and commercial space that has enabled Southwark to thrive along with its excellent National Rail travel links minimising the time spent on the underground.

There is a flexibility and more alternative use potentials for developers and occupiers in areas like Southwark that have sustained interest during the pandemic and kept the market moving.

And while the easing of lockdown restrictions will inspire confidence, we believe the sight of office workers enjoying their lunch breaks, social spaces filled with co-workers and clients enjoying after-work drinks will spur people to get back into the office.

We felt the City Corporation’s plans to increase green space around Bank station and junction is the sort of initiative that will help the City. By creating greener, safer and more social outdoor spaces will allow more businesses to thrive. Open air markets and pop ups like Vinegar Yard or Flat Iron Square are lessons the City can learn from Southwark’s rise as a place to be.

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