Getting customers back into shops and stores is one thing post-pandemic – persuading commuters to return to the office is another.
But one area of Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow might have come up with all the answers.
Between Dalhousie Street and Rose Street is the McLellan Works, a former office block that has been transformed into the much-discussed “multi-use, multi-purpose, multi-generational space of the future”.
From the street, the consistent and well thought out design is striking. It looks like it’s meant to be there – neat black frontages, white lettering and clean lines means the uber cool eatery Sprigg sits effortlessly next to the British Heart Foundation.
Inside, a mixture of small studios complement whole-floor offices and breakout areas, where clients vary from huge financial powerhouses to smaller boutique designers.
Meanwhile, staff have access to luxury on-site showers and underground bike parking – embracing the council’s ‘Avenues Project’ that sees a cycle lane run right past the front door.
Fergus MacLennan – a partner at Cushman & Wakefield, one of the leasing agents for the site – has an infectious enthusiasm when it comes to what the building means; not just for owners Bywater Properties but for the city.
“This has been a massive success,” he told me. “It’s been a transformational project for this area.
“A big thing for us was to make sure it was what modern occupiers need. We wanted to make sure that strong independent businesses wanted to be here – somewhere people wanted to base their business and enjoy working
“Part of our plan was to take the block and create uniform branding and signage that really stands out – so you can see it has a real contemporary feel.
“There is a vibrant entrepreneurial scene here in Glasgow – they all want high-quality space to base their business in, but the requirements of the office space have changed.
“We need to create the right environment where people can work and collaborate with colleagues, but also a space they want to be in.”
That last line seems quite telling – a space people “want” to be in. Our cities need to find a way to be destinations for shopping rather than necessities.
Creating that isn’t just critical for an office, but a street and therefore ultimately a city.
Luring shoppers back
Questions surrounding the post-pandemic recovery of our high streets are not unique to Glasgow.
You don’t need to be a retail expert to know that lockdowns lead to more of us turning to online retailers for our shopping.
Indeed, data from the Scottish Retail Consortium shows footfall (the number of people in a shopping area at one time) in May was down by more than 16% compared to 2019.
Therefore, getting us back into city centres, for whatever reason, is a major focus of councils across the country.
Glasgow City Council, for example, has been given £2m to arm its City Centre Task Force’s bid to spruce up the streets and make them somewhere we want to spend more time and cash.
But while spruce ups, scrub downs and street cleansing will all play their role, projects and investment such as that at 274 Sauchiehall Street will be critical if the ‘café culture’ and modern city centre vision of continental Europe is to make its way here.