The pedestrianisation of Soho has been hailed a success, as 90 per cent of the area’s hospitality businesses have reportedly reopened.
While at one point much of the area looked at risk of collapse, the campaign to allow restaurants to serve al fresco appears to have offered a lifeline to many.
A total of 17 streets across the district are now temporarily car free, including Greek Street, Old Compton Street, Frith Street and Dean Street and, as of August 13, the entire length of Old Compton Street. The restaurants themselves have managed to marshall the barriers to ensure cars keep clear of the roads, burdening the cost themselves.
The Standard broke news of the campaign in late May in an interview with the managing director of Soho Estates, John James. Speaking today, Mr James told the Standard: “I am delighted and overwhelmed to see the success of the al fresco dining in Soho, it is a lifeline for the survival of our area.
“It is an example of what can be achieved when people come together with a common aim. And ultimately it has saved jobs, businesses and kick started the economy of London's most important food and drink hub.”
While initially somewhere around 30 businesses petitioned Westminster Council for the change, support in the area quickly swelled and now more than 80 local restaurants and bars are involved. Victor Garvey, chef-patron of Dean St fine dining spot Sola has been involved from the beginning. He said: "We've managed to give businesses a lifeline and have saved, by our estimate, over 2000 jobs. While there are still things to work out, we see this initiative as a huge victory and hope other similarly F&B concentrated areas around London, and indeed the whole country, can emulate our success."
Also on board is Brian Hannon, who owns the celebrated critical darling Kiln. "The provision of an outdoor space for al fresco dining at Kiln on Brewer st has allowed us to reopen safely and has thus saved many jobs – al fresco dining has saved jobs and helped to save Soho," he said.
While the news is undoubtedly a boon for the area, London’s food and drink industry as a whole is still facing dire straits. In central London, much of Mayfair and Fitzrovia are undoubtedly quieter than ever, while the City stays something of a ghost town – pubs on Fleet Street, usually jostling with an after work crowd, remain mostly empty or are closing around 9pm – though its brighter elsewhere, with Clapham mostly heaving busy, especially during Monday to Wednesday, when the EOTHO initiative is in place.
However, though the short term is easy to observe, the situation as a whole is rather bleak. On Wednesday, a new report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the UK economy had entered its deepest recession yet, with ONS statistician Jonathan Athow saying “hospitality was worst hit.”
Further ahead, with furlough finishing in October, operators are likely to add to the 22,000 hospitality workers who have lost their jobs since Coronavirus took hold, while landlords needing to call in rent from businesses are likely to force their tenants to close. For now though, it is heartening to see at least some of the city adapt and in some cases, thrive.