BUSINESS people have given their reactions to fears that Bournemouth’s town centre has been hard hit by the absence of office staff who have switched to home working.

The Sunday Times recently suggested that the town offered a “snapshot of post-lockdown Britain” and that the “delicate ecosystem of urban centres” was “in danger of collapse as white collar workers stay home”.

It pointed to cafes and bars that had already closed and suggested others were struggling because of the drastic drop in footfall.

However, Kris Gumbrell, Bournemouth-based executive chairman of the pub chain Brewhouse & Kitchen, was upbeat about the town's prospects.

He said: “I run businesses all over the UK, including Central London, where home working is having a truly devastating effect.

"Bournemouth will boom on the back of the structural and workplace changes accelerated by the pandemic. We have some amazing dynamic innovative entrepreneurs, a location to die for and a brilliant, creative local population. We have to work on our brand and we will fly.”

Andy Headington, chief executive of the web design and digital marketing agency Adido, said: “My main take is that yes, there is a bit of an impact but at the same time, only meeting up once a week does lend itself to going out together more, so I’d like to think that the once a week in small teams going out for lunch is nearly offsetting the one or two times a week we had across the whole team pre-Covid-19. Maybe I’m being optimistic though.”

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Helena Hudson, managing director of Real Eating Company – which has a cafe in Bournemouth’s Yelverton Road – said: “We’ve seen average spend go up generally. This is because more groups are coming in together now than before – family, friends, colleagues. How this pans out in the autumn remains to be seen. As kids go back to school (hopefully) and staycationers go home, those groups will diminish.”

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Rowena Revill, co-founder of software developer Dorset Creative, said: “The new workplace behaviour (so far) has come from a period of reflection and a new understanding of the actual purpose of the office facility – a gathering space for a collaborative productivity boost and to enable social interaction. Both are hugely important and not possible in isolation, even with existing technology.

“This certainly lends itself to more opportunities for catering establishments as money savings are happening, e.g. without the regular commute, meaning more is available to be spent when teams and workforces do get together en masse and when they are in a ‘sociable’ mindset.”

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Entrepreneur Dean Hristov, co-founder of Yogoo! Natural Frozen Yogurt, said: “The food and beverage sector and evening economy are still struggling post-Covid-19 but Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative and grants delivered a huge impact across the board.”

Cyber psychologist Carolyn Freeman said: “There is a chance that some eating establishments within the town centre may close due to reduced custom, but we are social creatures and we will find places near where we ‘remote work’ to support our need to meet and eat with others. Those places, outside of city centres, that may have struggled in the past, may well find themselves thriving in the geographical shifting to more home-based working.”

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Another business person, who did not want to be named, said: “Sadly, as we discover what the ‘new normal’ looks like and the impact of Brexit is fully felt, also with the ‘cushion’ of lockdown departed, it will be everyone for himself or herself.

"The town has a huge number of ‘digital’ businesses. Not all will survive, as their services like advertising and PR, will be the first cost to be eliminated in order for their clients to survive.

“We have to engage with BCP Council. Local authorities are challenged from every direction, so I hope that councillors will see the benefit of working closely with local businesses. A sea change, but vital if the local economy is to survive and thrive.”