As someone who was brought up in the North London suburbs the capital city has a special place in my heart, despite now living in the Herts/ Essex borders. Known for being one of the greatest cities in the world, it is one that is usually filled with hustle and bustle – from the fast paced commuter (yes, I used to be one) to the millions of tourists taking London at an easy pace – full of life and excitement.
Enter a global pandemic.
Due to the numerous restrictions in place I have only ventured in to the city when it was appropriate, one of those times being around the Christmas season – when as usual London was jam packed with people.
Therefore it was hard to imagine how the pandemic was affecting businesses (large and small), as most were spending money in shops buying Christmas presents for loved ones, checking out the festive lights or having a catch up with friends in a socially distanced space.
Today, for the first time, I saw what lockdown looked like for our city and it brought tears to my eyes.
I spent a great deal of my youth in the West End. My Grandfather, who was an exceptional businessman at the time, had a number of restaurants and coffee shops in the area. Each one was independently, family run. My Mother, Uncle, Brother and even myself, in school holidays and weekends, worked to serve the vast number of tourists, theatre goers and workers passing through each day. Each establishment flourished on a day to day basis and relied heavily on these groups of people to make a trade.
As I walked the areas I know so well, the back streets, the arcades and so much more, I saw the struggle for these small businesses. For some, you noted the signs stating they would not be opening until May – due to lack of outside space ruling out reopening next week. Others seemed to be waiting for the rare passerby to make some take away trade to keep them going, clearly determined to make the best out of a bad situation.
Approaching midday on a Saturday afternoon, walking through Mayfair, Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Covent Garden, the silence was deafening. Everything closed, no signs of life and it was just not the London I know and love.
The silence made me thankful that my Grandfather retired long before this pandemic hit, as not only would he have been severely affected, but it would have also broken is heart to see the business he built up over decades suffer out of no fault of his own.
Whilst I, like many others, am wary about the restrictions lifting, I am happy to keep travelling and shopping in a mask, to keep my distance from others and to abide by any social distancing rules for as long is it takes – as long as we can get the heart of our city beating again.
So as the world starts to reopen again, take time to choose the small business over the Starbucks that is on every corner, stop by that local bakery or market stall, the independent coffee houses and boutique clothes shops. Support the little businesses that appreciate every ounce of custom.
And most importantly, lets start becoming a tourist in our own city and make London the vibrant place we know and love.