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New breed of local food halls offer grub and a hub

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Cutlery Works, Sheffield

Food halls were springing up in town and city centres before the pandemic but now smaller community versions, with extra dimensions such as cinema screens or co-working space, could be arriving on an increasing number of high streets, or even less-central locations.

According to a new report by real estate consultancy P-Three, there is potential for up to 120 of such community food halls across the UK, as big shifts in consumer spending and attitudes caused by the coronavirus pandemic – including a newfound appreciation of local community – prompt investors.

“These community hubs will give people pride in their town centres again,” said Thomas Rose, a co-founder of P-Three, of a new generation of food halls. “This move towards being a loyal supporter of your high street is not going to go away.

“We have spoken to a handful of private equity groups who are looking to invest in this type of concept because they see the consumer wants this,” Rose said. “Local authorities love the concept too.”

There are currently around 40 such food halls in the UK, from flagship venues such as Seven Dials Market in central London to smaller ones in market towns.

While P-Three’s analysis also sees scope for a further 50 flagships to open in cities such as Glasgow, Birmingham and Bristol once the pandemic is over, the community model offers something for smaller catchments, hard hit by retail closures but where more money is now being spent.

“The danger in real estate is that people are too often just trying to fill space,” said Rose, who says community food halls could provide alternative anchors. “We advise people to put the right tenants in the right buildings, to make sure it is sustainable.

“There will definitely be some stores which can be converted [into food halls] but a 1970s department store isn’t always the best building.”

Sheffield’s Cutlery Works demonstrates the strength of the community model, as it has been a success despite being located in a place that is neither central nor affluent. “If food halls are based on location, location, location, we picked the worst one,” jokes the founder Matt Bigland of the area once inhabited by the city’s cutlery-makers.

But Sheffield people “love to champion independents”, says Bigland and instead of office workers and shoppers, Cutlery Works has built a regular clientele that runs the gamut from millennial hot-deskers to grandparents.

The complete article can be read on The Guardian website at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/feb/21/new-breed-of-local-food-halls-offers-grub-and-a-hub

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