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Recovering from the pandemic and adapting to the new normal, with Ruth Duston OBE

As part of our recent report, 2020: Our Air in Review, we spoke to Ruth Duston OBE to discover her thoughts on how we can work together to recover from the pandemic.

Ruth’s career spans over 25 years working within regeneration, having worked with some of the most deprived communities in the country to shape redevelopment schemes across central London. She is one of the UK’s leading experts in the development and implementation of business-led partnerships and Business Improvement Districts. Ruth was awarded an OBE for Services to business in London in 2018.

You are responsible for some of London’s largest BIDs. What are the key challenges you have faced in the past year?

The key challenges have been communicating with our BID members in a remote capacity; switching a lot of our interventions across to digital, lobbying on behalf of business and despite being reactive, trying to be forward thinking around recovery. The core function of BIDs is around people and collaboration. However, our BID community has been resilient and supportive as they see BID at the front and centre of recovery.

As and when the pandemic begins to ease, how can we mobilise the London workforce and kickstart the economy? 

The most important sector to kickstart the economy will be the office workers, as this will reignite the city ecology. However we must be realistic in that as lockdowns ease, it will be a trickle back to a ‘new normal’. We need business leaders to come together with a clear narrative that will incentivise employees back.

The other hurdle is the transport network – there will be a level of rehabilitation on encouraging people back onto the transport infrastructure.  We need to work towards becoming Smarter Cities and what key drivers will aid this outcome – digital and the green recovery.

What policy changes do you think need to be brought in to enact real change when it comes to recovering from the pandemic? And how will BIDs help to support this challenging process? 

Planning and licensing will be the biggest area in terms of enabling business and local authorities to respond and work together on re-purposing their districts to adapt to the “new normal”. Social and economic policy will also be key drivers – reskilling, attracting and retaining talent and promoting growth sectors such as the tech sector, co-working space and business start ups.

What steps do you think need to be taken in order to improve outdoor air quality in our cities, as well as indoor air quality within our buildings?  

The biggest challenge for the outdoor environment has always been traffic – this is the conundrum for how we move towards promotion of outdoor space, the important role it will play in recovery and mental health vs the congestion and pollutants from traffic.

I suspect we will have some challenges here with people driving in as opposed to using the transport network. Office buildings targeted at those smaller businesses and older office buildings will be paramount – ventilation is an important part in the fight against transmission of COVID – I can’t use my Primera office because we can’t open the windows and there are no facilities for air filtration. This will be a big issue for some landlords with smaller assets when marketing space, so this all needs to be explored further.

Download 2020: Our Air in Review, to read more interviews and discover findings from our latest research.