New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Hugh Seaborn

Monday 18 October 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor chats to Hugh Seaborn, CEO at Cadogan Estate about how Chelsea is bouncing back strongly following pandemic disruption.

David Taylor  
Hi, Hugh. how are you?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Yes, very well, thank you. We are bouncing back strongly. 
 
David Taylor  
Well, that's principally what I wanted to ask you about, really – to reflect on this year to 18 months in terms of your area, and particularly, I suppose, the high streets and places like King’s Road. How they've managed to, I presume, keep footfall high, in the face of difficult circumstances. What's been your modus operandi on that front?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Well, I mean, you've caught me at a good time, really, because it's a week after the Chelsea Flower Show. And that's a week wherein Chelsea is extremely busy – busier than at Christmas I would think. They've been delayed obviously from May to October this year. But it's come at a marvellous time for us really, because public confidence has risen sufficiently through the vaccination program, etc. that we all know about, and we run a program called Chelsea in Bloom, which really is the country's largest free Flower Festival. Visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show come to see what retailers are doing and what some of the initiatives are, and it's a really exciting time. So last week, footfall was very strong indeed. We had over a million people in the area and it's stronger than the same period in 2019 and stronger even than Chelsea Flower Show week in 2018. So we feel we're recovering well. Now, that's a bit of an exception, obviously. Aside from that, footfall has bounced back strongly and we've tended to track closer to the national footfall than central London and I think that's to do with being in a residential area where we get a lot of local custom who visit our shops and visit the areas and the spaces we create. Sorry, I'll let you have a word in edgeways!
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) So actually what you're saying I suppose is that events such as the Chelsea Flower Show and other events in the area are key to that then, are they? And key to differentiating you from other areas of London?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Yes. Events and activations are central to our post-COVID strategy. But it goes much further than that. For example, with the support of the local authority, we've put out almost 1000 seats; al fresco dining seats with tables and umbrellas and so forth. and that's created a lovely atmosphere; a real continental atmosphere with people keen to engage and contact each other again. So: lots of al fresco dining going on outside restaurants, which expanded out. But there's also lots of seats out there for people who just want to sit and contemplate and watch other people go by. It's a real win, actually, for us. It's created a much more organic environment and much more welcoming environment, I think, in many ways. So that's an experiment that's worked well, and we're working to keep those seats in place, long-term. Also what's come into its own is our artisan food shopping street called Pavilion Road, which has been a huge hit during the lockdown, when people could only go out for necessities. It’s open air and it's got a lovely bustle. So people feel they're amongst others, but in a safe environment. Again, we’re working with the local authority to have the street pedestrianised and it's really come into its own. We're very proud of that, indeed. So, these sorts of things; placemaking and activations are important to us.
 
David Taylor  
How will the new Brompton Road BID – which I think only just started in operation in the last weeks – make a difference, do you suspect?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Well Brompton Road is facing a very challenging time and the interface with local residents is quite challenging. So it was time I felt for businesses to come together and develop a long-term strategy closely in consultation with local politicians and interested parties, residents, neighbourhood forums and so forth, as well as other businesses, to try and develop a strategy in which there is a common interest and identity - common goals and the BID is the way of achieving this. So, we put it out to a ballot through September, and we came out with a very high result. We got over 99% on the business rates valuations, That's a resounding endorsement, and it went live on the first of October. I think this is one of the lessons – this was obviously started well before COVID. But it's even more relevant as a result of COVID. And it's one of the lessons of COVID – the importance of working in partnership with other people, whether it's property owners, property occupiers, residents or trustee groups. You  achieve things better and quicker and more effectively if you involve everybody in it. So Brompton Road is at the start of that journey, and we're working on King’s Road as well, which we hope to go out to ballot on next month. We hope to have that live if we get a majority vote before Christmas.
 
David Taylor  
Another thing that requires a lot of close working with lots of partners is if we're going to get anywhere towards net zero, of course, and you've released your 2030 plan on that. Could you just, in a nutshell, encapsulate what the chief goals are of that? I mean, obviously net zero, but how you're going to attend to that?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
It's about having a long-term business. We're a family-owned business that's been here for a long time. And so, what we need to do in order to survive and thrive into the future, is to support local communities so that this area is vibrant and active. And this seems inevitably central to that strategic objective, to make sure we've got an environment that's sustainable too. So: we launched the 2030 Vision, again, shortly after the lockdowns ended, but it started three years earlier with extensive consultation with the local community, finding out what was important to them. And then we built those priorities into the strategy. The strategy, as you've said – its central point is around being net carbon zero by 2030. And that involves a whole range of measures, but many of which are in partnership. So it's quite complex, because we have direct control on the offices we occupy ourselves, obviously, but a third of our carbon is produced in properties occupied by other people. So, it's going to be very important to work in partnership with them to achieve these things. Then the remaining two-thirds largely comes out of construction activities, where we're going to be working with consultants and contractors to achieve the gains we need to do in order to reduce that carbon output and make sure that we're offsetting as little as possible by the time we get to 2030.
 
David Taylor  
How serious do you think the construction and property industries are taking this whole area?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
I think we're all learning, really. And we're learning fast. And I think, in a way, it's organizations like ours and as many more besides, by setting out strategies like 2030 Vision, partly what we're doing is setting out our own stall, but we're also setting an example. And I think in a way we can help identify the way forward for lots of other organizations. Now, it's not that we're doing this on our own; there's a whole plethora of businesses doing it. But I think in a way our business has the opportunity to really make progress on this because it reaches further. As individuals, we can all make a difference in our own way, but as a business, we can make a much bigger difference, much faster. So I think it's partly about leading by example, and in some areas there's no doubt it requires innovation and encouragement for us to act as a catalyst to ensure best practice.
 
David Taylor  
So: what's next for you personally, and for the estate? What are we going to look out for next?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Well, we're already finding that we're getting a strong recovery on the retail front. And we've had some great food and drink lettings. Through COVID or since COVID we've seen the Cadogan Arms reopen - fantastic restaurants and a pub. There's a small pub on Christchurch Street which is open called The Surprise. And on Sloane Street, the Beaverbrook, which is a country club in Surrey, has opened its London home, if you like, with a fantastic Japanese restaurant and rooms above. That's opened in the last four weeks and it's really going strong; it's getting great reviews. So we're very proud about those, as well as inviting in or bringing in new brands like Soho Home which opened in the last couple of weeks. We've had Ralph Lauren open on Sloane Street. So we're seeing a real confidence in the area from retailers for long-term trading. And I think we will support that with things such as the improvement of the public realm on Sloane Street, which we plan to start later this year, which is really improving the environment for the four-kilometre length of Sloane Street. And introducing a great deal more greening with doubling the number of trees; we're installing more landscaping or widening footpaths. Again, which is partly about air quality, and it's a large part about just improving the environment for residents and visitors alike, so they can enjoy the area and enjoy Sloane Street. So we've got a lot of projects ahead of us and we're really excited about it
 
David Taylor  
Fantastic. Have you sampled the Japanese food yourself? The sushi?
 
Hugh Seaborn  
I certainly have! I consider it as a responsibility to sample it! (laughs) It's delicious, absolutely delicious. What I love about it is that we haven't got Japanese food in the area at the moment. And by introducing it we've got a greater variety of really good quality restaurants in the area. And that's what we're seeking to do. More reasons for people to visit the area, more often. 
 
David Taylor  
Well, consider me enticed!
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Good. Well, maybe when we meet up, we could start by meeting up there and we'll sample it first. That'd be a great opportunity.
 
David Taylor  
All right, Hugh, thank you so much for that and good luck with all the progress you're making.
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Thank you very much. Good talking to you.
 
David Taylor  
Cheers.
 
Hugh Seaborn  
Bye!

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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