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Are we seeing green shoots in the leisure sector?

As we approach the second anniversary of lockdown, when Andy Woods and I wondered whether we would still have a business after COVID, we are starting to see significant green shoots as operators come out of hibernation and fight back.

Even last year when we came out of the lockdowns and tiered system, there were significant difficulties in reopening of premises with the late night sector struggling to get traction with the government to be able to reopen at all.

It appears that we are now in a position where we are “living with COVID.” Surely that has to be the right approach generally, but certainly in relation to the leisure sector. I couldn’t quite understand how I could be going to see Pete Tong and Ibiza Classics at the O2 Arena in London in December whilst there were still talks of entering a further lockdown.

Having just visited France, I have seen how efficient their COVID passport works in getting into restaurants and licensed premises. We never seemed to get to that level of efficiency, but thankfully all of that now seems to be behind us in the UK.

It is unbelievably busy across all of our sectors now. We are seeing quality operators capable of investing in new premises, and receptive licensing authorities, who are even putting their cumulative impact policies on ice whilst they look to generate significant leisure opportunities in their town and city centres.

We are very fortunate in that we act for a number of high quality operators who have engaged in pre-application communications with responsible authorities in a number of town and city centres, and we have received receptive responses from all – even though some applications have still received representations and are going to hearings.

There are significantly large retail units which have come on the market, such as Debenhams units, and other large retailers. We are also fortunate to represent some large competitive socialising operators who need significantly more space to offer everything within their entertainment venues. Again, we have seen some fabulous new instructions in relation to this in Birmingham, Leeds, York and Brighton.

The festival and event space is always a fabulous space to be involved in. We have some major clients in this space, and are currently instructed in relation to new festival and event spaces all over the country, including Leeds, Yorkshire and multiple areas within and around London. These multi-use sites ranging from seasonal to significant events involve huge pre-planning and negotiation with all responsible authorities and regularly through safety advisory group meetings, including applying for road closures, liaising with transport operators and neighbours. They are the most interesting applications to be involved in, and particularly detailed. We are, on the whole, receiving positive responses to the applications that we are currently involved in.

The gambling sector continues to be particularly busy with machine operators picking up lots of the redundant betting sites nationally, and also banks and other spare retail spaces on the High Street. We do receive significant concern and regular objections to these applications, and many go before Committee due to the potential issues with vulnerable people and underage gamblers. It is critically import in all of these applications to ensure that operators understand their duties under the Gambling Act and ancillary regulations, and can take into account the local nuances surrounding their application sites. Again, we do not see this sector slowing down for the rest of the year.

It is also worthy of note, with the current Ukraine crisis, to see how many of our operators have gone public in refusing to sell Russian branded vodka and drinks. This is something that we see as potentially growing moving forward, one operator changing the name of their Moscow Mule to a Kiev Mule.

We have been liaising with the Night Time Industry Association and are looking forward to attending their event in Bristol on 7th and 8th April. Michael and his team have been phenomenal proponents and supporters of the night time sector during the most difficult 2 years, and we are excited to be involved. If this is something you are interested in then please register at

We look forward to seeing you there.