“London Distancing”

In London’s West End, a bustling cultural, entertainment and shopping hub reduced to silence during lockdown and deprived of some of its 200 million annual visitors, the gradual reopening of venues, restaurants, bars and shops has been accompanied by a necessary reinvention of civic life with full safety measures in place.
Published in the dossier of December 2020

Supported by its local partners Heart of London Business Alliance and New West End Company, Veolia — the waste management and urban cleaning services provider for the district of Westminster in central London — launched a unique program recruiting Social Distancing Ambassadors (SDAs) to assist the neighborhood’s visitors with the easing of lockdown.

From mid-June, 15 SDAs facing social or professional difficulties, recommended by Westminster City Council’s recruitment service, joined the local teams on the streets of this area encompassing Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Oxford Circus and Regent Street. Given health and safety training by Veolia to ensure both their own and others’ protection, these ambassadors can envisage a number of job opportunities. Tasked with an unprecedented mediation role, the SDAs are responsible for reminding people to follow social distancing when waiting in line and managing pedestrian traffic in these very busy streets. On duty seven days a week, they are also in charge of refilling the hand sanitizer bottles set up in the sector’s 34 stations, making it easier for people to disinfect their hands at any time. Between handing out masks and gloves, they remind passers-by that this protective equipment must be disposed of in ordinary waste bins after use, as it is not biodegradable or recyclable.

Ultimately, users are supportive of this unique public health scheme, which is helping restore confidence and thus aid the economic recovery. A strong indicator is that visitor numbers in the West End are picking up, reaching 45% of the usual rate in mid-September. Yet another reason to extend the SDA experience until March 31, 2021.

In brief

► London’s West End districts are primarily managed by the City of Westminster (255,324 inhabitants).

► Two private organizations — New West End Company (NWEC) for the north and Heart of London Business Alliance (HOLBA) for the south of the West End — bring together 1,200 businesses (shops, restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, etc.) employing 190,000 workers.

► Veolia, NWEC and HOLBA are driving the West End’s sustainable social and economic development, prioritizing the health and well-being of locals.

Hand Sanitising Station on Regent Street