With the cost of living crisis tightening belts around the globe, these are challenging times for businesses, but the new CEO of NWEC is positive she can deliver what customers want

Words: Selma Day

Dee Corsi was officially announced as the new CEO of New West End Company (NWEC) last month, following the departure of Jace Tyrrell, who stepped down from the role in October. But, having worked at the BID for six years, five years as COO, she knows the business inside out. “I know our members very well and I know the West End very well,” says Dee, who was born and bred in north London.

“When I was a teenager I would get on the train to come into the West End on a Saturday to do Top Shop or Carnaby Street,” she says. And, with a background in commercial finance, most of her work was also centred around the West End. “I’ve always had that delight when you come off the tube – that passion, so I’m very excited to work here.”

Now that the Elizabeth Line is up and running, many more people are likely to share her enthusiasm of coming in to the West End and, as Dee points out, the new connection is set to contribute around seven per cent of additional turnover by 2030. So there is light at the end of the tunnel in what are challenging times for businesses in the West End, and at a time when footfall is still only 80 per cent of pre-pandemic figures.

“It took us longer to recover than regional shopping centres because people got used to shopping locally, but people are coming now and when they are here, they are here to enjoy the West End and everything that it brings – the whole experience – but they are also spending money. So it’s a positive.

“And the good news is the long-term projections are strong but it’s going to be challenging over the next 18 months with the cost of living crisis, rising prices and what’s going on politically – just the level of uncertainty. And I don’t think we’re feeling the full effect of that. I think it will probably come after Christmas. I think the next 18 months could be a little bit bumpy.”

Dee is optimistic, however, that with a new Prime Minister and Chancellor in place, there will be an opportunity to push through key issues such as taxfree shopping. “Reintroducing tax-free shopping for international visitors is a simple way to give retailers and the tourism sector a much-needed boost in the difficult times ahead,” she says.

“Far from costing the £2 billion that was previously cited, new research from Oxford Economics estimates that reintroducing the scheme would actually benefit the Treasury by £350 million each year, supporting 78,000 jobs and adding £4.1 billion to the British economy.

“We urge the Chancellor to ask the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibity) to begin an independent review of the full economic impact of tax-free shopping.”

Alongside ongoing campaigns to simplify the visa system for international visitors and extending Sunday trading hours, business rates are still a concern and, following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last month, Dee says: “We are concerned that the business rates package may not benefit all high-street businesses, particularly those in the West End.

“We appreciate that the Chancellor needs to steady the economy, but if we want to further our recovery in the face of a recession, we also need new growth measures.”

Oxford Street is, of course, another key focus for NWEC. “We’ve got to see a transformed Oxford Street,” says Dee. “The council is committed to doing something quickly, which we need because it’s the basis of our district. We’ve got something like 15 buildings there that are either being developed or going through the planning cycle now, which is exciting. For example, Debenhams and House of Fraser will be mixed use, which will really change the look and feel of Oxford Street. Ten years ago, it was all centred around retail, but now we want more.

“It’s more about the experience in general now, and we’ve got a lot of new things that are coming to the West End. There’s Outernet London (a 2,000-capacity music and events space) towards Tottenham Court Road, the Twist Museum (at Oxford Circus) and then further down in Marble Arch there’s the Frameless Art Exhibition (immersive experience).

“And I’m personally seeing more and more of those launching. I think in the West End, that’s what we do so well – we cater for our residents, our workers, our local domestic, our overseas, but we’re in a very unique position to be able to do that.”

Sustainability, of course, is also high on the agenda. NWEC has been working with Bioregional, using its One Planet Living® framework to develop three clear ambitions as a district: to support the district and its members to get to Net Zero Carbon by 2040; to seek a sustainable retail, leisure and dining experience for residents, employees and visitors; and to work with partners to deliver improved air quality. “We want to get as many of our members signed up as we can but 66 per cent is our target,” says Dee.

“We want to be a worldleading international centre for sustainability. It’s all very well us doing all this but what do our customers think? Do they see us as a sustainable destination? But we can’t do it on our own – it has to be through collaborations and partnerships because we’ve got other great brands doing fantastic things and some of the hotels and restaurants have great sustainable credentials. I think and I hope that the days of greenwashing have gone.”

Dee is also keen for NWEC to continue to provide analysis on the fast-moving retail and leisure market through its Insights & Performance unit.

“It’s important to continue to evolve and develop that because what the customer wants is at the heart of everything we do. Things are changing so rapidly and, in London and in the West End, we need to be ahead of the curve if we want to be world-leading – we can’t keep resting on our laurels.

“It’s important we are still seen as an international destination for international visitors and we must make it simpler and more cost-effective for them to visit.

“We’ve got some green shoots with positivity, but at the same time, we’ve got some headwinds.”