Consumer spending data shows that Oxford is one of the worst-hit areas by the fallout of coronavirus and stay at home measures. As a university town and a tourist centre, a significant decrease in footfall is reflected in decreased spending on non-grocery goods.
Data analysis by Tortoise shows that overall consumer spending fell by around two-thirds in the first week of April, compared to the same week last year. This was almost 50% higher than the national average decline. The decline continued at a similar level in the second and third weeks of April.
While grocery spending in Oxford increased slightly in the first week of April, non-grocery sales fell by 77%. This is compared to an average drop in non-grocery sales of around 45%.
On the impact on Oxford, Tortoise reported that “out of 80 larger local economies it is ranked first for its fall in spending. Towns similarly reliant on tourism and education such as Brighton, York, Canterbury, and Bath have also seen the biggest losses.
However, a recent report by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce said that jobs in Oxford are the least at risk. Nineteen percent of jobs in Oxford are projected to be at risk, which is the lowest proportion of all local authorities. This still totals 22 234 jobs at risk.
The RSA calculated this through analysing furloughing data from the Office of National Statistics published last week. The report attributes Oxford’s relative stability to the high proportion of jobs in the knowledge economy. This suggests that the recession will be very harmful for the high street, but will be less harmful for employees in the education sector.
While closed, local businesses have taken to social media to maintain a sense of community, and some have adapted through transitioning to delivery services.
Jericho, a staple student coffee shop, has been offering mail-order coffee beans, for retail and wholesale: they have seen a 100% increase in online sales. James and Lizzie from Jericho told Cherwell: “We are massively missing our regular customers and can not wait to be serving coffee in our shops again. The thing about drinking coffee out is that it is such a happy social experience.”
Missing Bean, another popular coffee shop, has also made the transition to delivering coffee. They told Cherwell that they’ve increased their online presence, and are still roasting and delivering coffee. Before, they saw 20 coffee orders a week, and now have 30 orders a day. Missing Bean also recently donated 250kg of coffee to the NHS, which will be distributed to hospitals and given in care packages.
Another landmark Oxford business who has increased their delivery presence is G&D’s, which is offering ice cream from its Little Clarendon Street café and bagels from its St Aldates café – via Deliveroo.
Oxford nightlife has also moved online, with popular clubs such as The Bridge, The Bullingdon, and Plush streaming DJ sets on their Facebook pages.
A Lockdown Festival will be streamed on The Bullingdon’s Facebook page, though it is a separate entity. People ‘attending’ the event choose from a set list to watch a ‘stage’, with a live comment facility. The set list includes familiar Oxford DJs such as Musical Medicine and Rinse, as well as a range of international artists. There will also be yoga classes, guided meditation, fitness classes, and a beatbox workshop.
Lorraine Baker, the organiser, told Cherwell: “Being on lockdown has giv[en] me a lot of spare time and with the fact that festivals are being cancelled I wanted to do the best I could to create a festival vibe weekend for people from the comfort of their own homes. I’m doing it to spread some love and put smiles on people’s faces and to raise money for two great charities – Oxfordshire Mind and NHS Charities Together.”
Tourist attractions such as the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum have also pivoted online to maintain interest and education. The Ashmolean Museum’s ‘Young Rembrandt’ exhibition can be explored online and features in a BBC documentary, presented by Simon Schama. The Pitt Rivers Museum also offers a virtual tour of its galleries and has an online collection to browse.
Businesses which cannot provide services online, however, remain inactive, and customer footfall is likely to remain low, even after lockdown restrictions are eased.
Hassan’s Street Kitchen, which relies heavily on students, has been temporarily put out of business. They told Cherwell: “It’s important to remain enthusiastic during these unprecedented times and practice safety at all times. Right now we’re just hoping to be back in business soon and using the current situation to spend more time with family. Hopefully we will be back soon to serve the people of Oxford!”