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Covid-killing’ remote working pods to revive town centres

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has left many high streets with empty shops. A new remote working solution could change that.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has seen many high-street retailers either permanently going out of business and shuttering shops or at abandoning their brick-and-mortar locations for an all-virtual existence online to cut costs. This has left many of the UK’s high streets with an increasing number of empty retail spaces.

These vacant buildings could get a new lease of life from property company Space Republic, which is proposing to install self-contained, self-cleaning office ‘pod’ spaces that use ultraviolet light to kill coronavirus in empty shops, helping bring these ghost-town high streets back to life.

Billed as a “safe, private workspace for the work-from-anywhere generation”, the sealed work stations, called Pluto work pods, would be put inside defunct high-street chains, pubs, hotels and shopping centres, so that people living locally could walk or cycle to get to them. The business model is that anyone can hire a pod for a two-hour concentration session in a safe environment where they can plug in devices for focus-friendly solo working.

Space Republic pitches its idea as being beneficial for home workers to escape cramped kitchen tables for super-sanitised workspaces, where they can focus on Zoom calls or important work, whilst simultaneously boosting local trade in the surrounding area.

“There’s so much empty retail space now,” said Luke Aviet at Space Republic, which will make the pods. “Failing high street chains have left a network of empty shops, so while socially distanced office space is lacking and enhanced cleaning expensive, it makes sense to use these spaces to help local economies back on their feet. The comfortable, well-lit distraction-free workspace can help productivity and mental health.”

The first ‘Pluto’ store is now open in Saint Albans, Hertfordshire, with further locations planned throughout 2021 and onwards. Pod bookings to reserve one of the private spaces are made via the Pluto app.

To assuage health concerns about the lingering presence of Covid-19 in shared spaces, cleanliness and general issues of hygiene, virus experts and materials specialists at Brunel University London have been testing how effectively the pod’s ultraviolet light decontaminates the space.

“UV light is used to sterilise hospital operating theatres,” said Dr Mike Themis. “We are using this natural component of light inside the pods to kill the virus at its core by destroying its DNA, so the next person walking into the pod can’t catch it.”

The team will put an infectious version of the live coronavirus onto the inside surfaces, plastics and fabrics of one of Space Republic’s pods in order to test how well the UV light kills the virus and how the materials stand up to the wear and tear from decontamination.

“We have highly sensitive ways to detect the virus so we know once we have destroyed it in the pod” the virologist said. “The pods have two different ways of killing the virus and we are detecting how well they kill the virus after decontamination.”

Brunel’s Professor Karnik Tarverdi added: “This innovation focuses on the application of existing chemical-free technologies aimed to destroy pathogens within the pod with a focus on COVID-19.”

Aviet said: “With world-class research facilities and sector leading expertise, Brunel is perfectly positioned to test and validate the technology we have developed to combat COVID-19”.

The £247,605 six-month project to test and perfect the pods is backed by the government’s Innovate UK’s £134m Covid-19 innovation recovery fund. Retailers and landlords interested in opening a Pluto location in any available spaces they have in their property portfolios are invited to contact Space Republic.


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