A chapter draws to a close

The profession reflects on the impact of the Norville Group as the business enters administration

door ajar

Amidst the headlines covering restructurings and closures across a diverse range of industries, closer to home, the Norville Group entered administration on what many called a “sad day for optics.”

Administrators from the firm BDO, were appointed for the Gloucestershire-based company on 3 July, with 134 employees made redundant.

Just a week earlier, news broke that the Hakim Group had acquired Norville Opticians, the retail arm of the business in a move that saved “almost all jobs” across the segment.

As a separate business, the manufacturing side of the Norville Group was not part of the agreement. The administrators are looking to secure the sale of parts of the business or assets.

A campaign has been launched this week to save the Gloucestershire business, with a Go Fund Me page set up with the aim of raising £850,000 needed to make a financial settlement offer of purchase to the administrators.

“Please help Norvilles, a Glouestershire spectacles company that has traded over 110 years with 150 staff, to remain in business,” the page states.

A number of Norville team members have shared comments on the page, including senior account manager, Sharon Edwards, who said: “Norville produce bespoke products that cannot be produced anywhere else.”

These products range from lenses for babies, products for epilepsy patients and for the NHS.

The company had remained operational over the lockdown period, producing emergency spectacles to meet the needs of those with broken glasses and in need of urgent assistance. The company told OT early on in the outbreak of its aim to continue to support High Street practices and hospital eye clinics across the UK and in this time we have heard how the manufacturer has supplied emergency spectacles to NHS staff and keyworkers.

Having read through hundreds of comments and posts sharing the news, and from speaking to optometrists and colleagues, the overwhelming feeling appears to be one of a great loss for the industry.

Practice director and AOP councillor, Tushar Majithia told OT: “It is sad to see a business with a long history in the optical industry go out of business.”

Fellow AOP Councillor, Stewart Mitchell called Norville a “go-to” for complex glazing jobs and shared his hope that the business will survive in some form.

Comments highlighted the role Norville played in meeting the most challenging or unusual of jobs – though some noted that with free-form lens manufacturing, competition in this area increased.

Many others have shared the personal impact that the Norville business has had in their own career paths, from the optometrists with memories of flicking through catalogues while embarking on their studies, to those who have spent decades working for the manufacturer.

In a comment on the fundraising appeal, a couple, both Norville employees, shared their own story of having met at the business, before going on to marry and have a family, commenting: “This job is all we know… We are all in deep shock and would go back in a heartbeat.” A stark reminder of the personal impact of the closure.

Responding to the news, the Federation of Manufacturing Opticians (FMO) chairman, Stuart Burn recognised the impact of Norville chairman, Frank Norville, commenting: “As a former chairman and honorary lifelong member of the FMO, Frank’s wisdom, integrity and expertise has often been called upon not just by the FMO, but by the wider optical community and we hope this will continue to be the case in months and years to come.”

The group added its hope that the laboratory business would be able to “rise again in some form.”