Coronavirus: on the ground in Warwickshire
Vijesh Chauhan, business development manager at Bondeye Optical tells OT how he volunteered to support NHS staff on what should have been his wedding day
As an optical wholesaler we started to see the effects that COVID-19 had on the business very early on. Before the pandemic hit the UK we were starting to see supply chain issues on stock arriving in from China and other parts of the world.
It was from mid-March, when the government introduced social distancing, that we started to see a downturn in revenue coming into the business due to the lack of traffic hitting the High Street and independent practices. This had a direct impact on our daily orders, causing the business to have to make the tough decision to furlough 90% of the team and only run on limited resources.
In the early days of the pandemic the management team took the decision to temporarily close the business whilst they reviewed the situation. They have now re-opened with a couple of team members, allowing us to continue to service the industry for those practices that remain open. We are fortunate that we have a third party logistics company that can fulfil orders and dispatch them on a daily basis.
Swapping wedding celebrations for delivering lunch packsFor the past several months of the year I had been planning my wedding. My fiancé, Nayna, and I had set to marry on Good Friday. The reality started to kick in around February when events I was booked in for started to cancel, such as Mido and the Geneva Motor show. I tried to stay positive and thought that it would all blow over, and we kept our plans as they were.
As we got closer to the date, family members from around the world had to cancel flights. And then the lockdown was put in place, so we had no choice but to postpone the three-day event and honeymoon to later on in the year.
It has been quite a stressful time cancelling and putting on hold various suppliers, but I have to say they all were supportive and understanding.
As the virus was getting serious and the lockdown was in place, the news and social media were reporting how the NHS needed support as they were understaffed and risking their own lives to help others survive. The articles I was reading mentioned how NHS staff worked 12-hour shifts with little to no breaks at all.
The feeling of giving back to the community is very overwhelming
I had heard that our local Hindu temple (BAPS Shri Swaminarayan mandir Birmingham) had started a connect and care initiative, contacting hospitals about providing lunches for those struggling to have a proper lunch break.
As I did not want to stay at home and feel sorry for myself, I spoke with one of the senior volunteers and he was more than happy for me to help out where needed.
The afternoon of Good Friday would have had been our civil ceremony. In the morning I would've been getting into my wedding suit and heading to the beautiful Beaumanor Hall estate in Loughborough.
Instead, on Good Friday I arrived at the temple around 6.30am to start preparing the sandwiches and putting together lunch packs. Once all the volunteers had finished, I would load the car and drive to the hospitals.
The feeling of giving back to the community is very overwhelming. I felt so proud to be able to give my support that I volunteered for the rest of the Easter weekend. I am still volunteering now, delivering fresh food, prescriptions and essential shopping for the elderly and vulnerable.
I think optical practices need support from their suppliers with all personal protective equipment products so they can start opening to the public safely. Meanwhile, suppliers need support from the manufacturers to keep costs low as nobody likes over-inflated prices. Patients need support from the practices in terms of products and regular communication.
Bondeye Optical run a home shipping scheme, which delivers eye health products such as dry eye drops direct to the patients’ door. This is a fantastic way of keeping your customers topped up with products, and is also a revenue stream whilst the doors are closed.
For the optical sector, the biggest uncertainty is when and how we go back to normal. My personal opinion is that the social distancing will be around for a while, so how do we implement this into our practice life? As long as we follow the guidelines set out, I am sure we will all be back to normal before we know it.