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Against the odds

“We’ve navigated fire, a full refurb and COVID-19 — all in the space of 18 months”

Anjana Taank, of Cambridge independent Taank Optometrists, on bouncing back from a fire and flood during the pandemic

Taank Anjana

We moved into our temporary pop-up in January 2020, after our practice sustained extensive water damage following a fire in a neighbouring property the previous summer. Given that the pop-up was an empty shell, our first main hurdle was space. For COVID-19, that meant finding a way to provide sufficient room for social distancing, and our only option was to operate a ‘one in, one out’ policy. However, the pop-up did have its upsides since it had plenty of natural ventilation and was easy to keep spotlessly clean. Clients fed back to us that they felt very safe not sharing the retail area with other patients, so it worked out well.

Are there further challenges directly attributable to COVID-19?

During the first lockdown, we switched to remote emergency care like any other optical practice. By sticking carefully to the professional guidelines, we ensured we were available for patients throughout the week. We furloughed staff and made good use of the downtime to plan our recovery, working with our interior designer to plan the build so we could get moving the moment restrictions lifted

Taank exterior

You mention that the pop-up worked well - can you talk a bit about how you managed to make it a success?

The most important thing was to let everyone know we were still open. We placed a large sign on our main shop front to show people where to find us in the pop-up, which was to the rear of the building. We also promoted the space through recall letters in the usual way. The fire was a high-profile event and our community rallied around to support us, which was incredible. The pop-up was so well designed, it attracted attention in its own right. Before COVID-19, when social distancing wasn’t an issue, browsers would drop in, keen to see the place. Really, you’d forget you were in a cabin once inside. We even had air conditioning — it was very comfortable.

The fire was a high-profile event and our community rallied around to support us, which was incredible

 

When COVID-19 hit, we were just finding our feet and had to adapt again, as did every optical practice up and down the country. Our ‘one in, one out’ policy alongside good ventilation and an easy-to-clean space made examinations very safe — it was perfect from a COVID-19 viewpoint. A few people asked if we’d set the whole thing up due to the pandemic.

The downside was having to keep staff on furlough for longer than we’d have liked because of social distancing difficulties. In the end, we were in our pop-up for a year — longer than expected, thanks to lockdown.

Have you made any major changes during the refurbishment/rebuild with regards to the design of the practice?

The new practice is unrecognisable from the original. For a start, the former space existed entirely on the ground floor while the refurbished practice spans three storeys. It meant that we’ve been able to add an extra consulting room, a private dispensary, a relaxing ‘snug’ area, and devote the entire second floor to staff. The interior design has also been reimagined to feel fresh and modern, with craftsmanship at its core. Bespoke cabinets and displays show off our beautiful eyewear collections while period features, from a restored fireplace to wall panels, reflect the building’s history. From the start, sustainability was important to us, so we chose eco-friendly options throughout, from sustainable Tala lighting to our recycled flooring by Tarkett.

How have your staff coped with the challenges of the past months?

As a team, we’ve navigated a fire, practice closure, the challenge of finding temporary premises, construction, a full refurb and COVID-19 — all in the space of 18 months. I wouldn’t have pulled through without my team. It’s been a very challenging period, but we’ve all drawn comfort from knowing that we’re in this together.

You mentioned that the community was hugely supportive after the fire/flood – how did that continue in 2020, with COVID-19 and the rebuild both taking place?

We’re indebted to our community, which has stood by us throughout. We were inundated with messages of support after the fire and given a place to work by our local church while we figured out our next move. Patients have continued to trust us to care for their eye health during COVID-19, and most recently, they’ve showered us with gifts to celebrate our reopening. We’re lucky to have such a strong community spirit along Mill Road — it’s been the source of our resilience.

What’s your main ambition for the practice in 2021?

Despite continuing restrictions, we’re determined to enjoy this year - enjoying caring for clients in our new refurbished space, working with beautiful eyewear, and enjoying our time together as a team under somewhat easier circumstances.

Are there things you’d like to offer/achieve with the new practice that you might not have been able to before? Have you been able to update your equipment, for example?

We’re lucky to work with some of the world’s most innovative and stylish eyewear brands. We’ll continue to develop those relationships and refine the personal service journey for our patients.

Taank interior

How positive are you feeling about the year ahead generally, with the move back into the refurbished practice?

We moved into the practice during lockdown 3.0, which has meant forgoing a launch event until restrictions lift, but you can bet we’ll do something to celebrate as soon as we can. The feedback from patients and our community has been positive so far, which is very encouraging. We have high hopes for the future, as we work tirelessly to keep our brand unique and highly personalised. It requires constant thought, but it’s hugely rewarding.

How does thoughtful interior design support customer care and personal service, specifically for an optometry practice?

All too often, optometry practices can feel sterile — that’s something we wanted to avoid. In this digital age, customers value the human touch, so we place great emphasis on personal service. Tech has a huge role in any optometry practice, but we wanted our interior design to put people at ease and encourage opportunities for human interaction. Since design sets the tone, we chose lots of warm colours, high-quality materials, and thoughtful touches to create a welcoming, relaxing scheme and a seamless journey from start to finish.

Have you overcome hurdles while studying optometry or working in the sector? Share your story by emailing [email protected]

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