Just because your business is built around physical contact with people doesn’t mean COVID can keep you down
From the delightful setting of a former little tea room on the corner of Jamestown Road, Guy Gold has been cracking backs and serving superior coffee for the last three years. His clever combo of café out front, osteopathy practice out back, has been popular with residents and office workers alike, but both businesses are of a type to be severely challenged by COVID. However as Guy tells us, he chose to sail forth through the storm rather than to sink.
How has COVID affected your business?
“As primary healthcare practitioners, we were never actually told to close the practice, but I discussed it with my colleague Anna, who made such a compelling argument for the general health of the nation, that it was clear there really was no other option. We communicated this with our patients and began to offer online consultations, which went surprisingly well. My colleagues were amazing, rallying to the cry of video calls while I focused on battening down the hatches and reducing costs.
There are many different hats I need to wear here. As an employer, I have a duty of care to my five coffee shop staff, and wanted to avoid making anyone redundant. Similarly I have a duty of care to my osteopathic patients and the associates in my practice. I’m also a leaseholder, so had considerations around the building, and all the while I needed to make sure the business remained financially viable.
It became helpful to think of it like commanding a ship. I was preparing to sail across a very stormy sea, and I wanted to make sure the boat, and all the different staff members within it, would survive the voyage ahead – that nobody was lost overboard.”
What’s your current offering?
“There have been three main phases of all this for us, which I’ve
defined as survival, repair and recovery. During the survival phase, I always had my eye on how we’d return as soon as we could, so I wrote a 32-page safeguarding document as an expression of due diligence specifically undertaken for this practice. It’s vital we lead by example. So all the staff have done 10 hours of training, there’s been a huge amount of research. We opened again in nlate May for one-to-one treatments, with online triage forms, wearing full PPE, running temperature checks on arrival and deep cleaning between every patient. I’ve done unbelievable amounts of scrubbing – I feel half man, half sanitiser!
It’s important though – a lot of our patients are actually key workers; surgeons, doctors and nurses who have been on the front line. Our duty is to protect them, but also their families and children, and the wider community, too. We had to behave as if we were being exposed to someone who had COVID every time.
We did two weeks of osteopathy before we also opened to serve coffee again by the side door. There was definitely local demand for it, and we wanted to offer a sense of resolve during difficult times. Usually around 80% of our customers are from the offices, so we’re not seeing them at the moment, but plenty of people are working from home and pop out for coffee, so we went for it.”
What have been your greatest concerns?
“I’ve been practicing in Camden for 22 years and based in this building since 2017. I’ve always said that the only way you’ll get me out of this place is in a box, and now it was time to fight for it – this business in my baby. It was apparent how massively indiscriminate the virus is, both in how severely it affects different people, but also in how it impacts certain people’s work. Some are flourishing while others are going out of business in a matter of days. It is really brutal.
Sadly I’ve spoken to many patients who’ve lost family members and friends, which is utterly tragic. The healthcare practitioners we see, who’ve been in full PPE treating people who are face down, that’s really bleak if you’re in a caring profession. And also for the families of the ill, not being able to visit them, support them, hug them. We really felt how difficult it has been for so many people.
What’s made you feel optimistic?
“There’s been a very real sense of people coming together and supporting each other. My landlords were great, for instance. It felt like we put our arms around each other and said, let’s face the hit together, which was very positive. I’ve been deeply touched by the response from some of our patients, too. While I was scrambling around, with no revenue in this fight for survival, to get a call out of the blue from people asking if they could help by paying in advance for treatments when we reopened was amazing. That kind of thing moved me to tears at times.”
Who would you like to collaborate with?
“We’ve got quite a unique setup here, which often feels like a collaboration between the osteopathic practice and coffee shop anyway, but it feels like we can now build on that even further. With the goodwill generated by working with my landlord I’d definitely be eager to do more projects with them, because they’ve been so reasonable. We’ve had to look at being a bit more nimble with our means to generate revenues, but I’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, so I’ll look at anything – I really feel like that now. After all this, I feel keen as mustard. I’ve really got a lust for it.”
The COVID-19 health crisis has burned our economic and cultural landscape much like a forest fire. But across a charred, razed environment, strong green shoots inevitably emerge.
CAMDENIST is a new collaborative local media platform, currently in beta mode and launching soon. Born from the smoldering ashes of this unprecedented era, it will provide fertile support for the regeneration of our communities, businesses and cultural spaces in the times ahead.
Worth following, too.