Responding to Covid-19: Engaging customers

As an impact-driven investor, we at Bridges have always believed that by driving better outcomes for all stakeholders, we can create more resilient assets that are better placed to create shared value over the long term.

This conviction has shaped all of the intensive work we have done with our partners since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

Across the portfolio, our partners (with support from the Bridges team) have been finding innovative new solutions to protect their people, adapt their business or service models, and support those hardest-hit by the crisis.

As a result of the lockdown, many of them have had to totally overhaul the way they deliver their services almost overnight. Below are just a few of the inspiring ways they have been rising to this unprecedented challenge.

New and enhanced services

Vegetarian Express, which primarily supplies plant-based ingredients to the catering industry, was able to launch a direct-to-consumer offering within just a few weeks of lockdown being introduced. This was always a long-term goal, but the company has accelerated its plans in order to help consumers (at a time when these ingredients are hard to buy) and create a new revenue stream (while many of its biggest customers are out of action). Sign up HERE.

Just Ask, a facilities management business that specialises in working for Housing Associations, is providing additional services such as pre- and post- sanitisation cleaning to schemes with confirmed Covid-19 cases. For priority cases like supported housing schemes, it has also increased the frequency of its cleaning service to seven days a week.

AgilityEco, a fuel poverty solutions provider, is adapting its flagship community outreach programme (Local Energy Advice Partnership) to provide even more of its advisory services by telephone, so it can continue to help some of the UK’s most vulnerable households reduce their fuel costs and improve energy efficiency during the lockdown. It is also adapting the advice and support it gives to vulnerable customers to include specific messaging around Covid-19.

New delivery models

The Vet, a low-cost veterinary services business, has launched a new telemedicine offering, which allows pets to get a check-up even during lockdown. If it proves effective, this digital channel could transform the Vet’s offering over time, potentially driving even lower-cost services to pet owners.

Viva Gym and Energie Fitness, our two low-cost gym businesses, have both introduced virtual/ online training sessions, so their members can stay fit even when their gym is closed. This is proving such a big hit with members that Viva is now looking at making it a permanent offering. Viva has also told its members that if they keep paying their monthly fee, Viva will guarantee to spend 50% of it on paying staff during lockdown; 13,000 people have already opted into this, raising €135,000 to cover staff costs (and the same amount in revenue that might otherwise have been lost).

Positive Families Partnerships, our family therapy service that works to prevent young people from being taken into care, has switched quickly to running its sessions remotely during lockdown (providing the families with the required technology if necessary). Lockdown is likely to be particularly challenging for some of these families, so this new model ensures the therapist can keep supporting them throughout.

New Reflexions, a provider of residential care, therapy and education to Looked-After Children, is now offering virtual education and therapy sessions to the young people in its homes, in order to help mitigate the disruptions caused by lockdown.

West London Zone, a charity that works with disadvantaged children, is providing physical supplies and virtual support so all the children it works with can fully benefit from home learning programmes. As well as supporting the young people’s wellbeing in the short term, this potentially creates a new online channel to supplement its service delivery in the future.

Birchgrove, which provides assisted living accommodation for the elderly, a key part of the offer is combating social isolation via communal areas and regular interaction. Although it can only make limited use of these areas at the moment, the Birchgrove team at our first site in Sidcup has been using tablets to make sure residents ‘check in’ twice a day, as well as running virtual events like quizzes and ‘DIY supper clubs’. As a lower-tech alternative, they’ve also launched a pen-pal scheme, whereby residents are exchanging letters with management!