Responding to Covid-19: Supporting staff

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.

Many organisations have been forced to furlough staff or move to remote operations almost overnight – which is putting a huge strain on productivity and individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. But we’re really proud of how our partners have found new ways to engage with their teams and provide additional wellbeing support. Here are just a few examples:

Promoting engagement and wellbeing

Vegetarian Express has been working hard to keep its staff engaged by ramping up its internal communications efforts substantially – from team check-ins and regular company-wide briefing notes and calls, to internal social activities like virtual quizzes.

The Vet has also been going to great lengths to maintain the morale and wellbeing of staff during the current restrictions. It recently compiled a video of staff applauding each other (inspired by the Clap for Carers initiative); it has also provided staff with access to a free webinar on mindfulness, as well as sharing information on how to manage anxiety related to Covid-19.

Just Ask has introduced a ‘virtual lunch room’: employees can log on to Microsoft Teams between 1-1.30pm and chat to colleagues, just as they might do in a staff canteen.

Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for front-line staff

Just Ask also acted quickly to secure a good supply of PPE provision for front-line staff, particularly cleaners at high-risk or priority schemes. This has helped to reassure the team and reduce absenteeism through sickness, ensuring that the business has been able to maintain continuity of service.

The Hub Pharmacy, a full-service community pharmacy group, has also secured a good supply of PPE equipment for pharmacy staff – to the extent that it was recently able to donate some of its capacity to Birchgrove (Bridges Property Funds), for staff working with elderly and vulnerable residents.

Building on these relationships, we have now been able to procure PPE on a portfolio-wide level, so we can buy on a greater scale; this will improve security of supply and ensure that all those across the portfolio working with vulnerable people have the protective equipment they need. We have just completed our first bulk order of 34,000 face masks, for use by a number of our investees, and we’ve circulated a list of recommended suppliers in case any want to order additional stock directly.

Supporting mental health and wellbeing

Shout, a text message counselling service supported by the Bridges Impact Foundation, is providing a dedicated service to front-line NHS workers (as part of a broader package of wellbeing measures commissioned by Government). The goal is to make sure staff who are struggling with the burden of front-line work always have a Shout counsellor to talk to, even late at night or early in the morning.