In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we’re made of.

Howard Schultz

It is fair to say that we have never known a time like this. Every business and every individual have felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic these past few weeks as we have been forced to come to terms with our ‘new normal’.

In our business, we are used to working with innovative companies throughout the UK, particularly in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and seeing close up the brilliant things that they do. But to see the way that many businesses have pivoted this past fortnight in order to provide critical items to those who need it most, including the NHS and healthcare workers has been absolutely incredible.

Manufacturers making a difference

It is believed that some 100 companies in NI alone, many from the manufacturing sector, have answered the call to help and have since been involved in efforts to upscale production of items such as ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical scrubs and hand sanitisers.

Copeland Distillery are one such company. The Donaghadee based gin and whiskey distiller announced they were going to produce and distribute hand sanitiser to those in need. The alcohol-based sanitiser will be bottled and donated to those in need across their local community of North Down as a priority, with any remaining bottles made available to businesses and organisations in need at cost.

Scotland’s ‘The Gin Cooperative’ have been orchestrating collaboration within the sector there, creating an industry-facing Facebook group for distilleries, producers of hand sanitiser and relevant individuals who can share their knowledge and resources related to its safe production, plus supply chain contacts. Just some of the many gin companies who have been involved in this great work are Harris Distillers, The Botanist and The Port of Leith Distillery, with all going a long way to helping their local communities and frontline health services.

Shnuggle, the Clever Baby Products company from Newtownards, is coordinating the emergency manufacture of Face Shields in Northern Ireland and will be giving them away to the NHS for free. In order to be able to do this, they are fundraising to cover the cost of the materials.

O’Neills, sportswear manufacturers from Strabane best known for kitting out GAA teams up and down the island of Ireland, announced that they are manufacturing scrubs for the Health and Social Care Trusts, enabling them to bring back 150 employees less than two weeks after announcing 950 layoffs across the business due to the collapse in demand following the widespread cancellation of sporting activities globally. Whilst the business has still suffered a severe setback, their capabilities have enabled them to take this opportunity and it is one that they hope will grow in demand outside of Northern Ireland, too.

In Scotland, Aseptium, a medical decontamination equipment specialist, are working with tech consultancy 4c Engineering to produce 1,000 innovative face shields to help protect local doctors and nurses. Through ‘Project Corran’ they have come up with a design for an effective product that is robust, secure, comfortable and can be rapidly manufactured in bulk, with 200 units already having been delivered to their local Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. And going a step further, the companies have made the design freely available, along with full guidance on the manufacturing process, to ensure that many more may benefit. They simply made a request that any manufacture is not-for-profit.

Dumfries-based wholesale business Express Bakery is a long-term supplier to the NHS and whilst many of their customers have been forced to close, they are fully committed to keeping that supply line going for as long as possible. And then there is Inverness-based Harry Gow, the current ‘Scottish Baker of the Year’. He had to make the difficult decision to focus on wholesale production in order to ensure that they could fulfil their commitment to the many retail stores they supply. But they understand the importance of keeping the supply of essential bakery products open to the local community and so have brought back their classic delivery van to offer a delivered package to nearby residents.

Tech for good

There have also been reports of many technology companies playing their part to help overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus. Elemental is a health-tech start up from Derry, operating throughout the UK and RoI, who developed technology to connect communities and measure the impact that those connections make on the person, the community and the health and social care system. They have made enhancements to their platform specific to COVID-19 that are being used by customers in the NHS, Housing and Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sectors to create a database of volunteers, services and information that can grow and evolve in response to the needs of the community, for example creating befriending services and performing well being checks on vulnerable people.

Kainos, the Belfast-based tech giant, have been trying to play their part in helping with the fight against coronavirus by looking at a vast collection of healthcare literature that they had access to (29,000 articles over 13,000 of which have full text) to see can they use AI to digest, analyse and summarise the key findings from this data that will provide a better handle on the risk factors associated with coronavirus, as well as if there is anything in these documents that can help healthcare professionals in caring for those with the disease. By using AI and NLP, they hope to contextualise and summarise documents in a way that is then more easily accessed and utilised by key workers, as during times such as this global pandemic there is a need to get real, reliable information fast.

Getting the right support for your business

It is important to remember that businesses are not alone in this struggle. There are many professional services businesses that are on hand to offer free consultations for businesses who find themselves in difficulty. In addition to this, many organisations like Scottish Enterprise, InterTrade Ireland, Invest NI and Business Gateway have produced a huge volume of advice for Small and medium enterprises.

We at Amplifi remain committed to supporting the businesses we work with throughout these challenging times and are glad to support a cashflow injection when they may need it most. If anyone reading this is unsure if R&D tax credits applies to their business, or want to know if they are currently maximising their claim and would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to contact us; details can be found on www.amplifi.solutions.

Most importantly at this time, we hope that everyone is able to keep well, and keep safe.

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