Ulster Business

| 13.1°C Belfast

Coronavirus: The Northern Ireland companies helping in the fight and the firms changing how they work


Rachel Saligari of Active Health is pictured with Claire Bannerman, physiotherapist and pilates instructor

Rachel Saligari of Active Health is pictured with Claire Bannerman, physiotherapist and pilates instructor

Rachel Saligari of Active Health is pictured with Claire Bannerman, physiotherapist and pilates instructor

Companies across Northern Ireland are assisting in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus across the region and further afield, as others alter their business model amid widespread restrictions.

Retailers and food companies are taking their businesses online, as are firms from across a range of other sectors, from fitness to those helping fight the virus head on.

Drinks giant Diageo has turned its attention to producing hand sanitiser for health services across the globe. That will include up to eight million bottles being produced – with around 500,000 litres of grain spirit (96% alcohol) for the UK and Ireland alone.

And it’s understood some of Northern Ireland’s top end spirit makers are also joining in to help increase the provision of alcohol sanitisers. That includes Boatyard in Enniskillen, The Stillhouse in Moira and The Copeland Distillery in Donaghhadee.

Bangor business Active Health Solutions had planned for its second branch opening this week, but instead has now moved its business entirely online – with all of its pilates classes, physiotherapy and podiatry consultations have gone online to a global audience.

“We had planned to open our brand new Bangor-based Clinic, which we have invested over £100,000 into, on Monday, March 16,” Rachel Saligari, managing director of Active Health, said.

“This was pretty much the same time that the news and government ramped up social isolation for our population.


Jonathon Clarke, chief executive of Locate a Locum

Jonathon Clarke, chief executive of Locate a Locum

Jonathon Clarke, chief executive of Locate a Locum

Weekly Business Digest

Margaret Canning’s selection of the must-read business stories straight to your inbox every Tuesday morning

This field is required

“We have moved all of our physiotherapy and podiatry consultations online where we can have a one-to-one with our clients in the safety of our own homes and give them a full consultation and assessment, this is done using easily downloadable software which we have invested in. We are doing these at a discounted price, and includes a full medical assessment and treatment plan, which includes self-care.

“And while our hugely popular pilates and reformer pilates classes have had to be put on hold for the foreseeable, they are also now online – and attendance is up – we have had people tune in from as far as Australia.”

And hospitality and catering supplies business, Bunzl McLaughlin has responded to the crisis by offering free disposable cups to hotels, restaurants, cafes and food outlets throughout Ireland.

"We are facing some challenging times ahead. We must all stand together in facing the harsh reality of the situation over the coming days and weeks," Noel Branagh, managing director of Bunzl McLaughlin, said.

“We want to help alleviate as much stress as possible for the hospitality industry by gifting free disposable cups to businesses throughout Ireland, in the hope that this will enable outlets to continue operating on some level.

“In addition, our Food-To-Go Product Guide showcases a full range of disposable and sustainable products that will support eateries offering takeaway and food-to-go options.


Rebecca Maguire

Rebecca Maguire

Rebecca Maguire

“Our aim is to guide and empower the hospitality industry through these challenging times, assisting as best we can in helping the industry get back to business in the very near future.”

Meanwhile, technology firm Locate a Locum says it has seen a “huge surge” in locum pharmacists who want to work in order to give tired and sick pharmacists a break, or offer relief.

Locate a Locum uses ‘on demand’ technology through a website and app that helps pair thousands of pharmacies around the UK with over 12,000 pharmacists.

“As if community pharmacy wasn’t stressful already, working at the minute is very scary. Pharmacists are exposed but continue to serve the community as best we can,” Rebecca Maguire, a pharmacist in Woodbourne Pharmacy in Belfast.

“I think pharmacy staff are the most crucial healthcare staff at the minute in the community and we would just like respect.”

Speaking generally about how businesses are adapting to change, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: “With orders in short supply, it is also a chance for our firms to repurpose to make the things our health system needs and retrain and redesign our factories to ensure that when we get through this pandemic we are better positioned to restart and win more business.”

Elsewhere, a Co Down industrial thermoforming company is lending its computer power to Stanford University in the US in the hope of finding a way to combat coronavirus.

Scientists from the university are running their software on Donite Plastic's computers to simulate how Covid-19 proteins react.

By running their software on Donite's computers to gain a greater understanding of Covid-19's protein structure and how it reacts, Stanford University's scientists may be able to help predict new ways of treating the virus and its symptoms.

Restaurants and cafes have also now turned their attentions online, offering delivery services for everything from coffee to fine dining.

Local breweries, such as a Boundary Brewing in east Belfast and Mourne Mountains in Warrenpoint, are continuing to sell their products online – reducing the volume of customers visiting bricks and mortar shops.

Commercial property giant CBRE, which has a major operation in Northern Ireland, is working with the NHS to find properties and premises to assist with its ever-expanding needs.

“We are seeking to identify suitable properties within close proximity to an NHS or private hospital which could be occupied by the NHS for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it says.

“The greatest needs at the current time are car parking to enable NHS staff to access hospitals quickly, overnight beds for staff and storage facilities within a 15 minute walk of an NHS hospital.”