COVID case studies
COVID-19 has presented plenty of challenges but many other opportunities to our vibrant City Region. Below are a few examples of Greater Brighton businesses that have continued to develop, pivot and grow during the pandemic.
To find out more about what Greater Brighton offers businesses of all shapes and sizes, see locate here.
If the global effort to create a COVID-19 vaccine has proved anything, it is that remarkable things can be achieved when great minds come together.
Universal Quantum in Brighton hopes to apply that formula to computing, aiming to create the world’s first large-scale quantum computer able to make quicker calculations than any computer which exists today.
Founded in 2018 by Dr Sebastian Weidt and Professor Winfried Hensinger of the University of Sussex, the company has had a successful 2020 amid rising global interest in scientific collaboration.
In June Universal Quantum announced it had raised £3.6 million from investors including Village Global, a firm backed by tech giants Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
It has since signed a formal agreement with the University of Sussex’s Ion Quantum Technology Group that will enable the company and the research group to work hand-in-hand in creating a new computer.
If the Brighton company is successful in its goal, its founders say their computer will be able to tackle “grand global issues of our time” such as creating new medicines and fighting world hunger by making fertiliser more efficiently.
Competitors in the field are attempting to construct quantum computers out of billions of lasers, a complicated approach which requires complex engineering and cooling the computer down to -273C.
But Universal Quantum is using different technology which they claim is more practical. This involves charged atoms and microwave technology similar to what is used in mobile phones, removing the need for laser beams and allowing the computer to operate at a ‘warmer’ -200C.
Since June the company is continuing to raise funds to make its futuristic vision a reality.
But if anybody can achieve this goal, it’s Universal Quantum – Prof Hensinger was part of a groundbreaking University of Sussex team which published the first ever blueprint for a quantum computer in 2017.
Professor Hensinger said: “Building practical quantum computers has been described as one of the holy grails of modern science. We are now setting out to make these machines a reality.”
Photos: Universal Quantum Founders Dr Sebastian Weidt (left) and Prof Winfried Hensinger (right); working on mild cooling technology; designing circuitry and Quantum Technology (credit Universal Quantum and University of Sussex)
Roche Diagnostics has been a key part of the healthcare industry’s unprecedented response to COVID-19.
Since the onset of the pandemic in March, the firm, which has a UK base in Burgess Hill, has been providing the UK with a number of different tests – from the ‘PCR test’ that is sent to a laboratory to detect if individuals have a current infection, to rapid antigen tests which can provide results at the point of care within 15 minutes.
Roche has also developed antibody tests that help to detect past infection. These are being used, around the world, to help healthcare providers make a more accurate diagnosis and support the better management of patients.
Geoff Twist, managing director UK and Ireland at Roche Diagnostics, said: “It usually takes a minimum of two years to develop a diagnostic test, and get it approved and regulated before it is distributed across the health system. But in less than a month, our team analysed the genetic sequence of the virus that causes COVID-19, created a diagnostic test and secured validation. There have been many sleepless nights but it has been worth it.
“Our latest test provides a quantitative measurement of antibodies, which means it not only tells you if someone has antibodies but also the concentration level in their blood. It is a vital tool for measuring, and ultimately building, our understanding of the body’s response to the COVID-19 vaccine and we are proud to have partnered with leading vaccine companies on their trials.
“I am inspired by and grateful to the many people across our organisation – and the industry – who have been working around the clock to enable us to play our part. Roche Diagnostics is doing all it can to help the NHS at this critical time, but it’s clear that no one organisation is going to solve the coronavirus crisis singlehandedly. Partnership working and collaboration has always been, and continues to be, fundamental.”
See: Roche website
Photos: Geoff Twist, managing director UK and Ireland at Roche Diagnostics, Antibody test analyser and Antibody test boxes (credit Roche)
Orange Badge Mobility Solutions
Orange Badge Mobility, based in Lewes, is a 20-year-old family-run business which supplies products to residents to help them keep well and stay mobile.
But the company says lowered levels of activity during the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened many health conditions, creating a surge in demand for equipment like stair lifts, level-access bathrooms and home living aids such as recliner chairs.
And it’s this demand which resulted in the company achieving its biggest quarterly turnover for 23 years, at the end of last year.
Orange Badge Mobility operates from an 8,000sq ft showroom and is the largest mobility centre in the South of England, covering Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire, to offer an extensive range of mobility aids and disability equipment.
Owner Ben Gretzer explained the reasons behind the surge in demand for the products he sells. He said:
“Many of our customers have either seen an existing mobility issue deteriorate during the pandemic due to inactivity or they have developed a new one. As people are being forced to spend more time at home, problems they may have ‘put up with’ for some time, are now being addressed.
“And as elderly people and those with long-term conditions have stayed at home or shielded, they too have been less active, which has led to muscle wastage and an increased need for supportive home living aids.
“Our message to anyone who has noticed their own mobility or that of a loved one has deteriorated as a result of being isolated, or just doing less, is not to ignore it. Seek advice about what you can do to stop further deterioration and regain independence.”
Photos: Orange Badge Mobility – Ben Gretzer of Orange Badge Mobility, reception team, delivery team and testing a mobility scooter in the showroom (credit Orange Badge Mobility)
During the first National lockdown last year Melanie Carter developed the idea for Curated Grey, an online mini department store selling homeware, jewellery, women’s accessories and children’s clothing.
Having gained 11,000 Instagram followers in less than a year and operating from home, the business is now making a name for itself, and Melanie thinks it’s largely down to the fact the online shopping industry is performing better than ever.
But the pandemic was a hindrance to the mum-of-two’s career at first. Having started out as a Buyer for various High Street retailers, her freelance work as a Product Development and Design Manager then dried up, and she needed another plan.
Melanie said: “I’ve been very surprised at how quickly Curated Grey has taken off. When I launched in June I quickly began to see my homeware section has the potential to be huge – as my bestsellers are all home decor items.
“I think it’s largely down to the fact people are pretty much shopping solely online now, and because they are spending more time at home and less money on say clothes, they want to spend more making their homes look nicer instead.
“On Instagram, there is a huge community of home renovation accounts, which because of lockdown is growing rapidly. I tapped into this community and started engaging with it and it’s worked really well for me in terms of sales.”
Melanie has used the skills she gained as a buyer – searching for and building relationships with global manufacturers and suppliers – to set up her business, which she runs with help from family and friends.
Although physical retailers are facing hardship at the moment the business owner hopes that one day, she will be able to open her own shop in Brighton, and that her brand can sit alongside the likes of Zara Home and H+M.
See: Curated Grey website
Photos: Melanie Carter of Curated Grey, Cutlery Sets, Handwoven Round Rattan Tray, Nude Ceramic Vase (credit Curated Grey)
World of Books Group
World of Books Group was founded in 2008 with an ethos to do good, to help charities and protect the planet. As a certified B-Corporation, it meets the highest standard of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Using business as a force for good is at the very heart of the company’s operations – and in the last year, this commitment has never been more important.
The business has continued to operate throughout the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, sharing the love of reading to millions of customers around the world whilst introducing new initiatives to support their people, customers, communities and charity partners.
As lockdown loomed, in March 2020 the company donated 70,000 books to schools across the United Kingdom. The latest drive in their Big Book Giveaway, it forms part of their commitment to donate 1 million books to good causes by the end of 2021.
In the midst of lockdown, the company also launched an innovative new partnership with Virgin Money Giving, giving customers an alternative and unique way to donate to good causes. Through the integration of technologies between Virgin Money Giving and Ziffit, World of Books Group’s free trade-in app, the value of customers’ unwanted books, CDs, games and DVDs could be donated to a charity of their choice. It has so far raised thousands for good causes.
As the NHS tackled an urgent need for PPE during the first lockdown, World of Books Group utilised the capacity within their extensive logistics and transport network to deliver vital PPE to NHS hospitals and care homes, supporting those risking their lives on the front line of our health services.
The business has a long standing relationship with the UK charity retail sector, sourcing surplus books from stores across the country. As they were forced to close their doors, World of Books Group were able to support them with their Shopiago software – the UK’s only online listing software designed specifically for the charity sector – enabling them to keep their doors open virtually and continue trading despite lockdown restrictions and adapted the software to be web-based, enabling shop staff and volunteers to list from their homes.
Photos: Books ready for recyling, Books being sorted, Our packaging is made up of 30% recycled materials and is 100% recyclable that significantly reduces its environmental impact, Books in their new home (credit Curated Grey)
The Real Pie Company
With restaurants closing in March as part of the national COVID-19 lockdown, many Greater Brighton businesses worked tirelessly to bring top-quality food to people’s doors.
The Real Pie Company in Crawley was one of those companies stepping into the breach, its kitchen dealing with a surge in demand for its pies over the course of the lockdown.
The family-run business started life in 1999 in a Sussex butcher’s shop, eventually moving into its Crawley kitchen where it ships handmade pies bound for London and towns across the south.
Just weeks before the first COVID-19 lockdown began, 14 of the company’s pies were commended by the British Pie Awards, including a gold medal for its steak, mushroom and stilton pie.
So naturally The Real Pie Company’s online delivery service was very popular as restrictions kept people at home.
Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the firm closer to its roots than ever. In November it opened a shop in the Sussex village of Cowfold, its first retail outlet since the company closed its Crawley shop to expand its pie production.
The company hopes to open more shops in the future, buoyed by the fact it’s Christmas delivery slots were fully booked weeks in advance of the festive season.
Photos: The Real Pie Co – Large peppered steak pie, chicken pasty selection, steak stout pie and traditional sausage roll (credit The Real Pie Co)