Ableworld store in Kinson image

With many retailers in the mobility, access and independent living sector unsure if their premises can remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown, Ableworld has received confirmation that it is permitted to keep all stores trading.

It follows the decision by prime minister Boris Johnson to close to all but a limited few retail stores, along with bars, restaurants, theatres and more in a bid to prevent the wide-spread transmission of coronavirus.

After the announcement, many mobility retailers were uncertain whether they could continue operating from their physical stores, with many in the sector deciding to temporarily close their doors.

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Boasting the most mobility stores in the UK, Ableworld corresponded with MPs in the constituencies where it has a retail presence for clarity.

Emphasising its commitment since the beginning of the pandemic to be on-hand to support local vulnerable residents and healthcare workers through the crisis, the mobility retailer received confirmation from government that it could remain open and will be able to remain open, should further restrictions be implemented.

In particular, one MP enquired directly with Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, who answered, “Of course. Government guidance is clear that those who cannot work from home then they can travel to work. For those who are key workers support the COVID-19 effort, people SHOULD go to work.”

Explaining the company’s position, Mike Williams, Managing Director of Ableworld, said: “No one ever plans for situations like this but our mission statement remains during the toughest of times and we are committed to providing caring solutions enabling people to enjoy greater independence.

“Of course, turnover has dropped in stores and there is an argument we should close our stores and have the government pay our wage bill but it’s not about profit in these times, it’s about being available for the people who need us.

“We want as much as everyone else to protect as many people as possible while also assisting our National Health Service by ensuring patients can return to their homes safely, freeing up much-needed hospital beds.”

The confirmation that Ableworld has received government backing to keep its physical stores open comes in the wake of guidance from the British Healthcare Trades Associations, advising retailers that they can continue to trade but should try to limit physical interaction with customers in showrooms if possible.

“Customers should only attend appointments at premises if there is no other way to support them in acquiring equipment,” said Sarah Lepak, Director of Governance & Policy for the BHTA.

“If it is not urgent/essential, this should be postponed until restrictions are relaxed.”

Ableworld says that it has taken steps to protect its customers and staff whilst remaining open, including new cleaning regimes, increased availability of PPE and the introduction of contactless deliveries.

Additionally, the company has confirmed it has furlough members of staff from several stores and its head office.

“The support we have received from OTs, care homes, health professionals and customers really is overwhelming. The vast majority of the feedback received could not have been more positive.”

According to the mobility retailer, it has received multiple messages of support from customers and healthcare professionals welcoming the decision, highlighting the importance of much of the equipment supplied by the retailer, such as stairlifts and powerchairs.

Mike added: “For other retailers in the industry, I think the decision to keep stores open is very dependent on their offering. I believe those solely retailing chairs and mobility scooters would struggle to justify the need to keep their premises open during the crisis.

“We help customers every day of the year and we are proud to be able to support the NHS and our customers during this crisis. It is and will continue to be tough for everyone in these times but we will get through it with the help and support of our fantastic staff.”

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