We have set out some of the ways that the Fern Group is responding to Coronavirus and ensuring that our businesses continue to run as smoothly as possible. While our Group owns and manages hundreds of renewable energy sites, healthcare infrastructure, fibre broadband alongside lending to hundreds of property developers and landlords, it’s our employees, customers and local communities that make a business. So while we are focused on making sure our business continues to operate seamlessly, we will also be making sure that we support these people in any way we can in these unprecedented times.
We have more than 200 renewable energy sites that are capable of operating safely with a skeleton staff – in fact we do this over the festive period most years. Currently our sites are operating with full staff cover, but should government guidance change we will be able to switch to operating at the same capacity using smaller teams, without compromising safety.
While these are a relatively small part of our business, they are very important to the communities that they support. We are in discussions with the NHS about making our facilities available for their use at this time.
Our retirement villages provide hundreds of independent older people with homes in beautiful surroundings. The senior leadership teams are doing all they can to help our staff in all of their efforts to safely support residents. The actions we have taken and will continue to take are based around the latest government advice as well as the actions of colleagues at other ARCO retirement villages and from the CQC. The restaurants and coffee shops have been closed in line with the recent government guidance regarding social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. This is of course particularly relevant to our residents. We are still providing scheduled trips to the local supermarkets and have opened a Village Shop onsite to cater for any essential items for the residents. We have also launched a take away and delivery service. Visitors are allowed on an ‘essential only’ basis and our show homes are now closed, with our sales team operating remotely instead. Our Rangeford Care service continues to provide essential care and support to our residents and this remains an absolute priority area for us.
Our property lending business
Fern has a diversified lending book across hundreds of loans. These are also typically less than 70% loan to value (LTV). Whilst we expect some of our borrowers may find themselves stretched in the coming weeks and months, we are a supportive lender and will work closely with the borrowers as needed to find an exit for them and us in a timely manner. If needed, like all major lenders in the UK property sector, we have a team with expertise in recovering value from our loans if they don’t perform and we need to take control of the property. We expect that the size of our lending business will remain fairly static over the coming months, as there will be less demand from borrowers requesting new facilities so we will make fewer new loans, but at the same time fewer borrowers will refinance our facilities with other lenders.
The fibre broadband sector, or lack thereof, in the UK is proving a headache to the nation as it tries to work remotely and avoid travel into the office. Fern’s businesses in this sector are building full fibre networks in areas of the UK that need better connectivity and are overlooked by the likes of BT or Virgin. There is a significant needs for this infrastructure, even more so today, and the services that these businesses provide are critical to the UK economy. We are trying to expand our networks more quickly than we originally anticipated to help the local communities who are going to be relying on them in the coming months.