Industry responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

The below is an extract taken from the August edition of the Surface Coatings International (SCI) Journal.

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‘May you live in interesting times’ by Paul Sheppard

OCCA President Elect & Laboratory Manager HMG Paints


The phrase ‘may you live in interesting times’ was thought to be a translation of a Chinese curse (attributed by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936), but the reality is, like this cursed virus, the origin is not really known. When everything is weighed and sifted, much of the coatings industry (and its raw material suppliers) has managed well to stay operational over the last few months, albeit with considerable numbers of people working from home and some that have been furloughed.

The strength of any organisation can only truly be assessed during times of crisis. Many of our members have kept working during the pandemic to ensure manufacturing and supply of paints, coatings and chemicals have continued to contribute to the fight against the Covid-19 virus. During these difficult times OCCA has shown itself to be responsive and supportive to the needs of our members.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic and the start of our ‘national lockdown’, we here at OCCA HQ have been busy adapting to new ways of working and communicating as an Association. Not only have we had to re-think working practices in terms of Council and Executive meetings, and the rescheduling of Surfex from June to October, but we also have a responsibility to continue to engage with our members, sponsors and academic partners both now and moving forward. We thought we would share some of our thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

In this special feature, we intend to focus on how the pandemic has been impacting on our members, our sponsors from Industry and Academia, our Professional Association partners and the Coatings Industry in general. We have showcased the many ways in which companies and universities have generously supported the fight against the virus. We should also not forget the role of chemicals and coatings in the fight, from painting the Nightingale hospitals to the supply of alcohol for the production of hand sanitiser products.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the scores of members and their families who have been involved on a very personal level in the massive volunteering effort that has been witnessed throughout our local communities and, indeed, in many countries around the world. From our NHS volunteers, assisting with preparation and delivery of food parcels to vulnerable families and members of local communities, to offering telephone befriending services for lonely and elderly people, to delivery of NHS prescriptions and help with taking patients to and from appointments. The efforts of our many ‘community heroes’ is something we should be extremely proud of.

For OCCA, the past two months have presented many challenges, which have taught us many new skills, particularly with regards to the use of digital video conferencing platforms and communication with members and colleagues alike.

Council representatives recently attended a Zoom session organised by the British Science Council, examining the impact of the ‘new normal’ on the organising of conferences, exhibitions and seminars – which are the ‘mainstay’ in terms of income-generating streams for many of our Professional Associations. It was interesting to learn about the impact of the pandemic on scientific organisations. We will be watching and reporting on this in the weeks and months ahead.

In May we joined forces with “Campaign for Learning” as they launched their annual “Learning at Work” Week. This prompted us to consider how best to engage with members and provide more opportunities for professional and social networking for members around the world. As a result, our “OCCA Weekly Webinar” series was launched. Designed to run for an initial period of 10 weeks, we are hosting 10 guest speakers, typically using the Zoom webinar platform for one hour on a Wednesday afternoon: each speaker will deliver a 30-40 minute presentation followed by a ‘live’ Q&A session. All details of our planned series are published on our website and have also been promoted by our newly revitalised social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This series is available free to members, Corporate Sponsors, staff and students at our Educational Partners and is already proving to be very popular.

Our Annual General Meeting, scheduled to be held at Emirates Old Trafford in July to coincide with the Lancashire Lightning’s T20 Blast match against the Worcestershire Rapids, has had to be cancelled. We are planning to host our AGM online in September and will have a charity fundraiser for one of the many Covid-19 charities as an integral part of this year’s meeting.

Aside from educational and operational issues, we must also acknowledge the importance of the mental wellbeing of our members and colleagues – many of whom are self-isolating or shielding. To this end, we have initiated a fortnightly ‘social night’ on Zoom for our members and friends. We are also planning several other interactive social activities throughout the summer months. All details will be published on our website and across the social platforms, so please watch out for those.

As you can see, the past two months have been an exceptionally busy time for everyone here at OCCA HQ. We have embraced the challenges with gusto and are extremely optimistic that, by engaging in such an interactive way with members and non-members alike, we are providing an effective service that will educate, entertain and provide a supportive network for the paints and coatings industry.