Cheshire’s crown jewels

When their den­tal prac­tices had to close dur­ing lock­down, Jan and Kevin Dobbs, of Dares­bury, were not ground down...

Cheshire Life - - Events - WORDS: Kate Houghton

Kevin Dobbs has been look­ing af­ter den­tal pa­tients in War­ring­ton since 1986 and opened the state-of-the-art Den­tal Academy in Dares­bury in 1999.

He and his wife Jan, in part­ner­ship with den­tal tech­ni­cian John Wib­ber­ley, also run Dares­bury Den­tal Lab­o­ra­tory, which makes crowns and dentures and im­plant restora­tions for their own pa­tients and for den­tal prac­tices through­out the UK.

In 2018 the Dobbs also launched Grow­ing@Field28, a spe­cial­ist farm grow­ing and sup­ply­ing mi­cro-leaves to some of Cheshire’s top restau­rants.

On 23 March 2020, each one of their thriv­ing busi­nesses came to an abrupt and shock­ing halt.

“The Chief Den­tal Of­fi­cer in­structed that all den­tistry prac­tices must close,” Kevin says. “At the same time, of course, all the restau­rants closed, wip­ing out that in­come stream im­me­di­ately. Within a mat­ter of hours, a life­time spent build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­vid­ing a qual­ity ser­vice counted for noth­ing. With no pa­tients, there is no in­come, of course, and we are still li­able for all our usual over­heads such as rent and rates.

“Be­ing self-em­ployed pri­vate den­tists, we do not qual­ify for any gov­ern­ment sup­port other than be­ing able to fur­lough our staff.

“We just have to wait to see what the next phase will bring.

It’s no­body’s fault and no­body is to blame.

“As some­body who has based his life in sci­ence, in medicine, we know that this will be over­come. There will be a point when we can say it’s over. It’s just get­ting through these times and, un­for­tu­nately for us, all three of our busi­nesses are closed for the time be­ing.”

Look­ing at Kevin and Jan’s his­tory of busi­ness growth and de­vel­op­ment, it’s no sur­prise this cou­ple haven’t sat back in de­spair and given up, but they are press­ing for­ward with a new idea – and it sits within their Field28 busi­ness – one that couldn’t be fur­ther from den­tistry if it tried.

“We launched Grow­ing@ Field28 in 2018, in a field next to the clinic that came up for sale. We ob­tained per­mis­sion to build a barn and set up to grow mi­cro-leaves for restau­rants. We sup­ply ev­ery­thing from ama­ranth to red-veined sor­rel, lemon balm to shiso. We grow the leaves in a spe­cial com­bi­na­tion of red and blue wave­length LED light, in a per­fectly con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. We only de­liver within a 25-mile ra­dius to keep food miles down, and we de­liver the leaves still in their grow­ing trays to en­sure they stay fresh.”

As we talk there’s no real clar­ity on when and how the restau­rants that bought their leaves from Kevin and Jan might re-open.

“The mi­cro-leaf side of our busi­ness is on pause,” Jan says, “but last year we started to ex­pand the busi­ness and utilise our re­main­ing land to grow veg­eta­bles. We spoke to our restau­rants – Mana, in Manch­ester, Ai­den Byrne, Art School in Liver­pool, Chef’s Ta­ble in Ch­ester, and oth­ers – and they gave us the va­ri­eties of things they would like, and we built a pro­gramme around that.

“We had planted the crops be­fore coro­n­avirus hit; it’s all grow­ing and ready, so we have di­ver­si­fied and have started a veg box scheme sell­ing the pro­duce to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

As grow­ers, Jan and Kevin have es­sen­tial worker sta­tus, which en­sures they can go to work each day to har­vest and box their crops. By us­ing so­cial me­dia, they have found a ready and keen lo­cal mar­ket for their boxes.

“When we first put the idea out there, we weren’t sure how pop­u­lar it would be, but the re­sponse has been won­der­ful,” Jan says. “It’s a win-win: our cus­tomers get restau­rant-qual­ity pro­duce, hand-picked at the peak of fresh­ness, while we can en­sure that Field28 is kept in readi­ness to re­open when­ever it’s safe to do so.”

In no way can the sale of veg boxes re­store Jan and Kevin’s lost in­come, but it is pay­ing div­i­dends of an­other kind.

“As a den­tist I work six days a week in­doors, with a bent back, us­ing high mag­ni­fi­ca­tion loupes, so I live con­stantly with back­ache, with eye­strain and have that pale, washed-out skin of the ‘al­ways in­doors’,” Kevin says.

“Now, I’ve had weeks off from all that to be­ing out­doors all day. We’ve had some beau­ti­ful weather; I have the best sun­tan I have ever had and no more eye­strain.

“I’ve lost some weight and am out­side do­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­cise every day.

“Na­ture can be so kind yet so cruel, but there is al­ways a bal­ance and times like this help you to re­set your pri­or­i­ties in life. Field28 has been a real out­let – when you’re out in the field it takes your mind off things, you can just put your other wor­ries away for a while – but then when I look across the field to the prac­tice I’m long­ing to get back to where I be­long, look­ing af­ter my pa­tients.”

‘Within a mat­ter of hours, a life­time spent build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­vid­ing a qual­ity ser­vice counted

for noth­ing’

Kevin and Jan have di­ver­si­fied with their fresh veg box sup­plied to Dares­bury homes

RIGHT: Kevin Dobbs’s days look very dif­fer­ent to his life be­fore lock­down

ABOVE: Jan se­lects the fresh­est pro­duce from their fields

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