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INTERVIEW: Staff at Morecambe firm celebrate shock news that they now own the company

Staff at Optimum in Morecambe are celebrating that the firm is now employee owned. George Cronje is pictured receiving an employee ownership pack from managing director Paul Bailey.

Imagine turning up for work one day to be told that you're now an owner of the company!

That's exactly what happened to staff at a Morecambe firm when they were given the shock news that their workplace is now employee owned.

Around 70 staff at Optimum RX Lens Specialists are now part of an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) at the company based on the White Lund Industrial Estate.

They were told the news, completely out of the blue, by the management team on Tuesday.

Sharon Eals, coatings manager, said she was "shocked" but "thrilled" to discover that she was now a co-owner after working for the company for the past 17 years.

LISTEN to Sharon, managing director Paul Bailey, sales director Mark Marland and commercial manager Kate Child talking about Optimum becoming an EOT company

Sharon is pictured below (left) with colleagues Kasia Oleskiewicz, Marzena Bandura, Luke Pedley and Callum Loftus after the announcement.

"I'm thrilled, it wasn't what I was expecting at all," said Sharon.

"It's still sinking in but the more it does, the more happy I am, and excited for the future.

"I've been here a long time and always had a great interest, and to have a proper personal stake in it feels great.

"I have a lot of ideas and I'm looking forward to bring more of those forward. It doesn't feel like I'm doing it for someone else, I'll be doing it for me and those around me, and it feels fantastic to be doing that."

EOTs are becoming more popular around the UK, with research showing that a combination of shared ownership and employee participation can lead to firms becoming more engaged, innovative, productive and sustainable.

Here's Dan Cook from the Optimum team receiving his ownership certificate and pack from Mark Marland and Paul Bailey

Mr Bailey said the new set-up means "the employees get the benefit of the future growth of the business"

"We've been looking for the last two years at our options for how we would exit the business having just turned 60," he said.

"(We could have) put the business on the market and sell it to someone else in the industry. That wasn't really something we wanted to do because it would probably mean that the business would move somewhere else which would mean everyone here would lose their jobs.

"We got introduced to the idea of the trust and liked the concept that we could hand over control to the employees over a phased period of time. 

"We could have a bit of input into that, help them develop, and then hopefully we'll walk away with a strong management team in place to take the business forward."

Pictured below, staff at Optimum celebrating the news that the company is now employee owned

Mr Bailey and Mr Marland said they had been discussing the idea for some time, and had taken advice before deciding an EOT was the best move for the company's future.

Mr Marland said it was "very stressful" keeping the secret from the staff until they were ready to make the big announcement.

"It was really hard work because you want to tell suppliers and customers, but the key to us was the staff had to know first," he said.

"I've been in optics for 39 years, and telling the staff was the proudest moment of my life that we could do this. I think it's a great success story for the local community and the industry in general. I don't know of anybody else who has done this in our industry. I think it's great for the future and the employees get some say in the business."

Mark and Paul are pictured below with Kate Child, commercial manager at Optimum

Kate Child said: "Some people were shocked and maybe thought it was an April Fool!

"I think it takes people a while to digest it really.

"It's all positive and I heard someone saying that it gives people job security. Overall I think it's fantastic.

"It's a really nice place to be and we've got a lot of very talented people.

"I hope people will come forward with new ideas because they've got more of a voice."

Pictured below, Mr Marland congratulates Rayna Greenfield, sales manager, on becoming a co-owner of Optimum

Optimum, based on Newgate, has been in business for 23 years, starting out as a lens coating firm.

Now the company manufactures lenses as well, taking charge of the full process from receiving an initial prescription from an optician, to cutting, treating and checking the lens - supplying hospitals and even major films.

"When you go and pick up your pair of glasses and they come out of the drawer at the opticians you don't think what goes on, but it goes through a commercial stage, a mechanical stage, a chemical stage, a lot of final inspection stages, to make sure the lens is perfect quality for the patient," said Mr Marland.

As for what the future holds, the Optimum employee owners have been told that nothing will change with day-to-day operations at their workplace.

Staff who have been with the firm for six months or more automatically become employee owners, without having to pay anything.

Employee owners do not own shares directly, which are instead held by the EOT, managed and represented by a trustee.

There are plans to set up an employee council, with staff being encouraged to come up with ideas to help build the company they now co-own.

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