Kent employees saddle up for a share in equine vets

Equine veterinary business Lingfield Equine Vets has become employee-owned after transferring into an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT).

The vets, which has practices in Kent and Surrey, had three previous sole shareholders – George Christopherson, Rachel Atherton and Kate Granshaw. It has grown from just four vets when it opened in 2007 in Felbridge near East Grinstead to now having 14 vets, as well as a support team of 12.

The main hospital site is based on 16 acres of land, which is just a 12-minute drive south of the M25, and it has benefited from £1m of investment over the past three years.

Boasting plenty of on-site accommodation for nurses, interns and vets, the medical facilities include several treatment rooms, an operating theatre, turnout paddocks, menage, lunge area and trot up space, as well as 13 stables for in-patients, including isolation stables.

A second practice in Ashford, Kent was opened in 2021, which has an office, lameness work up facilities and stables. 

Lingfield Equine Vets has more than 4,000 clients across the two practices and is continuing to grow year upon year.

Director George Christopherson said: “We believe we are the first equine practice in the country to become an EOT. Unlike the other large equine practices in the South East, we never felt comfortable with the idea of selling to a corporate giant, so becoming an EOT felt like the perfect solution for us.

“The data is very clear. Employee-owned businesses have higher employee retention, work more efficiently and have a team who are ultimately more satisfied and successful, which is great news for everyone in the business and our clients.

“In the future, Lingfield Equine Vets should also be able to offer some of the best salaries in the industry as increasingly any surplus profits will be distributed amongst all employees.”

The three shareholders took advice from Kent-based Pennard Vets, which became the world’s largest employee-owned practice in 2021 and has since helped guide numerous other practices through the process.

George added: “We would like to thank Pennard Vets for showing us the best way to approach the EOT process and we are very happy with the outcome.

Moving forward, we feel that being an EOT will help attract and retain the very best equine professionals, and due to expansion, we are currently recruiting for at least three team members this year alone.”

George and his wife Jenny Christopherson, who is a vet, also own Portland Vets, which provides veterinary care to small animals and has practices in East Grinstead, Edenbridge and Horley.

Portland Vets, which was founded in 2004, has three thriving small animal practices with 12 full-time equivalent vets.

A £3.5m investment is currently being made that will see a fourth surgery with a CT Scanner, two operating theatres and six consulting rooms being built in Crawley, Sussex, which is set to open in January 2025.

George added: “At both our equine and small animal businesses, we have a culture of growing organically through a mixture of taking on graduate vets and developing their skills, in conjunction with recruiting experienced vets thereby creating supportive and dynamic teams where every vet adds value to the business.

“In both practices, we work in partnership with Surrey University Vet School teaching final-year students. Portland Vets has taken on seven graduate vets since 2018 and all still work for the practice.

“We hope that becoming an EOT will attract even more new and experienced vets who want to be part of an independent, employee-owned practice.

“It’s an exciting time for everyone involved with both Lingfield Equine Vets and Portland Vets and we would encourage other practices to explore the many benefits that becoming an EOT provides.”

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