Dave’s Start-up Story

Below is an abridged and updated version of Dave’s Road to Kenbury: A Practice History that was first produced for the 2018 Open House weekend at The London Animal Hospital:

“I qualified in 1974 from Trinity College, Dublin and came to London straight away. I intended to stay for only a couple of years, but 44 have passed now and I have not yet tired of London.

I started my career at a veterinary hospital in Sutton and after years of the usual cavalcade of life events: openings, resignations, deaths and partnerships I found myself in an unequal partnership of 7 units under the name of the Ark Veterinary Clinics by 1987. We split amicably enough and I kept the Kennington, Brixton Hill, and Bermondsey clinics.

By 1989 the economy was overheating and there was a rash of companies trying to make money by launching on the stock market. In a move which was 20 years ahead of its time, my ex-partner tried to buy up enough practices to float as a company on the market. He sent in unpleasant negotiators who left me in no doubt that the health of my family was best served by selling my three practices. I was devastated, but this I did.

I was now bound out (prevented by the sale contract) from a radius of one mile around any of the original 7 clinics. I went to a vet conference in California and planned my next move in the sunshine. When I came back I got out my Ordnance Survey map and drew the circles. The only spot in which I could open was a strip from the clock tower at Clapham North to the clock tower at Stockwell. I wandered up and down the street on foot. Eventually I spotted a child sweeping up in an empty shop at the Stockwell Roundabout. I gave her my card, asked her to ask an adult to ring me and 4 months later I opened at 348 South Lambeth Road, Stockwell. 

It was 1990. The country was now in recession and for the first 18 months I was on call all night every night and working every day and I still very nearly did not survive. Fortunately, I did and the practice eventually became very successful. Meanwhile an old friend of mine, Ian, found himself without a practice and I employed him while he opened a surgery on Barmouth Road, Wandsworth. He was becoming more and more affected by multiple sclerosis and I promised him that if he got too bad to practice – in the event of no other purchasers – I would bail him out when the time came.

By the end of 1995, an associate at the Stockwell practice, Russell, suggested that we had enough goodwill to open a second practice. I found a building for sale on Abbeville Road, Clapham, and I made an offer. The ink was not yet dry from signing on the building at Abbeville Road when Ian – who was permanently returning home to Australia and had been definitely selling to someone else – failed to sell, whilst Russell informed me that he too was returning home for good. I had to buy Ian’s Practice, pay for the Abbeville Road building, and continue to run the Stockwell practice alone.

I had many sleepless nights. 

Dave in Stockwell Surgery
Brochure for 348 South Lambeth Road
Abbeville Road Surgery
Abbeville Fete Dog Show

I opened in Abbeville Road in 1996. It did not do very well at first. I had bought our family house just around the corner from the Clapham practice 10 years earlier, so it made sense to get someone else to run Stockwell and I took over Abbeville Road in 1998. In time I sold Stockwell to Goddards and Wandsworth to Manro Medical and I happily continued working in Clapham, which was my base for the following twenty years.

The London Animal Hospital (TLAH)

Yet I was still looking to build a patient-centred, private veterinary hospital with commensurate levels of care and expertise, offering state-of-the-art facilities, round-the-clock access and individually tailored veterinary medicine. In this pursuit, I opened the Clerkenwell Animal Hospital with a partner in 2010. The practice was a success but we did not share the same vision and I persuaded him to buy me out in 2014 so I could continue scouring London for another suitable site. There were many false starts. Just before Christmas 2015 I decided not to progress a building on Blackfriars Road. In a state of mild depression, and hearing that the RSPCA had sold their Camberwell Clinic building to property developers I put “Freeholds for Sale in SE5” into Google and to my surprise, three came up. By the following morning one had been sold, the other was on a Red Route with no parking, and the third was much too big and much too expensive – it was what became The London Animal Hospital. 

Press Coverage of TLAH Launch

In February 2016 I was given a ‘showing’ of one of the former Kids Company sites, on Kenbury Street. There was no doubt about it: this was the building for me. It was near perfect.

I offered the asking price and waited. Others were interested (and probably offered less than the asking price, because let’s face it, no one is that stupid). There was a protracted negotiation during which I had to approach the sellers directly because the agent made it plain he thought I couldn’t raise the finance and others possibly could. I signed on the line in April 2016. In December we were granted planning permission, and only then did it become obvious that we would have to replace the roof.  It was asbestos. Only white asbestos, but asbestos is asbestos. It was too near Christmas for the builders to start, and there was always the fear of squatters over the holiday period, so the builders started in January 2017 and we opened in April that year. 

We had a tremendous two years, not without challenges and pitfalls, but ultimately the bank didn’t share my faith in the project and with a heavy heart I sold the practices to Medivet in February 2019. Prohibited from opening a new veterinary practice within an 8-mile radius of Clapham and Camberwell for a 3 year period I now focus on one aspect of veterinary medicine that I have been doing for the last 40 years – animal product export certification. I started certifying product exports in 1978 and have always regarded certification as ‘part of the service’ provided by a local practice in much the same way that I used to treat the inner-city farms at cost.

Throughout this time, I have certified a huge variety of animal products to about 20 countries and dozens of luxury yachts. For many years I certified tuna, oysters, salmon and muscles going to sushi bars in Moscow. I have certified beef to Madagascar, Ovaltine to Dubai, Christmas supplies to the rugby club in Bahrain, leather handbags to India, gelatin to Italy (before the EU), Afghan skins and pheasants to where – I have forgotten. 

I have also certified various bacterial cultures to South Africa, ice cream to across the globe, instant porridge to the USA, lasagne to Korea, cheese to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, pork to Turkey, viennoiserie to South Africa and chocolate lava cake to the USA. I always enjoy seeing what is on the next shipment, meeting everyone involved and assisting where I can.

I have always been impressed with the high regard in which UK produce was held and have been very proud to be a link in that chain.”

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