Riada looks to a new era

Riada looks to a new era
Partner, Neil Johnston

Ballymoney’s Riada Veterinary Clinic has been at the heart of the community in the town for generations and now, it’s looking forward to a major renovation scheme, the first in almost 20 years.

Riada Veterinary Clinic is the longest-established veterinary business operating in the Ballymoney area.

A thriving mixed practice that works from roomy and easily accessible premises close to the centre of the market town, Riada is run by a total of 10 vets, five of them partners, offering a busy companion animal surgery and a full large animal service.

The Riada clinic has been a fixture at the same spot on Queen Street since the late 1940s when its founder, Tom Houston, re-located his fledgling practice from his native Cloughmills, setting up home with his wife, Dora, at the rear of the new premises.

Tom practised by himself for a short while, but as the business grew, he welcomed vet Jim McDowell onto the staff in in 1965, followed by Bert Allison seven years later. Sadly, Jim – who had become a partner at the practice in the 70s, passed away in August this year after 52 years of veterinary practice at Riada. Bert continues to practice at Queen Street and is now the longest serving of the practice’s five partners.

The site itself remains largely unchanged since its earliest days, although facilities in the small animal end of the practice were enhanced around 1999 with the conversion of vacant living accommodation.

Plans are now in place, however for the first significant expansion at Riada. Land to the rear of the clinic has been earmarked for the scheme which will see a new consulting room and pharmacy added along with renovations to existing office space and the waiting area. There are also plans in place to make the large animal facilities at the back of the practice more “user-friendly”.

It’s indicative of the growth in companion animal business that has characterised veterinary practice in recent years, and Riada sits right in the centre of Ballymoney surrounded by residential areas and convenient to the town’s busy commercial heart.

According to partner, Neil Johnston, however, there are no plans to scale down large animal commitments at the Ballymoney practice:

“If anything, the plan would be to expand that side of the business too,” he told NIVT. “It’s always been a major part of what we do at Riada and that’s not going to change.

“But we think that there are things that we can do better and that’s what we are aiming to do with these improvements.”

Staff turnover at the Riada practice has always been low – the last person to leave did so around eight years ago – but with expansion plans in the pipeline, the partners are hoping to appoint another vet soon.

Bert Allison’s son, Mark, came into the practice in 2006, becoming a partner in 2014. Mark had graduated from Edinburgh in 2004 and spent a couple of years in mixed practice in Armagh before joining his dad in Ballymoney.

He believes that he and his colleagues in north Antrim are blessed with a client base which is forward-thinking and happy to engage with the vets in a modern and progressive manner:

“The nature of this business nowadays is that there is much more of a focus on preventative medicine and trying to build awareness around issues such as the use of antibiotics, it’s more about improving farm efficiency and less about simply troubleshooting,” says Mark.

And Neil Johnston agrees: “There isn’t as much ‘fire brigade’ veterinary work now as you might have had say, 20 years ago,” he says.

That change in attitude means standards in farm husbandry are also continuously improving:

“We’re very fortunate in this area, we have a lot of very good clients, very educated and forward-looking farmers who are keen to come on board with modern practices and meet the needs of consumers,” says Mark. “There is no point in preaching to someone who doesn’t want to learn.”

And Neil Johnston agrees. He says that clients are generally only calling for a vet when there is a genuine need:

“They appreciate that we can help them add value to their business as opposed to being just another cost. They know that we can help them be more efficient and make more of a profit,” he adds.

As for the renovations at Riada, planning permission is already in place and the partners hope to see the work completed within the next two years.

“The ethos at this practice has always been to provide as good a service as possible and to work as a team and I think those are two of the reasons we’ve been able to keep our staff reasonably happy,” says Neil. “In my opinion, it’s the only way to compete in the modern market.

“We’ve also been very lucky in that we have had good relationships with our neighbouring practices. We consider them to be colleagues rather than competitors and I think that’s the way that veterinary practice should be.” NIVT