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Advertorial from Specsavers

Breaking Down Barriers: How Big Issue and Specsavers are Making Eye Care Accessible for Homeless Vendors

From challenges in booking appointments to the lack of a permanent address, homeless vendors often find it difficult to access essential eye care. Discover how Big Issue and Specsavers are working together to make a positive difference by offering free eye tests and glasses to those who need them most.

A member of the Specsavers team, male with blonde hair and glasses, looks at a pair of spectacles with his colleagues, both women, one young with pink hair, one older and blonde, wearing a blue and white patterned blouse.

The Big Issue / Specsavers staff training Bristol ©Exposure Photo Agency Ltd

Advertorial from Specsavers

Big Issue’s frontline teams throughout the UK are acutely aware that for many of their magazine vendors, especially those who are homeless, accessing essential eye care can be fraught with challenges. Obstacles like digital exclusion, the absence of a permanent address and lack of ID can make registering with an optician for routine eye care a low priority amid other pressing daily life concerns.

Bridging the Gap: The Big Issue and Specsavers Partnership

To tackle these barriers to eye care for homeless people, Big Issue has teamed up with Specsavers. Now, all 1,200 Big Issue vendors who receive one-to-one support each year are entitled to vouchers that cover the cost of eye tests and glasses at Specsavers, along with complimentary ear wax removal services.

In Bristol, Big Issue’s south-west frontline team and the Specsavers Merchant Street store colleagues have piloted knowledge exchange sessions, learning about each other’s work: why eye health is important and its specific implications for people who are homeless, and how to break down hurdles that might be holding them back from making eye care appointments. “We are looking at how we engage vendors in Big Issue’s wraparound frontline support services at the most relevant stage to ensure greater engagement, reassuring them as to what the eye test process will be like, which can include providing additional support for the appointment,” explains Russell Blackman, MD of commercial and publishing at Big Issue.

Tackling Language and Cultural Barriers

A key priority is demystifying the process, such as producing large posters for Big Issue offices showing images of vendors at their appointments, illustrating what a positive experience it can be. Language and other cultural barriers, for example in Roma vendor communities, are specific challenges: “We are exploring the idea of a dedicated open evening session for Roma vendors so that they can find out more,” says Blackman, “and we will ensure that all of our posters and leaflets are translated into Romanian.”

For Susan Lomax, a Big Issue sales and outreach worker in Bristol, the best opportunity to talk about the Specsavers’ partnership is often when vendors come in to pick up their magazines each week. “Vendors might not always be good at keeping appointments, or managing a calendar to know when appointments are due to happen. Or they might have poor reading and writing abilities, on top of lacking the digital capability to log on to make appointments,” she explains. “Some vendors are wary of going into places where there is some kind of ‘authority’ or where they don’t fully understand what is going to happen, or what they will be expected to do.”

Facing Uncertainties and Trust Issues

Evie Pardoe, a Bristol-based vendor support worker, agrees that uncertainty can be a deterrent: “I think the unknown often puts people off, with the potential of having to go through quite an extensive process where they might have to answer a lot of questions, including personal ones. This can be especially difficult if English isn’t their first language, or they haven’t had many positive experiences with professionals.”

“In addition, there can be a lack of trust that many of our vendors have, due to challenging life experiences, which means that it can take time to get to the point where they feel comfortable enough to divulge personal information, let alone allow someone to blow a puff of air into their eyes!”

Specsavers’ colleagues are fully aware of these challenges and understand how important it is to be welcoming and reassuring: “Some vendors are concerned that the eye test will hurt or cause discomfort,” says Zak Hussain, optical assistant at Specsavers Bristol Merchant Street. “They might not have had an eye test for quite a while, if ever. But we try our best to reassure them that it is entirely painless and absolutely nothing to be wary of.”

The Importance of Regular Eye Tests

It is important for all of us to have eye tests: “Sometimes people have eye conditions that they aren’t even aware of, especially those vendors who feel that they cannot receive healthcare because of their situation. It’s vital that we are able to identify any visual difficulties they might have, to improve their quality of life,” says optical assistant Leah Watson. “Eyesight is such an under-appreciated sense. It’s vital that we remind everyone how important it is to get regular check-ups.,.”

In Big Issue’s London team, Lorraine Richardson, vendor outreach worker, says that eye tests might be discussed as part of an individual vendor’s action plan. “We discuss the importance of eye health and its relation to overall health and wellbeing,” she says. “I explain how to book an appointment, what the voucher entitles you to, how to use it, and offer assistance in booking and attendance.”

Expanding Ambition in Homeless Healthcare

Specsavers’ commitment to making healthcare accessible is a long-term ambition, working with Vision Care for Homeless People and the homeless charity Crisis to set up drop-in clinics, in addition to the Big Issue vendors voucher partnership and sponsorship of the vendor tabard. And, as we reflect on World Homeless Day, for the Specsavers’ team it means a lot to see positive outcomes.

Ben Davis, Specsavers Merchant Street retail supervisor, explains: “Big Issue vendors who previously felt that they couldn’t access eye care, can now do so, which is so vital for them and helps support their role selling the magazine. It also means that their day-to-day lives are improved because they are able to see more clearly.. That is so important.”

Ben says, working with vendors has been overwhelmingly positive: “Our team has a newfound appreciation for the work they do helping everyone that comes into our store -they all matter to us.”

Leah adds: “The Big Issue vendors we’ve seen have all been lovely! Once they’ve had their test and collected their glasses they’re very happy.”

Zak sums it up: “I feel the store is welcoming to everyone who comes in. There is a warm atmosphere between colleagues, it’s brought us all even closer together!”

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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