Advertorial from Specsavers

A vision for change: Big Issue and Specsavers empower homeless communities with accessible eye and ear care

In this season of goodwill, we look back at how Big Issue and Specsavers are working together to transform lives for our vendors with our Vision for Change partnership.

ChatGPT A person wearing a red Big Issue vest and a beige and red striped scarf stands in front of a backdrop of Christmas trees. They are smiling and holding a copy of the Big Issue magazine with a cover featuring Alan Partridge. The individual is wearing glasses and a red beanie hat with the Big Issue logo on it. The outdoor setting suggests it might be cold, and the person is dressed warmly in a jacket with a fleece collar.

Big Issue vendor Daiana on her patch with her new glasses. Picture by Frankie Stone.

Advertorial from Specsavers

In 2022 Big Issue Group and Specsavers united on a mission to make expert care accessible for people who are experiencing homelessness, one of the most overlooked and neglected communities in our country.

Our Vision For Change initiative is providing free eye tests, glasses and wax removal to Big Issue vendors and the front line team nationwide in a partnership that’s transcending typical corporate social responsibility statements – taking action where it’s needed most and making a real difference. This isn’t a short-term initiative, the aim is to make a real difference, working towards dismantling barriers to essential care and providing help to everyone.

Big Issue vendor George shows off his new tabard featuring our sponsors Specsavers. Photo: Exposure Photo Agency

George Anderson, who sells the magazine in London, articulates a significant barrier to healthcare: not knowing that help is available. “The primary reason for leaving it so long was just cost – I was fearful,” he explains. “I suppose there was a slight ignorance on my part. I never went into a place like Specsavers to enquire. I just assumed it was going to be too expensive for me to deal with.” It’s clear that our initiative is opening doors that many thought were closed to them.

In Bristol, vendors Will Payne and Daiana Dumitru also talk about how the support from Specsavers has helped them. Will, a poet, writer and novelist, describes how his deteriorating eyesight affected him: “My eyesight was shortening, shortening, shortening, leading to headaches, dizziness and fainting spells,” he tells us. “I’m a writer myself, so words are everything to me. But you can’t read the words if you can’t see properly.”

Big Issue Vendor Will Payne having his eyes tested and getting glasses at Specsavers Bristol ©Exposure Photo Agency Ltd

After receiving his glasses from Specsavers, Will’s world transformed: “It’s been incredible,” he says. “I can see everything crystal clear. The words dance off the page!”. And new glasses meant he could resume a training course for security work at music festivals, improving his skills and ability to earn more money.

Daiana echoes Will’s sentiment: “I think that this was a really good project,” she says. “My glasses have really helped me. They have helped me to read much more than I used to.” Her involvement extended to a drop-in session for the Roma community at the Specsavers store in Bristol city centre, where she has helped others access eye tests and glasses.

And Specsavers is not just making a direct difference to Big Issue vendors. The company is also working with Crisis and Vision Care for Homeless People (VHCP) by supporting clinics and outreach centres across the UK and advocating for policy changes in government. By actively involving individuals with lived experiences of homelessness in their work, Specsavers has been able to tailor clinics and services that will help people access the care they need.

We’re reaching out to bring people in. We’re here for everybody. We just haven’t seen them all yet

Dame Mary Perkins, Specsavers co-founder

Speaking to The Big Issue at VCHP’s Bristol clinic opening Dame Mary Perkins, Specsavers’ co-founder, highlighted the inclusivity at the heart of their mission: “We’re reaching out to bring people in. We’re here for everybody. We just haven’t seen them all yet.”

In the last year, the results of this Specsavers and VCHP collaboration have been significant:

  • Opening of new clinics in Bristol and London’s new Crisis Skylight, providing high-quality, accessible care.
  • Plans to expand the network of VCHP clinics from seven to 24 in England, Wales, and Scotland over five years.

In the coming three months, Specsavers will be running 10 full-day clinics in various Crisis outreach centres across the UK. In 2024 their collaboration will see the Introduction of mobile clinics in Leeds, bringing services directly to those who can’t reach them.

As well as helping on an individual level, the aim has always been to influence healthcare policy on a much larger scale. Specsavers are calling for specific policy changes from the government to help make the most difference to people experiencing homelessness. These include asking for the eligibility for free eye tests and glasses to be extended to people experiencing homelessness, the removal of a pre-visit notification when delivering NHS domiciliary eye care at a homeless shelter and that people experiencing homelessness should be eligible to receive free replacement NHS glasses if they are broken, lost or stolen.

We know that the best outcomes happen when we work together to achieve the same goal

Jo Osborne, senior project manager for homelessness at Specsavers

Jo Osborne, senior project manager for homelessness at Specsavers, succinctly describes the company’s approach: “We know that the best outcomes happen when we work together to achieve the same goal,” she said. “By doing so, we can better understand the needs of people experiencing homelessness and together try to achieve lasting change, including lobbying government to make access to care easier and more inclusive.”

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

Recognising the need for sensitivity and understanding in serving people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness, Specsavers has also introduced training for its store colleagues designed to increase awareness about homelessness and the unique barriers these individuals face. Additionally, a CPD module for eye care clinicians focuses on running clinics specifically tailored for patients experiencing homelessness. Over 50 stores have signed up to take part in a pilot to offer out-of-hour monthly clinics.

During this busiest time of year for Big Issue and our vendors, it is a good time to reflect on the positive changes that Big Issue and Specsavers have initiated. Vision For Change is more than a campaign; it’s a movement towards a society where healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

Our shared vision for the future is clear and ambitious: that every person has access to the healthcare they need and deserve regardless of living situation. The journey has begun, and its impact is already visible in the lives it has transformed.

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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