All together again

people talking animation

During the pandemic, technology has been an incredible tool that has connected people in a time of social isolation.

But 100% Optical (London ExCel, 23-25 April) was a testament to the unique magic of meeting in person.

Sure, I was still asked to repeat myself when interviewing delegates – but it wasn’t because my screen had frozen – it was because I was surrounded by the hubbub of people catching up following months of pandemic-enforced isolation.

It was the chatter of people getting to know each other outside of the chequerboard of a video call. Would they recognise each other without the same pot plant in the corner, faithful mugs gathering tidelines of tea stains over multiple lockdowns?

There was a double decker bus, a catwalk, doughnuts and a smiling woman carrying an armful of single socks – with the promise of being reunited with its pair on-stand.

This was the profession in 3D.

“It is clear from the attendance levels over the weekend and the positive feedback received, that delegates were delighted to return once again to the largest optical event in the calendar,” the AOP’s head of education, Dr Ian Beasley shared with OT.

Strolling through the stands, attendees were treated to a snapshot of the innovation and trends that have percolated through the optical sector during the past two years.

An unprecedented social shift prompted by the pandemic has given individuals and companies the time to reflect on their priorities.

Sustainability was a clear thread running through the offerings of multiple exhibitors. From Feb31st frames that are a literal windfall – crafted from the wood of trees fallen in storms – to David Green Eyewear, incorporating natural materials from leaves and reeds to mother of pearl.

As well as getting legs moving circulating stands from more than 200 exhibitors at the show, attendees had the chance to stretch their minds through continuing professional development sessions.

During his presentation, Community eye care pathways for people with a learning disability: an optometry first service, SeeAbility’s Trevor Hunter described the barriers that people with learning disabilities face in accessing eye care.

“If we can solve some of their eye care problems, we can stop them being held back and they can achieve their goals,” he said.

AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, highlighted the important role that optometrists play in his opening address ahead of the first education session on the main stage.

“What you do is absolutely essential. You are there for us when we are young, when we are students and when we experience the eye diseases that come with age. We want to protect and promote what is an essential part of healthcare,” he emphasised.

Show director, Nathan Garnett, described the event’s return as “phenomenal.”

“We’ve had a real buzz in the room and a general feeling of happiness that people have got back together,” he said.

And then, it was over, the stands disassembled, and the doughnut crumbs swept away.

But the legacy of the event remains in the step count on my iPhone and a feeling of reassurance that the profession will be reunited again next year – like so many lone socks with their pairs.