Key milestones

“We have a long history of supporting the community”

Jo Delbridge, sustainability director at Specsavers, talks OT  through the development of the optical group’s partnership with The Big Issue

Steve big issue seller

1 As a business, Specsavers was looking at how we could really embrace our sustainability credentials and look at all the things that we should be doing as the world changes post-pandemic.

We have a long history of supporting the community and being a champion of the High Street. That’s part of our values, from the founders of the company. We’ve done work with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Guide Dogs and Comic Relief, and a lot of overseas work in Zambia. This time, we wanted to really help a group of people who weren’t getting the help they needed.

2 Most people can access health services via the NHS, but when we looked into it in more detail, we realised that there is a group of people, ie homeless people, who often struggled to access health services.

That’s why we identified that particular group of people as really needing extra support: because often, through no fault of their own, they don’t have a permanent address – they’re living in temporary accommodation, or they could be refugees or migrant workers, or people coming out of the army. So, we knew that there was this group of people who really needed additional support, and that’s when we decided that we were going to focus on putting some serious measures in place to support these people.

3 The Big Issue got in touch with us.

It was really good timing, as we’d already decided to do this. We explained what we were trying to do, which was to improve accessibility and inclusivity for people with housing and accommodation issues. We talked more and then they said, “There might be an opportunity to help our vendors, because many of them have been homeless or are still homeless, and are trying to escape homelessness, not just sponsoring by their tabards to improve their visibility on the streets, but to also by giving them free eye care too.”

Over the course of the next year or so, we hope that every single vendor will have an opportunity to come into our store and have an eye test


4 We spoke for months, working out the best way to get gift cards to vendors so they would feel comfortable.

Any challenges have come from establishing our processes. We’ve sent all the vendors gift cards, which they can redeem as they would any regular gift card. The Big Issue has said that its frontline workers will accompany anyone who feels uncomfortable coming into a busy retail environment. We’ve tried to make it as simple and as uncomplicated as possible.

5 Officially, we launched in October.

I did a photoshoot with the guys in the pictures, Stephen (pictured) and George. Everybody we’ve spoken to about it has really welcomed it, and said what a good initiative it is. We need to do see what we can do across the industry to help a group of people that have gone under the radar when it comes to accessing eye care.

6 The other part of the offering is free wax removal.

Again, it’s about working out the process. We don’t have gift cards for wax removal, so we’ve had to work out another mechanism. It’s about how to make it as easy for the homeless person as possible to access services, so that there are no barriers in no way.

7 The partnership is ongoing.

It’s going to take a while for all the vendors to get their tests, and there will be some people that have had a test recently and won’t need one. The Big Issue has got around 1200 vendors, so it will take a while for all of them to come through. It’s early days to see the reaction, but that's what we’ll be monitoring very closely.

Over the course of the next year or so, we hope that every single vendor will have an opportunity to come into our store and have an eye test. If they need them, they’ll get free glasses as well. People that might be sleeping rough or leading quite chaotic lives are often more vulnerable when it comes to health issues and eye conditions, so we’re also including free optical coherence tomography in the service.