“We have opened new windows of opportunity”
Elaine Styles, optometrist and chair of trustees at Vision Care for Homeless People, on her cycling glasses, frames that feel like a holiday, and celebrating 20 years of VCHP
23 December 2023
How many pairs of spectacles or sunglasses do you own?
Where do I start? The pair of glasses I use most are my cycling glasses. My current pair has a Bollé sports frame, and the lenses are multifocal Transitions. The beauty of these is that the wrap of the frame gives me very clear all-round vision when out on my bicycle and protection from any dust in the air or grit that might flick up from the road. I also use these glasses for gardening and hiking. The brilliant thing about Transitions is that I always have the right glasses on for the light conditions given the unpredictability of our weather – they are great for day, night, sun, or rain.
I have a couple of pairs of non-cycling frames with multifocal Transitions. My favourite is probably the Lindberg ‘n.o.w.’ frame with light composite front in a gorgeous bright purple and lightweight titanium sides. I also have some lovely Paul & Joe frames with some XTRAactive Transitions that I leave in the car if I need them for driving on a bright day. I then have two pairs of computer glasses – one left in Moorfields and the other at Specs of Kensington private practice, so they are always at work where I need them.
What frame shapes, colours or styles do you usually go for?I am generally conservative with my choice and tend to go for more practical options. I like frames that are very light and comfortable to wear. Another thing I have recently started to take into consideration is the environmental impact, so I am looking at plant-based or recycled options. Every piece of plastic we have ever used is still somewhere on this planet so my plastic frames from 40 years ago are still around. My last pair of sunglasses were from a British company called Waterhaul. They make frames from fishing nets washed up and collected from beaches in England and Wales. They also happen to be my favourite colour.
Every piece of plastic we have ever used is still somewhere on this planet so my plastic frames from 40 years ago are still around
Can you describe your favourite pair?
I have two pairs of beautiful Maui Jim sunglasses. My first pair is a stunning gold aviator shaped frame, and the second is a lovely light plastic frame, both of which have the fantastic Maui Jim tint and polarisation. The world looks super clear through them and even if I am not on holiday, it feels like I am when I put them on. I feel cool wearing them.
How long have you worn spectacles for? What prompted you to go for the sight test that led to the prescription?
I first started wearing a small myopic correction for board work at school when I was a teenager. I had some traditional clear plastic NHS frames.
What led you to start wearing the frames you use for cycling?
I cycle a lot in all weathers and light conditions. My cycling glasses give precise sharp vision, protection from dust and dirt and well as UV protection on the sunny days.
What does vision and eye health mean to you?
Vision is crucial to my work and my enjoyment in life. I work in hospital and private practice and need to be able to see clearly. I also love technology and the advancements in imaging machinery in the 30 years I have been practicing, for example optical coherence tomography, wide view photography, and corneal topography. I therefore need to be able to see clearly to interpret the images I take and translate them to the patients. For most people it gives fantastic reassurance that their eyes are very healthy, but for the few who have a problem, it can be detected and caught earlier.
I have two pairs of beautiful Maui Jim sunglasses… The world looks super clear through them and even if I am not on holiday, it feels like I am when I put them on
Vision Care for Homeless People at 20
This year VCHP celebrates a milestone – could you tell us about that, and what it means for the team to be recognising this?I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the countless volunteers and supporters who have selflessly dedicated their time, skills, and resources to the noble cause of Vision Care for Homeless People. The power of unity, compassion, and the collective action of the optical industry has played an indispensable role in transforming the lives of those in need.
Together, we have provided not just eye care but hope and dignity to individuals who often find themselves forgotten and marginalised. By giving homeless people the gift of sight, we have opened new windows of opportunity, allowing them to envision a brighter future.
What have you taken away from your experience at VCHP about ensuring eye examinations and spectacles are available to all?
Homeless people come from all walks of life, and it is just a set of circumstances that has led them into a spiral down to this low point. Improving access to eye care is as important as any other health service; corrected vision is essential for confidence, skill building, accessing benefits, finding accommodation, finding work or just surviving in a high-risk environment. Homeless people face barriers to accessing health care but are more in need of eye care than the general population. They have difficulty in accessing community-based care (High Street opticians).
When did you first start cycling and trekking? What draws you to these activities?
I always cycled everywhere as a child and teenager. When I came into London for university, I left my bicycle at home. It was when I met my now-husband John, who cycled everywhere, that I decided to get a bicycle again and haven’t looked back. I shop, commute and tour on bicycle for holidays. I even raced for a couple of years and once qualified for the Grand Fondo World Championships representing GB. I found racing a bit stressful, so it was a short career.
My mum is Irish and she used to take us walking up mountains in Wales and Ireland. I loved being out in nature. Now with my work mainly spending all day in a room with no windows, getting outdoors on my days off and holidays is very important.
Now with my work mainly spending all day in a room with no windows, getting outdoors on my days off and holidays is very important
What has been your biggest cycling/trekking challenge? Do you have any further challenges lined up?
I have taken on a couple of big cycling challenges and have cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 10 days and the Raid across the Pyrenees, which includes cycling up 20 of the mountains from the Tour de France. Regarding trekking, I have been to Nepal and up to Everest base camp and Annapurna base camp. The scenery is stunning, but the altitude can be challenging.
Does your sporting passion have an influence on your optical work, and vice versa?
I would like all my patients to have clear vision and comfortable spectacles so that they can experience the world at its best.