“The team are proud to be part of such a big milestone”
Rawlings Opticians in Winchester celebrated 100 years on the High Street
03 December 2023
Walk down Winchester’s historic streets, through the medieval city gateway, and to the top of the bustling pedestrianised High Street, and you will find an enduring facet of the local community, which recognised its 100-year anniversary this year.
Rawlings Opticians in Winchester first opened in 1923 and is currently managed by Christopher Hobbs. Previously, the practice had been managed by Sally Hake for more than 15 years.
Reflecting on how the location has changed in 100 years, Rachael Smith, optometrist and director at Rawlings Opticians in Winchester, explained to OT: “The High Street in Winchester, like most towns, has seen many changes over the years. When we first opened in 1923, the High Street had mainly small family-run businesses, such as Nash’s Tobacconists, Cusworth’s newsagents, Arthur Taylor’s fruiterers, and Easton’s Restaurant, but over the 100 years, these have been replaced by more chain shops on the High Street, and small boutiques in the lanes leading from it.”
“In fact, Rawlings Opticians is the only family-owned business still on our High Street after all that time.”
To celebrate the 100-year anniversary, the practice hosted a cheese and wine afternoon, inviting patients and former members of staff, as well as the Mayor of Winchester and Winchester Radio. The celebration also hosted performances by artists from Blue Apple Theatre.
Speaking to OT, Smith said of the anniversary: “The team are proud to be part of such a big milestone in the history of the company and loved being involved in the celebrations, creating and belonging to part of Rawlings legacy.”
Claire Shipway, chairperson and HR director, delivered a speech on the history of Rawlings Opticians & Hearing Care, and her own career, spanning more than 40 years from junior stockroom worker at the age of 16, through her training as a dispensing optician, to her current position.
As part of the celebrations, the practice raised money for Blue Apple Theatre, a theatre company that supports performers with learning disabilities to develop and present high quality productions.
“We chose Blue Apple Theatre as one of our beloved patients is involved in the charity, and it is a local and valuable charity in Winchester,” Smith shared. “We managed to donate £2000, from raffle prizes donated from local Winchester businesses, as well as Rawlings making a £1000 donation.”
Many patients were heavily involved in the celebrations, including long-standing patients. Reflecting on the anniversary party, Smith said: "This meant we got to see all the people who we have built solid relationships with over decades, with some of them coming to us for more than 70 years.”
The practice welcomed its newest optometrist, Jasnique, in October, with another optometrist joining in January. A fourth audiologist is also soon to join who will be working across several Rawlings branches.
“All are an excellent fit for Rawlings in Winchester, and we have a great future to look forward to,” Smith said.
Considering the history of the practice, both in the High Street, and as part of Rawlings Opticians, she explained: “Although our Winchester brand is 100 years old, Rawlings first opened its doors in 1895 [in Croydon], so we have 127 years of heritage in total. Our company-wide 125th anniversary celebrations were cancelled in 2020 for obvious reasons, but watch this space as there will be an opportunity to revive the plans for our next milestone.”
100 years of independent practice
“All independent businesses have faced challenges in the past century, and we are no exception,” Smith told OT.
Balancing the ethos of personalised service, high quality care, a fair pricing strategy and high-end products has been “key” to retaining and attracting patients, the team suggested.
“Whilst our patients generally enjoy continuity of care with many longstanding staff – some of over 40 years – during times where recruitment has been an issue, we have used excellent locum staff on occasion,” Smith said. “We have positioned ourselves to be attractive to new employees and our Gold level Investors in People status has been a valuable asset in this respect and is well worth attaining.”
“Being an independent business has allowed us to move quickly in times of change, both in the industry and globally,” she continued, noting that the practice was an early adopter of OCT and myopia management contact lenses.
During the pandemic, the practice was able to support its patients as well as new emergency patients who could not access hospital care, with several of the optometrists having independent prescriber qualifications.
A “robust” contingent of patients on the Rawlings Vision Plan, a direct debit scheme for spectacle and contact lens wearers, meant cash flow in the practice did not experience such a significant hit as other businesses.
“Many independent businesses have been bought and where there are benefits either individually or for those companies that is a sound business decision,” Smith shared. “However, we are happy to be thriving and expanding with the launch of our hearing care service at the start of 2023, with our own employed audiology team being our newest venture. We could not be prouder of what we have achieved.”