How I serve my community

Valli Opticians on going the extra mile to support local charities

Three individuals share how the optical group have been supporting their local community from annual community-focused fundraising walks to care packages offering "a little box of smiles" to children and their families in hospital

Valli Rally 2022
In this new feature series, How I serve my community, individuals share more about how their practice has been supporting its local community, outside of the testing room.

OT spoke to head of operations at Valli Opticians, Christine Wrenn, and chief executive officer at Outlookers, Christine Stephen, about the annual Valli Rally fundraising walk, spanning across three different Valli Optician practices in Huddersfield.

In addition, practice manager at Valli Opticians Birchwood, James Houlihan, shares more about the practice Christmas appeal for local charity, William’s Gift.

Valli Opticians on the Valli Rally

Can you share what Valli Opticians have been doing to help the community you serve this year?

Christine Wrenn, head of operations at Valli Opticians: We do several charity events throughout the year within local communities where we have our practices. The Valli Rally is the big one and has been going since 2013. We also have another event coming up in Birchwood, Warrington, for Christmas, in support of the charity William’s Gift (see end of the article for more details).

What inspired you or your practice group to start supporting charitable organisations and helping others in your community?

CW: Valli has always had a strong focus on local eye care, supporting the ethos of shopping locally and caring for the community. As a family business, that also believes in employing locally, we strive to make a positive impact on the surrounding area, being actively involved in initiatives for local schools, businesses, and charities.

The Valli Rally is one such initiative and is an annual countryside trek that raises money for local charities and encourages people to gather, get active and connect with one another.

With multiple practices across the North of England, do you think charitable events help unite your practices?

CW: The Valli Rally is a countryside walk between three or four of our practices. We are only able to put on this type of event because of the exceptional teamwork of our staff across all these practices. They really get involved to make the day special. They get all the food, drinks, and goody bags ready for the day. They also put banners and balloons up at the different locations to give the day a celebratory feel.

Moin and team

Do you have any advice for optometrists or business owners that would like to start supporting a local charity or run a charitable event?

CW: We always find supporting smaller local causes more fulfilling. Look at what is around in your community and who is in need of help.

How have patients responded and did they get involved too?

CW: This year over 100 people did the walk, many of whom are our patients. Our target was £8000, and we have already smashed that, thanks to donations from many of our lovely patients.

What impact do you think the 2022 Valli Rally event has on the community you serve?

CW: Outlookers, the local sight loss charity we were fundraising for, will benefit financially from the event. Beyond that the increase in awareness of this charity and what they do for the local visual impairment community is more intangible, but probably the greater benefit long-term. It is also such a feel-good event that brings together the Huddersfield communities of Honley, Meltham, and Slaithwaite whilst walking and enjoying the local countryside.

As a family business, that also believes in employing locally, we strive to make a positive impact on the surrounding area, being actively involved in initiatives for local schools, businesses, and charities

Christine Wrenn

Did your optometry or business knowledge aid you in running the event?

CW: You just have to have a passion for helping people and doing something that makes a meaningful difference to people’s lives.

Having good connections with our optical suppliers was certainly beneficial and I must take this opportunity to thank Hoya Lens UK, who have now supported the Valli Rally for several years and were once again our key sponsor for the event.

What does the future hold for the next Valli Rally event?

CW: The Valli Rally is an annual event that has become a bit of a brand by itself, and we will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary next year. To mark the occasion, perhaps we need to set the target to £10k next year.

If other optometrists would like to read more information about Valli Rally or get involved in future events, can you share how they can do so?

CW: Any interest is welcome, and they can email us on [email protected]. If you want to find out more about the charity Outlookers, please visit their website.

walking team

Outlookers on the Valli Rally

This year Valli Opticians raised over £8000 for Outlookers through their event, Valli Rally. What does this mean to the charity to have their support and how will this help the local community and those living with sight loss?

Christine Stephen, chief executive officer at Outlookers: Valli Opticians have been supporting Outlookers with fundraising events for the last four years. The finance manager for the Valli group is our treasurer and managing director of Valli Opticians, Moin Valli, is the vice chair. Moin, his family and staff have shared many of their expertise and resources.

When the pandemic hit, and we had no funds for personal protective equipment (PPE), they donated face masks and shields to us which allowed us to help local blind people with shopping. Over the last four years they have helped us raise over 30k.

Most of our fundraising money goes on our “try before you buy” project. Often people will go out and buy a piece of technology or equipment as a knee jerk reaction to being told the devastating news that they are about to lose their sight, and often what they buy is unsuitable equipment. We encourage them to talk to our volunteers or staff (the majority who are registered blind) about what equipment they would advise them to use and then we loan them equipment.

We can loan anything from iPhones to electronic magnifiers. Some of the latest technology can cost anything up to £3000 so we want people to be confident in how it works before they commit. Our staff and volunteers live with sight loss and use technology every day to make their lives easier, so it’s often the case that they will know ways to get discounts or can recommend free and useful apps.

For the last event my husband and I, and some of our family, walked around the course prior to the start a few times to cut down any overhanging holly as this can be a particular concern for people with limited sight when walking in the woods

Christine Stephen

Does the charity offer any support in setting up the event? If yes, how involved is the charity in the lead up to the event and on the day itself?

CS: Valli opticians does the majority of the setting up, such as ordering t-shirts, tote bags, creating the Just Giving fundraising pages, and marketing the events through their website.

On the day they provide walkers with stopping places, refreshments, which are homemade by staff and their families, and more generally are very welcoming.
Staff from the charity promote the event through our social media channels and would typically plan the walk to ensure it is suitable for people with significant sight loss. For the last event my husband and I, and some of our family, walked around the course prior to the start a few times to cut down any overhanging holly as this can be a particular concern for people with limited sight when walking in the woods.

Why do you think it’s important for the charity to have support from the optical community?

CS: As a charity we are experts on technology helping our members to stay independent and in offering emotional and peer support. What we don’t have expertise in is often related to things like prescriptions or people’s entitlements.

We were talking to a woman who felt her sight had seriously deteriorated over the period of a few weeks. She expressed to us that she felt she couldn’t have another free eye test as she had already had one that year. We were able to check this with the optometrists at Valli Opticians, and they reassured us that she could take her concerns to the opticians every time there was a change in her sight.

There was another scenario recently where we were working with a group of asylum seekers living on very basic benefits but had some real concerns about their sight. We were able to direct them to the university to get a free sight test with Valli Opticians. This was a real relief for many of them.

If interested, how can other optometry practices or optometrists support Outlookers?

CS: We are always looking for business support be it financial, or in the form of resources. Having one of our collection tins in a shop environment, nominating us the charity of the year or actively asking customers and staff to raise money. We run various events throughout the year where volunteers are very welcome to help with shopping, making tea or running a BBQ. We are totally reliant on grant funding and our own fundraising efforts.

If you would like to share how your practice is serving your local community, please get in touch with OT by contacting [email protected]