How I serve my community

“They support us, so I believe we should support them”

Optometrist and independent practice owner of Simon Berry Optometrist, Simon Berry, shares how mutual support between his practice and the local community is fundamental

Simon Berry

As an independent practice owner, can you share what you have been doing to help serve your community?

To me the whole point of a community independent practice is to be an integral part of the local community. I think that serving the community is just part and parcel of running a practice. All the initiatives we have done or been a part of over the years have come from this mindset.

Why is it important to you to support your patients and the wider local community?

Our practice evolves depending on the needs of the community around it, and we exist because of that community. They support us, so I believe we should support them. Every decision we make is based on this way of thinking. All the artwork we have in the practice is created by our patients. The glass name plaques outside the testing rooms are made locally. If we find out a patient has a book published, we buy it, and put it in our reception. We offer work experience and school visits. We support local sports teams with safety eyewear. We buy our practice drugs from the local pharmacy even though it might be more expensive. It’s normal to me that we support the community, it’s not something special.

COVID-19 has impacted our healthcare system, and the cost of living crisis is starting to affect people. All NHS organisations offering patient care are struggling to provide that care and there are patients that are getting missed. Our responsibility is to help when we can and fight to ensure our patients get the care they need.

I don’t want to get to the end of my career and think “I’ve made a lot of money.” I want to get to the end of my career and think I have built something worthwhile and made a difference


What inspired you to support others?

Simon’s testing room is named ‘Corbett,’ marked by this glass plaque, named after the Corbett mountains in Scotland. Placed in memory of Father Michael Corbett.
I have always felt that I want to grow the practice to make a difference within the community. The money is secondary to me. I don’t want to get to the end of my career and think “I’ve made a lot of money.” I want to get to the end of my career and think I have built something worthwhile and made a difference.

What role do your staff or practice team have in supporting the community?

I couldn’t do anything without the support of staff. I am a nightmare when it comes to having ideas and taking on different projects. My staff are there to support initiatives, but also to rein me in when I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

What initiatives have you run to support the community?

The Gilesgate Story Challenge is a short story competition we set up for local schools. The aim of the competition is to get children inspired and excited to write stories. There are so many great things about this project. We’ve arranged book signings in our local Waterstones, YouTube videos with the winning authors, and we’ve even had David Sheen tweeting about it. Over the last four years we have published over 100 stories and raised over £3000 for local charities.

But for me it’s the little things about this competition that I love. A boy told me he’d never written a story before, but after seeing his story published, he’s written two sequels for fun. It’s great that children can walk into their local bookshop and show their friends their own book.

What goals or aspirations do you have for the future of this project?

I would love to see The Gilesgate Story Challenge grow and for people to copy it in their own areas.

Do you have any positive feedback from your community?

The local primary school named a class after us. I guess that’s a good example of a great bit of feedback. This came completely out of the blue, and it was really humbling when I learned the names of the other classes. They are all named after inspiring local people, voted for by the local community.

Berry class is the reception class. I still find it very strange to think that generations of children will grow up remembering their time in Berry class – and probably have no idea that it’s called Berry class because of the optometry practice on the corner of the street.

Berry Class

Aside from what you do in your practice, are there any other projects that you are a part of and would like share?

There have been quite a few over the years. The most recent is that we’ve bought and installed a defibrillator just outside the practice. We’ve had a defibrillator within the practice for about a year now, but I thought it would be more beneficial to get a cabinet fitted and placed outside of the practice. This was done a few weeks ago and we now have it connected to the local ambulance service. We’ve also included a bleed kit in the cabinet.

During your career are there any other projects, events, or initiatives that you are proud to say you were a part of?

All the things I’m proud of in my career have come from our patients and our community. They have all come from a desire to help the patient sitting in front of me. Whether that is the work we do around learning disabilities, inventing the Visual Fixation System, or picking the artwork for the reception area.

If I had to pick one, I’m most proud of changing the special facial characteristics voucher, and our patients helped that happen. Three of our patients were the case records that were presented to the NHS to change this regulation. It took so long to change it that they are now all grown up. We reunited them when we renovated the practice and had them reopen it.

For optometrists and practice owners that would like to start supporting the community, do you have any advice on how to get started?

I think that all optometry practices do support their community, and they do it naturally because we are generally a caring profession and want to do the best for our patients. They don’t need any advice.

Does your practice support any charitable organisations?

Yes, and this changes year to year. I was a trustee of Grace House, which provides respite for families and children with complex health problems, so we supported them for a while.
We also tend to support charities our patients are involved with. Local learning disability charities such as The Special Lioness and The Cheesy Waffles Project. Both are great organisations. We also sell artwork for a local mental health charity called RT Projects. All the charities we support have connections to our patients.