Central Optical Fund urges sector organisations to take advantage of its services

The fund is reminding the profession of its ability to fund projects as it celebrates its 50th birthday

flower pot
Getty/Richard Drury

The Central Optical Fund is encouraging the optometry profession to get in touch about potential projects that it could help fund, as it celebrates a milestone birthday.

The not-for-profit company, which was formed in 1972, regularly funds projects within the sector, and is able to “donate significant sums of money every year” to initiatives that benefit the profession, Charles Barlow, director and company secretary, told OT.

The fund’s founding aims are to promote optometry and elevate its profile, protect the profession’s interests as well as the interests and activities of LOCs, develop the profession and expand its role, and support the profession by developing resources and strategies that aid optometry.

It can fund projects in England and Wales that “increase the profile and expand the role of optometry by developing its scope and expertise” and “support the profession by developing resources, technologies and strategies that aid optometry and LOCs in particular,” Barlow said.

He added that he is keen to raise the fund’s profile and make sure Local Optical Committees (LOCs) are aware of the work that it does.

The organisation has previously financed work with ABDO and FODO, as well as joint projects, and has “supported National Eye Health Week, pretty much every year since its inception,” Barlow said.

Recent projects have included the Stronger Together Collaborative Primary Care at Scale report, which the Local Optical Committee Support Unit’s clinical director, Zoe Richmond, contributed to.

This year has also seen the Central Optical Fund lend its support to the British Contact Lens Association’s Love Your Lenses campaign. Joint ventures with the Eyecare Trust are also currently in the works.

Barlow said: “We are at an interesting moment in the fund’s history, whereby opportunities are probably greater than they ever have been. Now is a time that we would welcome interest from LOCs for funding for projects.”

Funds are raised from General Ophthalmic Services contractors, LOCs, and from individuals. Some years have seen as much as £100,000 being distributed to various projects.

Between £10,000 and £30,000 per year has been spent since 2020, Barlow estimates, due to the effects of the pandemic.

In the past 15 years, over £750,000 has been granted to organisations including the College of Optometrists, the Optical Federation, Wales Optometry Postgraduate Centre, and various optometry universities.

“One of our remits is to defend and protect the profession, and LOCs in particular,” Barlow explained, adding that while practices were closed during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, “We were very keen to be there to support LOCs if they needed it. We have a reserve fund which we were able to tap into should that have been the case.”

The Central Optical Fund is an LOC-controlled organisation, with LOC members voting in its five directors annually. It became a company limited by guarantee in 2014.

The fund hopes to celebrate its half century at the National Optical Conference, which will be held at the Queens Hotel in Leeds in October, where Barlow will also be presenting some of its work.

More information on applying for funding can be found here.