Reaching almost half of the UK’s homeless and dispossessed was the rallying call of Vision Care for Homeless People this week. Trustees, volunteers and supporters were welcomed to the House of Lords by independent Peer, Lord Filkin, who is a longstanding patron of the charity.
Marking the 15th year since the service was launched, ambitious plans were announced to increase the number of mobile and static clinics – currently eight – to greatly increase the number of people reached by the charity.
Brighton clinic optometrist, Niamh Harmsworth, inspired those present with the pleasure she receives from her volunteering sessions –
“It is my favourite day of the week. We see the most colourful, eccentric and marginalised people in a familiar, friendly, and relaxed environment. Mainly we see young men, many of whom have had glasses at some stage in their lives. They know they can come for a full eye examination with no payment and no need to give their address or any personal details. By giving them the gift of glasses it improves the quality of their lives enormously,” she said.
Niamh spoke about how enriching volunteering can be –
“It is a time to reassess: It is very easy to get bogged down with the minutiae of middle class life, but this gives real perspective. If anyone is interested in volunteering I say – just do it.”
Carol Reece, Head of NHS Optical Commissioning, who attended the event described the Vision Care for Homeless People clinic model as being –
“The right provision for the right people. This is something that we want to work closely with and to see how we can support the provision of care.”
Elaine Styles, Chair of the charity, took the opportunity to thank all of the volunteers –
“Eye care is as important as any other healthcare, especially for those surviving in a high risk environment. We helped nearly 2,000 people here in the UK last year, but this is not enough. We are looking to open many more clinics, to have a mobile van, and to partner with High Street opticians. We need to work hard to reduce the barriers to accessing healthcare.”