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Paid for by Specsavers

‘We change lives through better vision’ – Specsavers offers free eyecare and glasses to Big Issue vendors

The high street optician will sponsor the iconic red Big Issue tabards, as well as offering gift vouchers for eye care and ear wax removal for our vendors across the UK.

Paid for by Specsavers

George Anderson has had the same glasses for 15 years, by his count. “They’re falling apart and they slip off continuously. There’s no grip anymore. One day they blew off in the middle of Regent Street. They were totally undamaged apart from a wee nose clip,” George says.

While he’s out selling The Big Issue, on his pitch by the BBC building on London’s Portland Place. Money has held George back from getting new glasses, and he has taken to wearing a cap. It keeps his ears pinned down, which keeps his old pair in place. 

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“There have been disadvantages to having the same glasses because my eyes have changed. When I initially got them I could read quite easily with them, but now I find I’m having to peer over my specs rather than through them. Particularly in dim light, if I’m using a card reader or selling The Big Issue at night,” he says.

Too expensive?

“The primary reason for leaving it so long was just cost – I was fearful. I suppose there was a slight ignorance on my part. I never went into a place like Specsavers to enquire. I just assumed it was going to be too expensive for me to deal with.”

But now, thanks to a partnership between the Big Issue and Specsavers – who will be exclusive sponsors of our vendors’ iconic red tabards throughout the UK for the next three years – George will be able to get new glasses.

All Big Issue vendors will be offered a £64 Specsavers gift voucher, which will give them access to free tests, eye health scans and eyewear, as well as free ear wax removal.

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It’s part of a push by Specsavers to break down barriers that people experiencing poverty and homelessness face in accessing eye care. Alongside their partnership with Big Issue Group, they will be working with homelessness charity Crisis and developing their long-standing partnership with Vision Care for Homeless People.

“Because of the circumstances they find themselves in, many homeless people don’t have access to eye and hearing care that can make a huge difference to their future prospects. They have a much higher prevalence, not just of uncorrected refractive error, but of conditions that if left untreated, can lead to permanent sight loss,” explains Peter Bainbridge, UK managing director of Specsaves’ optical business.

“By offering Big Issue vendors free eye care and sponsoring their tabards, that give them improved visibility on the streets, we can help to make a difference. We will also be offering them free ear wax removal to help improve their hearing health.”

Peter Bainbridge, UK managing director of Specsaves’ optical business

“By offering Big Issue vendors free eye care and sponsoring their tabards, that give them improved visibility on the streets, we can help to make a difference. We will also be offering them free ear wax removal to help improve their hearing health.”

Sustainability and community

Specsavers’ enduring founding principle is to make affordable eyecare available to everyone.

And with its strong commitment to sustainability and community, the Specsavers name is not only a familiar and welcoming local presence in UK high streets, it also embodies accessibility and support for those who need it most. “Specsavers is a well known brand, so it’s a good association,” agrees George.

New specs would make a huge difference to George. He’s got a degree in science and before the pandemic hit was editing scientific articles on biomedicine. But his old glasses have made writing hard.

“As a kid I was a bit self-conscious about them. But there came a point where I just couldn’t see the board in the classroom. And then they became a bit more fashionable. You start to feel comfortable wearing them,” he says.

Steve Potter, who sells The Big Issue outside Green Park tube station in London, also talks of the importance of having the right pair of glasses. He’s had specs for a year, after he noticed his eyesight was causing him problems.

“As you get older, you start to notice things get blurry. I had to hold the paper far away just to try to focus a bit. It was getting worse, and I was straining my eyes quite a lot.

I was getting migraines, even when watching TV,” Steve says.

“I used to read papers and that, but I struggle now.”

He thinks the relationship between Big Issue and Specsavers will help vendors in similar situations. “It’s good for vendors. Maybe they’d be too shy before, or couldn’t be bothered. But now they’ve got access to it, they can go and get their glasses,” he says.

A crucial way of connecting with the public

For both Steve and George, the iconic red Big Issue tabard is a crucial way of connecting with the public. And as our new tabard sponsors, it marks a uniting of two of Britain’s most recognisable brands. “Wearing your tabard you stick

out, and it lets people know what you’re doing. People know you’re selling The Big Issue and it gives you a chance to get sales,” says Steve.

Adding the Specsavers logo will help that even more, George thinks. “The new tabard looks great! Wearing specs myself I’m a big fan of Specsavers. It should be a good combination. People recognise the Big Issue brand and they know what Specsavers is, it works well,” he says.

In the Kilburn branch of Specsavers, where George and Steve show off the new tabards, store manager Robert Volson tells us the Big Issue partnership is a great move.

“It’s always been a pleasure. We change lives through better vision. That is our role and that is our job. And we do it with care for our community. We’re quite happy with what we do on a day to day basis in Specsavers Kilburn.”

Robert Volson, Specsavers store manager

“We cater for all communities,” Robert explains. “It’s always been a pleasure. We change lives through better vision. That is our role and that is our job. And we do it with care for our community. We’re quite happy with what we do on a day to day basis in Specsavers Kilburn.”

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People living in poverty all too often have difficulty accessing health care, especially as the NHS comes under increasing pressure and those who can afford to pay for private treatment are prioritised ahead of those who can’t.

“It’s barriers of this sort that our partnership will help to overcome,” says Russell Blackman, Big Issue Group’s managing director of commercial. “Those that are experiencing homelessness often have significant eye care needs and yet face considerable barriers in accessing the care they are entitled to,” Blackman says.

“Our partnership with Specsavers will help to break down those barriers, ensuring our Big Issue vendors can access that essential eye care provision.

“Improving eye care is absolutely essential for skills building, confidence and finding work, so we are delighted to be working with Specsavers on this new initiative that will help to change lives through better sight.

“As our proud new sponsors of our iconic Big Issue vendor tabards, it brings two highly respected British brands together, working in partnership to support the most marginalised in society.”

Find out more about Specsavers at specsavers.co.uk

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