Author Archives: Simon Berry

Video of the New Practice

Video of the New Practice

I’ve been saving this video until today. Here is the first look at our completely renovated new Practice. We finished the building work in April but today is our birthday, we are celebrating 16 years in business.

I’ve also uploaded a “walk through” video to google streetmap, so if you go on the map of gilesgate you will be able to walk and explore around the new Practice.

Hope you like it!

Weekly Noise Forecast


‘Twas the night before Christmas and throughout Marshall Terrace,

all the builders are gone now, even the QS.


The Practice is quiet, all the hammering has stopped.

The roofs covered over, the floors all been mopped.


We’re now used to the noise so the silence seems weird

(Even though it hasn’t been quite as bad as I feared.)


The site manager seems pleased with the work that’s begun,

but there’s plenty more for him to do after the Christmas fun.


He said “Well done” to the workers and hoped stockings were filled.

And hopefully no snow because it will knacker the build.


And I heard him shout out as he drove from the site…..

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”


Happy Christmas everyone! More building updates next year.

15 Stories #15 Our Patients

15 Stories to Celebrate 15 Years…….

#15 Our Patients

Being an Optician, like any other job, can get boring sometimes. Sitting in a dark room all day is not the most appealing thing to do. The thing that makes it bearable are our fantastic patients.

Our patients are the lifeblood of the practice and I find more and more over the years the work we do evolves depending on the needs of the people walking through the door.

So let me tell you a bit about our patients:

When we opened we had 0 patients. As of today we now have 11362 registered patients and on average get 50 new patients every month. The youngest patient we have seen was 36 weeks old; the oldest was 102 years old. Over the 15 years we have completed just under 43000 eye tests.

I love the fact that everyone is connected somehow. We very rarely get someone completely new coming through the door; it is always someone’s friend, or cousin or workmate. Some families we have 4 generations of the same family that come to the Practice.

We have patients that have grown up with the Practice. It does make me feel very old when I see some of our patients leave for University and I remember them as toddlers coming in for their first eye test.

It is humbling that even when patients move away from Durham they still come back to us for their eye test. We have patients from places like Jersey, Isle of Mann, London, Chester, Salford, Hull, Edinburgh, and even Michigan!

It is the stories and experiences that our patients share with us that make the Practice what it is. It is a privilege to be part of that community.

Thanks to everyone who has supported us through this first 15 years in business.

And now on to the next stage – the building work starts on 4th August!

Wish us luck.

15 Stories #14 Father Corbett

15 Stories to Celebrate 15 Years…..

#14. Father Corbett

Father Michael Corbett was the parish priest at St. Joseph’s in Gilesgate for the first 3 years of the Practice being open. The church is just next to our Practice.

I have great respect for what he did in the Parish and he helped me a great deal when I opened the Practice. I have always thought of us as a community Opticians and no one defined that community, and that sense of vocation, than Fr. Corbett.

I am not really sure how a priest’s wage it worked out, but I knew that Fr. Corbett didn’t particularly have a lot of money.

I considered him a friend and so, being an Optician, I naturally would like my friends to have the best glasses possible. I also knew that Fr. Corbett couldn’t afford the best glasses so I wanted to make sure he didn’t pay the full price for his glasses he picked. He of course objected to this and was insistent that he paid full price.

Which meant that I had to lie to him about how much his glasses cost.

When he bought glasses I always told him little white lies as to what his glasses actually cost. There was always a little argument with me trying to give him a discount and him trying to pay the full cost.

At one point I managed to get him some Lindberg frames without him knowing that they are the most expensive frames we stock. (Lindberg frames are hand-made in Denmark. They are custom made and some of them have the option of engraving your initials on the side. Fr. Corbett engraved his “shalom.”)

In 2005 he accepted the job of hospital chaplain and moved to St. Andrews in Newcastle. He still came back for his eye tests and for his glasses. Then in 2014 he was tragically diagnosed with terminal cancer.

When he was in the last stages of cancer he phoned me because he had broken his glasses. He was dying, and very weak, he couldn’t leave the house.

We made him a pair of glasses and delivered them. I wouldn’t accept any money from him. The man was a friend and an inspiration to me. There was no way I was going to let him pay. He tried to argue with me, but I thought maybe the cancer had weakened him. He gave in and accepted the glasses.

After all those years I’d finally managed to get him to accept a free pair of glasses. I had won.

Or so I thought.

6 months after he died I got a letter from his solicitor. He had left me £200 in his will. I don’t know for certain what his thoughts were, but I think he meant to pay for his last pair of glasses.


15 Stories #13 “Special Facial Characteristics”

15 Stories to Celebrate 15 years…….

#13. “Special Facial Characteristics.”

Possibly some of my most proud achievements of the Practice so far involve the work we do with children and adults with a learning disability. This group of patients are much more likely to have problems with their eyes but also much more likely to have difficulty accessing the correct service.

These patients are also some of the most fun and thought provoking patients we have. It is a great privilege to be to be in a position to help them.

There have been so many great stories over the years. It would be impossible to single out one in particular and there is always lots going on.

We have worked with a fantastic national charity called Seeability to help provide an innovative eye clinic in SEN schools. Some of this work led us being invited to the House of Lords last year to help publicise the issues involved.

We are currently working with Durham University to produce a new prototype device to help Opticians examine patients with a learning disability. (To be released in the next few weeks hopefully!)

In 2014 I complained to NHS about what I saw as an inequality in the regulation regarding the “special facial characteristic voucher.” This involves a lot of NHS politics (that would bore pretty much everyone in a quick post!) It led to lots of emails, phonecalls, an online petition and a lot of arguing. In April 2016 that NHS regulation was amended. The inequality was corrected.

This NHS regulation change is not exactly a gripping story. I have included it because even if the Practice closed tomorrow forever this NHS change in regulation would still exist. It will hopefully mean that a lot of children in the UK can access the eye care they need.

And who would have thought that possible from a small independent Opticians Practice in Gilesgate.

(If you have missed any of the stories and would like to read more, they are all on our Facebook and Twitter page.)

15 Stories #12 Specialist Glasses

15 Stories to Celebrate 15 years………

#12. The First Specialist Pair of Glasses

I am still proud of the first pair of specialist glasses we made. They were made for a lady that had a horrendous time battling cancer.

She had developed a tumour in her eye that had affected her eye socket. This led to her eye having to be removed, together with a lot of the surrounding tissue.

The surgeon grafted a segment of the skin from her thigh over the wound but because of inflammation the space where her eye used to be became very swollen.

When I first saw this lady, the right hand side of her face was very deformed. It looked as if someone had taken out her right eye, replaced it with a tennis ball and then covered it with skin. She was very self-conscious about her appearance and very upset by the reaction she received from the general public. She asked if there was any way we could hide her eye.

We managed to make a custom pair of glasses that covered her wound.

We cut a pair of glasses in half, lengthened one of the sides, molded a custom nosepiece and fitted a side shield. They didn’t look great, but they did hide her wound and she was delighted with them.

As the years went by her wound shrunk and eventually she didn’t need the specialist glasses.

This patient remained a friend of the practice until she died a few years ago. The experience I had making these glasses gave a taste of wanting to be able to do the specialist and unusual.

Over the years we have made many more specialist pairs of glasses (for example, the pair in the photograph,) and many were much more complicated than this one. But this was the first.

(If you have missed any of the stories and would like to read them, they are all on our facebook and twitter pages.)

15 Stories #11 The Bee Scan

15 Stories to Celebrate 15 years……..

#11 The Bee Scan

I was walking into work one day when I noticed a Bee on the ground. I found myself wondering what a Bee’s eye would look like on our 3D scanner, and whether anyone had actually done this before.

I took it to work and scanned it.

It actually looked a little bit like a human eye and mimicked a human condition called Peter’s Anomaly. It looked so similar that I decided I would use it to try and trick some of the consultants at Sunderland Eye Infirmary.

I took the images to the hospital and pretended to ask the their opinion of the scans. “I’m not sure what it is, what do you think? Is it Peter’s Anomaly?” I’d leave them arguing over it for 20mins before revealing it was actually not at all what they thought but was actually a Bee’s eye.

It was one of the consultants that suggested I should send it into Nature’s EYE Journal. (They have a reputation for printing unusual and unique photographs.) I did this and got a reply from the Editor of the journal Professor Andrew Lotery. He said they liked the scan and would be considering publication.

I didn’t hear anything for a long while and assumed they must have changed their minds.

A few months later one of our patients Carlos Frenk came in for his eye test. Carlos is a very engaging person and is always interested in hearing about new things. We ended up chatting about the Bee scan and he really liked the story.

Carlos is also a very influential person and gets invited to lots of important dinners. That weekend he was invited to lunch at the home of a philanthropist called Damon de Laszlo in London. That same evening I received an email from Professor Lotery who edited the EYE Journal.

It turns out that Prof Frenk and Prof Lotery ended up sitting next to each other at lunch. At some point in the dinner Carlos started telling the table about his local Optician who had scanned a Bee’s eye and how unusual it was. Andrew realised that he was part of the story and he had a copy of the scan on his laptop!

It really is a very small world.

The Bee ended up being published on the front cover of the Sept 2014 issue of EYE.

(If you have missed any of the stories and would like to read more – they are on our Facebook and twitter pages.)

15 Stories #10 Bill Ritzema

15 Stories to celebrate 15 years in business……….

#10. Bill Ritzema

We have always invested in new equipment. I joke with people that I get bored quickly and need to keep up to date with the latest thing.

The most expensive piece of equipment I have bought is our OCT scanner. I bought it 5 years ago and it cost 45K. It is a fantastic piece of kit but it was very risky to buy. I remember coming back from the trade fair I bought it at and saying that I might have bankrupted the business.

A few months later Bill Ritzema, one of our regular patients, came in for an eye test and I think I was having a bad day. I was showing him the new scanner and must have mentioned how nervous I was because I had signed up on a 6-year lease that I wasn’t sure we could afford.

A few weeks later I got a note from Bill through the post. It said – “Keep investing in new equipment” and enclosed a cheque for £500.

Bill’s generosity was much appreciated as much as it validated the way I wanted to run the Practice. I want us to be innovative and be early adopters of new technology.

I didn’t want Bill’s money to just be absorbed into a lease payment so I put his money towards a machine that treats blepharitis called Blephex.

This is a great treatment and gives relief to many patients suffering with Blepharitis. All those patient’s have Bill to thank for that.

The OCT turned out to be a great investment and has become a valuable part of the service we offer our patients. It also led to us being on the front cover of Nature’s Eye Journal in 2014 – but that’s Monday’s short story!

(If you missed any of the stories you can read them on our facebook page or linked to from our twitter page.)

15 Stories #9 The Roof Tile Display

#9 Roof Tile Displays

Money was tight when opening the Practice. The budget I had approved from the bank didn’t really leave anything to chance. Unfortunately this was the first time I had opened a business and there were a few things I had forgotten about.

One of the things I didn’t really budget for was frame displays. These are the racks used to display glasses. It’s important that they look good because they are displaying your product to your customer. They are a specialist item and I didn’t realise how expensive they were. I couldn’t really afford them.

I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea – I would make my own frame displays.

I went off to a certain DIY shop and spent about an hour walking round trying to come up with an idea for something that would look vaguely like a frame display.

I saw some ridge roof tiles and decided they looked quite good. (These are the felt underlay tiles used at the top of a pitched roof. They smell faintly of bitumen.) They have a ridge down the center that looked the perfect size to fit a pair of glasses to.

I bought 10 of them and took them home.

I sprayed them all silver (just to make them look a bit more classy) and intended on drilling holes down the center and attaching hooks to fix the frames to.

Luckily, before the paint dried I came to my senses. Even someone with decent DIY skills could not have made these tiles look like frame displays, and I have no DIY skills.

Whilst they may not look as bad on the photo, let me assure you they were very, very bad. I don’t know what I was thinking.

I managed to borrow a bit more money and get some proper frame displays.



15 Stories #8 The Time-lapse


#8 The Time-lapse

I have always been interested in trying to photograph and scan things that have never been seen before.

A while back I came up with the idea of trying to time-lapse the progression of an eye disease. I did this using retinal photographs from a willing patient who received injections to treat a bleed at the back of his eye.

We took weekly retinal photographs for about 9 months and then stitched them together to form a time-lapse video.

The video was really effective and you could really see the effect the treatment was having on the bleed.

This was the first time this had ever been done. It was published in an online journal and ended up being presented at conferences in Prague and London. The video appeared on wikipedia and was used by the macula society to help patients understand their condition. So it was quite popular.

Not quite as important though as how it was reported in our local press though.

As you can see in the photo, they reported that I was the first person to look inside an eye! A supposed scientific breakthrough only 160 years after a German genius called Hermann von Helmholz actually did it.

You would have thought that the reporter that wrote that story could remember their last eye test. Every Optometrist in the world looks at the back of their patient’s eye every day.

I’m sure you imagine the amount of stick I received when I walked into work at Sunderland Eye Infirmary the next day. The article was pinned to the department door and followed me around for the next few weeks until things calmed down.