I have been a dispensing optician for 13 years having graduated in 2005.
I decided to become a dispensing optician having done an Open University degree in Maths and Physics. Working in industry, teaching or general academia wasn’t really my bag. I’ve always enjoyed the sciences and the field of optics fascinates me so becoming a Dispensing Optician seemed a natural choice. Also, Optometry was out because I am very claustrophobic so by working as a DO, I get to work in the field of optics but I’m not shut in a dark room all day.
For me the best part of being a dispensing optician is that I have been able to combine my love of music and performing with my love of optics and to build a very niche business. I love the fact that my job takes me all over the country, and our on-site musicians’ clinics mean I get to dispense glasses in some fabulous locations surrounded by beautiful music.
Allegro Optical is a specialist dispensing led practice based in Meltham, near Huddersfield. While we look after many local clients from the area between Holmfirth, Huddersfield and Saddleworth we see many professional and amateur musicians from across the UK and Europe. Some of the musicians travel to us while we see others at their place of work where we hold regular peripatetic clinics, testing musicians in their familiar environments, with a unique range of prescription lens designs and a completely different approach to ophthalmic dispensing the team specialises in providing individual optical solutions to professional and amateur performers alike, from musicians, dancers, choreographers, presenters and even a magician!
We began as a family business in September 2016 with just three members of staff, myself, my partner Stephen and my daughter Abigayle. Now we have 14 employees including 7 family members. Allegro Optical now work with performers from major international ensembles including English National Ballet Philharmonic, The Halle Orchestra, Dublin RTE Concert Orchestra, English Opera and dance institutions including English National Ballet and Leeds school of contemporary dance to name but a few.
Allegro Optical became the first and only opticians to become registered practitioners with The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), a healthcare organisation giving medical advice to people working and studying in the performing arts. I also won the National Best New Business Awards Entrepreneur of the year 2018 award and I was one of this year’s finalists for the Optician Awards Dispensing Optician of the year.
I have been playing the cornet for the last five years. I was previously a Cellist and String Bassist, but my partner, Conductor and arranger Stephen Tighe brought me a cornet as a birthday present in 2013 so I learnt to play it. I now play for a couple of brass bands, Diggle and Kippax and I play with a string quartet and Jazz group. When I moved onto Cornet I realised the many problems presbyopic musicians face when playing. As a Cellist, the music stand is usually 120cm away, but playing the cornet in a brass band the music stand moves to 60cm and the music for brass bands is much smaller and closer, especially if positioned on a lyre. I thought the hardest part of learning to play the cornet would be switching to treble clef from Bass clef, but actually, it was the focusing on smaller notation and the change in music stand position. Varifocals were hopeless at those distances, so I set about finding a better lens solution and Allegro Optical was born. Our new musicians’ lenses are now made under licence for us by Lenstec to our unique specifications and take into account ocular dominance, the instrument played, seating and playing position, music stand area and conductor’s position and any part of the field of view obscured by the instrument.
Holme Valley Lions are part of the Lions International, a voluntary organisation who provides help and support to people all over the world. Holme Valley Lions is based in the Holme Valley and covers an area which includes Holmfirth, Honley, Meltham and all the surrounding villages. We provide support both financially and practically (by providing volunteers) to local charity and community groups. The group regularly get together to run fundraising events and local get-togethers for community groups such as the Over 80s luncheon and the Santa sleigh run.
The advice I would give to someone thinking about training to be a dispensing optician would be to go for it. It is an enjoyable career which can take you to places you may never have thought possible. My daughter Abigayle trained as a dispensing optician and graduated in 2011 and my son began working in an optical lab at the age of 16 on Saturdays and have gone on to become our lab technician. Optics is such a large industry and the career choices for the experienced dispensing optician are varied and can offer so much more than traditional practice based roles.