One of the pleasures of running a community optometric practice is the contact that affords with the local community. There are many practices out there who will possibly be associated with a local sports club or maybe sponsor someone in their local community. One of the simplest ways of supporting the local community is by means of charity collecting boxes. The larger national charities have many varied ways of raising money to support their work but often local or small national charities really struggle to raise much needed money.

This has never been more the case than now in these stringent fiscal times. For many years we have always kept a charity box on the reception desk supporting our local sight impaired charity. Often patients will pop in for small things that need attention, maybe a frame adjustment or a running repair, sometimes just a simple piece of quick advice. On these occasions we would never consider charging a person for that but we do try and encourage them to make a small donation in the charity box.

Recently we have been reviewing who we should support by means of our collecting boxes. We have decided to take on a charity called the Spinal Injuries Association. Someone who becomes spinal injured has their world turned upside down within a matter of seconds. The injury can be devastating to both them and their families. I have been lucky enough to meet some spinal injured people and they have made me feel very ordinary as a person. Many of these individuals are truly remarkable and live amazing lives.

We see the opportunity to support charities locally as a fundamental part of being a community practice. Whether that support is active or passive it is a thing that I would actively encourage.

I mentioned also the support for local charities involved in supporting sight-impaired people. These smaller local charities often really struggle for funds but they can also struggle for personnel. We should all consider having some sort of liaison with our local charities for sight-impaired people. Of course collecting boxes are not the only way we can help. Giving time either within the practice or by helping out on the committees are all good ways of donating to these organisations. Often your time and especially your expertise can be far more valuable to these smaller charities.

There will be the more active of you out there who might want to run a marathon and raise funds that way or maybe a sponsored bike ride or a sponsored swim. All of these things are good but often it is the simple things that can be just as effective. You might like to think about raising money by having a coffee morning in the practice. You might even serve coffee or cold drinks to your patients while they wait to see you or while they choose their spectacles. Why not ask for a simple small donation to your chosen charity?

There is also the opportunity for your LOC to look at fundraising on a local level. Maybe at a CET event the committee could look at putting something on that raises funds for your local charity.

It is so easy nowadays to just concentrate on making profits. However, there is another side to running a small community-based business. A side that can be very rewarding and also takes on board the moral responsibility towards your community. After all, we are all very willing to take money from our local community but therefore we should be very happy to put back to an extent some of what we have taken out.

We all know how hard it can be to make ends meet on certain occasions. All charities struggle more nowadays and with the social climate the way it is their jobs become ever more difficult. Now that autumn is with us we will see the annual Children in Need programme being aired once again. Big national pushes like Children in Need are grand gestures but so often it is the smaller gestures on the ground right at the front line that can make an even bigger difference to a local charity.

So as autumn looms and Christmas again rears its head I would encourage you all, especially if currently you do not support a charity, to consider your obligations to your local community. Spend a little time checking out the numerous local charities and what they do for your communities. I guarantee you will meet some amazing people just like I have with the Spinal Injuries Association. You may meet people who will literally change your outlook on life.

We are in a very privileged position in our communities. Forget the vagaries of our profession that might frustrate you from time to time and look towards ways you can truly give back to your local community. I know that I have been very happy to lend my support to the Spinal Injuries Association even in just a small way.