Simmons Optometrists has been in Oakham since 1974, but it hasn’t always been as it is today, this is the story of how it started, grew and became an important part of this wonderful corner of England.
Richard Simmons had qualified in 1965, working in Clapham and several London based practices of Hudson Verity, before at his request, and on getting married to Fay, he moved to their Ipswich branch. He relocated reluctantly to the Wickford branch on the offer of promotion as manager where their first son was born.
Wanting to gain contact lens fitting skills, Richard joined Kelvin, a Manchester based contact lens manufacturing and fitting company. He requested a rural area and, after training, was given south east Yorkshire, all of Lincolnshire, east Nottinghamshire, most of Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and north Norfolk! In this area he fitted contact lenses to the clients of opticians who did not fit lenses themselves. This brought him to Empingham in 1969, where our second son was born in 1971.
Even though he was made ‘area manager’ in 1973 Richard realised that the days of peripatetic contact lens fitting were numbered and looked out for opportunities to settle into practice, using the knowledge he had gained from visiting so many different types.
A friend and neighbour suggested that he spoke Peter Jerwood in Burley Road regarding an old stable next to his house that he was converting into offices. So in October 1974 he agreed a lease of 25a Burley Road (of £1000 a year) and set up as a self employed Ophthalmic Optician.
Initially, he booked appointments three days a week, and continued working the other three days with Kelvin on a per case basis in a much reduced area based in Peterborough and Kings Lynn.
However, in 1976 an optician in Stamford wanted to retire and asked him to buy his business. The work for Kelvins was dropped instantly and, still living in Empingham, Richard would alternate his days between the practice in Oakham and the one in Stamford.
Some years later in 1985 he was approached by Christine Pirrie, an optometrist who worked with him at the Stamford branch, before deciding to set up in Stamford by herself. She brought Richard’s business and with that money he was able to refurbish the Oakham practice, starting the in-house workshop and working full time there from 1986.
As Richard says “I would have happily carried on like that until retirement, but in 1995, the doctors next door moved into new premises off Cold Overton Road and assigned their lease to me with 11 years left on it. With the help of my staff the practice expanded tremendously, and those ten years were the busiest and happiest of my professional life, turning a sleepy, running down to retirement business into a vibrant, thriving and well respected practice, one of the largest independent practices in the whole region.”
In 2006 Richard sold the practice to James and Manjula Alexander, who have gradually modernised the business whilst trying to keep the personal and caring touch that typified Richard’s approach.