Sitting at the back of the class and squinting at the blackboard aged nine, Gillian Monk burst into tears when she realised she couldn’t see properly.
That traumatic moment inspired the conscientious pupil to help others see clearly and become an optician – a vocation which she has practised for the past three decades in Swindon.
Gillian, who runs GD Monk Eyecare in Havelock Street, said: “I remember being so upset and wondering why I couldn’t see the same as my best friend. Needing glasses back then was quite traumatic because specs were hideous. I had these things with little wings and saw a picture of Cliff Richard’s mum, which is exactly how I looked at the age of 10. Fortunately things have changed now and helping people through the process, especially children, is very fulfilling.”
On Thursday, 15th October, around 60 children in year six from Robert Le Kyng Primary School, in Westcott Street, will be given a guided tour of her practice and shown a film about having a sight test as well as a host of optical illusions. Children should have their eyes tested annually and adults every two years.
A book and cake sale has also been arranged to help raise funds for Optometry Giving Sight, a charity which the practice has raised several hundreds of pounds for over the years.
Gillian said: “My passion and focus has always been primary healthcare. People often underestimate the importance of looking after your vision and getting it checked regularly, not just during childhood but also adult life. Besides testing your eyes, it can also indicate other health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure or even tumours. I occasionally have to call eye emergency department at the hospital, which has saved people’s sight. As we’re living longer these days, macular degeneration is a common problem.”
A large carrot cake is being baked for the occasion by the Crunch café opposite.
Gillian said: “Carrots are full of antioxidants for the back of the eye. So it’s true that they, along with other foods like greens, eggs, tomatoes and red peppers, are good for vision. I’m inviting school children to celebrate because the education side is really important. Helping people learn how their eyes work hopefully means they won’t take them for granted.”
Born in Liverpool and trained in Bradford, she met her late husband John, who worked in insurance, in Hull through their shared love of singing and the couple moved to Swindon in 1985, where they raised two daughters.
Gillian, who now lives with her husband Mike in Shaw Ridge, first worked as a locum for Pritchards, Hardings and Remingtons before buying Hardings practice in 1989 and absorbing Harrisons six years later. Originally based in Regent Street, her practice has been located in Havelock Street for 17 years.
She said: “When I first became an optician, only a quarter were women and I was once mistaken for the receptionist. But these days half are women – I still do the testing and dispensing because I like helping people to choose the frames and find something which suits them. I’ve got people who have been coming to me since childhood, so it’s very much a long-term relationship. There’s also a strong community with the shops here.”
Swindon Mayor Cllr Andrew Bennett will be cutting the cake and congratulating Gillian on her impressive service.
Cllr Bennett said: “I am delighted to help mark this milestone, which demonstrates Gillian’s tremendous commitment to Swindon and helping to protect residents’ vision. 30 years is a long time and it’s wonderful to hear how rewarding she has found this important profession.”