Meet the team – Simone Mason, Digital Learning Support Officer
27 November 2019
Simone qualified as a dispensing optician in 1992, but that was only the start of her quest for skills and qualifications to support her in both current and future roles. Joining an independent optical practice in Coventry, before long she reached the position of practice manager. It’s a job she relished, as she explains: “It was a fantastic, varied job and no two days were the same, so there was no chance to get bored. Also, I’m quite an organised person and that was an essential skill in practice management.”
The arrival of her two sons led to Simone taking a fresh look at work and as a result she took a more flexible role for a number of years. As her sons got older, however, she realised that it was time to do things differently.
This new chapter saw Simone becoming self-employed and she now enjoys spending two days a week in practice close to home, and she wouldn’t change this for the world.
“I take pride in finding people beautiful glasses that they love – the best pair of glasses they’ve ever worn. There’s a real art to fitting spectacles and it’s important to get it right. I love taking people outside of what they would usually wear and encouraging them to try something new. They enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and trying different styles on – the right pair of glasses can make a person more youthful and fashionable. I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they try on their “perfect” glasses.”
Simone is a high myope (short-sighted) herself and feels this helps enormously when dispensing. “I think it helps to gain their trust, they appreciate the fact that I understand how important the fitting is as well as how they look.”
Introduction to LOC life
Working at the new practice also opened up an unexpected career opportunity. “The practice owner was starting to get involved in extended primary eyecare services and invited me along to a LOC meeting in January 2016. Until then I hadn’t been to a LOC event since my very early days as a dispensing optician and I found things had changed a lot. Nevertheless, it felt right up my street!”
From there, Simone started working on developing the MEC service in the Solihull region and, after the previous post-holder moved on, she became the Clinical Governance Performance Lead (CGPL). This involved taking the CGPL course and, for Simone, the opportunity to learn is compelling. In fact, it has been a recurring feature of her career.
Straight after she got married, she started a three-year distance-learning BSc Hons degree in Business Administration for Optical Professionals at Brunel University, completing her final dissertation on “Evolve or dissolve: is there a future for the small independent optical business.” She graduated in May 2003 with a 2:1, after which she focused on family for a while.
In 2017 Simone attended her first National Optical Conference and learnt about the Leadership course. “The year I took it, 2017, there were four dispensing opticians in the cohort, which was great from a support perspective.” Simone’s next opportunity came as a result of that course. “Those of us on the course were advised of a role at LOCSU in digital learning support. I read the job spec and it seemed like it was made for me, though I never thought I’d actually get it. I was delighted when I did!”
The role started off focussing on the CGPL side, offering support for that role, as Simone explains: “We held a CGPL forum at my first NOC and developed the online forum ‘CGPL Crowd’.” Simone succeeded on moving the CGPL course to digital platform noddlepod, and she also facilitates the LOC induction course this way. “It’s much more friendly for course participants – they can post questions to me and the group and I’m notified so I can easily respond and give guidance, they’re not just working on their own.”
Recruiting candidates for the LOC induction course is now a priority and Simone feels there’s a real buzz about this course, having run it three times so far this year. Recruiting to the leadership course is another responsibility and this means Simone had to face one of her fears: public speaking. “I am in awe of anyone who can get up on a podium and address a crowd,” she says. “I really find it difficult, but I had to do it last year to promote the leadership course, so I’ve ticked that off my bucket list!”
A passion for Parkrun
When Simone is not busy learning (she’s currently in the final stages of a post-graduate certificate in eyecare governance) she gets out at 9 am on a Saturday morning to take part in her local Parkrun – a free, timed 5k run that encourages everyone to have a go. She’s just two runs short of completing her hundredth parkrun, a major milestone in the parkrun community.
She’s also an avid ‘Strictly’ fan, as well as, ‘I’m a Celebrity…’, plus given her interest in leadership, it’s not surprising that she’s a big fan of ‘The Apprentice’, too!
And once she’s finished her postgraduate certificate, will that be the end of her quest for qualifications? “I always say ‘never again’” she laughs, “but there’s usually something new to tempt me before too long!”