'Villa Vision enables children to reach their potential'

By Mark Orlovac 21 Feb 2024
Aston Villa, Villa Vision

Find out more about Aston Villa's unique eyecare programme which is supported by the Premier League and PFA Community Fund

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PL PFA Community Fund

Since 2010, the Premier League and Professional Footballers' Association's Community Fund has enabled clubs across England and Wales to develop and deliver community programmes that are tailored to needs in their local area.

Here, we take a look at the incredible impact of some of these programmes.

Villa Vision (Aston Villa) 

In 2020, Aston Villa Foundation and Aston University used funding from the PL PFA Community Fund to create a truly unique programme that has changed the lives of thousands of children in Birmingham.

It is called Villa Vision, which is designed to increase access to eye health education, vision screening, eye examinations and to prescription glasses for school children that require them.

"The programme means everything to us at the Foundation," says Villa Vision project manager Nikhil Sonpal, who has been a registered optometrist for more than 18 years and joined the Foundation four years ago.

"I live and breathe Villa Vision because of the impact it has, seeing a child's growth in stature, confidence and ability to articulate their thoughts as well as general engagement.

"It's massive for me because it's knowing that a child has every opportunity to be able to achieve what they want to achieve and they haven't got that barrier of their vision holding them back."

Aston Villa, Villa Vision 2

The idea for Villa Vision stemmed from a scheme in the United States called Vision To Learn, which provides access to eyecare for people from low-income communities.

In 2019, the Aston Villa and Aston University set about working on their version of the programme, hosting 10 listening events with the local community to find out what barriers they had in accessing eyecare.

"The main barriers that were identified included elements such as service accessibility, language barriers, stigma around eye care and cost," Nikhil says. "The wards surrounding Villa Park are some of the most deprived areas in the country, so cost is certainly one of those elements that parents can be fearful of."

Armed with research and community feedback, Villa Vision was born.

It is made up of three steps, aimed at primary-school children in Years 5 & 6 and their families. 

There is a classroom-based interactive workshop which uses VR headsets, 3D glasses and eye models to teach children about their eyes.

Children can then have a vision-screening check, a basic form of an eye test, which is where issues can be flagged for further investigation.

Those that are flagged are then invited for a full eye test with either the Villa Vision optometrist in the programme's eye-care van, a mobile consulting room that is available on site for schools, or with their registered optician if they have one.

Aston Villa Villa Vision 3

Villa Vision provides two free pairs of prescription glasses to those children that require them.

More recently, Villa Vision has started hosting parent and carer workshops at schools to help provide additional information and support.

"We are finding that around one in eight children in the classroom have a visual concern that is undiagnosed or undetected," Nikhil says.

"Without Villa Vision's intervention, those children would find certain tasks a lot more challenging, like learning in the classroom, interacting, seeing the board or following the task that the teacher has set. They may have to ask the person next to them to help them through that piece of work.

"If children are not able to see as clearly as they should, this will make many experiences more difficult for them.

"Their ability to learn will effectively be compromised, impacting elements such as reading and writing.  

"By allowing children to see more clearly, we are helping to change a child's trajectory in life. If we can put children on a different path by correcting their vision, this is going to help them in every step of their journey in reaching their potential."

In only three years, Villa Vision has made more than 80 primary school visits, engaged with over 6,500 children in classroom workshops, 5,500 through vision screening checks, and dispensed approximately 375 complete pairs of glasses.

One of those children is 10-year-old Zayd, who had glasses fitted by Villa Vision in November 2022.

"The people at Villa Vision made me feel comfortable and like I belong," he says. "Without the glasses everything was smaller but with them, it's bigger.

Villa Vision Aston Villa Zayd

"From the back of the class I can see properly now, just like I can see from the front. It made me feel better and more confident.

"I played in two summer football sessions through Villa Vision which gave me the chance to interact with people I had never met before. It increased my ability to adapt and showed me that I can meet new people."

Having made such a successful start, Nikhil and the Aston Villa Foundation are now determined to build on the impact the programme has made in its first three years.

"We want to do so much more," he says. "We've shown that there's been a need for us in every school we've been to. We can't meet demand.

"We wouldn't be here without the Premier League and PFA funding. The openness and the willingness to support something new and very different is huge. The funding is very precious to us in that we want to show that we're doing the best that we can with it."

Villa Vision is led by the Aston Villa Foundation in collaboration with Aston University with funding from the Premier League, Professional Footballers Association, Aston University and EssilorLuxottica's charitable Foundation OneSight. Designed and delivered by the Aston Villa Foundation's dedicated eyecare team, Villa Vision helps to raise awareness on the importance of eye health for both children and adults within the local communities of Birmingham.

This story was captured as part of a Premier League Charitable Fund and Goal Click collaboration to showcase the impact of the Premier League and Professional Footballers' Association Community Fund.

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