Former Paralympian leading the charge to improve lives of Havering’s blind residents

PUBLISHED: 12:00 11 August 2013

Guide dog Izzy raises a paw to her Hornchurch owner Mike Brace

Guide dog Izzy raises a paw to her Hornchurch owner Mike Brace


With Britain’s elderly population increasing rapidly, there has been a focus in recent years on the brunt services such as housing and health will face in the future.

Mike Brace in cross-country skiing actionMike Brace in cross-country skiing action

One concern among groups which support blind people is the fact older people are more susceptible to eye conditions which may cause partial or total blindness, meaning they will need additional care.

In Havering, the number of visually impaired people is expected to increase from 6,325 to 7,690 in the next seven years, a statistic which portrays the necessity of offering coordinated services.

New umbrella organisation East London Vision is aiming to do just that, by setting up action groups in seven London boroughs, including Havering.

The groups will work together and with other associations to provide support to visually impaired people and encourage them to take up active roles in their communities.

Havering Visual Strategy Group chair Mike Brace with guide dog IzzyHavering Visual Strategy Group chair Mike Brace with guide dog Izzy

Organisations involved include the Thomas Pocklington Trust, which provides housing and support for people with sight loss, and Metro Blind Sport.

Former Paralympian Mike Brace, 63, chairs Havering’s Visual Strategy Group, which works with health services, voluntary groups and local authorities to provide better services and publicise opportunities.

He said: “There are so many different factors that cause sight loss. It massively affects people with learning disabilities and people who have had strokes or have diabetes or dementia are more likely to have an impairment.

“Havering has the oldest population in London, I think in 2015 21% of our population will be over the age of 65.”

Mike, who lives in Elms Farm Road, Hornchurch, is passionate about his role as he is fully blind and has faced many challenges over the years.

At the age of 10, he lost most of his sight due to an exploding firework.

He then became fully blind three years later after blowing a trumpet at a football match, which caused a haemorrhage.

Mike, who has a guide dog, Izzy, said: “It was difficult, but I think I was young enough to do things for the first time and learn different skills and I had learnt a lot through my eyes at school.

“In those days you had to go to boarding school, there was no chance of being integrated at [mainstream] schools so that was difficult.”

But Mike decided his disability was not going to be a barrier and embarked on a successful Paralympic career, competing at the 1976 Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing and taking part in six other Paralympic Games in a number of disciplines.

He also participated in two London marathons.

He said: “I think it has extended my mobility and getting involved in sport makes you less likely to sit at home and do nothing.

“It gave me a different perspective really.”

Mike faces a number of challenges, such as ensuring visually impaired residents are aware of the social groups and advice services which exist and trying to increase the number of people on registers of blind people, through collaborating with local authorities.

The strategy group works with voluntary organisations such as Sight Action Havering, which offers an advice and information service at Queen’s Hospital.

There is also a drop-in centre run by the Partially Sighted Society at the Yew Tree Resource Centre in Yew Tree Gardens, Romford.

Mike is currently preparing for National Eye Health Week, which runs from September 16-22.

There will be a range of activities in Havering, including an open day on September 18 at the Yew Tree centre.

For more information on the events and the services available to visually impaired Havering residents, email

To find out more about East London Vision, visit

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