Award winning Newcastle optometrist celebrates 35 years

Newcastle optometrist Michael Offord is marking thirty five years delivering eye care to the people of Kingston Park with a day of celebration on Thursday (September 1).

Guest of honour will be Elsie Wearn who was the first ever patient at the Kingston Park practice when it opened its doors on September 1, 1981 and has been a loyal customer ever since.

Mr Offord qualified as an optometrist in 1973, working first for other opticians in the north east. It was always his dream to have his own practice and in 1981 he took the leap and opened Michael Offord Optometrists in Kingston Park Shopping Centre.

“Shopping centres were a new concept back in 1981 and Kingston Park was one of the first,” explains Michael. “I liked the idea of everything being in one place and under cover with plenty of parking so decided this was the was the place to be and truly haven’t looked back, only moving when the shopping centre itself was demolished.”

The independent practice, moved to bigger premises in the new Kingston Park retail centre in 2010 where it has grown to a team of 13, and a year later, Michael was named UK Optometrist of the Year in the prestigious Association of Optical Practitioners awards.

Locally, Michael is a familiar face at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary where he works one day a week in the Optometry and Eye Casualty Department, but he is also known internationally for his voluntary work with Vision Aid Overseas, helping people with sight needs in third world countries. This year his work took him to Ethiopia where he and his volunteer team gave training to local optometrists and eye care nurses as well as conducting routine eye examinations:

“In extreme cases, if someone isn’t able to see properly they aren’t able to work,” said Michael, who has been a Vision Aid volunteer for sixteen years and is now a respected team leader.

“Giving someone back their sight with properly dispensed spectacles means they are able to earn a living, support their family and regain their dignity.

“I feel very fortunate to be part of a team that can help people in this way.”

Michael’s practice was one of the first in Newcastle to have an OCT (Ocular Coherence Tomographer) scanner which gives the optometrist a 3D scan of what’s going at the back of the eye and can detect serious conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes and macular degeneration.

“The world of optometry has changed almost beyond recognition since we first opened here in Kingston Park, not least with the changes in technology which have improved the accuracy of eye examinations and dispensing and also made it possible to diagnose the early signs of diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes, enabling more timely treatment,” said Mr Offord.

“But one thing that hasn’t changed is that we are an independent practice, proud to be independent and truly local to the community we serve.”

Michael Offord Optometrists is now established and successful – but it wasn’t always like that. Michael recalls his first winter at Kingston Park when the business was still in its infancy and trade was so slow he could barely afford to put the heating on. A man walked in and asked if there was an appointment available. Michael thumbed the appointment book and said yes, there had been a cancellation – in truth no other patients were booked!  After the eye test, the man chose three pairs of spectacles and then stunned Michael by pulling open a money belt and handing over a wad of cash in payment.  And that unusual moment – it was unusual even then to receive a significant payment in cash – marked a turning point in the business as good fortune and lots of customers followed.

Michael Offord Optometrist and his Kingston Park team

Michael Offord Optometrist and his growing Kingston Park team.

Michael is committed to investing in his growing workforce and encourages his team to train continually as part of their personal development.

Alex Wilson joined the practice as a Saturday girl eleven years ago and is now a fully qualified optometrist, and her colleague Vicki Brydon, who started as an optical assistant, subsequently trained to be a dispensing optician. Both were mentored all the way by Michael:

“Michael has been a true inspiration. He supports his staff 100% and I would not be where I am today without his help and encouragement,” says Alex.

“It’s been hard work but I’ve loved every minute and made some very special friends,” said Michael of his thirty five years in business.

“The people of Kingston Park are lovely. it’s like having a huge extended family and I’d like to thank them for welcoming me in 1981 and the loyalty and kindness they have shown me and my team ever since.”

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