Joanna Lally’s Big Half Marathon Success

The Beast from the East certainly had us all on weather watch throughout last week. However, Saturday (3rd March) arrived and the snow melted away and you wouldn’t have even known we’d had any of the white stuff in London! With the weather looking more promising it was confirmed that the very first Vitality Big Half Marathon would go ahead on Sunday 4th March.

Masuma Snowman for Blog Article
Photo of a snowman wearing a hat and scarf made by Masuma Ali during the week The Beast of the East brought snow chaos to the UK.

Wrapped up in my many layers I joined Team ELVis at our spectator spot by Bermondsey Station, which was mile 8 for the runners, to cheer on our amazing Big Half runner Joanna Lally. Over 11,000 runners lined up by Tower Bridge for the start of the race and finished at the iconic Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

We had the honour of seeing the four-time British Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah run past us before streams of other runners started to arrive. It was fantastic seeing Joanna at mile 8, who was in very good spirits. She has done an excellent job in raising over £600 for us to be able to continue running more technology group sessions to blind and partially sighted people. There is still time to donate and help Joanna to reach her target of £1000. You can donate on

We arrived at Greenwich Park to meet our runner Joanna as well as Jessica Beal who ran for South East London Vision, our sister charity covering the 6 boroughs south of the River Thames. Greenwich Park was a burst of energy with the Big Festival in full swing with live music and plenty of food stalls. Both Jessica and Joanna were thrilled at their achievements and rightly so as it was both their first half marathon. Joanna finished in 2 hours, 26 minutes and 30 seconds and Jessica in 2 hours, 24 minutes and 56 seconds.

Many congratulations to both ladies, you’ve done yourself and all of us proud!

Photo of Joanna Lally smiling and holding up her Big Half Marathon medal.

Written by Masuma Ali


How I’m Preparing to Run The Vitality Big Half Marathon

The journey so far

I am approximately half way through training for the Big Half, with exactly a month to go.  My first run was a test to make sure I could actually run for at least 30 minutes without collapsing in a big heap on the floor, which fortunately did not happen, and I felt invigorated to create a training plan, using resources from The Big Half marathon website and gathering advice and tips from friends who have previously run marathons.

There were a few initial points to tick off, and which I’ve already experienced the benefit of: get a good pair of running shoes, build up distance and time gradually, download a running app to track progress and take rest days in between big runs.  I wrote up my plan with weekly goals of what distance/time I wanted to reach.  Then suddenly the fear set in, and for the first week and a half of that plan I couldn’t bring myself to run.  I procrastinated through other means of building up my overall fitness; a yoga class, swimming and a couple of long cycles.  This definitely wasn’t a bad idea, as it gave me a chance to exercise and stretch other muscles in the body.

The breakthrough

Thankfully, with some encouragement, I managed to part ways with that apprehension and completed my first 5km run, and survived (side note: stretching afterwards is SO important!).  Each time I’ve trained since I’ve enjoyed it.  I realised that years of telling myself that I wasn’t a runner had instilled a belief that it must be an awful experience.  Running is certainly still challenging, and requires a lot of preparation [tip: set aside a good couple of hours for each run, to find that state of mind, warm up and cool down, perhaps take a shower after], and those first twenty minutes, for me personally, are a huge hurdle.  The self-doubt floods in, and I think about going home, or walking to the nearest coffee shop.  No, that can wait, I remind myself.

It’s all in the recovery

Last week I met with another friend who is taking part in the Big Half and we made more plans – but this time it wasn’t so much about the training, but for what comes afterwards: the Recovery. A huge meal on the Sunday afternoon post-race, then a sauna trip the next day and some more yoga to stretch out our sore muscles.  It’s also important, however, to build in room for recovery at every stage in preparing for the half marathon, and remember that you can’t expect to do it all in one go!

It was a great turning point to start thinking about what follows the race, and that there is still the rest of life to get on with once it’s over, but for now I am taking it, quite literally, one step at a time.  And with just four weeks left I’ve still got some way to go, and every little bit of support has given me a massive boost.  You can follow more of my training progress on Twitter and donate via my fundraising page here:

Thanks for reading and all your support so far!  And if you’re free on Sunday 4 March then please come and join East London Vision to cheer me on along with the other race participants!

You can also watch my interview with Ray from East London Vision.

Written by Joanna Lally


A Great Start to Look Who’s Walking Team’s 50k Peak District Challenge in 2018

A belated Happy New Year to you all!  My first blog entry of 2018 is about the timed 12-hour Bronze 50k Peak District Challenge, which ELVis and Metro Blind Sport Charity will be undertaking in partnership in September, around the same time as National Eye Health Week 2018.  What was I thinking when I agreed to this?  Oh wait, I clearly wasn’t thinking before I signed my life away to walking! I don’t sleep walk, but who knows what may happen by September…

However, I am very excited to tell you that we are the first joint vision impaired and sighted group to take part in the Peak District Challenge.  The aim of the project is to create awareness about walking opportunities for blind and partially sighted people, starting in East London with the view to expanding further afield.  We want more people to see that being blind or partially sighted shouldn’t be a barrier to taking part in low impact exercise such as walking.

We will be doing a 50k loop of the Peak District National Park starting and finishing in the small town of Hathersage on the edge of the National Park.  The Bronze Challenge has a total ascent of 1200m and at its highest point reaches 464m.  To ensure we are all prepared for the challenge, we’ll be attending Walking for Health Walks and the Rambling Association walks throughout the year, which will help increase fitness levels, but also provide opportunities to network and introduce the long term goal of the project- getting blind and partially sighted people walking and enjoying local parks and commons.

Our first walk was on 8th January with the Walking for Health group in Havering.  We managed 5k (3miles) in 58 minutes.  So a good start to the training schedule!  My sighted guide Ian Francis from Metro Blind Sport did a great job in guiding me, and most importantly ensured we beat our fellow Look Who’s Walking team members Bhavini Makwana and Saul Wynne to complete the walk first!

I’m hopeful that we can reach our fundraising target of £5,000 and possibly exceed it.  If you would like to get us started towards the first £100, please visit and donate at

Photo of the Look Who’s Walking! Group – Ian, Masuma, Bhavini and Saul.

Written by Masuma Ali


Charles Bonnet Syndrome: The Eye Condition that Causes Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations, ranging from spots of coloured light to full-bodied people, are, for many vision impaired people, a normal part of their sight loss.  These are symptoms of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), a recognised medical condition which many people with vision impairment experience at some point during their sight loss journey.  As you might imagine, these sorts of experiences can have a profound impact on people’s lives.  However, Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition that isn’t always well-understood even by medical professionals, let alone the general public, and so it often goes ignored or misdiagnosed.

I attended a workshop on the first ever Charles Bonnet Syndrome Day on 16th November this year, and there I heard from several people who have experienced the condition first hand.  Their stories brought home just how serious this condition can be.  Some would see grotesque gargoyle-like figures sitting in their living rooms, while others would see patterns covering the floor and walls to such a degree that they became disorientated and couldn’t tell where anything in the room really was.  While there is currently no known cure for CBS, there are various tricks that people can use to help dispel the images, such as wearing sunglasses, adjusting the light levels of the room, or distracting the brain by turning the TV or radio on or off.

However, for many people the first step in dealing with this condition is to understand what it is that they are experiencing.  We heard several sad stories during the day about people with CBS who had been misdiagnosed with dementia, and had therefore never received the right support or treatment for their condition.  It is important to remember that the hallucinations experienced by people with CBS are vivid, but they are visual only, and cannot be heard, felt, tasted or smelled.  But if this is the case, and there is no serious memory loss and no other diagnosed mental health issue, then the hallucinations are more than likely to be the result of Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

The charity Esme’s Umbrella, which ran the workshop in November, is there to give information, advice and support to anybody who is experiencing CBS, or who is concerned about someone they know who is living with the condition.  They can be contacted by phone (0345 051 3925) or email (, and they also have a website with details of coping strategies and the latest research on CBS, which can be found at  If you would like to find out more about the condition, then please do not hesitate to contact them.

Photo of the Esme’s Umbrella Charity logo. Its design includes dozens of colourful umbrellas and the words ‘Esme’s Umbrella. For everyone working for the greater awareness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome’.

Written by Nicola Stokes


Why Braille is Still Relevant in the Digital Age

For those of you who aren’t aware, last week was National Braille Week, so now is as good an opportunity as ever to talk about why this form of communication continues to be so important in the VI world.

Most people know that Braille was invented by Louis Braille, a nineteenth-century Frenchman who accidentally blinded himself while playing with tools in his father’s workshop at the age of three. But did you know that he had come up with the now-familiar six-dots system by the age of just 15, and published his findings when he was 20? However, scepticism of the system meant that Braille wasn’t on the curriculum even at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, where Louis was a professor.  It took until two years after his death for Braille to be implemented there, after continual demands from blind pupils.

Today, Braille is used by over 150 million people across the world.  However, in an age in which digital technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, and voiceover and voice-activated devices are becoming more common and readily available, many people no longer consider Braille to be as essential for communication.  However, whilst it is certainly true that voice-activated products can be extremely useful for a VIP, this does not eliminate the importance of Braille.  Being a fully-sighted person myself, I once asked the opinion of a VIP how they felt about Braille being considered less important nowadays.  He responded, “Imagine if someone said to you that you were no longer allowed to read or write text, and the only way you could receive or impart information was aurally.  It would have a huge impact on your life.”  And he’s right- being able to read and write Braille opens up many more opportunities for VIPs than they would have otherwise.  Braille is important to help improve people’s literacy rates, which in turn aids people in the workplace.  And with its incorporation with recent developments in technology, such as portable Braille Notetakers and Braille attachments to smart devices, people who are Braille-literate are easily able to read and write wherever they go.  Modern technology is therefore making Braille more accessible, rather than making it obsolete, and is a great tool in helping VIPs to become more independent.  As Helen Keller said, “We, the blind, are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg.”

To find out more about Braille and National Braille Week, click here:

For more information on how technology is helping to enhance the use of Braille, click here:

If you’re interested in learning Braille and would like more information, you can call Abiola on 07983 552855 (classes run every Friday 11am to 12pm at Dagenham Library), or email (Redbridge residents only, classes normally run on Tuesday mornings).

Written by Nicola Stokes




Team ELVis at National Eye Health Week 2017

In this week’s blog, I’m going to be sharing what Team ELVis got up to during National Eye Health Week (18th – 24th September) in partnership with local optometrists, health and social care professionals, and the voluntary sector.

On Tuesday, we had an ELVis stall at the Sainsbury’s Supermarket in Whitechapel to raise awareness about what we do as a charity and the importance of getting an eye examination. It was a successful day. We spoke to lots of people who had not been for an eye examination in recent years and encouraged them to make an appointment at their local opticians.

Then on Wednesday, we were at Queen’s Hospital in Romford and joined by the local vision impaired group, Sight Action Havering. We had another successful day promoting the charity and sharing lots of helpful eye health tips with hospital patients and visitors.

Our final day of National Eye Health Week activities took place on Thursday. We spent the day at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar speaking to the local community. It was a chilly day but we braved the cold. Moreover, we managed to sign up a new ELVis member. The biggest challenge of the day was ensuring that we didn’t lose our leaflets to the wind!!

During the week we handed out plenty of freebies – pens, trolley coin keyrings, magnets, and mints – which were really popular!

Although National Eye Health Week has ended it’s important to continue looking after your eyes.  Did you know that there is a link between smoking and increased risk of blindness and eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD)?

Furthermore, to limit the risk of developing an eye condition it’s recommended by the NHS that you should undergo a sight examination at least once every two years.

More information on keeping your eyes healthy can be found by visiting:


Photo of Sight Action Havering members (Mike, Tracy, Maureen, Sandra and Izzy the guide dog) and Team ELVis (Ray and Graham).

Written by Masuma Ali



Your Eyes Be Active Information Event

Free food, games, and the opportunity to find out lots of information about local vision impaired services- this was what awaited us at the Barking and Dagenham Your Eyes Be Active event!

On Thursday 27th July, the ELVis team headed over to the Barking Learning Centre for the Your Eyes Be Active information day, run by the borough’s Disability Services, Enabling Independence Team and Sensory Team. This was a great opportunity for people to find out about the different local services that are available to help support people with sight loss, and to meet the people providing these services.

There was a wide range of stalls at the event. People were encouraged to think about staying healthy, with the opportunity to get their blood pressure checked as well as meeting groups that support VI sports sessions. There was also a stall demonstrating healthy cooking which had some very tasty salads on display. By happy coincidence, this stall happened to be placed right next to the ELVis stall, which made it very convenient when going up to get second helpings!

Others at the event included Guide Dogs, the local Talking Newspaper and several social groups. There was also one of the new Routemaster buses parked outside, giving people the opportunity to have a look around it so that they are familiar with these buses when they come across them in future. There were people demonstrating different technological gadgets (including ELVis’s Graham who had the Amazon Echo and the Google Home device), and others who gave careers advice to those looking to get into work.

As well as stalls, throughout the day people went to talks given by speakers on a variety of different topics. These ranged from how people have benefited from using employability services to an inspirational speaker who made people laugh telling them about some of his experiences throughout his life as a vision impaired person.

All in all, this was a fantastic day.  It was lovely for us at ELVis to meet and chat to lots of new people, and it was great to see so many different services, which all have a part to play in supporting the lives of our local vision impaired people. If you hear of any information event going on near you, I recommend that you go along and check it out- who knows what you might discover?  (And there might be free food, too!)


Photo of the ELVis team (Nicola, Chris and Graham) at the Your Eyes Be Active information day.

Written by Nicola Stokes