WITH three and half decades of running a business under his belt, Michael Offord knows all about embracing new ideas.

Shoppers will be familiar with the idea of a large retail complex, such as Gateshead’s Metro Centre, but when Michael Offord Optometrists opened in Tyneside's Kingston Park Shopping Centre in September 1981, it was all new experience.

“Shopping centres were a new concept back then and Kingston Park was one of the first” explains Michael.

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"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.”

Earlier this month, Michael celebrated his 35th year of delivering eye care for people in Gateshead.

He was joined by those who he had helped over the years, including Elsie Wearn, his first ever patient when his optometrists first opened.

“I felt a great sense of achievement, I was very humbled.

“It was really for the patients – I wanted to say thank you for all of them.”

Michael’s work over the last three and half decades is quite a change from his early years. He enjoyed his Saturday’s working in a butchers, but was less complementary about his time in a sweet factory.

“I was either making up recipes and putting the ingredients in a boiler, or standing around on a production line. I was just really bored.”

Despite his recent celebrations, things haven’t always been so easy for Michael. He recalls his first winter at his Kingston Park site, when trade was so slow he could barely afford the cost of the heating.

“A man walked in and asked if there was appointment available. I thumbed the book and said yes there had been a cancellation, but in truth, no other appointments had been made.

After the test, the man bought three pairs of glasses.

“I was stunned. I could have hugged him” said Michael

“You have got to always remember these moments and never lose sight of them. It keeps you grounded.

“We have constantly assessed and reassessed the business to make sure we are doing things the right way.”

His hard work paid off in 2011, when he was awarded the title of UK optometrist of the year in the Association of Optical Practitioners awards.

“It was really humbling, especially as I was nominated by my peers. I’ve never been the sort to seek recognition, but I was very thrilled to receive the award.

“It was like being on Strictly or the X factor” said Michael.

Michael’s ability to help people with their eye sight hasn’t been confined to the North-East. He has carried out regular voluntary work with Vision Overseas Aid, helping people in third world countries with their sight.

It was on a trekking holiday in Ethiopia that this desire began.

“We’d stopped and some of the locals were just watching us. They thought we were doctors.

“We started examining them to see if we could help. There was a girl, a really bonny kid, who had an umbrella over her face. It turned out she had trachoma and we gave her some treatment.

“I left the village crying my eyes out” said an emotional Michael.

“I felt I needed to do something and I’ve been going ever since - it is hugely satisfying.”

One young boy in India gave Michael a memory he will never forget.

“I had given him some much needed reading glasses and he later tapped me on the shoulder. I thought there was something wrong with the glasses.

“It turned out he just wanted to thank me because he was now able to get a job. He was a joiner and he had lost his ability to focus on his work, so he got the sack.

“It is amazing how something so simple as reading glasses can ensure people can go out and provide for their family and support their kids.

“Some of these kids haven’t been to school for 3 years. I feel very fortunate to be part of a team who can help in this way.”

Over the last 35 years, helping is exactly what Michael has done best.

Five minutes with Michael Offord

Favourite North-East building and why? Sage Building on the Tyne. Appearance and position

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? Butcher’s Saturday boy 12 shillings and six pence for 5 hours work (12.5 pence per hour in today's money)

What is the worst job you've had? Sweet factory

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? Fish with home made vegetable/pepper sauce with pasta or couscous

What would your superpower be? Mind reading

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party. Nelson Mandela. Gandi, Richard Branson, Michelle Obama

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? Scanning machine for the practice - £52,000

Favourite book? The Chimp Paradox

When did you last cry? Last Thursday

What is your greatest achievement? Remaining in business for 35 years

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Never let your gloves drop

Favourite animal and why. Lion Quietly dominant and powerful

Most famous person on your mobile phone. Was Pavel Srníek but unfortunately he passed away

What was the last band you saw live? Mark Knopler

Describe your perfect night in. With friends for a meal, some wine and good conversation

In another life I would be... Farmer

Who would play you in a film of your life? My identical twin brother

What irritates you? Bad manners, dishonesty, social injustice, lack of respect for fellow humans, indifference

What's your secret talent? Warbling while whistling