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In honour of National Eye Health Week, a Premier Inn employee shares her battle with rare eye condition.

24 Sep 2019 Sustainability

Af 004 Marie Espley Atkins Whi

A brave hotel manager who will one day go blind as result of a rare genetic condition is sharing her story for National Eye Health Week (September 23-29) to inspire others to help raise money for life-changing sight loss charities.   Marie Espley-Atkins, aged forty-four from Burntwood, was diagnosed with a rare incurable eye condition which will tragically one day leave her blind. Mum-of-three Marie who manages Premier Inn Cannock Orbital and Cannock South, was diagnosed with Stargardt disease four years ago, a rare incurable condition passed through genetics.

However, inspirational Marie has no plans to let her condition negatively impact her life. With the full backing from bosses and colleagues at Premier Inn, Marie is preparing herself to potentially become the UK’s first hotel manager living with sight loss.

To help ready herself and assist those who have already lost their sight, Marie is volunteering with her local Guide Dogs team as a My Guide Volunteer.

Guide Dogs provides a volunteering opportunity called ‘My Guide’ which involves taking someone out once a week who has already lost their sight. This enables people living with sight loss, with the support of their trained My Guide volunteer to enjoy activities outside of their home. Activities can be varied but may include going for coffees, joining a gym, going for walks, attending the cinema or theatre or joining a local group in their community, The My Guide volunteer can also help people learn familiar routes. Not everyone with sight loss has a Guide Dog or long cane, so the My Guide service can help support people at different times of their sight loss journey using on the arm guiding. However, people can still have support from the My Guide service if they are a Guide Dog owner or long cane user.

Marie has been training to become a My Guide and is currently waiting for someone to be selected for her to work with. She will be partnered with someone for a fixed period of time and will be spending two to three hours per week supporting her My Guide partner, with the help of a support plan set up by the My Guide team at Guide Dogs.

Marie is sharing her story to raise awareness of visual impairment and to highlight the importance of supporting amazing charities, including Guide Dogs and Premier Inn’s chosen charity Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (GOSH Charity). GOSH Charity is currently fundraising towards the completion of a new ‘Sight and Sound Centre, supported by Premier Inn’ – which will be the first dedicated medial facility for children with sight and hearing loss in the UK. This fundraising effort is part of Whitbread’s wider Force for Good Sustainability programme which commits to making a meaningful impact to the communities our teams are part of.

Marie said: “It’s a very real possibility I may become the first hotel manager in the UK living with sight loss and while it’s something obviously I’d never have chosen I do want to use my position to help others. I’m so lucky to have such an incredible support network, including my employer Premier Inn, which has supported me every step of the way on my personal journey – now it’s my time to give back. ‘My Guide’ has shown me how to care for someone who has lost their sight and has taught me to speak out about my condition. I want to put my energy into something good and am of course conscious that one day I may need the support of My Guide myself. I’m hoping that out of this I will learn a lot about what it might be like for me in the future and to hopefully make a lifelong friend.”

A Guide Dog’s spokesperson said: Trained My Guide volunteers like Marie, offer a life changing service to people living with sight loss. Our My Guide volunteers offer one to one regular partnership support with a service user. The My Guide partnerships are matched on similar hobbies and interests. The My Guide partnerships enable confidence and independence and support people in getting out and about, to do the activities they enjoy. We are currently recruiting nationwide for more amazing My Guide volunteers like Marie, to help support the huge numbers of people living with sight loss. If you would like more information on how to get involved, please get in touch with Guide Dogs at  or call us on 0118 983 5555 and you will be directed to your local Guide Dogs Operations team.

John, a My Guide Client added: “At the beginning when I first lost my sight I didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone because you think your old way of life is over, having a My Guide volunteer has helped me, by changing my perception of life. thanks to My Guide it’s now a case of what I can do not what I can’t do!”

Did you know?
-*Two million people in the UK are living with sight loss.
-Glaucoma is treatable if caught early enough. It is recommended to have a sight test once every two years.
-Sight tests can also help detect other conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
-Three ways in order to keep your eyes healthy are: Wear sun protection in bright sunlight, don’t smoke and eat healthily.

Premier Inn, the UK’s top-rated hotel chain*, has proudly been supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity since 2012 and pledged to raise £7.5 million towards a brand-new medical facility at the hospital. The Premier Inn Clinical Building, which opened in January 2018, provides state of the art facilities including new in-patient wards, operating theatres and a day case unit, to match the hospital’s world-class care. Most recently, Premier Inn pledged to raise a further £10 million to help fund a new Sight and Sound Centre, a specialist outpatient centre tailored to the needs of children with sight and hearing loss, which is due to open in 2020.

Notes to editor:* information sourced from Vision Matters –

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