Paralympic Heritage: Stories from Ealing and Hounslow

The Paralympic Heritage Stories regional exhibition at Gunnersbury Park Museum, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, ran from June to September 2019.

There were over 1700 visitors to this interactive exhibition which featured past and current Paralympic athletes from the area, highlighting the importance that local grass root disability sport organisations have played in providing a path to elite sport. Ealing and Hounslow was home to one of Britain's early Paralympic athletes, Hugh Stewart Mackenzie, and the area is currently home to several top Paralympians including equestrian, Natasha Baker; fencer, Dimitri Coutya and basketball player, Gaz Choudhry. There is a thriving disability sport community offering a wide range of opportunities.

Fencing training for the 1958 Stoke Mandeville Games

Fencing training for the 1958 Stoke Mandeville Games

Dimitri Coutya at the 2017 IWAS wheelchair fencing world championships

Dimitri Coutya at the IWAS wheelchair fencing world championships

Visitors found out how it all began with the inspirational story of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, from the development of the British Paralympic Movement in the 1940s linked to preparation for the D-Day landings through to London 2012 and the next Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. 

Kishan, Visitor Assistant at Gunnersbury Park Museum said,

It was fascinating to learn all about the local Paralympians and their achievements as I did not know much about the Paralympics, and so it was a great opportunity to handle the objects that were used during the games. I really enjoyed the interactive nature of the exhibition.

Exhibition display at Gunnersbury Park Museum   Exhibition display at Gunnersbury Park Museum   Exhibition display at Gunnersbury Park Museum

Vicky Hope-Walker, NPHT Chief Executive, said of the exhibition,

The National Paralympic Heritage Trust were delighted to bring this small scale exhibition to Gunnersbury Park Museum, to celebrate large scale Paralympic achievement alongside the grass roots achievement of local disability sports clubs who provide the means for up and coming disabled athletes to rise into stars.

Local stories from Ealing and Hounslow

We have collected some wonderful stories for the Ealing and Hounslow exhibition from local Paralympians, disability sports groups, players and volunteers.

Natasha Baker competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Gaz Choudhry competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Natasha Baker competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympics ©Getty Images

Dimitri Coutya at the IWAS Wheelchair Fencing World Championships 2017 ©Getty Images

Cover for Hugh’s book discussing his experience as a wheelchair user, published by the Spinal Injuries Association. Gaz Choudhry competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

Paralympic equestrian, Natasha Baker MBE

Natasha contracted a virus, Transverse Myelitis, at just 14 months old. She was left with permanent nerve damage, loss of sensation and severe weakness in her legs. Due to her disability she instructs her horses entirely through verbal commands and a series of precise movements in the saddle.

Having dreamt of winning a Paralympic gold medal from the age of ten, Natasha’s dream became a reality when, with her horse Cabral, also known as “JP”, she won gold in the Grade II Individual and the Grade II Freestyle equestrian events at London 2012.

Four years later in Rio, Natasha retained her Individual and Freestyle gold medals before going on to win a third gold in the Team Competition. Natasha, from Uxbridge, was awarded an MBE by the Queen in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to equestrianism.

Paralympic wheelchair fencer, Dimitri Coutya

Dimitri was knocked over by a car at the age of two, which left him with a T-4 level spinal cord injury. He started playing wheelchair basketball and tennis from the age of eight, but it was only when he tried wheelchair fencing at his Ealing school, St. Benedict’s, that his passion for sport really ignited. He won a gold and silver medal at the 2012 UK School Games and was selected to attend London 2012 as part of the BPA’s Paralympic Inspiration Programme.

Dimitri Coutya made his Paralympic debut at Rio in 2016, where he progressed to the quarter-final stages in both the foil and epée wheelchair fencing events. Dimitri has gone on to become the first Brit to win three individual medals at a World Cup event in 2018, and is the current European and world champion.

Focus on what I do, not on what I sit on. Dimitri Coutya

Paralympian, Hugh Stewart Mackenzie

Hugh was a member of the GB team who went to the 1964 Tokyo Games; with Paul Lyall they won the bronze medal in the Men’s Doubles B table tennis competition. After the Tokyo Games, he continued to compete internationally in table tennis, snooker and wheelchair basketball.

Hugh began writing a book called, ‘The Cheeks on my Seat’ about his life in a wheelchair. The semi-autobiographical book, written from the perspective of the wheelchair, was completed by his wife Margaret after his death in 2010.

Paralympic wheelchair basketball player, Gaz Choudhry

Gaz Choudhry was born in Pakistan and grew up in Ealing. After being diagnosed with bone cancer aged 10, Gaz had his right leg amputated. Two years later he took up wheelchair basketball. Gaz made his debut for Great Britain at the 2009 BT Paralympic World Cup, competed at the London 2012 Paralympics, and was part of the bronze medal winning team at Rio 2016.

PACE members Sunil Birdy and Alex Dukes were nominated Paralympic Flame Ambassadors representing London at the 2012 Paralympic Games Ealing Swimming Club and Metro Blind Sport taster swimming event for people with visual impairment Three members of Brentford FC Community Sports Trust talking Four members of the Better Disability tennis programme.
PACE members ©PACE Ealing Swimming Club and Metro Blind Sport taster swimming event  Members of Brentford FC Community Sports Trust Better Disability tennis programme

PACE Charitable Trust

Founded in 2004 the PACE Charitable Trust promotes the inclusion of young disabled people in sport across the London Borough of Ealing and beyond. PACE use sport as a way of combating the isolation experienced by many disabled people and to help them develop essential life skills. In total, they have supported over 8,000 people to access sports and physical activity programmes.

In 2012, PACE members Sunil Birdy and Alex Dukes were nominated Paralympic Flame Ambassadors, representing London at the Paralympic Games. The Flame was brought to Ealing for an evening ceremony at Northala Fields.

Ealing Swimming Club

Ealing Swimming Club is the UK’s largest swimming club with over 1500 swimming members using pools in Ealing, Hammersmith, Hounslow and Northwood. Their motto is ‘Every Swimmer Counts’ and in partnership with Metro Blind Sport they have led the way in encouraging and promoting visually impaired swimming.

Brentford FC Community Sports Trust

Established in 1987, the Trust initially began as a local project called Brentford Football in the Community (BFitC). It was one of the first football clubs to launch a community football coaching programme.

The Trust later became one of the first football clubs to expand into health, disability and education projects, helping people to tackle any existing obstacles they face playing sport. Hounslow ‘Short Breaks’ supports children with disabilities through sporting and educational activities and ‘On the Ball’ helps children with autism with their communication skills.

Better Disability

Better are the UK’s leading charitable social enterprise. They were involved in the London 2012 Paralympic and Olympic Games, and since 2013 have operated major legacy facilities across London. Better also support disability athletes at all levels through the GLL Sports Foundation, which has made over 16,200 athlete awards and grants.

A new and accessible Gunnersbury Park Sports Hub will launch in late 2019 providing opportunities for the entire community to access sport at all levels and ability.


Challenging Perceptions of Disability evening

This was a great evening with audio described and BSL tours of the exhibition, followed by a talk and discussion on perceptions of disability in sport and heritage. The panel members were Dimitri Coutya (2016 Paralympic quarter finalist in both foil and epee fencing events and current European and World Champion), Natasha Baker (Paralympic gold medallist at London 2012 in Grade II Individual and Freestyle equestrian events), Noula Insole (representing Ealing Association for the Blind), Vicky Hope-Walker (representing the Paralympic Heritage Trust) and Ray Coleman (representing Feltham Bees Disabled Sports Club). The discussion was chaired by local Councillor Mel Collins who has a background of representing and supporting initiatives for disabled people across the borough of Hounslow.

Audio description and BSL tour at the Paralympic Heritage exhibition at Gunnersbury Park Museum     Audio description and BSL tour at the Paralympic Heritage exhibition at Gunnersbury Park Museum

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Partners include:

The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Colour logo of the National Lottery Heritage Fund