All Aboard With The Wheelyboat Trust
by Lisa De Silva
Formed in 1984 in Sussex, The Wheelyboat Trust provides accessible water vessels to mobility impaired people all over the UK and beyond. Lisa de Silva meets its Director, Andy Beadsley.
For many of us the pleasures of pottering about in boats enjoying the scenery, the wildlife or the fishing, is taken for granted and now thanks to the Wheelyboat Trust, this type of enriching experience can be enjoyed by those with mobility impairments too.
The main aim of the Trust is to design, build and help fund a range of fully disabled-accessible Wheelyboats, which enable wheelchair users, or those who may have mobility issues resulting from age, illness or infirmity, to be able to enjoy waterbourne activities, such as pleasure boating, angling, power boating or nature watching.
Offering roll on/roll off access and a level deck, the Wheelyboats are designed to be self-operated, giving those with physical disabilities the independence to enjoy the same type of activities as the able-bodied. Since the charity was founded over 30 years ago, the Trust has supplied 176 accessible boats across the UK, as well as to Ireland and Denmark and is unique in supplying this type of craft throughout Europe.
Interestingly, the Wheelyboat Trust is a charity with its roots in Sussex. It all began when a farmer from Nutley, Bill Buchanan, fell out of a tree, broke his back and become a wheelchair user. A keen angler, his fishing companion, Alan Faulkner, decided this wasn’t going to mark the end of Bill’s hobby. So Alan designed a small landing craft with a bow door that lowered to form a ramp, allowing Bill, along with his wheelchair, to continue enjoying their fishing trips.
“Once Alan’s idea became a reality, the potential for this type of accessible boat was soon realised and the charity was incorporated in 1984,” explains Andy Beadsley, Director of the Wheelyboat Trust. Andy was one of the early beneficiaries of this type of accessible boat after a motor cycling accident in the early Eighties left him a wheelchair user. He took up trout fishing around the same time that Wheelyboats first started appearing and over time Andy got to know the charity’s trustees, becoming increasingly involved in the promotion of the charity, until in 2002, he left his job as an accountant to become the full time Director of the Trust.
“I can speak from personal experience,” he tells me. “I know how fulfilling it is to get out on the water doing an activity like fishing and being able to participate on the same basis as everyone else. To be able to take a boat out, operate it yourself and enjoy your fishing is a wonderful feeling.”
Initially most of the Wheelyboats were supplied to fisheries to enable mobility impaired anglers to continue their sport, but the scope of accessible boats for other types of water activities soon became clear. Today, the Trust designs, builds and supplies three different models, designed for fishing, pleasure trips and power boating.
Currently, the Trust is working with Young Epilepsy, helping to fund a Wheelyboat for Weir Wood Reservoir, near East Grinstead. The accessible boat is to be used by students from St Piers School and College, which provides specialised education for those with epilepsy, autism and other neurological conditions, as it has been found that the sensory experience of water-based activities can help with both focus and relaxation. To date, wheelchair bound students have been denied this pleasure owing to access issues, which a Wheelyboat would overcome.
Along with its work with Sailability groups across the UK, providing boating opportunities for the disabled, the Wheelyboat Trust is also working closely with the Canal and River Trust to bring accessible craft to our inland waterways enabling those with mobility issues to enjoy a pleasurable day out on the water.
“Our short term aim has always been to provide 200 boats,” says Andy. “But to be honest that isn’t even scratching the surface of what’s needed out there.”
The Wheelyboat Trust is entirely reliant on income from donations and if you would like to support this worthwhile charity or to contribute to the Young Epilepsy Wheelyboat Project, please see below for how to donate.
THE WHEELYBOAT TRUST
Address: North Lodge, Burton Park, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 0JT
Telephone: 01798 342222