A North Tyneside charity is aiming to help more people with disabilities get out and onto the region’s beaches after winning a four-figure grant from its local Newcastle Building Society branch.
Beach Access North East provides free-loan beach accessible wheelchairs which allow users to enjoy as much freedom as possible at the seaside and to go places that would otherwise remain out of reach due to their mobility issues.
The charity currently has two wheelchairs and a floating chair available at Tynemouth Longsands, two wheelchairs at Blyth South Beach and two longer leg length three-wheeler chairs which can be used at both locations.
Now, after being nominated by Lorna Moore, one of the charity’s founders and a customer at Newcastle Building Society’s Park View branch in Whitley Bay, a £3,000 Society grant has enabled Beach Access North East to buy a new ‘Freedom Trax’ all-terrain electric wheelchair to add to its ‘for hire’ list.
The funding has been provided by the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which has been set up to provide grants to charities and community groups that are located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.
Beach Access North East operates all year round, with a number of local volunteers currently storing the wheelchairs at their homes and bringing them to the relevant beach whenever reservations are made.
It recently put its own storage container in place next to the Blyth Battery, which makes the wheelchairs much more easily accessible to those that need them.
It is working with Newbiggin Maritime Centre, where two new chairs are located, and is also hoping to extend its service to cover Whitley Bay beach in the near future.
The charity, which has record-breaking North East Paralympian Steven Miller as its honorary president, is also investigating whether mats could be used on certain sections of beach to make it even easier for people to get out onto them, and is planning to buy a number of beach walkers which will help stroke patients stay steady as they cross the sand.
Caroline Corfield, who set up the charity with Lorna Moore and Sue Rowley, says: “Our aim is to give as many people as possible the chance to access these wonderful natural environments.
“We’ve seen our numbers gradually growing, and we’ve found that the more visible our service is on the beaches, the more interest we get from potential new users.
“Having this new all-terrain wheelchair is a brilliant addition to our equipment list, and the Society’s generous contribution to its purchase has meant we’ve been able to buy it far sooner than would otherwise have been possible.
“We have a great team of dedicated volunteers who give their time to making sure those that want our wheelchairs can get them when they need them, and we’re also going into local schools to help spread the word about the service we provide.”
Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund has contributed over £321,000 in grants to projects across the Society’s North East and Cumbria heartland, and is so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 129,000 people.
Grant applications for a maximum of £3,000 can be made in any Society branch or via the newcastle.co.uk website by customers who wish to support their local communities. There are larger grants of up to £50,000 also available to assist groups in improving or maintaining community buildings.
Stephen Andrews, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Whitley Bay branch, adds: “We’re very lucky to have such fantastic beaches right on our doorstep, and Beach Access North East’s work towards making make them as accessible as possible is extremely impressive.
“Their positive impact on the local community matches our culture of giving direct support to the places in which we’re based, and we’re very pleased to be helping them further extend their excellent work.”
The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.