Living near the beach is a dream for many people. Like those who live at Livability Dolphin Court, our Essex residential home for disabled adults, who enjoy expansive sea views from their flats on the seafront at Southend.
But if you’re a wheelchair user, popping out for a wander along the beach presents problems. Chair tyres get bogged down in sand and pebbles, so until recently, Dolphin residents had to make do with staying on the pavement on the beachside road.
When the Friends of Dolphin Court group heard about this barrier to beach fun, they wanted to do something about it. New Friends member Mike Stafford, a local councillor who champions disability services and access in the town, worked with the team to secure funding from a newly created, local disability investment fund. ‘Our first action was to fund the beach wheelchair for Dolphin Court,’ says Mike, who continues to put pressure on the council for more facilities for disabled people.
The new wheelchair’s fat tyres mean it glides easily over the beach surface. Lizzie, who lives at Dolphin Court, was the first person to try out the new chair. Lizzie is blind and doesn’t communicate verbally – but her joy at being on the beach, close to the sea, was very evident. ‘When Lizzie felt the water on her feet, she gasped and there was a great big smile on her face,’ says Dolphin’s activities coordinator Theo Nuns. ‘She was smiling and singing and laughing. We had a picnic too – she thoroughly enjoyed it.’
Getting onto the beach is just one of the outdoor activities that staff at Livability Dolphin Court enable residents to enjoy, because it has such a tangible effect on people’s wellbeing, however profound their sensory disability.
Lizzie and others from Dolphin love to attend a local trampolining session, which not only enables them to connect with the community but has improved core body strength and wellbeing. ‘Lizzie doesn’t need a back support now on the trampoline and she can stand, with support, rather than sit. People are excited to go out and do activities like this and an accessible bikes scheme – they enjoy themselves and socialise,’ says Theo.
Dolphin Court is now planning to fundraise for an additional beach wheelchair, to accommodate residents with more complex posture needs. ‘Being on the shore, hearing the waves and smelling the sea is something some of our residents just love,’ says Theo. ‘We will make that happen for as many people as we can.’