Cllr Pru Maskell, Conservative County Councillor for Braunton Rural, this week announced the launch of Access for All, a North Devon charity looking to improve facilities and accessibility for disabled beach users.
Founded by Braunton resident, Nicki Palmer, the inspiration for the group came from her experience with her disabled son, George, who uses a wheelchair, and wanting to use the beach as a family, it was always a challenge accessing the beach, changing and going to the toilet, none of which are catered for on the vast majority of beaches across the UK.
The group believe it is not right that "disabled people are kept from our beaches because the challenges they face are too stressful". They say it is time for change and aim for "North Devon to become the best place to come to a beach that is fully inclusive. To have decent size parking spaces, decent access to the beach, beach wheelchairs at all the beaches (please note some of our beaches like Saunton Sands already have beach wheelchairs to hire) and ‘Changing Places’ toilet facilities."
The group want to work with beach owners and the council to see what is already in place and what can be improved.
As part of the group, Cllr Pru Maskell, is looking to raise awareness of the project and encourage the public to support it's aims as well as liaising with key local organisations like the Devon County Council, The Calvert Trust, Changing Places and The Wave Project to achieve the groups aims.
In commenting on the launch, Pru said:
"I was approached back in May by Nicki Palmer from Braunton who’s son George is disabled and surfs with The Wave Project at Croyde Beach. Nicki had two goals, the first to create some sort of beach access for disabled people and the second, a Changing Places facility for disabled beach users. North Devon is fast becoming a hub for disabled surfing and Calvert Trust Exmoor now offers surf lessons with The Wave Project.
We have formed a group, Access for All, and over the coming months we aim to raise the funds to reach these goals. I will be setting up some Crowdfunding and if any local businesses would like to consider donating please contact firstname.lastname@example.org"
North Devon Conservative MP, Selaine Saxby, has also welcomed the launch:
"It was great to join George, his Mum and Cllr Pru Maskell at Croyde beach on Friday to better understand the challenges he has accessing the beach. George enjoys his surfing with the Wave Project but as he has grown into a young adult it has become increasingly difficult for him and his family due to challenging access and a lack of disabled changing facilities.
His Mum has set up Access For All to try and improve the situation at all our beaches in North Devon. Following my visit I have committed to write to Ministers to see if there are additional funds we can tap into, as well as having contacted the RNLI to see if there are solutions on other beaches that we may be able to learn from.
I love the time I get to surf, as I know many of us here in North Devon do, and enabling more of our community to enjoy the freedom of the waves is something I am more than happy to try and make happen."