Nature-spotting and pleasure trips by boat have become a reality for wheelchair users in North Norfolk.
An £80,000 Wheelyboat, designed and built with a watertight ramp in the bow to make boating accessible to everyone, has been bought by local charity- the Norfolk Charitable Trust in an initiative spearheaded by Blakeney, Cley & District Royal British Legion (RBL).
This is the first wheelchair accessible powerboat on the North Norfolk coast making beaches, nature reserves and the coastline within reach for those with mobility issues where they were previously out of reach. It is a real game-changer providing experiences for less able-bodied people such as sea-angling, powerboating and nature watching in less accessible places, which have been out of reach in the past.
The Blakeney, Cley & District RBL branch, which has about 100 members, administered the fundraising which was completed in just 18 months, mainly through grants and the generosity of many North Norfolk people and businesses.
In a stroke it has removed the barriers which have prevented those with mobility problems accessing what makes North Norfolk so special – the coastline and sea.
A trial trip from Morston took just a few minutes for a motorised wheelchair to board the ramp - which lowers and rises to allow wheelchairs to drive or be pushed aboard - before setting sail to view the seals on Blakeney Point. And an hour later a contingent from the Halsey House Veterans Care Home in Cromer returned both flushed and very happy!
The boat, called Poppy after the RBL symbol - is driven by both an electric battery driven power unit and a conventional petrol outboard engine.
Poppy Day, the annual service of Remembrance, is on Sunday, November 14, 2021, and is the culmination of the RBL’s national appeal which runs from October 28.
The sale of poppies is the legion’s largest fund-raising campaign and part of a national fund-raising appeal to support our armed forces community past and present. Donations can be made at collection points and by text and online
The Wheelyboat can be helmed by a wheelchair user meaning they can achieve Royal Yachting Association powerboat qualifications and pass on those skills to others. But the two outboard engines, the first Wheelyboat with two engines in the UK, are needed to give the battery engine back up in the strong tidal currents of the Norfolk coast for boating trips covering an area including Blakeney, Morston and Cley.
A full timetable will be operating from the Spring of 2022. The service is available to all disabled groups, both from the Armed Forces and in the wider community.
The boat is 20 feet long and 7.5 ft wide. Its ramp makes roll-on roll-off access for up to four wheelchair users and their helpers each trip. It is purpose-designed to allow the freedom of boating and the open water for everyone and to enhance wellbeing. It has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people.
And it is not just the physically impaired who will benefit. The project is keen to include all who find the conventional harbour ferries difficult to use.
The Blakeney & Cley branch of the RBL has a list of qualified skippers to helm the boat but it is now appealing for donations to help cover the administration and running costs of operating the Wheelyboat.
Donations can be made at http://www.bcdrbl.com/wheelyboat
The Wheelyboat Trust (www.wheelyboats.org/), which supplied the boat, is a registered charity which designs and builds the boats. It also helps with funding and has provided 200 similar vessels around the UK on rivers, canals, lochs and lakes.
Holt-born Olympic rower Sir Matthew Pinsent is among the charity’‘s patrons which include people such as journalists Jeremy Paxman, Sir Max Hastings, cricketer Allan Lamb and Liberal politician Lord David Steel.
The Wheelyboat will enhance the lives and enjoyment for thousands of people.
Organisations or individuals wanting to arrange boating trips along the Norfolk coast or find out more about the boat should email the Branch at Lisa Chandler expressing interest in a trip. Lisa's email is firstname.lastname@example.org