A NEW floating wheelchair in Lyme Regis will give people the freedom and independence to enjoy the sea.
Lyme Regis Town Council this week tested the waters when the wheelchair was launched for the first time.
The floating wheelchair is in addition to the two beach wheelchairs which were introduced last year, and has been donated to the town council by Uplyme resident Rene Wyndham.
Disabled Lyme Regis resident Vicci Stocqueler was the first to try out the wheelchair and was pushed into the water by town councillor Richard Doney and Rene.
Vicci, whose left leg is paralysed, has very limited use of her left arm and arthritis on her right side. She hasn’t been able to go in the sea in Britain for 16 years.
She said: “It was really good fun and I felt quite safe. It felt dignified and relaxing.”
In the past, Vicci, of Pound Street, has been forced to watch her friends and family enjoying the sea from the parade, wishing she could join them.
“It’s quite lonely when you’re disabled watching other people doing things,” she said.
“There are 20 million families affected by some sort of disability in Britain, and that’s just the ones who are registered, and to be able to go into the sea and be part of things with friends and family will make a huge difference.”
Rene Wyndham donated the wheelchair to the town in memory of her parents, after seeing a family using a floating wheelchair in France.
She said: “They looked absolutely blissful and I had never heard of it in England, so I thought I had to do something.
“We sold my late parents’ flat a few years ago and while I had a little bit of money, I wanted to give something back to the community.
“This is the realisation of a dream I have had for several years.”
Rene hopes other coastal resorts will be encouraged to provide floating wheelchairs.
She said: “It’s all very well taking people to swimming pools, but this is about the sound of the sea, the gulls, the fresh air, unlimited freedom and space, and feeling part of this lovely vast bay we have here in Lyme Regis.”
Rene, who swims a kilometre in the sea at Lyme Regis every morning, joined Vicci and Councillor Doney in the water at the launch on Thursday.
She said: “I’m terribly thrilled, I didn’t think I would be this excited that it’s come to fruition.”
The floating wheelchair will be free to hire and can be booked in advance.
Councillor Doney, who has championed accessibility initiatives by the town council, said: “The floating wheelchair will help more people with disabilities enjoy the water, something they can’t do on a regular basis, if at all.
“There is a very wide variety of disabilities and we are not set up for people with disabilities to enjoy life as much as able-bodied people. We need to change that, so everyone can enjoy Lyme Regis to its full potential.”
The floating wheelchair and the two beach wheelchairs can be booked in advance through the tourist information centre at LTIC@dorset.gov.uk or 01297 442138, or on the day if they are not already booked out.
For more information about the wheelchairs and other accessibility information, visit www.lymeregis.org/accessibility