Banks Group grant helps to fund ‘wheely’ good idea

December 8, 2011 | Bowesfield News

Teesside-based people with disabilities are now enjoying the freedom of being out on the water thanks to a £5,500 grant from a local developer.

The Banks Group, via its Banks Community Fund, has helped fund the purchase by the Tees Wheelyboat’s Club of a wheelchair-accessible Wheelyboat, which operates from the River Tees Water Sports Centre at Stockton-on-Tees.

Officially launched in September by Britain’s greatest-ever Paralympian, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who is now a patron of the Club, the Wheelyboat offers regular sightseeing and pleasure cruises for disabled people

And it has already proved a great success, with a resounding 90 per cent of the 180 passengers it has carried so far saying they would like to repeat their Wheelyboat experience and use the boat again.

The Wheelyboat has a hinged bow door that lowers to form a ramp, providing easy and safe ‘roll-on, roll-off’ access for wheelchair-bound users and other disabled people.

Before its launch there was no means of accessing the Tees for mobility-impaired public, meaning the great pleasure of boating on the river was denied to them.

But having rectified this situation, the Tees Wheelyboat’s Club now plans to work with fellow River Users Group members, which include Stockton Borough Council, British Waterways and the Environment Agency, to develop accessible destination points along the river.

Regular boat user Susie Bennett, from Stockton, says:  “From the chair point of view, you can just get on the boat and away you go. It opens up a whole new aspect of independence – you can just do the same things as everybody else does, and it’s just fantastic to remove that ‘label’ as it were because I’m no different to the person next to me.”

Alan Kallagher, founder and chairman of the Tees Wheelyboat’s Club, adds: “We’re thrilled at the response from local disabled people to our new service – every single comment we’ve received from passengers has been positive.

 “When you’re out on the river, you see the world from a totally different perspective – it offers a great sense of freedom which many disabled people don’t experience regularly.

 “We worked for years to make this Wheelyboat happen.  Without the help provided by The Banks Group, we would have continued to struggle to find the funds we needed, so we’re very grateful for their generous support.”

The Banks Group is the company behind the development of the unique Bowesfield site on the banks of the river Tees in Stockton, which incorporates an integrated 15-hectare wildlife conservation area that is open to the public alongside residential and commercial development.

 A planning application for 37 new four and five-bedroom homes at the site has recently been submitted to Stockton Borough Council.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at the Banks Group, says: “It’s fantastic to see what a positive difference the Wheelyboat is making for local people with disabilities.

“We’re extremely proud to have helped make the Wheelyboat on the Tees a reality, and wish its crew and passengers many years of happy sailing.”

Projects, community groups, or organisations looking for funding in the vicinity of a Banks Group development should contact Clare Johnson at the Banks Community Fund on 0191 378 6342.

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