A Blackpool-based disability charity has clinched almost £1m from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund.
Disability First, which is 25 years old this year, bagged one of the biggest grants in the fifth round of the fund which encourages the economic development of UK coastal communities.
The £985,522 Access Fylde Coast project was put together by a partnership driving through changes to make all three boroughs more inclusive for all.
It is one of 16 projects to win a share of £6m national funding under the ‘new deal for the great British coast’ offered by Coastal Communities minister Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen.
Only two made the grade in Lancashire – Lancashire Wildlife Trust won £71k towards a project boosting nature tourism at the coast.
The cash will fund the project until 2020 and will allow training courses for businesses to support people with disabilities, organising events, development of assistive technology – building on the success of the Blackpool Transport app – and volunteer guides.
The announcement was made at Lytham Hall by Coastal Communities and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry. The event was also attended by Fylde MP Mark Menzies, charity trustee Jennifer Jaynes, representatives from Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Councils, St Annes Town Council, Blackpool Transport, Marketing Lancashire, Lancaster University, Disabled Go, Blackpool BID Coastal Community teams, the Volunteer Centre for Blackpool Fylde and Wyre.
Disability First CEO Alan Reid said: “Access Fylde Coast will be a game changer.
“All the partners worked hard to get where we are. We identified projects, the difference each could make.
“Improvements have been made over the years to assist people with physical conditions, but this project will go far wider and also include the needs of sensory, mental health and learning conditions. It’s the largest amount the department has given to a disability-focused project.
“This is ground-breaking. It’s the largest amount of money the department has given to a disability-focused project. This could be a best practice model to other UK coastal towns.
‘A number of high-profile disabled comedians have been in the media this year, Lee Ridley aka Lost Voice Guy helped to change perceptions of disability and went on to win Britain’s Got Talent. At the other end of the scale, comedian Tanyalee Davis was humiliated for using a train's disabled space for her mobility scooter.
“There is still a lot of polarisation when it comes to public attitudes towards disability. The Fylde Coast must strive to become a more truly inclusive resort for all.
“Disability First wants this project to change preconceptions of disability, enhance business customer care and facilities, use digital applications to support independence and also showcase high profile disabled performers at major events, including the Blackpool Illumination Switch On and Lytham Festival."
Jake Berry said: “For many of us who live and work in Lancashire, the idea of opening up what I consider to be one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country to people who might otherwise have problems accessing it is hugely exciting. We are breaking new ground through technology and other projects. This has been a real team effort.
“We are looking for innovation, team work and the ability to set the standard for the rest of the country. You have demonstrated all that. That passion got you here. Where you lead others will follow. Our coastal community teams will signpost other areas of the country to go and see what they are doing in Blackpool Fylde and Wyre – and replicate it.”
Fylde MP Mark Menzies who lobbied for funding said: “The amount of money secured is quite phenomenal.
“I have to pay tribute to Alan Reid – who got in touch with me initially – and to the people in the community who have identified projects. Also, to Jake for coming, listening and doing the right thing for a hell of a lot of people whose lives will benefit as a result.
“Let’s open up areas of the Fylde to those who currently cannot access it or don’t know it’s there. Let’s be really ambitious. This is a great day.”
Emma Whitty-Haddock who works at Volunteer Centre Blackpool Fylde and Wyre said: “I’m a wheelchair user myself so know the issues. We need to focus on accessibility to the coast, not just to the centre but around the Fylde Coast, and not just for wheel chairs, the universal symbol of disability, but looking at technology to open up the coast to as many people as we can.”
Lynn Saggerson, CEO Volunteer Centre, Blackpool Fylde and Wyre, explained: “Volunteers will be involved in a number of ways, providing people with information, access, buddying people to events and activities and venue. A large part of the problem is that people, particularly those living alone, don’t have anyone to go with. Support to access activities will be a big part of our involvement.”