The buddy system and app are part of a near £1m scheme to make the coast more disability friendly for residents and visitors which has already gained high profile support within its first few weeks.
The Access Fylde Coast project, spearheaded by Whitegate Drive-based charity Disability First, aims to break down the barriers of disability – including hidden disabilities, such as sensory, mental health and learning disabilities.
If it succeeds, it will help businesses unlock an estimated £14.8m of additional spending from the increase in disabled visitors inspired to come.
The cash injection of £985,522 from the Coastal Communities Fund was announced in September by Jake Berry, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse.It is
part of a Government initiative to invest £250m in our seaside areas by 2020 through dedicated programmes to help generate jobs and boost business.
A dedicated team in Blackpool has now been appointed and began working on the Access Fylde Coast project last month with an official launch planned for April 24.
Among its plans are a new digital app is being created to link in with the popular and widely-used Blackpool Transport App, to make it easier for people to find disability-friendly places, toilets and special facilities and a new ‘buddy’ system that will see volunteers linking up with both local and visiting disabled people to enable them to fully experience all that the area has to offer.
And Access Fylde Coast will also be hosting a series of disability-friendly events as well as showcasing high profile disability performers at major events, including the Blackpool Illumination Switch On and Lytham Festival. The project has already won support of organisations in the area.
John Child, managing director of The Sandcastle, called the project a “fantastic opportunity” for businesses across the Fylde Coast.
He said: “It is a huge, positive step forward to have an organisation like Access Fylde Coast now working to promote the wide and varied levels of accessibility that we have to offer in Blackpool and across the Fylde Coast.
“As one of the country’s leading accessible visitor attractions we have seen the benefits in the investment we have made in our facilities and team member training and the positive impact it has had on our business.
“Supporting local businesses and helping them to develop their levels of accessibility will have excellent benefits for the town and our visitors - it is a fantastic opportunity and we wish the team every success.”
Stephen Brookes MBE, a national disability activist, this week lent his backing to the plan, calling it a “pioneering project” that would make huge steps in “putting the Fylde Coast on the map.”
The Blackpool resident, who is also Rail Sector Champion for the Minister for Disabled People, said: “It will not just make Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre a place that caters well for people with disabilities, but for parents with young children and for all. Everyone in the area has something to gain.
“Blackpool Transport has worked on ensuring accessible transport for all and the Access Fylde Coast project will build upon that so that it is not just accessible to get here, but it is accessible when you are here.
"This could be rolled out as a best practice model for other coastal resorts across the UK.”
Alan Reid, CEO of Disability First which is behind the project, said improvements in Blackpool over the past few years with accessible toilets and ramps to assist people with physical conditions have been good, but that this project would further advance that progress.
He said: “Blackpool has a higher than average number of people living with disabilities and our work with local businesses and retailers to improve the service given to customers with disabilities will not just ensure it is accessible to tourists, but help a large number of residents too.
“We know people get concerned about costs involved - but actually it doesn’t have to be a major cost to help disabled people access businesses.
“Some people are not sure how to interact with disabled people and so we will support them through free disability awareness training or through access tips to give them an idea how a slight change, whether in a shop, café or retail set-up, would help people with visible and non-visible disabilities and boost their trade.
“Many of jobs on the Fylde Coast are reliant upon tourism and by making it a more accessible place for all people.
“Our aim is that by attracting more disabled people to the area, we can help local business growth with an estimated £14.8m of additional spending from disabled visitors.”
Anyone anyone wanting to volunteer can call Krysia Ingham 07483041026.