Benone beach in Limavady is Northern Ireland’s first fully inclusive beach, thanks to work carried out by local charity, Mae Murray Foundation in partnership with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
The announcement was made at a recent all-ability family fun day at the beach, showcasing the new equipment including Northern Ireland’s first surfboard suitable for wheelchair users.
Until now beaches in Northern Ireland have been off limits for families of mixed abilities as there wasn’t any appropriate equipment or facilities for those with additional needs. However, as a result of fundraising, lobbying and engagement by the Mae Murray Foundation, which seeks to create inclusive environments across Northern Ireland, families of all abilities are now able to enjoy time at the beach together.
Alix Crawford, founder of the charity, whose daughter Talia has quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, explains: “Following seed money from Children in Need and £18k of new funding from children’s rugby charity, Wooden Spoon, we are delighted to have partnered with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council to announce that Benone beach is the first beach that is fully accessible for all abilities.
“There are many people, young and old, who have never felt sand running through their fingers or experienced the thrill of being in the sea, due to the inaccessibility of beaches. We have bought specialist equipment, such as hoists and changing benches as well as beach chairs, walkers and floating chairs, which can be used by people with limited mobility. We have also developed a relationship with Longline Surf School at Benone which has been very supportive in helping families to use the surfboard for wheelchair users, one of only two of its kind in the UK.
“We also have special matting which will allow a platform for easier unloading from vehicles and transfer into beach equipment, offering wheelchair users the chance to have the seaside experience that so many of us take for granted. We hope to purchase further matting in the future, which will eventually allow even more mobility on the beach.”
Alix set up the Mae Murray Foundation as she doesn’t believe that there should be compromises to be made by families of those with additional needs. The charity was set up in memory of Alix’s late mother, Mae Murray, whose estate provided the money required to establish the Foundation.
Alix continued: “It is sad that, in this modern era, barriers to joining in still exist for so many people and their families. It is our vision to help create a society with true participation for all in leisure and social settings, regardless of age and ability.
“We are working closely with other Councils and have plans to ensure that there are at least two other fully inclusive beaches in Northern Ireland by the end of 2018.”
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Councillor Joan Baird OBE, said: “I am delighted to see that once again our Council is leading the way when it comes to the provision of facilities which can be accessed and enjoyed by all. By working in partnership with the Mae Murray Foundation we have ensured that people of all abilities can fully experience a day at the beach, both in and out of the water. The completion of this project shows our commitment to creating a society which is fully inclusive for all.”
Sarah Webb, acting CEO from Wooden Spoon, explained: “Through the power of rugby Wooden Spoon funds life-changing projects across the UK and Ireland to support children and young people with disabilities or facing disadvantage. Our vision is to give every child and young person, no matter what their background access to the same opportunities. The Mae Murray Foundation’s project at Benone beach is a great example of this in action and we are delighted to have been able to support them.”
Alix concluded: “We are piloting all-ability events up and down the country to raise awareness of the many improvements that can be made and offering families of all abilities the chance to try the equipment.
“After the launch day, mixed ability families registered with Mae Murray Foundation will receive information on how to pre-book these specialist items as well as details of future inclusive events and activities. To register and for further information, email [email protected] or visit our website www.maemurrayfoundation.org.”