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Christchurch mum’s battle for wheelchair access at Avon beach

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A CHRISTCHURCH mum is campaigning for better disabled access to Avon beach after finding it impossible to get near the sea with her buggy-bound young daughter.

Carly Ashton lives only a short distance from the shoreline but during the heatwave was unable to take 18-month-old Esmé, who suffers from a rare genetic condition, for the kind of cooling dip enjoyed by able-bodied people all along the coast.

Only five Dorset beaches have wheelchair access mat paths that reach the water, with a sixth due to be laid in Swanage.

Avon and her family at Avon beach (58267520)
Avon and her family at Avon beach (58267520)

Carly said: “All I want is for my child to enjoy what other children can: to put her toes in the water, to have a splash in the sea, to enjoy just sitting on the sand watching everything going on around her.

“It’s heartbreaking to have this stunning beach on our doorstep but be unable to use it.”

Esmé has a condition known as SCN8A which means she cannot walk or talk, is fed via a nasal tube, and without medication would suffer constant seizures.

Carly said: “Her special buggy is heavy and won’t make it over the sand.

“But she is due to get a wheelchair which is even heavier and worth around £3,500, so I can’t leave it unguarded.

“To get to the sea I would have to carry Esmé, her heavy feeding equipment and all her medication.

“Trying to do that by myself is just not possible.

“On sunny days we can take a walk along the promenade but that’s it.”

Carly’s three-year-old son Arthur loves to paddle in the sea, and she said: “It is so sad – I just want to be like any normal family and sit on the sand with Esmé watching Arthur having a great time.”

She said the nearest beach with disabled access to the sea is in Boscombe, adding: “I would have to worry about parking, then getting from there to the beach.

Esmé cannot walk or talk, and is fed via a nasal tube
Esmé cannot walk or talk, and is fed via a nasal tube

“We really need wheelchair access to the beach nearer to the Christchurch area.

“It is disgraceful that in 2022 there are no facilities that allow disabled, or even the elderly with mobility problems to get down to the sea.”

She is calling on BCP council to create disabled access at Avon beach or nearby.

Christchurch town councillor Gillian Jarvis said: “I do feel we need to make more places disability friendly.

“I see that Sandbanks and a few others are having the path down to the sea for wheelchair users, so I hope this will come to Avon beach.

“Christchurch, given its ageing population, needs to get more in tune. But I feel this will start at the top with BCP Council and not the town council.”

A BCP Council spokesperson said beach-going wheelchairs fitted with balloon tyres are available on loan at Bournemouth, Boscombe, Branksome Chine and Sandbanks beach offices, where Mobi-Mats are in place between May and September to help wheelchair users move easily from the promenade onto the sand.

They added: "We have introduced the UK’s first purpose-designed, fully disabled-accessible beach huts, designed in consultation with disabled beach users to form part of a hub of improved accessible facilities at Boscombe.

"Additionally, the electric barbecues at Fisherman’s Walk [in Bournemouth] are specially designed for ease of access to the cooktop by seated adults.

"We’re looking at more ways to ensure all visitors are able to use and navigate what is already recognised as one of the best coasts in the world.”

Carly has also created a fundraising webpage to help her buy a £350 cart to carry Esmé and her equipment over the sand.

She said: “I shouldn’t have to rely on people’s generosity. I think my child and every person like her deserves to be able to enjoy what other people do – a nice day at the seaside.”

To donate visit bit.ly/3PCEsY3

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