Students will benefit from a new wheelchair accessible boat

Two national charities, The Wheelyboat Trust and Young Epilepsy, will launch a brand new accessible powerboat at Weir Wood Reservoir in East Sussex, where it will be used as part of St Piers School and College physical education programme. Over 180 students, all of whom have learning difficulties related to epilepsy, autism and other neurological conditions, will benefit from the sensory stimulation and pleasure of being on the water.

The launch at 2.30pm on Friday 23 June will see the first students to enjoy a trip on the boat in the presence of the many donors, who supported the fundraising activities of both charities, as well as the National Partnerships Advisor at the English Federation of Disability Sport, Jess Cook.

The Wheelyboat Trust and Young Epilepsy have worked together since July 2015 when seven students from St Piers School and College, which are both run by Young Epilepsy, were able to try out the Coulam Wheelyboat V20 for the first time. The trial run showed the PE department staff how straightforward the purpose-build boat is to accommodate their less-independent students.

Designed and developed by The Wheelyboat Trust, a charity dedicated to providing people with access to waterborne activities, the Coulam V20 is the most important development since the launch of the original Wheelyboat more than 30 years ago. Its unique design with flexible seating, level deck and a watertight bow door that lowers to form a solid ramp present an extremely easy and safe access for people, who find boarding from an unstable floating pontoon particularly challenging.

Able to reach a top speed of 30mph with a 90hp Suzuki outboard, the Coulam Wheelyboat V20 will provide a new and more exciting sensory experience to young disabled people, benefitting their overall health and well-being. Many of the students find focussing on one given task or even sitting still very challenging, but become instantly relaxed and take a definite interest in their surroundings as soon as they are in a boat.

The St Piers School and College PE department takes pride in being fully inclusive and offering the same opportunities to all students regardless of ability. St Piers have run a boating programme for 28 years, but this new boat will be the first wheelchair-accessible powerboat in the school’s fleet, extending the programme to more varied and adventurous waters around the UK and overseas.

Enabling St Piers students to enjoy fast but safe trips on the water, the Coulam V20 will also allow them to learn how to drive a powerboat and it will support the delivery of The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme as well as benefit other local special needs schools that participate in the boating programme.

Paul Keenleyside, Director of Education at Young Epilepsy says:

“Young Epilepsy is very pleased to accept the Coulam Wheelyboat V20 donated to us. This boat offers each young person at Young Epilepsy amazing opportunities to embrace the outdoors and take part in adventurous activities on the water. The Wheelyboat will not only broaden our young people’s horizons, but also encourage them to experience new physical activities and enrich their lives through adventure and challenge. We have had the most fantastic support from The Wheelyboat Trust and our charitable donors who have made this possible. I am confident that our young people will be benefitting from their generosity for years to come.”

As part of the extensive fundraising activities, Scott Baptie, Head of Physical Education at St Piers School with his predecessor Marcus Frisby completed a Three Lakes Challenge last year, paddling two open canoes down three lakes in 24 hours, raising £3,500 towards the cost of the Wheelyboat. The Wheelyboat Trust also supported Young Epilepsy by raising 40% of the fully-fitted craft’s cost, which was £41,000. The Trust also provided its V20 demonstrator as a safety boat for the Young Epilepsy Swimathon in October 2015, where the students raised £9,000.

Andy Beadsley, Director of The Wheelyboat Trust says:

“We are very pleased to see the launch of the first wheelchair accessible boat in St Piers School and College fleet of boats. Our aim is to allow as many people as possible to enjoy taking part in waterborne activities and this project with Young Epilepsy will directly benefit those that have the most complex and limiting health needs. This is the 183rd Wheelyboat launch for us and we believe that the new Coulam Wheelyboat V20 will help the school’s boating programme become even more successful.”

George Cheeseman, Head of Marine at Suzuki GB says:

“We are proud to partner with The Wheelyboat Trust and provide the outboard power for the Coulam V20. The trust does a fantastic job enabling more wheelchair users to experience the enjoyment of water-based activities.”

The Wheelyboat Trust relies on the support of individuals, companies and charitable organisations to fund its activities. Donations can be made in a variety of ways including online on the Wheelyboat Trust website.