“Let’s give people the warmest welcome to the Fylde Coast” was the messaged that sounded out to a packed audience at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens as a new project to turn Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre into the UK’s leading inclusive year-round visitor destination.
More than 200 representatives from businesses, charities and local dignitaries were given an insight into the Access Fylde Coast project, which will be spearheading a campaign to break down the barriers of disability and ensure businesses across the region can tap into an estimated £14.8 million in extra revenue.
It’s all thanks to a near £1 million Coastal Community Fund grant handed to Blackpool’s Disability First charity and is the largest amount ever to be awarded to a disability driven project. And, it is hoped that the project will become a beacon for coastal areas across Britain.
“The atmosphere was fantastic. It was obvious that everyone wants to get together to make it work and open the door to the Fylde Coast for everyone, regardless of their disability or age, and make our part of the world a much warmer, more user-friendly place to live and visit,” said ITV’s Lucy Meacock, who hosted the event in the Spanish Hall.
“People have been coming to the Fylde Coast for generations because it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Everyone loves going to the seaside and nowhere does the seaside quite as well as the Fylde Coast. There is a lot going on here and it is fun.
“Not everyone is born with a disability, anyone can suddenly become disabled – none of us knows what is around the corner and we are all going to get older and less mobile, so this project will ensure that the Fylde Coast is access to everyone and will ensure they get the warmest of welcomes.
“And, I love the fact that this is the north west of England is leading the way for others to follow.”
Ms Meacock, who also led a question and answer session with a panel, including Holly Whittaker, Access Fylde Coast project manager; John Child, managing director of the Sandcastle Waterpark and Jane Cole, managing director of Blackpool Transport – who all also spoke at the event.
Reflecting on the day, which also saw the roof raised performance from last year’s 2018 Britain’s Got Talent winner and the Fleetwood Health Group, Alan Reid, CIO of Disability First, said: “The launch was a fantastic day, the atmosphere was electric with encouraging feedback.
Mr Reid became disabled himself when he was 20 and knows all too well that life can simply just change overnight.
“I was personally overwhelmed with the day, as it has been a lifelong personal goal for me to see Disability First having such a project across the Fylde Coast and to see people from all walks of life understanding the need for such a project and businesses readily signing up for access audits and disability awareness training.”
Ripples of laughter echoed around the room as comedian Lee Ridley, who stepped on stage with his T-shirt donning the slogan ‘I am a friend with benefits’.
He is the first stand-up comedian to use a communication aid and is currently touring the UK with his show ‘I’m Only In It For The Parking’ but took time out to tell gags about having to battle for a disabled space on the train with other disabled people and confusing cinema viewers when he changed his computer voice to mimic that of Stephen Hawking during the Theory of Everything film.
Said Lee: “I 100 per cent endorse the Access Fylde Coast project and I was delighted to be invited to this launch.
“From living as a disabled person myself, I know how important it is to try to break down barriers and change the general public’s view on disability. I feel that comedy is the perfect way to do this as it makes people laugh and think at the same time.
“Only when people see more disabled people being portrayed in a positive light will attitudes change.”
Bill Cartmell, a retired architect, who has been wheelchair bound for the past 12 months, said the event was “fantastic” and would be of great benefit to local people too.
His wife Kate Cartmell, who is a member of the Arts Society Fylde, said: “We wish to keep active but suddenly you are shut off and it is hard to do the things you did before but to know there’s a movement to break down those barriers is marvellous.”
Blackpool Mayor Gary Coleman said it was important that none of the 18 million visitors a year to the Fylde Coast “face obstacles” otherwise they probably “would not return”.
He said: “We want to make it welcoming for everyone whether they have a disability or not. That’s important for the town, visitors and businesses because we want to make it attractive to everyone.”
And added: “We have lots of families who have been coming to the town for generations. I meet people in their 80s and they remember meeting when in their teens and come back year after year and we want them to be able to come back and if we can make it more accessible for people who are getting older and those with disabilities, it is better for everyone.”
His comments were echoed by Fylde Major Peter Collins, who said: “No one wants to go somewhere and be stuck in room or car, they want to enjoy the area like everyone else can.
“Access Fylde Coast can only help more people enjoy the wonderful facilities we have here and anything that can help businesses provide access to their customers will reap the rewards.”
Guests were also able to try out the newdigital app, linked to the popular Blackpool Transport App, which will make it easier for people to find disability-friendly places, toilets and special facilities.