As businesses reopen their doors this week, a Fylde Coast project is hoping that Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre will become the UK’s top destination for staycations – and particularly for visitors with disabilities – and offer a huge boost to businesses who have been closed during the pandemic.
Access Fylde Coast project, awarded nearly £1million by the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund – the largest ever amount awarded for a disability-focussed project has launched a six-part, mini-documentary series to the public. It’s presented by Invictus Games Gold Medallist Mike Goody and explores how visitors with visible and invisible disabilities can make the most of the Fylde Coast’s tourism facilities.
The documentary series, which follows individual visitors and their personal experiences of holidaying in the area, is the latest initiative of the ‘Access Fylde Coast’ scheme. The project is already working with local businesses to help them make their premises and services more accessible for disabled visitors. By making small changes, it’s hoped businesses can generate a potential £14.8 million in extra tourism revenue from the ‘Purple £’. This could be vitally important in helping the Fylde Coast recover from financial hardship following the Covid-19 lock down.
One in five of people in the UK has a disability and nationally the ‘Purple £’, (income generated from disabled tourists and their families), is worth an estimated £249 billion. But research has found that 75% of disabled people have walked away from a business in the UK because of poor facilities or customer service.
Alan Reid, CEO of Blackpool charity Disability First, which is spearheading the Access Fylde Coast project funded by the Coastal Communities Fund, says: “ Having a visible or invisible disability affects the choices of where to stay or visit whether just for a day or a week – and that accounts for 1 in 5 people in the UK.
“There is often a great deal of research which goes into which hotel or bed and breakfast to stay at, transport considerations, can they access restaurants or tourist attractions.
“ So many businesses and tourist attractions across the Fylde Coast have been playing their part over the years to make their businesses more welcoming for people with physical, sensory and other ‘hidden’ disabilities and our project has further helped another 400-plus businesses across the area to make small changes which will make a big difference to disabled people, their families and the elderly too.
“The Fylde Coast is starting to open its doors after the Covid-19 Lockdown and many businesses have been hit hard, but we hope that as the UK eases out of lock down, that after watching this series people will see all the positive changes which have been made in this fabulous area to make it a welcoming place for all and will flock here.”
Mike Goody says the series will help “pave the way” for understanding disabled access across the UK.
The former RAF gunner was on patrol in Afghanistan in 2008 when the armoured vehicle he was driving hit a roadside bomb. Mike was trapped under the wreckage for three hours, causing severe injuries to his leg. Over two-and-a-half-years and 14 operations, Mike eventually had his leg amputated from the knee.
The swimmer and runner, who has a good haul of gold medals from the Invictus Games and has swam the channel since losing his limb, was keen to be involved in the series put together by Access Fylde Coast, knowing all too well the difficulties faced by disabled people heading out on day trips or going on holiday.
Says Mike: “I think Access Fylde Coast is a fantastic idea”.
“I’ve travelled all over the UK for a plethora of different reasons since I’ve been injured and it kind of feels to me that whenever you mention to someone about being disabled, they automatically kick into “stereotype mode” and expect you to arrive in a wheelchair or crutches.
“I’ve lost count of the times when arriving at a hotel, for example, and they’ve asked why I have requested an accessible/walk in bathroom. I’ve even been refused a couple of years ago to have the accessible room & tried to move me to a ‘normal room’ as I wasn’t a wheelchair user?!
Needless to say, I did NOT stay at that hotel that night or ever since!”
“I’d love to think that Access Fylde Coast is going to pave the way for not only tourist areas but the whole of the UK. A project that local councils up and down the country can get involved with and follow suit.
“To educate and change peoples’ perspectives. Encourage local businesses to make the sometimes very small but necessary changes required to make life easier for anyone with a disability.
“It’s not all ramps and handrails. It’s also not about paying lip-service to current laws protecting people with disabilities and equal opportunities like unfortunately a small number of businesses do. It’s about making life easier for anyone and everyone that needs it.”
The six-part series also features Becky Dann, a 25-year-old professional photographer from Cambridgeshire, who was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was four-years-old.
Becky, who visited with her friend Dean, is well-known for appearing in series 8 of Channel 4s The Undateables.
She travelled to Blackpool by train with her electric wheelchair for the first time. Becky was apprehensive about making the trip, but enjoyed the hospitality for disabled people which Blackpool afforded – including watching the Paraorchestra at the Winter Gardens, which was hosted by Access Fylde Coast.
Becky says: “Generally, for me, going on holiday can be extremely stressful. Being in a wheelchair means you have to rely on so many other people to make your journey happen safely. You can’t be independent.
“Getting planes you risk your wheelchair being damaged, or worse lost, and going on trains you have to rely on the train staff being there to get ramps to get you on and off – and in some cases they’re not there to get you off. The fear of being stranded on a train hits me a lot. I rarely go on holiday out of pure fear of the stress I might face on my journey.
“I think the work that Access Fylde Coast are doing is amazing. To have so many people working to improve and promote access for disabled people is incredible. The options available for help and support in the area alleviates so much stress for people like myself who usually experience a lot of barriers wherever they travel.”
The series highlights best practice for businesses and also helps businesses to gain an insight into the barriers disabled people and their families face – whether that’s choosing where to stay, where to eat, where to visit.
And, when the UK returns to daily life, that for disabled people thinking of coming to stay in Blackpool, Fylde or Wyre, it hopes to give a great snap shot of what these gems of the north west have to offer.
The mini series can be viewed here