Podcast: The life-changing wheelchairs on the beach

Melanie Kay, Iain Elder and Stephen Miller on the beach in North Berwick
Monday 30th September 2019

Going for a walk on the beach is one of the simple pleasures in life, but for many people with disabilities the chance to experience being near the waves is out of reach.

While specialist wheelchairs are available to cope with sandy terrain, they cost thousands of pounds to buy and maintain.

The first project to make beach wheelchairs available to people in Scotland began four years ago, when Alison Brown came across the service while on holiday in France.

It led to the setting up of charity Beach Wheelchairs in North Berwick, which now also has projects in Portobello and Port Seton.

Melanie Kay, vice-chair of the charity, says: “We want this to be the norm on the beaches and not the exception one day.”

For those who use the service – that is run by volunteers and provided for free – it can be life-changing.

Some have never experienced being on the sand with their children, for others it means they can get close to the sea for the first time in decades.

The wheelchairs have also been used by people nearing the end of their life to visit the beach once last time and hold farewell gatherings with their families.

Iain Elder, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2009, who uses the service several times a year, says even just ten minutes of being on the beach makes him feel included in society again.

He says: “In the scheme of things, it sounds trivial. But to be a disabled person and be included back in society for that one task of getting out on the beach, it is amazing. It is so heart-lifting and it is hard to put into words.

“I feel so joyous when I come off the beach – a big weight has been lifted, I’m back to the way I used to be.

“That goes after a couple of days, but you have always got that memory.”

Stephen Miller, a carer at nearby respite centre Leuchie House, who often brings people to the beach to use the wheelchairs says it is easy to see the difference it makes to people.

“It is that freedom to get on the beach,” he says. “It is very life-changing for people.”

Listen to the latest podcast from healthandcare.scot, to hear Melanie, Iain and Stephen talk more about the inspirational beach wheelchair project – including revealing one famous supporter.