Life-changing sports opportunities for Peterborough’s disabled residents

For some years now, disabled residents in and around the city have been able to enjoy unique, and even life-changing outdoor experiences at Ferry Meadows. Thanks to Peterborough Sailability and Vivacity’s Adapted Cycling Club, those who have a physical, sensory or learning disability, are on the autism spectrum or are living with long-term health or mental health conditions are able to head out onto the water or get mobile on a range of adapted cycles. The Moment discovered how the two are now working more closely together to expand the offer further – and how they have created a whole new experience called The WaterWheel challenge…

Many of us take for granted the fact that we can get on a bike, step into a boat or take part in a fun run – and while we may never do these things, we at least know they are possible. Not everyone is so fortunate. Thanks to the efforts of an amazing bunch of dedicated volunteers down at Ferry Meadows, however, such experiences are now being made available for even severely disabled Peterborians – experiences that can, and do, change lives.

‘There was one lad who I took out on the water, and it absolutely poured down,’ explains Sailability volunteer helper Steve Edwards. ‘I was actually getting a bit concerned for him, because he was shouting: “Rain! Rain! Rain!” Then when we got in I told his carer what had happened and she said: “That’s the first time he has ever spoken…” The sensation of the elements, of being out on the water, somehow inspired that.’

Not every experience is so dramatic, but Steve is in no doubt that for those whose movement and sense of independence are normally very severely limited, getting out on the water or mobile on their own set of wheels is something that you just can’t put a value on.

‘We work to people’s strengths, so if someone can only turn the boat one way then that’s what we do with them. There’s no pressure…’

‘I’m always humbled when I’m down here,’ he says. Part of the secret is that it is guided by what people can do, not by what they can’t. ‘We work to people’s strengths, so if someone can only turn the boat one way then that’s what we do with them. There’s no pressure, no “You must do this” or “You must do that”. There’s one guy who comes who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and he says every time: “I can’t remember what you told me last week…” But I just say: ‘I’m perfectly happy telling you the same thing as I did last week, just as long as you’re enjoying yourself ”.’

For the cycling, which takes place nearby, this means an impressive array of equipment to cater to a very wide range of abilities. Matt Taylor, Vivacity Disability Sports Officer, explains: ‘We have trikes, quad cycles and hand cycles which are great for people with multiple disabilities. As interest has grown we’ve extended the range to include wheelchair users who don’t have the strength or mobility in their arms or legs. The range now includes a wheelchair transporter bike so even people with minimal movement can get involved.’

It all began over ten years ago when newly formed Peterborough Sailability set up home at Ferry Meadows in Nene Park. Peterborough Sailability founder James Hopgood – whose efforts last year won him a Royal Yachting Association award for Exceptional Contribution – describes how that came about:

‘It goes back to the summer of 2005, when there was no sailing for disabled people in Peterborough at all. Our friends at Rutland Water, who run a sailability club and Sailability centre, had been trying to encourage people from the Peterborough area to go up to Rutland and sail, but had very little success. It occurred to them that there was a very good lake at Ferry Meadows, so they decided to talk to Rotary Club colleagues in Peterborough to see what they could fix up there.’

‘We have now opened the scheme up to adults and increased the access to include daytime use, holidays, evenings and weekends.’

James headed up the new committee, and by June 2006 Peterborough Sailability was opening one afternoon a week with three Challenger trimarans, seven or eight volunteers and six disabled sailors. Things have grown a bit since then.

‘On our books we’ve got over 280 people, but in terms of regulars, we have about 150. Most come from within the city and surrounds, but we also have groups coming from Huntingdon, Thorney, Bourne, Stretton, Kettering, Corby…’

The Peterborough Adapted Cycling Scheme joined them at the Park three years ago. ‘Initially it was set up for 5- to 19-year-olds and it was designed to be a family-friendly social activity,’ says Matt. ‘Parents would get involved and bring their own bikes and we would provide the adapted cycles for the children. We have now opened the scheme up to adults and increased the access to include daytime use, holidays, evenings and weekends.’

As things developed, it seemed natural for the two organisations to work together. ‘Many participants can cross over fairly comfortably from the sailing to the cycling,’ says Matt, ‘last summer we introduced the cycling group to sailing and vice versa. We also encourage day-care groups to come down and watch even if they aren’t planning to sail. Offering two activities in the same location helps make things easier for our customers.’

‘I’m confined to a wheelchair but when I’m in a boat or on a bike I’m as independent as everyone else – I’m no longer limited by my condition…’

Out of these activities grew the Water Wheels Challenge – a combined cycling and sailing event that aims to recreate the excitement of competition whilst ensuring that even the most severely disabled participants feel included. ‘I did the Perkins Great Eastern Run a few years ago,’ explains Steve, ‘and what always strikes you when you take part in events like this is the sense of achievement. It’s not so much about winning the race; completing it is the achievement, with a crowd cheering for you when you cross the line, and the medal being awarded. That’s what we wanted. Many of the people we sail with would otherwise never experience that. There’s one little girl here who is so thrilled at the prospect of getting a medal. It’s something that she would treasure – and that’s what we want it to be: something that sticks in their mind, something that their carer and family can enjoy, and something that gives the participants a real boost.’

It is hoped that the Water Wheels Challenge will become an annual event, and that Nene Park can continue to expand its offering to become something of a hub for activities such as this. As James puts it: ‘It’s a community activity, out in the fresh air, helping people, some of whom have pretty restricted lives. People have said to me: “I’m confined to a wheelchair but when I’m in a boat or on a bike I’m as independent as everyone else – I’m no longer limited by my condition”.’

This year we will be hosting two Water Wheels Challenge events that will take place on Tuesday 7th June and Thursday 9th June at Ferry Meadows. As places are limited, competitors wishing to take part in the Challenge will need register for their preferred date as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Details are available at www.vivacitypeterborough. com/waterwheels, www. or by speaking to us at Sailability.

Vivacity Adapted Cycling Club
Adapted Cycling at Ferry Meadows Watersports Centre
Nene Park, Ham Lane PE2 5UU
April – September, Thursdays 4pm-6pm & Saturdays 12.30pm-2.30pm
All sessions are £2 per person.

Handcycling and Tandem
Embankment Sports and Athletics Arena, Bishops Road, PE1 5BW
All year round, Wednesdays 10.30am-11.30am & 5.00pm-7.00pm

Peterborough Sailability
Gunwade Lake, Ferry Meadows, Nene Park, Ham Lane PE2 5UU
Peterborough Sailability hold regular sailing sessions – weather permitting – on each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the season from April through to October. The first sail is at 10am and sessions continue through to 4.30pm. Each session lasts about 30 minutes and costs £5, all of which goes towards the running costs. It is essential to make a booking by telephone in order to plan the day. To book, please call 07948 262 919. Peterborough Sailability is situated adjacent to the recently rebuilt Lakeside Kitchen and Bar with ample vehicle parking and refreshment facilities on hand. (NB: Vehicles over 2.1m high may need to contact the Park Ranger on 07860 308081 to gain access to the Park.)

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