32 Volunteers are involved with Tees Wheelyboats, who are based here in Stockton. They organise trips for folk with any form of disability, physical or mental health, together with their friends, family or support. The Wheelyboat has been specially designed with a bow door that is hinged and lowers to form a ramp enabling ‘roll-on, roll-off’ access, to accommodate disabled people and wheelchair users in particular, easily and safely. The group here in Stockton-on-Tees were setup under guidance and support from the National Charity The Wheelyboat Trust.  Wheelyboats are extremely versatile; they operate on inland waters – lakes, rivers and canals – but some models are also sea-going. The boats are hand built and fitted out by boatbuilding partner, Jim Coulam, at his factory in Lincolnshire.

Usually starting from The River Tees Watersports Centre in Stockton, trips are generally one or two hours. A two hour trip takes you to Preston Park where those on board can disembark for a picnic or ice-cream. Being on the water can be soothing but can also awaken the senses to the sights and sounds of the river. The Wheelyboat is usually in operation from May till October, undertaking hundreds of journeys every year.

Without the provision of accessible boats, disabled people are mostly denied experiences that able-bodied people take for granted.  Wheelyboats remove the barriers to water-based activities thus enabling disabled people to participate alongside and on equal terms with their able-bodied counterparts.  For their users, it is an important factor in the quality of life they are able to lead.

Tees Wheelyboats work with any form of disability, and the smaller boat size lends well to those who prefer activities with just family or friends as opposed to unknown people.

Because the Wheelyboat is classed as a small passenger boat, they must comply with the regulations set out by the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA).  This requires that a person in charge of the boat must be qualified to a set standard.  In our case this standard is the Royal Yachting Association Power Boat Level 2.  This is provided by a third party RYA approved Training Centre at a cost. The organisation still fundraise to ensure that more volunteers are qualified to take charge of the Wheelyboat, enabling them to ensure we have can provide the service when required by service users.

The group have received Funds and Grants over the years to enable them to buy, maintain and improve the Wheelyboat since the beginning. They recently benefitted from £1,000 from The Ballinger Trust through a Catalyst supported funding initiative. This new funding from will allow for three new volunteers to undertake the training course to achieve an RYA PB2 qualification.

Everyone behind Tees Wheelyboats provide a wonderful service and long may they continue! To read more about them, or to get in touch with those involved visit their website Tees Wheelyboats (tees-wheelyboats.org.uk)

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