August-September 2021 | News

Champions of Change Winner: Michael Gray

Champions of Change Winner: Michael Gray

Introducing Michael Gray from Fleetwood Rotary who has been honoured with a Rotary Champions of Change award for his work in founding Fleetwood Beach Wheelchairs.

Michael has overcome many challenges to allow disabled citizens in a wheelchair to go onto the beach, without sinking in the sand and enjoy the waters edge.

The Fleetwood Beach Wheelchairs charity was three years in the making – and its driving force was Rotarian, Michael Gray.

A happy young girl and her family enjoying the beach in a Fleetwood Beach Wheelchair

 The charity provides the unique ability for families with someone who is disabled, to enjoy the beach experience in an easily accessible way.

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The beach wheelchairs allow users to paddle in the water, sampling the sort of seaside activities which many of us take for granted.

Michael Gray, Rotary Champions of Change award recipient and founder of Fleetwood Beach Wheelchairs

Now they can experience the thrill of enjoying the beach and feeling the sea lapping at their feet – some, for the first time ever.

Living on the promenade in Fleetwood, Michael noticed how families sometimes had to leave disabled members on the pavement overlooking the beach, while the remainder were able to enjoy the sand and sea with easy access.

Normal wheelchairs are impossible to push on soft sand, so Michael searched for a way of overcoming this barrier. 

After considerable research, he came across a group in Scotland which was using specially-built chairs with bulbous wheels which prevented them from sinking in the sand.

The former police chief superintendent brought the idea to Fleetwood Rotary who, together with District 1190 (Cumbria and Lancashire), provided initial funds to buy one chair. 

Michael then sought premises to operate from along the beach. Now, through his hard work and with the help of a willing team of around 40 volunteers, Fleetwood Beach Wheelchairs has seven special chairs, along with a hoist, and specialised equipment, which is housed at the beachside property.

There is free disabled parking alongside the premises, together with a ramp providing access to Fleetwood beach, even at high tide.

Fleetwood Beach Wheelchairs has seven special chairs, which can go on the sand and into the sea

The project has not been easy to set up. There has been red tape and various obstructions to overcome during the planning process. A couple of false starts would have beaten some people, but with Mick’s tenacity and belief, the idea has come to fruition.

The project has been a huge success. Michael has brought joy and pleasure to so many people. It has only been because of the Covid restrictions that progress has been held back. 

Beforehand, many disabled people would travel several hours from north-west England to find a beach that was disabled-friendly.

But Michael believes there are hundreds of disabled people desperate to take advantage of this life-changing facility making memories, which they thought they would never be able to do.

The evidence for a nationwide roll-out is mounting every day.

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