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Power of partnership clinches £1m investment in Purple Pound

Almost £1m for a disability-focused project? The power of partnership has paid off for the Disability First-led Access Fylde Coast. The Purple Pound will be more than welcome here.

Power of partnership clinches £1m investment in Purple Pound

"There is still a lot of polarisation when it comes to public attitudes towards disability. The Fylde Coast must strive to become more truly inclusive for all."
Alan Reid CEO Disability First

Welcome to disability united...

THIS is the power of partnership. One charity. Three local councils. MPs. Transport chief. Disability partnership. Educationalists. Marketing magnates. And many more backing ONE bid to make Blackpool and the Fylde Coast more truly accessible to all.

Together they have clinched one of the largest grants awarded, and certainly the biggest grant for a disability focused project, from the Government’s Coastal Communities fund.

Almost  £1m will pass to the Blackpool-based Disability First led Access Fylde Coast project from next month (October) to June 2020. The project will officially launch early next year.

The potential reach of Access Fylde Coast  is so much further – because it’s opening up that stretch of coast and further inland to those who may have previously struggled to access all that it has to offer. It also aims to be a model of best practice, a blueprint, for the rest of Britain. Make all visitors - and residents - welcome.

Face it, a more inclusive community is a far healthier community. Engagement, involvement, is good for us all. It's also good for the economy. The so-called Purple Pound, the spending capacity of some 11m disabled people and their families, is calculated at £250 billion. Yet many feel excluded from experiences and opportunities that others take for granted. 

It will improve the tourism offer and visitor experience for people with disabilities visiting the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre coast – and also, crucially, improve that experience for those residents on the Fylde Coast who want to get out and about and enjoy their locality.

Projects include training courses for local businesses to support people with disabilities, organising new events, development of assistive technology – building on the success of the Blackpool Transport app and more – trained volunteer access guides/buddies.

Access Fylde Coast is the sum total of its parts, a truly team effort.

However, if anyone deserves to take a longer, deeper bow it’s Alan Reid CEO of Disability First, a charity which celebrates its 25th anniversary in November.

 Disability First provides specialist disability services across Lancashire to promote health and wellbeing and enabling people with long term health conditions of all ages to live independently

When Reid heard that funding was coming up for grabs he seized the opportunity and used his considerable networking skills to involve others.

This was not some tokenistic sign-on-dotted-line lip service exercise to show support but active engagement at the highest level, all the partners meeting to thrash out the issues, and what they really wanted to support and offer … all backed by the Disability Partnership and others who have come through, each contributing something very special to the bid.

Combined, their forces have been unbeatable – and that’s what’s bagged £985,522 from next month (October) through to June 2020.

A whole lotta networking going on but underpinning it all a triumph of substance over style.

Yes, Minister – that certainly impressed Jake Berry too. He’s the Coastal Communities Minister, the man behind the New Deal for the Great British Coast, aiming to unlock funding to promote sustainable growth and economic development. Liverpool-born MP for Rossendale and Darwen. He knows the issues.  He considers the Northern Powerhouse crucial to Britain after Brexit.

Mr Berry wants others to look and learn from the example set here. “Where you lead others will follow.”   

He added: “For many of us who live and work in Lancashire, the idea of opening up what I consider to be one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country to people who might otherwise have problems accessing it is hugely exciting. We are breaking new ground through technology and other projects. This has been a real team effort.

“We are looking for innovation, team work and the ability to set the standard for the rest of the country. You have demonstrated all that. That passion got you here.  Where you lead others will follow. Our coastal community teams will signpost other areas of the country to go and see what they are doing in Blackpool Fylde and Wyre – and replicate it.”

Access Fylde Coast has been about a year in the making. It makes the achievement all the more remarkable. From a standing start in 2017 to this - £985,522. For a disability-focused project?

It helps that Alan and the team at Disability First really know what they’re talking about. They work with the realities of the resort, the Fylde coast, and indeed the rest of Lancashire.

They see those gaping holes in society’s safety nets and try to repair them before too many fall through and end up utterly disenfranchised from the rest of the community.

They have recently won praise for their digital champions project, training up and now sending out people who help others, particularly older people, overcome their wariness of the internet, of using computers, tablets, laptops, mobiles to access apps that may help them, bank online, check benefits,   book their GP appointments on line, re-order meds, socialise, chat to relatives and friends who have moved away, source the best deals for insurance or energy or phone suppliers and more – because digital exclusion runs hand in glove with social exclusion.

It’s a charity which has flown under the radar for a quarter of a century yet won a fantastic reputation for changing and challenging preconceptions of disability and encouraging greater involvement.

Access Fylde Coast was one of 16 ‘fast track’ projects to snare a share of £6m funding nationwide in the run up for the main round bids for the remaining £34m from the coastal communities’ fund – with winners announced early next year and cash available from April. 

Only one other Lancashire project won – Lancashire Wildlife Trust was awarded 71k towards a project boosting nature tourism through events, talks, surveys and workshops to encourage local communities to champion the coast.

Minister Berry confirmed it was all systems go for the Disability First-led Access Fylde Coast project at a presentation at Lytham Hall. Outside, a steam fair – lots of traction engines. Inside, traction of a different kind.

The minister paid tribute to the vision of Disability First CEO Reid and all those champions in disability and community partnership ranks, not all of whom could be there.

The event was attended by Fylde MP Mark Menzies, Disability First charity trustee Jennifer Jaynes, representatives from Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Councils, St Annes Town Council, Blackpool Transport, Marketing Lancashire, Lancaster University, Disabled Go, Blackpool BID Coastal Community teams, the Volunteer Centre for Blackpool Fylde and Wyre and more.

Sitting on it all was senior ministerial and policy manager (for the Dept for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy) Katherine O’Connor who began her high flying career back in Blackpool in the '80s - in tourism. O’Connor also works with the Northern Powerhouse. “I’m delighted with the news,” she admitted. 

 Alan Reid of Disability First couldn't agree more. He said: “We are thrilled and proud to be awarded this grant, especially in our 25th year as a charity. Access Fylde Coast will be a game changer.

“All the partners worked hard to get where we are. We identified projects, the difference each could make. Improvements have been made over the years to assist people with physical conditions, but this project will go far wider and also include the needs of sensory, mental health and learning conditions.  

“This is ground-breaking. It’s the largest amount of money the department has given to a disability-focused project. This could be a best practice model to other UK coastal towns.

‘A number of high-profile disabled comedians have been in the media this year, Lee Ridley aka Lost Voice Guy helped to change perceptions of disability and went on to win Britain’s Got Talent. At the other end of the scale, comedian Tanyalee Davis was humiliated for using a train's disabled space for her mobility scooter.

“There is still a lot of polarisation when it comes to public attitudes towards disability. The Fylde Coast must strive to become a more truly inclusive resort for all.

"The Blackpool, Fylde & Wyre Disability Partnership have been heavily involved in terms of both the consultation body as well as having specialist knowledge on the needs of a wide range of disabilities. The support from local authorities, Marketing Lancashire, and other really strong businesses and community groups has been amazing too.

“Disability First wants this project to change preconceptions of disability, enhance business customer care and facilities, use digital applications to support independence and also showcase high profile disabled performers at major events, including the Blackpool Illumination Switch On and Lytham Festival.

“It will play a major part in addressing negative experiences across Blackpool Fylde and Wyre for residents and tourists with health or disability conditions.”

The Minister also heard directly from those who live with the challenges of disability –N-Vision (Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind) Low Vision worker Brian Casey and Emma Whitty-Haddock, who works at the Volunteer Centre Blackpool Fylde and Wyre.  

 Brian is severely sight impaired – as a result of two separate sports injuries nearly 30 years ago. Emma has spina bifida. 

Neither has let disability prevent them from achieving goals – and from encouraging others to do the same.

Brian Casey, who was the first European to trial eSight glasses, which attracted a great deal of interest at the gathering, said: “I’m just a little person trying to spread the word but if more of us do that we can make a huge difference. Disabled people tell me they never get to find out about technology. I run a group featuring specialist software for tablets and other devices for the visually impaired. They are isolated no more. One lady – who’s 96 – had a one-hour lesson with me and now Skypes her family. Visual impairment – like deafness – is a hidden disability. She catches two buses there and back to come to N-Vision. She uses the transport app too.”

Emma Whitty-Haddock explained: “I came here in ’91, at 20, to work in tourism. I have seen the Fylde Coast change. I’m a wheelchair user myself so know the issues. We need to focus on accessibility to the coast, not just to the centre but around the Fylde Coast, and not just for wheel chairs, the universal symbol of disability, but looking at technology to open up the Fylde Coast to as many people as we possibly can.”

Lynn Saggerson, CEO Volunteer Centre, Blackpool Fylde and Wyre, explained: “Volunteers will be involved in a number of ways, providing people with information, access, buddying people to events and activities and venue. A large part of the problem is that people, particularly those living alone, don’t have anyone to go with. Support to access activities will be a big part of our involvement.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies who lobbied for funding concluded: “The amount of money secured is quite phenomenal.  I have to pay tribute to Alan Reid – who got in touch with me initially – and to the people in the community who have identified projects. Also, to Jake for coming, listening and doing the right thing for a hell of a lot of people whose lives will benefit as a result. 

Let’s get those projects nailed down. Let’s get the money spent. Let’s start making a difference to people’s lives as soon as we can.  Disability is a barrier if you – we – allow it to be.  Let’s open up areas of the Fylde to those who currently cannot access it or don’t know it’s there. Let’s be really ambitious. We can show other part of the country what you can do if you believe, have money, support and drive – we have all those things now. This is a great day.”