Supporting communities  |  4 Apr 2022

For 12-year-old Connor Duncan-Caley and his mum Karen a trip to the beach has been a difficult rather than a fun experience.

“Driftwood, sinking in the sand, seaweed and all the rest of it just doesn’t play well with a wheelchair,” explains Karen.

But that has changed thanks to the addition of a special beach access mat and a beach wheelchair at the North Beach Surf Club. It has made going to the beach something the whole family can enjoy.

“Before we knew about this mat, it just didn’t happen as getting down to the beach and enjoying our time here just wasn’t an easy experience,’’ says Karen.

People with disabilities have been able to use the beach access mat and the beach wheelchairs for some time but they have been at different locations.

The mat is designed to help people get access to the foreshore and into the shallows of the water and helps them avoid areas on the beach which may make their journey more difficult. People can use their own wheelchairs or the special beach wheelchair. This service is completely free for anyone who wants to use it.

This summer the North Beach Residents’ Association and the North Beach Surf Club teamed up to bring the equipment to one, easily accessible place so that people can make more use of them.

“The North Beach Residents' Association love our beach, and we want people of all abilities to be able to come and enjoy it too” says North Beach Resident Association Chairperson Josiah Thompson.

“When we first investigated providing the beach access mat we were only aware of one other location in NZ that had a similar facility - Mount Maunganui, so it's very exciting to be at the forefront with this initiative.

“North Beach is probably the best suited beach in Christchurch to host a beach access mat, due to its flat access from the carpark, past the surf club and straight out onto the sand,” says Josiah.

The special equipment is kept in a storage container that the North Beach Residents’ Association bought with funding support from the Christchurch City Council and Engco Consulting Engineers.

“It’s great to see the wheelchairs and mat in one location that has easy access to a carpark and public facilities. We’re really proud of the work the community has done to make the beach an accessible place for everyone,” says Waitai Coastal-Burwood Community Board Chair Kelly Barber.

“While it’s awesome that the wheelchairs and mat now have a permanent home in New Brighton, they can be picked up and taken anywhere in Christchurch”.

10-year-old László Walker using the ViMo all-terrain outdoor wheelchair.

“This is such an easy solution, yet something as simple as going to the beach can be so inaccessible for a lot of families. This initiative has really opened this up for the community,’’ Mr Barber says.

People interested in finding out more about the beach wheelchairs or booking them can email the North Beach Residents’ Association.

A VimO outdoor wheelchair is also available for hire from Pioneer Recreation and Sport Centre. The ViMo outdoor chair gives people the option to access many of Canterbury’s outdoor recreation spaces that would otherwise be impossible for those who use conventional wheelchairs and other walking aids. Please get in touch via email for more information.