Many clubs and commercial organisations have tried to install swims for the disadvantaged and often made minor mistakes that have had to be rectified later. One such club is my local one, Feltham P.S. who not only have put in disabled swims but put their money where their mouth is by investing thousands in a disabled toilet on their main fishery, which they own. The toilet was a great success and the swim with life belt near looked terrific. The swim was specially cut out with a low gradient ramp and a large, perfectly flat area that could hold two anglers in wheelchairs plus their helpers. Great so far, then the mistake. A low wooden barrier was put in to stop the wheel chairs and this was reinforced by scaffolding, put in at waist height as a final safety feature. Unfortunately nobody realised that the scaffolding made it almost impossible for the angler in a wheel chair to fish. Naturally this had to be taken down.
I am not knocking the club, it does its utmost for all anglers in the area and has a great reputation in the community, but I am pointing out how easy it is to make a mistake. Jerry Wilson of Wheelers and Wobblers is a wheelchair user. He advises any person considering building a swim for wheelchair users to borrow a wheelchair, sit in it and then work the swim out.
This is a specialised subject so the next section is written by Brian Cousins. He has great knowledge of the subject and holds a senior position in the construction industry. Brian was also the father of Matthew Cousins, a lad I once fished with at Anglers Paradise who tragically died four weeks later.
FISHING PLATFORMS FOR WHEELCHAIR BOUND ANGLERS
I have specifically used the term wheelchair bound as opposed to disabled for two main reasons:
A) It is predominately they who have requirements for special swim facilities.
B) The term disabled is still offensive to many people. As with Matthew and our daughter Claire, I much prefer the American terminology of 'Physically Disadvantaged'. In truth, it is disadvantaged that they really are. Ability at angling is something that very few of them lack and all they require is an opportunity to 'compete' on an equal basis with us more fortunate souls. My own experiences over 10 years with Matthew made this abundantly clear to me and this was very much reflected in his success, trouncing me as he did on so many occasions. Our beloved sport is one where so many physically disadvantaged people could excel, if only given the opportunity.
Overriding comments so far from wheelchair bound anglers are:
1) Lack of access to swims, even where they have been specially created for their use.
2) Dislike and mistrust of fishing platforms created from timber pallets. Wheels have dropped between slats on these and they have on occasion broken, which is an extremely dangerous situation!
3) Lack of suitable toilet facilities. These anglers cannot just step into the bushes like us!
Displayed below are plans and drawings of what we consider are the essential components of creating a wheelchair friendly fishing platform. I have also prepared a list of do's and don'ts when building a platform.
1) Don't - Build a platform under power or telephone lines. Recent tragic events underline this statement.
2) Don't - Build a platform adjacent to deep water. If a wheelchair should topple off, the consequences are obvious. If necessary fill in the area immediately in front of the swim for a distance of say 2 metres and to the sides if the platform projects over the swim.
3) Don't - Construct the platform from flimsy timber pallets. Wheels get trapped, slats break, and they need replacement after a relatively short time. They are a false economy and potentially lethal.
4) Don't - Create the platforms at the furthest point from the car park or other means of access. Remember that wheelchair bound anglers have to get their tackle to the platform as well as themselves.
5) Don't - Locate the platforms a long way from toilet facilities.
6) Don't - Forget that invariably a second person is with them, either another wheelchair angler, able bodied angler or assistant. Make the platform wide enough for two.
7) Don't - Build the platform a long way above the normal water level, 300mm is ample.
8) Don't - Forget that these anglers are there to enjoy their fishing and the company of fellow anglers. Don't isolate the platforms to one small area of the fishery. Try to distribute them amongst regular swims wherever possible taking cognisance of items 4) and 5).
1) Do - Construct the platform from solid materials - concrete, tarmac, asphalt, railway sleepers, or hardcore and pea shingle gravel topping.
2) Do - Ensure that there is a safe, very gently sloping ramp to gain access to the platform which can be traversed up and down safely and easily.
3) Do - Enlist the help and skills of any builders that are members of your club.
4) Do - Cut a channel at either side of the platform so that keepnets can be used without leaning out over the water.
5) Do - Slope the platform from front to back by 50mm in case wheel brakes accidentally disengage.
6) Do - Create a sleeve through the top surface of the platform, approx. 100mm in diameter, 300mm deep, and fill with sand or soil. One at the front of the platform, one in the middle and one at the rear. This is to facilitate two rod rests and an umbrella shaft. This should be done on both sides of the platform to accommodate left and right handed anglers and for those that wish to quivertip or swingtip.
7) Do - Create a barrier along the front and sides of the platform 150mm high to prevent wheels going over the edge.
8) Do - Make the platform wide enough for a minimum of two anglers. Say 4 metres, two wheelchairs plus two tackle boxes.
9) Do - Fill in deep water in front of the platform for a distance of say 2 metres so that it is no deeper than absolutely necessary to land fish.
10) Do - Ensure that bankside vegetation and overhanging trees are kept trimmed well back from the platform. It's annoying to have to scramble in trees and bushes to retrieve tackle - from a wheelchair it's impossible.
11 ) Do - Try and enlist the help of your local builders, they always have surplus materials left at the end of a contract. Or try the local Builders Merchants who have sub standard materials returned to them, end of line goods etc.
Most companies now have to employ a certain amount of registered disabled on their workforce. It is good for their morale to see their company undertaking something for their benefit as well as good P.R. for the company. Wheelchair platforms, constructed correctly, are a facility that all members of the club should be able to use and enjoy. They create a permanent swim and eliminate erosion of the bankside, and the time and cost involved in constant repairs. They are a true asset to any club or commercial fishery.
Now, back to Bill:
I went to Willow Waters, Pocklington near York for part of my Summer holiday. This centre has six, two-bedroomed bungalows around one of the three lakes in the complex. One of these bungalows was purpose-designed to take wheel-chair bound anglers. All the bungalows are new and offer first class luxury accommodation that would be very difficult to beat. Naturally they are all facing one of the lakes with a separate car park next to each bungalow.
The disabled bungalow was built by owner Tim Slights with extra-wide doors for wheelchairs and a drive-in shower unit. To fish, the angler in his wheelchair just leaves from the double glass doors, glides down the ramp onto about 20ft of grass to his cut-out swim. It could not be easier.
When I was there, wheelchair user Jerry Wilson of Leeds was in the bungalow. Jerry is a well known and respected local match angler. I was most impressed with the way he tackled the swim, effortlessly fishing a waggler right out to the island and accurately feeding up his swim. It was not long before he had the fish feeding with some nice roach, bream, smallish carp and golden orfe falling to his rod. He was literally draining the lake of fish.
I went over to speak to him as he was without doubt the most successful angler that I had ever seen on that lake. He showed me how he was catching fish on small pieces of luncheon meat, waggler fished by the island. Later he was joined by his friend, Jim Bannon from Leeds, also using a wheelchair. Jim also set up with effortless ease and fished out to the island. He too started to catch fish after fish.
Wheelers and Wobblers
I talked to both anglers and found out that they both belonged to the same club "Wheelers and Wobblers". This club caters for the physically disadvantaged specialising in a whole range of sporting activities. This club, based in Wakefield Yorkshire, organises up to two matches a week for its members with an average attendance of between 20 and 25 physically disadvantaged, plus helpers. That is better than many 'normal' clubs!
As we talked, a whole new world opened up. Not only were these guys involved with their own club but they were also actively involved with ordinary clubs where they competed on equal terms with able bodied anglers. "If we fish as a physically disadvantaged club against an able bodied club, the only rule we like is that everybody sits down" Jim told me. "That way nobody has a height advantage and we are all equals".
Sorry lads, I'd want every advantage against you - including four rods, you're too good for me!
Jim and Jerry told me that many outings and matches have a waiting list as there are not enough suitable swims to meet demand. He told me about their match at Lightwater Valley near Ripon which could take 40 wheelchair users. Jim and Jerry now organise this event which was originally run by their friend Jim Willes. Jim unfortunately died and they now organise it in his memory. Even with 40 pegs there is still a waiting list!
Jim and Jerry are always looking for larger venues and sponsorship for their matches. If you can help, contact Jerry Wilson on 0113 269 7653 or Jim Bannon on O1274 618357.
This is an 80 peg event sponsored by Mel Wildes Octoplus company. At the time of writing, it was fished on the Newport Canal in Shropshire and was won with some very big carp by Mike Dawson from Manchester. To enter you have to quality through a regional qualifier and these can be very tough matches. The standard of competition in the qualifiers and National are very high.
I spoke to Mel Wilde of Octoplus after Bob Roberts told me what they do for the disabled. Not only do they sponsor the disabled National but they have purpose built Octoplus frames that fit around the wheel chair. I know that they have fitted many of these free of charge to help physically disadvantaged anglers.
I hope this feature has reached its main objectives
1. Firstly as a tribute to the courage and keeness of my young friend Matthew Cousins
2.Increased the knowledge and awareness of the of the needs of physically disadvantaged anglers.
3. Obtains some help for these anglers