Relieved and delighted beachgoers are praising campaigners and the town council after a new £3,500 wheelchair-friendly path was installed at West Beach, West Bay.
The 100sqm of matting on the beach means people who struggle with mobility and walking on the stones can finally get to the shoreline and not have to simply admire the sea from afar.
Photographer Neil Barnes was one of the first to use the path, taking his daughter Lucy down to the waves and even taking a bowl so she could dip her feet in the water.
He said: “Now this is what I call a birthday present!
“Some may recall my campaign a few years back to get my daughter Lucy on to the beach, well it finally happened today.
“After getting the wheelchair friendly tables installed on the Esplanade and at Hive Beach, I’d almost given up hope but a very kind lady Elaine Leader took up the reins and badgered the right people.”
Elaine campaigned for 18 months to get the matting installed. She said: “I’m very pleased the matting is down, even if only for part of this season.
“I’ve been pursuing the project for about 18 months and it’s been very slow and sometimes frustrating. Councillor Kelvin Clayton was my town council contact and he allowed me to present the project at the environment and social wellbeing committee meeting in March.
“My next goal – phase 2 – is to secure funding for two beach wheelchairs and to get the town council to deal with storage and hire/management of the scheme.”
It was clear from a number of posts on Facebook how much people appreciated Elaine’s efforts.
Penelope Slocock said: “Thank you! I have not been able to go on the beach for many years. This path is great.”
Gerry Waugh took his wife Vanessa on to the beach in her wheelchair. He said: “Living where we do, we go to the seaside quite a lot, but today was the first time in years we have been onto the beach itself.
“Thank you to all the people who campaigned.”
West Bay Harbour Master James Radcliffe and his team installed the matting for the visitor season.
Mayor Cllr Ian Bark said: “We’re delighted with the early feedback from both residents and visitors about the matting, which seems to indicate a genuine sense of freedom from people who haven’t been able to enjoy the beach until now. “I am so grateful to Elaine for her determination, and to others like Neil Barnes who have campaigned for this provision. I’d also like to thank the Harbour Master and his team for their work in laying the matting.”
Town Clerk Will Austin said: “We managed to obtain some external funding from Dorset Coast Forum that has really helped, and once we can identify further finance we can look at additional matting, and ‘beach wheelchairs’ for hire.
“These could enable users to move off the path and to enjoy the sea.”