Spending your 11th birthday splashing in the sea with your brother and sister would be a fun day out for most kids. But for wheelchair user Joelle, it was a momentous occasion.
“She hadn’t dipped her toes in the sea since she was about three, when I stopped being able to lift her,” explains her mother, Fiona Blaikie, 36. “Wheelchairs don’t work on soft sand, so we could never get Joelle to the sea."
The experience was all down to the accidental discovery of beach wheelchairs, something the family, who live a five-minute walk from the coast, had no idea existed.
“We had gone to North Berwick for Joelle’s birthday,” explains Fiona, who lives in Eyemouth, Berwickshire, with husband Michael, 53, Joelle, now 14, and their four other children, Sonny and Orlaith, both 11, Eden, two and one-year-old Alivia. “There we chanced upon a hut loaning out beach wheelchairs.”
As the chairs can go in the water, it wasn’t long before Joelle was splashing around with her brother and sister for the first time ever. “To hear her giggle was incredible. I still get emotional thinking about it.
“Joelle was born with congenital cytomegalovirus, which caused quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy, so she has no use of her limbs and no speech. But she is very clever, with a naughty sense of humour.
“As difficult as things can be, it’s made much easier because Joelle is such an easy-going character.”
But even for Joelle, days at the beach were hard. “Most people wouldn’t describe the beach as a lonely day out, but for Joelle and me, stuck up on a deck near the car park while the others enjoyed the sea and sand, that’s what it was,” says Fiona.
“When you can see it and can’t get to it, it’s just awful, particularly as the beach is such a lovely, sensory experience for disabled people.”
When the family returned home from Joelle’s birthday celebration, Fiona posted videos on Facebook. This prompted a local charitable trust, Sea the Change, to get in touch as it had launched a similar project at Coldingham Bay, a five-minute drive from the family’s home.
Based in the Scottish borders, the National Lottery-supported trust encourages people to make small changes that create happier, healthier, more sustainable communities. Today it provides three beach wheelchairs at Coldingham, catering for different mobility needs. It is just one of many good causes across the UK to benefit from the £30 million raised every week* by National Lottery players.
“It might sound overly dramatic to say this has been life changing, but Joelle’s world is quite compact,” says Fiona. “Being able to go to the beach and expand her horizons is everything.”
Fiona has seen other disabled people benefit too. “Recently, a woman was getting out of her car into a wheelchair, so I told her about the adult-sized beach wheelchair,” says Fiona. “She’d never heard of them but took it down to the water’s edge. She was in floods of tears and told me she hadn’t been on a beach for 20 years.
“It was so lovely seeing it through another’s person’s eyes, knowing that Sea the Change has given them that amazing gift. It is transformational.”
In these challenging times it’s great to be able to put a smile on people’s faces. And when you play The National Lottery you’re helping people to do exactly that – whether it’s by bringing the world of the Vikings to life or driving the unique underground train in London’s Postal Museum.
Many of those who have benefited from funding have faced their own life challenges. They include Ekow Otoo, who hasn’t let multiple sclerosis stop him achieving sporting glory, and now stars in The National Lottery’s stunning new TV ad, in which he whizzes along the beach in a customised wheelchair of his own.
By playing The National Lottery, you raise £30 million for good causes every week* – and during the pandemic, aside from the Government, no one has made a greater contribution to those affected than National Lottery players.
When we all play a little, fun stuff happens. Find out how at national-lottery.co.uk/news
*Based on figures from April 2020-March 2021. Rules and Procedures Apply. Players must be 18+..
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