New charity to offer river trips to people with disabilities next year

A new charity offering trips on the River Thames to people with physical and mental disabilities is to launch in Goring next year.

Floatability will ferry groups of up to eight passengers, or up to four wheelchair users with two carers, on a motorised 17ft Pioner Multi boat with a crew of two, according to the Henley Standard.

The boat has a bow which opens to form a ramp, allowing people with mobility problems to easily board and disembark on a slipway. Made from recyclable plastic, the £10,000 boat also has a detachable canopy for shelter.

Volunteers will skipper the boat and give talks to their passengers on the flora and fauna of the Goring Gap and offer to teach them to fish.

The charity has still to finalise the boat’s itinerary, but some trips may start and finish at Goring lock while others may run from the Goring Gap Boat Club’s headquarters next to Gatehampton railway bridge.

Journeys of one, three or five hours will cost between £80 and £195 per boat trip, with the two longer journeys including a stop for lunch at an accessible pub or restaurant.

The charity hopes to hire “facilitators” who would encourage less confident passengers to break the ice and chat with one another.

Some users would be referred by disability charities, but small groups or individuals will also be able to book. The service will be officially launched in late March and the trips will run from April to October when river conditions allow. If the coronavirus restrictions are still in place, the service will operate with limited capacity to allow social distancing, according to the Henley Standard.

Floatability is the brainchild of Will Howard, who restores wooden boats from a base in South Stoke, and his wife Laura, a psychotherapist and psychologist.

They bought the boat about a year ago after raising the money through grants from Tesco, the Greenham Common Trust and the Icknield Gas and the Gatehampton Trust, both based in Goring.

They also raised £3,000 by rowing more than 100 miles in a skiff down the Thames from Lechlade in Gloucestershire to Sunbury.

The charity now hopes to raise another £2,900 for a spare outboard engine, training courses and miscellaneous equipment.

It is also looking for more volunteer boatmen, fundraisers and networking assistants. Candidates needn’t have previous experience but an understanding of boating or disability issues would be helpful.

Mr Howard, who has worked for boatbuilders Henwood & Dean in Mill End and Peter Freebody & Co in Hurley, will be the skipper.

He says: “The river has always been part of my life and it gives me a good feeling so I wanted to help others enjoy it.

“We’ve got a very versatile boat and look forward to launching. We’ve optimistically decided on about 12 trips a month for the first year, but we don’t know what the need will be because it’s such a new venture. We’re offering something very different from any other boating groups.”

Mrs Howard adds: “There’s a lot of isolation among the disabled community and they sometimes struggle to find a safe, non-judgemental and caring space to socialise or develop a hobby. Fishing, for example, has been shown to massively help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and it will help our passengers to form lasting social connections and meet people from different groups.

“We want this to be affordable because many disabled people are on benefits and it was important for us to cater to mental health needs as there isn’t much provision locally. Disability isn’t just about physical or cognitive problems.

“For us, the reward is helping others to experience the joy of being on the water, with all the many benefits that brings.”

Read the full story online.

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