A BOAT club set up to help disabled people enjoy the pleasures of boating has started pilot trials carrying passengers.

The Wallingford Accessible Boat Club (WABC) has taken a giant step forward by trialling the wheelyboat WOW-one, allowing wheelchair users to enjoy the water safely and comfortably.

The trial was delayed because of the pandemic and issues locating a base to operate from, and so it is a huge milestone for the club, and comes after more than four years of hard work from volunteers.

Wheelchair user Mrs Sue Gowing, from Wallingford, took part in one of the first two pilot voyages.

Ms Gowing said: “I love the river but haven’t been able to enjoy it since being in a wheelchair. It was easy to get on board and just like sitting in my front room – I had great fun. I’m very pleased that WABC is giving people the opportunity to be on the river” .

On July 4, the second pilot voyage took mother Natasha and her children Max, 8, and Sophie, a 6-year-old wheelchair user on a trip travelling upstream from Benson Marina to Day’s Lock.

Oxford Mail: Greg Kilkenny, WABC Operations Manager

After their trip, Natasha explained the significance of the WABC wheelchair-friendly operation. She said: “It was so exciting to be offered a ride on the Wallingford Accessible Boat. The crew were incredibly knowledgeable about the river and my children and I learned a great deal about the wildlife and history of the Thames. 

"My six year old daughter is a full-time wheelchair user and she misses out on so many experiences due to her disability. The team at WABC were so welcoming, and she was over the moon to be able to get onto a boat, and see what the river had to offer. The trip has been the highlight of our year, and I can't wait to get out on to the water again.”

John Jenkins MBE, chairman of trustees, said: “At last we have reached the point where we can start to trial passenger-carrying trips to quality assure all the procedures we have been working on over the winter before last and then during the Covid lockdown periods. 

"For us, it is a moment to celebrate and show all our supporters 'we are truly here', determined to complete the journey we started way back in 2017.” 

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