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Disabilities campaigner calls for better wheelchair access to South Shields beach

Lauren Benham with wheelchair user friend Georgia Fontaine has launched a petition to boost disabled access at Sandhaven beach through the construction of a ramp from the sands up to the sea.
Lauren Benham with wheelchair user friend Georgia Fontaine has launched a petition to boost disabled access at Sandhaven beach through the construction of a ramp from the sands up to the sea.

A caring campaigner has issued a rallying cry to council chiefs to make a South Tyneside beauty spot a ‘haven’ for the disabled.

Lauren Benham wants Sandhaven beach, South Shields, to be truly open to all – with the introduction of a wheelchair-friendly ramp from the sands to the sea.

Lauren Benham with wheelchair user friend Georgia Fontaine has launched a petition to boost disabled access at Sandhaven beach through the construction of a ramp from the sands up to the sea.

Lauren Benham with wheelchair user friend Georgia Fontaine has launched a petition to boost disabled access at Sandhaven beach through the construction of a ramp from the sands up to the sea.

The 21-year-old has been overwhelmed by the support she has received since launching a petition over the pioneering plan.

More than 750 people have signed the online petition since it was set up little over a week ago.

Miss Benham, from Barbour Avenue, South Shields, says the borough’s seaside attractions shouldn’t be out of bounds to anyone.

Her online drive was sparked by disabled pal Georgia Fontaine, who confided that she felt she was a ‘burden’ when out and about with her friends.

I have been overwhelmed by the support

Lauren Benham

Miss Benham. who starts work in sales with British Airways next month, said: “She told me that sometimes she feels like she is a burden.

“It was heartbreaking for me to hear that.

“I had posted the suggestion for a ramp and everyone was really positive about the idea. I’m not usually the kind of person who would start a petition, but everyone wanted it to happen so I took it on myself.

“I have been overwhelmed by the support.”

Lauren Benham with wheelchair user friend Georgia Fontaine has launched a petition to boost disabled access at Sandhaven beach through the construction of a ramp from the sands up to the sea.

Lauren Benham with wheelchair user friend Georgia Fontaine has launched a petition to boost disabled access at Sandhaven beach through the construction of a ramp from the sands up to the sea.

Miss Benham says ramps would allow not only wheelchair-bound residents to savour all the fun of the seaside, but also people on crutches or with pushchairs and mobility scooters.

She added: “While a lot of younger people will think of going abroad for a holiday, going to the beach has always been a holiday trip for a lot of older people – but many who are disabled will not be able to get access to the beach.

Similar schemes have already been set up abroad and Cornwall and Wales – and a groundswell of opinion is gathering for South Tyneside Council to follow suit.

Coun Tracey Dixon, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for area management and community safety, says the idea is good ‘in principle’ but says issues such as land ownership and cost considerations would have to be taken into account.

She said: “South Tyneside has a beautiful coastline and we have, in recent years, made significant improvements to allow better access to the beach.

“While this idea in principle is a good one, there are a number of issues which would need to be considered, including ownership of the land and the impact of such a development on the beach’s natural function as a coastal defence.

“Other considerations would be the cost of such a development, the fact that our beaches are located within key environmental designated sites, and the impact on beach cleansing activity.”

You can view the petition by logging onto www.change.org and searching for Lauren Benham South Shields.

‘Left feeling like second-class citizens’

National disability charity Scope is calling for access for disabled people to be boosted by councils – so they don’t feel like ‘second-class citizens’.

Pasca Lane, from the charity, said: ““Too often we hear from disabled people who say they feel like second-class citizens.

“Most people don’t realise just how difficult it is for disabled people to get around, to get to the shops, or to visit friends.

“We’d like to see local councils looking for ways to make it easier for all of their residents to take full advantage of what’s on their doorstep.

“It’s totally unacceptable that twenty years since the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced, so many attractions, shops and restaurants continue to be out of bounds to disabled people.”