The president of a wheelchair skating group has spoken fondly about how it helps to create a “sense of community and acceptance” and allows wheelchair users to feel as though they are “on the same playing field” as those with skates, as the group celebrates its 10-year anniversary.
Wheels and Wheelchairs, who describe themselves as “a group of wheelchair users and skaters who go out together as a group enjoying the sensory rush of speed and collaboration in accessible sport”, started in 2012 and drew inspiration from a French group called Mobile En Ville.
The group meet every Saturday, weather permitting, at London’s Battersea Park, where they join skaters from Easy Saturday Skate, which current president Isaac Harvey, 27, said has helped to create a “sense of community and acceptance”.
Mr Havey, who found out about the group at the end of 2018 and became the president at the end of 2019, told the PA news agency that he found out about the group at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London.
“I went on the ice rink in my electric wheelchair and I went around and one of the ice marshals started talking to me”, he said.
“And he said, would you be interested in wheelchair roller-skating, and I thought, ‘I’ve never heard that one before’ – I didn’t even know that was possible.
“And I got in touch with the president at the time and she (Janet Richards) was very warm and welcoming and said we would love for you to join.”
Mr Harvey added that the first ever skate he did with the group “stood out to me”.
“There was a girl there with multiple disabilities and she’s non-verbal, but she says some words and gets really excited and jumps around in the chair when she’s skating”, he said.
“I remember this very vividly when I first came – she actually reached her hand out to say welcome – and I thought that was very nice and welcoming.”
The group has helped him to feel as though he is “on the same playing field” as others.
“We’ve all got wheels underneath us. If the surface isn’t good, we all suffer,” he said.
“If it’s great, then we can all have fun, so it’s having that sense of community and how the skating community has allowed us to be a part of activities they do.”
Charlene Bryant, 40, who lives in Fulham, has attended events organised by Wheels and Wheelchairs for around a year-and-a-half with her daughter Freya, 15, who has an unbalanced translocation between chromosomes 10 and 18 and is sight and hearing impaired.
She told PA that the group has helped to “open up” Freya’s social life and has been “amazing”.
“It’s really hard as they get older to find groups that they can be involved in and or us to be able to skate together has been amazing”, she added.
“She has got friends that have disabilities, friends that don’t and we all meet up and socialise at a cafe after the Saturday skates.
“We’ve even been to Istanbul with them and did a half marathon, which was amazing for Freya to go on holiday with a bunch of friends.
“We skated, we had such a good time and it has changed her life for the better.”
One of Freya’s highlights from the trip also included a cruise, which included belly dancing.
“She really loved that,” Ms Bryant said.
She encouraged people to get involved through the group’s Facebook page.
“The wheelchair gives you more stability anyway when you first skate because you’ve got something to hold on to, but it’s an amazing experience for you and your child and you don’t have to skate to join in as well”, she added.
“If you don’t skate and you’re worried about that, organisers will always find a way to help you feel welcome and involved.”
The group is in need of more skaters who can push those in wheelchairs and have a good skating ability, who can make contact through Facebook or Instagram.