A week away

We had a brilliant few days away thanks to the beautiful and very accessible Schoolhouse Fenwick. It had everything we needed as a base for our adventures. 😀

Fabulous friends gave us recommendations for what to do in Northumberland based on their own experiences so we had lots of fun without the fuss of inaccessibility!

First up was the Heatherslaw light railway which went from Heatherslaw to Etal where we explored the castle. The train had a couple of wheelchair accessible carriages and it was great to see them both being used. The castle, which is mainly ruin, wasn’t too bad for getting Quinns around in his wheelchair.

Quinns loved the train ride of course, although he learned quickly to cover his ears when the whistle blew!

Quinns is always asking to go swimming so when we heard Berwick Leisure pool had recently been refurbished we knew we had to try it out. Sure enough it has a brilliant Changing Places toilet with access from reception straight through to pool side so no need to drip through public areas while wet! 😀

It also has a Pool Pod Lift (https://tinyurl.com/4yk6x495 ) for accessing the pool. Although the submersible wheelchair didn’t have quite the right support we made it work (he was small enough for his head to be supported by the back of the chair.)

We had to rescue him on the way in as the chair kept going down until he was under the water so he sat on my knee on the way back up for safety.

Beach wheelchairs are a brilliant idea for inclusion!! It’s really difficult to move a wheelchair across sand so it’s great to see more and more beaches with these specifically designed wheelchairs.

We had a fabulous albeit very windy day on Beadnell Beach where Quinns could easily access the whole beach and sea where he was close to Big Sister who thinks she’s a fish! 😆

Our holiday was complete with a sunset boat trip around the Farne Islands. It was amazing getting so close to the wildlife particularly the seals.

Quinns absolutely loved being on the boat! We phoned ahead to check the best time as it needed to be high tide for level access.

Thanks to Serenity Boats for being so helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, it made a wonderful last night for us. 😀

No holiday story of ours is complete without a toilet tale. We managed the week despite a real lack of Changing Places toilets by careful planning and a camp bed in the back of the transit van we took to transport all Quinns’ equipment!

It was brilliant to find a Changing Places toilet in Tesco in Berwick. And one so impressively decorated! Tesco seem to be leading the way on providing these toilets but it would be great if other supermarkets followed suit. 🤞🏻

Swimming facilities

Would you be willing to parade in public in your swimming costume? I am discovering a level of body confidence that I never knew I had because I am no longer willing to cover up and pretend that what is being provided is ok. I am no longer willing to make it work but I do want to make swimming happen for Quinns. So far that’s involved walking through a busy public area in our local leisure centre dressed only in my swimming costume.

Close up photo of Quinns eye gaze with the words 'They went to the swimming I want to go to the swimming'

Scottish Swimming recently released a video to launch their inclusion campaign #SeeMyAbility. I totally agree with the message “Don’t separate, segregate or keep me apart…make inclusion, integration and togetherness our task”. I also fully agree with their tagline ‘Everyone can swim’ but from my experience of finding pools with suitable changing facilities for Quinns I’m not so sure that the practicalities have even been considered. 

We are working up to a family visit to the home of Scottish Swimming (where there is currently a £20 million redevelopment underway). Why are we having to work up to it? The Changing Place, that we have been told is the provision for the sports centre, isn’t even in the same building as the swimming pool. In fact it’s not even in the sports centre building next door. 

It is situated in an arts centre that is a 5 minute walk away from the pool building. The walk currently takes you past a building site and down a hill on a busy University campus.

Here’s hoping my new found body confidence in order to make swimming happen for Quinns will allow me to enjoy the feel of the breeze as I stride it out on my way to the pool! 

Caution Wet floor

Even with very little control of his body out of the water Quinns is extremely comfortable and happy in the water.

Quinns is not the only keen swimmer in our family. Big Sister is an aspiring olympic swimmer. Swimming, therefore, is an obvious choice of activity for the four of us to enjoy together. You would like to think it would be easy but it’s not. 

Photo of a sign saying 'Caution Wet Floor' outside a Changing Place Toilet

One of the reasons we chose to live where we live is access to what we thought were really good swimming pools. However we now realise none of the pools close to us are ideal for Quinns. The nearest pool with everything he requires is 20 miles away. 

Since swimming has benefits for people no matter their ability you would think the facilities would be more accessible.

Our local leisure pool has recently put in a Changing Place. That in itself is great but it’s not poolside! I’m not sure how that’s going to work once Quinns is bigger and needs hoisted but for now we can make it work with waterproof mats and towels in the Bug.

Before and after our swim we have to walk right through the public reception area of a busy leisure centre!

I’m not sure who is more uncomfortable when our little family troupe walk soaking wet through a public place but I know for a fact that it is inconvenient for the staff.

Swimming the dream

Quinns recently graduated from his Water Babies swim class with an underwater photoshoot. 

Photo of Quinns swimming underwater smiling at the camera

When he was eight months old and as our concern grew for his development I started taking him to the class. The health benefits of swimming are well recognised and I felt sure that he would gain from the water. That same sentiment was echoed when we ended up in hydrotherapy pools as part of various groups. At times over the last few years we were getting changed for swimming up to three times a week.

What I hadn’t really considered when he started the class was how much Quinns would enjoy being in the water. The massive smile that he could barely contain every time he entered the water told me and everyone else around how much he loved it.

In the beginning taking him to his swimming class was easy. He was changed the same way all the other babies were changed and then carried to the pool. As the others advanced to toddling and finally walking we still had the same routine. 

When he outgrew the baby changing table we looked for alternatives and negotiated the use of a therapy room. The adjustable height bench made it work for us even though I had to carry Quinns through a corridor that went from the building entrance to the changing room. Although we didn’t have far to go it wasn’t pleasant underfoot. 

Despite the negotiation to have the room there were times when one was not available. Each time we refused to use the floor of the disabled toilet. One time however we made it work by changing him on a couch in the reception area. It was hardly dignified.

As he grew ever bigger it all became more of an effort. It was increasingly difficult to carry him the distance to the pool and tricky not having access to shower facilities in the therapy room. Eventually one day when we were turned away because all the therapy rooms were booked for treatments I realised I was tired of being the one who made it work.

Our options for alternative classes are distinctly limited because so few swimming pools have adequate facilities. However we have now managed to find a suitable class with a Changing Place style set up that will work longer term.

So while I may be tired of making it work in the Water Babies class, of course that smile together with the benefits of the water means that making swimming happen for Quinns will always be worthwhile.