A WHEELCHAIR user felt excluded and frustrated after a lack of disabled access left her unable to join friends on the beach.

Sophie Buck, from Hove, moved to the city to live by the sea, but after becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome found she could no longer enjoy the beach as before.

While Sophie regularly makes use of Hove’s promenade, there is no way for her to independently get on to the beach with her wheelchair.

“I want to be able to sit down on the beach with everyone else and enjoy being at the beach, like any local or visitor should,” she said.

The Argus: Sophie was frustrated that she could not access the beach on her ownSophie was frustrated that she could not access the beach on her own

“The pebbled beach is down steps and there’s no flat surface to ride along, only pebbles. I can only ride along the promenade, but my view of the beach and sea is far back and obscured as the railing is at my eye height.”

Sophie said there are beach-friendly wheelchairs available to hire but doing so can be stressful and they do not solve many access issues.

“It’s more suitable for going on a long walk - or rather roll - on the pebbles or driving into the sea, not just simply being able to access the beach and get near the sea,” she said.

“Beach wheelchairs are lot of effort to hire. You have to go to where the wheelchairs are to be hired from, complete a booking form and a consent form, remember your ID, give a deposit, be conscious of bringing the wheelchair back within two hours and trust them with your own expensive chair.

“This is especially asking a lot of someone like me with chronic fatigue syndrome and who is autistic. It’s so many extra steps just to be able to access the beach and involves a lot of anxiety-inducing social interaction that I’d rather avoid.

“My energy would have run out by the time I got the beach wheelchair, only to drive somewhere seconds away to sit on the beach and not get full use out of it. There’s also few beach wheelchairs to go around so there’s no guarantee one will be available.”

Earlier this year, Kemp Town’s Black Rock boardwalk was opened by Councillor Alan Robins, who was then mayor.

The Argus: Hove beachHove beach

Brighton and Hove City Council said at the time the boardwalk would be fully accessible for wheelchair users, but Sophie said the facility is a bad example of beach access.

“The Kemp Town facility is limited and not a stellar example of access," she said. "My friend and fellow wheelchair user Jesse has managed to get to the Kemp Town facility and has sent me a picture of the view from it.

“They told me that it’s so far from the beach. There’s a bit that juts out and gets a bit closer, but it all feels like you’re on the concrete promenade in Hove. They went alone and said they could see everyone sitting on the beach closer to the sea and just felt like they were in the background, not really included.”

Sophie, who is ambulatory – meaning she can sometimes walk a few steps - also said wheelchairs users should not be forced to go all the way to Black Rock to access the beach.

“It takes over an hour by wheelchair,” she said.

“I want something closer to home that I can get to within my energy limits. There’s no reason beach access should just be available for people who live in Kemp Town.

The Argus: The Black Rock boardwalk did not give Sophie's friend the access they thought it mightThe Black Rock boardwalk did not give Sophie's friend the access they thought it might

“The beach wheelchair provisions - combined with the limited and far away boardwalk at Kemp Town - do not constitute sufficient access for wheelchair and other mobility aid users to Brighton and Hove beach.

“For a city known for its beach, Brighton and Hove really needs to do better to be more accessible.”

The council said Hove has been pencilled in for a boardwalk, but there are no funds to make it happen.

“Following consultation with disabled user groups, an area of the beach in Hove near the King Alfred has been identified where a beach pathway and deck could be installed. We’re currently looking at how this might be funded,” a spokesman said.

“Unfortunately, this particular project is outside the scope of our multi-million pound Kingsway to the Sea improvement scheme for Hove. 

“The Kingsway to the Sea project is being designed to be accessible throughout. There will be an accessible pathway throughout the entire linear park, a Changing Places facility and disability room as part of a new outdoor sports hub.

The Argus: The boardwalk in Kemp Town when it first openedThe boardwalk in Kemp Town when it first opened

The spokesman said the council cared deeply about disabled access to beaches in the city and its seafront team has been working “very positively with Scope’s Beach Access Team for several years now”. 

He said: “This partnership approach has led to a number of measures to improve access to the seafront. 

“These include an accessible beach deck in central Brighton with accessible picnic tables.   

“We have also commissioned a bespoke all-terrain electric wheelchair which is on order and due to be delivered in the next few weeks. This will be available for use anywhere on the city’s seafront and beaches. 

“A new beach boardwalk for Saltdean is on order and is due to be installed in the autumn.”