Longtime access campaigner Minnie Holder celebrated as the Westward Ho! slipway she had campaigned to be repaired for so long to allow wheelchair access to the beach, was finally officially opened.
A perfect Westward Ho! day
She said: “It was a perfect Westward Ho! day, a day about people. None more so than Ricky who despite living here hasn’t been to the sea in years. His smile on opening the slipway was worth all the hard work and stress. Together we can make a difference.
“As a Victorian seaside village on a steep slope, Westward Ho! provides challenges for those with disabilities/mobility issues, but the access onto the beach was causing issues for more than a few. From the mum who wanted to watch her son learn to be a lifeguard, a grandfather who wanted to play with the family and the child who needed to be on the sand with his brother.
“Last May, and with the support of campaigners Raymond Goldsmith and Helen Bromhead, we formed the Westward Ho! Access Group (WHAG) on Facebook.
“During an event that month at the slipway and with the help of councillor Nick Laws we were able to gain a few minutes with Geoffrey Cox, who quickly recognised the problems and took on the task of pushing all the relevant agencies together.
“John Martin, the land owner had been attempting to rectify and repair the slipway for over a decade without success and even offered to pay for the necessary work to be done himself. Thanks to Raymond, BBC Radio Devon visited twice helping us make an impact by broadcasting interviews with visitors, relevant agencies and Geoffrey Cox MP, who was lobbied by Mr. Goldsmith.
On the beach
“We were almost there when the pandemic struck and I feared that nothing would happen, even when they passed it all at a full council meeting, I couldn’t believe it. Until the day I saw a child who had been on the beach for the first time in over a year, and then I cried.
“It’s not a permanent fix, the full flood defenses are desperately needed. We need access for those with mobility issues who own dogs as the crossing at nearby the Sandymere end of the park is not usable. There were hopes that it at least would be repaired and extended but money is an issue everywhere.”
“There are ideas for beach wheelchairs, plus the need for a ‘changing places’ toilet is paramount and achievable now they can be fully funded outside of local government. It isn’t right that our nearest is nearly 5 miles away. We just want Westward Ho! to be the best it can be, for all.”
Geoffrey Cox MP attended the event and said: “Having convened a series of meetings with Torridge District Council, the Environment Agency and Natural England to discuss and promote a solution to the lack of access to Westward Ho! beach particularly for the disabled, the elderly and families with very young children, I am delighted to see those discussions now bear fruit.
“The reconstruction of the slipway will provide an easy way down onto the beach for many years to come. This is a concrete example of what can be achieved when we all, MP, local councillors and statutory agencies work together with the public to solve an obvious problem.”
Ex-Civil Marine Engineer Stephen Barnes explained the situation at length to Mr Cox back in May 2019. He said: “It’s great the work has finally been completed. My observation is that the base needed to be piled with a slope into the sand then dug out with reinforcing steel fibre concrete with a waterproofer, which was not done. If you work with nature any water displacement will be minimal. I don’t see this as a long term fix. Let’s see how the winter treats the slope.”
Raymond Goldsmith said, “We wouldn’t be celebrating without the hard work and determination of Minnie Holder, our fellow campaigners along with the sterling support of our councillors and our MP Mr Cox.”