This was one of my favourite projects of all time, working with Mattie on his student work placement.
His intention was to create awareness about the lack of wheelchair access to our beautiful beaches here in North Wexford so we decided the best course of action was to go political – an online petition, a campaign website and maybe even some media exposure. I joked saying it was time to kick some sand in this county but of course Mattie is too polite for all that.
Well, to say we were overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement but here’s a quick recap of our work.
Our first meeting was to set the parameters of his research – which beaches and how much of our coastline? We hit up Google maps and couldn’t work out if it translated into land or nautical miles so we elected to call local hero and marathon swimmer Mark Cokes who had completed a 17k swim in the hood only last summer to raise money for Ataxia Foundation Ireland. Mark set us straight so we decided on a 20k stretch from Cahore South (Old Bawn) to Kilpatrick, choosing 10 beaches on the route mainly because we liked the symmetry of the round numbers!
Mattie spent 6 weeks traveling around the beaches of North Wexford with Robert, his PA, taking photos that clearly showed how inaccessible the beaches are to anyone with mobility issues. We tried our hand at gathering secondary sources from government publications and local government but couldn’t find exactly the data to make our case but a kind lady we spoke to from the CSO suggested we use the general stat for physical impairment in the county so we left it at that. We had hoped to include figures relating to tourism but to no avail. We also researched possible solutions with a view to presenting some examples in the website’s gallery.
Building the Brand
We knew we were going to build a site and online petition but we needed a name, not only for the url but also something that captured the essence of the campaign. In his kitchen helped by his parents Cathy and Alan, we came up with a list of keywords and themes. We didn’t want anything too prescriptive like ‘wheelchairaccessnorthwexford’ which might work well for SEO but didn’t quite roll off the tongue or inspire us, eventually, we landed on WheelEasyBeaches and the .ie was available which we registered immediately. The logo design was delegated to arty sister Emily who turned it around tout de suite.
Building the Website
It wasn’t a case of me rustling up this site and throwing Mattie’s name on it. We went through theme libraries and selected one to suit our needs, worked out how many pages and key messages we wanted to get across. We trawled through the page templates and decided which sections, blocks and widgets were to be culled or cultivated and slowly built the site with Matthew making all creative decisions regarding typography and colour palettes etc.
Building the Petition
Likewise, we researched different online petition platforms and settled on uplift and again we poured over the layout, wording, and call to action.
Our site was ready, our online petition was ready. We knew we had to get the word out via local media but I advised on a soft launch among family, friends, and the local swim community to get some signatures to better make our case. One small message went viral and we had garnered almost 1,000 signatures over a weekend. The swim community dug deep and shared with clubs and groups across the country.
Mattie the Media Darling
For several weeks, not a week went by that Mattie didn’t make headlines in our local paper, sometimes even the front-page, and was interviewed on local radio. He even won the Young Achiever Award in the Gorey Business & Endeavour Awards.
Building on the Momentum
The campaign had gained the momentum we wanted to bring our case to local government and our representatives in the Dáil. Mattie emailed all local and national representatives and our local Senator. His campaign for wheelchair access to beaches in North Wexford received the full support of councillors at the December meeting of Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District. We received responses from local and national representative and even some Ministers and Senators who forwarded their support to relevant decision-makers in Wexford County Council.
When Mattie was on a school trip to the Oireachtas, Senator Malcolm Byrne showed him around and set up a meet and greet with Minister Anne Rabbit who greatly impressed him.
What now several months on?
The campaign has gone from strength to strength with coastal engineers in Wexford County Council currently conducting a feasibility study on Ballymoney beach. We had hoped to have one pilot in place for this summer but the weather is improving and we’re not quite there yet. I have passed my part of the project on to my sister, who has spent her career dealing with semi-states and governments and is better placed to help Matthew negotiate his case, not that he needs much help. You can keep up to date on the latest news on the WheelEasyBeaches.ie website.
Watching Mattie work on this campaign has been both rewarding and inspiring. Many know him as an avid sports fan, Rugby being his main poison but is also one of the greatest supporters of local open water swimmers. In early 2019, he overheard me suggesting to his mother that we might consider doing the Liffey swim that year it being the centenary swim and all that. Well, he shamed us into it. He told everyone in the town that his mother was doing the Liffey swim with her friend Joy and there was no backing out. Demand for limited places that year was high so the race committee set the bar high in terms of qualifying swims. For the months leading up to August, we traveled week in, week out to races along the Dublin/Wicklow coast. We’d travel together in Mattie’s van with the swimmers taking turns complaining about the wind, rain and likely conditions and we’d get a roar of ‘stay positive’ from Mattie and you know what, we did. Mark in his round-up of a 10k swim said: “As we approached Courtown Pier I moved in towards it to be welcomed with big waves and seeing Mathew in his chair made my day I got extra energy at the 6k mark.”
Mattie, and other people with mobility issues, deserve to be down on the beach celebrating with us not smiling from a distance on a headland or car park. I really hope this campaign delivers that for him.