Accessibility highlighted by cross-Solent transport operators

All three of the Isle of Wight’s cross-Solent operators have benefitted from grants from the Government’s Maritime Accessibility Fund.

The Maritime Accessibility Fund has been launched by the Department for Transport as an initial one-time opportunity for Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly ferry operators, designed to support the accessibility of ferry travel. An initial funding pot of £1million was made available to ferry operators through an open application process, with grants awarded to successful applicants.

Maritime Minister, Robert Courts MP says: ‘This funding will tangibly improve access to this life-line ferry link, which is vital to keep communities linked with the mainland. We are committed to help people to travel with confidence as we continue to build back from the pandemic.’

Below you will find extracts from the press release of each company, highlighting the benefits the work will bring to visitors to the Island.

Wightlink

Wightlink has been awarded £276,800 to help improve travel to and from the Isle of Wight for disabled customers. The ferry company’s submission for the Government’s Maritime Accessibility Fund grant was drawn up following consultation with accessible travel company Unlimited Island.

Fully accessible toilets for disabled adults and children will be built in both Portsmouth and Ryde, and improved ticket machines at accessible height for people using wheelchairs will be installed at all ports. There will be new intercom systems at Ryde Pier and Portsmouth Harbour to help foot passengers with disabilities to seek assistance and more powered wheelchairs to assist Wightlink staff to aid customers boarding ferries and catamarans.

The two Changing Places accessible toilets, equipped with hoists, will give disabled people the confidence to embark on ferry travel knowing their needs can be met during the journey.

The mainland facilities at Wightlink’s car ferry terminal in Gunwharf Road, Portsmouth will also include a shower and be available 24 hours a day. The dryroom toilet at Wightlink’s terminal at Ryde Pier Head will be open while the FastCats are in service.

The facilities will also support people with invisible disabilities that may need a quiet room to wait, together with autistic children and adults.

Wightlink Chief Executive Keith Greenfield says: “We are grateful to the Government for this grant, which will help us to make a difference for disabled travellers who want to cross the Solent.

“While Wightlink complies with all accessibility regulations and our staff always do all they can to support disabled travellers, more can always be done to make their journeys easier and more enjoyable. The Changing Places toilets were at the heart of Wightlink’s bid for Government funding.”

Wightlink worked with accessible travel company Unlimited Island on the grant application. Director Claire Walker says: “Unlimited Island welcomes this news. We were pleased to help Wightlink put together its application and we are sure visitors with disabilities will value the opportunity to use the Changing Places toilets and other facilities at Solent ports.”

Hovertravel

Hovertravel has been awarded a grant to improve accessibility for its customers. The grant launched last October was aimed specifically at lifeline ferries and seaports serving the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly.

Neil  Chapman, managing director of Hovertravel, explains:

‘Our HoverCare initiative  has been a huge success and we are just one of two transport companies in the country to have been awarded Leader status in the government’s Inclusive Transport Scheme. We know, however, that we can always enhance and evolve. We also engaged with its stakeholders, including Isle Access and members of its user group (HUG), to incorporate their feedback on the bid items to be submitted.

‘We applied for a broad variety of facility improvements, including a Changing Places toilet at Southsea, an enhanced exit to the pad at Southsea, assistive technology for our website and a lift for our terminal at Ryde. We are also upgrading our hearing loops, the handrails on our hovercraft craft and have a stock of mobility aids at each terminal. Several of these facilities have already been completed and now open for our customers, with just two projects to be finished over the summer.’

Hovertravel’s  Senior Management Team created a working group for the bid application process with input from across the company; including engineers, operational staff, pilots, marketing, finance and HR. This group reviewed the complete journey experience, from researching online to booking, time spent in terminals and onboard and onward connections.

Neil continues: “We are delighted to have received this funding from the Government and their support at all levels for supporting our accessibility initiative is greatly appreciated.  I must also extend my personal gratitude to Isle Access, Euan’s Guide and the members of the HUG who contributed enormously to our successful submission.

As with all our HoverCare initiatives we will continue to be as open as possible about our accessibility approach, including ways to share best practice with other organisations, opportunities to spread awareness of the issues involved and how to showcase the lessons learnt. “

Red Funnel

Red Funnel has received a grant from the Department for Transport as part of its new Maritime Accessibility Fund. Following an open bid process which called for ferry operators across the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly to apply, the cross-Solent ferry company has been granted just over £296,000 to make important upgrades to the accessibility of its services.

Upgrades to support accessibility to the Red Funnel fleet are due to start imminently and will take place during each vessel’s regular scheduled annual maintenance throughout 2022. The work will focus around key areas including:

  • The creation of more designated accessible seating
  • Upgrades to emergency signage on board and improvements to each vessel’s PA system
  • The installation of push button, self-closing, automatic sliding doors across its vehicle ferries, to give easier access for all passengers
  • Upgrades to all vehicle ferry terminal toilets

All upgrades are designed to offer passengers an improved service, whatever support they need for travel.

Fran Collins, Chief Executive at Red Funnel, said:

‘Our service is depended on by both Island residents and mainland visitors, all of whom travel for many different reasons and with different needs, so we continuously look at ways to improve our facilities and meet the requirements of all those who travel with us. The Maritime Accessibility Fund grant will help us focus on upgrades to our services to improve the experience for passengers with disabilities or accessibility needs, and further enhance similar tasks already planned for this year.’