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The Beach comes to Northfield! A review.

Updated: May 30

The Northfield Beach has been running for 11 years, organised as a free summer event by Northfield Community Partnership. For the last two years, the first day has been dedicated to people with disabilities and their family, friends, and carers. I was invited to attend on the 26th of July, dubbed 'Premier Access Day.


I was curious as I went to Victoria Common in Northfield, as I had no idea what to expect. Arriving, we parked in an adjacent field to where the event occurred. The entrance was very colourful and looked like the entrance to a circus. The staff had big smiles as they stood in the sunshine, ready to welcome people in and give them an idea of what was on offer. I was excitedly told about a circus, face painting, benefits advice, a cooking lesson, archery and specialist hand-bikes.


As my PA and I headed in, the first stall we encountered was Early Help. They are a service that helps parents/carers with disabled children to access food banks, housing and benefits information, family support, SEND support, financial support and signposting to other helpful resources. They had a purple octopus on their stall, which first attracted me to them. I wish my parents could've had that support when I was young. They are running a SEND awareness event on Thursday, the 14th of September, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A must-event for any parent or carer with a SEND child.


Next was an NHS stall where I spoke with a woman for some minutes about vaccinations as I had missed my latest COVID-19 booster. When I mentioned I was reviewing the event, I suddenly became the owner of many leaflets. The main takeaway I got from this is the importance of knowing what's available. She told me about a new shingles vaccine for people over 70 that can prevent the virus. I had never heard of it.


A benefits advisor then chatted to me about the benefits I could get. She also pointed out that I could go to the Northfield Community Partnership office for more assistance and advice if I wanted to. I thought this signposting was brilliant as it meant that people needing the information wouldn't be pressured to memorise details on the day. Very helpful if the confusing benefits system has you in a whirl!


Leaving the benefits advisor, I came face to face with a circus tent! runs inclusive workshops on circus skills. I couldn't join in with rope climbing or sitting in the middle of a ring which lifted you up towards the ceiling of the tent, but I did try my hand at plate spinning, cloth spinning and juggling! I wasn't terrific, but it was great fun. I also talked with one of the professionals there who runs his own circus company called the Bag of Jacks. He explained that through helping to run the Boom Circus workshops, he wanted to make his own company more inclusive. I also got him to demonstrate how plate spinning should be done. This was great to watch.


I next went to the tent where some of my teammates from Freewheelin' Dance were performing. I was an audience member as I could not attend our last competition. The performances were wonderful and very dramatic, and I hope members of the public were inspired to dance. There was also a poetry reading from the same tent, which I heard was very thought-provoking. I missed witnessing a reading as I went in search of a toilet. The nearest disabled toilet in the Northfield shopping centre was about 15 minutes away. It was a shame there weren't facilities on site, but then we were in a field.


On the subject of access, I managed OK, but there were people in manual wheelchairs who were noticeably struggling. The organisers had arranged for the grass to be cut, but not every area was done, so it was hard going in some places. Having supported my friends, I went in search of lunch. There was a small sandwich truck serving ham or cheese rolls and an ice cream truck. While this was fine, and I enjoyed my cheese sandwiches, I think the organisers missed a trick in not having fast food trucks dotted around. I think the event could have made a lot of money from them, especially as I was told later that on one of the public days, eight thousand people turned up! Having an invite-only day for disabled people is a very inclusive idea as it means it is less crowded and noisy. This is particularly helpful for people with sensory needs.


There was a sensory dome that was available every day at the event. It was a lovely, quiet, dark and relaxed space, especially on a hot day. The weather was perfect, but the dome staff said they wished they could stay inside the dome.


The Northfield Arts Forum had a stall with arts and crafts, and children looked to be having a great time. I'm not crafty, so I didn't subject people to my efforts, but it looked great fun. There was also a cookery school where people were to be taught how to make fruit loops later in the day. A fruit loop is a wrap filled with cream cheese and fruit. The organiser confided that her choice of recipes was limited without using either an oven or a microwave. I laughed and agreed; seeing a cookery lesson set up in a field was impressive. 


Face painting was taking place, and there always seemed to be a long queue for my four hours there. The painters seemed very talented. Also walking throughout the event were stilt walkers. They were chatty and friendly in the extravagant costumes they wore. I don't know how they managed to wear them in the heat! I passed a children's colouring competition where children could win a holiday, encouraged by hopeful parents and carers.


Different games and sports were also happening at one end of the field. Table Tennis, football, basketball, hoops and archery. I had a go at archery and was instantly amused when the staff member, watching the proceedings, took one look at me and promptly brought the target closer than the others. I did manage to hit the target, but she was correct that I wouldn't have made the longer distance.


Next, I went to Parkride, where the adaptive bikes were. Unfortunately, as I can't transfer, I couldn't ride any, but it was great to see the options available. There were bikes pedalled just by hand or just by feet, bikes with large, armchair-like seats. There was even a bike with a platform on the back so manual wheelchair users could be taken for a ride around the park.


Not far from the bikes was 'the beach.' This consisted of a large sand pit with deck chairs dotted around. The main reason for my curiosity was, how on earth will Northfield manage a beach? The answer is, very well. I was pleased to see buckets of sand being taken to people in wheelchairs who otherwise wouldn't be able to reach the sand pit.


Last but not least, there were the ponies brought by Let’s Enable. The idea was that children could lead a pony around a roped-off area and pet them. I love animals, so I asked the person booking people in if I could have a turn, providing that I wasn't depriving a child. When my turn came, I became the big kid I am and enjoyed 'leading' a pony around in a circle. The poor animal was probably a bit bored of walking around the same patch as I had been asked to come later in the day. He was more interested in being left alone to eat his food, but I didn't hold that against him. I chatted with the staff about the charity and mentioned I would like to volunteer if possible. The charity mainly goes into schools and care homes where the children and adults benefit most from the presence of a four-legged friend.


This free event was a great day out. Everyone I spoke to was friendly and welcoming, and there was an atmosphere of acceptance. I think it's beautiful that disabled children and adults get a special day just for them so that they can have fun and not worry about being judged or overwhelmed. I will definitely be attending next year.



Written by Lucy Currier.

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