Race is on to give shocked vandalism-hit powerchair charity a financial leg-up
A MUCH-LOVED Gloucestershire charity which offers football participation to disabled and disadvantaged people is appealing for public help after being subjected to a cruel spate of vandalism.
Dedicated members of Cheltenham-based Goals Beyond Grass were shocked to discover that six expensive powerchairs of the 12 they possess, which have provided joy and benefit to football enthusiasts of all ages and abilities with physical and learning difficulties, had been “seriously damaged” by vandals whilst stored at their regular ‘home’ inside Gloucester’s GL1 Leisure Centre on Bruton Way.
Ironically the incident, which police are investigating, came the day after Goals Beyond Grass’ Cheltenham Powerchair Football Club was nominated for the Community Club of the Year accolade at the Gloucestershire Sports Awards.
Stunned GBG founder and chief executive Brian Dix confessed: “It was the lowest low for me in a very, very long time. I am not ashamed to admit it has hurt me and if there were tears then they were there for a reason.
“As a charity the aim of Goals Beyond Grass is to enhance the lives of people with a physical or learning disability through powerchair football, one of the most inclusive sports in the world.
“As you can imagine the powerchairs are imperative to GBG achieving this. In two years not even so much as a ball has gone missing.
“This vandalism has meant that schoolchildren, people in retirement homes and adults with learning disabilities will now be unable to play a sport which allows them to participate in a team environment and build their self-esteem.
“Whilst children and adults with disabilities have been left without access to an inclusive sport which builds confidence is extremely disappointing, there is also a huge feeling of sadness due to the hard work put into fundraising for the chairs.
“Many people have given up hours of their free time and hard-earned money to help purchase the essential specialist equipment that allows those who are often excluded from sport and being in a team to do something many take for granted.
“This incident took place at GL1 Leisure Centre in Gloucester where our chairs have been stored for the previous two years.
“GL1 have been fantastic to GBG and stored our powerchairs free of charge. Previous to this incident we had not had a single piece of equipment moved out of place.
“We would like to make clear that we hold no blame towards GL1 Leisure Centre or Aspire Trust. This is purely down to the individuals who decided to damage equipment that enables disabled people to participate in sport.”
Brian added: “One of Goals Beyond Grass’ main sponsors, DC&M, have been excellent since the incident and assessed the damage caused. They have agreed to repair a number of the chairs free of charge.
“This is a tremendous help with our insurance unfortunately not covering an incident of this nature.
“This means that we are now in need of funds to repair our remaining chairs. These chairs are specialist powerchairs meaning parts have to be bought from around the world, namely Holland and New Zealand.
“The costs are expected to be around £12,000 due to the level of damage to the specialist chairs with some parts being left beyond repair and needing replacing.”
The GBG CEO said the support they had received so far from far and wide had been overwhelming.
“We must thank DC&M for their support as the costs would have been much higher without them,” Brian insisted.
“Since the incident we have been blown away by the generosity shown by the people of Gloucestershire and beyond. We have had a lot of people come forward to offer money and their own resources to help get Goals Beyond Grass back on our feet and out delivering.
“We must also pass on our thanks to the Robins Trust who are the supporters’ society of our friends at Cheltenham Town FC.
“They have started Crowdfunding to help us reach the total needed to get the chairs back in working order and they have also donated £500 of the society’s money.”
Robins Trust’s fan elected director, Dave Beesley, admitted: “As a board we were all absolutely appalled by the vandalism.
“One of our former board members is closely involved with Goals Beyond Grass and we know it’s a charity that does fantastic work across Gloucestershire.
“The specialist chairs are not only used by the charity but for doing outstanding community work in schools, retirement homes and learning disability centres across Gloucestershire.
“We immediately decided that we wanted to help and are now calling on all the professional sports clubs in the county to help us match the expected £12,000 repair bill.”
Anyone wishing to make donations can do so by visiting www.crowdfunder.co.uk/gbg
Goals Beyond Grass was founded in 2016 following a successful start in powerchair football by Brian Dix, who felt moved to give disabled people more opportunities to engage in fun, social sports.