Fareham yachtsman Geoff Holt gives disabled youngsters a taste of life at sea through pioneering virtual reality headset
A PIONEERING disabled yachtsman from Fareham has launched a groundbreaking virtual reality video adventure for land-locked young disabled people.
Geoff Holt MBE DL, founder of the Wetwheels charity, came up with the idea to give young disabled people, particularly those who have been shielding during the coronavirus pandemic, the seafaring experience on virtual reality headsets from their home, school or care setting.
During the pandemic, Geoff recognised the isolation felt by disabled young people who were unable to leave their homes, let alone get on the sea.
Geoff said: ‘My lightbulb moment for this video was triggered by a conversation I had with Juno Hollyhock, CEO of Southampton’s Rose Road Association, about how many disabled people were profoundly affected by Covid isolation and needed to get out and about.
‘Juno said that Wetwheels was top of her list to take the children to as soon as the coronavirus restrictions were eased because of their desperate need to get “air in their lungs”.
‘This immediately got me thinking how I could help them and the idea of bringing the video experience directly to them came into my head.’
The adventure was launched at Treloar College in Alton last week.
Students were given the first opportunity to experience the trailblazing video ride and enjoy life on the open waves.
The high definition film, which features 360 degree boat and sea views, uses specialist software to bring the same exhilaration that a Wetwheels powerboat ride gives.
Geoff added: ‘There is something very special about being on the water. For someone with a disability, being at sea offers unparalleled freedoms.
‘Your mind and imagination fill with things that once didn’t seem possible.
‘The VR version of this film is important because it opens up the on-water opportunity to anyone anywhere in the country, not just those who are able to go out on the water.’
Martin Ingram, principal at Treloar College, said; ‘The last year has been very challenging for many of our students. It’s wonderful for them to be the very first to try out the Wetwheels VR experience at its launch. We can see how they really enjoyed having such a fantastic time - even if they didn’t even leave our grounds.’
Geoff, who founded Hampshire-based Wetwheels in 2011, was paralysed in a swimming accident in 1984 and uses a wheelchair.
In 2007, he became the first disabled person to sail single-handed around Great Britain and in 2009, he sailed unassisted across the Atlantic Ocean.
His charity Wetwheels now operates from Hamble and Portsmouth and locations in Kent, Cornwall, Yorkshire and Jersey - allowing disabled people to actively participate on a coastal boat ride to help build confidence and improve their wellbeing.
The video was produced by Soundview Media and ties in with the latest research into ‘Blue Health’ - the link between urban blue spaces, climate and health and how virtual environments might be used to boost wellbeing for vulnerable people.