Time to make a difference.

Although it has taken a number of years to reach, and it will take time to develop further, the completion of Dreamstore Academy Level 2 qualifications by members of the Stroke Association in the North West has marked a significant point in the development of angling as a recreational activity to benefit stroke survivors.

Andy Biggar explains what the new qualification means to him. Then we explain the journey to this point.

The journey to this point started four or five years ago. Dreamstore was introduced to the Stroke Association in the North West by the British Disabled Angling Association. We had a series of meetings discussing the potential of angling as an inclusive activity for stroke survivors, but ultimately internalising the activity within the Stroke Association.

To test the waters so to speak, Dreamstore provided a small grant to facilitate a taster day run by the BDAA to host a number of stroke survivors and their volunteer carers. The day was a huge success. Lessons were learned.

It was clear from early engagement that there would be anglers and non-anglers among the participants, and among the carers. However, no matter the past angling experience, the impact of stroke meant everyone would have to learn how to adapt and engage with this pastime.

The greatest challenge to angling for people with disability is accessible places to fish. Even after extensive lobbying towards the Environment Agency and the flagging of best practice, there remain a minority of fisheries that can properly cater for disability. If you would like to check your local fishery for accessibility then please compare against this BDAA Access Guidelines which are downloadable free from here. Or contact the BDAA from the website to learn more.

Even so, sterling work by Border Fishery, and in the past year by some not-for-profit and an Environment Agency North West area (over the past 18 months), a number of fisheries have emerged. There are still too few.

As it became clear that one or two fisheries would enable at least an area of the North West Stroke Association to develop, the BDAA supported the local association with Buddy Days to train volunteers on the basics of angling that would provide the simple supported required on the bankside – for example setting up a rod and line, putting a maggot on the end of the hook, making sure that the position was safe and comfortable. Thanks too was due to Barclays who provided financial support to help with volunteer training.

It was then that the Stroke Association started to identify some who could take on the role of training others to help on fishing days by completing a coaching course, ultimately hoping that individuals, with their carers, would be able go fishing independently. While the Stroke Association in the North West has been to the fore in developing angling as an accessible actiivty, this is still very much work in progress. It has come a long way and it is great to see it remains active and supportive.

Working with the Stroke Association it the North West has been a learning process for everyone and there are still a number of issues that need to be addressed, not least the poverty in access to fisheries. In this respect the Environment Agency needs to take a much greater lead in its assessment of fisheries that could be readily upgraded. In the first instance this would involve working closely with the BDAA and Dreamstore in identifying need and potential, and to then be more targetted in making necessary improvements that would benefit all.