Colin Holland, chairman of the Essex Disabled Angling Club (EDAC) talks to Dancing Giraffe about his role and experiences with the group; from the challenges the club faces to why it is a lifeline for many people with disabilities...
Can you outline the history of the club? When was it set up and by whom?
EDAC was set up in 2004 by David Marshall, after he had a leg amputated. The club grew slowly to start with but has reached a membership number of up to 70 men and women. Today there are about 35-40 members, including approximately seven able-bodied members.
What sort of events do you hold?
Throughout the summer (March until October) we go out fishing three or four times a month. Sometimes we go out twice a week, travelling as far as Colchester to Waltham Abbey. We also hold competitions, shows and open days.
How has the EDAC helped people with disabilities?
The club has helped disabled people enormously. People feel safer in a crowd. One fellow, who used to fish a lot before joining us, got pushed into a river and had his tackle stolen. We try to pair a disabled person with an able-bodied person for health and safety reasons.
Another man who joined us has no legs and his words were: ‘‘Without this club I would have ended my life.’’
Our members have a range of conditions, but the club enables them to get out and enjoy themselves, which makes a huge difference to their lives.
The letters page on our club’s website is a testimony to just how life-changing the EDAC has been for so many of our members.
How did you first become involved?
Back in 2004 I saw an advert in the paper for an open day at Coleman’s Cottage Fishery in Witham. I joined with my wife, Anne, who is also disabled, and she became membership secretary and venue officer. I became chairperson about four or five years ago.
What does your role as chairperson entail?
Basically trying to keep the club running smoothly and steering the committee in the right direction. I am also involved with fundraising - which we can’t survive without.
What do you enjoy about the club and how has it changed your life?
When I joined the club in 2004, never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe that it would become a huge part of my life. Over the past eight years, I have been proud to watch the club go from strength to strength, which was been made possible by past and present members.
Because of my involvement in the club my life has changed, from not being able to work because of health issues; there was a time when I had no incentive to do even the simple things.
Thankfully, I discovered this club and it has inspired me along. I have found other people in unfortunate situations like me, but with encouragement, this club has certainly turned mine and other members’ lives around.
There is also more to the club besides just fishing. The social side of EDAC is unbelievable. We have regular meetings and a presentation night, which is a big social event, as well as a Christmas dinner.
We celebrated our five year anniversary with a “Rock ‘n’ Roll” night. I have met some really interesting people, who have become good friends also. All the members are a great bunch and many have become like family.
What has been one of your proudest moments or greatest achievements in the club?
I became a very proud member five years ago when I was elected to stand as Club Chairman but my greatest achievement would have to be getting charity registration four years ago.
I had to organise the application and a lot of work went into it. It really gave the club a “wow factor”. For example, previous quotes for van hire could be as much as £200-£250, but one fellow let us have a van for £100 when he realised we were a registered charity.
We are now sponsored by a company called Direct Baits, which supply bait to the disabled members. Some people’s generosity has been overwhelming, such as the second-hand tackle donated to us by people over the years as well as donations made by members who have died.
Are there any challenges facing the club at the moment?
We have managed to build up such a reputation that we have 12 different fisheries across Essex but we are always looking for more places. It can be difficult to find suitable places to fish, since it depends on the walking distance required and wheelchair access. We can only use lakes rather than rivers, which are more difficult to access.
We also face problems with advertising. We are not allowed to put adverts in shop windows or hospitals so we use cafes, clinics and doctors' surgeries instead. Often we rely on word of mouth.
Sometimes our job can be physically challenging. Our Vice Chairman has no legs and is unable to have artificial limbs. The Web Master was run over by a steam train and has no legs below the knees, although he has artificial limbs and has actually swam the Channel twice! Between us, we are running the club.
I will admit there have been ups and downs along the way, but from determination and a lot of hard work, the club keeps on pushing forward.
Are there any projects or fundraising events that you are working on that you would like to tell us about?
We hold two open days a year. Anyone can turn up and we supply fishing equipment, bait and tackle free-of-charge, as well as professional coaches to train and give advice. We put on various stalls from raffles to tombolas, and also sell bait as well as new and second-hand fishing tackle, which are all donated. All proceeds from the day go into the club funds to help disabled anglers all over Essex.
The first open day of the year was held at St Mary’s Lane Puddledock Farm in Upminster on 2nd June. It was an excellent venue with four lakes and we offered free on-the-day membership.
Unfortunately, because the date coincided with the Jubilee weekend, the turnout was not as good as we had hoped. However we did manage to recruit four new members, including a volunteer and a young boy.
The next open day will be held on 21st July at Hall Farm, North Benfleet, where we have been going for the last five years. This date will coincide with National Fishing month and the Angling Trust is hopefully making donations.
What are the future plans for EDAC?
The main plan is to keep taking the club forward. Transport is an issue at the moment; hiring vans can be costly. We have approached the council to use unoccupied buses at the weekends. We also need to continue to attract new members and volunteers, and find more fisheries across Essex.
How can volunteers get involved?
If people are interested in volunteering they need to contact us through our website. We are desperately in need of more volunteers. At the moment we only have one regular volunteer from Clacton and as advertising is an issue for us so we do struggle to attract new volunteers.
How can people join the club?
If you would like to join us you can either download the membership application form from our website or contact myself or Anne directly.
To find out more about the EDAC or to join, please visit the website or telephone 01268 452697.
With thanks to Colin Holland and the EDAC
Written by Catherine Ridge