Teesside wheelyboat helps disabled 'feel free' on river

Image caption John Reece volunteers as much as he can when he is off work

The BBC is highlighting the efforts of unsung heroes across the north-east of England to encourage people to find out more about volunteering.

One man from Redcar is helping disabled people "feel free" out on the River Tees by volunteering on board a wheely boat.

John Reece joined the Tees Wheelyboats Club in Stockton in 2010, to not only help others, but to gain experience in boating.

The club was set up about three years ago by volunteers to help disabled people get out on the river.

They use a specially-designed boat which has a hinged bow door that lowers to form a ramp to give wheelchair users access on and off the boat.

The boat, which was the first wheelchair accessible boat to operate on the River Tees, was officially launched by patron Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson in September 2011.

It cost about £20,000, which the charity raised through donations. Mr Reece says the charity is a "fabulous asset".

The 60-year-old, who has a keen interest in boats, says he "loves" volunteering and "thoroughly enjoys" being on the river.

He said: "I saw that this charity wanted some volunteers and so I thought I could gain a little bit of boating experience for myself, as well as helping other individuals.

"It's coming up to my third season now and I thoroughly enjoy being on the river, playing about with boats and meeting new people is absolutely brilliant."

'Quietness and tranquillity'

Mr Reece volunteers for the club as much as he can on the two days a week he is not at work.

The boat takes people on 12 miles (19km) of river past Stockton town centre and out into the countryside.

Mr Reece says the look on people's faces is "tremendous".

Image caption The Wheelyboat Mk III was officially launched by Tanni Grey-Thompson

He said: "I love volunteering, I love meeting other people. A lot of the clients that come on board tell us lots of interesting stories abut Stockton, so we're learning a bit of history of Stockton as well and to share that with other people is just tremendous."

Mr Reece says there is reputedly a turtle on the River Tees which he has never spotted, but he says the team often sees cormorants, kingfishers and otters.

Susie Bennett, who has cerebral palsy and scoliosis, said: "I have been out a few times now over the last two years and I really enjoy it.

"It's nice to be out and free on the river doing what I want to do, enjoying the outside environment like everybody else.

"I enjoy being free to experience the wildlife, the freedom, the quietness and tranquillity of it."

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