Among the large travelling contingent of Wrexham fans at Chesterfield last weekend, eagle-eyed supporters may have spotted September’s Vanarama National League Volunteer of the Month – Kerry Evans, the club’s Disabled Liaison Officer.
Kerry has helped set up an away travel service for wheelchair fans this season, and the Chesterfield game was one of seven on the list for 2018/19.
Kerry has already brought in a number of initiatives at My Racecourse as part of her role, including changing room tours, improving information on the website and helping make the stadium autism-friendly in conjunction with the National Autistic Society.
And the away travel offering, she explains, is almost unique in the country and something of which the club should be immensely proud.
“When I looked into it, the first thing I did was contact other clubs to find out how they got the accessible away travel, how they got the buses, how they sorted it and for most clubs I got, ‘we don’t do it’,” Kerry explains.
“I was so surprised when I was ringing around other clubs. Initially, I wasn’t ringing around to find out who had it, it was asking for advice as to how to put it in place – but the advice wasn’t there because people physically didn’t have it. The buses just didn’t exist.”
It therefore puts Wrexham at the forefront of the national game in offering accessible away travel.
The service is running for the seven closest away games (of the weekend fixtures) this season, with Johnstown-based Valentines Travel Solutions providing a bus for four wheelchair users and four carers to travel.
Solihull Moors was the first away trip, with others including Saturday’s game at Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium and the trip to Salford City on New Year’s Day.
But organising such a service has not been without its pitfalls, with Kerry having to make ‘about 65 phone calls’ just to locate a suitable bus, which is now provided by Valentines.
“They have been absolutely fantastic,” Kerry says. “They have done every they can.”
The service, however, can be costly to run – this season’s seven games will cost, Kerry says, around £2,100 while plans are already in place for ten games next season.
Prices for wheelchair fans using the service, however, remain in line with Pat’s Coaches, so Kerry is reliant on sponsorship, fan’s donations and fundraising to keep it running.
Some fans will already be aware of the red fleece blankets with the Dragons’ crest on – initially purchased for wheelchair fans, to been given out during games, they are now available to buy with “every little bit of profit” going to accessible travel.
Long-time supporters of the club, WB Environmental Ltd, have also come on board as sponsors but Kerry is keen to stress that more help is always needed.
“It’s been an enormous help and a massive input, and we’re massively grateful to them,” Kerry said of the sponsorship deal, which WB Environmental Ltd told her was to allow more fans to experience the joys they have as supporters on away days.
“[But] what I don’t want people thinking is that, just because we have a sponsor, we’re now sorted because we’re not.
“People ask me what’s the top limit of what I need and, in a way, there is no top limit because even when I’ve got the money for this season, I need to start putting money away for next season and the year after.
“I could not put this service on for just one season. You can’t put a service on like that, telling people they can go and then next season there’s no funding and we can’t run with it. Any donations at all will be gratefully received.
“Next season, my aim is to have at least ten away games. That’s the aim. Again, we’ll see which fixtures are the closest but, of course, in this league they are all miles away. That’s the issue.”
The donations received so far are helping to make a huge difference though, with the Solihill and Chesterfield trips already allowing wheelchair fans to visit their first away games with the club.
“It really is quite unique to have it at Wrexham,” Kerry adds. “When I first came in with the idea, everybody said ‘you’re trying to do the impossible’, ‘you’re not going to be able to do it’, ‘it’s never going to be able to run with profit’ but that drove me on even more really.
“It’s something I felt, as a wheelchair user myself, was important. It was something missing from the club. In some ways, it’s making even more of a difference than to able-bodied fans.
“On our first trip, to Solihull Moors, we had a guy who can’t even communicate by speech. His mum came with us as a carer. He is a lifelong Wrexham fan, goes to all the home games, but had never been to an away game until we set the transport up – that’s the difference it’s making to people.
“We’ve just been to Chesterfield now, and I couldn’t have been thanked any more. I had people hugging me, saying it was amazing. To see what it’s doing for the people who are getting to use it and go to an away game, it really is massive to be honest.”
Places are available on the Valentines bus for four wheelchair users and four carers, with each game allocated on a first-come, first-served basis – though Kerry says a rota will be implemented if the same people are getting the places and there is wider interest.
This year’s remaining fixtures are:
01/01/2019: Salford City vs Wrexham AFC
19/01/2019: AFC Fylde vs Wrexham AFC
19/03/2019: Leyton Orient vs Wrexham AFC
13/04/2019: Barnet vs Wrexham AFC
22/04/2019: FC Halifax Town vs Wrexham AFC
For more information on Wrexham AFC’s accessible away travel scheme, the red blanket fundraising, to donate or to learn more, contact DLO Kerry Evans by email at [email protected], or find her on Twitter and Facebook.