“My disability has made me really strong as I’m willing to go for everything and show the town what I have got.”
That was the message from Bognor-based district councillor Claire Needs, who was one of three disabled Lib Dem councillors to have won a seat at last week’s elections.
Claire, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was elected in Aldwick West with 595 votes, whilst paralysed Yapton mum Amanda Worne won a seat in her ward with 800 votes. Both were standing for election for the very first time. Amputee Chris Blanchard-Cooper, one half of the first gay couple ever to be elected to Arun District Council, was elected in the Brookfield ward with 711 votes.
Speaking to the Observer after her success, Claire said: “I am absolutely speechless and amazed. It’s just fantastic that the community has got behind me and now I can show my passion for the town by making some changes. I’ll be able to share ideas from a different perspective and I’ll get the whole council looking at things from a completely different level.
“I’ve got cerebral palsy and anxiety. My family and friends have always encouraged me to follow my dreams and goals. My disability has made me really strong as I’m willing to go for everything and show the town what I have got to give them.”
Claire said she wants to make shops 'more accessible than they already are' and give people a voice 'who wouldn't necessarily have one'.
She added: "I want to give a voice to people with disabilities and from all walks of life. I want to give the whole community a voice and also to teach the council, if they get told no, not to give up.
"I can't wait for the hard work to start. I've never wanted something so badly before."
Amanda Worne, who had her house transformed by BBC’s DIY SOS in 2017 after breaking her spine in a cycling accident two years earlier, said she wanted to be a councillor to ‘give something back’ to the people who helped her ‘be a mum again’.
She said: “I saw over 300 people all there who had spent nine days making my house a proper home so I could be a mum again. It was so brilliant and I felt I wanted to give something back.
“I don’t have a massive knowledge of politics at a high level but I care about my local community, the people who live there and I want to be able to give something back after everything they have done for me. The Lib Dems haven't had a councillor stand for Yapton in 15 years.
“Just because I can’t walk and can’t help them in a manual way like they helped me, I can give back in my own way. There is always a way to do that, whoever you are and whatever you’re capable of. Whatever your ability, if there is a will, there is a way.”
Amanda outlined some of her goals, which she said she will try her best to achieve.
"It's lovely to be able to give something back to the people who helped me, but it's quite scary though! It's a big task," she said.
"We've got to take little steps as we go along. I would to see more bike stands where you can park your bike and lock it up as there aren't any on the park.
"We also need more bins for the dog walkers and general litter bins. It's little things that are easy to implement first and then move on to the bigger things.
"I'd also like to see a bobby on the beat for the community spirit where we've got someone who is here to help us and enforce the laws. We have had vandalism in Yapton over the past few months. I will tackle the bigger issues when I become more experienced and have more knowledge on what I'm dealing with but I have lots of ideas."
Amanda has organised a meeting at the Oystercatcher in Yapton Road, Climping, on Monday, May 20, from 7pm to 9pm for Yapton, Climping and Ford residents to come and have an informal chat about ‘what we would like to see achieved in our area’.
Amanda said: “For the first time ever, we have control over the area and I want to listen to the people. It's about us and what everyone wants, not just me. I promise to do my best."
Mobility scooter and wheelchair user Chris, who married Littlehampton mayor Billy Blanchard-Cooper at Butlin’s in 2012, said having three disabled councillors elected was ‘incredible’. He added: “It shows that no matter what someone’s circumstances are, if they are passionate, they can do it.” Read more here