Disabled yachtsman wins prestigious Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2015
4 November 2015
A prominent disabled yachtsman and his business WetWheels has won the prestigious Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2015, chosen personally by easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, along with £10,000 extra to the two runners up.
WetWheels founder, Geoff Holt MBE, who wins the £50,000 prize for his company, was paralysed in a swimming accident in 1984 and uses a wheelchair.
In 1995 he became the inaugural chairman of national sailing charity RYA Sailability, a role he held for six years.
In 2007 he became the first paralysed person to sail single-handedly around Great Britain.
In 2009 he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean unassisted and in 2017 he plans to sail around the world.
WetWheels, a Community Interest Company (CIC) run out of Portsmouth, operates fully accessible boats to provide boating opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.
The company offers disabled clients educational and mentoring programmes, along with sporting and recreational trips on water.
The two runners up, Andrew Gilbert of Gilbey Films and Anna Wilkinson of More Rehab both received £10,000 each.
Sir Stelios said:
‘We have three worthy winners this year that will be great role models for others to start their own business in the future.
‘From next year, I have decided to move to a system of more awards of a lower value but given to more people each year so we can reach more and more start-ups.’
Geoff Holt, the winner, said:
‘I am deeply honoured to have been chosen by Sir Stelios and the award will really give us the chance to expand our services for disabled people.
‘Over the years I have witnessed thousands of disabled people of all ages enjoy our boats and services.
‘It doesn't matter if that is on a sail boat or a motor boat — it is being on the water that makes the difference.’
Geoff was one of three short-listed finalists in the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2015, run by easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and leading charity Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Now in its ninth year, the award recognises the unique achievements of disabled entrepreneurs and offers a £50,000 cash prize to the winner — the largest cash sum of its kind in the UK.
Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People, who attended the ceremony, said:
‘With this award Sir Stelios and Leonard Cheshire Disability are giving disabled entrepreneurs the chance to turn their vision into a reality.
‘The ideas on show from all three finalists demonstrate the depth of talent and drive among disabled people in the UK, and will challenge misconceptions around what disabled people can achieve.’
Chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability Clare Pelham said:
‘Today we celebrate the amazing achievements of disabled entrepreneurs. Each and every one a wonderful success story.
‘And we thank Sir Stelios for his long-term generosity, who has yet again surprised us by awarding not only the winner, but the runners-up as well.
‘But let us not forget, as Remembrance Day approaches, there are 12 million disabled people in this country. And they are twice as likely to be unemployed.
‘It’s not proper remembrance, if we don’t all unite to make sure disabled people are visible in every workplace and in the leadership of every business. And if they’re not, why not?’
The winner of the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2015 was announced at a special awards ceremony held in London on 4 November.
For further information, high-resolution pictures and interview requests please email Selina Mills or call 020 3242 0298. Out of office: 07765 38 37 58.
Stelios Philanthropic Foundation please email Richard Shackleton or call 07905 779799,
Notes for editors
Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services for disabled people. Our services include high-quality care and community support together with innovative projects supporting disabled people into education, employment and entrepreneurship. Worldwide, our global alliance of Cheshire partners supports disabled people into education and employment, and works in more than 50 countries. With over 7,500 staff, the charity supports over 7,000 disabled people in the UK.
The Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is a registered charity in both Monaco and the UK. Headed by easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, it backs a number of charitable initiatives supporting entrepreneurship, education and the environment in the UK, Greece and Cyprus. The Foundation’s ‘Food from the Heart’ programme recently handed out its one millionth free lunchtime snack to beneficiaries in Greece and Cyprus worst hit by the financial crisis in southern Europe.
More Rehab Ltd provides rehabilitation for client with disabilities which are as a result of accidents and injuries as well as medical conditions. More Rehab offers physiotherapy, aquatic therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and assistive technology. In the last year the group has increased its capacity for more clients by taking over a practice based in Derbyshire and opened a new purpose built rehabilitation centre in Doncaster.
Gilbey Films, created by founder Andy Gilbert, specialises in disability access films. It was chosen for its strong business plan, potential to expand and the founder’s genuine desire to help disabled people have access to public arenas through the use of authentic films. The company has been making short access films for almost three years for venues and attractions, hotels and hospitals, to use on their websites to showcase their accessible features and facilities. The company’s clients have included the Houses of Parliament, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, London Zoo, Whitechapel Gallery, DisabledGo and the five star W Hotel.