Sand Chair

Sand Chair

Access to Cornish Beaches through inclusive design

Beach wheelchairs, or ‘Sand Chairs’, help provide access to the beach. This research project explored how they could be designed to be easier and more comfortable to use, more visually pleasing, and cost effective.

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Project details

Project lead Simon Andrews
Start date October 2014
End date August 2017

Working with project partners Cornwall Mobility and Disability Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, this was a practice-based design research project. The aim was to develop a production-ready design for a beach wheelchair with improved design and lower retail cost compared to existing products available. 

Cornwall Mobility identified the need for greater access to beach wheelchairs in Cornwall. Beach wheelchairs, or ‘Sand Chairs’, are frequently used by locals and visitors to Cornwall who are disabled or struggle with mobility. The current beach wheelchairs, imported from the USA, are expensive and subject to import duty. Some potential design improvements were recognised with these existing products. Working closely with Cornwall Mobility, the key aim of the project was to develop an improved Sand Chair design, at a lower cost, that could be manufactured locally in Cornwall. 

The project aligns with Falmouth University’s Design Innovation for Health & Wellbeing research and knowledge theme.  


Human centred design research focused on Cornwall Mobility’s large client base. Clients with mobility issues ranging from paralysis to severe arthritis were involved in the testing of Sand Chair prototypes. Using a questionnaire, they evaluated prototypes against two competitor beach wheelchairs and helped to identify the product’s key functional priorities.  

To make the product more inclusive, the emerging design concepts sought to establish a new visual language with styling associated with deck chairs and sun loungers as opposed to the archetypal wheelchair.  


Sand Chair
Sand Chair
Sand Chair
Sand Chair

Project team

Simon Andrews

Project lead - Simon Andrews


Simon Andrews is course leader on the Sustainable Product Design programme at Falmouth University and an AHRC studentship PhD researcher. His research practice focuses on the relationship between design and health and wellbeing, in particular the opportunities to empower people through inclusive design. He recently collaborated with local charity, Cornwall Mobility, to design a beach wheelchair to make access to the Cornish coast more inclusive. Through his PhD research project, he is currently working with people at risk of falls to design clothes and accessories that provide protection from hip fractures.

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Cornwall Mobility are a charity based in Truro which provides advice and support for people with physical disabilities and mobility difficulties. They work with adults and children to evaluate their specific needs and offer a large range of assistive technology and mobility products to support independent living. They are also responsible for the management and delivery of beach wheelchairs, or ‘sand chairs’ at coastal locations across Cornwall. The client base established by Cornwall Mobility provided an excellent means of developing primary research using human centred design strategies. Their staff expertise was also critical to the research and development.  

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Funded through Falmouth University’s Research and Innovation Scheme (Round 7 – Winter 2014). The project budget was £4k in total. Cornwall Mobility match funded £2k against the £2k awarded through the Research and Innovation Scheme. The charity secured further funds to produce the nine pre-production Sand Chairs they have been using. 

Outputs & outcomes

The new product is easier to use for both passenger and operator. It has aesthetic detailing synonymous with the seaside rather than a hospital. Sheet material is a key structural component, challenging commonly prescribed stainless steel tube seen on many beach wheelchairs. Sheet materials can be CNC machined, negating the need for specialist tooling, and provide flexibility in terms of component detailing. The product is designed for disassembly, making it consistently repairable or upgradable, and allows components to be easily separated for recycling.  

The research paper, Sand chair: Improving access to Cornish beaches through sustainable design, was presented at the Sustainable Innovation 2016 conference. European Design Registration of the Sand Chair (No 004152056-0001) was also granted in preparation for commercialisation. 

Impact & recognition

Nine Sand Chairs were produced in 2017, which have all been operational on different Cornish beaches since that summer. They have been used by visitors and locals, with an estimate of over 1000 individuals already gaining easier access to the beach.