Umbrella loan program at Westwood Lake aims to cut cancer risk

NANAIMO – Canadian Cancer Society and City of Nanaimo are partnering to bring an umbrella loan program to Westwood Lake next summer.

Beach umbrellas will be on loan at a popular Nanaimo lake next year, as advocates try to sway more families to seek shade.

The Canadian Cancer Society and City of Nanaimo plan to test out a new initiative at Westwood Lake next summer, that allows people to borrow beach umbrellas.

The initiative is part of a growing effort to make shade easier to find in public parks and remind people about the importance of protecting against ultraviolet rays.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society people don’t always remember to take steps to limit exposure to the sun. A 2006 national sun survey revealed only 58 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men bother to block UV rays. As a result, skin cancer continues to be the No. 1 most common cancer in the country, with 87,000 Canadians diagnosed with the disease last year.

The Nanaimo branch of the cancer society says an umbrella program could help reduce skin cancer by giving people more options to enjoy the sun safely. A similar initiative rolled out at beaches in Kelowna and the Lower Mainland earlier this summer proved popular.

Ten umbrellas will be available next year on the beach for people to borrow. The city will store the structures and pay half the cost to purchase and brand them – about $175.

It’s a reasonable investment to improve offerings at the beach, according to the city’s aquatic manager. Laara Clarkson said she’d hoped to see umbrellas on the beach as soon as this year, but they couldn’t be manufactured in time.

“We already have a loan program for lifejackets [at Westwood]…this is another [way] we can offer to keep our patrons safe,” she said.

The umbrella loan program was tested on a small scale in Kelowna and the Lower Mainland this summer, where up to 20 umbrellas were available for people to use over two days. People could pick them up free and return them when they no longer need the shade. The initiative hinges on an honour system.

Julie Hayos, health promotion coordinator for the cancer society’s Vancouver region, said not one umbrella went unused during the pilot and hopes to see more of them available on public beaches.

“If you went to a resort somewhere in Mexico or Europe, you’d see umbrellas available to rent at the beach,” she said. “In various parts of B.C. we have amazing beaches [too], but there aren’t any shade structures currently available for the public to use.”

Until now, the City of Nanaimo and Canadian Cancer Society have focused efforts on educating city employees about the importance of protecting against too much sun. This is the first time the joint message will go to the general public, according to cancer society volunteer Annie Liu.

“I’m most excited about the effect it will hopefully have on our community … and the incidents of skin cancer,” she said of the program. “It  gives people the option to have shade if they forgot to bring their own umbrellas”

Westwood Lake was picked to kick off the local program because of its storage facility, but umbrellas could be offered at other beaches if the initiative proves successful. The expanded partnership with the city could also eventually include information booths at Westwood Lake, permanent beach signs and Tanning is Out messages in local parks.