Awesome Autumn Activities!

Well its official, it’s COLD, not below freezing cold but it’s pretty chilly!! Up here in the cold, wet and windy West Yorkshire it’s not exactly dream weather and the idea of going out… well it’s just not a good idea especially if you’re at home wrapped up in numerous chunky jumpers with the fire on and a cuppa, why would you bother going out?

But after spending the summer months out and about enjoying the warm weather and sunshine you’re unlikely to continue your adventures outside for a while, so what now? How can you get out of the house with the kids and still have a good time without freezing to death? Below is a list of indoor, and for the brave ones out there, outdoor activities for you and your family to enjoy in the months to come!

For the Artsy people out there here’s a great list of craft things to do with the kids!

Acorn Owls –

Leaf Rubbing –

Leaf hedgehogs –

Leaf crowns –

Pine Cone Frames –

For the rough and ready people out there who enjoy the crisp autumn air and the adventures in the outdoors here’s a list of places to go!

Go on a treasure hunt – with a bit of preparation you can turn a normal walk through the wood into an exciting adventure for you and the kids!

Conkers – not only do they keep away spiders if you put them around your home but they’re a great thing to start collecting! And of course, you can play a game of conkers!

Build a stick den – to find out how to make a stick den check out this link >>

Go berry picking – at this time of year the autumn bushes are groaning to be picked, and maybe even put into a pie??

Bike ride – just because it’s a bit chilly doesn’t mean you have to abandon those bikes you’ve been riding around on all summer!

For the people out there who aren’t so keen on the cold weather but still want to get out of the house here’s a list of places to go that doesn’t require you to freeze to have fun!

Central England – this link covers things to do in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Rutland, Warwickshire, Peak District and West Midlands >>>

East of England – this link covers things to do in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire >>>

North East England – this link covers things to do in Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear >>>

North West England – this link covers things to do in Cheshire, Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria >>>

Northern England –

South East England – Hampshire, London, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, West Sussex, Isle of Wight, East Sussex and Brighton >>>

South East England – This link covers things to do in Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Somerset and Bristol >>>


Delicious Autumn Recipes

Autumn Tomato Chutney:

Prep: 40-50 minutes

Cook: 50 minutes


  • 1kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 750g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 375g light muscovado sugar
  • 250g onions, chopped
  • 250g raisins
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 tsp salt ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 350ml cider vinegar


Put all the ingredients into a large pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Boil the mixture, uncovered, for about 45-50 mins until the fruit is tender and thickened. Cool, then transfer the mixture to a sterilised jar and seal.

Autumn vegetable soup with cheesy toast:

Prep: 10-15 minutes

Cook: 15-20 minutes


  • 1 leek, chopped quite small
  • 2 carrots, chopped quite small
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 potato, chopped quite small
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 410g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 425ml/¾ pint vegetable stock
  • 8 slices of baguette, cut on the diagonal
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 50g edam, finely grate


  • Put the vegetables into a large saucepan with the garlic, rosemary, stock and sugar. Season well, stir, bring to a simmer and cover. Cook gently for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender.
  • Preheat the grill to high. Whizz the tomatoes in a food processor or blender until smooth, then tip into the vegetables with the chickpeas and parsley. Gently heat through, stirring now and then.
  • For the toasts: rub both sides of the bread with the garlic. Grill on one side until golden, turn the bread over, cover with edam and grill until it’s bubbling. Serve at once with the piping hot soup.

Baked fruity Autumn pudding:

Prep: 20-25 minutes

Cook: 2 hours


  • 450g mixed autumn fruit – we used ripe plums, peeled apples, pears and blackberries
  • 2 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 140g shredded suet
  • zest 1 lemon



  • Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Cut 2 x 5cm-wide strips of parchment and lay them up the sides of a 1.2-litre pudding basin, making a cross on the bottom of the dish. Make sure there is some overhang to help you release the pudding when cooked. Grease again. Lay a square of foil and equal-size square of greased parchment on top of each other, folding a pleat down the middle.
  • To make the filling, chop plums, apples and pears into 1cm cubes and place in a bowl with the blackberries. Add butter, broken into bits, 125g of sugar and cinnamon. Stir and put to the side.
  • Sift flour into mixing bowl. Mix in suet, remaining sugar and zest. Add a few drops of water, working it through with a cutlery knife, then keep adding water until you have soft dough. Using your hand, bring the dough together into a smooth ball. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface. Tear the dough into ¾ and ¼ parts. Roll the larger portion into a rough circle, approx 20cm. Drop into the basin and press up the sides until you have a slight overhang. Tip the filling into the pastry case. Roll out the remaining ¼ to make a lid, then press the pastry edges together to firmly seal. Tuck the protruding flaps of parchment down onto pastry.
  • Put foil/parchment on top (foil side up), pressing and squeezing the foil round the edges to make a fitted lid. Tie string securely around the lid, making a handle with extra doubled-up string. Put in a deep roasting tin, then pour boiling water to 1-2cm below foil line. Cook for 2 hrs, topping up water level if it gets too low. Unwrap, release edges using parchment tabs and invert onto a plate.


All these recipes were taken from the bbc, to see more great recipes follow this link >>

I hope you enjoy these Autumn activities and escape the world of cold and boredom this year! Can’t wait to hear what you think!! Next up.. CHRISTMAS!!!

Disability awareness training & its value

When it comes to customer care, the value is in the care.

Tourist attractions are in abundance making it a very competitive area of the market.  Many attributes make an attraction / venue stand out above the rest but one is the quality of the experience. This however is a huge field to cover so let’s stick with our area of interest – disability awareness training.

There are some venues which provide an off the shelf customer service training for their staff. There are others who go much deeper and wider because they know what this will do for their business outcomes.

There is still a huge hole in accessibility and equality training. We know because we are a team who either have a disability we live with ourselves, or we have children and family members who experience some form of disability. We know the areas that are lacking because we see it first hand.

The value of disability awareness training

Why is there a need for specific disability awareness training?  After all, surely great customer service training should meet the needs of all customers, irrespective of their needs?   We don’t agree.

Katie Clarke of Visits Unlimited states that venues that offer great customer service for disabled visitors ensures great customer service for everyone.   It makes sense as a provision to meet additional needs of your customers suggests higher level of customer service expertise. It shows keener attention to processes and provision of services and overall finer attention to detail. These are aspects that naturally assume a higher level of personal approach and attention, hallmarks of great service.

So we think disability awareness training takes customer service to a higher level and empowers personnel with greater confidence and understanding to meet the needs of clients they serve.

Click on the link for the opinion of business leaders on this subject with Katie making her case.




Labelling Disability. Are we out of touch?

What worked then doesn’t always keep working in the now

Labelling disability is difficult are of terminology.  I have met people who live with a disability who refuse to class themselves as disabled.  I have also met people who don’t mind the term disabled and some who consider themselves differently abled not disabled.

The question also pops up; do we even need to have labels? Whether we agree with them or not, we live in a culture where labels are tagged on to everything. It can be argued that in some cases it works in someones favour such as accessing support. It can be argued that labels allow others to understand us and our needs quicker.  It can be argued that they leave us open to prejudism and make us feel / be vulnerable. They can make us feel separate and different – not part of the ‘norm’.  Labels though are a part of our society, they assist our understanding of something, someone or a particular situation. In most cases labels are necessary and show no signs of dissolving.

Back to the main question of labelling disability?

Is it time to find a new term for people who live with a disability? Does ‘disabled’ really describe accurately a person who currently comes under such a category? Redefining a more correct and modern term, respectful and dignified of those who would be classified by it, well i’m glad that isn’t my job. There will be no 100% acceptance whatever the outcome but there’s also something individual about that. I personally live with partial deafness but do not consider myself disabled as I have managed it in a way that it affects my life on such a small scale.  I am interested personally on where this question will lead us but for now, here’s a great article written by Rebecca Atkinson. Rebecca refers to language used in disability both past and present.

I think many would agree with her summary but finding an alternative appropriate and more positive term than ‘disabled’ is a pretty tricky task!

Please do give us your thoughts and opinions, we would also ask that we each respect each others.


More people making a difference, that’s what we like to see!!

So nice to see more people are trying to make a difference for disabled people like United Discriminates..

“UNITED DISCRIMINATES was formed in October 2014 after the Manchester United Disabled Liaison Officer, and MUDSA (Manchester United Disabled Supporters Association) Secretary told me that i should take my Family to “Rochdale Stockport Or Oldham” because they were not able to seat a family together if a member of the family had a wheelchair.


Since then, we have worked tirelessly to highlight the many discriminatory policy’s in place at Manchester United.  And requested that the club develop a range of facilities for people with all manner of disabilities and or needs.

We have Campaigned for a many things including accessible seats, access to season tickets for disabled fans, Family Accessible Seating, and the End of the MUDSA yellow card scheme, which banned disabled fans if they fail to attend a match.

We are pleased to Confirm that the Campaign has started to make an effect and we are now in Regular Contact with Senior Management at the club, who are it seems making efforts to put things right.

So far we have seen the Club

  • Introduce Accessible Friend and Family Seating
    The club have adapted 4 Existing Wheel Chair bays and Added a Row of Seats directly behind, which means that a small group or a family can now sit together at Old Trafford
  • End of Red and Yellow Card Scheme
    The Club have also confirmed this scheme has been scrapped.
  • Raise awareness of Issues Disabled User Have
    The club are currently conducting a review of facilities, policies and procedures with respect to supporters who may have a disability, with the objective of making significant improvements over the coming seasons.
    You can be part of this by clicking the link.

Manchester United state that there “facilities are considered to be amongst the best facilities currently offered to disabled supporters at any stadium anywhere in the world”.  United Discriminate want that statement to be true.

The campaign is starting to make real strides, and it seems that Manchester United are starting to listen and change the way in which they act.  The United Discriminate Campaign will continue to support Disabled Fans, both home and away, and raise the issues and concerns fans have.

Our aim is simple.  We want Manchester United’s Facilities to be as they say, “The Best In the World”.  That means not just achieving the Guidelines in the Accessible Stadia Guide, but over achieving them.  Which means we still will be pushing for.

  • More Disabled Seating
  • A fair and transparent Ballot Ticket Process for All Disabled Fans
  • The availability of Purchasing Season Tickets as a Disabled Fan
  • Greater Access to Other Parts of the Stadium, Not just the Ability Suite
  • Changing Places Toilet Facilities
  • A more Proactive way of dealing with Issues
  • Disabled Facilities, Seating and Facilities included in all Future Expansions plans”

Premier League clubs onside in tackling access at grounds.

It’s great news that the Premier League had accessibility on the agenda at their shareholders meeting last week and good news that media is spreading the message for access to be improved at Premier League grounds.


Visits Unlimited is passionate about delivering quality training to staff and stewards at sports grounds. Through our networks we have heard countless stories of poor experiences of disabled people and their families whilst watching matches. We know the difference that good quality customer service training makes to confidence building and disability etiquette.  Stadia managers and Safety Officers also appreciate the knowledge gained from such training.

Totally motivated!


“Through working in partnership with Visits Unlimited the Safety Stewards at the Shay Stadium have recently received excellent training on how to improve spectator experience on match days. The training sessions focused on the positive adjustments we can make to a spectator’s visit which promote an enjoyable experience and leave a lasting impression.”  Mike Murray, Sport and Active Leisure Manager.


Shay Stadium Safety Officers on top of their game.


So, we are delighted to see that “ Disability access was discussed at the Premier League shareholders meeting last week with several new proposals agreed.”

The new report – completed jointly by the Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Culture, Media and Sport – recommends:

  • Planning attendance: Clubs should provide attendance for all groups of disabled people. They should provide information such as stadium distance from local parking and gradient of pavements.
  • Buying a ticket: Clubs should allow disabled spectators to buy tickets online. They should provide wheelchair seating that allows disabled spectators to sit with family and friends.
  • Travelling to and from the venue: Clubs should provide up to date transport information.
  • Overall experience: Match day and club stewards should be given disability awareness training, while abusive behaviour towards disabled spectators should not be tolerated.
  • Aids and adaptations: Clubs should increase the number of wheelchair user places for stadiums with more than 10,000 seats.”

We know too that CAFÉ (Centre for Access to Football in Europe) have worked closely with UEFA for a number of years and produced this excellent report that talks about the importance of training for staff and stewards.


Rainham Hall prepared for all visitors.

A super day with all the team at Rainham Hall keen on learning to meet the needs of disabled visitors at their property.

With the recent facilities completed and staff trained in giving and exceptional standard of service to all visitors, it’s exciting times for the team.


Thinking caps on!

Bolton Castle planning customer service for all.

It’s 10.30 on a misty Thursday morning, after the horrors of the Satnav taking Matt and I through a field full of sheep.. we finally arrive at the beautiful Bolton Castle in North Leyburn, North Yorkshire. The beautiful fields of green surrounding the picture perfect castle and its ground made the traumatic trip of getting there totally worth it.

As we enter the castle itself the feeling is unreal, hardly any of the castle has been modified with the luxuries of a five star hotel and it actually feels like being there back in the day! With its candle lit walls of stone and tapestries and the slightly uneven staircase leading up to the main area, you practically feel like the Baron of Bolton himself!

After we got ourselves together we made our way to the gift shop where we were greeted by a lovely young lady called Katie, the exact person we came here to see, she offered us a drink and a slice a cake (which Matt was delighted about) and then we made our way to the office to begin.

First, Katie took me and Matt on a tour of the castle and showed us all the facilities, telling us a bit about the castle being built and what happened there and finally taking us up the spiral staircases to the roof to look at the beautiful countryside. After that we made our way back to the office where we were introduced to Tom the owner, we settled down and began the consultancy. We took a look at their access statement and discussed what needed to be improved, for example, making it easier to find the specific bit of information you are looking for rather than trawling through the whole thing. We then started a Marketing Accessibility Action Plan to write down everything that needed to be done and which things needed to be made a priority, for example, making changes to access statement in time for holiday seasons. We discussed budget, catering facilities, accessibility around the site, their website content etc. Our work came up with solutions that Katie could apply to complications that may arise with customers, ways to improve online and offline marketing, improvements to be made to their site and best use of the resources they already have.

We know that good customer service is all about the three pillars, information, good customer service and facilities which is why we think it’s great that they have designed an app on android. The app is a virtual tour of the castle with information about each area and the people who lived there. It is for visitors who are unable to access the castle due to mobility limitations. The app was great at illustrating how the castle would have appeared in it’s medieval heyday.

We discussed what could happen if a school trip was to come to the castle for a tour and one of the children had a disability and what the best way was to assist that child to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

By the end of the day we had designed a strategy to be put into place over the next 12 months.

Mystery Visit – Cragside, Morpeth.

Matt paid a visit to Cragside, home of Lord Armstrong.  Victorian inventor, industrialist and landscape genius, Law educated William Armstrong developed hydroelectric power and utilised Joseph Swan’s invention  – the incandescent light bulb, to establish Cragside as the first home to use electric lighting.

Here are Matt’s comments on accessibility on the estate.

Parking and Transport

Disabled parking bays in the main car park are on a rising bend in a woodland setting.  The floor covering is bark and gravel.  If visiting the house I would recommend parking up outside the cafe or property itself and disembarking there.  There are several parking areas for disabled visitors so I didn’t see the provision for parking elsewhere on the site.


There is ‘disabled’ toilet (prefer to use the word accessible) in the visitor centre area but it isn’t a Changing Places facility with provision for changing an adult with complex needs or learning difficulties.  Information on the website doesn’t specify the equipment in the toilet sadly.  Visitors therefore need to ring up and check if provision will be adequate for their needs.

Access facilities

I was delighted to see a wheelchair user in the house on the upper floors.  Checking with reception I was informed there is a Victorian lift in the house and wheelchairs that can be hired at time of booking.

The home’s appeal is the abundance of original furnishings.  Armstrong would recognise his home as it is today.  There are stairs up to the gallery but the lift enables access around most of the house and corridors and entry into the rooms are no barrier for wheelchairs.

A flagship National Trust property for the North East – Cragside’s wonderful woodland paths are well signed posted with distance and advice on the terrain.  A disabled person with mobility issues would be aware of the challenges in getting around areas of the site.










The front desk staff were fabulous – cheery, knowledgable of the site and activities going on that day and supportive of us in making our visit enjoyable.  Reception staff operate a ticketing service for our belongings to be stored as we went round the house – really useful for those disabled visitors needing to bring the kitchen sink!  Volunteers in most rooms knew their stuff and provided an educational experience second to none.  The service matched the surroundings – immaculate.  Serving staff in the cafe knew all food ingredients used including gluten free produce.  The menu didn’t symbolise allergy advice however.


Parking in disabled bays was tricky but there is space to drop off on level ground.  There is a shuttle bus to transport around the site but steps into the bus.  The cafe was attended by well informed caterers who knew their stuff in allergy.  Very friendly too and the produce was beautifully prepared.  Service from all staff was consistently high across all areas of the site.  Finally, facilities included a lift and bookable wheelchairs.

Matt will discuss the areas for development in the access offer directly with Cragside in the near future.

Beautiful formal gardens


Strangers in the night………

What do you do when you arrive on the platform at Halifax Station from a meal in Manchester at 10.30pm and the lift is broken to get up to the exit to get in your car to go home? There are about 30 steps up to the main hallway. Halifax Station is relatively quiet at that time of night and is definitely not the sort of place you would like to hang around at for long.

You are with your Personal Assistant (or worse on your own) and you can’t be left on your own. There is no attendant around.

Other than panic (which the PA did slightly – God love her!) what was the option?

  • Ring someone for help? – no number available that was emergency out of hours
  • Get back on another train and get off at another stop and get a taxi back to Halifax station to pick up the car? – worry that another station would not have disabled access. Worry that another station would have no accessible taxi rank (highly unlikely)and you would be left stranded
  • Sleep the night on the platform? Undesirable place, cold and damp and therefore not an option
  • Scream for help?


Luckily my daughter Nadia did not actually have to scream for too long. A tough and rough looking stranger arrived to catch his late night train after his shift at the scrap metal merchants.   Never judge or make assumptions. His heart was as big as his physical appearance.   He oozed with the smell of booze intermingled with kindness and compassion.

His communication with Nadia was great. He asked her if it would be ok to lift her and carry her to the seats at the waiting area.   When she agreed he bent down and scooped her up in his large but gentle arms telling her to hook her arm around his neck.

He safely delivered her to the seating area and then returned down the steps to get his equally strong mate to help him lift the wheelchair. He was told by the PA that it usually takes 4 men to lift it at which point some rather puny, younger blokes on a night out eagerly sprinted in the opposite direction – determined to get the next train rather than volunteer their services.


He and his mate then carried the electric chair up the steps and right up to where Nadia was waiting. Both were sweating profusely but still managed to smile between gritted teeth and pained expressions.   Once Nadia was happily back in the wheelchair he continued chatting away to Nadia explaining he was pretty tired due to having taken four cars apart that very day.

He waved goodbye to run for his train – he had no mobile phone and was not on facebook so we have to thank him via this blog and hope that someone somewhere will know him and thank him on our behalf. We owe him a beer.

As he left another stranger approached Nadia and PA who was extremely friendly and confident with her communication. She had been watching what had happened and was checking that everything was ok and if Nadia was alright.   Like a long lost friend she spent a couple of minutes talking to Nadia and then left.   We would like also to thank Julie Hesmondhalgh (ex Coronation Street Hayley Cooper) for her consideration and acknowledgement of the situation).

In the meantime, we are in touch with Northern Rail to find out what their emergency policy is on broken lifts.  We’ll let you know how we get on.




Great feedback from Northumberland Tourism Board

Visits Unlimited are delighted with recent feedback from Jude Leich following our VisitEngland Access For All training session held at Matfen Hall Golf and Spa Hotel.

“Thank you to Visits Unlimited for an inspiring course in Northumberland. All our participants agreed that their eyes were opened and your enthusiasm and positive approach has made them seriously look again at how they can tailor their business offer to suit everyone. We’d very much recommend your courses to other destinations wanting to dispel the myths around accessible tourism and up their game.”
Jude Leitch, Director, Northumberland Tourism

Tourism businesses from the region attended and we had a great day with them.

VisitsUnlimited supporting the SSE programme.

Our director Matt Riley has accepted the invitation to join the School of Social Entrepreneur programme.   Matt will be able to contribute his expertise in the field of accessible tourism with other entrepreneurs to share insight, ideas and practice in making their businesses successful for the benefit of society.

Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs Programme gives social entrepreneurs the best possible chance of success by providing access to support and funding. To date the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme has supported 450 social entrepreneurs.  Getting on the programme isn’t an easy process so well done Matt!



Michael Young – Founder of SSE

Michael Young is recognised as one of the world’s most creative and influential social innovators.  Listen to him:

More on the SSE:


Irwin Mitchell research into Accessibility at Festivals.

Rob Dixon, Integrated Campaign Officer at Irwin Mitchell LLP kindly forwarded this blog to us.  We welcome research conducted through Irwin Mitchell’s Access All Areas campaign.  Thanks Rob for this.

Nadia and PA’s hit the festivals!

Access All Areas – Ensuring Festivals Are Open To Everyone

Nothing says British summertime these days quite like the festival season, with the number of events being held up and down the UK growing every year and thousands of people flocking to fields to watch their favourite bands.

For many, festivals are as much about a communal spirit and people coming together as they are the actual entertainment on offer, but at Irwin Mitchell we have been keen to find out whether such events really are as inclusive as they hope to be.

We’ve launched the Access All Areas campaign with a simple goal – to review disability access to festivals and other major gigs to consider the experience for music fans who require specialist support to attend.

Our campaign involves representatives from Irwin Mitchell’s Serious Injury team, who specialise in helping those with serious disabilities to regain their independence, joining forces with clients to assess all aspects of the process including:

· Whether festival and venue websites are designed with accessibility in mind

· The ticket booking process and information available support disabled visitors
· General accessibility at the events, including viewing platforms, merchandise and other amenities
· Staffing levels and their understanding of needs of disabled visitors
· Transport to and from the venue, as well as any specialist parking support
· On-site accommodation or advice on nearby hotels and facilities

While we are hopeful this will highlight how so many events are properly catering for all needs, we’re also keen to discover what else can be done to better improve such events for everyone who is attending.

Music festivals are a fantastic rite of passage which everyone should be able to enjoy, which is one of the reasons why we are sponsoring the fantastic Chase Park Festival being held in Gateshead on August 8th.

With Irish punk-pop legends Ash headlining, the open-air festival specialises in providing access facilities for deaf and disabled audiences, artists and volunteers and is one of three festivals to achieve the Gold level of Attitude is Everything’s Charter of Best Practice.

Chase Park is a great example of ensuring that everyone can enjoy the festival experience and we hope that our Access All Areas research will provide pointers on how other events can follow suit.

John Davis, Partner and specialist serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell


For more information go to their website campaign page:

Access For All at Shay Stadium!

VisitsUnlimited have worked with the Shay Stadium earlier in the year.  A review of the access strategy led to Safety Officer disability awareness training and a review of practice on match days.

What was the benefit?  How about these comments from a former disgruntled supporter turned advocate.  It makes our work here at Visits Unlimited and the management team at The Shay worth while.



“Hi Katie I just wanted to let you know we have been to The Shay stadium today for the first time since the disaster of The World Cup (Rugby League World Cup 2012).  We had a great experience and were able to experience it like everyone else.
Thank you to you and all at Visits Unlimited for going out to The Shay and doing what you did, I believe it has made a difference…….We ALL had a fantastic time. Well done again Visits Unlimited and well done The Shay.”

Katie Punch.


Katie Clarke – The Visitor Journey real time!

Katie explains the issues for visitors with access needs when planning and taking a day out. As one in five of us has an impairment it’s relevant to attractions that they listen to this story and take on board the advice Katie offers.

Museums & Heritage Advisor: Understanding the Visitor Experience.

Delighted to be raising the agenda of Accessible Tourism in the heritage sector. Understanding the visitor journey for those with access needs is a starting point to developing a strategy to meeting the expectations for all visitors to your attraction.

Click on the photo for the story.

Conisbrough Castle with Katie!

Conisbrough Castle

Great day out at Conisbrough Castle with Katie! When Katie and I first got to Conisbrough Castle we had actually arrived slightly early and the visitors centre wasn’t open as it opens at 10:00am however the lovely staff had invited us in as we were there for business, they escorted us to their staff room where they offered us tea or coffee and made sure we had everything that we need while we waited for the lady we were meeting. A lovely young girl who was a volunteer was going on the tour with us, she explained her role and how she helped out on a weekly basis. Once the visitors centre opened the school trip which we were following on the tour of the castle arrived, the castles staff immediately assisted the staff and students and made sure that they had everything they needed, they showed them all the facilities (toilets, gift shop etc.) and made them feel comfortable.

Once the tour began the staff got everyone together and explained the castles history with a poem and then asked the children questions about the poem to see if they were paying attention and also to get them involved. The staff then took the group up to the castle and explained the next activity they were going to do, they split up into three groups and took them to different parts of the main area to do a little investigation with a bag that had objects in that the children to could look at, smell and touch that helped the children understand what it would have been like 850 years ago, it was a great sensory activity that got all the children and staff involved. The staff got all three groups back together and got them to explain about each of their areas to the rest of their group.

We then went into the castle itself, the first area was about the keep and ask the children what they though was kept in there, the volunteer girl explained that on some days there would be a short film shown. We then moved up a floor to the main chamber where the lord of the castle would plan and discuss issues, the staff got the children to go and see different parts of the room and asked them what they thought the areas where used for and got them to see if they had the same areas in their homes and how they were different if they did, once again they got the children to explain what they had seen to the rest of the group. We then moved to the next floor to the lord and lady’s sleeping chambers where there was a chapel attached and the staff explained about the activities the lady would have done. After all this we had lunch and then spoke to some of the staff about what other activities they did and what they thought could be improved to make it better for disabled visitors.

The second part of the visit was an activity that got all the children to get involved in the story about the history of the castle by getting them to dress up and do some of the work that the workers would have done in the castle, it lasted a good couple of hours and I must say I think Katie and I enjoyed it more than then children, the young male staff member who was telling the story, Liam, was incredible!! I’d highly recommend going just for the second have!! Well at the end of the day it was time to go home, we had a lovely time, met some wonderful people and it’s safe to say that our day out to Conisbrough Castle was the best work day I’ve had and I will definitely be going again!!

To find out more about great days out at Conisbrough Castle, click on the link.

First week at Visits Unlimited!

Hi I’m Adrienne and I’ve just had my first week at Visits Unlimited and it was absolutely amazing! Matt and Katie are wonderful, lovely people and run a really great business which I’m so happy to now be apart of and I look forward to a great year working with the team!

Considering Accessibility? – The decision that can’t wait.

Over the past twelve months there have been significant steps forward within the tourist economy in addressing accessibility. Research undertaken to assess the nature and value of accessible tourism have been conducted, highlighting the benefits in making accessibility a priority issue for estate managers in planning the visitor experience.

I’m sadly of the age now when I fail to recall what I had for dinner last evening and such ‘senior moments’ are becoming more regular! The mundane routines of daily life are easily forgotten but childhood memories, with family and friends on a day out or holiday, remain vivid in the memory. As a boy I recall vividly the first sight of a truly terrifying German two-handed sword held at Bamburgh Castle, the strangely tiny suit of armour worn by Henry VIII, the water sprinklers moisturising the timbers of the Mary Rose, the 15 inch naval guns stationed outside the Imperial War Museum and ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus residing in the central hall of the Natural History Museum – unforgettable.

Of course back in early 1980’s most objects could only be peered at by pressing my face to the glass cabinet, viewed from a distance behind a rope and studied by reading a plaque positioned on a pedestal in front of the object in question.

The thought came to me at the time, no doubt, that I could take my children to see such wonders one day? When I was blessed with Annie, born prematurely, it became apparent that this ambition might not be quite so easy to achieve.   So it begins.

Before we set off….

Our family ‘visitor journey’ is a little more challenging than what I recalled as a child. I’m sure dad pawed through the AA Road Atlas the night before we set off for ten minutes at most.   Planning our family day out takes many hours, much of it completed late at night when children aren’t requiring attention. Navigating websites for information is part of the planning process with an eye on suitability for Annie. Researching transport connections, parking for our family ‘bus’, suitable toilets for three adults (Annie uses a full size wheelchair) to manoeuvre her, what help we can expect if we need it when we arrive, where to store all our gear?   What about somewhere to eat that offers more than cup cakes, brownies and tiffins that maybe a temptation for mum, dad and eldest but offer a significant health risk to Annie who can’t burn the calories so easily as a wheelchair user?

When we book we’d prefer to speak to someone rather than book online – many families like ours feel the same way. Our questions can be answered and ideally the person on the other end of the line has knowledge of the physical access limitations of the attraction and features and services that meet Annie’s needs and aspirations.

Setting off…..

It didn’t take long for myself and three siblings to jump in the Austin Allegro and idle up the empty A1 heading for Scotland. It was a fact none of us contemplated buckling up and so it seemed a speedy process leaving the drive.   When embarking my family has a routine with everyone having a task to perform in setting off in our adapted van. It takes about five minutes minimum for us to work together in securing Annie in safely and it’s a physical activity that we all benefit from. Upon arrival we do everything in reverse of course.

Katie, my colleague at Visits Unlimited, states families who arrive at a venue ‘deserve a medal.’ That’s right! So we expect a warm welcome when we arrive and an open question such as ‘How can I help you?’ Annie likes to have her opinion sought too.

The visitor experience…..

My lad is a bright boy, studious and well behaved…but I’m not too sure he’d be totally enamoured if he were to be transported to the 1980’s museum experience I recall – looking into a cabinet and reading a paragraph. Young people expect to engage, explore, interact and question. Contrary to media opinion, teacher training and pedagogy practice has progressed in the classroom.   Teachers are judged in demonstrating and exploring the way children learn, identifying learning styles and then developing resources to meet the needs of all learning styles. Children understand their learning styles as a result, raising their expectations as visitors to attractions. Adults too have such expectations. Fail to address learning styles and fail to engage with the visitor.

Has Fraser’s Xbox and PS3 posed a threat? Actually developments in technology hardware and software now offer fabulous low cost solutions to engage your audience. The Apple or Kindle could offer an alternative learning solution for visitors who cannot get up the staircase at your Grade 2 listed building…including Annie using her wheelchair. Annie also loves the opportunity to demonstrate her prowess to others in using and engaging with her ipad.

What constitutes a ‘reasonable adjustment’ shouldn’t be a term that strikes fear into the Finance Officer at the attraction. This term is often mistakenly associated with solely the need to invest significant budget into a capital project to install a lift. Investing in replica artefacts to handle for the kinaesthetic learner (and visually impaired visitors use their hands to see), developing learning resources with inclusion in mind, training employees as a pair of helping hands if required or perhaps as trained guides for visually impaired visitors, hearing loops, appropriate signage….there are so many low cost reasonable adjustment quick fixes. It is estimated only 6% of disabled visitors are permanent wheelchair users.  You can be accessible though physical access barriers exist. Physical access limitations are not an excuse for failing to keep accessibility off the management action plan as Emma Manners, Fountains Abbey Learning Officer remarks.

“We understand that accessibility at venues must start with management buy-in. We recognise that all our Project planning needs to include disability access and awareness. Management training will be crucial in rolling out a programme of change. From event planning to playground development, signage and pre-information, disability access and awareness needs to become a part of all our projects to transform equality and the visitor experience for the long term.”

So what’s the biggest access barrier that families like mine face?

In a word, attitude. When we at Visits Unlimited asked our families on social media this question, the number one answer was ‘poor attitude in understanding and meeting our needs.’ Physical access barriers and inadequate toilets were other significant barriers after this.

Annie was the driver for my decision to join Visits Unlimited in offering clients in the heritage sector face-to-face and in-depth training focusing on visitors with additional needs and supporting attractions in strategic planning on accessibility issues to improve the visitor experience and of course, increase footfall.

VisitEngland commissioned us to lead the face-to-face training element for their ‘Access For All’ programme in support of their efforts to meet their accessible tourism 5% annual growth forecast in the coming years. Certainly VisitEngland think it’s a necessity to offer attractions accessibility training.   The ‘Purple Pound’ research data suggests families like mine – parties with a disabled travelling companion, spend £12.4bn annually, a figure that makes everyone take note.

Significantly there is a reported £1.8bn per month ‘latent spend’ – potential spending power sat at home and not playing out because of barriers stopping UK visitors experiencing our wonderful heritage. There is much work to do in encouraging disabled visitors to our wonderful heritage attractions. Informed choice, engaging experiences and great service on a heritage visit broadens horizons and creates memories for all of us. Annie is no exception.