Wheelchairs and mud – not a marriage made in heaven!

Wheelchairs and mud

Using a manual wheelchair means the wheels are narrow so they sink easily. Having absorbed that fact early on I don’t usually make mistakes nowadays.

On outdoor audits I try for dry days; I’ll look for ruts and footprints in the dry mud and work out how bad it would be on a wet day. Sounds like I know what I’m doing but I can still be caught out.

I once arrived for an official conference during my early days working in Calderdale – it was very wet, but I thought the car park would be tarmacked. Wrong!

I thought there would be empty designated parking spaces at the entrance. Wrong!

I ended up parking in the mud at the back of the car park, got out in the mud, pushed through the mud to the entrance, and looked and felt like a dirty drowned rat when I eventually got inside. Not the best start to the afternoon!

My worst mud experiences….

My worst mud experiences by far happened as a parent when I took my rugby fanatic son to junior rugby matches and training. From Under 9’s to Under 16’s, (that’s eight seasons – yes, eight), we had to include a trip to our local club or to a match elsewhere on winter Sundays.

Yes, we experienced excitement! And, we engaged in banter! Yes, we indulged in bacon sandwiches! And yes, we encountered mud, glorious mud!

Being a junior team meant they usually assigned us to the furthest pitch, away from the clubhouse – the one through the underpass, beyond the motorway, past all hope of rescue (don’t ask where the toilet is). I always had pushers, though. “Come on Dad, take your hands off the wheels, trust me.”

I never crashed, but the chair would be covered in mud over the footplates.

The final insult came from my son – immaculate out of the showers in a white shirt and smart tie on match days. However, he would walk into the shower fully clothed in his kit, get undressed in the shower, stuff the sopping kit into a bag, and pass the whole dripping mess to me to wash for next week! Adding insult to injury.

I ruined so many clothes during those days, not to mention the frequent mess in my car.

Thankfully those days are behind me now, or so I thought.

Wheelchair User Tips for Attending a Music Festival

I love attending rock festivals in the summer, but it can be challenging as a wheelchair user. I recently went to Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank, and the weather was terrible. It rained all night before the festival, and the ground was a sea of mud.

I parked in a muddy field and had to be carried through the entrance gates. I was covered in mud by the time I got to the accessible viewing platform. But I had a great time, thanks to the help of a friendly stranger who offered to push me around.

Here are some tips for wheelchair users who are planning to attend a music festival:

  • Check the weather forecast and be prepared for rain or mud.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • Bring a change of clothes and shoes in case you get really muddy.
  • Ask about the festival’s accessibility features, such as accessible viewing platforms and toilets.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other festival-goers.

I hope these tips help you have a great time at your next music festival!

My Favourite Mud Story

But my favourite mud story doesn’t involve me directly – a few months ago I was auditing a potential communal garden which was bordered by an open wire fence. Whilst writing some notes I noticed pre-school children playing on the other side of the fence. They’d found an interesting puddle, and were absorbed with buckets and spades. The boys started conversation – why are you in that chair? do your legs work? my Grans got one of them. How fast will it go? The usual. Whilst answering as well as I could I noticed a little girl sitting

in the puddle and using a spade to pour the (very) muddy water down her outstretched arms and onto her (very) white dress! Whilst driving home I couldn’t rid my mind of the image of the loving parents coming to pick up their beloved child in her (once) white dress!

Until next time,

Cheers,

Chris the mudlark

My visit to Shibden Park on 10th June 2021

Shibden Park Accessibility Review: A Day with Calderdale Community Transport

Aisha Mir explores Shibden Park accessibility with Calderdale Community Transport

A trip to Shibden Park with Calderdale Community Transport turned into a valuable discussion about accessibility for wheelchair users, parents with buggies, and visitors with visual impairments.

Meeting the Park Managers

Chris Hancox and Steve Mitchel from Calderdale Community Transport provided a smooth pick-up and drop-off for Aisha and her 2-year-old son. While a slight delay due to car seat safety checks meant missing a full introduction with park manager Mark Spencer, the other park managers were incredibly welcoming.

Accessibility Concerns Raised

The group discussed accessibility challenges faced by wheelchair users, blind people, elderly visitors, and those with prams. Issues included:

  • Pot holes and uneven surfaces throughout the park
  • A dangerous bus stop and uneven road leading to the lower car park
  • Lack of accessible alternative routes around historical areas
  • Difficulty navigating the park with a pram due to steep inclines and loose surfaces like sand (used for filming purposes)

Positive Aspects and Requests for Improvement

Aisha acknowledges the park’s beauty and appreciates the improvements made, particularly the accessible path around the upper park. However, she emphasizes the need for further accessibility measures, such as:

  • An accessible path alongside the park train route for safe pedestrian movement
  • Improved signage throughout the park for better navigation, especially for first-time visitors
  • Inclusion of a changing place facility within the park toilets

A Day Filled with Connection and Hope

Despite the accessibility concerns, Aisha highlights the positive aspects of the visit:

  • Enjoying the beautiful weather
  • Reconnecting with friends after the COVID-19 lockdown
  • Indulging in a delicious mocha at the cafe

The group’s valuable discussions and suggestions for improvement leave Aisha hopeful for positive changes at Shibden Park.

Find out more from the Shibden Park Website Click Here

Chris has been busy working with the team developing plans for the projected Station to be built at Elland

Improving Accessibility Through Collaboration

As you know, I’ve always been passionate about influencing local planning decisions. Whether it’s improving the roads, opening a new building, or changing land use, I always have an opinion – I’m a Yorkshireman after all! I believe my knowledge and lived experience with disability are valuable contributions, but is simply voicing complaints from the sidelines truly effective?

Anyone can shout, “That will never work!” or “You can’t be serious!” It might feel satisfying in the moment, but does it really make a difference? So, what happens when someone actually says, “Alright, put your money where your mouth is. Work with us and tell us where we’re going wrong”?

Believe me, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Accessibility A train comes into the station at Elland
A train comes into the station at Elland

From Outsider to Insider

I was recently invited to work with the team developing plans for a new station in Elland, alongside accessibility improvements in the surrounding area. It was a truly positive experience. I was listened to, included in every decision, and made to feel like a valued member of the team.

This experience opened my eyes to the immense amount of research that goes into such planning, and the delicate balancing act required for many decisions. From my perspective, I might propose a specific solution based on my extensive knowledge of my disability and the needs of others. The team, while familiar with some accessibility concerns, also has to consider costs, complex engineering requirements, underlying building constraints shaped by the landscape, and local pressures from residents, businesses, hospitals, schools, and so on.

Aerial artists impression of the proposed station at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over two rivers in the foreground
Aerial artists’ impression of the proposed station at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over two rivers in the foreground

The Complexity of Seemingly Simple Solutions

Luckily, my background in maths allows me to understand the detailed architects’ and engineers’ plans. Even seemingly simple constructions like a public shelter on a platform or a ramp up to a bridge involve immense complexity.

Learning and Earning Respect

Through this collaboration, I’m gaining valuable insight into the planning process. While my core principles of improving accessibility remain unchanged, I’ve gained immense respect for the designers, architects, and engineers who strive to follow guidelines and regulations while providing what the public wants, all within budget constraints.

Aerial artists impression of the West Vale Bridge at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over a river on the left
Aerial artists impression of the West Vale Bridge at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over a river on the left

Accessibility Building Bridges, Not Walls

Hopefully, I’m also making a positive impact on the team. By working together, we can break down barriers, create new connections and priorities, and even change long-held perspectives on accessibility.

Ultimately, as in every aspect of life, even the most straightforward-looking situations involve compromise. But through collaboration, we can achieve the best possible outcome for everyone.

Until next time, keep safe,

Chris

Up-to-date information about the Elland Train Station Click Here

Information about joining ACDAF Here

Extreme Auditing (working through the Pandemic)

Access Audits. Extreme auditing, working through the pandemic. Chris is out and about even through the difficult times…

Well, I certainly can’t remember a year anything like this one – it seemed to come to a grinding halt in March, and it’s certainly not back on the rails yet.

For the team at Visits Unlimited you might think that would be the end of things for the foreseeable future, no one going anywhere, no one meeting up with anyone, not a bit of it.

We’re far more resourceful and resilient to accept that!

True – work did drop off a cliff for a few weeks, audit dates in the diary were cancelled, people didn’t know what could or should happen, but that didn’t last for long at our Accessible Calderdale Project.  After a few weeks of hiding away, people started peeping over the parapet and gingerly climbing over.

Read More

What’s in a name?…….and the name is “accessible”……..

Accessible, Well, we all know what that means now, don’t we? Read on…..

Accessible? A few weeks ago my partner and I were feeling a little stir crazy and thought we deserved a weekend away, so that’s what we planned.
(Ironically this was the weekend just prior to hearing Government advice not to travel unless totally necessary. So, we had a lovely three days of gorgeous villages, artisan markets, great weather, excellent meals and too much to drink, to return to a different world. If we thought we were stir crazy then….?)

Read More

ACCESSIBLE CALDERDALE PROJECT

Calderdale Gets Major Accessibility Boost!

Visits Unlimited, a Halifax-based user-led organization, has secured 3 years of funding from the Community Foundation for Calderdale. This exciting development allows them to build upon their successful work. With disabled people, local voluntary groups, and various stakeholders like the local authority, visitor attractions, transport companies, businesses, and Visit Calderdale.

Their ultimate goal is clear: to transform Calderdale into a fully accessible and welcoming environment. In essence, they want everyone, including people with disabilities and their families, to fully enjoy the area and create lasting memories that will make them want to return.

But who exactly are Visits Unlimited?

A leading force in accessibility, Visits Unlimited works collaboratively with tourism industry colleagues, both locally and nationally. Their expertise extends to a comprehensive training and access audit program offered across England. Their impressive roster of clients includes prestigious names like the National Trust, English Heritage, various sports grounds, major tourist attractions, small businesses, theaters, music venues, museums, and hotels.

Locally, Visits Unlimited has already made a significant impact. Funded by a 2015 grant from the Community Foundation for Calderdale, their Accessible Hebden project proved highly successful. Through collaboration with disabled people, they conducted over 40 access audits and surveys on small businesses, empowering them to become more accessible. The positive legacy continues! This project is now an integral part of local strategic work, and the Hebden Bridge Disability Access Forum actively promotes accessibility by influencing new planning and designs.

Accessible Calderdale

Firstly Accessible Calderdale is building on this work and will be working across Calderdale. Together with Disability Partnership Calderdale to ensure that we have the voice of disabled people, their families and carers, organisations working with people with a range of impairments to have a say in how the project runs.

“Visits Unlimited have been a catalyst for us on the Hebden Bridge project.  We had identified access issues with our Access Group but just turning up was not good enough. Visits Unlimited did a report on the train station and to have their report under our arm has given strength to our argument every single time we have met and we were able to go to Network Rail and the highway authorities   – it has made a big difference.  I have learned a lot – things I did not know or what was available.” Hebden Bridge Partnership.

 “Our disability survey was extremely useful as we did not appreciate the things that needed doing.  Chris gave us lots of useful simple ideas including even changing the door knob on the toilet facilities that we never thought about.”  Pennine Heritage.

The project has developed two working groups which convened in December 2018, ‘How to get there’ with a focus on accessible transport and ‘Places to go’ which focuses on accessible tourism. The groups will meet four times a year and are integral to the project in developing Calderdale into an accessible and inclusive place.

Calderdale Disability Access Forum

In essence, Visits Unlimited are establishing a Calderdale Disability Access Forum. So any organisation or individual wishing to get involved can contact the project coordinator, Lorraine Beiley.   The group will meet in March 2019. We are delighted to have already made some good alliances with voluntary and community sector. The local authority and Visit Calderdale, and are holding an event at Square Chapel on February 26th 2019. Guest speakers include Visit England, our own Eureka and Accessible Derbyshire.  

#wewelcomeeveryone.   We will be doing free access audits and there will be opportunity for community organisations. To apply for a small grant from Community Foundation for Calderdale.

Contact details

For more information contact Lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk or rob@cffc .co.uk

Making Hebden Bridge into an Accessible Destination

Creating an accessible destination.

When you have a beautiful and sensory rich town like Hebden Bridge we want people to come and experience it. We know that when people enjoy it they then share it.  It isn’t easy for everyone and Visits Unlimited have been invited to support the local community and business to make Hebden Bridge a more accessible destination. We want to make Hebden Bridge an even greater experience for everyone because we know Hebden Bridge cares.

Improving accessibility improves the economy.

Saturday 3rd September was the launch of our new project #AccessibleHebden at the Hebden Bridge Town Hall.  We are truly delighted to be working in close partnership with the ‘Hebden Bridge Partnership’ and Calderdale Community Foundation. We will be working together over the next 6 months to help make Hebden Bridge an attraction for everyone to enjoy.

As a national Community Interest Company we have delivered both disability awareness and customer service training across the country for a number of years to many small businesses, venues, attractions, museums and heritage sites within the tourism sector.

We know that supporting a venue to become accessible to a wide range of impairments is much more than doorways and ramps.  It is about a positive can-do attitude; finding solutions to participation and inclusion; and imbedding a warm welcome approach throughout the organisation, its staff and volunteers.

 

What are the benefits of becoming a more Accessible Destination

More than one in six people in England and Wales having an ‘activity limiting’ health problem or disability. British and international visitors from this market segment currently spend over £3 billion on overnight tourism trips in England each year and UK disabled people spend up to £12bn on trips out this is especially relevant for businesses. In short, improving your accessibility could improve your business. Being an Accessible Destination will raise the profile of Hebden Bridge through social media and will really put you on the map of places that are going that are going that extra mile and are welcoming to people with a range of impairments.

Long term vision

It also goes beyond being good for business. It supports your own members of staff/volunteers who may themselves have a disability or one of their friends or family. The Hebden Bridge and Calder Valley community will hugely benefit, as will the elderly and families with buggies chance we have placed a community focus on this project.

What will businesses gain?

There are three aspects all businesses need to address to provide access for all:

  • Customer service and training – being disability aware with the right attitude and confidence to serve all customers
  • Information and marketing – providing detailed information on the accessibility of your facilities and services and making this information easy to find
  • Physical facilities – making reasonable adjustments to buildings and facilities so they are easy for everyone to enter and move around

 

The cost of becoming an Accessible Destination

It may be surprising to know that some of challenges can be resolved in a low cost and creative way and this we have great experience with.

Each organisation will be able to apply for a grant of around £2000 to help with some of their challenges around meeting the needs of not only disabled tourists but also their families, their friends and of course local disabled people.  The results of creating these changes will affect the whole community and the results can only be beneficial.

Do you want your local business to support your town to be an Accessible Destination?

If the answer is yes then please contact myself; Katie Clarke by email; Katie@visitsunlimited.org.uk for a copy of the expression of interest for the FREE Access Audit.

Or you can pick up a hard copy at the Watermark or the Town Hall in Hebden Bridge and return it there or post it to:

Katie Clarke

Visits Unlimited

15 Savile Park Gardens

Halifax

HX1 2XL

Our auditor Chris Cammiss will be meeting many people on his travels whilst doing our Access Audits. He will become a familiar face in the community.         Chris is a very experienced auditor and will offer practical and reasonable recommendations for you.

Calderdale Community Foundation will administer the grants and their aim is to make this as easy as possible. What this means is there are no long-winded forms to fill consequently this making it an easy process.  Businesses and organisations can give a phone call to the Foundation and someone will help with the process.

 

Thank you

We are pleased to give something back to the Hebden Bridge community. Each member of our team were involved in supporting friends and the community during the boxing day floods 2015.

We love the motto of the community and the Watermark Fund. We are very proud to be working with so many good people including the new Disability Access Reference Group, Hebden Royd Town Council’s Mayor Tony Hodgins, the Neighbourhood Planning Committee, and businesses, organisations, venues and local people.

Accessible Tourism – The Bottom Line

Accessible tourism, is it worth it in a business model?

Is your business part of today’s competitive tourist industry within the UK? Are you achieving your accessible tourism status?

Are you looking at raising your profile, getting a head of the game and being competitive with others?

Good, because accessible tourism is a multi million pound industry.

 

Are you in the market of accessible tourism?

As a business owner myself I understand the main goals of any business and that is growth and sustainability.  As a business owner I work hard to achieve these goals just like you do because I want my business to grow.

There are many ways to grow a business and many ways to make it sustainable. A business coach and they’ll show you the way around the markets and how to focus your attention on attracting the current customers.

Professional Marketers will show you round the latest trends of products, services or technology. Still there’s one section many are still missing out on.

Every year new tourist attractions are opening up, each applying contemporary designs within their buildings and updated customer care experiences.

This runs the risk of leaving current and outdated businesses and tourist venues behind. Either businesses modernise to meet their customer’s needs in today’s market or they risk missing out resulting in lower turnover. .

What I’d like to do is bring your attention to why this section of the market – accessible tourism – is so powerful:
  • 65 million people in the UK (source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs).
  • There are around 12 million registered disabled people within the UK (that’s about 1 in 5 people), DWP 2014.
  • There are 2 million people with sight problems in the UK (dlf.org.uk). Is your business and visitor attraction able to support people who are visually impaired?
  • 9% of the UK population is a wheelchair user (www.disabled-world.com). Have you made adaptions both on the outside and within your building?
  • There are 770,000 registered disabled children under the age of 16 in the UK. Does your attraction welcome children? dlf.org.uk
  • More than 11 million people within the UK experience some form of hearing loss that equates to 1 in 6 people (actiononhearingloss.org.uk). Have you considered this at your reception, service or support desk as much as supporting your visitors around the attraction to remain orientated, involved and comfortable?

 

Accessible tourism is a big market so how do you get in on it?

  • Does your first point of contact which could be your website or over the telephone information service, give clear information around your accessibility information?
  • Is your car parking and queuing for entry managed well?
  • Are your disabled toilets accessible? Clearly signed? Well managed and a good size?
  • Are your signs clear and are they in brail?
  • Do you have different levels? Do you have lifts and if so are they well maintained? Do you have ramps available? There may only be a couple of steps between one floor and the next but this proves to be a huge obstacle for someone in an electric wheel chair.
  • Are rails provided along the stairs?
  • Are door handles at a height that can be accessed by wheel chair users?
  • Are your reception desks at a height that wheel chair users can write on if needed? If not can an area be provided for this?
  • Are your fire, health and safety policies all up to date?

 

Yes, there’s so much to think about and that is why we at Visits Unlimited provide an excellent service to support you to make the changes to your venue. We are a specialised team brought together to support venue’s and businesses to match their service and environment provisions with visitors disability access needs.

From access audits to training within customer service and the visitor’s journey, our approach is designed to provide you with the complete package.

 

What you focusing on accessible tourism means to people like me.

For me as a parent it goes deeper than a business model, as a parent of a child with learning and physical disabilities; finding a venue or attraction that allowed us to have a fun family day was always our top priority and in the early days, this wasn’t easily achieved. The result of us finding one where we felt respected as a family unit and supported was when we found an attraction that really worked for us we did the obvious, we returned. We went back because we knew it and we knew it worked. Then we did the second obvious thing, we told our friends. We weren’t passing tourists, we went back and we would use that mighty powerful marketing tool called word of mouth.

 

Yes yes yes to accessible tourism

So the question I asked at the beginning was; is the accessible tourism market worth it for a business to invest in?

Businesses are required by law to make fair adjustments to ensure that accessibility for disabled people is provided and fairness must always be at the centre of any business model, however you can’t ignore that accessibility makes good business sense regarding profit.

An attraction is built to provide an experience and the power of word of mouth. Word of mouth through groups, social media and reviews in this current climate is beyond powerful.

It doesn’t take a moment to type into my browser to see poor reviews of attractions written by those who’ve experienced a lack of accessibility.

Going back to the statistics at the beginning of this post, if you don’t make you’re visitor centre accessible you’re potentially excluding around 1 in 5 visitors.