My day out at Longleat Safari Park

Day one was Chedder Gorge, Day 2 Longleat.

Driving through the grounds for the first time, my first impression was how fabulous the house actually appears. After parking up, I planned my day to include all the major attractions. There’s so much here to do and see, everyone will find something to enjoy.

Staff were incredible again and lots of thought has already gone into improving access.

The House itself was a delight. As often happens the dedicated disabled entrance takes you through several rooms the general public may never see but then joins the public flow along the tourist route through the house. Volunteer guides are in every room and they are friendly, helpful and clearly love what they do, they are all dressed as 20’s flappers and full of great information.

Longleat outside

Outside there are formal grounds – all accessible, endless playgrounds, a fully accessible train taking you around the grounds so you can catch your breath, even an accessible cruise around the huge lake.

There are many eating places and shops – again all very accessible indeed.

Most of the rides are accessible.

The only downside in my opinion was the Adventure Castle children’s playground. Stunning looking space, castle, drawbridge, rope walks from tree to tree, aerial walkways, but all currently inaccessible for many with mobility issues.

But, back to the park and the famous Safari itself. If you have your own transport it all works brilliantly – you just drive through at your own pace. If not, catch the fully accessible bus. Stop off at the African Village, all very accessible, and spend as much time as you wish.

It’s all around you – elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, flamingos..

Throw in the fireworks and light show after dark – what’s not to like?

It was a challenging trip but well worth the effort.

Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge 

Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge

So, who’s up for some extreme tourism? 

My latest escapade for visits unlimited was to audit Longleat Safari Park and sister attraction Cheddar Gorge.  

Some simple cave exploration in the Gorge and dancing with lions at Longleat – no problem at all for a wheelchair user! 

I have to admit I was intrigued. I couldn’t believe my luck. How romantic, how interesting, but how much of the caves would I see? How would I get around the Safari Park? 

Well, I found the whole experience fascinating and much more accessible than you might have thought. With the help of some very well-motivated staff I had a great time. Both sites were an absolute pleasure to survey. Yes, I saw plenty of features that could be improved but the sites are well worth a visit now.  

Day One – Cheddar Gorge.  

The attraction in essence consists of several caves developed in Victorian times as a tourist venue. With an introductory film show, a modern museum, walks and viewpoints and several shops, there’s a full day out here. 

After purchasing tickets, see the introductory film. This beautifully sets the scene with colourful history, wildlife, flora, what to visit and what can be managed. 

The main cave – Gough’s Cave – after the man who made a public attraction out of it is unfortunately inaccessible to wheelchair users and anyone who can’t negotiate four sloping steps but is very rewarding for anyone else.

Staff helpfully bumped me down (not for the general public) so I did see most of what is on offer. If my recommendations are followed the access will be quickly improved. 

A long tunnel carries you into the rock – Cheddar Man, unique rock formations, twists and turns, audio description points – very special indeed. 

After Gough visit the very accessible Museum of Pre-History. Small enough not to be daunting or boring but large enough to house a huge array of exhibits all displayed with imagination.

The fun never stopped

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by an enthusiastic school party who were greatly entertained by the Stone Age re-enactor who dressed them in animal skins, told them about skinning a rabbit and finally showed them how to start a fire with just a few sticks – hugely impressive!  

My final, and possibly favourite destination was Cox’s Cave. This is a network of several inter-connected chambers. Complex and challenging for some with mobility or visual impairments it rewards those who can manage handsomely.

A brilliant film show showing the development of Early Man in the area is displayed on the raw walls of each chamber, carrying you through his history, changing environment and the animals he hunted. Sound and lights enhance this extremely entertaining  production. Different episodes take you through the cave complex.

Mindful of my mobility issues, staff made sure I saw as much as possible by letting me in the front and back entrances. Nothing was too much trouble. 

A day with Visit County Durham and promoting Access for All

County Durham, a beautiful place.

We left Halifax at 645am heading for the motorway and County Durham on Tuesday 30th October 2018.   We had only been driving for 20 mins when there was a sign on the M62 letting us know that the A1 was closed at Junctions 47 to 49. Ugh. The glorious Sat Nav re-directed us through Leeds and towards Harrogate passing various tourist attractions and venues such as Leeds Direct, the stunning Harewood House, Ripley Castle and on the road to Ripon to pick up the A1 we drove past the sign to Fountains Abbey, Lightwater Valley, Ripon Racecourse and Ripon Cathedral.

This was actually the first day of work for our new co-ordinator Lorraine who got a guided tour of North Yorkshire which she was not expecting. We were definitely going the scenic route and both cheered a sigh of relief when we finally got onto the A1.

Why were we in County Durham?

Visits Unlimited had been asked by Visit County Durham to speak at their annual Autumn Conference and to run a workshop session on Access for All alongside Michelle Gorman, Managing Director of Visit County Durham and Jane Shaw from Durham Creatives.

Lorraine and I arrived in plenty of time at the Redworth Hall Hotel for me to meet the team and the Chair Ivor Stolliday, to check over my powerpoint, enjoyed a coffee and croissant and to do a bit of networking before the event started.

We learn as much as we give.

Watching the excellent film of the City of Culture which showed the range of beautiful countryside and visitor attractions in the area sold County Durham to me! I loved the idea of Star Gazing and taking disabled people out into the open at night.   In 2019 I am booking into one of the many small hotels and BnBs in the region and heading to Durham Cathedral to meet Ivor who has promised me my own guided tour whilst going to one of the many wonderful events planned for the Durham Year of Culture!

My talk on Access for All included an overview of the numbers of disabled people in the UK, the Purple Pound and some interesting statistics from Visit England as well as some inspiring stories of good practice around the country. The message of the importance of training and good customer service came across strongly.   After a delicious lunch I ran one of three workshops each delivered 3 times to a total of 90 people. I told a story of the ups and downs of living with disability and the benefits of a day out, a short break and a night away. The participants were very proactive and there was some great ideas of how to improve their accessible and inclusive offer. The importance of good customer service and a warm welcome was highlighted again.

The Deep Blue Approach

We only went and did it again at The Deep! Accessible tourist training that really makes a difference.

When we got invited to take our training package to The Deep in Hull for the 4th year running we jumped at the chance because we know that we are about to walk into a full on day with an enthusiastic, motivated, open minded group of individuals who love what they do and are proud of what their organisation stands for.

One thing that has always stood out for me though it that they really do want to make a difference to their visitors experiences, working in teams they were proactive in their discussion, considering different visitor journeys and working through how they can support individual needs in the future.

The content that we delivered was filled with transferable skills that can be taken in on an organisational level and many staff commented in their feedback that there were skills and strategies that we passed on which they knew they could use in other areas of their lives.

Making memories

At Visits Unlimited we work hard on providing the relevant content that brings together individual organisations and the visitors who access them. It is important to us that what we deliver aligns with the values of who we are training because we know how important it is for venues and the staff working within these venues to connect with their visitors and provide the best services and days out. We pride ourselves on our training packages and what we bring to the table.

However why not read for yourself some of the amazing feedback we received from our training day a few days ago. Thank you to everyone who attended and being part of the day being filled with education, care, laughter, respect and equality.

The Deep staff feedback

“Thank you for today. This is my 3rd time doing the session and it is always a great reminder that there are amazing people in this world, doing amazing things. I hope one day we can all adopt these values in everyday life. I always learn something new. Again thank you.”

“Lovely session regarding sensitivity to various issues that may arise at the Deep and helped develop confidence regarding how to best deal with and assist people with disabilities.”

“Really enjoyed hearing about body language from Karen. Also really appreciated hearing different perspectives/discussions. You are both amazing humans!”

“Really informative course, leaving feeling a lot more aware of all disabilities. Also now may come over the awkwardness and barriers on not knowing how to ask. Thank you for your time.”

“In all honesty, I came into the building not expecting to learn anything significant. In reality I believe I have probably learned a handful of skills that will not only assist my work at the Deep but my future professional career. Thank you”

“Great day, very welcoming and open to create a great atmosphere. Very educational and worthwhile.”

“Wonderful! Thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of today’s course. Informative, balanced, and very useful. Many thank yous for sharing your experiences and expertise with us. Feel free to stay in touch.”

“Very informative. I learned so much about behaviour and communication across all abilities and levels. Karen was quite possibly one of the most engaging and interesting people I have met. Katie had such optimism and happiness about her that was infectious.”

“Very informative. Learned many new things. Interaction from both Deep members and instructors was good. Time allowance just right.”

“It’s been great to hear other’s stories about dealing with children/siblings with disabilities as well as learning about other ways to assist individuals with learning impairments and non-visible disabilities. Thank you.”

York racecourse welcomes us in.

York Racecourse this May 2018

So here I find myself driving back to God’s own country steeped in the sunshine that makes this place even more golden. I’m heading for a second spot of Disability Awareness publicity for staff at York Racecourse.

I already had high expectations after a very pleasant and welcoming session two weeks ago and I wasn’t disappointed this time either.

A very warm welcome from Sam Henderson, my presentation was already loaded for me, my coffee delivered (this is one of my essential criteria), the microphone on, all traditional technical hitches sorted and with the introduction made and off we went….

A very swift, twenty minute intro into who we are and what we do and what we could do for them. Short but plenty of connection and plenty of laughter (always a good sign), with lots of happy faces and a satisfying queue of people afterwards all with relevant questions.

Sam was very pleased indeed, said he would keep all our contact details and hoped to see us again. I’m pretty sure we will work there again in some capacity.

Also had a long conversation with another contributor who had listened to my presentation on my previous visit. He’s based at Ascot no less and thought our disability work fitted perfectly with his plans to re-vamp their accessibility provision there! We swapped contact details and made a firm commitment to meet in June after our current work is sorted. What a connection!

I’m thinking Royal Enclosure, Katie in a fancy hat…… no, no, let’s not get carried away, let’s just say the networking is going very well!

Watch this space!

London’s Changing Places, is it changing fast enough?

London’s Changing Places, our experience

We live in Retford which has excellent rail links to London (East Coast Line). We can be in the Capital in 1hr 35 mins on the train. When we arrive our first stop is to use the fantastic Changing Places facility at Kings Cross, a pot of gold at the end of the line!

For my Son (11yrs) this facility is essential. He is a wheelchair user and unable to use a standard disabled toilet, we feel and lucky that modernisation to the station incorporated this much needed toilet. So, first impressions all good, Changing Places on arrival and a welcome feeling of inclusion, we are, after all in London!

But then its goes a bit downhill… where are all the other Changing Places toilets? How do we get from A- B? Where will we stay overnight? Will my Son cope with the Crowds? Leaving the station gives us a feeling of horrible insecurity and anxiety, visiting London can be stressful enough! If you have a family member with a disability or impairment it is very difficult.

London’s Changing Places Map

We have taken our Son twice to London, planning for these events is essential. We do a lot of research beforehand and use the Changing Places toilet map to find and access toilets (with a bench and hoist) Changing Places are disappointingly thin on the ground for this city.  At the moment Central London really only has 3 hoist assisted toilets – Tate, Parliament and Embankment.

The Embankment facility was shut on our last visit. Parliament is only accessible to visitors and the Tate, well that’s on the south bank so it is a fair trek to travel and the Art Gallery setting may not be your thing. Other stations have CP facilities but not all. There are also a few hospitals which have CP but who on earth wants to visit a hospital on a family day out in London? We see too many hospitals as is!

Our expectations of London’s Changing Places

I did expect facilities to be a little better (than where we live) in the capital but I was so wrong! We visited usual tourist hot spots, London Eye, Trafalgar Square etc. At the Natural History Museum (after searching for the accessible entrance) we were able to go in without queueing, a lot of places adopt this standard and it really benefits my son’s needs. Toileting is the problem, not just for us but for a lot of others too! Toilet queues force people to use any they can! Disabled toilets in busy tourist attractions are usually in a pretty bad state due to this and the prospect of having to change a child on the floor in one is awful.

Changing Places that give other benefits

I dislike my son being in a wheelchair all day too, Changing Places give him the opportunity to have a good stretch as well as offering him dignity to attend his toileting needs. Changing Places also allow us or a carer to use the toilet in (screened) privacy. When I am with my son I am not able to use a toilet myself as I would have to leave him outside on his own.

Changing Places would be the no 1 thing to improve our experience of London. The scope for choosing activities is narrowed and limited without these. We will visit again no doubt but with less enthusiasm. Go to Sheffield and you will find more CP per sq mile than in London…..

It was challenging

We found the bus system favourable for getting about in a wheelchair. I would be worried about using a bus now after seeing incidents and unhelpful bus drivers on social media. We didn’t use the tube (some stations don’t have lifts) We got around on wheels and on foot, very busy in some areas but that is to be expected. I read the south bank had been improved for access for wheelchairs after the Olympics in 2012. Please someone tell me/how where!! ?? We struggled to get onto the south bank via road and lifted our son up steps to Westminster Bridge to get off. It is simply exhausting trying to find everything, going off on tangents and pushing a manual wheelchair. Signage is very important.

We stayed overnight in a hotel in London, my son was a few years younger (just about managing without hoist stage) so we didn’t seek any assistive equipment, but we would need it now. We would need a hoist and bathroom/ wet room. Since then I’ve not really looked into accommodation in London so I’m not sure what it has to offer but if it’s anything like finding holiday accommodation, it’s a tiresome activity.

Booking online accommodation could be easier – especially deals, always feel we have to contact the hotel beforehand to make sure it’s accessible, we get the right room so we feel we miss out on offers.

  1. Changing Places
  2. Signage
  3. Hotel accommodation
  4. Online central website for information (rather than looking at lots of different websites)

Our energetic, detailed and tireless planning continues for family trips away and days out but the more we come together and support each other then maybe it makes things easier and we can get more changed in the bigger picture for all of us.

Thank you for reading,

Alison Beevers and family

Training in Birmingham

We’re on the move and training in Birmingham

We’re training in Birmingham, yes we’re getting more and more out there and taking the voice and needs of our community with us.

From its bustling high streets, the famous Bullring, the beautiful squares and wonderful fountains; Birmingham City is a beautiful place to visit. Whatever your enjoyment it is an energetic city that caters for most and we were over the moon to be invited to support Birmingham City to raise awareness of accessibility with our training.

Our wonderful Chris spent the day training in and with Birmingham’s Football Association, this is the body who co-ordinate all of the junior/non-professional teams across the city. This is such a great organisation and is responsible for a huge number of teams and we were thrilled to be a part of it’s training and development to create even more inclusion.

So, Chris arrived and before his coat was off there was a coffee in his hand; they clearly know how to win Chris over and it was all great from then on.

Chris was there to support their development with an audit of the grounds, building and accessibility points as well as the actual staff training. Chris is great at what he does but thrives on the enthusiasm of staff being trained and he wasn’t disappointed today with great questions, great debates and lots of exploring current knowledge and absorbing new information.

From Chris’s point of view; “The delegates were incredibly well motivated. All already had specific roles such as safe guarding, mentoring, inclusion, diversity and so on, but all were keen to know more. Very positive vibe throughout, a long busy day but I felt incredibly well-supported and I’ve received great feedback since. “

But of course none of this training can and will happen for us without the tireless work of Katie Clarke who is truly one of the most inspiring and dynamic individuals we have ever met and Katie is fantastic at organising the right audits and the right training to match the needs of the organisation. Katie just knows how to make the jigsaw pieces fit together so it all works.

We are a fortunate team who get to train individuals dedicated on creating great experiences for visitors and we thoroughly enjoy being with people who care about accessibility for all.

Keep us informed of your updates, of places you’ve visited and enjoyed and let’s keep accessibility a talking point and at the front of tourism and visitor attractions.

The Impact of our Disability Training on Venues

Disability Training Impact on Your Business

We are not your everyday run of the mill trainers and we don’t deliver a flat packed training programme which is one size fits all because we know that the one size fits all approach doesn’t work.

Firstly let’s start with the WHY behind our training and why it would be worth exploring our training packages.

The Purpose of our disability training for you

Our focus is to support venue staff at all grades and within all roles to develop confidence when working with individuals who have a disability within their teams as well as the confidence to communicate with and support visitors who come to their venues. We must recognise however that not all disabilities are visible and creating an awareness around this supports all staff to develop a positive led attitude of equality within their actions which includes inclusion and the confidence to apply these communication skills at all times.

We demystify some of the commonly held beliefs around disability, we support strategies around real situations and help your team build on a strong foundation of equality, inclusion and confidence.

The disability pound or what is commonly known as the ‘Purple Pound’ is a multimillion pound section of the UK’s spending money, why not tap into this?

This one size fits all approach? That rule has never really worked and we don’t apply it. We have a great team to tap into such as Chris, Chris will come out to you and look at and around your venue, your needs, your current strategies and policies and he’ll support and advise you on reasonable adjustments that don’t have to cost the earth, there may even be grants and funding streams for you to tap into which Chris will help you with.

You’ll learn so much from Chris, he’s got a fantastic sense of humour and a lifetime of knowledge and experience that is gold and you’ll come away from meeting him feeling inspired and surprised at just how easy some of these adjustments can really be to start with.

Then you have the fantastic training team; there’s Katie Clark who set up Visits Unlimited and has been an advocate for Disability Rights and Equality for many years. Katie has a driving passion behind her work and the energy that she invests in you and the support for your team is fantastic, you just need to read the testimonials we have to know how much Katie genuinely cares about us getting it right for you so that you get it right for your visitors.

Chris is our main Train the Trainer chap.

Then there’s Karen Hickton who is experienced in the communication and specialises in non-verbal communication for businesses as well as having personal experiences with disabilities.

We are all driven by passion for equality in this area and to support the education and awareness because; as reported by Scope there are 13.3 million people who are registered disabled within the UK and that number is growing.

The purpose of our disability training for your visitors

We want your visitors to come to your venue and have an amazing day out. A day out that’s made that bit easier because you have gone those few steps further in areas of your business such as your environment to staff training and attitudes.

As parents, family members, friends and carers of someone with a disability or those of us that have a disability ourselves; we have one of those long range methods of shouting out about somewhere we love and felt welcomed in. We spread the word faster than you can imagine because these ‘days out’ for us are precious and we come back for more only next time we bring friends.

The purpose of our disability training in alignment with the UK law

There are laws around disability, equality and provision and we want you to be aware of them, our focus is to support you to be aware and understand the disability act and equality act around your provision and support for your visitors and carers / relatives only but the information we give you is there to support you as much as your visitors.

Who are we to deliver the disability training programmes that we design?

We are professional training delivers that have come together from varying professional background with a common goal; to support more people and business to create an inclusive policy and practice and therefore help create amazing memories for all.  We are individuals who live with disabilities and we are parents and carers of individuals who also live with disabilities.

We’ve come together fusing our personal experiences with our professional skills and backgrounds to create and deliver the best most effective training programmes for venues and visitor attractions.

What we do that’s different;

We deliver a core message which brings you in alignment with government policies as well as your visitors needs but we still create our training programmes and packages around you and what you need.

How we deliver it and the fun we have in our sessions is something you’ll experience if you call us in.

Let’s continue working together in the UK to create accessibility and inclusion for all. Thank you.

Changing Places at The Deep

Changing Places at The Deep

We love The Deep in Hull because as a team the managers and staff who work there have literally pulled out every stop they have come across to make their venue accessible for everyone.

Now they’ve gone and done it again…

The Deep have created a Changing Places room and it looks amazing.

The Deep is once again leading by example.

Clumber Park, a National Trust Accessible Day Out

Clumber Park a last minute idea

National Trust days out provide us with calmness, interest, space, nature and entertainment. We like to roam the UK and discover new places to explore and having a National Trust membership allows us to do this within the safety of good expectations as in we know generally what we will experience when we arrive.

Clumber Park was last weeks destination to try out for the first time. We wanted to go somewhere to escape the rain up in the West so we drove down and found this lovely spot.

3800 acres of park and garden waited for us and even in our eager walking boots we knew we couldn’t remotely explore that so we settled for some woodland walks with the squirrels (a lot of squirrels), around the lake with the swans which were beautiful and elegantly dressing the lake in their whiteness. Being bird watching fans and proud members of the RSPB it was a nice suprise to know that so many different types of birds frequent the area.

Accessibility

The pathways are well maintained but it would be difficult through the woodland area as the pathways here are not that wide and winter debris are scattered well. However there are plenty of paths to take and there’s a lovely lake to walk around hosted by the wonderful swans comfortably minding there own business with the occasional showing off of their grandness.

We made it into the cafe before it closed and there wasn’t one disappointed member of our clan as they tucked into the many cakes and scones ordered.

 

A warm welcome, nice walks with open skies and it was a dry day. Perfect.

 

 

Bendrigg Trust Experience

Bendrigg Trust gave my son adventure.

All packed and ready to go.

I waved my 16 year old off for a week of adventure sport at Bendrigg Trust Outdoor pursuits centre in Kendal, Lake District.

A big deal in our world as he’s not usually away from us for too long let alone a whole week where adventure waits but this is a huge opportunity and we wouldn’t have him miss it.

Along with 6 others of his class mates and 5 teachers the bus left loaded with suitcases, wheelchairs and very excited teenagers ready for what lay ahead.

5 days later I picked him up; a bag full of washing, red eyes and sloping shoulders but the smile on his face said it all.

Experiences allow us to evolve and there was a wonderful energy of this happening in our kids from this week; night time walks with head torches. Caving indoors and outdoors, canoeing where the ice needed to be broken on the water as they paddled. Rock climbing, abseiling and zip wiring. Sharing a room with a pal and cooked breakfasts every single day, what wasn’t to love!

The Bendrigg Trust is designed to deliver high quality adventure opportunities to individuals who are disabled or disadvantaged in some way. For 40 years they have encouraged the development of confidence and supporting the continued learning of independence from learning to trust themselves, working as a team and making their own bed and taking care of their belongings.

It’s hard letting go, the anxiety of will he be understood when he voices his needs? Will they know when he’s anxious and he needs them to be present with him whilst he calms down? Will they know to be patient when he’s unsure but wants to try and know when to help him slow down when he’s going too fast and could hurt himself?

Of course a small group of his teachers were there but I had nothing to worry about, he was heard, he was encouraged, he was given every opportunity and he loved it.

Thank you

Thank you Bendrigg Trust for creating a lifetime of memories for him that’ll he can hold on to, be proud of and always look back on.

Banish that cabin fever with some accessible trails.

Accessible trails and walks are priceless to families like mine.

As I write this post the sun is shining, the sky is blue and I can hear birds tweeting in the distance. No i’m not in a Mary Poppins scene I am actually in Hebden Bridge staring longingly out of my office window noticing how rare that blue sky and sunshine is this time of year.

It’s surely time to break free and get those boots, wheels and paws muddy? I don’t need asking twice.

I am fortunate that my boys have adapted well to having parents who like to walk and now that my eldest has come through his multitude of spinal operations and rehabilitation he is able to put at least 5 miles under those feet (we’re just missing a dog but i’m working on that).

Why do we walk? Why are accessible trails important to us?

Walking for us has always allowed our family to have space and calmness where we can be present with each other and quiet if that’s what’s needed, or we can chat and explore topics that have the permission to span a good chunk of time whilst we inter weave it with…oh look at that flower or have you seen those hills in the distance…

Walks have been great for relieving tension when my eldest son becomes activated or angry and he’s usually worked it through by the end of a nice easy walk where distractions have diluted the emotions he feels stuck with.

Walks have also been great for us as parents because as I mentioned we feel space around us, fresh air and wind, sunshine or just that clouded coolness that helps break state and encourages a sense of feeling exercised without exhaustion.

Where are these accessible trails?

Although we have less obstacles these days than previous years where styles to climb over, parking, undulating trails and toilets all had to be part of our planning I still take some of these into consideration. We all different needs when getting out and about into the wilderness so i’ve given a few ideas from the places that we’ve been.

  • I’m a true lover of the Lake District and stand in awe every time I go. Click on the link to find some great route without styles and ideas for great days out. The Lakes can get busy with traffic at certain times of the day and the year so plan your times and journey well before hand.
  • The National Trust membership is a gift that keeps on giving. A whole year of ‘stuff’ to do and places to go and so much of it is accessible.  Our favourite for going and meeting friends for the day is Nostell Priory. We can loose the kids here for hours and the day is relaxing and easy. We fly kites, take packed lunches (cafe there as well which is accessible), we love it so much we have visited repeatedly. It has paths used all year round and is accessible for wheelchairs and buggies. There’s a lovely sized courtyard for eating with well kept toilets and a great area for the kids to go a little wild.
  • The North York Moors is a place near to where I grew up and spent a few childhood holidays in areas like Whitby (do any of you remember the 3 great big ‘golf balls’ our parents told us was Nasa HQ but we’re actually weather reading centres…gutted! Our alien stories used to get wilder and wilder the more we went). There are some good accessible routes that aren’t too long and when it comes to the North York Moors it doesn’t matter where you look, it’s simply stunning.

The one my son enjoyed was the Rosedale Mineral Railway route, it took us about an hour and a half ambling at an easy pace and stopping with our flask and sandwiches. 

  • Bolton Abby is a definite and ticks all of our boxes from beautiful fully accessible walks, to the stepping stone over the water challenge (the kids managed it but I nearly went head first), little sandy areas by the water where you can wade in, views, the abby and a lovely place to be. This is our idea of a bliss and I could be there all day. It’s not quite on our doorstep but it’s not a trial blazing distance so we go there maybe once twice a year. There is a page on accessibility on their website but if you need anymore information I can recommend their visitor support team.
  • It took me a little while to find this but it’s worth it; In the Hull area there are a couple of great routes. I hadn’t thought about looking into this area until my parents brought me over to explore. Hull is known as the city of culture and does have a lot to offer. Here are some great routes and if you are in that area it’s worth checking out. Not big routes and the Cliff trail was the favourite for the boys.

Being a family of muddy boot walkers we love to test some trails and route; and we’ve used the outdoors as part of our son’s rehabilitation and therapy to learning skills like basic map reading, looking for signs and trying to read the clouds. The outdoors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as we brits say but if it is and you have some great routes to share which are accessible for all then please do share.

Enjoy your spring time and getting outdoors.

Spring! We’re getting ready for it now.

Spring. Oh the joy of Spring and it’s just around the corner…

well sort of however we need to get planning some great things because everything wakes up in spring including our own enthusiasm.  It’s that time when we can dress in several less layers and start to see a tint of yellow in the colours around us.

I love Spring; well truth be told i’m an all rounder with any season but definately by this time of year i’m feeling the need to hurry the drab through and get to the waking up bit.  My boys are already chomping at the bit for some days out that don’t involve wellies and strict instructions to undress most layers on the doorstep before entering the house.

Stepping into Spring activities.

There are tonnes of activities we want to do and places we want to go and yes most of them take some effort, organisation and management (from our point of view), which is why in the early Spring I like to do a couple of things which are familiar to us.

What I mean is we go to somewhere we have been before (or highly recommended by a friend) so that we know what we are expecting. It kind of warms us up to the new routines of days out and making those big pushes to get the family organised and out the door on a regular basis.

We’ve started the ball rolling but would love you’re ideas as well; here’s our 5 ‘Spring Starters;’

  1. There’s never a dull moment at The Deep in Hull. No matter how many times we step foot through those doors we are never disappointed. The wow factor it has is still very exciting and I think I still say the word; ‘wow’ in just about every sentence when I walk around.  Everything from amazing species of fish and information to spectacular customer care. The Deep is a must and if you haven’t yet been – get it booked in your diary you won’t be disappointed!
  2. Halifax is a town steeped in History of Industries and a great place to visit in Dean Clough Mills. Culture and Art (6 free gallery spaces), performance programmes, food and cafes, there’s a Jack Wills outlet and it’s home to our very own Halifax local radio station the Phoenix. There is a car park and charges do apply but it’s worth visiting and from there you can go on to the Piece Hall With a multitude of shops, outdoor concerts and plays and space to roam and then from there…
  3. Eureka! Most of your day will be spent here and it isn’t just for the kids. Autism and learning disability friendly, the staff and facilities are awesome. I can not recommend this little gem of Calderdale enough AND it’s right on the other side of the train station for easy access. There is parking and charges apply BUT Eureka! does accept the MAX card which allows the Max card holder and one carer in for free so the whole day is yours there. With inside and outside activities you’ll definately need to come back again and again.
  4. If you’re in the midlands then it’s a must to go via the National Space Centre. I remember watching it being built all those years ago and it was utterly exciting to see the space rocket get taken in. Anyway back to the point; there are designated disability parking places but if I remember there are parking charges. Disabled toilets and wheelchair access, large print and induction loops are all available and I found the staff there extremely approachable on both booking and once there.         The centre truly is out of this world and we loved it!
  5. The Jorvik centre in York. My hometown and our educational school days out was in places like the Jorvik centre so it holds a special place in my heart and also up my nose. You’ll understand if you go because there are real smells (imagine those aroma’s from the very olden days, well they have done a great job recreating them) and other sensory rich experiences as you travel back in time in this awesome place.  The website is accessibility friendly and there is information around bookings. It does state that if you are a wheelchair user you must prebook first due to their safety regulations but a very warm welcome awaits you and a great (sometimes stinky) experience.

I can already hear more birds singing in the morning when I wake up, the days are just beginning to feel a little longer and now at the end of this post I really can’t wait. Some sun shining down, family walks and chats and the start of picnics. Bring on Spring!

We will come back with more, but please share with us your great days out that will ease us back into Spring and maybe some Easter egg hunts along the way.

 

Where There’s Art There’s a Way.

‘Art can be a powerful form of expression…’

I read that once on a postcard and it made me think, I remember saying to my friends that when I had children I would bring them up connected with art. Stories, poetry, paintings, drawings, sculptures, the theatre and so on.

My journey in the beginning of that wasn’t always easy due to some venues being inaccessible or some exhibitions that are great for kids; not being autism or learning disabled friendly.

How Art helps my son

There’s a calming yet sensory richness about the theatre; the costumes, the creativity and inspiration that goes on behind the scenes that gives us so much to talk about. The imagination of the story and the conversations we can have about the themes, the learning and lessons in there. The fact that he can get lost in another time, space or realm even and the interaction with the audience. He loves it.

Then there are the gallery’s where we can stroll around and use our imagination to describe what we see. We all see something different in art which makes it interesting and I learn a lot about how he is feeling when he describes his perception. It helps his speech and the formation of descriptive words and we can talk about how art encourages us to feel.

There are many times that I have found it to be therapeutic for him, and we have found some great venues to go to and re visit which I have listed below…

Our favourite art seeped places such as The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Bradford Media Museum or the Bradford Industrial Museum, the Football Museum in Manchester or the People’s History Museum also in Manchester. There is art and inspiration in everything around us, if it was designed and made then it was inspired and created. From the environment itself to the structures we build there is so much that other people’s imagination and forms of expression have to offer and we enjoy finding more and more accessible places to enjoy and share with others.

Art in London

We recently explored difficulties and barriers with trips to London to I am aware of this as I share this particular website that I have used before but it maybe helpful for some of you nonetheless.

Artsline is a website which hosts information around accessibility and the world of art in London. You can go through a quick checklist to home in on your specifications which filters out so much of the work for you (well that’s my personal experience).

Artsline claim to host over 1000 art focused venues across London on their site with accessibility information at your finger tips. I even now use it for myself as i’m hearing impaired, I often forget about my own accessibility needs as i’m caring for my son and making sure that his needs are met and that he too can enjoy his experiences.

So if you do fancy a wintery trip out to share in some new year art related culture in London then I recommend a quick scan on Artsline to see if it can help guide you in any way.

Please do keep in touch, share your stories, challenges and experiences.

 

Accessibility changes in 2018. Keep Updated

Are you aware of the accessibility changes?

Whatever your business and whatever sector you are in you will be required to ensure you have good practices around accessibility.

Accessibility for your staff and customers, clients or visitors. Accessibility of the building, facilities and your website if you have one.

But are you aware of the changes that will be happening in 2018 around web accessibility? It’s worth updating yourself frequently so that you can stay ahead.

Below is a great source of information about what’s coming up in 2018. Click on the link below and have a read…

Essential Accessibility 

Adapting Christmas.

Festive senses and adapting Christmas

Lights, twinkling hanging decorations, tinsel, toys, sounds and smells are everywhere. the hustling bustling energy of shoppers, chatters, those catching up and diaries squeezing as many friends in as traditionally possible to celebrate the coming of Old man Christmas in a weeks time.

Schools break up late for us, it’s Friday and already my oldest son is beginning to get nervous so it’s time to engage in adapting Christmas.

Holidays (especially this one), aren’t always easy. Routine changes on top of the sensory richness can create anxiety for some people because of that dreaded change. Changes to routine, changes to the visitors and days out, the home environment and the vibe on our home street. Many people approach my son with much more enthusiasm than normal and ask how excited he is about Christmas and he can be a bit like a rabbit in the headlights.

Some little tips on adapting Christmas

  • A few years ago we familiarised ourself with the story behind Old man Christmas and the essence of the holiday and we made a gentle but interactive story up explaining it to our son that way he could find a connection with this person who would in theory pop down our chimney and wonder through our house eating our mince pies and drinking our brandy whilst leaving us presents. It could be seen as random behaviour to a child who is very logical, but we could introduce the magic in a structured way that he would understand.
  • We’d plan the menu and write it out so he could decorate it and we’d have that on the table, of course the food changes at Christmas so we made this into an activity where he could be part of the hosting and get the recognition for that (unfortunately he was never part of the washing up crew afterwards).
  • We spoke to our friends about how to interact with him in a way that was exciting but also present and spacious and also to give him time to process the question and find his own response without feeling rushed to be as happy as everyone else.
  • We always made sure (and still do) that in the holidays we create a time table for him with empty boxes on some days where he knows that those maybe filled with something new at the time like meeting someone for a mulled wine. Because he was prepared for that space to potentially be filled, when it was he could really manage it well.  We try to keep anchor points the same like meal times and evening routines, this allows him the safety space to release or relax.
  • Calming fun activities where there’s just a couple of us such as baking, colouring and making decorations. This is nice quiet time with presence but easy presence.

 

  • Christmas morning is about stockings (a small amount of none stimulating toys) and then breakfast. Easy music, PJ’s on and the boys help if they want to or chill with their stockings if not.  Then we start on presents; one at a time and we look at them and acknowledge what they are so that he has time to open them, feel the excitement, process what it is and who it’s from and then start with the next. We once did that…dive in kids! Never again.
  • We keep the sugar down. Fast food, naughty sweets as well as pastry and cake galore; we have our fair share but we keep the sugar intake to a minimum which the kids benefit from.
  • Most importantly we always allowed him to talk about any concerns he had, we would respond to his stresses and we would always (and again still do) build in plenty of resourcing time in where he can be on his own and switch off from the energy and emerge when he’s ready.

 

Winter where we can all play out.

Winter is here and we’d like you to share your top activity tips.

From the layers of woolly jumpers and thick socks to finally switching on the central heating and lighting the fire i’ve succumbed to winter.  Although i’m not quite sure what happened with that recent snow blip, however we did get to build a small snow dog and some snow rabbits with the white flakes that came a little early.

Now though, the snow has gone as quick as it came and the boys are left wondering if that’s it on the entertainment front.

It certainly doesn’t have to be and I wonder what great ideas you all have? Please share them.

Let us know your:

  • Top days out for winter walks, fun, activities
  • Maybe shorter activities in house or out in the wilderness and anywhere in between
  • Maybe great websites and resources you’ve found and think other could benefit from

There’s one I was looking at this weekend which is Accessible Guide, they have a great little book you can get which lists some brilliant activities and days out that span the UK so i’m sending off for mine.

Winter adventures

…can sometimes feel just like that, a mammoth adventure but these can be fun. Cold, crisp forrest walks with a hot chocolate or ginger tea afterwards to warm up. Gathering sticks and making christmas decorations, pine cones and silver paint, trimming some wild holly bushes for hanging around for the centre peace on christmas day.

Or a little wilder?

Our christmas last year to us to Stockeld Park and the boys had an amazing time. The whole day catered for my 15 year old and my 6 year old as well as us oldies trying the nordic ski thing, the enchanted forest, the ice skating and that huge awesome maze (where we did actually manage to lose each other).  It was all brilliant and worth the money.

Then there are times we walk locally, we are fortunate to have the south pennines as our back garden as well as the National Trust area called Hard Castle Craggs where you can walk flat, hike up, trail run, mountain bike, sip hot drinks and drink warm soup at the cafe in between getting as muddy as you want to.

Over to you

Share your tips with us and our followers so we can keep winter a great adventure like we have in the warmer months, only with a few more layers on and a flask of tea…

A Concert that revived the 80’s in us all.

The concert that brought the 80’s back home.

Robert DeNiro’s waiting and he’s talking Italian. Well that’s what Bananarama opened with on stage at the Barbican in York on Saturday night.

Then there was Nathan Jones of course

I love a concert but since becoming a parent of a child with disabilities I’ve noticed so much more about them and those who go.  This time as the 3 awesome women pelted out it’s a cruel summer to a happy crowd I watched those who danced and sang along. The happy vibe shared by the woman in front of me with bilateral hearing aids, the gentleman at the front who had some great moves in his wheelchair.

Music has a way of connecting, bonding, opening the mind and allows hundreds of strangers in a room to share something in common for a period of time. How refreshing.

Concerts for all

The Barbican in York welcomed us all, the large opened doors prevented bottle neck squeezing through, the relaxed staff offering clear directions and information making it all seem easy from the beginning.

I asked about their accessibility policy and buying tickets; they were more than happy to explain how their policy is to ensure you have the best seats for your needs. With their accessible guides and maps they seem to have most if not all bases covered.

The large foyer with the bar and plenty of staff to help, signs large and obvious, clear and not fussy. I didn’t get to check the disability toilets but from the outside they looked accessible but that’s as far as I could see with those.

Ushers were there with torches and safety instructions and were more than willing to support anyone who needed extra help and there were wheelchair size spaces at the front making the venue welcoming for all.

And if you missed Bananarama don’t worry because Kim Wilde is on soon so I may see you there…

To see events click on Barbican York

Accessible Winter Family Fun 2017

Accessible winter family fun

Having two children with varying needs takes some planning when it comes to family activities and we are a family who enjoys cold winter family fun time.  I have one son who is a young fell runner and an older son who due to a spinal condition can walk, however is unable to participate in the races that my youngest and I do.

Now baring in mind that we have appointed him our running manager who helps organise us, he misses out on the medals and the celebrations that others share with us when we drag our muddy selves over the finish line.

That is all about to change.

Winter family fun 2017 has just upped a gear because i’ve discovered virtual running. Now bare with me whilst I explain.

I happened across this website where you can sign up for a run – your choice on charity and distance – and within that month you fulfil that run (mostly in one go although there are some challenges which are done over the month).

The run can actually be a walk or pushing the pram or however you can do it but the point is, you do the distance and send in the evidence (something like a screen shot of your app measuring the distance) and in the post they pop your medal and certificate.

You choose your own time to do it, you do it in your own time so there’s no stress about being the last one over the line and the best bit is you get to do it locally or wherever you want to do it.

Okay so there isn’t the grand finish but what it does do is encourage a friend of mine who is visually impaired to jog / walk a 5 miler for the first time. Then there’s my gorgeous son who wants to do the races but knows he can’t run them or navigate them by himself, so i’ve signed us up as a family to raise money for charity and walk some 5 – 10k’s to build his confidence.

So this Winter family fun time for us will be getting some well earned medals to hang proudly off James’s wall of achievements and having introduced this virtual running to some of my other friends and family who live with a disability, it looks like we are going out in a crowd.

Virtual Runner

Race The Distance

But there’s a lot more so check them out…

What top tips have you got for some winter family fun that’s accessible, please do share them.

Keeping Winter Accessible

Keeping Winter Accessible

‘Tis the season to be jolly…” Or so they sing because for some, Winter provides many more challenges than their normally challenged day.  A winter accessible is very possible but does require extra management, resources and attention. I wasn’t aware of the scale of it until a friend of mine who is a wheelchair user came out with me for the day to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

We had a brilliant day and accessibility was great but as my friend pointed out all the places where it could have been a different story, I was quite shocked.

How we can you support a winter accessible for all?

Consider the risks experienced; from the cold and risk of frost bite and hypothermia to icy paths and snowy damaged areas. The  obstructive wet leaves littered and piles that if left can also freeze and cause issues.  Sometimes those who are at risk don’t venture out as much and experience more isolation.

From decreasing daylight to winter blues or SAD; there are many ways you can support your visitors to have as greater day in the winter as they would in the spring.

  • Are your parking signs clear?
  • Plan ahead with snow, ice and leaf management.
  • Is your lighting good so that moving around the grounds outside is easy and clear?
  • If you provide wheelchairs or scooters, have you had them winter serviced? Did you know you can get snow tyres for your wheelchair?
  • Ask for feedback from your visitors, they are the best ones to provide it.
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast to get the heads up on action required to continue pathways, car parks, entrances stay clear.

Help make winter accessible and safe, help it stay magical and open for as many people to enjoy it as possible.