Can the outdoors be accessible for all?

Research by Farnley Estates into providing greater access to the countryside for all, shows that few outdoor UK attractions provide true access for people of all abilities.

According to the 2011 census* there are 9.4m disabled people in England, accounting for 18 per cent of the population. Less than eight per cent of disabled people, however, use a wheelchair, and the majority of impairments are not visible.

“There are many parks and outdoor spaces provide ramps, and wheelchair access, which are certainly welcome additions, but there are few locations that cater for people with mental health conditions,” said Rachel Burnett, Project Manager Growing Works, a Huddersfield-based charity that uses outdoor therapy to improve health and wellbeing.

The therapeutic benefits of access to green spaces, for people with mental health issues are well-documented*. Yet, according to Rachel, there is a lack of facilities to ensure that people with autism, for example, can have a safe and enjoyable visit. She said:

“Many of the families we work with have children with autism, and while the countryside can benefit these children it can also present challenges. As a result it can be difficult for these families to venture into the countryside unless they’re part of an organised group. Having a refuge – a safe, quiet space - that families can use if the child becomes distressed for whatever reason can make a huge difference.”

Opening up the countryside to enable people with a range of mental and physical difficulties, is an integral part of the vision for Farnley Country Park. The team has consulted with various groups who provide services for people with disabilities, to discover how the Country Park could be more inclusive.  

Antony Knight, a governor at Castle Hill School, Huddersfield, said: “Providing access for disabled people is all about getting the balance right. What may be a suitable environment for one person, will not necessarily be right for another. For example, while a highly stimulating area might be used to elicit a response for people with certain disabilities, this might prove too much for others, who require a more calming environment. Fieldfare Trust has established outdoor accessibility standards for disabled people, which can help organisations to get this balance right.

“The most important thing is to have disabled people in mind from the beginning. If the basics are in place, such as adequate, suitable parking and safe access into the park, there will be the foundation to create activities and access areas for people with different disabilities.”

If Farnley Country Park is given the green light, it will be in effect a blank canvass. There is a huge opportunity to create a free-to-access, green open space that can be held up as a centre of excellence for meeting the needs of people with physical and mental disabilities.

“We know that it’s the little things that can make a big difference, such as quiet spaces for children with autism or touching posts for blind people, however we are not experts in this area. Our intention is to work with specialist organisations such as Growing Works and Castle Hill School, to make sure that disabled needs are considered and built into the park’s design,” said Samantha Travis, Farnley Estates Project Manager.