The fourth in our “mini-series” of personal stories & case studies for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG) – “It’s not just gates and steel barriers…”

The fourth in our “mini-series” of personal stories & case studies for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG) – “It’s not just gates and steel barriers…”

This is the fourth story in our “mini series” of personal stories and case studies collated for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG), to accompany the group’s report on barriers to accessing local green spaces. We head back to the Sheffield area where we hear from Derek…

Following a stroke in 2012, Derek uses a mobility scooter to get around Aston-cum-Aughton and other neighbourhoods around where he lives. There are lots of parks and green spaces very close by, which Derek would like to visit more often. However, he has encountered gates, barriers, and kerbs at the entrances to many parks, all of which are inaccessible to his Class 3 scooter.

Several years ago, Derek contacted the local council in Rotherham where he used to live, when he could not access a local park due to a barrier at the entrance, designed to keep motorbikes and vehicles out. They suggested a smaller, foldable scooter that fits into the boot of a car. However, this type of scooter is not appropriate for Derek, as he uses his scooter for the entire journey; nor should he be expected to buy an additional scooter. When he pointed this out, there appeared to be a lack of understanding and he was informed that this was due to there being no disabled councillors. Most people who do not drive a scooter, do not understand that there are three classes of scooter, ranging in size, and that people use the one that is most appropriate for them.

The council did try to rectify the issue of Derek not being able to enter the park, but their efforts were somewhat misguided. Initially there was a steelwork barrier at the entrance. Three months after Derek had contacted them, the council finally removed the steel barrier and replaced it with a new gate. However, Derek could still not pass through, neither by zig-zagging around the gate, nor by going under it. Somewhat disappointingly, no-one had suggested meeting with Derek at the park to find out more about what he and others need to enable them to get in and out.

A further three months down the line, the council replaced the “new” gate with an A-frame style barrier. Derek reports that this made it possible, albeit very difficult, for him to pass through on his scooter. He fed this back to the council who suggested he remove the mirrors from his scooter when passing through. Would they ask a driver to remove the side mirrors on their car or van if trying to pass through a blocked road? Probably not. It is neither practical nor possible in some cases.

However, it is not just gates and steel barriers that have prevented Derek from accessing parks. A major issue, that Derek has been campaigning on more recently, has been a lack of dropped kerbs on the pavements in and around the Sheffield-Rotherham area – often just outside of park entrances. This issue is such a barrier to Derek who often uses his scooter for his entire journey, that he has even conducted an audit and sent it to the local parish council.

There are two big parks in the Sheffield area that Derek likes  – Ulley Country Park and Rother Valley Park. However, he has found Ulley Country Park to be inaccessible to him, simply because he cannot get to it on his scooter. The entrance to the park that Derek needs to take is on a busy 60mph road. He must cross the road to get to the entrance, but when he makes it across, there is no dropped kerb meaning that he cannot quickly and easily get onto the pavement and be on his way into the park. Trying to get onto a pavement with buses and cars hurtling past at 60mph is both dangerous and frightening. The entrance has only really been designed with motorists in mind.

He encountered a similar issue with the entrance to Rother Valley Park but in this instance, Derek was met by the Countryside Commission who were keen to follow his “access journey” and make amendments as necessary, including a countryside mobility scooter hire scheme. This has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but plans are in place. Derek has found the Commission to be more amenable to meeting with him, listening to him, and making the changes that they can, so that he can enjoy the benefits of the park on a level playing field with others. Often it comes down to who you speak with, their attitude, awareness and understanding.

Derek believes that unless someone is disabled by the same barriers, they do not understand how to solve the issue. It is therefore imperative that people trying to solve access issues really listen to disabled people and work in partnership with them. Derek makes a case in point; he has even been invited to a stakeholder meeting about disabled access in the Rotherham area, only to find that the venue itself was totally inaccessible to him. For Derek, this just highlighted that even when people try, they don’t always get it right,

“They’re making it look good, but they don’t know the nitty gritty, they don’t listen.”

So, Derek has offered for people in the local and parish councils to take his scooter for a day and to see how easy they find it to get around town and visit a local park! He also has plans to set up a Disability Network in the Rotherham area, so that disabled people can work with local councils to co-design access to parks and other places in and around their local area.

Image courtesy of C. Waugh