“The Rivelin Warrior” – The first in our “mini-series” of personal stories for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG)

“The Rivelin Warrior” – The first in our “mini-series” of personal stories for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG)

Get Yourself Active co-wrote and collated some personal stories and case studies about barriers to accessing urban green spaces and – just as important – successes to overcoming them. The stories accompany a report produced by the 23 organisations that form the National Outdoors for All Working Group, of which Get Yourself Active (Disability Rights UK) is a member. We’ve collated six stories and case studies to compliment the report, so will release just one or two on our “Stories” page each week. Our first story is from Ann-Marie, the “Rivelin Warrior”

Ann-Marie lives just a ten minute drive from Sheffield City Centre. Sheffield has 170 woodlands, 78 public parks and 10 public gardens.  Her house backs onto the beautiful Rivelin Valley and it’s just a 15 minute drive to Ladybower reservoir in the Peak District.

But how can you enjoy those places if, due to a long-term health condition your only means of getting there is by car, and when you arrive there is nowhere to park?

With the support of local Disabled People’s User Led Organisation (DPULO) Disability Sheffield and the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS), Ann-Marie has been on a mission over the last two years to have disabled parking bays installed in the suburb of Crooke and in local shopping areas across the City, to enable blue badge holders to access pharmacies, post offices and shops. She feels strongly that all public spaces including cemeteries, parks and woodlands, should be equally accessible, so that more disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, who rely on cars as their main mode of transport, can access them.

Her biggest challenge has been accessing the Rivelin Valley on her doorstep. Although close by, Ann-Marie relies on her car to get to the Pond Car Park, and her mobility scooter to go up the valley. Initially, the path into the valley was in extremely poor condition meaning that anyone using a wheelchair, mobility scooter or buggy could not enter via Rivelin Park road to explore the valley.

The local council resurfaced the path, but there was still no disabled on-street parking on the roads adjacent to the entrances – Rivelin Valley Rd and Rivelin Park Road – or in the Pond Car Park. Ann-Marie has had to campaign for double-yellow lines to prevent people from parking and blocking the path into the valley and for a disabled parking bay at the Pond car ark.

Following much stress, which negatively impacted on her health, she has found that the simple act of creating a disabled parking bay, in line with the Equality Act 2010, currently necessitates a lot of bureaucracy and significant costs to the local authority responsible. All disabled on street parking bays are subject to a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), which involves consulting local stakeholders, logging, and mapping the bays, which can cost in the region of £5,000.

A lot of disabled people, people with long-term health conditions and people with mental health conditions use – or attempt to use – local beauty spots to help improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing. Ironically, it is the people who would most benefit from fresh air and exercise in these beautiful and tranquil spots that are most often excluded. Why is that? Ann-Marie has found that non-governmental organisations such as the National Trust are much quicker to provide accessible infrastructure and facilities at the sites they manage.  In the nearby Peak district, The Longshaw Estate provides disabled parking bays and wheelchair accessible paths. At Derwent Reservoir there is disabled parking, accessible paths as well as mobility scooter hire.  Ladybower fisheries has wheelie boats which enable wheelchair users to fish on the reservoir. Perhaps these organisations have more funds and less bureaucracy to make simple changes.

However, Ann-Marie, known by local friends as the “Rivelin Warrior”, believes it is more deep-rooted than that. Sadly, local councils have budget constraints. In fact, a freedom of information request in January 2019 revealed there was no budget for disabled parking bays and Sheffield City Council has requests for disabled parking bays dating back to 2010.  National Government including, The Department for Transport, also recognise the need to provide parking for disabled drivers. However, it needs to provide specific funding to local councils, so they can perform their public sector duty under the Equality Act and install disabled parking bays cheaper and faster.  People should not have to fight for what they are rightfully entitled to.

However, Ann-Marie, also believes that attitudinal barriers are at play:

“Often it depends on who you speak to and if they care about equal access for disabled people and don’t discriminate against them. Rivelin Valley Conservation Group were consulted regarding a bay being installed in the Pond Car Park by the council. The council fed back ‘they feel no need to add a disabled bay in this car park at present’.   I was shocked and surprised that a local organisation had such an appalling, selfish and discriminative attitude.”

After a long, arduous, and unnecessary battle by the Rivelin Warrior, the Pond Car Park disabled parking bay was eventually installed. Ann-Marie has found the Park Rangers to be very supportive. They find the path benefits everyone using the park, including themselves and they keep a watchful eye on the parking bay to ensure that non-blue badge holders do not park on it. Ann-Marie says that most people are respectful of the parking space and of course as we might expect – it does not negatively impact on non-blue badge holders who are able to park a little further away and walk into the valley.

Image courtesy of A. Denham