The third in our “mini-series” of personal stories & case studies for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG) – “Walks on Wednesdays”

The third in our “mini-series” of personal stories & case studies for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG) – “Walks on Wednesdays”

This is the third 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 leave Sheffield for a while (we’ll be back!) and head over to Peterborough, where we hear from Disability Peterborough and members of their “WOW” group (Walks on Wednesdays), and Nene Park Trust. It’s a wonderful story about working together and accepting that whilst we may be the experts on some things, others will be more expert than us in other areas. Indeed, Natural England were so inspired by their shared story that (with permission) they are planning to use it as a case study for some internal training on building inclusive partnerships. Here’s their story…

Nene Park Trust and local Disabled People’s User Led Organisation (DPULO), Disability Peterborough, have been working together for over ten years to ensure that the Peterborough-based parks in the Trust’s care, are accessible and welcoming to everyone. Working in true partnership has been the key to unlocking the potential that this park has to offer.

Due to its geography, the city of Peterborough is blessed with a flat landscape. In addition to this natural advantage, the Park – which is in fact six smaller areas of parkland, woodland and meadow, connected by the River Nene – has good pathways. This combination was the starting point for the Trust to think about its accessibility, how it might further improve, and encourage more disabled people to visit. In 2009 they therefore decided to consult the experts and contacted local DPULO Disability Peterborough, to find out what more they could do.

The Trust knew that there is more to accessibility than just good paths and a free mobility scooter hire. They wanted to ensure that people with any impairment would feel confident to visit and encouraged to enjoy everything the parks have to offer. With an independent Access Audit, along with feedback from disabled people guiding improvements at the Park, and with a successful Sailability project established on one of the lakes, the Trust and Disability Peterborough felt they had the right setting for disabled people to visit – they just needed to encourage more people and support them whilst there. Disability Peterborough already had a walking group in its early stages, but it needed a “home” and some structure. By coming together and merging the two, WOW (Walks on Wednesdays) was launched in 2014.

With initial funding from Sport England, Disability Peterborough formalised the walking group to support local disabled people to keep fit, whilst enjoying the beauty and tranquillity of Nene Park. The group has been so successful, that over ten years later, around sixteen of the original participants still attend.

Over the years, people with a range of impairments have – and still – attend. Being a wheelchair user, or hearing impaired, or having a learning disability is irrelevant. Everyone is welcome, supported, and free to appreciate the benefits of the park, and to enjoy the wellbeing and social benefits that the group offers:

“Joining WoW made me feel part of society”

“I do not have my own electric scooter and being able to learn to use one and get around Ferry Meadows with another disabled friend getting fresh air, seeing all the sights and sound of nature, wildlife, looking at the lakes, has been stimulating”.

Come rain or shine, the group meets every Wednesday and at the end of every walk they enjoy a hot drink and a slice of cake that the café offers the group at a discounted price.

Why has this group been so successful? Members would often say they need a purpose, or an incentive to walk. Unless they are walking to get to somewhere, or walking a dog, they feel “silly” walking or wheeling around on their own, even unsafe or scared without support:

“The freedom feeling of security in the park is amazing. People are kind and friendly. Our group has grown but they are the best – kind, caring and always looking out for each other”.

People also need regularity and sometimes transport to get to their local park or beauty spot. WOW offers all those things – purpose, incentive, regularity, support, and company – in addition to beautiful surroundings. Local groups such as Mind and Age UK have referred people to the group as they too know how supportive it is and the benefits it offers to both physical and mental health.

The support and friendships formed extend beyond Wednesdays and members often meet for social events such as meals out and afternoon tea; a wider, social community and support network has grown out of this one activity. Participants also report how the group has given them the confidence to visit other parks in their local area.

“We were made to feel most welcome by everyone and have embraced the social side of things forging some great friendships”.

“Really appreciate WoW, it started us walking regularly after years of inactivity. Now more than a walking group, it’s also a support and friendship circle especially in these tough times”.

Disability Peterborough said that the Trust’s positive attitude has been hugely significant in the success of this winning partnership. The two organisations are showcasing co-production at its best – not overcomplicating things, listening to the experts and being willing to learn from others. As Sandie Burns, CEO of Disability Peterborough succinctly said, “The beauty is in its simplicity”.

Image courtesy of “Walks on Wednesdays”, Disability Peterborough.