Friday, 5 August 2016

I'm raising funds for a Panthera U3 wheelchair

I am raising funds so that I can purchase a Panthera U3 Lightweight Active wheelchair that will give me true independence, less pain, and a more active life. I have Cerebral Palsy, and have lived in Kendal, Cumbria all my life. I have been using wheelchairs supplied by the NHS, but these no longer meet my needs.

Anything raised above our target will be donated to Tourism for All, the charity that I have worked for for 11 years, which helps disabled people to access holidays and travel. These funds will be used to redevelop the Tourism for All website, so that we can reach and help many more people, enabling everybody to have holidays, trips, and memories that last a lifetime.

Tourism for All are very kindly processing all donations on my behalf, which means that we can access match funding.  Any donation big or small would be greatly appreciated and used solely for this fundraising.

This wheelchair gives me the best posture, and is so easy for me to push.  I can add a large front wheel for all terrain and proper dog walks, and a power pack to make it electric, meaning that for the first time, I will be able travel for work and holidays with true independence.

For more information and to donate click here.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Delightful Derbyshire - a weekend at Croft Bungalow


I was lucky enough to be the first ever guest at Croft Bungalow, in the Peak District, back in April.  I was encouraged to fill the lodge, which had 2 bedrooms, so along came my husband Darren, friends Rachel and Alastair, and of course, Poppy the puppy.
Croft Bungalow is a level access bungalow that can sleep 3 or 4. It has been recently refurbished (completed October 2015).

There is one large bedroom (which can be set up as a twin or double) and one single bedroom with electric profile bed. This can also be turned into a sensory room and lighting can be provided if required. It has a large lounge (with bed/settee for one adult or two children), kitchen and wet bathroom, with grab bars that serve the shower and toilet. Wheelchair access to Croft bungalow is via a ramp. All internal doorways have been replaced to be wide enough for wheelchair access.   Outside at the rear is a large private south facing garden with open country views and a large level flagged patio area, a wheelchair friendly picnic bench and a gas barbeque.  The bungalow also has Wi-Fi, and Freesat TV.


The finishing touches really make Croft Bungalow special. It feels so homely and comfortable that we settled in almost instantly, and they’ve done a fantastic job of adapting what is a relatively small property.
After a full cooked breakfast (prepared by chef Darren) on our first morning, we decided we’d spend the day at Crich Tramway Village.  A couple of week’s beforehand, whilst exhibiting on the Tourism for All stand at the British Tourism & Travel Show, I’d met Amanda from the Tramway Village who offered us some complimentary tickets. 
As vintage trams ride down the traditional village street, it really does feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, to a bygone era.  All areas are wheelchair accessible (and dog friendly, with the exception of the National Tramway Museum) and there is an Access Tram which runs twice a day, and should be requested on arrival at admissions.  Unfortunately, the Access Tram had broken down on the day of our visit!  But with help I was able to transfer to the regular tram, and the staff were so accommodating, knowledgeable and enthusiastic – many of them are volunteers .  A “smoothway” provides a smoother alternative to the cobbles for wheelchairs and buggies, and is shown on the village map.  We enjoyed a delicious ice cream fromBluebells, drinks at the Red Lion pub (which has an accessible toilet) and took home some old-fashioned treats from Barnett’s Sweetshop.

 
On our way back to Croft Bungalow after such a fun day, we decided to pop in to one of the village pubs, also called the Red Lion Inn, which is just 100 metres from Croft Bungalow.  We had a lovely time here chatting to some of the locals and enjoying drinks.  It definitely isn’t the most accessible pub I’ve been in – the doorways and toilets were tight and difficult to navigate, but manageable for a manual wheelchair user with some mobility.  The pub boasts it’s own microbrewery and a varied menu of tasty looking food.
We enjoyed a relaxed evening at the bungalow, making use of the garden patio.  After yet another hearty breakfast the next morning we set off to visit our friends David and Felicity Brown, at Hoe Grange Holidays just down the road.
Darren and I had a wonderful stay at Hoe Grange back in 2014, so we wanted to visit for a quick catch up, to introduce them to Poppy and see the latest additions to their holiday accommodation – glamping pods!  At the moment the pods aren’t easy to get to using a manual wheelchair, so the famous Boma 7 was wheeled out, and off up the farm fields I went.  The glamping pods are a chic mini cabin just for two, with the added luxury of your own bathroom and kitchen facilities.  Though they haven’t been purpose-built for accessibility (there are 4 very accessible, larger cabins on site for this) a pod would be manageable for me, and we hope to return soon to try one out!
The final destination on our Derbyshire trip was Carsington Water, as recommended by our colleagues at Accessible Derbyshire.  This is a reservoir, with a visitor centre, and a wide range of facilities including shops selling souvenirs, craft items, embroidery materials, ceramics, books etc and a cafe and restaurant.  You can hire Tramper mobility scooters and accessible bikes here, and there is a Sailability Club offering accessible sailing.  Our visit here was the perfect end to our trip, and we had such a lovely walk on the very accessible path around the water.  We were pleased to see that it was so busy, with locals and tourists alike, and Poppy made lots of doggy friends!
This was our second trip to Derbyshire, and we will definitely return, as we still have so much more to see.  Thanks to all of the people who welcomed us so warmly!

 

Friday, 15 April 2016

Homelands Trust-Fife: luxury and accessibility combined


The lovely people at Homelands Trust-Fife invited me there back in February.  I was encouraged to fill the lodge, which had 2 bedrooms, so along came my husband Darren, friends Chris and Kate, and the newest addition to our family, Poppy the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy!

credit thestonevillage
Homelands sits in mature woodlands in the pretty seaside village of Lundin Links, with panoramic views across Lundin golf course and Largo Bay to Edinburgh and the Lothians. In this beautiful setting, four luxurious lodges have been built, each with a wide range of equipment to suit various disabilities.
Specialist disability equipment, such as ceiling tracking hoists, profiling beds, clos-o-mat toilet and riser/recliner chairs are provided to ensure all visitors’ needs are met and the dream of a family or group holiday can be achieved. The buildings are architecturally stunning and luxuriously furnished. Homelands has an extremely welcoming environment for disabled people, as well as their carers, friends and family members. Three of the lodges can sleep four people (six with a sofa bed) and the fourth can sleep up to eight people in four twin/ double bedrooms.





The Paxton Centre, just a few yards from the lodges, is open to guests and day visitors and offers a variety of alternative therapies, counselling, exercise classes, art workshops, and mindfulness, in addition to various other activities and one off events.
Our first port of call on arrival was the local pub!  I’d asked Jan, the Secretary at Homelands to recommend dog-friendly, accessible places to eat and drink.  Helpful as always, Jan recommended 8 locations, and also some suggested itineraries for our weekend.
At the Crusoe Hotel, just a short walk/wheel from Homelands, we dined on delicious ribeye steak and chatted to some of the locals.  The gorgeous, beamed ceilings and views of Largo harbour made for a really lovely atmosphere.  The hotel didn’t have accessible toilets, but the ladies toilet was step free and manageable in a manual wheelchair.
Waking up to a view of the coastline the next morning was really rather special, and after fuelling up on bacon sandwiches we headed out to the Loch Leven Heritage trail, an accessible thirteen mile circuit round the loch.  I’d been lucky enough to borrow a Mountain Trike from Progression Bikes in Dunkeld.  Over the last couple of years I’ve gazed longingly at the Mountain Trike when attending mobility shows, and even had a go, but a flat, level exhibition hall is quite different to the great Scottish outdoors, as I was about to find out! 
Our timing was fairly terrible. As soon as we were on the trail the weather turned against us.  I tried to persevere, but my inexperience with the Mountain Trike really showed and I was terrified of dropping off the cliff!  Poppy was as disgruntled with the weather as the rest of us, so we retreated to a nearby café to warm up with hot chocolate.
The Mountain Trike IS a fantastic piece of kit, as it gives riders the ability to go to places that were completely inaccessible previously, whilst maintaining the function and versatility of a standard wheelchair.  I just need some more practice, preferably in the sunshine.  If you’d like to have a go, check out the accessible rambles that my colleague Craig Grimes organises in the North of England.
Once we’d thawed out, we decided that a visit to St Andrews would be a less challenging way to spend the rest of the day.  The Medieval centre of St Andrews consists of a series of narrow alleys and cobbled streets with shops, restaurants and cafés.  This makes for a slightly bumpy ride in a wheelchair, but it’s such a lovely place just to take in the scenery and people watch.
Our evening was spent enjoying a lovely relaxed dinner in the lodge, and planning the next day’s activities.
First on the agenda was a visit to Kellie Castle , which is a National Trust Scotland property.  As it was a Sunday in low season the castle itself was closed, but we had a lovely walk around beautiful gardens and woodland.  For those wishing to visit the castle, the ground floor is accessible for wheelchairs, as are the shop, tearoom, toilets and garden.  A wheelchair is available to borrow, and there is also an accessible tour facility featuring a slideshow and photograph albums.

credit thestonevillage
The last stop on our tour of Fife was the pretty little fishing village of Crail.  Charming cobbled streets tumble down to the miniature harbour, which is sheltered by cliffs and surrounded by historic fishing cottages.  Seasoned wheelchair travellers will know that cobbles + hills can make things particularly difficult, so I’d recommend a strong pusher!
Our time at Homelands was so special, as the accommodation has such a high standard of accessibility, without any compromise on style or luxury.  It is difficult to incorporate equipment such as hoists and profiling beds without giving the impression of a hospital, but the team at Homelands has got it just right.  It was wonderful to explore a part of Scotland that we hadn’t before, even with all the liquid sunshine!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Tourism is for Everybody - and a snippet of me on ITV News

Together we are able - New movement puts respect at the heart of accessible tourism 

This week sees the launch of Tourism is for Everybody - a movement to help the travel and tourism industry better understand and cater for the 12 million plus people in Britain who are disabled in some way.

ITV News reported, Tim Backshall, spoke to me, and to the people and businesses in our region who are trying to make a difference.  A warm welcome for disabled people in the lakes - watch the film here.

Tourism is for Everybody encourages individuals, businesses & policy makers to pull together to deliver a warmer welcome for ALL visitors, including those with some form of impairment.

The campaign is being launched this week at the British Tourism & Travel Show and is led by national charity Tourism for All, the voice for accessible tourism in the UK. As their Chairman and campaign spokesman Tim Gardiner MBE explains “It’s not just about legislation and infrastructure, it’s about awareness and respect.”

Nineteen percent of people in Britain and approximately one billion people in the world live with an impairment. Although they already travel quite widely - making 263 million day trips and 12.8 million overnight trips within England alone – research by Tourism for All suggests that disabled people’s experiences are often less than satisfactory and that they can be made to feel awkward or unwelcome.

The Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP said: “Tourism in the UK is thriving with more people choosing to stay at home than go abroad. From the beaches in Bournemouth to the museums in Manchester, I want disabled people to share the experiences that others enjoy freely. The spending power of disabled households is already £212 billion and by making a few changes, this can go further. Businesses have made great strides by making physical changes – introducing ramps, handrails and hearing loops. But for some, providing a warm welcome and a positive attitude is equally as important as the facilities. ”

The Tourism is for Everybody movement asks travel and tourism businesses to honour nine commitments (see appendix), which include embracing equality, training their staff, appointing an ‘Access Champion’ and monitoring their performance. Free Tourism is for Everybody toolkits are available for businesses and a dedicated website www.tourismisforeverybody.org includes a helpful section for people looking for advice on stress free travelling.

Individuals and businesses can also get involved on social media by following @TI4Einfo on Twitter and using the hashtag #togetherweareable to share stories of good practice and otherwise. There is also a dedicated facebook page @tourismisforeverybody.

“For most people tourism is one of life’s richest experiences” says Tim Gardiner. “But if you have a long term illness or some form of mobility impairment, trips that should be pleasurable can turn out to be unnecessarily stressful or difficult both for yourself and for the people you are travelling with. A little effort from tourism professionals can make a massive difference. ”

As well as helping make disabled tourists feel included and respected this campaign could also benefit businesses. Tim Gardiner says “Disabled travellers and their companions already contribute over £12 billion to our economy and the market could be bigger if people were assured of a welcome. It’s about offering good customer service to everybody and that’s just good business sense.”

Friday, 5 February 2016

And relax... Accessible spa break

Back in November 2015, my husband and I were pondering what we should buy each other for Christmas. Having decided that there was nothing each of us needed, and after a stressful house move, we thought that a relaxing break was in order!
 
After a family recommendation and some online research we decided on a spa dinner break at Ribby Hall Village – Spa Hotel.
 
We arrived in the afternoon of 23rd December, after a short drive over to Lancashire. The holiday village itself has lodges and cottages (some of them accessible) bars, restaurants, shops, swimming pools, tennis courts, a climbing wall, archery and lots more. The spa hotel is Ribby Hall’s adults only, luxury option, for relaxation and indulgence.
 
 
Following a speedy check in, we arrived in the biggest accessible room I have ever seen! Lots of space meant I could access all parts of the room in my wheelchair, and the bathroom offered the choice of an accessible bath tub or wheel in shower. Whilst all this was practical, there was no compromise on style, and the room, just like the rest of the hotel, was beautiful.
 

 
Next was my first treat of the afternoon – an Elemis White Brightening Facial. The spa treatment rooms were self-contained, with their own reception and waiting rooms. My therapist offered to assist me to transfer from my wheelchair to the treatment bed, and was very helpful. I then lay there for 40 minutes or so feeling very relaxed, whilst various lotions and potions were massaged on to my face, arms and neck. Afterwards my skin felt wonderful and was much brighter and clearer.
 
 
 
I found my husband in the bar, where we sampled a couple of cocktails, before a quick change into our complimentary robes and slippers ready for the Aqua Thermal Journey. This was a series of steam rooms, saunas, pools and Jacuzzis of varying temperatures, just what was needed on a cold December day! All were accessible to me apart from the outdoor hot tub, which was up a flight of stairs. It should be noted however, that there weren’t any grab bars or hoists. The steps into the pool were wide and had railings either side and all of the saunas and steam rooms were step-free.
 
Feeling fully unwound from our afternoon of pampering, it was time to change for dinner. This was the best treat yet – in the hotel’s Orangery we were lucky enough to enjoy cod cheeks, gineau fowl, risotto, fillet steak, chocolate pudding and pistachio cake. The meal lasted 2 hours and the service was amazing, nothing too much trouble.
 

 
An equally amazing breakfast the next morning set us up for the journey back to Cumbria, and we were ready to enjoy Christmas with family and friends. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ribby Hall Spa Hotel to anyone, and I hope to return very soon.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Accessible Barcelona: Travel Guide on TripAdvisor


TripAdvisor commissioned another accessible travel guide from me, this time Barcelona!
 
Barcelona is a dream destination for travelers with access requirements. The city’s Olympic legacy means that accessibility is just a part of everyday life, and I have no issues at all accessing accommodation, transport, attractions, beaches, and places to eat and drink.
 
 
 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Rome by wheelchair: worth the bumpy ride

Rome isn't an easy city for someone with mobility requirements to visit, but it's worth the effort. Ancient Rome has an abundance of cobbled streets, so prepare for a bumpy ride with beautiful sights everywhere you look, vibrant culture and magnificent food.

Accommodation
As with many European cities, the hotel rooms in Rome are typically on the small side.  Accessible rooms will be relatively larger, and for those who require more space, accessible self catering options are available.  On the recommendation of another wheelchair user, I stayed at the Mercure Roma Centro Colosseo hotel, just a few hundred yards from the Colosseum.  The hotel has a ramped entrance, lift to all floors, accessible rooms with double beds and wheel-in showers, and a roof top pool and bar, what more could you want! The views from the roof top are simply stunning, and it’s a fantastic place to unwind with a glass of wine after a long day sightseeing.
Accessible places to visit
As the city of Rome grew over the centuries, the major tourist attractions are quite spread out. Accessible taxis and tour buses are available, but if you’re using an all-terrain powerchair, or a manual chair and a strong pusher, it is possible to get around under your own steam.  I’d recommend a map, a guide book and a sense of adventure – Rome is a beautiful place to get lost in!
The Colosseum is one of the greatest remnants of Ancient Rome. The size and detail of the monument combined with a little imagination will leave you in awe. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Colosseum's access would be difficult for wheelchair users - but thankfully it has been completely modernised and has a smooth flat surface throughout, as well as a lift and accessible toilets.  Disabled visitors (+ 1 companion) from within the EU are entitled to free entry. Proof of entitlement is requested - my Blue Badge for disabled parking was accepted. To skip the queue, disabled visitors can use the Colosseum's official website to book a free entry ticket (€ 2,00 reservation fee) and collect at the entrance.  The Colosseum ticket also covers the Palatino, and the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum was once the centre of Roman life, and it's amazing to see these buildings still standing (in one form or another) after so many years, it almost feels like you've gone back in time. For me, the Forum was the most difficult part of Rome to access. There is a lift to take you down from street level, but the ground is so uneven that wheelchair users may struggle. 
The Pantheon is said to be the best preserved of Rome's ancient monuments, and its dome is record-breaking. It's an amazing feeling to be inside a temple (now used as a church) which was built almost two thousand years ago. What happens when it rains? Look out for the drain holes in the marble floor. The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible, and entry is free.
Piazza Navona is the showcase of central Rome. A beautiful square with street artists, ornate fountains and pavement cafes, makes it perfect place the sit, watch the world go by and enjoy a gelato.  Piazza Navona has a curb to get into middle of square, with a slight step up.
The colourful, loud, daily market at Campo de' Fiori is a part of Roman life. Smells of spices, herbs and cheese fill the air and vendors encourage visitors to try their produce. In the evening the square is transformed into a place to socialise, with lovely music, restaurants, and a mix of locals and tourists.  The square is level, with no curbs. The ground is a cobbled surface, which is relatively smooth and pleasant for wheelchair users compared to some areas of Ancient Rome.
Santa Maria in Trastevere is a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, said to be the oldest in Rome. It 'feels' much more like a church than St. Peter's Basilica - many tourists stumble across it by mistake, a respectful silence is observed, candles are lit and few photographs taken. There are beautiful golden mosaics and ornate walls and ceilings.  Santa Maria in Trastevere is completely wheelchair accessible, and entry is free.
Visiting the Vatican Museums is an unforgettable experience. Here is one the world's greatest art collections in such a beautiful setting. Don't try to cover it all in one go - legend has it that viewing every exhibit could take 12 years! Be prepared for crowds which can make the experience stressful, but definitely worth it. Wheelchair users can go backwards along parts of the tour route and through roped off areas to avoid stairs.  Disabled visitors (+ 1 companion) are entitled to skip the queues and gain free entry. Proof of entitlement is requested - my Blue Badge for disabled parking was accepted.  Wheelchairs are available to hire from reception.
The Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous works of art on the planet, and is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and everything you would expect. However, though adaptations for access have been made, the accessible route to the Chapel goes against the flow of people, and the sheer numbers of people packed into one space make it an uncomfortable experience. Despite all of this, the Sistine Chapel is a must see for everyone visiting Rome.  Vatican Museum staff will escort disabled visitors + 1 companion to the Sistine Chapel, as the accessible route is roped off.

St. Peter's Basilica is Italy's largest church, and a symbol of Rome. Its sheer size and beauty is incredible, and it's filled with history. As you'd expect, the crowds are large, but a respectful quiet is (mostly) observed and it's possible to find peaceful corners to take in the opulent interior. There are accessible toilet facilities. Admission to the church is free for all, and disabled visitors are entitled to skip the queues. The accessible entrance is in St. Peter's Square, to the right of the Basilica's facade. This entrance has a lift that takes your from Square level to Portico level.

Accessible Restaurants
Romans live to eat, and to find the best traditional cuisine it's worth getting off the beaten track, mixing with the locals and diving in to huge plates of pizza and pasta!
Don't waste money on expensive hotel breakfasts - find a local pavement café and have 'cornetti' (croissants) and cappuccino for around 5 Euros.

Isidor is a gem - a hidden, authentic feeling Italian family restaurant within the a few steps of the Colosseum. Here you'll find polite and helpful service, rustic, tasty food and reasonable prices.  The house wine is excellent value.  Try the pasta tasting menu, selected by the chef.
The neighbourhood of Trastevere is famed for good food, and this Pizzeria is well worth crossing the Tiber for. Arrive early to beat the round the block queues and dine street side on paper-thin, Roman style pizzas alongside the locals. The best, and most reasonable meal I had whilst in Rome!  Don't expect fancy tablecloths or silver service at Pizzeria Ai Marmi - this place is about fast-paced buzz, letting the food be the star of the show.