Becca Wilson is a research fellow in health data science at Newcastle University. Four years ago she had an episode of transverse myelitis, since which she has been working to improve disability inclusivity and equality in the academic sector.
I have always loved hiking, and prior to my disability I had the opportunity to hike through amazing terrain in the UK, Europe, and USA including a crater made by an asteroid! Since becoming a wheelchair user I know how easy it is to spend the majority of the week indoors - relying on cars or public transport, and spending a lot of work/leisure time indoors due to the availability of accessible facilities. Slowly it creeps up on you that you haven’t spent any substantial time outdoors or in any natural light. Aside from the benefits of sunlight - which triggers your body to produce Vitamin D - spending time outdoors and in green spaces is known to improve mood, stress, anxiety and wellbeing.
There are plenty of accessible trails, parks and gardens ripe for exploring and the AccessAble website and App can help you find places and accessible facilities nearby.
In Newcastle one of the largest accessible green spaces is the Town Moor and Exhibition Park. The Town Moor has a number of accessible paths through fields, typically these are full of cattle March to October which can prove a little too messy for wheelchair users! Annually, it is also the site of one of Europe’s largest travelling funfairs “The Hoppings” that have been hosted in Newcastle Town Moor for almost 140 years and are returning 21st-29th June 2019.
Exhibition Park lies at the South East corner and has several well paved paths connecting the sports facilities (croquet lawn, tennis courts, basketball courts), children’s playground, skate park, a former boating lake with plenty of ducks and swans and the Victorian bandstand.
The AccessAble Detailed Access Guide gives clear accessibility guidance for different sections of the park including if there is step free access, steep inclines, seating areas for rests and a description of the paths e.g. paved, gravel, grass. There are also plenty of pictures to help you make a judgement as to the suitability of the terrain and notes on whether there are heavy doors or gates to enter e.g. the playground and sports courts which can help you plan your access in advance.
Part of this family-friendly park is a woodland folly, offering nice picnic areas and little surprises waiting to be found including a children’s water play area, a climbing area, outdoor gym and the legendary Seeing Stone to make a wish at.
In the Summer months the Park Cafe adjacent to the children’s playground is open, and it includes an accessible toilet. Further facilities can be found at Whylam Brewery, that sits lakeside in the magnificent Palace of Arts. The brewery is only open partial hours Thurs-Sunday, I recommend checking the opening hours. You can phone on arrival (or send someone inside) for staff to open the accessible side entrance. Inside there is an accessible toilet and plenty of drinks, coffee and food served in the bar.
I hope this blog post has given enthusiasm and confidence for others to get outdoors more this Summer, download the AccessAble App and start exploring!