Making accessible holidays easier to find
Moira Henderson has dedicated herself to making accessible holidays easier to find in Fife, for as many people as possible. And she’s doing such a great job, Prince Charles recently presented her with an MBE. Editor Victoria Galligan asked Moira about her crusade and her cottages The Rings, which can sleep up to 16 people.
Q&A with accessible holidays champion Moira Henderson
When did you first become involved in the hospitality industry?
About 28 years ago we brought a second-hand residential caravan onto our farm, so I guess that was my start in hospitality. I became increasingly involved when we started to think about accessible tourism, although I didn’t know that was what it was called until a chance meeting with Chris McCoy of Visit Scotland.
Chris helped me to network with those affected by disability and their feedback helped shape my “wish list”.
I was then invited by Scottish Enterprise to join the group Planning to Succeed, designed to guide those involved in agriculture to diversify into tourism. This group was very educational and supportive.
What is your role on the board of Fife’s Tourism Associations?
I am Chair of the North Fife Local Tourist Association and I also have recently taken the Chair of The Fife Tourism Partnership. In these roles I try to encourage businesses to network and learn from each other. We keep an eye on changes in legislation – such as the attempt to introduce a Tourism Tax!
We also put forward the views of those we represent. We look at the needs of businesses, such as staff requirements, and liaise with schools and colleges, encouraging them to consider the long-term needs of local business in their planning. Our aim is to keep the vibrant industry we have in Fife moving in the right direction. Marketing is of course vital and we are constantly reviewing how we are performing.
Why did you decide to build The Rings – and why was accessibility at the heart of the project?
My first thought was to build a two-bedroom cottage! We were affected by disability in our family and latterly I nursed my Mum who had a severe stroke which required her to be hoisted. How do you go on holiday when you have specialist beds, hoist and shower chair all to transport? And that is assuming the doors are wide enough to get in when you arrive!
I realised there were very few properties available. My friend suggested we build something a little bigger than the two-bed I was considering. Both her brothers-in-law had muscular dystrophy and both were in wheelchairs, she needed four bedrooms and two of them wheelchair accessible.
God had a big plan for us – but so as not to scare us witless took us slowly, with the right people at the right time to come alongside. This is why the title of my book is called The Journey To The Rings: You Couldn’t Make It Up!
What makes The Rings so accessible?
The cottages are designed specifically for wheelchair accessibility by architects who have a daughter who is a wheelchair user. Our award-winning building is all on one level, with low entry from the decking, and gravel is in a tray which allows wheelchairs to cross it without becoming stuck.
Doors and corridors are wide, with plenty of turning circles. All en-suites are wet rooms, three have ceiling tracking and they also have baths, one of which has a seat on which you can transfer into a lovely deep “spa” bath, and feature colour contrasts for the visually impaired. There is clearance for knees under sinks and vanity units.
Two of the four kitchens are wheelchair accessible, because when we were planning a lady said: “I am a wheelchair user and a single parent, will I be able to cook for my family if I come?” So, yes she can!
We now have five profile beds and other equipment we hire out when required. I asked the architects for flexibility, I have 23 different configurations including one large cottage for a group of 16 guests.
What accessible attractions are there nearby to keep families entertained?
• The Scottish Deer centre is 15 minutes away, and there are lots of other farm parks locally.
• All our swimming pools (except St Andrews) are accessible either by beach entry or hoist.
• Beach wheelchairs at St Andrews, and more to come.
• We have more Changing Places in Fife than any other area of the UK.
• Lochore Meadows, has accessible sailing, and a boat accessed by a ramp.
• Accessible bikes and play parks in some parts of Fife
• We even have gliding which is accessible.
We have encouraged the many leisure and tourist attraction businesses in our local area to produce Accessible Guides so potential guests can decide if the venue will work for them. We really are spoilt for things to see and do in this area!
Tell us about your MBE…
I was awarded the MBE for Services to Accessible Tourism in Fife. Prince Charles presented it at Buckingham Palace in February. He asked three very relevant questions about The Rings and I hope I answered appropriately! It went by in a flash but was a very moving moment.
It was a lovely opportunity to speak with other award recipients who also had an interest in accessibility.
To buy Moira’s book The Journey To The Rings: You Couldn’t Make It Up! (£10 including P&P with proceeds going to charity), or to book accessible holidays at The Rings, see therings.co.uk