Bristol and Bath charity announces plans to improve access to green spaces for disabled people and unpaid carers
The first research to be carried out in Bristol and Bath into the experience of disabled people and unpaid carers in the cities’ parks has revealed stark findings.
Local charity, Your Park Bristol & Bath, who commissioned the research, is determined to use the findings to deliver significant improvements to this group’s experiences in local parks and green spaces.
One in three people living locally has a disability of some kind or cares for someone who couldn’t manage without their support. The charity wants to ensure they can access safe, inclusive and welcoming parks and is calling on local organisations, individuals and community groups to work in partnership on a series of actions over the next three years:
- To create the first community-led park access assessments. These will look at the accessibility of parks as a whole and create an action plan that can be taken forward by the community. A toolkit will be designed that can be used for any green space in the UK.
- To run a programme of activities designed in partnership with disabled people and unpaid carers – such as sensory tours, supported play sessions, accessible nature volunteering and accessible sports.
- To support Bristol and Bath’s 120 parks groups to help them improve their parks and make activities more inclusive.
With funding from Quartet Community Foundation, the charity commissioned the qualitative research earlier this year to better understand the experiences of disabled people and unpaid carers. It involved in-depth interviews and revealed the participants experienced a disproportionate number of barriers, making it harder for them to access parks and green spaces than other groups.
Charlee Bennett, CEO of Your Park Bristol & Bath, said: “We know that being out in parks and green spaces is transformational for our wellbeing, but sadly, going to the park can be particularly challenging for the one in three people in Bristol and Bath who are disabled or unpaid carers.
“We wanted to understand better the barriers for disabled people and unpaid carers, both adults and children. It’s sad to say that the results weren’t unexpected, but when you see extent of the hurdles that must be overcome just to go to the park, it is shocking. Our research participants told us how they have to meticulously plan visits, anticipating every potential problem. Parent carers carrying tents so they can change their child in private, searching for play areas that have suitable equipment, or wheelchair users mapping the complex journey to the park entrance.
“Sadly, many of these visits ended badly – we heard about wheelchair users getting stuck in gates, sand getting into important medical equipment, disabled people being shamed out of play areas and closed toilets cutting visits short.
“Even where improvements have been made, the feeling was it’s often the bare minimum and access requirements are seen as a check box exercise. We clearly heard that for things to change, parks need to be looked at as a whole. There’s no point installing an accessible toilet if there is no disabled parking, or the pathways aren’t suitable.
“This is the first piece of research carried out in Bristol and Bath into park access for this group and we are determined to act on what is uncovered. Disabled people and carers need to be able to spend time in parks as nature rich, free to use, community assets that are so good for our health. We want to galvanise collective action and deliver real change that will make a significant impact on their experiences.”
The key findings from the research revealed a number of recurring issues:
- Getting in and around parks: navigating pavements without enough drop curbs. Gates to navigate. Pathways that are slippery, uneven, muddy or narrow. Steps rather than slopes. A lack of seating.
- Park facilities: Play equipment not designed for visually impaired, wheelchair users and not suitable for adults with learning difficulties. Lack of cafes, toilets and accessible toilets.
- Safety & social issues: Poor hygiene practices of dog owners. Litter. Dogs running free. Criticism from other park users.
- Mental load: intensive and laborious planning due to a lack of information available about the facilities available, accessibility and current state of parks.
All of the participants interviewed said that spending time in green space was good for their health. However, more than half of the parent carers said that visits to the parks have a negative effect on their mental health, evoking extreme anxiety for themselves and the person that they provide care for because of the barriers involved. Many of them talked about the lack of adequate facilities meaning they felt unable to protect their children’s dignity or had to leave the park early.
One of the interviewees was Nicole Rumney from Keynsham, a mum of three and former carer to people with special educational needs and disabilities, who herself suffers from a number of conditions that cause mobility issues and pain. She said:
“Parks are really important to me because they are where I relax, exercise and meet friends and family. But I can’t use them because they don’t have accessible toilets and there isn’t enough seating. On the few occasions I have been, I can only use a tiny area because there are steep pathways without railings so I can’t get around. I miss out on days out with my family and I wish I didn’t have to.”
The report set out a number of specific recommendations to take forward, including:
- Local organisations should co-develop projects to improve parks access with their local communities
- Websites should be updated and regularly reviewed to ensure they contain accurate information to help people when planning visits
- Community consultations should be carried out using accessible and inclusive methods (eg. online & using social media), so as not to exclude certain groups from participating
- User-led parks accessibility audits should be commissioned in order to create specific action plans, such as identifying areas where paths need to be widened, highlighting hazards such as steps with a painted yellow line, installing handrails
- Improving toilet facilities
- Introducing inclusive recreation, with measures such as sensory gardens, zoning parks with dog-free areas, provision of non-sporting-related activities such as tours, trails, arts groups and conservation, and creating free of charge activities to include those with limited financial resource.
With Bristol City Council’s draft budget released last week proposing cuts to parks services, with an impact on disabled people and carers specifically mentioned and the expectation that it will be reliant on community groups to take on greater management, it makes the charity’s action plan even more critical.
Your Park Bristol & Bath is asking for anyone interested in working with them to deliver their action plan to contact them by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also a further survey for disabled people and unpaid carers to complete, to help the charity continue to build a detailed understanding of their experience. https://yourpark.org.uk/not-just-a-checkbox
To read the report, visit: https://yourpark.org.uk/not-just-a-checkbox