Access the Dales
Access the Dales is a newly formed charity providing free wheelchairs to help more people access walks across the Dales. Founded by a teacher from Leeds and her husband – a couple who simply wanted to keep doing what they loved after Debbie became a wheelchair user – they soon realised that there was lots of work to be done to help a wider range of people, and particularly children, access the countryside all over the UK.
Access the Dales exists to break down the barriers that prevent people living with disabilities enjoying the great outdoors by making all-terrain mobility vehicles available to borrow at outdoor locations in the Yorkshire Dales.
Although the charity itself is very new, founder Debbie North has been promoting accessibility on the Dales for some time. In 2011, Debbie, who had been a teacher in Leeds for 30 years, became a wheelchair user and began to look for ways to keep enjoying fell walking on the Dales with her husband, Andy. Once she had her all-terrain wheelchair they began publishing information on their website to help other people find accessible walks, and Debbie was also recently appointed Cabinet Office Disability and Access Ambassador for the Countryside.
In 2021, Andy sadly passed away after a short battle with cancer. His wish was for Debbie to raise the money for an all-terrain wheelchair for children to be able to enjoy the Dales, having learned that there is currently a huge problem with access across the UK. Even when some kind of electric wheelchair is available, they are not always the all-terrain types, and they are often only available to people aged 14 years and over, which excludes younger children.
Currently the charity operates 4 wheelchair hubs where people can borrow all-terrain wheelchairs to access walks on the fells which would otherwise be inaccessible. The hubs are well used by both families and school groups visiting the Dales – helping to offer an inclusive experience for all children, whatever their ability.
As well as providing all-terrain wheelchairs, the organisation is a hub of information and facilitation for a thriving community of Dales explorers. They share information about accommodation, attractions, walks and facilities that cater for people with disabilities, as well as organising events – including walks for a group of people with visual impairment and social walks for groups of people with learning and physical disabilities.
Over 300 people have benefited from the facilities so far, with one user commenting “I cried with enjoy. Climbing up the fells at Ravenseat for the first time was an awe and wonder moment. I just sat a while and soaked up the view. Access the Dales made it possible.”
The big dream for Access the Dales is to have hubs all over the UK so children with disabilities can enjoy the great outdoors with their families and friends.
A grant from the Matthew Good Foundation will help the team to organise more social walks for children physical disabilities, paying for transport and other costs to help children who would otherwise be unable to, access the dales and enjoy the countryside.