Susan Evans, Project Development Officer (Access)

Last November marked 10 years since the Trust received its first access audit of Nene Park. The Park is intended to benefit everyone in the community and whilst we know accessibility is vital to making this happen, 10 years ago we didn’t have a detailed knowledge in this area to know how.

Working with Disability Peterborough we started to discuss how the Park could better meet the needs of disabled people. The first thing they supported us with was finding an access auditor to review the Park. It was clear we needed to understand how accessible, or otherwise, the facilities and services were and where opportunities for improvement lay. Disability Peterborough helped us choose an auditor who would not only undertake the work of surveying the Park and advising the Trust using accessibility standards and guidelines, but also engage with local disabled people in the process.

We were delighted to work with Access Matters UK who with Disability Peterborough helped Nene Park make connections with local disability organisations, groups and individuals to take part in surveys, interviews and workshops. Getting the opinions of both visitors and non-visitors, ensured we understood the barriers to accessing the Park disabled people were experiencing. This was fundamental.

The work took a number of months and a comprehensive report was delivered to the Trust in November 2011. It contained a host of recommendations from simple improvements such as installing coat hooks in toilets through to larger scale and longer-term building refurbishment. It also considered our communications, staff training and awareness and management issues.

Since then, the Trust has worked on many of the recommendations but we also continue to review the accessibility of the Park as facilities and services have changed. We also add new suggestions and opportunities for improvement as they arise.

Jan Loveless of Access Matters UK says “Nene Park Trust has progressed a long way from the initial stages of this ongoing journey and has been consistently rigorous in its approach to access. In my many years experience as an access consultant it really stands out as a shining example of best practice.”  

Key access highlights delivered since 2011 include:

  • Improved range of seating including wheelchair accessible picnic tables.
  • Improved accessibility in the refurbished building at Lakeside, Ferry Meadows including an accessible changing facility within Nene Outdoors.
  • Induction loops at many of the visitor buildings at Ferry Meadows.
  • Listening devices available for Nene Park Trust guided walks.
  • RNIB Map for All (a map designed to be read by sight and touch) located outside the Discovery Den Education Centre and Lakeside of Ferry Meadows.
  • Parklife magazine available in audio format.
  • Accessible wildlife viewing platforms.
  • Events, activity and volunteer teams who work with individuals and groups to adapt their offer to individual requirements.
  • Dedicated Accessibility pages of our website providing a wealth of visitor information about the accessibility across Nene Park.
  • A publically available commitment to accessibility through our Access Policy.

Some projects with accessibility features currently under development include:

  • Lakeside Activity Centre. A new and exciting facility with an Olympic standard climbing wall and one of the country’s largest clip and climb provisions. We are ensuring accessibility throughout the building design such as accessible toilets and hopefully a Changing Place facility, accessible changing and lift to the second floor, accessible parking provision and inclusive climbing sessions.
  • Your Community Greenspace Project. This National Lottery Heritage Fund project has proposals that include a wide ranging programme of activities and events with an aim to be inclusive to all, including sensory guided walks and culture-themed activities alongside travel opportunities to support groups getting to and around Nene Park It also includes improvements to the main welcome area in Ferry Meadows, renovation of the toilet block in this area and inclusion of a Changing Places facility, replacing Pontoon Bridge with a wider, fixed structure, improving volunteer and community hub space and a new Nene Nursery amongst a whole raft of proposals.
  • Ferry Meadows Café Toilets. Works are underway to deliver high quality individual toilet cubicles providing more space, a new accessible toilet and a quiet room incorporating an accessible baby change facility which will be a safe and clean space to suit a variety of needs of our visitors.
  • Accessible Boat Trips. To ensure our new facility is accessible as possible a gently sloping boarding ramp onto a hydraulic platform, enabling up to two wheelchair users on board at any time, is currently under development.

One of the key things the access audit process provided was starting ongoing conversations with disabled people and organisations in the community. Many people who contributed to the audit process were interested in continuing to work with the Trust to help make Nene Park more accessible and so the Nene Park Access Forum was formed. The Trust also works regularly with other experts such as local disability organisations and access consultants, to help inform our work and decisions as well as deliver inclusive activities such as Disability Peterborough’s Walks on Wednesday and Peterborough Sailability. Whilst the views amongst individuals often differ, what we have established through ongoing discussion and involvement is a greater understanding of each other’s perspective and of how decisions about access have been reached.

Sandie Burns, CEO of Disability Peterborough says: “Disability Peterborough is extremely proud of the achievements made by Nene Park in terms of accessibility over the last 10 years, they are an excellent role model. The report highlights what can be achieved by organisations when accessibility truly becomes part of an internal culture. The ongoing and continuous improvement of Nene Park highlights that accessibility is a process that can only be achieved with a commitment to fully involve disabled people at all stages of development. They have gone beyond merely communicating to ‘connecting’ with disabled people and recognising that improving access is an undertaking that is never complete.

As a Disabled Peoples User Led Organisation, we see Nene Park as an exemplar of what can be achieved by true co-production, moving beyond a strategy and bringing possibilities to life. Making the park more accessible is in everyone’s interest and we are delighted to be involved in this continuous journey with them.”

We are proud of our progress to date but as we say in our access policy; “we recognise improving access is a continuous process and an undertaking that is never complete” so we know we have much more to do and it makes me wonder what can be achieved in the next 10 years?!

If you would like to know more about the Nene Park Access Forum, would like to know more about the accessibility of Nene Park or have any access related comments, experiences or suggestions you would like to share with us please contact Susan on [email protected]