NEW ROUTES TO RECONNECTION
Disabled people enjoy North’s sensory walks
Big Issue North article
An organisation that runs sensory walks for disabled people is launching a third northern route after the success of its first two in Yorkshire.
Sense, a charity that supports people with complex disabilities to communicate, learn and develop, has been connecting them to nature on routes in Rotherham and the woodland, play areas and green spaces of West Bank Park in York.
The people it supports include those who struggle to respond to information from senses such as sounds, sights, smells, textures and taste.
Working with mapping agency Ordnance Survey, Sense’s walks “provide an opportunity to engage with the outdoors in meaningful ways, at the same time as supporting people to be active”, according to Alissa Ayling, Sense’s head of sport and physical activity.
Two disabled people who enjoyed the Rotherham sensory walk are hoping that Sense, partnering with the national mapping agency Ordnance Survey, can build similar projects across the region.
Afzal, aged 41, from Rotherham, is a wheelchair user with arthritis and Crohn’s disease. With the help of his support worker Michaela, he did the sensory walk around the town’s Clifton Park, starting at its museum and going on to the gardens and playgrounds. It has wooded areas for shade in the summer and stunning colours in autumn.
“It allowed me to take a trip down memory lane,” said Afzal. “Before my health deteriorated, I loved walking around the park as it’s close to home and I enjoy being out in the community. Clifton Park is one of Rotherham’s best features.”
Sense was formed in 1955 by two mothers who gave birth to deaf and blind babies after contracting rubella when they were pregnant. Its OS Maps app routes for the sensory walks come with accessibility information, including key milestones and sensory highlights, and are available via the free OS Maps App. Each walk has been established with the help of local walk leaders or groups.
Rajab is another fan of the Clifton Park walk. His carer Neil Davis uses sign language and clear speech to communicate with Rajab. Davis said when he asked Rajab if he would like to go to the park, “he gave a big thumbs up and immediately put his coat on”.
Rajab’s response at the end of the walk – after he had enjoyed the scents, textures and colours of the plants, the sound of falling water and an outdoor exercise area with walk machines – was the same.
One slight negative, according to Afzal, is the steep incline on the return to the museum. But he added: “It was really enjoyable and has been planned well as you can get to see most areas of the park. I love being out in the open air and being able to go on similar walks somewhere else other than my local park would be nice. I am sure disabled people in other towns would welcome similar opportunities.”
Sense is about to launch a third walk, in Cumbria, with the help of Forestry England. Paul Downes, Sense sport and physical activity organiser in northern England, added: “There are plans for new walks to be mapped in the North Yorkshire area with the help of volunteer walk leaders from the Woodland Trust.”
He appealed for anyone who would like to help plot sensory walks to make contact.