Sunday, 26 May 2019

Northumberland Day - Top 3 Accessible Days Out


It's Northumberland Day and I am so blessed to live in such a gorgeous part of the UK. One of the many challenges I face as a wheelchair user however is that the rather hilly countryside isn't always the most accessible. Thankfully, many locations are making adaptations to accommodate people with disabilities so here are my Top 3 accessible days out in the region.

Calvert Trust Kielder

Calvert Trust is an award-winning activity centre which caters for people with disabilities. Whether you're able bodied or not, anyone can join in the activities which range from canoeing to their brand new zipcoaster! The paths around Kielder Water are also accessible and there are lots of nice cafe's which cater for many dietary requirements. One of my favourite trips out! 

Alnwick Gardens

I absolutely love Alnwick Gardens, especially in Spring, with my favourite part being able to visit the famous tree house! Although on a steep hill (so I would recommend a powered wheelchair for this trip) most parts are accessible and their new children's playground which is also getting built I've been told will have an accessible section too. Being able to weave in and out of water fountains, get nose to nose with flowers grown at heights to suit all abilities and even go through their maze shows they put a lot of work into making the venue as accessible as possible. 

Wallington Hall

Owned by the National Trust, Wallington Hall is somewhere we used to visit regularly when I was younger. With a mansion, walled garden and lots of walks there's plenty to see. You can hire scooters from the National Trust including a very sturdy off-road scooter which can tackle the woods & surrounding paths with ease. Not all of Wallington is accessible, but it is so big that you can still make a good day out from it!

So, there you have it. I'd be really interested if anyone has any other recommendations for accessible days out in Northumberland, as I still think it's quite hard to find (and hear about!) them. 

Happy Northumberland Day!
Kate x

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 - The Lone Wolf Pack


Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 - The Lone Wolf Pack

With 1 in 4 people in the UK currently experiencing some form of mental health problem, awareness and support for the condition is vital, which is the main aim for Mental Health Awareness Week.

My background 
I, myself, have a long history of mental health problems which includes a long stay in a psychiatric unit when things were at their worst. I have been campaigning for increased support to be provided for people who have mental health issues and through getting to know people who are making a difference in my area, I reconnected with Georgia, from The Lone Wolf Pack.

Georgia with her dog, Burton, and my assistance dog Spencer. Both of whom have helped us during difficult spells.

Introducing The Lone Wolf Pack
Georgia used to attend Prudhoe High School, which is where I first met her; in art class actually. Now, she has set up her own clothing company for the mind. Set up to raise awareness and start a conversation, The Lone Wolf Pack designs products with mental health as it's inspiration. Each design tells it's own story and 10% of all sales go to the charity, Mind.

Georgia has suffered with years of anxiety, depression and PTSD, setting up The Lone Wolf Pack to create something productive from the experience. After realising she had both a passion and a talent for Computer Aided Design, she combined her knowledge of mental health and creativity to start making t-shirts.

Georgia working at her home office

This year's campaign; body positivity
Body positivity is now a huge topic, especially with campaigns such as I WEIGH hitting the news. This year's MHAW is focused around body image so I asked Georgia how she felt about her own and how her brand reflects body positivity.
'I have always struggled with body image, which only heightened once I started self harming. It took me a long time to accept my scars as part of my body and be willing to show them too. In the end, I got them covered with a tattoo and that gave me some level of self confidence back.' 'As a company we hope to appeal to as many people as possible.' 'I'm happy to have the design printed into a different shape tee for my customer if they want. I also sell other products which aren't clothing like prints or notebooks for those who don't want to wear a t-shirt'.

'You are enough' tee

What I love about The Lone Wolf Pack
The fact Georgia has not only set up her own brand, but raised nearly £300 for Mind, is absolutely incredible; especially for someone with their own mental health battles. The designs have had a lot of thought put into them and have been executed so well, with a clear style throughout meaning they work well as a collection. I can't wait to get my hands on some tee's when I go to see the new range next week and I really would encourage you to support The Lone Wolf Pack, I think it's one to watch!

The Lone Wolf Pack at Tynemouth Markets

Where to find The Lone Wolf Pack
The Lone Wolf Pack can be found here or on social media at @thelonewolfpackco. They currently have a weekly stall at Tynemouth Market but would love to attend more events, markets & festivals in the future - so keep an eye on their media for where they are!

Help Information
Mind - 0300 123 3393
Samaritans - 116 112
Young Minds - text 85258

Kate x

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

3 Reasons Why You Should Save The Haven - Accessibility


Save The Haven

The Haven is made up of ten accessible bungalow in Prudhoe, owned by Karbon Homes. Karbon plan to demolish it, with no clear plans of where to house the elderly/disabled residents and replace the buildings with 'family homes'. I have been campaigning behind the scenes and have contemplated whether to keep it this way or publicise some of the reports I've presented. There are many, passionate people who are campaigning to keep the bungalows which is fantastic news, but we need as much support as possible. I have gone down the accessibility route, since this is my area, but others have campaigned for different reasons so please do check out the latest posts available on social media!

93% of homes don't meet accessibility standards. The Haven provides accessible homes for the elderly and disabled.

Over 11 million people have lifelong illnesses, impairmaints or disabilities which now affects 16% of working aged adults and 45% of adults over state pension age. Yet, 1 in 3 people still live in non-decent accomodation. (

The English Housing Survey showed that 93% of homes don't meet accessibility standards and many developers are not building for people as they age. With nearly three quarters (72%) of UK adults thinking all homes should be built to be suitable for all ages and abilities, the lack of accessible housing being built & maintained is astonishing.

Karbon Homes stated 'There is less need for older, one bedroom bungalows'. Currently, they are all occupied which proves there is clearly a need for the housing. Because of the lack of accessible housing not only in the area, but nationwide, finding 10 accessible houses in close proximity will be almost an impossible task. Karbon say it might take a year to move residents out and my greatest concern is that they will be moved to inappropriate accommodation.
Because of the extreme shortage for accessible housing not only in the area but nationwide, I do not think there would be an issue filling a vacancy if someone was to ever leave The Haven, which could be a concern of Karbon's, and in the report above it shows that younger home owners are also willing to look at accessible homes.

The impact of not having a suitable accessible home includes poor mental health, social isolation, mobility problems and the indignity of not being able to live independently. 

The impact of not having a suitable accessible home includes social isolation and anxiety, poorer mental health, mobility problems, indignity of not being able to live independently and being 4 times less likely to work. Having an accessible home means that older relatives or disabled people can visit, so there is still a need for these homes even if it's not directly for the buyer.

Currently, the locations for The Haven is important to all residents for accessibility and is close to a bus stop, doctors, pharmacy, local amenities and socialisation. Moving the residents to a different location could have a dramatic effect on health, socialisation and general happiness of residents. It is also important to note that many of the occupants are elderly or have health problems, the stress caused by this and the move could be detrimental to their health.

Many residents have just had refurbishments and adaptations made on their house

Residents have recently refurbished housing to a high standard and have been offered a sum of £6,100 for their home loss. Speaking to one resident who had decorated including laying carpets, lino & blinds it seems a small sum for the amount of work put into the house but also a waste of the love & effort put into the property. Others have had work done such as ramps and wet rooms which the council only provide a contribution towards (usually £1,000) and the rest comes from your own funds. Will this be paid back to the residents and will they get the same facilities in their new home if The Haven is demolished?

The residents of The Haven want to stay, the town is backing them, will Karbon agree? Let me know your thoughts! 

Sign the petition here

Kate x

Monday, 13 May 2019

5 Favourite Dog Enrichment Treats


 Food enrichment is a fun way to make feeding a slightly more challenging & productive activity. Since the weather has suddenly got hot again (I know, what?!) I thought I'd share 5 of my favourite food enrichment products (and how to use them) as many can be frozen & are brilliant for using when it's too hot to go out. 

So, here are 5 easy-peasy enrichment treats to make up. 

Frozen Kong
  1. In a cup, line the outside of the kong with kitchen foil
  2. 'Plug' the bottom of the kong with food and then stuff 
  3. Pour boiling water in and leave to expand and cool
  4. Finish off with (dog friendly) peanut butter and freeze overnight

Kong Wobbler
  1. Open up kong wobbler and fill with size appropriate treats
  2. Leave on floor and tilt to treat

 B&M Snake Treat Toy

  1. Fill snake with treats
  2. Top up with (dog friendly) peanut butter to seal


  1. Spread your favourite treat on the mat and serve

 Slow Feeders

  1. Add food to slow feeders
  2. Add water and serve 

Product Links
Kong & Kong Wobbler - Pets At Home
Snake - b&m
Lickimat & Slow Feeder - Amazon

Kate and Spencer x

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Spring Cleaning Guide for Dog Owners


Spring Cleaning Guide for Dog Owners 

It’s that time of year where everyone loves a good spring clean. With the nation obsessed with ‘hinching’, I have a few added challenges which impact a normal cleaning routine; the first being I have a chronic illness which majorly limits my activity levels and the next being my new(ish), hairy, assistance dog.

I devised a list, mainly to help me pace through my spring clean, and wanted to share with you some tips. I was kindly gifted a box of Sweetpee products a few months ago which I have been trialing with great success so you’ll hear me talk about related items on this post - it’s not sponsored but because I liked the products so much (and they’re a local company, my followers know I love supporting local!) I’ve put links at the bottom of this page if you’d like to check them out.

So, here are 7 steps for your spring clean!

1 - Wash soft toys, blankets & bedding:

It’s time for a wash! Put your soft items in the washing machine, (spray with Safesol Multipurpose Disinfectant & leave for 15 minutes before washing to kill the bacteria, germs & viruses, I do this before I put it in the washing basket!) and add 50ml of Sweetpee ‘Pet Stain and Odour Eliminator’ to the drum to get rid of any lingering smells. I've also heard rave reviews of Vamoosh which dissolves pet hair in your washing machine which I'm desperate to try! Also, whilst you’re stuffing those mountain of animals in the washer, have a sort out and discard of any unsafe toys.
Note: Many of you will be saying 'Kate, why aren't you using Zoflora?'. My dog has sensitive skin and I couldn't use Zoflora (no matter how good it smelt) on any of his items, but I recently found out you're not supposed to use it on fabrics anyways - so a little note for those with sensitive skin!

2 - Hoover or steam floors:
This is a task which is particularly difficult with a chronic condition, but I’ve realised sit-down-hoovering is a thing. Handheld pet hoovers are your lifeline on this occasion and I bought a second-hand steam cleaner for £15 off a local selling site. Don’t worry about asking for help or doing it in sections, it’s a big task! 

3 - Disinfect food bowls, hard toys & assistance items:
For dog bowls I use Pet Multipurpose Spray which I spray on, wash off and leave to dry. I also use the same product to clean the feeding area, treats bag and storage tubs I use to keep food in. Spencer fetches a lot of items for me like phones, remotes & medication bags so I give them a good old wipe down too.

4 - Valet your car
My wheelchair accessible vehicle is something which I cannot clean by myself, so unless I bribe a family member to help out, I pay for a local business to come clean it for me. Getting a car seat cover, like this example from petplanet, has been a game changer for not needing my car valeted as often (simply wipe down or pop that through the wash) and I always have a travel sized bottle of Sweetpee Odour Eliminator handy as it’s been incredible at getting the smell of wet dog out the car after our walks!

5 - Hose down the toilet area
Assistance dogs have a specific toilet area and mine is an enclosed pebble section. To clean this, I dilute Pet Multipurpose Spray with warm water and put into a watering can. I then pour over the stones and give the area a good hose down before leaving to dry. To get a thorough clean, I also rake over the stones and spray the bottom of the posts too.

6 - Clean the dog:
Lets not forget a vital role in all of this, the dog itself. To wash Spencer I use hypoallergenic shampoo and let him dry naturally. I then spray with Mucky Pups no-wash shampoo before using this deferminator brush, a silicone brush and finally a bristle brush. I clean his ears by diluting the pet disinfectant spray and using a cotton pad. I brush his teeth regularly with toothpaste and a brush but also add Sweetpee gumdrops to his water. Finally, if his nails need doing I get them trimmed at a salon, as with him being black this is particularly difficult!

7 - Enjoy spring!
Spring is such a fun time for dogs (and humans!) and with the warmer weather approaching there’s plenty to do. From beach trips, to making doggy ice-lollies, there’s plenty to explore so go out and have fun! For those with assistance dogs who'd like to treat their dog for helping out with the Spring cleaning (or y'know, if you just want to treat your dog anyways!) I can 100% reccomend The Snack Pawtal and Puppy Sue's K9 Kitchen which both have a range of grain free (and normal!) treats! 

Like our dog posts? Let us know!
Kate & Spencer x

Products mainly used: 
 - eco friendly, combats 99.999% of bacteria & fungi, safe around pets
  • used to disinfect pet equipment, kennels, remove tick/mites, wash folds of bulldogs or similar, disinfecting wounds & cleaning ears.

  • use on furnishings (hard or soft), outside areas, cars & washing machines
  • breaksdown enzymes instead of masking them
  • tackles animal urine, vomit and “wet dog”
  • more effective on car and dog urine than leading competitors

  • added to pets water to improve dental hygeine
  • cleaner, plaque-free teeth with healthier gums
  • prevents bad breath and gingivitis
  • eco friendly 

Thursday, 2 May 2019

North East Expo - An Honest Experience


Today, I visited North East Expo Expedition; the biggest business event in the region. I attended mainly to network, as running a non-profit we are always looking for business backing, but also the fact there was lost of local stands there and seminars really excited me as I love to 'support local'.

Background: I run projectparent which is a non-profit providing gift boxes for parents of children who stay in hospital over Christmas. I am also working on a new project, 'Sponsor a Stay', which funds respite breaks for disabled adults & their carers through business sponsorship schemes - hence why I was eager to network! Finally, I am also a freelance blogger and public speaker, avidly into disability/accessibility & helping others. 

There were minor bumps throughout the day, but there's two things I really want to talk about here.

I arrived and went over to my first stall, which thankfully was my good friends Joe and Alexandra. As we were chatting, a man approached from behind and started started stroking Spencer (we'll get onto that in a minute) and came out with something which honestly shocked me. He saw a picture of me modelling on the stand whilst I was stood up, alongside a photo of me in my wheelchair (and my physical self being in a chair), turned to me and said 'so your in a wheelchair because your lazy then?'. Once I told him how offensive that was, he continued to say 'well I bet everyone says that about you'. The worst thing about it was none of us knew this man, he didn't introduce himself and I'd already explained I'm an ambulatory wheelchair user.

The fact that this was the first event I attended myself was a huge step for me and to be knocked at the first hurdle was hard. I wasn't dressed for people to take me seriously (note: it does still matter what you look like at events like this, ditch the jeans Kate and buy your first suit!). I'm young and many underestimate the power of young people. And most importantly, I got judged on a set of wheels instantly and that is not okay.

The next thing that happened was a general thing, people stroking my assistance dog. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't the best at saying 'no' but most people didn't even ask; I was still nervous about what people would say after my first encounter so just rolled with it. But what was so difficult was people would either stroke my dog, or ask to stroke my dog, then completely ignore me. My dog, as fabulous as he is, isn't here to provide entertainment and he is an ice-breaker but the conversation needs to continue. If you were one of the people who either just stroked Spencer and left, or only asked questions about the dog & not a single thing about what I do, think about how that makes me feel. I work extremely hard in what I do and for people to treat me equally, and quite frankly, I deserve it.

So yes, today has been difficult to say the least. I'm so grateful I had some friends there, some friends at the end of the phone to rant to and my family to cry to tonight. I'm not done yet, I'll be going back in a pink power suit with more confidence and a charity bucket charging £10 to stroke Spencer, it's all a learning curve...

Note: Thank you to the people who were genuine and took the time to talk to me today - I appreciate your time and the fact I wasn't all with it. 

Kate & Spencer

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Sage Gateshead - Accessibility Review


The Sage is one of Newcastle Quayside's iconic venues & I was lucky enough to attend a concert there last week. I have visited the Sage a number of times and I have to say it's one of the best venues for accessibility which is why I was eager to share with you this post.

 image by 

Getting there:
The Sage is across the river from Newcastle station, which although isn't the longest of walks does require you to tackle 2 pretty steep hills. If you are going to the Sage from Newcastle station, I'd recommend getting a taxi from the station if you have walking difficulties or a wheelchair. I, however, got a lift in and there is parking around the back if you have a blue badge (although it is not signposted very well, it is near the drop-off point). They are often full though when a concert is on so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to park.

Booking tickets:
You can book tickets online, on the phone, in person, via email and by post. They also have an access requirement register which means that once completed, you are on a list which will help with everything from selecting the correct seats to specific access requirements. You can find more info on this here including eligibility and how to apply. The Sage allow a free PA ticket once you are registered with this scheme so it's definitely worthwhile!

Toilets and changing facilities:
The Sage has 34 (award-winning... ooh!) disabled toilets on every level and includes a WC facility with tracking hoist, changing table & shower. The toilets are large and have plenty of manoeuvrability for electric wheelchairs, assistance dogs and carers.

The venue:
The Sage is split into a number of halls but the main one's used are Sage One and Sage Two. Sage One accommodates 20 wheelchair spaces over all floor levels which means that there is a variety of seat prices available - something which rarely happens in many other venues. I personally love going in either a box which is slightly raised from the floor, or, the circle near the back where there is plenty of space for myself and my assistance dog. Sage 2 is smaller with 4 wheelchair spaces but can accommodate more if needed. The cafe at the Sage has a good range of food, which includes gluten-free options, but is often busy and has limited seating.

The staff:
The staff were the reason I wanted to blog about this venue. As per usual, Mum & I were running late but were escorted to our seats by 2 lovely men who introduced themselves and checked we were both ok. The bit which really got me was near the end of our concert the whole of the stalls got up on their feet to dance along to Michael Ball. I spotted a women in a wheelchair at the back get up and then get approached by a member of staff, my first thoughts were that it was going to be a health & safety problem as that's how it usually goes. But no. The member of staff recognised that even though she could stand up, standing for another 3/4 songs could cause her pain/payback and offered (then pushed) her to the very front of the stage where Michael Ball was singing. And honestly, I cried. It's what should happen but in over a decade being in a wheelchair I've never seen it happen, so thank you to all the staff for making it accessible to all. I must note too they were fantastic with my assistance dog, Spencer, by asking questions but respecting the fact he was working and I had such a smooth night I was over the moon.

Overall: A fantastically accessible venue with staff which are trained to a high standard in disability awareness. I wish they had a slightly wider range of music attending the Sage because of how easy this experience was for us, but, I'm glad I've had the opportunity to attend a number of concerts and talks hosted at the venue already.

Kate (and Spencer of course) x

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Intu Metrocentre - Accessibile Shopping


Shopping can pose a number of barriers when you have additional needs. Since 'Intu' have taken over the Metrocentre, I'm pleased to say the accessibility has definitely improved and a number of new schemes have been launched. 

This has 32 electric scooters and 50 manual wheelchairs. There is a membership fee and a small hire charge. You can also use their reserved parking in the blue mall if you have reserved a wheelchair/scooter. Booking is recommended.

Accompanied Shopping
This enables anyone who's blind or partially sighted to 2 hours free personal shopping with a trained guide.

Working closely with local school Percy Hedley, they have a number of downloadable guides for visiting the centre with Autism and an Autism alert card. Newly introduced with the help of Autism North East are sensory backpacks which are available to hire. These include things like ear defenders, fidgets, sunglasses, egg timers & guides. The centre is also having a 'quiet hour' on the first Tuesday of every month 10-11am and the first Saturday of every month 9-10am where the music is turned down, the lights are dimmed and there is more staff at hand to help out.

BSL Shows
At Christmas and Easter, the Metrocentre made the (fantastic) decision to sign some of their Metrognome shows. It's something which was incredibly popular so is hoping to be a regular feature.

Changing Places and toilets
The toilets by transport exchange/blue mall have electronic push pads meaning they are much easier to access for wheelchair users. They also have contrast support rails for those with visual impairments. The baby calm rooms have been made wide enough for wheelchair users and the changing tables are also accessible for wheelchair users! The baby changing room is much larger with an accessible toilet so a family with greater access needs could really benefit from this area.
In Debenhams, there is a fully accessible toilet with a tracking hoist, shower and lima lift toilet. You do need to provide your own sling and sign up for the (free) membership scheme in the red mall to gain access to the equipment.

With a CEA card you can get a carer in free to the cinema. The card costs £6 and eligibility is online at

*How can they improve*
- Reduce the accompanied shopping age to those under 18 (independence is everything!) and also allow this to run through December - visually impaired people want to Christmas shop too!
- There is no 'quiet space' in the Metrocentre which does surprise me for a shopping mall of this size. An area with sensory equipment or even just somewhere so people with chronic illnesses can lie down/rest would be a huge game changer.
- The new sensory bags would be fabulous if they were available to purchase, as handing back the bag for an autistic person might be difficult so it would be fabulous to have both options.

Overall, as a shopping centre I think they're doing incredibly well, from employing disabled people to coming up with new initiatives. I would love to see more change in individual outlets like having proper accessible tables in restaurants (I don't think there's one in the Metrocentre) or making wide enough isles for wheelchairs (and don't get me started on disabled changing rooms being used as storage...) but a little change at a time will go a long way.

How is your local shopping centre? What would you improve?

Kate (& Spencer) x

Monday, 4 March 2019

Hilton Review - Disabled Hotel Stay


This year has already opened the door to lots of exciting opportunities for me. One of the first ones was traveling down to London (which was a huge deal for me!) to say goodbye to my best friend as he starts his new life in Australia.

Planning a trip away whilst disabled takes an awful lot more time and research. This blog post I'm focusing on our hotel choice and why we chose the Hilton.

For our London trip, we chose to stay in DoubleTree by Hilton in Chelsea. The location worked well for us because it was near a connecting train line so my friends could come to our hotel easily. It was also in a part of London which wasn't as busy and we had a offer which was valid on this hotel. It ended up being around £20 each more than a Premier-Inn Hub (which would have been a squeeze with my assistance dog!) including breakfast so it was well worth the money!

We booked a disabled room and hands down it was the best adapted hotel room I've stayed in. It had a push-button to open the doors which my assistance dog could operate so I didn't have to struggle through in my wheelchair. There was plenty of room to manoeuvre my chair and they also were very nice about my assistance dog; providing extra sheets for the bed to allow him to rest with me. The bathroom was huge, with a large wet room and flip-down shower seat.

At breakfast, they had gluten and diary free options but what I loved the most was that one of the waitresses came around to help me which was very thoughtful. Mum used the bar area to meet a friend whilst I rested one day and in general the hotel was really warm & friendly.

I will add, it's a fantastic place to stay as a disabled guest but the facilities nearby are not the best for assistance dogs. We had trouble with access refusals, they are very strict on where you're allowed dogs and there aren't many places to let dogs for their business unless you live there. However, we did find a small area of grass across the road from the hotel, so not all was lost!

My next Hilton stay was for a very special celebration. I had been nominated for a Glass Slipper Award for being one of the top 3 most remarkable women in the North East. It was hosted at the Hilton in Gateshead, and whilst we were at the Hilton in Chelsea and I received the email saying I'd been shortlisted, we decided we would make a stay out of it!

One of my close friends Danielle who nominated me for the award stayed the night with Mum and I in one of the Hiltons family rooms. We checked in late (due to a bad pain day on my half!) but it was soon made up by a fantastic room overlooking the Tyne Bridge and a complimentary fruit bowl. I do have to say my friend, Bethany, knew I was going and went above & beyond to try make our stay special! We went to to the spa in the evening where Spencer, my assistance dog, was treat like a king with his own silver water bowl. I was so relieved that the staff were so good with his access by the pool and it was great to know that the pool had both disabled changing rooms & pool hoists for if I people needed them. That evening we dined at the restaurant where they adjusted the menu for my (many) allergies and a fabulous member of staff, Jess, helped with everything including talking to me about how to get an OT referral - what are the chances!

I've been to the Hilton at Gateshead for many events now and Spencer especially is a well known guest there. Out of all the places I have ever stayed, the customer service there is absolutely amazing and we had such a fantastic time. For this stay, we didn't stay in an accessible room as we wanted a family room but they made sure the room was large enough to fit my wheelchair in and it had a beautiful view. I checked up on their website and I was so happy to see that one of their suites is accessible too; I love it when there's a range of different options for accessible stays!

So, overall, both our Hilton stays were fantastic. Our next trip is to Birmingham for Naidex and we will be staying at the Hilton Jewellery Quarter for that in an adapted room - I'm hoping it'll be as good as our last few stays! We have stayed in other hotel chains before as we do have to travel a lot (even for medical reasons!) so I'm not saying we are always lucky enough to stay at a Hilton, we ofter stay at a Travel Lodge or Premier Inn, but I just wanted to share with you how fantastic they were on both adaptations and customer service on our recent visits - gold star from us!

Kate x

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Disabled Travel Guide - Tenerife


Why do people go away for some winter sun? For some rest, to lift their mood, for enjoyment... Well, my reason is much more important. Since Christmas my health has been deteriorating, both physically and mentally, to the point where just before going away I was lucky to be awake for more than an hour a day and I'd once again lost my swallowing function. So, we knew that going away was both vital and risky. We've done this before and I have spent the full week in bed, or, the day before we had to cancel because I've been too ill to fly. But, I've also managed to reboot my system that little bit to set me on the right track again and that's why we chose to go away. 

With the UK being -8 when we left for the airport, we were so glad we chose to go to Tenerife which was in the mid 20's all week. We always go to the Canaries as it's as far as I can manage on a plane at the moment  but I still get the warmth! This year, we chose to go to Las Americas which my Mum had visited before. This is because it's flat (which is important for my wheelchair!) and has shops/beach close by. We booked through TML but we were under Jet2's care.

So, the flight. It's the first time I have flown with Jet2 before. The good points are that it was such a clean plane and the staff were very friendly. The bad points, even though we had assistance booked we were sat in row 11 and were boarded at the front of the plane at the same time that the non-assistance people were coming in from the back. Chaos. Also, this seat was really quite far from the toilet and when I did go on the flight out I had to sit on someone else's seat so I didn't collapse waiting. Apparently, you now can't have the front row/extra legroom seats if you have any kind of mobility issue as part of the law but we never had this issue with TUI. So who knows! The plane was also extremely hot which wasn't ideal for my asthma and dizziness. But, overall it was a good flight, we even had the row to ourselves on the flight out so I could lie across the seats. Our transfers were easy and as I took my manual chair we opted to keep the bus transfer. We had no problems with the airport or bus transfers - it all went smoothly!

We stayed at the H10 Conquistador. So, we had a major problem when we got there. Our travel company (TML as it turns out) didn't tell them I was in a wheelchair so there was no accessible room booked. But even so, for us to have an accessible room we would have to pay 60 euros a night extra because the hotel only made 4 rooms accessible and they were suites. This means we would have to fork out an extra 420 euro's before our holiday began, because I was in a wheelchair. I contacted the hotel and the manager was lovely saying she understood our frustration (but didn't do anything about it) and I will be following up with H10 about the slightly ridiculous policy. They have less than 1% rooms which are accessible yet at the hotel there was so many disabled guests, they're missing a trick (and it's just plain unfair). So, we went through 3 standard rooms until we could find one which would fit my wheelchair in. It wasn't totally suitable for me (the bathroom wasn't accessible) but it was the best of the standard rooms. 

(Photo from website)

Moving on from the rooms, the hotel is really good for wheelchair access otherwise. The lifts are a little small for larger chairs but all the ramps are fantastic. A staff member even offered to help push me when I was struggling with my manual chair. The lifeguard helped me by the pool and in the restaurant they were also happy to help. The (large) pool itself has a pool lift in so you can transfer into the water. The restaurant has a dedicated zone for people with mobility issues too so you don't have to walk as far to the ice cream stand which was my own, personal highlight. 

The food was spectacular there and was one of the reasons I think I improved by the end of the week. Unfortunately, the food wasn't allergy labelled which was a bit of a minefield for me but we spoke to Jet2 after and they are going to suggest to the hotel that they improve their labelling. Because of this, I got my food freshly cooked in the kitchen by the chef each night to make sure there wasn't any cross contamination. They were fabulous providing everything from gluten-free pasta to doughnuts and even allowed my mum to bring it up to my room when I was unwell. The restaurant was my personal highlight (god, that makes me sound sad!) because I got to know the chef and the waiters really well so enjoyed seeing them everyday. 

The entertainment team were also a team which worked incredibly hard and were such good fun. My mum took part in the stretching classes and I managed to join in the occasional game of bingo. There was something for everyone though, from sport to evening entertainment. The hotels facilities looked to be fantastic too; with a spa, pool tables, ping pong, tennis, pilates near by... I just wasn't well enough to make use of any of it this time!

The location of the hotel was absolutely amazing, it was literally across the road from the beach and the shops. We found an accessible beach about 15 mins walk away which was incredible and featured decking on the sand so you could wheel across, disabled toilet/shower/changing, crutches for you use, extra lifeguards and even a beach wheelchair. There were lots of disabled people who used this which was fantastic to see and it was one of the best days we had. A lot of people hire scooters whilst they're there to take them to the beach which are really easy to find, but we didn't because I was in bed so much!

So, what do I rate it overall? The location, facilities, entertainment and food (although they really need to label it!) was fabulous. What wasn't so good? Not having standard accessible rooms or having to pay a premium for a room because you're in a wheelchair - that's not ok. I would go back to that destination, and hotel, but would want a big chain like H10 to drop the excessive charge for disabled customers or look at adapting some of their existing rooms, even if it meant losing a few 'standard' rooms. I also wouldn't book with TML again as none of our access information was passed on making it more difficult for us, so would go back to a standard travel agent, even if it cost us a bit more. And in terms of Jet2, they were really good with us but I think could improve on their boarding procedure and could at least put people with mobility problems in rows 2-3. 

Kate x

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Alnwick Gardens - Accessibility Review


Alnwick Gardens is one of my favourite days out, not just because of the stunning landscape, but how accessible it is for me. It's one of the world's most contemporary gardens in the heart of Northumberland which also consists of the famous wooden treehouse, interactive water features, bamboo maze and poison gardens. I visited the gardens during Calvert Trust Kielder's 'Northumberland' themed respite week and thought it would be a great place to start my accessibility reviews.

Spencer and I at the stunning entrance by the water features

Like many main attractions these days, there is a concessionary rate for disabled guests which allows a ticket for one free carer. Some of the staff have had extra training in disability awareness, BSL and Next Generation. Every time I have visited Alnwick Gardens, I have found the staff extremely friendly and useful as they've talked me through the best routes to take with my wheelchair. The attraction also provides wheelchair and mobility scooter hire on top of a space to charge your power chairs and scooters. I will talk about the layout of the gardens soon, but I would recommend if you are elderly or self propel a manual chair that you take advantage of the scooter hire scheme. Parking is very easy, with a separate section of the car park free for blue badge holders and allows you easy access to the entrance.

Spencer on a swing in the Orchard

When visiting, you are given a map with the best accessible route to take. If you were to self propel your own wheelchair, some of the gradients would still be very difficult so I would recommend hiring a scooter for the day. Even with a carer pushing a manual chair, the gardens are on quite a steep slope so it's worth keeping in mind that it is a long and potentially hard push. We went up through the orchard which was beautiful, they had just put up swings throughout and it's always my favourite part in Spring when the trees blossom. However, the path wasn't at it's best condition so some of the potholes were a bit problematic, but, overall it was a nice ride up. Once we got to the top, there was a flat garden to look around and then we descended on the opposite side by the water fountains. 

Bamboo maze

The water fountains were one of my favourite parts. They were interactive and one was at floor level so you could get soaked (if you wish!) in your wheelchair. Others allowed you to wheel up and touch the moving water which is amazing as being in a chair you usually miss out on things like that. Next, we went through the bamboo maze which was also wheelchair accessible. This blocked out the noise of the gardens so was really relaxing until we got lost! Finally, we warmed up with a cuppa from the cafe. I loved seeing that they went the extra mile with the accessibility in there too. They had large print menus, wide contrast coloured automatic doors and a selection of food to suit any dietary requirements. The shop was a little difficult to manoeuvre around with my large chair, but I was happy to see they had a Changing Places toilet, although it was on the smaller side.

The famous treehouse

On this trip, we didn't do the treehouse but I have been in there plenty of times before. This by far is one of my favourite things to explore! The treehouse is the largest one in Europe and it has a selection of swing bridges which cascade through the treetops. What's even greater about this is that you can take your wheelchair across the bridges as they have been built to be wide enough and stable enough for scooters. It's a truly magical place, especially in the evening, and if you're very lucky you can dine in the treehouse too.

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend going to Alnwick Gardens if you are a wheelchair user. They have gone the extra mile to cater for all disabilities, from making sure that plants are at different levels to you are able to smell them in your wheelchair to building a wheelchair-friendly swing bridge. This would have a 5* rating from Spencer and I, so we look forward to visiting again soon!

For more information and accessibility info about the gardens click here

Kate x