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Efforts to open up Yorkshire countryside to wheelchair users recognised by Harrogate charity

Yorkshire Water, as the second largest landowner in Yorkshire, has been recognised for its efforts to open up access to the countryside for those with physical and mental disabilities by the Harrogate-based charity Open Country.

The award comes after the firm has made pathway improvements at over 10 of its reservoirs within the last three years to help make them accessible for all. 

Yorkshire Water has also partnered with Experience Community, a not-for-profit community group that has helped in identifying improvements. Experience Community arranges regular reservoir rambles for groups of wheelchair and Mountain Trike users.

Open Country presented Yorkshire Water with its ‘Good Access Scheme’ award and was particularly pleased with access improvements at Fewston reservoir near Harrogate and Tophill Nature Reserve near Driffield. Experience Community was also given a similar award.

Geoff Lomas, Recreation Manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “We want to make our reservoirs more accessible and inviting to all our customers and have invested over £1 million to improve facilities and paths. Over the past few years we have removed the barriers to access like steps, stiles and realigned paths to avoid steep slopes. At Tophill Low Nature Reserve our new heated reception and bird hide now has an incredible panoramic vista which is accessed by ramps and newly surfaced paths.

“Our partnership with Experience Community has really helped us engage with Yorkshire Water’s disabled customers who can now enjoy more of our countryside and reservoirs. We are also working with the Peak District National Park on their ‘Miles without Stiles’ program, to increase access to countryside right across the region for as many people as possible to enjoy.”

David Shaftoe, Chief Officer at Open Country, said: “Open Country helps disabled people to access the countryside throughout the year. Yet less than 1% of the countryside access in Yorkshire can be deemed truly accessible and this sorry state of affairs has to change. It gives us great pleasure to present Yorkshire Waterand Experience Community with this award. It is marvellous to see such a productive partnership that clearly pays dividends for everyone.”

It is estimated that around two million people visit Yorkshire Water’s land, such as its reservoirs, ancient woodland, and moorland, every year.  These locations have become increasingly popular since they first opened up to the public after privatisation of the water sector in 1989.

According to the firm’s own research, most visitors to its 70,000 acres of land are currently white, middle class and aged 35-55+. Using this information Yorkshire Water is able target investment to remove barriers to access and increase visitor diversity at reservoir destinations.

Yorkshire Water recreation sites that have been made accessible include:- Fewston near Harrogate, Grimwith near Grassington, More Hall near Sheffield, Cod Beck near Osmotherley, Underbank near Stocksbridge, Scammonden Water near Huddersfield, Brayton Barff near Selby, Langsett near Barnsley and Tophill Low Nature Reserve near Driffield.

Craig Grimes, Managing Director of Experience Community, said: “Gaining access to the countryside for disabled people has been an uphill battle, but co-operation from landowners such as Yorkshire Water really makes a difference. Through working with Yorkshire Water we’ve been able to identify various reservoirs where small changes to infrastructure such as widening a gate or better access has been provided. There are now new longer routes with varying levels of difficulty that we can use with our rambling and hand cycling groups.”

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