Accessibility at Slimbridge
WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre is one of the organisations taking part in our Access to Nature learning programme. We asked Alice Litchfield, Visitor Engagement Coordinator, to talk about their journey to improve access.
“Nature should be an accessible space for all to explore, the wonders of the natural world should not be off limits to individuals with access needs. At WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre it is a priority to ensure we have an accessible site. Working alongside Barnwood Trust and being a part of the Access to Nature programme has meant we can share and learn from experts and those with lived experiences to understand what we need to do to become a fully accessible site.
We first became involved with Barnwood Trust and the programme when the very first Access to Nature conference was held in the Garden Room at Slimbridge in July 2022. The Access to Nature programme is run in collaboration with the Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership and different nature organisations within Gloucestershire and aims to ensure they provide the most accessible and inclusive experience for individuals wanting to enjoy blue and green spaces within the county.
Since the programme began one of the key focuses for the centre team at Slimbridge Wetland Centre was the development of resources for visitors to use on site or before they visit. The first resource is an accessibility guide, available to download from the website or view in video format with subtitles. This has been supplemented with an accessibility map which documents loud and quiet areas, changes in footpath surfaces and key areas to note including the new Changing Places facilities, accessible toilets and hearing loops. Following on, there has also been the creation of a social story. The learning team worked with local schools and groups within the area to understand the importance of a social story and the fundamental elements it should include. The social story will allow individuals and school groups to explore Slimbridge before they come, looking at all the pictures and talking about what they may do on their day out. Both the accessibility guide and social story are available at: https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/plan-your-visit/accessibility/
Slimbridge has always strived to be as accessible as possible. Having the addition of the changing places transforms our site for visitors with those access needs and ensures they can feel confident spending a full day to enjoy immersing themselves in nature. Our other main barrier to the site is the location, there is limited access via public transport. This is a barrier for people without access to a car. We are currently trialling a new shuttle service that will start in Dursley and travel down to Slimbridge to hopefully encourage the local community to access our site.
We hope Slimbridge is a really important site for the local community. We offer a calm, tranquil space for people to spend a day or a couple of hours immersed in nature. There are busy areas, particularly during the school holidays but there are always moments of calm and quiet for people to reconnect with the natural world and see a whole variety of life.
We also hope Slimbridge can offer a space for the local community to volunteer or get involved if they would like to. Sandy Barnes is a volunteer and employee at Slimbridge and also a member of Barnwood Circle. Sandy stated how Slimbridge has been a fantastic employer for her regarding accessibility. Sandy is a wheelchair user and where to volunteer was impacted by her access needs. Slimbridge was an excellent choice for her as she is able to move around the site with ease and there are appropriate facilities around the centre. She is also a keen bird watcher and enjoys spending time in the bird hides. Her favourite hides are the Estuary Tower, where you get a lift to the top to experience the breath-taking views of the River Severn or the Martin Smith Hide, where you can use a ramp to access excellent views of a range of wetland birds and wildlife.
Finally, I wanted to share that Slimbridge won Silver in the Accessible and Inclusive category at the South West Tourism Awards. It was a massive achievement as all of WWT’s wetland centres exist to fulfil our founder, Sir Peter Scott’s vision of connecting people with nature, and aim for wetlands and wildlife to be accessible to everyone. The award recognises that we provide a truly memorable visitor experience for everyone – particularly those with accessibility requirements, and demonstrate excellence across every aspect of our business.
Thank you to Barnwood Trust for the guidance and expertise and ensuring we stay on track to meet accessibility and inclusive targets that we have at Slimbridge Wetland Centre.”
Alice Litchfield, Visitor Engagement Coordinator, WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre