Mental Health Awareness Week
Our staff from Heatherstones did a wonderful walk on the canal towpath which runs from Copley to Sowerby Bridge. There were six of our clients and seven members of staff on the outing. This had to be carefully planned as Calderdale is very hilly and it can be difficult to support our clients in their wheelchairs outdoors. But we do all we can to ensure they have safe access to the local community and are able to get the most from spending time in green open spaces.
All of us are becoming aware of the benefits of nature. But often take access for granted and assume if there are paths or pavements these will be accessible to all. For many of our clients with larger wheelchairs this is not the case, the camber of the surface can cause the chair to lean to the left or right making it difficult to push adapted wheelchairs, curbs are often too high to manoeuvre the wheelchair from curb to road or road to curb, many surfaces are uneven, cobbled or hazardous in other ways and steep hills or even gentle slopes can present a significant challenge.
The journey from Heatherstones to the canal involves a very steep hill as we’re located at the top of the valley and the canal is in the valley bottom; pushing chairs downhill can be difficult as the chairs start to pick up momentum and need to be held back. If we had individually driven all our clients to the canal that would have involved six separate journeys’ there and back; they would have also missed out on a significant part of the whole experience and sense of adventure.
We believe it’s important for our clients to experience different sensations and terrains in a safe way as it’s all too easy to shelter people with profound and multiple learning disabilities from certain aspects of life because the potential challenges appear too difficult. There are so many sensory and other opportunities outdoors that we feel our clients would miss out without making the effort to support these experiences. The canal is a haven for wildlife and we saw a crane and many other water birds. For people with profound and multiple learning disabilities the physical sensation of sunlight reflected on the water and passing through the leaves of overhanging trees, the smells of wildflowers and the sound of birdsong offer immediate benefits and reward to spending time outdoors.
After so long spent shielding our clients in order to keep them safe throughout the pandemic being out in natural surroundings has had a significant positive benefit. It’s a great opportunity to be outdoors, feel the elements and spend some time in a different environment. Mental Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to reflect on our own and our clients mental health and take opportunities to enjoy green spaces in our local community. We are aiming to plan regular accessible walks in the countryside in and around Calderdale, although it can be a challenge supporting clients in wheelchairs the benefits are well worth the effort.