In an extraordinary achievement, Durlston Country Park in Swanage has won the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Award in the Visit England Awards for Excellence 2020.
Beating off strong competition from the Birmingham Hippodrome and the Mylor Sailing and Powerboat School in Cornwall, Durlston Country Park came first with the judges singling out the Durlston team as an inspiration to others.
The awards ceremony that took place yesterday evening, Monday 17th August 2020 was hosted via Zoom by tv presenter, Julia Bradbury and was viewed by an audience on YouTube.
The moment that rangers, Katie Black and Ali Tuckey from Durlston Country Park heard that they had won gold in their category
“Over the moon to have won gold!”
Project leader of the Durlston Pleasure Grounds project and ranger, Ali Tuckey said:
“We are over the moon to have won gold! It’s a huge tribute to the hard work by our wonderful staff, volunteers and partners, who are helping us share this amazing place!”
This is the culmination of a huge amount of work to ensure that the country park is as accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible, giving everyone a right to enjoy this beautiful area on the far tip of the Purbeck peninsula.
There’s been a lot of investment in the grounds following the award of a Heritage Lottery Grant, allowing it to build the shed project, which is a welcoming space for everyone to have a chat, explore new skills and make friends.
It’s also dramatically improved the paths through the woods, making them easier to walk along or to use an off road wheelchair, as well as improving the interpretation of the area with new signs, accessible leaflets and a video guide in British Sign Language (BSL).
“Durlston puts access and inclusion at the heart of everything that it does”
Ali Tuckey explained more:
“When we won gold in the Visit Dorset awards in one of the earlier heats, the feedback from the judges was that Durlston puts access and inclusion at the heart of everything that it does – and that’s our attitude. We haven’t got everything right, but we are really passionate about including that way of thinking in everything we do.
“We believe it’s important to be welcoming to everyone and the BSL guide is a good example of how we are making the effort to be as inclusive as possible. We could just produce written leaflets for people who have a hearing impairment but by producing the video guide, we are talking to people in their own language.
“One way we improve accessibility is to make information available to people so they know what to expect when they get here. We can’t make everything accessible to everybody – I don’t think people would expect that – but we can help them be empowered to plan for themselves.
“We’ve been really helped by our volunteers – 22 percent of whom have a disability or a long term health condition. Our diverse pool of volunteers are constantly challenging us to make improvements.
“One person who has made a significant contribution is Pete Webb and this award is really for him. He came along to us three years ago and volunteered to help out. He had a lung condition and the doctors told him he had only six months to live.
“He volunteered every day, helping out in the office and all over the park. Sadly he died last month but I think he would have said that volunteering at Durlston contributed to him living much longer than expected. By staying focused, keeping going and feeling rewarded, it can be life extending and of course, that’s so incredibly important.
“My family background has been a huge influence – my parents set up a day centre in the 1970’s for those with disabilities and it was really unusual in that era, as the centre was also for those without disabilities and everyone was able to mix. They were also really keen to find everyone meaningful work to do and this is what we try to do here as well”
A place for everyone to meet up from all backgrounds and ages
The shed project in the grounds at Durlston Country Park was started in 2018 and is a place for everyone to meet up from all backgrounds and ages. It supports people with all sorts of needs from mental health issues to those who just want to enjoy the outdoors.
The ‘Shedies’ as those involved have become known, take part in some organised projects but also can just meet up for a chat. The shed has had to close during the coronavirus crisis but the plan is to reopen with small socially distanced groups over the next few weeks.
Ali Tuckey added:
“Winning this award is a nice milestone but there’s much more we want to do. It’s only going to make us work harder. We’d like to improve the toilet facilities for those with disabilities by providing changing places with a hoist. This will involve more fundraising but it will really make a difference to so many families.
“Celebrating our own achievements does make you want to achieve more. It’s impossible to make it perfect for everyone but it’s only fair for others to expect you to try your damnedest.”
“An award for everyone – for friends, volunteers and staff”
The country park has a very supportive Friends of Durlston organisation. Its chair, Catherine Olive said:
“This is an award for everyone – for friends, volunteers and staff. We all work together and during lockdown the park played a really important role in the local community giving everyone a great place to take a daily walk. Winning is absolutely amazing and a huge achievement!”
“Our award winners provide stand-out experiences of the highest calibre”
VisitEngland Chief Executive Sally Balcombe said:
“These prestigious awards celebrate the outstanding businesses and individuals in tourism across England who have delivered excellence. From a world-class boutique B and B in Devon to adventure-packed experiences in Somerset, from an accessible country park and national nature reserve in Dorset to a bespoke English wine tour in Kent, our award winners provide stand-out experiences of the highest calibre.
“Millions of jobs and local economies depend on tourism and this year’s awards are also a timely reminder of the determination, innovation and commitment of businesses across the country who have been working extremely hard to reopen, to welcome visitors back safely and to continue to provide a first-class experience.”