Overview | Top of Wishlist | The Need & Benefits | Case Studies
There are almost 300 designated country parks in the UK, 14 national parks, and hundreds of smaller parks and open green spaces. It’s estimated that almost 57 million per year visit country parks and open spaces. Impressive statistics but in reality, there is a serious issue with access to green spaces in the UK and people with disabilities are among one of the groups that struggle to visit an outdoor space regularly.
Improving access to green spaces is important for everyone, but disabled people face an additional layer of difficulties when trying to spend time outdoors – from poor wheelchair access to a lack of suitable toilet spaces.
In this article we explore the accessibility status of our country parks and outdoor spaces, the need for Changing Places toilets, and the benefits they provide.
Changing Places are toilets that provide a safe, hygienic space for people with disabilities to use the bathroom. Larger than a standard accessible toilet, they feature an adult-sized changing bench, hoist, and other useful features such as changing screens and sometimes showers.
These facilities are are vital to people with profound or complex disabilities, and the Changing Places campaign was launched in 2006 due to the lack of appropriate toilets.
There are currently 1,832 registered Changing Places toilets across the UK and it is estimated that over a quarter of a million people need access to them.
Whilst there is no official record of the number of Changing Places toilets specifically in country parks or open spaces, we estimate there to be around 50 registered facilities (based on the official Changing Places Map). So, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving access.
63.3% (762 out of 1,204) of participants said country parks and open spaces are the number one priority for more Changing Places toilets.
Source: Research Institute for Disabled Consumers Survey, 2021
Something that has been used as an objection to installing more Changing Places toilets in parks in the past has been the concern the facilities would be underused, or the demand simply wasn’t there. We can categorically demonstrate this is not true.
One of the strongest indicators of demand is a survey carried out by The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers in 2021. This survey was conducted ahead of the government announcing £30m funding for Changing Places toilets to help guide where funds should be prioritised.
When survey participants were asked what having access to a Changing Places toilet enables them to do, most people answered ‘have a day out’ and the most popular location for future Changing Places toilets was county parks and open spaces.
Some of the location subcategories under open spaces include public gardens and beaches. The survey also demonstrated that although existing Changing Places toilets are helpful, a large portion of them are situated in places categorised as ‘local’ (hospitals, supermarkets etc).
These are great for people to use whilst carrying out essential tasks such as shopping or attending hospital appointments but disabled people want and deserve more than that. They want to be able to go out for the day, spend time on fun, and recreational activities and feel the proven benefits of spending time in the outdoors or around nature.
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1 in 5
1 in 5 (21%) respondents said that not having a Changing Places available made it impossible for them to have a day out.
The benefits of spending time in green spaces such as country parks and our national parks is a proven science – people that have regular access to open spaces, including smaller ‘pocket parks’, enjoy better overall wellbeing. These spaces are vital for exercise and for people to feel the calming effects associated with being surrounded by trees and wildlife.
Sadly, access to green spaces and parks is not equal in the UK – despite the large number of parks we have. This article highlights green space inequality in the UK and puts a spotlight on reasons such as poverty and ethnicity. It’s an excellent summary of the situation but it does fail to mention the double layer of inaccessibility disabled people often face when trying to access open spaces.
Disabled people are statistically more likely to experience poverty, this means living in areas with less access to open spaces or having the means to travel. Those that do have green spaces or parks close to home don’t necessarily benefit from them as access can be hampered by poor footpaths or the lack of toilet facilities, either standard access toilets or Changing Places toilets.
Providing Changing Places in more country parks and green spaces would make a world of difference to the lives of disabled people, and their families. Depression and anxiety occur at a higher rate among people with disabilities, and among family members who may care for them. Being able to access green spaces and parks would go a long way towards improving the wellbeing of thousands of families across the UK.
22% of survey participants said they avoided going somewhere because it didn’t have a Changing Places (9%) or they couldn’t find any information about a Changing Places (13%).
Source: Euan’s Guide 2022 Access Survey
Most country parks, parks and other green spaces are owned and managed by local authorities, with some operated by charities such as the National Trust, so that is where the responsibility lands for ensuring equal access where possible.
We understand the difficulties associated with installing Changing Places toilets in green spaces, particularly in conservation areas or more rural locations. Historically, funding has been a key issue but many spaces are benefiting from funding right now thanks to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
Our modular facilities have been key to a number of successful projects, typically delivered full turnkey with groundworks. A good example is our recent installation at Silloth Green, the largest village green in the north of England.
Our high-quality modular builds are well suited to the outdoors and extremely durable. Longevity was a key requirement for the modular facility we installed at Pevensey Bay on behalf of Wealden District Council – a project funded via the DLUHC Changing Places programme.
A seaside location that benefits from a RISE modular Changing Places is West Mersea. This coastal site proved to be challenging due to a lack of local utilities, leading us to install a new septic tank as part of our groundworks package.
“Everyone has the right to access facilities that meet their needs and a lack of these services prevents people from living their lives to the fullest. We have taken action to secure this funding and can now provide these excellent facilities in beautiful Marbury Park.
We installed a modular Changing Places toilet at Marbury Park to make this important green space accessible to more people. The project was delivered full turnkey for Cheshire West and Chester Council with funds provided from DLUHC.
Gloucestershire County Council utilised government funding to enhance Slimbridge Wetland Centre with a new Changing Places facility. Restricted site access led us to build the facility directly onsite, which took five weeks in total (including groundworks).
We provide a host of design options to tailor the aesthetics of each RISE facility. This can be an essential requirement in conservation areas or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Just take a look at the sweet chestnut clad facility we installed at Shorne Woods Country Park, Kent.
“It is a big priority for us to make our country parks as accessible as we can… Being in nature brings so many benefits to our physical and mental health and it is important that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from them.”
We also worked with Kent County Council to install two modular facilities at Brockhill and Lullingstone country parks. Both projects were delivered in succession by the RISE team, requiring seven-weeks in total.
We also had the opportunity last year to work in the South Downs National Park, installing a modular Changing Places facility at The Gateway Café in Peacehaven. The project was delivered as a complete turnkey package with RISE working as principal contractor.
As you can see from the examples above, there are plenty of locations ready to meet the needs of disabled people. We’re here to help you make the same improvements – please get in touch.
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