Accessing green space: stories from Sheffield

Fri,17 November 2023
Blog Being Active Climate change Equality & Rights Health & Social Care
We have been re-publishing some of our older blog posts onto this new website. Enjoy the thoughts and reviews of our DR UK team and contributors! If you have an opinion piece you'd like to pitch, feel free to email with the header 'BLOG SUBMISSION'.
This is a collection of stories from people living in and around Sheffield. They highlight some of the barriers that disabled people, and people with long-term health conditions, face when trying to access local parks and green spaces, mostly in urban areas. Some of the stories have been told in people’s own words. Others have been co-authored with Disability Rights UK. In all cases, these stories reflect people’s personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings on what needs to be done to remove barriers and tell of some positive success stories. For help with access in the Sheffield area, contact Disability Sheffield.


Ann-Marie lives just a ten minute drive from Sheffield City Centre. Sheffield has 170 woodlands, 78 public parks and 10 public gardens. Her house backs onto the beautiful Rivelin Valley and it’s just a 15 minute drive to Ladybower reservoir in the Peak District.

But how can you enjoy those places if, due to a long-term health condition your only means of getting there is by car, and when you arrive there is nowhere to park?

With the support of local Disabled People’s User Led Organisation (DPULO) Disability Sheffield and the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS), Ann-Marie has been on a mission over the last two years to have disabled parking bays installed in the suburb of Crooke and in local shopping areas across the City, to enable blue badge holders to access pharmacies, post offices and shops. She feels strongly that all public spaces including cemeteries, parks and woodlands, should be equally accessible, so that more disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, who rely on cars as their main mode of transport, can access them.

Her biggest challenge has been accessing the Rivelin Valley on her doorstep. Although close by, Ann-Marie relies on her car to get to the Pond Car Park, and her mobility scooter to go up the valley. Initially, the path into the valley was in extremely poor condition meaning that anyone using a wheelchair, mobility scooter or buggy could not enter via Rivelin Park road to explore the valley.

The local council resurfaced the path, but there was still no disabled on-street parking on the roads adjacent to the entrances - Rivelin Valley Rd and Rivelin Park Road - or in the Pond Car Park. Ann-Marie has had to campaign for double-yellow lines to prevent people from parking and blocking the path into the valley and for a disabled parking bay at the Pond car ark.

Following much stress, which negatively impacted on her health, she has found that the simple act of creating a disabled parking bay, in line with the Equality Act 2010, currently necessitates a lot of bureaucracy and significant costs to the local authority responsible. All disabled on street parking bays are subject to a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), which involves consulting local stakeholders, logging, and mapping the bays, which can cost in the region of £5,000.

A lot of disabled people, people with long-term health conditions and people with mental health conditions use – or attempt to use – local beauty spots to help improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing. Ironically, it is the people who would most benefit from fresh air and exercise in these beautiful and tranquil spots that are most often excluded. Why is that? Ann-Marie has found that non-governmental organisations such as the National Trust are much quicker to provide accessible infrastructure and facilities at the sites they manage. In the nearby Peak district, The Longshaw Estate provides disabled parking bays and wheelchair accessible paths. At Derwent Reservoir there is disabled parking, accessible paths as well as mobility scooter hire. Ladybower fisheries has wheelie boats which enable wheelchair users to fish on the reservoir. Perhaps these organisations have more funds and less bureaucracy to make simple changes.

However, Ann-Marie, known by local friends as the Rivelin Warrior, believes it is more deep-rooted than that. Sadly, local councils have budget constraints. In fact, a freedom of information request in January 2019 revealed there was no budget for disabled parking bays and Sheffield City Council has requests for disabled parking bays dating back to 2010. National Government including, The Department for Transport, also recognise the need to provide parking for disabled drivers. However, it needs to provide specific funding to local councils, so they can perform their public sector duty under the Equality Act and install disabled parking bays cheaper and faster. People should not have to fight for what they are rightfully entitled to.

However, Ann-Marie, also believes that attitudinal barriers are at play:

“Often it depends on who you speak to and if they care about equal access for disabled people and don’t discriminate against them. Rivelin Valley Conservation Group were consulted regarding a bay being installed in the Pond Car Park by the council. The council fed back ‘they feel no need to add a disabled bay in this car park at present’. I was shocked and surprised that a local organisation had such an appalling, selfish and discriminative attitude.”

After a long, arduous, and unnecessary battle by the Rivelin Warrior, the Pond Car Park disabled parking bay was eventually installed. Ann-Marie has found the Park Rangers to be very supportive. They find the path benefits everyone using the park, including themselves and they keep a watchful eye on the parking bay to ensure that non-blue badge holders do not park on it. Ann-Marie says that most people are respectful of the parking space and of course as we might expect – it does not negatively impact on non-blue badge holders who are able to park a little further away and walk into the valley.


My story is a happy one that has had a great many frustrations along the way. I am disabled, I wouldn’t feel it, but society sometimes makes it a fact because of its infrastructure and attitudes.

I have had a tricycle since 2009 when I swapped my electric mobility scooter so I could feel part of my community and take my children to school and nursery, calling at the local park on my return journey. The battery on my electric scooter would not last long enough to do this every time. So, I got a cycle and a dog and now enjoy cycling with Holly my dog, in the woods every morning. It is my moment of the day, listening to the birds and the stream, the woodpigeon making ‘too-too, to, too-too’ sounds. But it hasn’t always been like this and I know many disabled people who are not as lucky as I am to access their local green spaces. I feel so sorry that society is disabling them.

I talk to everybody, and I am known - you can never be shy if you cycle a three-wheeler with a dog in tow! One day, I beamed enthusiastically at the man across the road and told him of my love of the local woods, but that I couldn’t access it. He explained that he was a member of Friends of Gillifield Wood and would see what he could do. The next day, we had an arranged meeting with a park ranger. I showed him that I couldn’t use the public footpath because of the high kerb so he took it out and replaced it with stone and rubble to make a ramp. Simple as... no health and safety, no stroking chins, just bliss and freedom.

After “Friends of Gillfield Woods” arranged to have the kerb removed. Now anyone using a tricycle, or any other mobility aid with wheels, can easily access this path and enjoy the benefits of this local woodland.


Following a stroke in 2012, Derek uses a mobility scooter to get around Aston-cum-Aughton and other neighbourhoods around where he lives. There are lots of parks and green spaces very close by, which Derek would like to visit more often. However, he has encountered gates, barriers, and kerbs at the entrances to many parks, all of which are inaccessible to his Class three scooter.

Several years ago, Derek contacted the local council in Rotherham where he used to live, when he could not access a local park due to a barrier at the entrance, designed to keep motorbikes and vehicles out. They suggested a smaller, foldable scooter that fits into the boot of a car. However, this type of scooter is not appropriate for Derek, as he uses his scooter for the entire journey; nor should he be expected to buy an additional scooter. When he pointed this out, there appeared to be a lack of understanding and he was informed that this was due to there being no disabled councillors. Most people who do not drive a scooter, do not understand that there are three classes of scooter, ranging in size, and that people use the one that is most appropriate for them.

The council did try to rectify the issue of Derek not being able to enter the park, but their efforts were somewhat misguided. Initially there was a steelwork barrier at the entrance. Three months after Derek had contacted them, the council finally removed the steel barrier and replaced it with a new gate. However, Derek could still not pass through, neither by zig-zagging around the gate, nor by going under it. Somewhat disappointingly, no-one had suggested meeting with Derek at the park to find out more about what he and others need to enable them to get in and out.

A further three months down the line, the council replaced the “new” gate with an A-frame style barrier. Derek reports that this made it possible, albeit very difficult, for him to pass through on his scooter. He fed this back to the council who suggested he remove the mirrors from his scooter when passing through. Would they ask a driver to remove the side mirrors on their car or van if trying to pass through a blocked road? Probably not. It is neither practical nor possible in some cases.


Examples of barriers at park entrances – often inaccessible to Class 3 Mobility Scooters. The first image is similar to the A-frame barrier that the council most recently installed. (Source: C. Waugh)

However, it is not just gates and steel barriers that have prevented Derek from accessing parks. A major issue, that Derek has been campaigning on more recently, has been a lack of dropped kerbs on the pavements in and around the Sheffield-Rotherham area - often just outside of park entrances. This issue is such a barrier to Derek who often uses his scooter for his entire journey, that he has even conducted an audit and sent it to the local parish council.

There are two big parks in the Sheffield area that Derek likes – Ulley Country Park and Rother Valley Park. However, he has found Ulley Country Park to be inaccessible to him, simply because he cannot get to it on his scooter. The entrance to the park that Derek needs to take is on a busy 60mph road. He must cross the road to get to the entrance, but when he makes it across, there is no dropped kerb meaning that he cannot quickly and easily get onto the pavement and be on his way into the park. Trying to get onto a pavement with buses and cars hurtling past at 60mph is both dangerous and frightening. The entrance has only really been designed with motorists in mind.

He encountered a similar issue with the entrance to Rother Valley Park but in this instance, Derek was met by the Countryside Commission who were keen to follow his access journey and make amendments as necessary, including a countryside mobility scooter hire scheme. This has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but plans are in place. Derek has found the Commission to be more amenable to meeting with him, listening to him, and making the changes that they can, so that he can enjoy the benefits of the park on a level playing field with others. Often it comes down to who you speak with, their attitude, awareness and understanding.

Derek believes that unless someone is disabled by the same barriers, they do not understand how to solve the issue. It is therefore imperative that people trying to solve access issues really listen to disabled people and work in partnership with them. Derek makes a case in point; he has even been invited to a stakeholder meeting about disabled access in the Rotherham area, only to find that the venue itself was totally inaccessible to him. For Derek, this just highlighted that even when people try, they don’t always get it right.

“They’re making it look good, but they don’t know the nitty gritty, they don’t listen.”

So, Derek has offered for people in the local and parish councils to take his scooter for a day and to see how easy they find it to get around town and visit a local park. He also has plans to set up a Disability Network in the Rotherham area, so that disabled people can work with local councils to co-design access to parks and other places in and around their local area.


Accessibility is often assumed to be achievable by assessing things from just one aspect - the venue/place's facilities (ramps, bathrooms, etc). However, to make things accessible, we need to look at all the things that can impact our journey, from the moment we leave the house, to the moment we return.

We know that people living with physical and/or hidden differences are eligible for free bus and tram passes and discounted train tickets. But are all buses, trams, and trains accessible? If not, is there sufficient, affordable, accessible taxis and vehicle hire for people who do not own their own adapted vehicle, or who live with someone who drives an accessible vehicle? The journey to the destination is equally as important as the destination itself; what is the point of investing all funds into ensuring an outdoor green space is accessible, if the journey to and from said destination is nothing short of stressful - or even worse, a complete disaster?

I am an active wheelchair user, and in comparison to one of my Disability Sheffield colleagues, my degree of mobility is different, even though we are both active wheelchair users. Where manoeuvring on and off the trams in Sheffield is quite easy for me, for my colleague however, it can be difficult. Most trams require tipping off the chair, and then pulling oneself onto the tram using interior bars on the sides of the doors, whereas I reverse out and control the drop of my chair when getting off trams and buses. It never occurred to me that someone else with a difference in mobility and strength may struggle to do this, until my colleague mentioned it.

As for accessible vehicles to transport people with physical differences, these are most likely to be big brand companies such as City Taxis, who only have a handful available and need at least half an hour’s notice *rolls eyes*. And even then, it's not guaranteed they'll show up at all - as I found during the recovery of my shoulder cuff repair back in 2019. We deserve better than raised trams with wide gaps from the platform, limited space on buses, and a potential non-requirement that every taxi service has an adequate number of accessible vehicles - ramps included.

It's easy to miss the minor adjustments that make a huge difference if you’re not around people with different abilities. It’s basically the diversity argument but for different abilities. How can you know the real issues people with different abilities face when trying to access urban green spaces, if you don’t spend time with them? I work with various abilities and advocate for them too. I hope by saying that if you design access in, out, and around the venue, with individuals who are most restricted with mobility in mind, you will not go wrong. You will actually cater better for all abilities. We tend to see barriers zig-zagged on the entrance to parks, or narrow or high gates, and it begs the question, “has the local authority asked the opinion of somebody using a wide electric wheelchair if they feel the space is accessible enough?” Or even decided to use some initiative and liaise with local mobility shops for their recommendations on spacing? My own village park has a set of these barriers in place at two entrances. For many years these were the only accessible entrances to the park for residents at the bottom of an extremely steep road. My village is home to many elderly folk who would have struggled to walk up the road to try to access the park from the top entrance. Should they have had wheelchairs, walkers, or frames of any kind, they would not have been able to access this public green space in the heart of their community. Sadly, I see the barriers at the bottom entrances today, and even though they have been adjusted to be made wider, I know that some of my students at the local college would still not be able to fit their electric wheelchairs through them, due to the simple fact that they are just wider and sometimes bulkier chairs, to cater for the essential needs of said individuals.

Unfortunately, the point of inaccessibility does not stop there, once inside the park. It is important to take notice of the even finer points, such as the steepness in gradients, and uneven pavement surfacing which can result in trips and falls when using crutches or frames. Steepness alone can be unbelievably limiting. You will find that there is a whole spectrum of abilities that depend on various aides to move around. Lifting crutches and walkers can be a very tough task and individuals may struggle with steps and slopes. So how can this be overcome? Why not make sure there is just as much beauty to see at the bottom of the slope as there is at the top, or perhaps increase gradients ever so slightly when working on greenspaces that are open to slopes and hills.

It is also worth thinking about ensuring there are bathroom facilities very close by. It isn’t our place to know every single detail about how one’s difference may affect them, and we should remember to acknowledge the needs of those with hidden differences in emphasising that inside-the-park bathroom facilities may be needed as a part of the general standard of accessibility. And if not in the park, then at least close by. I do actually tend to avoid green spaces that do not appear to have accessible toilet facilities nearby as a general rule of thumb. It just makes the whole experience daunting, especially as I use public transport to get around and there is always a risk of delays and missed trams, buses, or trains.

The return journey should be reminiscent of the journey to the venue in that there should be no worry of running out of money, no worry over high curbs or steps. I travel alone mainly; I’ve never had a Carer or Personal Assistant. And embarking on a journey to the Monsal Trail in the Peak District was the most relaxed journey I’ve ever made to a green space. The bus was accessible with my free pass and direct to Bakewell from Sheffield interchange. There was adequate information online about the accessibility of the trail and through the testimonials of my colleagues. I did notice that the road up to the trail was particularly steep. I only just managed it, but once again I have to say that not every wheelchair user would, due to varying degrees in mobility. I worried less about making that trip than I do when planning one to my local park, wondering about toilet facilities, if the buses will be frequent enough, etc.

I would like to finish by saying that I believe to make certain that green spaces are more accessible, wherever they may be - (as many disabled people are based in a much more rural setting) - and at least during the pandemic have been limited to only those communities, which raises the question of: If our more modern urban spaces are not accessible enough, what about our less modern and more remote areas? Issues such as regular public transport, bathroom facilities and steepness/steps overlap from one setting to another), we need to raise the bar on what is accessible and what isn’t. It is clear from what I’ve discussed that we are not even meeting basic requirements and therefore restricting public green spaces to people with differences.