Improving public rights of way for blind and partially sighted people in Bedford
Earlier this month, Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council met with representatives from Central Bedfordshire to try out a new walking route through Millennium Country Park, a site owned and operated by the Forest of Marston Vale. At the meeting, Sight Loss Council members discussed accessibility and suggestions for any improvements. We asked Bedfordshire Sight Loss council member Hubert to write about the meeting and why this work is necessary.
As someone who likes a good walk, I was keen to test out a public rights of way network walking route for Central Bedfordshire in my capacity as a Sight Loss Council member.
In attendance was Council Officer Adam Maciejewski, who had previously attended our October SLC meeting. He had previously asked us about the challenges we face when accessing the public rights of way network and what would help make it more accessible.
Despite the cold and rainy weather on the day, we had a good walk and shared lots of ideas. Council officers Lindsay Measures and Adam listened to our feedback and agreed to take our views and suggestions onboard.
Some of the recommendations put forward by the Bedfordshire SLC were:
· To add tactile markings at the top and bottom of a series of steps on the particular walking route.
· Add a different tactile marking for gates and stiles to help warn blind and partially sighted people about the approaching obstacle.
. To utilise the Microsoft Soundscape app and its newly introduced ‘new route feature’ by marking up walking routes around Millennium Country Park. As utilising this app might assist blind and partially sighted people to navigate walking routes independently.
· To ensure that all signage is in large font with good colour contrast.
Where to next
At the end of the walk, we moved our meeting indoors
and continued to discuss our recommendations. Our suggestions were well received, and both Lindsay and Adam are keen to work with us further to implement these improvements and make the public rights of way network more accessible to blind and partially sighted people.
The project will create other collaboration opportunities with different organisations such as the Forest of Marston Vale and Ramblers Association. The first step has undoubtedly been encouraging, and it was great to see the Council take our suggestions on board and ask questions about the finer details of our ideas. As a Sight Loss Council member, I was also pleased that Central Bedfordshire is keen to continue to work with us in the future, and I look forward to seeing what great things we achieve through future projects.
Anna Charles, Head Ranger for the Forest of Marston Vale:
“We’re delighted that members of Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council and Central Bedfordshire Council were able to visit Millennium Country Park, and that there is such a great interest locally in getting an initiative set up to make green spaces more accessible.
As the landowner and operator of the site it’s great to know that our park can be enjoyed by blind and partially sighted people already, and we’ll certainly be taking the advisements from Hubert and the CBC team on board as we make ongoing improvements to our site, in particular with regards to accessibility”
Engagement manager for Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council:
“It was fantastic to see Central Bedfordshire actively engaging with the SLC to improve their public rights of way network for blind and partially sighted people. Walking is an excellent form of exercise and making improvements to walking routes will allow more visually impaired people to benefit from physical activity and the outdoors. Both Adam and Lindsay listened to what SLC members had to say and showed genuine interest in making positive changes. Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council are very much eager to see how the project develops as it ties nicely into their VI forum held in January on sports and leisure.”
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