Advocacy group to run accessible taxi for culture events

Siobhan Fennell chair of Accessible Belper
Siobhan Fennell chair of Accessible Belper

The campaign to make Belper one of Britain’s most accessible towns will make another breakthrough next month with a free taxi service launching for cultural events.

In what might be a UK-first, the Accessible Belper group and Belper Town Council will also stage a specially seasoned session at the food festival in July.

Group chairman Siobhan Fennell said: “It’s exciting to be launching a new initiative to help people with mobility difficulties or who might be isolated at home.

“We’re here to make the whole town open for everyone to enjoy. It’s a culture change and we’re getting there step-by-step.”

The taxi service will make its first appearance on Monday, May 1, to give everyone a chance to enjoy the Belper Arts Trail, 10am to 4pm.

It will also run on Monday, May 15, when there is an arts workshop for people living with dementia at Belper Mill, 12noon to 3.30pm.

It will be in operation on Saturday, May 20, too, when there is a Last Night of the Proms-style concert at St Peter’s Church, 7.30pm, and for the well dressings and larks on Sunday, July 16.

Siobhan said: “Anyone who wants to use the service will get a reliable driver who has been through our training, so will be sensitive and supportive whatever your situation.”

The idea for the taxi arose at a training session attended by members of the council.

Siobhan said: “They came to hear about the work we’d been doing around the town, and learn about how to make their own work more accessible. We gave them a few suggestions and thankfully they took them up. The council have been really supportive with funding.”

The council have also backed the second initiative coming at the food festival alongside the taxi service.

The festival, on Sunday, July 9, will see the first half hour of the day set aside for people with access needs.

Slow shopping is an idea that has been trialled by major supermarkets in recent years, with dedicated quiet opening hours and trained assistants to help people get around more easily.

Siobhan said: “A lot of big shops tried it recently for National Autism Week, but I think this will be the first event of its kind in the UK.

“It allows people who have difficulty walking to get around the festival, and is good for anyone who struggles with crowds too. Children with autism or people with dementia can be particularly sensitive.”

The idea is indicative of Accessible Belper’s approach to their work, which aims to move beyond preconceptions about all disabilities and show how they can be included in a more considerate model of social life.

Siobhan said: “We’ve been advising shops and businesses on all sorts of things they can do, it’s not just about ramps and whether a wheelchair user can get through the door. There are really simple changes that won’t cost a lot but will make a big difference.

“People get awkward about disability, they don’t like to ask and worry they might use the wrong language, but if you have the right attitude there are ways around it.”

The group run bespoke training workshops for businesses, and also regular sessions tailored to particular needs.

Its next scheduled event is a disability and dementia friends workshop on Wednesday, June 14.

Siobhan said: “We’ll cater to as many people as want to come, and will tailor the content to their requests.

“Soon one in every 14 people is going to need assistance for dementia. It’s important to understand how they see the world and how it’s affected their memory and reality.”

For more information and disability resources, go to www.accessiblebelper.org or call 01773 826477.