Problems with wheelchair access at Wigan park described as 'accessible place to visit'

A Wigan park has come under scrutiny for its access for wheelchair users – despite being listed as an “accessible place to visit”.

Personal care assistant Sarah Stephenson, 49, says there are a number of factors making it difficult to access Ashfield Park in Standish.

This is despite the park featuring on Wigan Council’s website as an accessible place to visit.

Due to her work, Sarah often visits parks with the children she provides care for to entertain them and help them stay active.

Sarah Stephenson at Ashfield Park

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Until recently she had never visited Ashfield Park with a wheelchair, so was not aware of the complications she would face.

Sarah, who lives in Appley Bridge, said: “I’m shocked that it’s so hard to access a green space in this day and age. I was not prepared or expecting to face so many obstacles to get onto a park. Something has to be done to make them more inclusive.”

Difficulties arose upon arrival as the barrier onto the car park was shut, meaning a mobility car could not gain access.

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Sarah Stephenson at the car park barrier

After parking in a lay-by, Sarah encountered a gully on the car park which was particularly difficult to overcome due to the weight of the wheelchair.

Also, a large gate granting access to the park had been locked, with only a swing gate as an option, which was not ideal due to foot plates on the wheelchair.

Sarah said: “We visited the park on a Sunday afternoon, surely the gates should be open so that we can access the park easily? I would understand if there were set opening times but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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“I’m hoping that changes can make it more inclusive.”

A gully on the car park of Ashfield park, making it difficult for wheelchair users

James Winterbottom, the council’s director of digital, leisure and well-being services, said: “It’s really important to us that our parks are for everyone and our access arrangements attempt to strike a balance between accessibility for residents and visitors, and keeping the spaces safe and secure by discouraging anti-social behaviour and inappropriate use.

“The entrance points at Ashfield Park have accessible kissing gates that facilitate the use of prams, walking aids and wheelchairs while still acting as a deterrent for off-road motorbikes and other unauthorised vehicles. Meanwhile, the park itself incorporates accessible equipment, including a bespoke wheelchair-accessible roundabout, basket swing, play panels and an accessible picnic bench.

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“As a council, we strive to uphold standards of accessibility across the borough in consultation with relevant organisations and stakeholders. Earlier this year, council officers carried out park ‘health checks’ using official Green Flag criteria as a benchmark for standards, including each site’s accessibility for all users.

“As a result, and as part of our commitment to invest in our borough’s parks and green spaces, we are currently working with a landscape consultant to make improvements to Ashfield Park’s existing pathways in order to enhance the park’s accessibility, and we continue to explore practical solutions that find the right balance between accessibility and site security so that our parks can be enjoyed by all.”