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Making outdoor adventures open to all

[Press center5] time:2023-05-28 21:37:37 source:ABC News author:Press center5 click:120order

When asked about what rock climbing means to Pip Rowlands, she signs "friends", "strong" and "perseverance". Pip is one of many climbers who take to the outside crags with hope of some sunshine.

But many people living with disabilities can have a myriad of complications getting out into nature due to accessibility, travel and cost. The BBC has been to meet the Windermere-based organisation striving to make outdoor activities possible for "absolutely everyone" - and the people benefitting from it.

"I can hear the birds and it is calmer being outside," says 23-year-old Pip, who has climbed for eight years.

She is one of several climbers taking part in events run by Anyone Can - held at crags in Ingleton, North Yorkshire, and near Keswick, in Cumbria.

"Without the right support, people with learning disabilities are often constrained to very urban lives, not straying far from where a care company determines to be 'safe'," Pip's mum Clare Millington says.

"So without trained and ambitious support staff the outdoors is pretty much closed apart from the odd trip to a specialist centre or country park."

On this particular day relentless rain and wind isn't stopping the smiles of everyone here.

Chris and Vicky Binks, who are running the session, are kept busy with constructing anchors at the top of the crag to fix top ropes, setting up equipment and helping climbers pick their routes.

The couple provide physical help - with ramps and harnesses for those with a mobility impairment - while climbers with learning disabilities are guided with verbal one-to-one support, specific to their needs.

They set up Anyone Can in 2019 after working in the outdoor industry and finding there were very few opportunities for people living with disabilities to go on adventures beyond just taster sessions.

"Pip climbs intuitively so she doesn't plan routes," her mum Clare says.

"The specialist knowledge that people like Chris and Vicky have is invaluable."

Mrs Binks says one of the aims of their organisation is to allow people to be able to "choose who they adventure with" rather than an organised group.

"The outdoors, for many, is intrinsically inaccessible but there are lots of ways to dodge, fudge and laugh your way through these barriers," her husband adds.

The two then teach parents and friends how to belay the climbers safely and provide guidance for those climbing.

Mairi Picken, who regularly climbs with the Scottish Paraclimbing Club, travelled from Bathgate and says the sport means "family" to her.

"Happy memories we have here," the 19-year-old says.

"Something we always do is climb, like be with family or friends," Mairi adds.

Mairi explains how she likes "working together and help each other figure it out".

A heartening trait of climbing is the way participants cheer on others as they ascend.

Here, those uplifting calls are amplified.

Another of the climbers out on the crag this day - Kieran - describes climbing as his "favourite", after progressing to outdoor climbing recently from indoor walls in Carlisle.

Kieran's form of support comes through engagement and 1:1 verbal support while up on the wall.

"I like climbing to the top," says the 16-year-old, adding he feels "so proud" when finishing a route.

"More opportunities for outdoor rock climbing locally would be great," says Kieran's mum, Adrienne Gill.

"If Kieran had the opportunity, this is something he can really succeed in."

Michelle Mudhar, meanwhile, uses a modified rig to climb with independence, after combining climbing and caving techniques to enable her to be able to rescue herself, should she ever need to.

The 39-year-old, from Manchester, says: "Climbing gives me the freedom to explore further than my wheelchair will allow me to, but it's more about the people you meet along the way and the journey of getting there.

"What interests me is getting the kit needed to get me there, getting myself to the place to do it and then all the people that are required to do that.

"Chris helps me set a rope, a safe anchorage and scouts out the sites which is so crucial."

She said scouting out a location for climbing was often "a job in itself in one day" if she had to do it alone.

Chatting to everyone, it's plain to see how integral the outdoors is for their mental health.

Charlotte Boulton, from Newcastle, has been climbing for seven years and regularly goes out with Anyone Can.

"Climbing gives me a variety of range to explore new heights because I have mobility issues," the 22-year-old says.

She explains how her love for the sport started with mountains.

"I like the views. Because I'm visually impaired, I take a picture on my phone and then zoom in on the photograph," she says.

Charlotte said she would like to see improved accessibility for wheelchairs outside after finding many places were unsuitable for her and her partner, who uses a wheelchair.

The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) - the representative body for hillwalking, climbing and mountaineering - said a lot of work had been done in recent years to provide more help to people with accessibility issues.

However, it added there was "definitely more to do".

"Some parks and some spaces are doing some really good work to improve accessibility to crags," the BMC's diversity and inclusion manager Alex West says.

"The first thing we can do is create a library of knowledge for places like Anyone Can so everyone can access it if they are looking to get outdoors - and that's where the BMC comes in," Mr West continues.

"The second part is looking at who owns the crag and how we can support people getting there," he adds.

Anyone Can said in many cases it was "not the activity that was the challenge" when it came to accessibility.

"The vast majority of people - including those living with a disability - could physically do stuff with any good instructor or organisation," Mr Binks says.

"It's about information - knowing that your needs will be met, knowing that you'll feel welcome and equal, and knowing that you'll have a good time," he adds.

For more information about inclusive outdoor adventures contact Paraclimbing Collective or the BMC.

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(editor-in-charge:Press center2)

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