Friday, 17 September 2021

New wheelchair makes nature reserve accessible to all

New wheelchair makes nature reserve accessible to all

THE Withymead nature reserve near Goring has purchased a new all-terrain wheelchair.

The £430 device, which can be hired free of charge by elderly or disabled visitors and their carers, has thicker wheels and tyres than a regular wheelchair so it can access muddy and waterlogged areas of the riverside beauty spot.

It was purchased with a grant from the village’s Lucy Woodward Charitable Trust, which gives money to other charities and non-profit organisations in the area.

The reserve  comprises mostly reed fen and wetland and is accessed by a network of wooden boardwalks which were installed by volunteers from the Sonning Common and Wallingford Green Gym schemes.

However, the walkways do not cover the entirety of the site and there are parts which a normal wheelchair cannot access.

Jenny Hedge, a trustee of the Anne Carpmael Charitable Trust, which runs the reserve, said: “We started discussions about improving access earlier this year. Much of our reserve is permanently wet and boggy due to flooding, even in the summer, and we wanted everyone to be able to get to the wetland areas.

“We did look at building more boardwalks or reinforcing the existing ones but that would have required tens of thousands of pounds.

“Eventually, someone suggested an all-terrain wheelchair and we realised that was a more sensible solution. New boardwalks would not have offered as much access to the more rugged areas of the site, so this will be a great improvement for visitors with mobility problems. They will be able to enjoy the wildness of the reserve and take part in outdoor activities which they may have found hard to access in the past.”

The reserve comprises 22 acres of river frontage between Goring and South Stoke and a two-acre wildflower water meadow on the village’s northern outskirts called Little Meadow. It is famed for its Loddon lillies, which bloom in spring.

It was originally the home of Anne Carpmael, who left the land in trust to the community when she died in 2002.

Ms Hedge said: “We recently had a call from an elderly woman who knew Anne and was interested in visiting after reading an article about our open days in the Henley Standard.

“She was worried that it wouldn’t be possible as she has mobility problems but thanks to this wheelchair we’ve arranged for her to come and explore with her daughter, which we’re really pleased about.”

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