Open Country project inspires volunteers
That North Yorkshire is one of the most beautiful areas of the country is without question.
From the wilds of the North York Moors to the picture perfect fields of the Yorkshire Dales visitors flock to the area from around the world simply to experience our glorious county.
During the lockdown months of the pandemic, those of us who live in the county were lucky enough to have the area to ourselves and explore it during our daily exercise.
As lockdown lifted, we were joined by many others, attracted by the vast open spaces and room to breathe the fresh air.
For those who were asked to isolate for longer, or who were less mobile and unable to get out and about, the freedom to enjoy the great outdoors was one of the things they missed most during the pandemic.
Yorkshire-based charity Open Country has sought to enable people with disabilities to access and enjoy the countryside for over 30 years, an initiative which has only been bolstered since lockdown restrictions were eased.
Open Country produces a range of information to encourage access for all and offer Countryside Directories for people with disabilities covering the whole of Yorkshire as well as County Durham, Lancashire and Teesside.
Whatever a person's ability, access to and enjoyment of the countryside is both possible and affordable with Open Country.
They have an exciting range of groups to suit nearly every ability and interest, from gentle bird watching trips to abseiling off viaducts.
A series of allotments provides regular access to the outdoors during the year and supported walking groups and working parties work with charities such as the Yorkshire WIldlife Trust, National Trust and the Countryside Commission to care for some of our most beautiful surroundings.
They achieve this through a variety of outdoor activities and the provision of information, training and advice.
Fully accessible transport is provided and staff are supported by teams of trained volunteers who are on hand to offer assistance as necessary.
Open Country began in 1990 as a temporary project managed by: The Countryside Commission, Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire Social Services, Harrogate Health Authority and the Fieldfare Trust and funded by Powergen, Yorkshire Field Studies Trust and Mencap.
On an average week they run up to fifteen countryside activities, catering for a range of abilities.
Philomena Noonan, 67, who spent her working life as a nurse, began volunteering with Open Country in 2009. She said: “I’ve been volunteering for the last 12 years. I started after I retired, mainly because I wanted to be as far away from institutions and buildings as possible.
My friend said ‘I know just the thing!’ And I started to volunteer at the weekend with the social activities and then progressed to the conservation group.”
“One thing I won’t do is ride the tandems. I’m not very tall and I keep falling off - and as the person at the back is usually partially sighted, or completely blind it doesn’t end well!
“Every service user is different, you get to know people and what they can and can’t do and encourage them to enjoy being outside.
“Being part of the group helps their self-esteem, they know that they are doing something useful and that everything we do has a purpose.
Derek Needham, 76, has volunteered with Open Country for almost 11 years. He came to the organisation after his wife encouraged him to find something to do during his retirement.
Now he assists the working parties on a Tuesday and Thursday. Derek said. “ “We do everything from pulling Himalayan Balsam to bracken bashing or installing steps and bins for garden rubbish.
“Usually there are two or three volunteers assisting one employee and however many clients there are that want to go.
“We have some good fun and I hope I can help them enjoy their day out with Open Country.”
Service users Ross Chapman and Louis Doyle explained why they like spending time with the organisation.
Ross said: “I like Open Country because I enjoy coming out with the working group parties on a Tuesday and a Friday.”
Louis said: “I like coming to Open Country because it helps my mental health being outdoors and socialising.”
Tom Marsh, Countryside Activities Officer for Open Country said: “Our aim is to get our members out and about in the country and enjoy it and access it the best that they can, and also to conserve the North Yorkshire area as best we can.”
If you’re disabled and would like to spend more time outdoors, or if you enjoy the ‘Open Country’ and have a few hours a month you could volunteer to help the organisation, you can find out more online at: www.opencountry.org.uk