Harrogate charity launches new 'lifeline' facility for people with disabilities

Russ Piper, Chief Executive of Sovereign Health Care, with Open Countrys Kate Leggett, Sandra Clarke and Milly the assistance dog.
Russ Piper, Chief Executive of Sovereign Health Care, with Open Countrys Kate Leggett, Sandra Clarke and Milly the assistance dog.

Open Country is celebrating the launch of its brand new wheelchair accessible minibus, which will be used to further the great work already being done by the charity to help people with disabilities access the countryside.

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Members of the Harrogate-based charity gathered together with staff, volunteers, trustees and funders at Community House on East Parade to celebrate the arrival of the minibus. The Chief Executive of Sovereign Health Care, Russ Piper, who gave a £7,188 grant towards the bus, was invited to cut the ribbon and proudly unveil it.

The new bus, nicknamed ‘Blue Calypso’ by Open Country's advisory group, will be used to transport members and volunteers across the county to take part in walking, cycling, conservation and adventure activities.

Seating up to 13 passengers and with space for to two wheelchairs, the seats can be reconfigured depending on the numbers of people involved each day. The bus has been dedicated to the memory of Roy Bousfield who was a dedicated trustee and benefactor of Open Country.

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Volunteers and members of the charity who attended the launch event, told the 'Advertiser that the minibus will be a lifeline for so many, and open up a whole gateway of opportunities.

Sandra Clarke, who takes part in Open Country's activities, said: "So many people in my situation who are in a wheelchair, just can't get out without an accessible bus. But this new minibus means that we can go to so many different places - it is the social part of it as well. Open Country adds so much more to my life - rather than just sitting at home, I can go to so many different places, places I wouldn't have dreamt of going."

Volunteer Rachel Chorley, said: "It means that people can get out more, and it's a chance to make friends as well."

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Chief Officer of Open Country, David Shaftoe, said: “We are incredibly grateful to the trusts and foundations which helped to fund the new minibus. At the beginning of 2018, we faced a huge challenge of raising £40,000 to purchase the new bus, and thanks to the generosity of many local and national trusts and individuals we are delighted to be launching it today.”

But the fundraising challenges don’t stop there. David said: "It costs over £18,000 to run our fleet of three minibuses annually with around 40,000 miles added to the clock each year. We simply couldn’t operate without our trusty buses which enable our members to explore all corners of the Yorkshire countryside and beyond.”

A fundraising campaign for another new minibus has already been launched by the charity, which runs around 15 different countryside activities each week for people with physical or learning disabilities, sensory impairments or mental health issues.

Russ Piper from Sovereign Health Care said he was delighted to support Open Country in launching this latest vital minibus. He said: “Sovereign Health Care has a history of supporting health and wellbeing initiatives throughout Yorkshire, and the opportunity to donate to such an important cause was welcomed by us. Disabled people gaining access to the wonderful countryside we have in Yorkshire is fantastic and we are delighted to have been involved in helping acquire the new minibus.