Jack - Outdoors at the Calvert Trust

In July 2007, Jack (then aged 14) and his dad spent a week in the delightful countryside around Kielder Water in Northumberland at the centre run by the Calvert Trust, which also has centres in Keswick and Exmoor.

The Calvert Trust states that it aims to provide outdoor activities for people with disabilities and to challenge disability through outdoor adventure by providing a full range of accessible land and water based activities for people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities. So for a week we went in a sailing boat, we canoed in two canoes joined together as a raft and we motored on Kielder Water (Europe’s largest man-made lake), taking turns to drive. We tried out archery and Jack swung through the air at great height on a variety of different contraptions. Brave dad tried one of them! We, or rather Jack, abseiled down from a substantial height. We also orienteered through the local woodland on good accessible paths and tried out the equally accessible assault course. There is also a hydrotherapy pool which we didn’t try.

We were accommodated in a basic but perfectly comfortable room with accessible bathroom and shower ­ no shower chair in place when we arrived, but one soon provided on request. Don’t go for the food though. The catering was very ordinary at best and served charmlessly and precisely at set times ­- 6pm dinner, soon over by about 6.20, meant long evenings, where despite a reasonably priced bar, televisions, a pool table, board games and internet access, there was a lot of time to fill. On only one evening was there something organised -­ a hugely enjoyable inside wheelchair games for everyone ­ wheelchairs provided for the non wheelchair users.

Another negative for us was the fact that all the other disabled guests were those with learning difficulties which meant that there was not the opportunity for Jack to network with those with a similar life experience.

However the centre at Kielder also has some self-catering lodges, which were well appreciated by those who had booked them. They are fully accessible, have full cooking facilities with adjustable height units, an overhead hoist and television and were found to be comfortable; although since they were all occupied, we were not able to inspect them.

But this was a positive experience for us. The facilities for participating in the adventure activities were excellent. The general 

attitude was that everything is possible and, if at first something seemed impossible, a lot of effort was put into adapting systems and equipment, so that the activity could be enjoyed. Only the hand-cranked bicycles proved to be too large for Jack’s use (and only after a real effort was made to modify them). There was always a hoist on hand, on the jetty by the lake or beside a piece of equipment, and slings and special harnesses and seating arrangements.

The instructors were all delightful, very kind and fully committed to ensuring that everything was available and suitable for any particular person and their special requirements. Nothing was ever too much trouble, nor was anyone forced to do anything they preferred not to do.

We were also in the middle of beautiful countryside. Midsummer proved an excellent time to drive through the pretty little villages (even this damp summer) and I expect that they would be as charming at any time of year. We managed to fulfil one of my ambitions and visit Hadrian’s Wall, which is not far away and where there are some fascinating remains and historical sights ­ the one we visited, substantially wheelchair accessible, even had a team of archaeologists actually digging part of the site and willing to answer questions from the visitors. There is fishing on the reservoir and also lots of other opportunities for days out.

We would certainly go back!

This article first appeared in the Winter 2007/8 edition of our ‘Inspirations’ magazine