Attractions praised for hands-on experiences, dedicated transport and disability organisation engagement
Five tourist attractions in the UK that have gone above and beyond to provide accessible, inspirational and inclusive days out have today been named as the winners of the first-ever Rough Guide to Accessible Britain Awards.
Historic passenger steamship Brunel's ss Great Britain, is recognised as the Best Heritage Venue; London's Science Museum takes the award for Best Family Venue; the Best Free Venue accolade went to Locomotion: National Railway Museum in Shildon, County Durham; the Best Active Venue award is taken by the Cairngorm Funicular Railway and Ski Centre; and environmental centre the Eden Project captured the hearts of consumers voting for the Readers' Choice Venue. The winners are united by their awareness and understanding of their visitors' needs as well as their creativity and attention to detail in meeting those needs.
The Awards, supported by Motability Operations and launched to coincide with the third edition of The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain, were presented by adventurer and TV personality Ben Fogle at a reception in London's Tate Modern.
Ben Fogle, presenter of the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain Awards, explained:
"I have been lucky enough to travel and have some amazing adventures over the years, but I have realised the most beautiful scenery and the most important history is here on our doorstep within hundreds of great UK attractions. Everyone, regardless of any disability or accessibility requirements, should be able to experience these great places of interest.
"The Accessible Britain Awards mark the achievements of attractions, however large or small, across the UK that have demonstrated considerable effort and creativity in providing inclusive experiences for disabled visitors. Both the Awards and I hope to inspire more people to get about and discover more of the UK's best sites."
Attractions were whittled down by Rough Guides' expert reviewers and judging panel into four categories: Best Family Venue, Best Active Venue, Best Heritage Venue and Best Free Venue. The judges then made a final assessment of the reviewers' submissions to select the winning and highly commended attractions. The Readers' Choice Venue, was voted for by consumers online at www.accessibleguide.co.uk from a shortlist of 10 attractions.
Best Family Venue - Science Museum, London
Reviewers and judges were unanimous in their praise for the effortless way the Science Museum had incorporated all aspects of accessibility into its hands-on visitor experience. Particular praise was given to the level of thought shown to the needs of visitors with disabilities - from parking (in a difficult central location) through to the way all visitors can participate and interact with exhibits.
Judges said: "They have been very creative with the way exhibits work for disabled visitors and children. Everything is at just the right height for wheelchair users, exhibits are interactive and they have made sure that all visitors, whatever their disability, can participate in the fun."
"A great deal of effort has gone into ensuring people can easily plan their visits in advance, which is a key consideration for families where accessibility is an issue."
Best Active Venue - Cairngorm Funicular Railway and Ski Centre, Aviemore
The mountain home of Disability Snowsport UK is more than a niche sporting venue. The centre has become a year-round attraction that combines scenery and nature with historic details of the region's economy. The funicular railway won plaudits for its wide access, great for wheelchair users and families with child buggies.
Judges said: "The railway carriages are roomy and easy to navigate, which makes for an easy journey to the summit. And once there, feedback is always that visitors feel on top of the world."
"Superb scenery and the opportunity to get stuck in and try your hand at winter sports make this a great year-round draw."
Best Heritage Venue - Brunel's ss Great Britain, Bristol
Brunel's ground-breaking passenger steamship ss Great Britain, is the centrepiece of the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol. Judges were impressed by the way the dockyard's trustees had recognised the huge number of disabled visitors the venue attracts and made great efforts to accommodate them - even though a dockyard and the ship itself are, by their very nature, difficult to negotiate.
The vessel has been lovingly restored, and the panel were impressed by the way external organisations such as the RNIB, RNID and the University of Bristol Centre for Access and Communication Studies had played their part in ensuring the attraction could be enjoyed by all.
Judges said: "The ship has been beautifully restored and visitors are completely immersed in its story and historical importance."
"You would imagine a tight, cramped experience, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is a fantastic visitor centre with audio and BSL guides and onboard they have worked wonders to ensure the ship is wheelchair accessible."
Best Free Venue - Locomotion: National Railway Museum, Shildon, Co Durham
Set in seven restored buildings, this extension to the National Railway Museum has accessibility in its DNA. Judges recognised the way the attraction made the very best of difficult old buildings. Signage, the depth of visitor information and a dedicated accessible bus service were all acknowledged as opening up the site to all. Reviewers also praised the 'great atmosphere' of Locomotion, and highlighted the especially friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff.
Judges said: " Locomotion is a fascinating day out. You can't help but marvel at the amazing collection of trains. But it is more than just a load of big machines - this is the social history of Great Britain laid out in one place."
"Disabled visitors are genuinely surprised at the experience, especially given the nature of the trains and carriages featured; there is an awful lot of hands-on interaction."
Readers' Choice Venue - Eden Project, Cornwall
The Readers' Choice Venue Award was voted for by consumers, and Rough Guide to Accessible Britain fans, online at www.accessibleguide.co.uk.
The panel of judges included Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now; Martin Dunford, founder, Rough Guides; Lara Masters, Britain's Missing Top Model judge and Rough Guide reviewer; and Delia Ray, head of marketing, Motability Operations.
The Accessible Britain Awards, and The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain, are supported by Motability, the leading car scheme for disabled people which provides a worry-free motoring package to over half a million people in the UK.
A full review of each winner - including details of how they achieved their accolade - will feature in the third edition of The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain, due for publication in April 2010. The Guide, available FREE to Blue Badge holders, includes comprehensive details of over 180 inspirational days out for disabled people and their families.
For more information on The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain see www.accessibleguide.co.uk.