Developing in the countryside is a tricky business: how do you strike a balance between making the outdoors accessible, without impinging on the beauty of an area? Grow Cook Learn, a social enterprise that is responsible for the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, has the answer.
The Shropshire Hills are classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The centre provides an introduction to this landscape and its heritage via the Secret Hills exhibition – a family-friendly, interactive and very well thought out display. The giant mammoth skeleton and iron age roundhouse both drive home the wealth of history in the area, while a high-definition panoramic curved screen, with surround sound, shows a balloon ride over the hills – watching it is a surprisingly realistic experience. There are also craft and drawing areas and plenty of other family activities including Toddle Time for under-fives (see website for times), which is a chance to explore part of the Onny Meadows. This peaceful thirty-acre site that surrounds the centre has three way-marked trails and six cycle rides. A half-mile all-weather, hard gravel, circular route has been laid as part of the government’s Walk4life initiative – it provides an accessible opportunity for disabled people to feel immersed in the countryside. The paths are easy-going, even for manual wheelchair users and buggies: they can be muddy in bad weather. A wooden boardwalk platform crosses the oxbow pools, which brim with wildlife in the spring and summer, and benches are strategically placed for great views.
The free car park has three disabled spaces next to the entrance to the grass-topped centre. The doors are wide and are opened with a large push-button and a manual wheelchair can be borrowed. The exhibition area is roomy and the displays are a good height for children and wheelchair users. The balloon ride has an induction loop. The café team can provide a bowl of water for assistance dogs, if required.
Food & drink: The café serves fresh sandwiches and homemade cakes, plus a small selection of hot dishes from 12pm until 2pm only. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced and organic. This is a small space, but the tables and chairs are moveable and it is possible to manoeuvre in a wheelchair.