Luton may not be the first place that springs to mind when planning a day out, but the Stockwood Discovery Centre – on the edge of town, just off the M1 – is a very good reason to come here.
The museum’s wide-ranging collection – focussing chiefly on the Luton area – takes in social history, local crafts, archeology and geology. Highlights include a hoard of Roman gold coins, a rare medieval bronze jug and the UK’s largest collection of horse-drawn carriages, all engagingly and accessibly presented. Outside, the large grounds – originally the estate of Stockwood House, a now-demolished eighteenth-century residence – house a series of inviting themed gardens, including the Sensory Garden, which has a tactile trail incorporating textured paving and plants to touch, a sound trail with wind chimes, and a fragrant zone, with plants such as lavender, roses and witch hazel. Look out, too, for the Improvement Garden, graced by six striking sculptures by the renowned artist Ian Hamilton Finlay – this is one of the few permanent displays of his work outside Scotland.
Accessibility is good throughout the site. The large car park has six disabled spaces, from where a broad asphalt path leads to the museum’s step-free entrance. Inside, all the displays are on the ground floor, with level access; manual wheelchairs and powered scooters can be borrowed at reception (best to phone ahead). The hand-held audiovisual guides include a BSL option, and the two videos screened in the galleries also feature BSL interpreters and subtitles. Most of the garden areas are wheelchair accessible, with alternative ways to reach anywhere with steps, although there are a few tricky corners for wheelchairs and scooters in the Period Garden. Parts of the expansive lawn gardens would be difficult for wheelchairs in wet weather. There are spacious accessible toilets in the Learning Centre, discovery galleries and opposite the café.
Food & drink: The fully accessible on-site café, entered via automatic doors, serves hot and cold food and drink at reasonable prices, with a beautifully displayed cake table taking centre stage.