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Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Response to my open letter

I'll say one thing for Andrew Percy... He pretty much always replies to emails and FB messages within a very short time. I had an email from his office the next working day after posting my open letter and basically he is raising the various issues with different people/organisations.

Access to local walks

As a result of my MP contacting the council on my behalf, I had an email today from the Countryside Access Officer, who we have actually met before. Just over a year ago, we did a walk in Market Weighton with her, to help assess how wheelchair accessible it was and to identify any improvements that could be made. Obviously, we then had a pandemic, so nothing has actually changed yet but it is in the pipeline.

Anyway, she contacted me today about the A frame barriers, as it is apparently policy NOT to use them now. It sounds like the ones in use are on other people's land but she is going to contact them and ask about having them changed.

Also, now I know she is responsible for my area, I can contact her if I find other barriers to access. 

Thanks so far

So I just wanted to put it out there, that I got a response and I know what Andrew Percy is doing to try to help. It doesn't surprise me at all that the first response from that was the Countryside Access Officer. Our previous connections with her were very positive and I am sure she will try to improve things for us.

I haven't heard anything about the state of pavements yet. This is another of the local issues, but I suspect it may be tied in with another local issue that is brewing at the moment... so I'll try to be patient.

The national issues around PIP and the Blue Badge scheme - hmmmm - they are being taken up with the DWP. I can't say I'm overly hopeful. I know others have raised many issues around this and nothing has changed. Even if the Blue Badge issue could be resolved though, that would be something. I am actually baffled that someone didn't see a problem with that to start with!

So, if you read this, thank you to Andrew Percy and your team for responding to my letter. Please keep me updated and take any opportunity to raise the PIP issue at Westminster.


Saturday, 20 February 2021

Open letter to Andrew Percy MP

Dear Andrew Percy

You may or may not remember me contacting you the night before the last general election. I was really undecided about who to vote for. I had seen how active you are in our local community and the immense effort that you put into addressing issues that affect your constituents. However, I have only ever voted labour so this would be my first conservative vote, going against much of what I believe in. The main issues for me, at the time were Brexit on one hand, and the lack of value that many disabled people feel from government, on the other.

You persuaded me that disabled people do matter to you and to test you in this, if you were successful. You were. Congratulations! 

I began drafting a letter in early 2019 and first the Snaith/Cowick floods happened and then Covid. So I figured you might appreciate some time to deal with those first. Now though, in the third lockdown, some of the issues I would like to raise with you, and ask for your help with, have become even more urgent.

National issues

My spinal injury (cauda equina syndrome) happened in 2012, while we were living in Finland. We returned to the UK in 2013, mainly because the UK offers better rights for disabled people who want to work. On returning, I was not eligible to apply for disability benefits until we had been living here for two years. So in 2015, I started receiving PIP and have nothing else to compare this to. 

I have seen some of the negative press around PIP but the press are often negative about many things, so I wanted to see for myself and form my own opinions about it. 

For now, I will leave the assessment process out of this, as I understand that there will never be a successful way of both giving disabled people what they need and, at the same time, completely eliminating fraud. My issue is with the constant need to be reassessed every three years. My condition is permanent and unlikely to ever improve. I am on the highest rate of both daily living and mobility. This is the only state support I have asked for or receive, and really, it is more about getting the support I need to equalise my living costs so that I can continue to work and contribute as much as possible to society.

Being reassessed every three years has implications way beyond the obvious. Yes, I have to take time to fill in the long forms and then take time off work to attend assessments, sometimes deal with appeals and so on. However, I then have to deal with the blue badge issue. East Riding Council now only issue the blue badge until the PIP end date. On the surface, this seems reasonable. However, PIP reassessments rarely occur on time and although payments continue to cover the months of delays, my blue badge becomes out of date. By the time I can reapply, each blue badge has about two and a half years on it, yet still costs me £10 each time. 

I recently received a letter explaining that due to Covid, PIP reassessments will be delayed by almost a year. That is a long time to be without my blue badge! I am very active and don't need to park right next to the entrance. What I need is the wide space to unload my wheelchair and assistance dog. Without these, I can't get out by car.

I would like your support in two ways:

  1. Please would you ask the government to reconsider PIP assessments for permanent conditions. Being reassessed every three years must surely cost the government more than the tiny risk that I receive a miraculous healing and fail to disclose it.
  2. Work with government and/or the local council to ensure that disabled people are not left without their blue badge or required to pay repeatedly for a new one because of delays in the PIP system.

Local issues

Although I live in Goole, I am not from this area. Goole has a lot going for it for a wheelchair user, not least, the fact that it is largely flat! In theory, as a healthy, active wheelchair user, able to self propel long distances, in excess of 5km at a time, it should be possible for me to visit the town centre and supermarkets (approximately 1 mile away) without taking my car. This is what we have all been encouraged to do, in order to help reduce our carbon footprint and help meet environmental targets. 

I have contacted the council numerous times to report issues with paving, especially on Marshfield Road, where the quality of the paving for a long time now, has been so poor that I can only now access it with my mountain trike (a specialised wheelchair, designed for off road hiking). Using my regular chair simply causes too much pain and there is too much risk of being thrown out of my chair when one of the front casters catches in a pothole. 

On my own estate, we have flagged paving and partly due to the works that KCOM have recently completed, but also prior to this, many of the flags are broken and dislodged such that it is not very easy to propel on it. I literally have to watch the ground in front of me the whole time, so I can pull wheelies over raised flags or swerve to avoid the worst areas. I have come out of my chair a couple of times, badly hurting my arm and shoulder once. Following this, the council investigated and did some repairs but left all but the worst damage as it was.

I would like to escalate this now, through you, and ask that the pavements in the area are improved and made safe for both wheelchair users and the many elderly people that use walkers, sticks and other mobility aids.

I'm sitting in my mountain trike, with my hands up and out in despair. I can't get out of the nature reserve here because the gates are too narrow.
A second local issue, and one that I understand the root of, is the erecting of barriers to prevent antisocial behaviour in our green spaces. These seem to be used at access points to the riverbank, nature reserve, canals... They do indeed prevent motor bikes causing chaos, but they also prevent me from accessing places where I should be able to exercise and walk my assistance dog (or sometimes, as in the photo, from getting out).

I am aware that some money has been allocated from various sources and one of the anticipated improvements is around accessibility. I would ask that when implementing these, you advise the relevant groups to consult with disabled people, rather than guessing or assuming what our needs are. It is vital that this happens at the planning phase, rather than as an afterthought. 


I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the work you do in our town and in anticipation of any help you will be able to offer on the issues I am facing.

Yours faithfully

Nicki

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Christmas Newsletter

 I only occasionally bother with a Christmas newsletter but this year surely warrants one. I'm doing it on my blog so anyone who is interested can have a read. For once, I'm actually going to take a look back at the outgoing year, in a chronological manner...

January

I remember Neil hitting 25 years old and being somewhat overwhelmed at the thought of being a quarter of a century old. Well this year, he reached half a century. To celebrate, Neil's brother, Graham, came over from Hong Kong - a real treat for Neil, and, with hindsight a very timely visit. We went out for dinner and had a lovely day out at Clumber Park, one of our favourite places to get out for a walk. 

On his birthday, the first two cases of Coronavirus were identified in the UK... in York, actually, which is where we went on the Sunday of Graham's visit. We sat in Pizza Hut, unaware that this would become a rare luxury, watching swarms of people going about their business, some wearing masks... which at that stage, was a bit unusual.

February

Again, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that we fully appreciate our little jaunt in mid-February. I had booked to attend the Learning Technologies conference at the Excel in London, and to help the week go smoothly, Neil took some leave and we planned a few days around it to visit family there too. The conference itself was fantastic! I met up with various colleagues and we spent a blissful two days in a crowded venue, totally unaware of the risks we were being exposed to. Fortunately, it was early enough that we all stayed safe.

On one of the evenings, we met up with my brother, Matt, and went for dinner at the O2 Arena. The last time I was there, it was the Millennium Dome, so that was a while back. It was wonderful both seeing my brother and also being out in a new place like some kind of normal human being, that doesn't have to worry about accessibility all the time. Thing was, access there was great! 

After the conference, we had a day at the Science Museum and Hyde Park, meeting up with my friend, Debs for lunch. Then we headed over to visit Neil's mum and took her out for lunch. I think that was the last time we ate out. If we'd realised what was coming, we might have made more of seeing his mum but we still had no idea, really.

March

Well, March was when it all escalated rather quickly! Having spent a year, accepting that I couldn't work from home all the time but not really understanding any of the reasons why, on 17th March, I was sent home and told not to return for at least the immediate future, until we got rid of Coronavirus. How naive a thought was that?!!

A few days later, Neil was also working from home. He had never previously liked us both working from home on the same day, but we didn't have a choice now. Actually, although we both missed seeing our colleagues face-to-face, we have both made it work for us. As well as being able to spend some working time together, we also now enjoy lunch together every day, which encourages us to take a break. We also both had to walk Liggy, as initially exercise was only permitted once a day... and Liggy was rather peeved at only having two walks. One would have upset her immensely!

April

Spring Harvest was inevitably cancelled, though we still took a week's leave and enjoyed participating online. They did a fab job and it was really well done but we missed meeting up with the usual group of friends. 

In April, we were still on one walk a day and that had to be from home. Driving anywhere was discouraged. The only place I could walk Liggy was round the cemetery, and that began to wear really thin. I began to feel the darkness of the Covid situation, particularly seeing an increase in funerals and the horrors of lone mourners. Fortunately, the rules loosened a little and I was allowed to drive to the park. I never thought of that as a luxury before.

May/June/July/August

Got to be honest, it all becomes a bit of a blur as I look back on May. In fact throughout the summer, everything is a little vague. We enjoyed being allowed to travel for exercise and visited Scarborough a few times. We even managed to see family at a distance. 

Somewhere in the summer, Neil started his new job, back at the council. The irony is, it was all the commuting that triggered him applying and again with hindsight, this would probably not be an issue now... but it was a promotion too and a challenge and he is settling in really well.

September

Still a bit of a blur but the exciting event was the purchase of Zerubbabel, our new motorhome. Well, new to us. We managed a couple of early visits - just weekends on nearby sites, to test her out. I can't wait to have a proper holiday in her!

October

Cases were beginning to rise again and tiers became a thing, but fortunately, we managed a weekend at Chatsworth to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We walked a lot and enjoyed a first taste of 'off grid' in Zerubbabel. We stayed in a pub car park, had meals delivered to the van and enjoyed being totally self-isolated and not having to risk public toilets and cafes. 

November

We were braced for bad news, as it looked like our main holiday was going to be cancelled, however we got lucky with dates. One more week and it would have all been different. We spent a wonderful week in Norfolk, in a disabled-friendly cottage, which was absolutely perfect! From there, we discovered some new favourite places - Hunstanton Beach... Sandringham... Kings Lynn. A week wasn't long enough and we'll definitely be back there some time in the future.

December

So here we are at the end of 2020. We had a plan A for Christmas, which involved taking Zerubbabel down to visit Neil's mum. Then plan B, which involved a short visit to Scarborough. Now we're on plan C, which is stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. I feel like that should feel more heroic than it actually does. It feels a bit flat really. But there's now two new variants, both spreading like crazy... we know of several people who have died of this horrible virus and knew one personally. We also now know quite a few people who have either had it or currently have it... which makes it all feel much more real than it did back in March. 

Christmas

So many people feel that Christmas has been cancelled this year... Bojo has ruined it! I get that, but I disagree.

I have read the Christmas story so many times and I find it hard to fully celebrate the event. Mary was just a young girl. Getting pregnant before marriage was shameful. People would have been gossiping about her, looking down on her, judging her. 

I've had two babies. I remember going to my mum's graduation 2 weeks before Josh was due. It was so stressful! I was really worried about going into labour away from home, even though Scarborough is my home. When you have a baby, you want everything to be ready, to know that baby is coming into a safe home environment. I can't imagine the stress of having to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem when heavily pregnant and then having your first baby in a strange place.... maybe a stable. It doesn't bear thinking about. The situation was just horrible. The government totally ruined Mary's Christmas!

So this year actually feels more real. I feel more like Christmas is something to remember... to celebrate. Christmas is about the imperfect and how Jesus comes to be God with us, in our imperfect places. Whether you believe the Christmas story or not, I hope and pray that you feel peace and joy in some way this Christmas... maybe that it would come in an unexpected way. And more than anything else, I hope and pray that 2021 is nowhere near as bad as this year has been. Dull and boring and uneventful would be perfect!

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 3

 Felbrigg Hall and Estate

In general, we like National Trust walks and you can usually get really accurate information on their website to enable you to decide which walks are suitable. I'll start by saying that I couldn't find information on the waymarked walks at Felbrigg but we figured the lack of information probably meant that it was going to be okay.

The problem is, of course, that we are entering lockdown again and although the website says...

"We also have several waymarked walks around the estate, of varying lengths and accessibility. Just have a chat with one of the team when you arrive and they can provide you with a map and send you in the right direction."

... there was no team present. The entrance and information area was kind of deserted. So we had to get all our information from the map board, which didn't mention accessibility at all. Going on previous experience, where the shorter walks are accessible but the longer ones are a bit iffy, we decided to do two short walks, one before and one after lunch.

Victory V walk (lime arrows)

This is a 1.5 mile walk through the woods. The path was wide and apart from a few boggy bits, it was quite manageable. We passed the Ice House, which was interesting and enjoyed the beautiful autumn colours. In general the first half of the walk was a long gradual uphill, and the second half was a series of downhills with some little ups in between. In my mountain trike, it was easily manageable.

A collage of photos showing Felbrigg Hall, woodland paths, the church, reflections in the lake and me in my trike with Liggy, my black labrador.



Church and Lakes walk (blue arrows)

This is a 1.7 mile walk passing St Margaret's Church and then going down to the lake. Right from the outset, it was more challenging terrain, as it was over fields of grazing sheep, with massive piles of poo everywhere and varying lengths of grass and very uneven. However, we made it across the field to the church, which was very pretty. 

The next bit was quite a climb across another sheep field. We could see that there was a gate at the top, but usually National Trust properties have gates that work for us. So we did the climb. When we got there, we discovered a kissing gate and there was no chance of getting me through it. We almost turned back but then another couple appeared and told us they thought the gate at the bottom of the field was okay and that they would go that way and wave if it was suitable. We waited and it was wave-worthy, so we separated and Neil took Liggy the correct route, leaving me with quite a high number of sheep, to navigate a very uneven path down to the better gate. The gate was fine.

We made it through several more gates of varying difficulty and down to the lake... which was stunning in the autumn sunshine. There was a small area fenced off where a large tree had blown over and had left a gaping hole and had its roots sticking up in the air. No problem to get round. The path the other side of the lake did become increasingly narrow and there were a couple of sections where the nettles were closer than I'm really comfortable with, but I was very well dressed so I took deep breaths, prayed louder in tongues than I really intended, swore a few times and got through.

Then the path got really quite narrow, such that passing oncoming walkers would have been totally impossible... but again, it looked possible until we looked just a little further ahead. The lack of photos of what we saw is purely down to shock! Steps. Not a flight of stairs... but more mud steps with wooden edges. We stopped for a while to discuss our options. I've never attempted steps in that number before but they looked quite wide and each step was big enough to pause with my whole chair on, and faced with the possibility of retracing the entire route, I figured it was worth a try.

To our credit, we managed a few steps before I lost the plot. A higher than manageable step coincided with more nettles, which Neil decided he could push me through but I was not entirely sure of our ability to keep me and the trike upright and neither wanted to fall back down the steps or into said nettles, so I opted to get out and crawl up the remaining steps, much to the amusement of some fellow walkers.

Neil helped me back in when we were nearish to the top and we did the remaining steps with lever power and Neil pushing from behind. Liggy was baffled, distracted and less than helpful. A husky would have been more use. 

The remainder of the walk was slightly easier than the steps but still gave us some ups and downs and some more overgrown narrow paths before we eventually made it back to a concrete road. Liggy was decidedly more helpful here and between the three of us - Neil pushing, me levering and Liggy pulling, we got up a steep hill and back to the Hall and toilets. 

Several times on this walk, the thought crossed my mind... 

How difficult would it have been to mention on the map that there were kissing gates and steps? Don't get me wrong, we had some laughs on the way, and the smell of sheep/fox poo on my gloves gradually began to smell quite normal, and we all had a major sense of achievement afterwards... but some better information might have enabled us to choose a slightly more suitable walk.

East Runton

Following our walks, we had decided to visit Cromer, as we were so close. However, in the centre of Cromer was a set of temporary traffic lights, which appeared to be causing more chaos than a small town could manage and so we decided to reduce the traffic jam by one and move on.

As we continued along the coast road, Neil spotted a sign for toilets and a beach. Without even checking whether toilets were needed, he swerved in. We found a car park, toilets and an extremely steep hill down to a pretty much deserted beach... irresistible! 

I'll spare you the details of me skidding down the hill to the beach or being pushed/pulled back up... but it was a lovely quiet beach with a low tide, which gave Liggy some space to run and sniff and play in the sea. The sand was soft enough for me to sit on and relax for a while. 

Apart from being grateful for an hour on a beach, we couldn't help but notice two signs, which seemed rather ridiculous.

1. The car park was rough ground and mostly gravel or mud. At the entrance was a warning sign, telling users that it hadn't been gritted. What!?!?!?! It was made of grit. Why would anyone even think of gritting it?

2. Inside the accessible toilet was a Covid sign, telling users to queue outside the facility. But the sign was inside... so for anyone to read it, and not be at the front of the queue, they would have to be already inside the cubicle with (presumably) a total stranger on the toilet. Really!?!?!?

All week our stereotyped views of Norfolk have been challenged and changed... for the better. These two signs just undid all that good work. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 2

 King's Lynn

I had no idea that King's Lynn was such an old city and that there would be so much historical architecture and stories. We needed a day where I could use my normal wheelchair, to give my arm and shoulder muscles a break and King's Lynn was the nearest city, so off we went.

I found a guided walk that the National Trust have written, so I put it on my phone and we followed it round the city, learning bits and pieces about the history of some of the buildings there. If you're interested in doing the walk, it's called the King's Lynn Heritage Walk.

Collage of photos showing a statue of George Vancouver, Neil standing under an old archway along Broad Walk, Red Mount Chapel, the Custom House and the Minster,

In terms of accessibility, King's Lynn was much like any old city - there were some cobbles, some narrow pavements and occasional piles of dog poo that someone had unhelpfully walked in and spread around. However, we found it largely a very pleasant walk, with no major obstacles and an abundance of well maintained public toilets, most of which require a RADAR key. 

One of the things that can spoil a city walk is if dropped kerbs get missed but King's Lynn was pretty good and it was easy to cross most roads. There weren't too many obstructions either, with the exception of a Highways England van, which almost totally blocked an entire pavement. You'd really think they would know better!

We particularly enjoyed 'The Walks'. a beautiful green space in the city, with wide paths, which was great for a walk and gave us somewhere to stop and have a game of frisbee with Liggy. I imagine that for those who work in the city, it provides a fantastic place to take a lunchtime walk and to destress a little.