There is nothing better than exploring the outdoors and discovering new places and sharing that experience with someone else is even better. Accessing these new places can be a concern for wheelchair users – will the route be wheelchair friendly, what are the condition of the paths, what disabled facilities are there and will there be the dreaded styles/gates.
Craig Grimes founder of Experience Community CIC is one organisation who runs organised rambles and various outdoor pursuit activities for wheelchair users. Experience Community is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, located near Huddersfield, they provide films and information about walks and other leisure activities for people with disabilities that use a wheelchair.
Craig, a wheelchair users himself, and an advocate of trying to make the countryside more accessible, initially started producing short films showing how to access trails – working with Natural England, Leeds and Leicestershire County Council. Craig then went onto start a project to help get disabled people into the outdoors and Experience Community was founded. Since 2014 he has been running outdoor walks for disabled people around the Leeds area and became a Mountain Trike Experience Centre and Distributor – an all terrain wheelchair company who manufacture a number of wheelchair products which are off-road capable.
Craig first tried the Mountain Trike at a mobility event and was immediately hooked. He purchased one through the ‘Access to Work’ grant – at the time he was running an assisted campsite at festivals – what he didn’t realise at the time was just how much the Mountain Trike would get him back to the places he loved to visit in the great outdoors.
An accident in 1997 left Craig needing to use a wheelchair and shattered his career dreams of going into conservation – at the time there was very limited equipment that was off-road capable which would enable him to pursue this career path. Move forward many years and the Mountain Trike is enabling Craig to stay active and access the countryside again in a way that he never imagined. He can climb and descend steep slopes, go into woodlands even if there isn’t a clear path, negotiate rutted tracks, plough through deep mud and then go through streams to clean the mud off his Trike, things he would never be able to do in his day chair.
Craig wanted to share his experiences of using his Mountain Trike with people who owned a Mountain Trike but weren’t confident to head off exploring alone or on unknown routes, so he set up a ramble and the response was amazing.
Craig says, “Seeing so many Mountain Trike users out together was amazing – exchange ideas on places to use the Trike and give each other tips and advice about maintenance of the equipment.”
It soon became apparent that there was an appetite for these organised wheelchair rambles and they became regular events and expanded out in the countryside across the north of England, ranging from the Peak District to the Yorkshire Dales and included Nature Reserves, Reservoirs, Canal Walks, National Trust sites and National Parks. Craig also recognised that more people wanted to join in on the rambles, but not having the right wheelchair was a huge barrier. This is when Craig set about fund raising and accessing appropriate grants so he could have a fleet of Trike’s available for customers to hire and to also offer demos and provide maintenance and servicing for customers Mountain Trikes.
Experience Community currently have a fleet of all terrain wheelchairs which consists of 3 Mountain Trikes, 2 eTrikes, 1 MTEvo and a MT Push – these can be hired to join in on an organised ramble and also for demonstrations for those interested in purchasing their own Mountain Trike.
Over the years, Experience Community have grown their wheelchair rambles, organising regular rambles, cycling holidays in the UK, Trike taster sessions as well as wheelchair skills and training sessions. Through various grant schemes as well as being able to purchase a fleet of all terrain wheelchairs, Craig has also been able to buy a trailer to allow him to travel with his kit to other areas of the north of England.
Following the success of Experience Community in the north, Craig has joined forces with a fellow outdoor enthusiast and Experience Community will soon be operating in the South West, headed up by Peter Hiscock who is currently exploring and mapping routes across the Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire area.
Craig explains that Experience Community would not be able to exist without all the wonderful volunteers who help support the organised events and of course all the wheelchair participants who sign up and join in on these wonderful outdoor experiences.
For further information about Experience Community visit the website or head to their Facebook page where all event details are listed and how to join.
For full detail about the various all terrain wheelchair products, visit the The Mountain Trike company website: https://www.mountaintrike.com/