On 5th April 2014 my life was turned inside out and upside down in a mere second following a life threatening and life changing mountain bike crash.  Most of my ribs were broken, I had two perforated lungs, a head injury, a broken shoulder and a completely severed spinal cord and shattered spine at T6 level which left me paralysed from the chest down, cost me my successful career and meant I had to give up all my outdoor hobbies. 

I married my wonderful wife in 2003.  Deb is a senior A&E medic which was advantageous in us being able to fully understand what my injuries were.  We have two children and two wonderful grandchildren.  When I was injured most of our family really rallied round to support us, although the odd one found it very difficult.  When it came to my friends, in truth it highlighted who were good friends and who were just ‘good time’ friends. Many of our friends did so much for us in the months and years after my injury and are still there should we ever need anything.

Peter in his outdoor wheelchair with his dog by his side

Prior to my injury, I was a Senior Officer in the UK Fire Service and when not working, my wife and I were keen underwater explorers. mountain bikers, runners, hill walkers and kayakers.  We had very active lives.  After my injury I became fully dependant on a wheelchair for mobility and had to come to terms with, and adjust to, this new harder norm.  But after many months learning how to deal with and manage being paralysed at such a high-level, I wanted to look at how I could get back to an active outdoor life.  Getting out to see our nature and natural world has been a goal I’ve worked to pursue.

Sadly most of the sports, hobbies and pastimes I did before my injury were considered ‘dangerous sports’!  However, I didn’t realise it at the time, but nature and wilder places hold a special place in my heart. Often the most memorable memory of an outdoor activity as an interaction or sight of a creature in its natural habitat.

Having always had a love for wildlife and our wilder places, I began pushing the boundaries of what I could achieve in a wheelchair and taught myself about wildlife and developed my landscape photography skills.

Peter in his outdoor wheelchair with his dog by his side

Accessing wilder places, nature and the outdoor environment can present numerous challenges to a disabled person and I was also coping with complex mental health barriers and PTSD from the trauma I had endured.  Obstacles may be of little consequence to non-disabled people, but to someone using a wheelchair or mobility scooter may be impossible to negotiate and form an impossible barrier; a step, even a very small one, A-frames, gates, the gradient of a slope, gravel, restricted widths of an opening, a stile or adverse camber can all prevent someone using mobility equipment from exploring and enjoying a location.

A three inch step can be as inaccessible as Mount Everest to some mobility equipment users

Whilst visiting outdoor locations I realised it wasn’t easy to find suitable, well written and tested information to allow me to judge if that specific location would be suitable to visit with my mobility equipment. That is why I decided to start my website www.accessiblenatureuk.com.  So far it has over 75 guides to wilder places and my hope is that it eventually offers routes across the whole of the UK, including routes submitted by other mobility equipment users. As an added bonus, the issues faced by wheeled mobility equipment users are the same for those who use prams and pushchairs.

I believe that it is vital and would be more cost effective for organisations if they engage fully with all groups of a community to ensure everyone's needs are met. I would advocate that it is far easier to complete an ‘equality impact assessment’ involving all and every type of visitor group, to identify what a site may need regarding providing, enhancing, or improving facilities or access.

The benefits of encompassing nature and the natural world for mental health and wellbeing have been very well documented. It has never been more important to ensure open and wilder places are available for us all to enjoy.

I joined Aspire as an Independent Living Advisor in January 2022.  Having served the public of West Yorkshire for most of my working life I wanted to find a way in which I could still help people, whilst drawing on my own experiences to help them come to terms with living with a spinal cord injury.

Peter in his wheelchair by a lake with his camera

Pete is Aspire’s Independent Living Advisor at Pinderfields Hospital in Yorkshire and is the founder of accessiblenatureuk.com 

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