A new charity which aims to improve accessibility to the Yorkshire Dales is being backed by an independent insurance brokers.
Access the Dales was launched on Saturday, April 2 at the home of its patron Amanda Owen, who is known to millions of TV viewers as the Yorkshire Shepherdess.
H&H Insurance Brokers is supporting the charity in several ways including covering the cost of insuring the all-terrain vehicles which will enable people with mobility issues to enjoy the Yorkshire Dales.
Friends, well-wishers and supporters gathered at Amanda’s farm at Ravenseat in Swaledale for the launch of the charity, which was established by Debbie North in memory of her husband Andy, who died in June 2021.
Debbie, who has been a wheelchair user for more than a decade, said the couple shared a love of the outdoors and especially the countryside around their home in the Yorkshire Dales.
She said: “Access the Dales exists to break down the barriers that prevent people with limited mobility from enjoying the great outdoors either independently or with their friends and family.
“Life changed significantly for us both when I was diagnosed with spinal degeneration and since I became a wheelchair user, both Andy and I became ambassadors for accessibility to the outdoors.
“It was his wish that we raise money to purchase an all-terrain wheelchair specifically for children, to be located in an idyllic spot in the Yorkshire Dales, where families would be able to borrow it and be able to share beautiful moments and enjoy the landscape that brought Andy so much happiness.
“That original idea has now expanded to include four hubs and several vehicles throughout the Yorkshire Dales. Our mission is to make all-terrain mobility vehicles available to borrow at outdoor locations in the Yorkshire Dales wherever need, demand and our capacity allows.
“We are also in the process of developing audio and multisensory trails in line with our ethos of providing access for all.”
Debbie lives at Nateby in Cumbria, which is within the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Although her home is eight miles from the farm where Amanda lives with husband Clive and their nine children, she is one of their closest neighbours and they have been friends for several years.
Amanda said: “We are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful landscape and it’s something we should never take for granted.
“It’s important that everyone has the opportunity to have that ‘wow’ moment you only get when you are outside in the landscape and experiencing the beauty of what’s around you.
“This charity will ensure that as many people as possible can make the most of the National Park, and enable more families to enjoy the countryside together.”
A week-long festival including guided walks and events coincided with the launch of the charity, which also has information about access to stile-free walking routes and accessible accommodation on its website.
A JustGiving account set up after Andy’s death raised £16,000 to purchase the first all-terrain wheelchair. The charity has also received donations of all-terrain vehicles and wheelchairs from TerrainHopper and TGA Mobility, as well as a handcycle from the John Sinnon Trust.
All the vehicles have been named after rivers in the Yorkshire Dales including the Wharfe, Swale, Ribble and Dibb, apart from one, Batley Boy, which is a tribute to Andy.
Chris Clement, commercial director at H&H Insurance Brokers, which operates across the North of England, the Scottish Borders and Wales, said the firm had arranged a specialist policy with one of its key partners, First Underwriting, to provide a bespoke insurance for the all-terrain vehicles.
He added: “As a company, we are committed to giving back to the communities in which we live and work, and we were only too happy to offer our support.
“As well as covering the cost of the vehicle insurance, we have also designed and supplied the unique registration plates for the vehicles, and supported the charity with risk assessments.
“Access the Dales will make a real difference to people’s lives, providing access for all to the fantastic landscape of the Yorkshire Dales.”
The all-terrain vehicles will be located at four Access the Dales hubs throughout the Yorkshire Dales.
Amanda’s farm at Ravenseat is home to an all-terrain wheelchair specifically designed to be used by children aged seven and over, as well as an adult vehicle which people can use to explore the nearby countryside. Other hubs are located at Cottage in the Dales at Newbiggin, near Leyburn; Settle railway station; and at Hill Top Farm, near Malham.