I have recently taken my severely disabled daughter, Erica to Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest for the 15th time. What makes a holiday and its accommodation appropriate for someone with very complex needs? The main issue is that the needs of all disabled people are not the same, what works for Erica may not work for other people. So why has this worked for us? Let me start at the beginning.
When my daughter was in her teens I decided that she should enjoy an annual holiday in the same way as anyone else. I decided to try Center Parcs which was just over an hour’s drive away, so I could get home easily if I needed to. I invited a friend and her 4 year old son to go with us for a weekend. Although Erica does not communicate verbally, it was clear from her smiles, laughter and happiness that she enjoyed swimming, the birds that visited the villa each day and long walks through the forests.
Over the years, we have continued to go to Center Parcs, our stay has now extended to 10 days. Erica’s health needs have become more complex so we now hire the same ‘adapted’ villa, one grade up from standard so we have the luxury of a ‘housekeeping’ /cleaning service each day. Erica is supported by a variety of family and friends – initially some of that support was paid through the Independent Living Fund and it is now factored in to her Personal Budget. The villa is on the edge of the lake so Erica can sit and watch the birds – and is visited daily by the swans, geese and ducks. And for Erica it is the hire of an adapted bike each year that makes her holiday.
Our villa is appropriately physically adapted and spacious to get the wheelchair around it. Erica has a profiling bed (one that is height adjustable) and a bathroom with a walk in or wheel in shower. We hire a mobile hoist which is delivered and collected by the company and we take with us a commode/shower chair that we know fits over the toilet (the toilet is higher than usual to suit the needs of disabled people who struggle to get on and off it).
The general facilities at Center Parcs have never been ideal, but I have taken the tack that if we are to visit each year we need to make Erica’s needs known to management. And Center Parcs do have an obligation under the Equality Act to meet the needs of disabled guests – recognising that they are not a homogeneous group. So I write to the manager after our stay with feedback and whilst there talk to staff about the changes they need to make.
One of the main issues was the changing facilities at the swimming pool. The changing cubicles are small and during our first few years they let us use the First Aid room, but over the years they have made the changes needed (I am sure I have not been the only carer or disabled guest that has campaigned on this issue). They now have a larger changing room, with a mobile hoist, an adjustable changing bench and a bin for clinical waste. The pool has a slope with a chair that can be wheeled into the pool.
There are still many outdoor areas of the Parc we cannot access with a wheelchair – the path to the bird hide, some of the new picnic areas and of course, the miniature golf course! But they do maintain an excellent fleet of adapted cycles – this is Erica’s favourite activity – and to our delight, this year, have bought some new cycles.
Why do we continue to visit? For us, we know we will need to continue campaigning for changes for many years to come – but those are physically changes. What has made this place work for us is the attitude of the staff who work there – our housekeepers who have got to know us and nothing is too much trouble; the woman in the changing area of the swimming pool who recognises us each year and offers to help in whatever way she can; the maintenance staff who ‘fix things in the villa’ and the staff in the shops and restaurants who are always helpful. The management do seem to listen, although some changes have been slower than we would have liked.
I could not end this post without including the things at the top of my list for change:
- I would like a washing machine and tumble dryer in the villa – my daughter goes through a lot of clothes whilst on holiday and going to the laundrette every second day is a chore.
- More flexibility around the number of support people Erica can use whilst on holiday as most of Erica’s supporters cannot do the whole 10 days, so her supporters come for shorter periods, but we are limited to the same 6 people for the whole 10 days.
- I would like Center Parcs to collect the ‘clinical waste’ bag daily, rather than having to walk or cycle with it to the medical centre each day.
I have booked our holiday for 2014 – same place, same villa. Erica’s needs are complex so once we have found what works we are staying with it!
Thanks to Andy Lord for the photo's.