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Enjoying nature as a disabled family

Mum to fun loving seven-year-old Josie, Charlotte shares how important spending time in nature is for her family. She explains what Josie loves about the great outdoors, and why creating an accessible garden at the Chelsea Flower Show will be eye-opening for all.

Nature has always been a huge part of my family’s lives. My husband and I grew up surrounded by fields and spent a great deal of time outdoors, so it was important for us that we did the same with our kids. Even when Josie and her younger brother were tiny, we would go on hikes with each of them strapped to our backs. When Josie was diagnosed with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy aged four, many of the outings we planned to do together weren’t possible. But we were determined to continue being a country family, we just had to go about it a different way.

Josie’s love for nature

Josie absolutely loves being outdoors. She started Forest School this month and when I picked her up after the first day, she said “I love being outside in nature with all the animals and birds”. She sounded so grown up it made me laugh. I’m not sure she quite understands what the word ‘nature’ means yet, but she knows that being outdoors makes her feel happy.

She loves poking around in mud and making bug houses. Going to the park and helping me with the gardening in the summer. Picking apples and oranges from the fruit trees in our garden. Anything to do with being outside and Josie is raring to go.

There’re so many barriers to nature for Josie

There’s been more challenges to deal with as Josie gets bigger. When she got too heavy to carry on our backs, we were worried how we were going to continue our outings. Getting her off-road electric wheelchair has been a huge game changer. She can go almost anywhere in it. Our home is surrounded by fields, so it’s amazing we can still create these special family memories. Watching her ‘run’ around with our Goldendoodle, Molly, is so beautiful.

Needing a wheelchair for all our outings has made us aware of so many new barriers though. Things like kissing gates and stiles are impossible to navigate as a wheelchair user, so it sometimes means we get stuck halfway through a walk and have to go back on ourselves, which is frustrating for Josie.

Little things like this are just not thought about in society. It’s not necessarily that people purposely make locations inaccessible, they’re just unaware of the barriers they’re creating. That’s why having a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show is such an amazing opportunity. It will make people open their minds to think about how wide a path is, or how high a flower bed is.

A Chelsea Garden will make nature accessible for everyone

It’s not just about encouraging able bodied people to think about the barriers in nature. It will be so lovely for families with muscle wasting conditions to know they can go to this garden and every aspect of accessibility has been thought about. There often has to be so much planning and research before going to a new outdoor space. And even then, there’s anxiety about whether they’ll be a step or gate that wasn’t mentioned online. The garden will give families the opportunity to experience nature in a worry-free environment.

There are still so many people who have never heard of muscular dystrophy, so it’s amazing that the charity has been given the opportunity to raise awareness in such a high profile event. We can’t wait to see the finished garden and hear about all the connections that are created from having a Chelsea Garden.

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