Jane Ring, Parent Support Officer at LOOK, on the wonders of Warwick Castle for families living with visual impairment.
Our 14 year old daughter, Chloe, is severely vision and hearing impaired from birth Since September she has been at a specialist school in Worcester, many miles from our family home in Exeter. We love having occasional weekends near her school (New College Worcester) to make the most of time with her. My husband, Neil, is also vision and hearing impaired, and for his birthday weekend we wanted to go somewhere special together. Our visit to Warwick Castle ticked all the boxes, for a truly accessibly and happy family day out.
Chloe is mad keen on history and I had heard Warwick castle was worth a visit. I also knew I had to pave the way so that both Neil and Chloe could get the most out of the day. Dark rooms where everything is behind rope just don’t make for an enjoyable experience, even if you have a knowledgeable guide with you.
I always find connecting with the accessibility team/or individual is a good start. Warwick Castle has a Schools and Accessibility Officer, Richard. I contacted him with our family’s requirements including bringing Sapphire, our Buddy Dog, with us. Richard pulled out all the stops! He agreed to Sapphire accompanying Chloe, organised a touch tour of the Great Hall, and an up-close-and-personal visit to the Trebuchet after its performance/demonstration in the afternoon.
Our historian-guide, Charlotte, looked after us and had thought through the areas of the castle where things might be extra tricky such as the dungeons. Both Neil and Chloe are night blind and their eyes take a long time to adjust so we were grateful for the heads up.
The touch tour in the Great Hall was fantastic, it brought the history of Warwick Castle to life through the armour and weapons used from the Saxon period. Everything has been blunted so it is safe to touch. It felt like a privilege to be holding chainmail, wearing a gauntlet and comparing the effectiveness of the different helmets which were worn in different periods. Chloe and I are still discussing it now and debating on the usefulness of each style. I liked the bucket helmets which were worn during the crusades. Their design meant not only were they worn in battle but used in downtime to carry goods and cook potatoes in!
One of the attractions of Warwick Castle is their live performances. Currently they have an incredible show which demonstrates how the Trebuchet (named Ursa) worked. It is Britain’s biggest siege machine and a magnificent piece of engineering. Chloe could access the performance as the actors had microphones and the sound system was very effective. She was going to film it on her phone but instead listened intently to what was happening across the river. The action packed half hour was full of smoke, fire and bangs as peasants tried to protect the castle from attack. The action was expertly narrated by the Lady of the Manor so Chloe could follow what was happening. What was difficult to describe was Ursa’s size and mechanics. Richard had organised for us to get up close to Ursa after the performance. This was the icing on the cake and made the experience so much more meaningful for Chloe. We got to meet the Trebuchet Master, the mistreals who operate the two hamster wheels and the performers who made a complete fuss of Sapphire, much to her delight. Chloe could understand the size of Ursa, feel the weight of the rock that is thrown, and where the rope is released. It helped to put the pieces of the jigsaw together for her and took away some of the gaps created by her vision loss.
I sent Richard some very positive feedback for enabling such a positive day out for the family. Chloe got into bed that night happy and content from our day at Warwick Castle. The opportunity to hold and touch history really brought it to life for her and her dad. We were pleased to hear that staff who helped us on the day received both wine and stars from their manager as a result of our feedback!
Thank you to Warwick Castle for being so thoughtful and imaginative in your attitude to accessibility. The personal tailoring to our specific situation and needs was greatly appreciated.
My top tips for a truly accessible and happy day out for all the family:
When you are organising your days out this summer, whatever the type of attraction, don’t forget to plan in advance.
Research online to check how clear the information is on their access arrangements.
Contact the access team if they have one and let them know about your particular needs. It is definitely worth doing.
If you have had a positive experience let them know so they can do the same for others.
What are your tips and recommendations for VI accessible summer holiday activities for all the family?
I am calling on our brilliant LOOK community to share your hints, tips and tricks ahead of the summer holidays.
Which attractions are VI friendly?
How do you plan your days out together and where do you go?
Do you try to avoid busy times?
Have you got any secret gems that you would be willing to share?
On Tuesday 27th June we have an informal online session which will focus on getting out and about with our visually impaired children. We will meet together to share wisdom and frustrations.
Please send in your questions and suggestions in advance and we can learn from each other in time for the long summer break.
We are also compiling a calendar of VI specific events open to children, young people and their families .
Parent Support Group: ‘Making the most of the summer holidays’
To register for this session on Tuesday 27th June, please follow this link.