Woman calls for better disability access to Wrest Park, in Silsoe

She says there’s “absolutely no access at all”
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A wheelchair user has slammed Wrest Park for its lack of disabled access.

Liz Owen is calling for improved facilities at the Grade I listed mansion to make access easier for her and others.

She said: “I have grown up in Silsoe and had a long history and love for Wrest Park. I even got married in the house in 2017 and it is a very special place for our family.

Liz OwenLiz Owen
Liz Owen

“Due to ongoing chronic health issues, I now need a wheelchair full time. The gardens are fairly accessible, but recently I faced quite a big issue, the once previously accessible house is now not wheelchair accessible at all.”

But English Heritage has said it’s always seeking to improve accessibility – and welcomes feedback from visitors.

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Liz explained: “It started with the second-hand bookshop as there is a small step. The bookshop has a fund to cover the cost of a wheelchair ramp, which costs less than £100. However, English Heritage and Wrest Park are refusing to get one.”

Wrest Park (English Heritage Trust)Wrest Park (English Heritage Trust)
Wrest Park (English Heritage Trust)

However, English Heritage says it’s impossible to install a ramp due to the size of the doorways.

Liz was also vexed when she called to check whether the wheelchair access lift outside the house was working.

“I was told the lift is quite old and the part they need is hard to get. It apparently has been out of action for months, even though the gardens are closed to the public during the week in the winter season.”

She added: “I then asked if they had a ramp – as there is an external ramp to the front terrace. I was told they used to have one, but due to health and safety issues, they got rid of it.

Liz OwenLiz Owen
Liz Owen

“So absolutely no access at all.

“I was personally there just a few weeks ago, my parents were there on Friday. There is a ramp from the Italian Garden to the terrace, but not into the house.

“I know lifts are expensive, but ramps vary from £50 to £500, but what they need is only a few hundred pounds. I run an access group in Cambridgeshire, where I now live, so am a bit of an expert on access.”

An English Heritage spokesperson said: “Accessibility is of the upmost importance to us at English Heritage – we are always seeking to improve the experience for our disabled visitors and welcome feedback to help us ensure the accessibility of the historic sites in our care.

“At Wrest Park we want all visitors to be able to explore the site’s extensive grounds – as well as the house – and we have a free mobility scooter hire scheme in place, as well as a buggy which is driven by volunteers and runs the length of the site.

"Visitors can also access the house terrace via a ramp and our visitors centre, café and shop are fully accessible.

“At present we are currently awaiting a full replacement of our mobility lift which allows access to the first floor of the house and has suffered a fault. This is a complex and bespoke piece of machinery and we are very much reliant on the maker’s timeframe.

"While we await completion of this we apologise to any visitors impacted at present. This is currently noted on our website on our accessibility pages.

“Our volunteers run a small second-hand bookshop in the historic gardener and servant’s cottage – currently the only possible space for the scheme.

"We regret that due to the thin doorways of this historic building, we are unable to install a ramp, and we’re sorry for the disappointment this has caused to your reader.”

Liz says she has now been asked to help with an access walk around Wrest Park.