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Acorn Farm wins Merseyside Tourism 2009 award (MDF0608)

Acorn Farm wins Tourism 2009 award

Congratulations to Acorn Farm who won the "Small Visitor Attraction of the Year" category at The Mersey Partnership’s 2009 Tourism Awards. The access audit they had a few years ago from our 08 for All programme shows the sort of attitude to customer service that makes them worthy winners. Unfortunately many much bigger tourism businesses still have some way to go. But voluntary groups can get advice about making buildings more accessible: MDF still has some subsidised professional access advice available.

Acorn Farm was established in Kirkby over 20 years ago specifically as an Urban Farm for disabled children. Over the years they have extended their operations and now welcome a wide range of visitors from Merseyside and beyond. However, working with disabled people is still central to what they do, and they arrange special activities working with the animals or in the horticulture department, as well as regular "Riding for the Disabled" sessions. Even with their years of experience, Acorn was keen to take part in the 08 for All programme to make sure that they were as accessible as they could be.

In previous years The Mersey Partnership’s Tourism Awards have included a separate award to recognise accessibility. MDF said in 2006 "We look forward to the time when a special "Tourism for All" category is unnecessary". That time may not yet be here, but in the 2009 awards TMP tried to make sure that all the shortlisted business met at least minimum levels of accessibility.

Peter Bates of MDF was one of the judges in the 2009 awards (which also included Tom Dowling from All Together Now.

Peter commented that "The attitude of tourism businesses to accessibility is still very mixed. Some have made great efforts to be welcoming to disabled visitors. But it's also clear from the award entries that some major players still haven’t got the message. They don’t realise that making it more awkward for people who have access needs (many will not see themselves as "disabled") means turning away business. It may also be illegal".

The former 08 for All programme - supported by European funds and public bodies in Merseyside - provided free and subsidised accessibility advice and staff training. It was arranged to help small businesses in Merseyside improve the way they welcomed the growing market of disabled and elderly visitors, especially in the run-up to the Capital of Culture year.

Four other shortlisted enterprises for the various 2009 Tourism Awards had also taken advantage of the help from 08 for All.

The 08 for All programme has closed, but commercial access audits are available locally from a number of professional auditors, and The Mersey Partnership has some funding to help certain tourism enterprises with this.

For voluntary and community groups (not necessarily just those involved in tourism) MDF can still provide some subsidised access audits to help improve the accessibility of premises. We know from experience that a voluntary organisation that (for example) supports people with a sensory impairment is not always accessible to people with mobility difficulties - and vice versa.

September 2009 - MDF0608