Kevin Berry samples the high life atthe Beamsley Project -purpose-built accommodation in the Yorkshire Dales for young tourists who have disabilities
What is the best thing about Beamsley? "Space !" says Andy Castrignano with a grin, "so I can get round the furniture and reach things." He spins his powered wheelchair and whizzes off through a door at almost go-cart speed. Door widths are wide, as are corridors, and manoeuvring in bedrooms presents no difficulties. There is a noticeable absence of clutter.
The Beamsley Project, which was opened last year, is purpose designed to accommodate youngsters with a disability and give them opportunities for adventure and independence in the Yorkshire Dales. It is a former methodist chapel and its situation takes some beating, just up the hill from Bolton Abbey, the idyllic spot that is the favoured "day out" destination for Alan Bennett's wonderful old ladies. The surrounding landscapes are majestic and the possibilities for trips out cannot be exhausted. Annual stays at Beamsley will soon be on the agenda for many schools.
No expense has been spared and the facilities are quiet outstanding:an excellent local committee ensures cash from fund raising is well spent. When they politely ask visitors to "please let us know if you think there is anything missing" they really do mean it and a suggestion will not offend. I arrive to see eight teenagers from Newman School, in Rotherham, finishing off preparation for breakfast. Their teachers and adult helpers are positively purring over the quality of the equipment and fittings. Everything has been done properly and there is no sign of skimping.
"They are so thoughtful," says Paula Oxspring, one of the childcare assistants. "Right down to tiny details such as soap, salt and pepper, washing-up liquid and tea towels! They even give us free permits for the Bolton Abbey car park!" And as a local resident I can vouch that the permits are well worth having.
Jack Todhunter, teacher and group leader, looks on with approval as his group walk in and begin setting up the breakfast things. He quietly encourages and prompts with remarkable patience. His school caters for children with a physical disability andor a medical condition.
"We have a rota . . . anyone who complains about breakfast has to do the duty the following day. Paul didn't like his bacon yesterday, did you Paul? So Paul is helping with breakfast this morning!" Beamsley is ideal for Jack's young charges. He sees their week in the Dales as providing new opportunities for independence training and the chance to see and experience so much for the first time.
"The training for independence is just as valuable as looking at beautiful countryside. Things you or I do without thinking, such as stacking plates in the dishwasher, pouring water from a kettle. Groups are encouraged to be self-catering although local caterers can be introduced. There are written instructions on the payphone and the children have to use that without help. Some of the children will, I suppose, be mollycoddled at home, but at Beamsley they have to make their beds, get dressed, think for themselves - its wonderful for them."
Fifteen-year-old Chris Whitely took me on a tour of the bedrooms, but not before we had been up and down in the lift two or three times. He is the most accomplished lift attendant I have yet encountered. Some of the bedrooms have bunks and the top bunk is favoured. Getting in it is just another challenge.
All the children's bedrooms are on the ground floor with toilets and showers within easy reach and alarm bells and chords just about everywhere.
The equipment includes hoists in the bathrooms and special chairs to get wheel-chair bound youngsters down the stairs in case of fire. Calling Beamsley "state of the art" might seem a touch glib but I doubt there is a hostel anywhere with better and more thoughtful facilities. Designers and architects will be beating a path to the door as word gets around.
There is a huge upstairs room, twice the size of a classroom, fully carpeted and filled with indoor equipment such as huge skittles, goalposts and "plastic" hockey. It makes an ideal evening room or somewhere to let off steam if the weather is really too bad.
The building has retained some of the characteristics of a chapel, particularly the arched windows, and it has the look of the hero's home in a novel. It is a warm and inviting building.
Jack Todhunter's itinery for the week includes a trip out to Malham Cove and some difficult walking and clambering.
The children note strong contrasts between the dales scenery and their home turf in Rotherham. The silence and the space impresses them.
"Everywhere looks so wild and so old," says Colleen Ashton.
It was all so fresh and exciting. David Wildgoose loves climbing a steep, muddy path with stone steps.
"It was great. When you're at the bottom, you feel quite isolated. When you're at the top you feel relief that you've got there! It gave me chance to do something I haven't done. It's all been like that this week - every day, doing things I've never done before". That is what Beamsley is all about.
The Beamsley Project is six miles from Skipton on the Harrogate Road. Accommodates 22 people, Pounds 13 + vat per person with bedding supplied, Pounds 12 + vat if you supply your own. Tel: 01756 710255. Fax 01943 816303 * Tourist Information Centres (to check wheelchair access for visits) Ilkley: 01943 602319; Skipton: 01756 792809; Haworth: 01535 642329