ACCESSIBLE COMMUNITY HUB: COME RAIN OR SHINE A CHANCE TO GET ACTIVE – COMMUNITY SPIRIT, CREATIVITY, BUSINESS, RETAIL, ENTERTAINMENT + AMENITIES 

From specialist schemes such as shop-mobility – offering free electric and manual wheelchair hire, Blue badge parking on site, accessible toilets include a changing places room, a Hidden Disability Scheme with free pin badges to ‘keep safe’ wristbands for vulnerable Children and Adults, available from the customer services lounge and The Den… Whether you’re after a calm, affordable and child-friendly cinema or charity shop clobber, or perhaps you want to meet a friend for a Latte or join a community group… Now more than ever we need such spaces to create such accessible hubs.  

Enjoy your life whatever age, ability, budget, background, or barriers… The Ridings is here for you… says accessibility advocate and “Blogger of the Year…” Sophie Mei Lan (https://www.mamamei.co.uk/about/) …  

As we stride through some of the barriers of the past year, getting active and out into the community hasn’t just been challenging recently but to some people getting out of their homes and even accessing their favourite hobbies can stifle them from getting active

 and experiencing a good quality of life, let alone living the five ways to wellbeing mantra to move, give, be mindful, connect and keep learning which they may aspire to but motivation can dwindle when constant barriers prevent them from accessing basic amenities

 let alone moving more… leaving wellbeing on the backfoot. 

Barriers may include disabilities (visible and hidden), age, cultural background, transport issues, self-esteem, lack of finance, and unconventional family life to name but a few. 

That’s where community hubs can be transformational, and whilst any cold DIY set-up community hall is far better than none, as it’s the people who make the difference, after all, I am someone who enjoys a bit of calm luxury, undercover heating, with little time and

 a range of needs and desires in any spare time I have! 

That’s where I have realised that forward-thinking shopping centres which are actually embedded into the unchanging essential roots of community spirit ironically embedded in history are shining the light on how everyone can thrive with the changing face of retail,

 creativity, independent business, sports, activities for all ages whilst combining necessary amenities such as shops, pharmacies, social spaces and places to eat, drink and share a cuppa! 

The Ridings Shopping Centre in Wakefield is leading the way in transforming our view of such hubs, not to mention the intrinsic point that it is extremely accessible for everyone… helping join up some of the dots so that regardless of background everyone can fulfill the five ways to wellbeing which is important for optimal health (plus the often neglected need for leisure, entertainment, variety, and the arts!). 

It has a number of entrances which are accessible via bus, foot, car, taxi or minibus. As well as everything from an award-winning Age UK Cuppa Club and Coffee Shops to The Den Play Centre for Tots.

F.A.B Breastfeeding charity (https://www.mamamei.co.uk/2018/06/23/feed-a-thon-breastfeeding-in-public-to-celebrate/) and Antiques & Collectibles shops. There are places to play table tennis, eat, sit down and also navigate around. 

Lee Appleton, Centre Director, at www.ridingscentre.com  explains: “We run a couple of great schemes for our more vulnerable guests such as shop-mobility – offering FREE electric and manual wheelchair hire, Blue badge parking on site, accessible toilets include a changing places room, we are part of the Hidden Disability Scheme, with FREE pin badges available from the customer services lounge and final ‘keep safe’ wristband for vulnerable children and Adults, available from the customer services lounge and The Den.  

That’s not to mention the latest cultural offering from creative groups, The Art House and ArtWalk exhibitions, music and independent shops. 

From Morrisons to Marks and Spencers, from Pound Land and car boot sales to find a designer bargain in a charity shop or T.K.Maxx. 

From event and community spaces to hire, play and participate in healthy activities to an outdoor allotment in the car park… whether you’re a fair-weather woman like me or more of an outdoors lover you can access the space on your lunch break for the city centre dwellers and it’s the perfect thoroughfare to get your health needs, nails and beauty ‘essentials sorted too! Self-Care is important after all, as my slug eyebrows have gained as much growth as my unkempt lockdown locks! 

Plus with the arrival of The Reel Cinema, which has meant the normal trek to one of my favourite past times which can be overly stimulating to my Autistic brother or some of my friends with learning needs as well as the price for our very unconventional family aka clan of chums bonded by love and challenges can now access a compact cinema with the latest releases, calm, affordable (including the new addition of Haribo Pick and Mix for a bargain price… not to mention it counts as ‘local produce,’ right?! With the factory being based in Pontefract which gives a lot to communities across the district)… and you can shop, eat, drink, play or chill before and after! I recently ran a competition through Yorkshire Families to win tickets to see Peter Rabbit (https://yorkshirefamilies.co.uk/2021/05/20/win-tickets-to-see-peter-rabbit-2-private-screening-at-reel-cinema-plus-25-peter-rabbit-books-to-giveaway/) and was chuffed as a Ridings rooftop allotment-grown carrot to discover we could offer family tickets to suit families of all sizes and dynamics! Something I am so passionate about, not to mention the fact that people from all walks of life can stroll together inside The Ridings… this to me is the evolving and emerging face of not just the retail industry but the whole community.. And what better place to start than my favourite home of Wakefield and the Five Towns ideally placed in God’s own county, the centre of England! 

Whilst I don’t personally face as many barriers as some, as a mixed-race single mum who doesn’t have a car, works freelance from home, whilst running magazines and a city centre company based at Wakefield University Business Centre, all whilst thriving with an array

 of invisible disabilities and having derived from a richly diverse yet low-income background. I have definitely experienced some of the roadblocks faced by many since childhood but I am so relieved to see that we are joining together to stride forward as a sport-tive community! Not to mention a vast array of self-love and life needs from dancing to Disney films, from threaded brows to treading the earth on my running pursuits fuelled by a love of nutritious foods and fresh shakes to proper coffee and a proper brew! Whatever suits you step back inside this flourishing fountain of community spirit which is welcome to all. 

Have you heard of the 5 ways to wellbeing? Connect, Be Active, Give, Be Mindful & Keep Learning…

How to boost your mental health and wellbeing? I love using the framework of the Five Ways to Wellbeing to help boost my overall health, fitness and wellbeing. Watch for top wellbeing tips:  https://youtu.be/6srpkO8CYho

By Sophie Mei Lan 

@SparkleComms 

Sophie runs the https://YorkshireFamilies.co.uk (part of sparklecommunications.com) Accessibility Magazine which aims to get everyone active, explore the region and experience the best local offerings. She writes about mind and body fitness

 at https://mamamei.co.uk

 and business at Sparkle Up North Magazine https://sparkleupnorth.com(part of sparklecommunications.com)

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