Wirral Autistic Society (WAS) has taken on one of its biggest community projects to date – a five year contract to manage the new 70-acre Port Sunlight River Park on behalf of the Land Trust.
Day-to-day maintenance of the new park, on the former Bromborough landfill site, will be carried out by the RIVER PARK RANGERS, small teams from WAS made up of people with autism and their support workers.
WAS already runs a landscaping service – maintaining the groundsof WAS properties, local residences and businesses – but it is hoped that this ambitious project will bring numerous benefits to people with autism and the community as a whole . WAS interim park ranger Vicky Hose said, “Our service users want to be part of a team and to have an identity and a role, whatever their ability level. Being part of the River Park Rangers team will help cement that and will help park visitors get to know them.”
The River Park Rangers will be in charge of keeping pathways open, maintaining signage and fencing, managing wildlife habitats and ensuring the site is free of litter.WAS staff report that the park is already proving popular with service users, with several asking to work there regularly :
A young man who is hyper-sensitive to noise and wears ear defenders is able to remove them whilst he is working at the park, thanks to the tranquil environment.
Another, who struggles to understand the world around him and communicate verbally, can now says the word ‘Mersey’ whilst pointing to the river, proving he is making the connection.
Watching swans on the lake has kindled an interest in bird watching for a man in his 30s.
One man was so intent on removing all the debris from a path with a leaf blower – and enjoying it so much – that he removed most of the gravel too.
Litter picking is a popular task, as team members are able to use the litter picking tool. This has added benefits, in that it helps develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
A man who was worried about the dangers posed by nettles and brambles has been tasked with an administrative role. He and his support worker check that signs and fences are intact.
Some team members are intimidated by the wide open spaces and are set tasks near the park’s office building. Others, though, love climbing to the summit of the hill and looking at the 360 degree views across Wirral and the Mersey.
Team members working towards ASDAN qualifications (these reward the achievements of people with disabilities) will have new skills gained at the park officially recognised.
Robin Bush, Chief Executive of WAS, said, “We believe it is unique that a disability charity has won a land management contract of this nature. It’s a coup but also a big responsibility. We want to help the public see that people with autism have a great deal to contribute to our community.”
WAS has many future plans for the park including opening a visitor centre and café where people with autism and support workers will work side-by-side. Service users will be encouraged to cycle, walk, map read, bird watch and sketch the landscape, enjoying the site as well as working on it.