Charity helps people of all abilities enjoy and conserve our countryside

Whatever a person's ability, Yorkshire-based charity Open Country makes sure everyone can access and enjoy the glorious North Yorkshire countryside.

They have an exciting range of groups on offer, from gentle bird watching trips to abseiling off viaducts with teams of trained volunteers on hand to help.

The charity has been working to support people with disabilities to access and enjoy the countryside for more than 30 years, an aim that has been bolstered since lockdown restrictions were eased.

Open Country also produces information to encourage access for all and offers Countryside Directories for people with disabilities covering the whole of Yorkshire as well as County Durham, Lancashire and Teesside.

Allotments provide regular access to the outdoors during the year and supported walking groups and working parties work with charities such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust and the Countryside Commission to care for some of our most beautiful surroundings.

They achieve this through a variety of outdoor activities and the provision of information, training and advice.

Fully accessible transport is provided and staff are supported by teams of trained volunteers, who are on hand to help.

Open Country began in 1990 as a temporary project managed by the Countryside Commission, Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire Social Services, Harrogate Health Authority and the Fieldfare Trust and funded by Powergen, Yorkshire Field Studies Trust and Mencap.

On an average week, it runs up to 15 countryside activities, catering for a range of abilities.

Philomena Noonan, 67, who spent her working life as a nurse, began volunteering with Open Country in 2009. She said: “I’ve been volunteering for the last 12 years. I started after I retired, mainly because I wanted to be as far away from institutions and buildings as possible.

“My friend said ‘I know just the thing!’ And I started to volunteer at the weekend with the social activities and then progressed to the conservation group.

“Every service user is different, you get to know people and what they can and can’t do and encourage them to enjoy being outside.

“Being part of the group helps their self-esteem, they know that they are doing something useful and that everything we do has a purpose.”

Derek Needham, 76, has volunteered with Open Country for almost 11 years. He came to the organisation after his wife encouraged him to find something to do during his retirement.

Now he assists the working parties on a Tuesday and Thursday. Derek said: “We do everything from pulling Himalayan Balsam to bracken bashing or installing steps and bins for garden rubbish.

“Usually, there are two or three volunteers assisting one employee and however many clients there are that want to go.

“We have some good fun and I hope I can help them enjoy their day out with Open Country.”

Service users Ross Chapman and Louis Doyle explained why they like spending time with the organisation.

Ross said: “I like Open Country because I enjoy coming out with the working group parties on a Tuesday and a Friday.”

Louis said: “I like coming to Open Country because it helps my mental health being outdoors and socialising.”

Tom Marsh, Countryside Activities Officer for Open Country, added: “Our aim is to get our members out and about in the country and enjoy it and access it the best that they can, and also to conserve the North Yorkshire area as best we can.”

Find out more about Open Country.