Sensory Trust Access Audit:
improving accessibility and community engagement at Westonbirt Arboretum

Map marked with sensory highlights

Westonbirt Arboretum is part of the Forestry Commission estate and renowned worldwide for its tree and shrub collections. Sensory Trust has worked with Westonbirt since 2005 to help improve accessibility of the arboretum and expand the range of visitors and volunteers.

Access audits at Westonbirt

Our access audits have been used to identify existing access limitations, and to highlight potential solutions. Community engagement with local people has been important to find out people's personal perspectives, why they weren't visiting or how they used the site if they were, and what improvements they were keen to see. Focusing on people who were under-represented in visitor data gave us insights from people that weren't currently engaging with the site. This included older people with mobility impairments, people with visual impairments, mothers with children with learning difficulties, and the Friends of Westonbirt group. The results have informed plans for improving visitor information, access and quality of experience.

Map marked with sensory highlights Mothers and toddlers take part in consultation at Westonbirt

Additional tools

We used tools like Sensory Mapping, and activities like 'Walk n Talk' and nature palettes, which were fun for people to do and gave us helpful feedback about the sorts of experiences they were interested in. For example, the Sensory Mapping activity highlighted areas of the site that attracted most visitors, and the reasons why, and identified areas lacking in sensory richness that could be enhanced to appeal to more visitors and help encourage visitors to explore other parts of the site. We have found that more conventional techniques like survey forms tend to provide limited insights, and they have limited accessibility (eg for people with limited literacy, visual impairments, learning disabilities, without English as a first language).

We also worked with Westonbirt to help improve information and interpretation by looking at what information was most important and/or interesting to visitors, what formats were most useful, and how easy it was to navigate around the arboretum.

More recently we were pleased to be back at Westonbirt as part of our Forest Access Review Tookit project, advising forest rangers on how to use the toolkit to review accessibility of Westonbirt and other forest sites.

Interested in an access audit?

Sensory Trust undertakes access audits for heritage and contemporary venues. Read more about our access audit consultancy >>

Links

Access Chain - a tool for reviewing access from the user's perspective

Outdoor access design factsheets - free guidance

Access statements - samples for you to use

What is inclusive design? How an inclusive approach makes places better for everyone.

Accessible information design - why it matters and who it benefits