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A distant view of a couple sitting on a bench looking out to sea

Seating and shelter

Seating is one of the easiest and effective ways of improving access outdoors. Seats are essential rest, a chance to chat and incentive to slow down and absorb more for most.

For any site it is important to consider seating and shelter and to make sure it is available and accessible to all visitors, especially people who need it most. Taking the time to consider the use and location of seating and shelter can dramatically improve the experience for many of your visitors.

Interesting views, features, paths and routes are some of the usual locations for seating and shelter. By understanding how visitors use the site, through observation, surveys and feedback forms, you can best determine the locations of seating and shelter.

Design ingredients

Look at the opportunities your site has to offer and place seating and shelter appropriately. For example, if your site has social spaces then accessible picnic benches would work well. If your site offers contemplative spaces then more secluded opportunities set back off the main path would suit.

Provide a variety of seating with different heights to allow visitors, including older people, wheelchair users, people with limited stamina, people of various heights and family groups to find some form of seating that is appropriate for them. Styles of seating include those with arm and back rests, natural seats such as logs, resting perches, picnic tables and seating that allows wheelchair users or children in pushchairs to be included as part of the group.

Shelter can be provided by natural features around a site (health and safety allowing). For example an outcrop can provide cover for a seat or resting perch underneath. Sometimes a feature can provide temporary shelter and rest, such as a pagoda, a bandstand, a folly and so on. Ensure there is shelter and seating placed in areas where people really need it, such as drop-off or pick-up points, outside toilets and shops and so on, as they naturally spend time waiting there. This will enhance someone’s visit and add to their positive memories of the site.

People prefer seating to be in a variety of places giving them the choice of experiences. Just off the main route, in more secluded spots, with an interesting view, for example a panoramic vista, tree, sculpture or water feature. People don’t expect all seating to be formal, they can enjoy sitting on large rocks, fallen tree trunks, carved logs and so on, as long as there are alternative choices offered around the site.

Repair and maintenance are crucial to the upkeep of seating and shelter. Facilities should be designed and built so they are vandal-proof and will remain safe. Maintenance includes cutting back anything that may reduce either access or views from the facility. If the site is to be used out of daylight hours, good lighting should be available around seating and shelters, this too must be maintained to ensure safety.

Where there are steep gradients or lengthy steps, people expect to be provided with a resting place at some point, to allow them to catch their breath. Regular resting points are necessary throughout a site. The recommended distance between resting points for people with limited mobility and stamina is 50m, and for wheelchair users 150m. These are obviously based on averages and actual distances need to be carefully thought about depending on the nature of the site (how steep it is for example) and who is going to be using it.

Trellis pergola creates shade and shelter

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