We get to know all about Bendrigg Trust, where it is and what goes on at this very special centre.
Bendrigg Trust is a registered charity established in 1978 by John and Mary Kinross through the Mary Kinross Charitable Trust. They purchased Bendrigg Lodge in 1976 with the intention of progressing ideas started by ‘Six Circle Camps’ in Scotland who were taking groups of trainees from ‘borstal’ to Iona to camp with and assist groups of people with disabilities. Since that time Bendrigg Trust has encouraged independence and built self-confidence in over 79,000 disabled and disadvantaged people from across the UK. Today Bendrigg Trust is a specialist centre and a leader in our field. Our mission is to challenge perceptions of disabled and disadvantaged people – this includes other people’s perceptions of people with disabilities, and the person’s own perceptions about what they think they can or can’t do. We do this through a variety of residential and adventure-based activities which promote independence, encourage inclusion and increase self-esteem.
Bendrigg Lodge is situated just outside of Kendal, Cumbria. Originally an old hunting lodge, over the years Bendrigg has been improved and extended and now consists of 60 beds over two main residential buildings. One of these buildings, the Oakwood Annexe, is not wheelchair accessible and is currently being replaced with a brand new, state-of-the-art accessible accommodation block called Acorn House, due to open in summer 2017. As well as the residential facilities we have an indoor activities hall with indoor cave, sensory room, sports hall and unique accessible climbing wall. Other activities are available on our site which extends to around 15-acres including zip wire, tube slide and ropes course. Based in between the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks– two of the country’s most breathtaking environments – there are also plenty of opportunities for adventure right on our doorstep.
We offer accessible activities both on- and off-site for all ages and abilities. At Bendrigg Lodge you can take part in activities such as zip wire, tube slide, ropes courses, indoor cave, orienteering, archery, indoor climbing, sensory room, crate stacking, sensory swing and much more. Off-site we take full advantage of our unique position in Cumbria – accessing the hills and lakes of the Lake District for walking and canoeing and the caves and crags of the Yorkshire Dales for caving and climbing. The expertise and experience of our Tutors combined with specialist equipment such as mobile hoists, adapted harnesses and off-road wheelchairs means that our activities are accessible for all. We support a variety of schools and groups, individuals and families to access the outdoors throughout the year.
There are many special moments at Bendrigg Trust, not a day goes by when we don’t witness ‘special moments’ and it is difficult to point to one over another. Recently, on our first ever families course, a father was in tears watching his daughter participate in activities with her siblings instead of being stuck on the sidelines – something he never thought he would see.
Last year, a teenager who was an elective mute, because of various experiences in his past, said his 7th word of the entire year at the top of our climbing wall. The fact that the experience moved him to speak made up for the fact that he decided to say a swear word!
A young girl called her mum before packing up to head home to tell her that she wasn’t to tidy her room for her – she had learnt that she could do it herself and wanted to take more responsibility for herself.
Earlier this year a young boy was crying because he didn’t want to leave Bendrigg – not because of the activities he had tried or the new friends he had made – but because he got to sit at a proper table and enjoy 3 meals a day, something he didn’t get to do at home.
A local girl, Pip, started to come to Bendrigg at 5years old – just a year after learning to walk. With complex difficulties, sensory impairments and no sense of danger or depth perception it took 4 years of patience and perseverance but eventually Pip completed her first ever rock climb.
An elderly lady, Jill, who had lost her sight years before from diabetes, cried tears of joy in our sensory room as she realised she could see the bright lights making patterns in the room for the first time in years.
In September this year a member of Bendrigg staff and her fiancé got married at Bendrigg – they had originally met many years ago while both volunteering at the centre. And most recently – just last month – two volunteers who had also met whilst previously volunteering at Bendrigg – got engaged whilst supporting a group canoeing!
A typical day at Bendrigg starts with breakfast – the most important meal of the day, especially when it is going to be an action-packed one. Everyone is encouraged to do as much as they can for themselves and so, depending on ability, individuals may set tables themselves, make their own toast to have with their meal and tidy away dirty dishes into the dishwasher. After breakfast there is time to make a packed lunch, which again they are encouraged to do themselves to gain valuable independent life skills. The group will then collect any boots, waterproofs and equipment needed from our stores before heading out to enjoy an activity – whether it be canoeing on Windermere, caving in the Yorkshire Dales, or enjoying an accessible hill walk. Every course is tailored to the group’s needs so that they can get the most out of their visit. Dinner is enjoyed back at the Lodge, cooked by one of our wonderful cooks from local produce before an evening activity such as a disco, campfire or time in the sensory room. Hot chocolates can be had before a well deserved rest and bed time!
Every course is different depending on the needs and abilities of individuals so although this is a ‘typical’ day – no two days are ever the same!
The benefits of outdoor learning are now well documented, particularly for people with disabilities. The Learning Away report supported by the Paul Hamlyn foundation has particularly thrown the real-world benefits into the spotlight. From learning to make your own bed to taking your first journey in a canoe, these experiences are a lifeline not a luxury for many of our users. All of these opportunities that are freely available to able-bodied people, help to develop activity skills and personal qualities such as resilience, responsibility, perseverance and tenacity and these experiences should be available for all. It is perhaps particularly important for young people with disabilities to develop these skills for life including an increased motivation and appetite for learningPeople with disabilities can lead more sheltered lives and experiences such as this broaden horizons, often opening up a whole new world of opportunity.
What does it mean to staff to be able to deliver these activities? It is said time and time again that it is our staff that make Bendrigg and this is the main feedback we receive from our users. Many of our staff have worked at Bendrigg for a number of decades, showing the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm they have for supporting people with disabilities in the outdoors. It is the changes they see every day, from small differences to big ones, that is the most important thing for our staff – knowing that they have helped to challenge the perceptions of people with disabilities and build confidence and self-belief in individuals every day.
Each year it costs between £800,000-£900,000 to continue offering our services to disabled and disadvantaged people throughout the UK. The largest proportion of this is staffing costs. As a specialist centre we require at least 2-3 times the number of staff compared to a mainstream outdoor centre. For example, a mainstream centre may need 1 Tutor to support a group of 12 children for a climbing session whereas we may require 3 Tutors to support a group of 6 children and 1 wheelchair user to access the same activities. It is unfeasible to pass on these increased costs to our users and so we fundraise to subsidise these as much as possible. Around 66% of our income is through the subsidised fees we charge groups for our services. In recent difficult times, groups are struggling more and more with affording even these subsidised fees and so we must constantly fundraise to support these costs. The remaining 34% of our income comes from voluntary sources including grants from Trusts and Foundations, donations from individuals, corporate sponsorship and fundraising events. This means that each year we must raise approximately £300,000 to continue offering our services to around 3,000 disabled and disadvantaged people each year. We receive no statutory funding and do everything we can to keep fundraising and governance costs low – so that all our funds can go directly where it is needed most. For every £1 we raise, 97p goes directly to our supporting our users (with the other 3p spent on fundraising and governance costs).
Bendrigg is working towards getting more local people, and the local community, involved so that everyone can have the opportunity to achieve through adventure. Our community ‘Aiming High ‘ field allows families to come and enjoy time together on wheelchair accessible play equipment such as roundabouts and swings, or cycling around our cycle tracks on our adapted bikes, trikes and KMX’s – all for free! Individuals can also get involved in our fortnightly climbing club or our canoe club which runs in the summer months. Our sensory room and climbing wall is available for hire and we have an accessible conference room for local groups looking for an inclusive space.