This post is an accessibility review of a gifted experience from the Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a little bit of a scaredy cat, I flinch at sudden noises, I hate scary movies, and roller coasters, can’t watch Jurassic Park and I have an irrational fear of pigeons and flapping birds, so when I was tasked with road testing the Bear Grylls Adventure Centre in Birmingham for accessibility, I have to be honest and tell you that I felt more than a little nervous at doing something so far out of my comfort zone.
Bear Grylls Adventure Centre was opened in October 2018 within the site at the NEC and it is ‘Home of Earth’s Greatest Challenges, a new Adventure Theme Park where you can take on incredible mental and physical challenges’. An Assault and Archery Course, High Ropes, Dive and Snorkelling Packages and the indoor Skydiving experience are all up for grabs, but I wondered how on earth it would be possible for me, a young woman with Cerebral Palsy, could channel my inner survivor and complete anything on offer.
As we drove to the venue the butterflies in my stomach reached fever pitch.The building was looming ominously through the trees and this did nothing to ease my nerves. The disabled parking is accessed via gate one and is at the side of the Centre. As I got out of the car, they were playing what I can only describe as ‘Adventure Superhero Music.’….again, not helping the nerves.
I went in through the Automatic doors and entered the survival themed building, the open plan layout showed off the tropical diving tank and the most beautiful fish I’d ever seen and there was Base Camp and the assault course that looked impossible.
The friendly receptionist Sarah was there to greet me. She put me at ease and talked me through how it all works, gave me a wristband which enabled access to the activities, upload photos and videos of my experiences and worked the lockers. These are big enough for a backpack and also operated by your wristband. Another band with the activities I was booked on to, was wrapped around my other wrist. Base Camp was scheduled to start at 11am, Indoor Skydiving at 1pm and snorkelling at 2pm. I was a set.. Just as soon as I’d signed the waiver….
I made a promise to myself that if there was any possible way I could do any of the activities ahead of me, I’d at least try..
As 11am approached I wheeled over to the Assault Course,that looked completely inaccessible, to all intense and purpose, the equivalent to being my Everest. I was nervous and I mumbled ‘I… I don’t think I can do the Assault Course’ That was when I met Stark. A man in a bright orange shirt walked towards me and introduced himself.
‘Hello. I’m Stark, How you doing?’
Stark was not in the least bit interested in what I couldn’t do, he wanted to know about my strengths and what I could do. He put me at ease straight away, and felt more like a supportive Friend, not someone I’d only just met.. We had a chat and he was not one bit phased about what I can’t do physically. He explained what I’d need to do for each obstacle in turn, and asked if I thought each one would be at all possible, and without making me feel stupid if I said, ‘No I can’t do that’.
Stark then announced he was fetching his colleague, Will, who, if I was happy, they would hold me up by putting their arms through mine and holding me under my armpits and help me through the Assault Course. They were physically holding me up so I could attempt to move my legs and walk through the stepping stones. It’s not everyday you’re offered the chance to be held up by two very handsome, strong young men. This was already turning out to be the best day ever!
There were six of us in our group and we had a briefing about the importance of teamwork, and a warm up before we started the course. By now, we were all up for the challenge ahead.. Stark and I had agreed, I would with assistance, walk through the stepping stones, drop down to the floor and crawl on my stomach through a cargo net as a minimum. Everybody else who took part in the session did the whole course like lightening leaving me for dust. Before I knew it, I was on my feet flanked by Stark and Will (who is a Marine in Training).
My little legs slowly moved forward and with every step Stark’s encouragement powered me through as I made my way through the stepping stones. As I have no standing balance and cannot walk at all, the effort of trying to move my legs drained them of all energy. Before I knew it I was on the floor and heading for the Cargo net..
I used every drop of energy to get me through the other side of that net, the adventure music blaring, Bear Grylls Himself reiterating the values of the marines. As I pulled myself through, Will and Stark kept urging me on, telling me what a good effort I was making. It really helped me to dig deep and keep going. I’d still under there now if it wasn’t for them.
I was doing it, me, Lucy Wood, the scaredy-cat. I was under the Cargo net, and I was smashing it.
I emerged, free from the net, completely done in. Will and Stark picked me up and put me back in my wheelchair, I couldn’t do anymore of the assault course I was exhausted. Stark was so proud of me and I met up with everyone else at the end of the course. I’ve never in my life had a dry mouth AND a dry throat at the same time.
Archery was next, which I was terrible at, but I managed to fire at least one arrow at a target successfully
Next up was the focus on the four things you need to survival: Shelter, Water, Fire. and Food, we walked through a cave experience, I was lifted from my chair and assisted through the cave by Will and Stark, and then into another room learn about venomous snakes.. And dined on Mealworms.. Dry and crunchy,seen as you asked…
And with that the Base Camp was over. I was elated, I’d already done more than I could ever have possibly dreamed. It was such an exhilarating feeling. and I’d made the executive decision the diet was off and I was definitely having a cheat day.
I headed to the Indoor Skydiving, which was accessed via two lifts. As we arrived we were greeted by James, my Skydiving Instructor, whom we had just seen flying effortlessly through the air like a superhero. I was gobsmacked.. It looked incredible.
James again asked how well my legs worked and we talked about how they were going to get me in the tunnel itself and went to get his colleague Hayley who’d be on hand to help, Hayley would take my wheelchair away while James held me in the wind tunnel. The fact I couldn’t totally straighten my legs wasn’t a problem and in fact it actually seemed to help. Before I knew it, I was in my flying suit, watching a briefing video on safety and hand signals. A giant jar of ear plugs was handed round and we were fitted out with goggles. Then we were led through to the flying chamber and we were sitting at the side of wind tunnel waiting to fly… we were told that we’d get two goes at 1 minute long.
‘Who’s up first’ James asked, nobody volunteered and after a pause, I heard my voice saying ‘I’ll do it…’
Going first felt like I was setting myself a huge challenge. I was petrified.
I parked myself in the doorway of the tunnel and James pulled me forward, the fan was deafening and the force of the air took my breath away. I couldn’t speak. I felt like I could have backed out, but there was no turning back as James and Hayley soon had me flying and it felt amazing.
I looked up to see my Mum filming me from the viewing area. The look on her face will never ever leave me as long as I live.She looked so proud of me and had the biggest smile on her face. I don’t think she could quite believe that I was actually doing the I-Fly. I couldn’t believe it either, and as I started to relax, I felt so free within my own body, something that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before, I knew James and Hayley were guiding me but I couldn’t feel them holding on to me.It was only when I watched the video back I saw how the two instructors were with me the whole time.
There were five people taking it in turns in our group and when the fourth person came back I moved forward again. For an extra £7 in your second flight you have the option to fly higher in the tube.
‘You. Up?’ James signed. I shook my head, no. I was quite happy with the flying experience as it was and didn’t fancy going up to the top. I had enough adrenaline from the first flight.
I have never known something to be so petrifying and so enjoyable at the same time. The skill of the instructors James, and Hayley, is just amazing. They were mesmerising to watch. I was left speechless as I watched James flying up and down and round and round like a superhero. It’s quite easy to imagine how you can get addicted to adrenaline adventures.
I had never snorkelled before, the thought of sticking my face in the water and breathing through a tube panicked me a little bit. I always thought that not knowing what was under the sea when you go on holiday was better because if I thought about it before I’d freak out and panic..
I sat down with my instructor Annie who asked me sign a waiver and talked me through how to snorkel. I’d been told that the venue had their own sling and hoist and as it transpired, while they did have a hoist I should have bought my own sling. Annie disappeared off, and came back a few minutes later to tell me that with help from two other staff members and my mum, they would still like me to take part in the activity. I was suited up in a wet suit and we were good to go.
Annie and the team had a real ‘can do’ attitude and made sure that everything was done safely and professionally. Annie’s colleague, Will was in the tank as I was lowered into the water and Annie joined us in the water when it was time to get out.
‘Just hold on to the cage, and in your own time, take a deep breath’ Will said.
As I put my head under the water it was so quiet and peaceful, the fish, including the sharks and the rays, swam so close to me. They were beautiful. I kept my breathing slow and steady and felt so utterly relaxed that I didn’t want my time in the water to end.
Annie, Will, another member of staff and my Mum lifted me out of the tank after 20 minutes. I was soon back in the changing room drying off and readying for home.
While getting changed, the reality of what I’d done during the day hit me, it was me who’d been crawling under cargo nets, eating mealworms, flying the equivalent of 12,000 feet in a wind tunnel and snorkelling in a tank full of the most beautiful marine life.
When I go to theme parks, or do anything that’s remotely geared up more for able bodied people, there’s mountains of restrictions placed on me, ‘we can’t let you do this, because of your chair’, or ‘unfortunately we don’t have the capacity to do that with you if you’re unable to walk’ are the norm. The Bear Grylls Adventure is different. I’ve never known an attraction be so accommodating and so keen to help me experience everything I possibly could while I was with them.
Everyone involved in my adventure day wanted me to get the most out of my time there. They believed in me and they didn’t allow my disability to get in the way, it just wasn’t an issue. Everyone I came into contact with made me and my Mum feel so welcome, and bent over backwards to ensure that I left feeling like I’d had the most amazing time, and I did just that. I had had the very best time!
If you are like me and have a disability and would like to have some adventure in your life, but are unsure about the Bear Grylls Adventure, all I can say is enquire, contact them and see what they can offer you. I honestly thought I’d be unable to do much of anything that is on offer, but in reality, for the very first time I felt that it was my ability and not my disability that was the focus, and as I walked out of the doors, I heard the ‘Super hero Adventure Music’ again this time I knew exactly what it was for, because it was empowering. Perhaps there’s a wonder woman inside me after all.
To book your Bear Grylls Adventure package, visit there website today