Pip's climbing journey: the value of local clubs

Posted by Joanna Rowbottom on 09/12/2016

For people with a disability who want to get active, climbing may not instantly spring to mind, but it's actually a brilliantly inclusive activity with numerous benefits. Finding a local club is often the easiest way to start. We hear from the parents of Pip, one of Bendrigg Climbing Club's members, how valuable the club has become to them.

The idea for a climbing club at Bendrigg came from local parents who wanted an inclusive club that their children, with various needs, would be able to take part in, so Bendrigg Trust took charge and opened Bendrigg Climbing Club in February 2016. The club runs during term-time on a fortnightly basis with plans to also run 'Rock Days' during holidays for participants to take their climbing outdoors and to other venues.

There are around 20 regular participants with group sizes on any individual session being small, around six to 12 people, allowing each individual to get the support that they need. Pip's parents explains how much of an impact the club has made to them.

What climbing means to Pip and the family

We are really lucky to live between the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks, but how were we going to enjoy them as a family when our twins have complex disabilities? We really thought outdoor pursuits were an impossibility for us but then we were fortunate enough to join a local support group visiting Bendrigg Lodge. We’ve never looked back! Now Pip, one of the twins, counts climbing as her favourite thing and is keen to try out competitive climbing.

Pip was five when we first visited Bendrigg, she had only been walking just over a year and had absolutely no sense of danger or depth perception. Sensory difficulties meant that just getting into a harness and helmet was a major challenge but thanks to the endless enthusiasm of the staff it was eventually achieved. It slowly dawned on me that Pip was far safer experimenting on the end of a rope than she was on a local country walk where she needed a hand held all the time (which she often resisted strongly!). Pip didn’t do much climbing on that visit but a seed had been sown.

We visited Bendrigg several times over the following few years and were thrilled when their indoor climbing wall was completed. How could anyone resist all those tempting climbs? Well actually neither of the twins would go into the climbing hall at all due to the echoing acoustics, we’d come across the same thing before with the girls refusing or taking fright at going into railway stations or churches due to sensory overload. Again the flexibility of Bendrigg came up trumps; no pressure to go in, calm and enthusiastic staff letting the girls come to terms with the new environment in their own time. Win, win, not just for confidence in visiting climbing walls but a whole host of other places too!

It probably took Pip four years of visits to Bendrigg to complete her first climb. It taught me a huge amount about patience and enjoying every little step as the staff encouraged and congratulated her along the way. When things often seemed dark and difficult in every day life these were really important times in our lives.

Paraclimbing competitions

As Pip entered her teens a couple of instructors both at Bendrigg and Calvert Trust mentioned that there were competitions for disabled climbers and didn’t I think Pip might enjoy them? First time it was mentioned I promptly forgot, second time I registered that they really meant it and third time I actually looked online and saw there were try outs for the BMC paraclimbing in Newcastle! As I mentioned before, large echoing and busy places aren’t Pip’s forte so I was quite prepared for her to go on strike at the door of the climbing centre, which is in a large church, but her love of climbing carried her through.

We didn’t manage to stay the whole day as it got too much but it gave us the clues as to what to work on for this year and we are looking forward to a trip to Edinburgh to do just that. It was also a pleasure to meet such a supportive group of people.

Pip’s next exciting event is a day on the crags with Bendrigg’s newly formed inclusive climbing club and will be thrilled to seeing her enjoy a sport  in the beautiful local hills that I never thought she would access. I would also put money on her coming away with a load of skills that will improve her life in ways we could not have imagined. 

The BMC are mapping the opportunities for people with a disability, or impairment to take part in climbing, whether through clubs, or inclusive facilities. Climbing walls can complete this survey to help us understand the current opportunities available, and the potential to develop new opportunities.

WATCH: The BMC Paraclimbing Series 2015 on BMC TV


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