CASHEL IN COUNTY Tipperary is not unlike many other Irish towns, with its small streets and long-standing buildings.
Add to this its heritage town status and you can imagine how tricky it must be to navigate when you have limited mobility.
Anne Bradshaw is a Development Worker with the HSE who was tasked to improve accessibility in Cashel. She had no budget, but thanks to people power and finding out about funds available, she and the rest of the Cashel Gold Star volunteers have greatly improved accessibility in Cashel.
The project began in 2006 due to “concerns that people weren’t able to fully participate in the local community”.
“We brought together everybody in the community, and had an open public meeting,” said Bradshaw.
This was the first time that everybody came together and identified the issues, and that one meeting sparked off a number of changes.
They broke the issues down into four pillars: access, awareness, social participation, and transport. With 96 per cent of respondents in Cashel citing lack of awareness as a problem, they decided to focus on that first as “everything else should follow”.
With the ultimate aim of involving everybody in the Cashel community, they set about assembling a task force and then contacted private and public businesses, the local council, and other organisations.
With no budget, throughout the process they sourced funding and volunteer help. “We have just had huge success,” said Bradshaw.
The group focuses on the needs of people of all abilities, from those using wheelchairs to those with acquired brain injury. It’s about access for all, not a few.
Because the many heritage sites in Cashel cannot be changed structurally, that meant coming up with alternative solutions. Ramps are used in places where major changes can’t take place, proving that there need be no barrier to accessibility.
The rock of Cashel used to be inaccessible, but now it no longer is. “It’s all based on very small, very cost-effective ways of approaching it,” said Bradshaw.
They developed set of guidelines that the community figured was acceptable within the current legislation, and invited every business to apply for a gold star for their building.
Young children in the local schools were also involved in projects, such as designing the logo.
Signs were printed by the town council declaring Cashel a Gold Star town, and erected on every entrance road.
Some of the successes including tent cards for local restaurants and café, containing information about guide dogs or acquired brain injury, and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of disability.
Businesses were approached about the changes they could undertake to be more accessible, and everything was – and is – done in a positive way.
To achieve a gold star, the business has to be visited by the task group to see how accessible it is and what changes need to take place, and then the staff participate in disability awareness training.
So far, there have been 280 participants. There are gold, silver and bronze stars, and businesses are encouraged to reach for the gold, and given advice on this.
“The more bought into it, the more strength was in it,” said Bradshaw.
Participant Kathleen, a double amputee, said that before the project started, she could only go down the main street, but now she can fully participate in the town.
There are now accessible menus in Cashel, which can be listened to by people or read in braille or in large clear print.
The aim is to bring the project to the stage where it is able to self-maintain, and currently Bradshaw heads up the task group. Participants monitor the situation and give her feedback, and they meet regularly.
They want to showcase the work done in Cashel, and hope that it will serve as an example to other people.
“We don’t go out and start wagging the finger at anybody,” said Bradshaw.
We don’t go into somewhere that has steps up the door and say ‘you’re never going to be accessible’. There are so many ways around it. It’s working together with people.
Cashel’s town hall, for example, could not hold events as the toilet was not accessible. After consultation with the town council, they realised that all it needed was the removal of an internal wall. This would not affect the heritage building, but meant that now anyone can attend an event there.
A core of 11 people sit on the task force, while there are a number of agencies involved.
So successful was the project that it has been rolled out to Tipperary Town and Wexford town is also beginning its Gold Star project. “It is a general programme that can work anywhere,” said Bradshaw.
It’s not about what’s really wrong, it’s about highlighting what’s right.
To find out more about Cashel Gold Star, visit the official website.