Access for all: How a Christian woman's vision is opening the Lake District to disabled people

A Christian woman is campaigning to change the landscape of disability at a World Heritage site.

When the 885 square miles of the English Lake District National Park was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2017, Julia Walker was already experiencing a powerful prompting from God. She said: 'I knew God's vision was big. The north Lake District mountains are not accessible for everybody, and they need to be for everybody.'

Launching Lake District Mobility.

As a young mum Julia developed a serious medical condition which robbed her of the active outdoor life she and husband Murray had once enjoyed together. It was while spending several years confined to a wheelchair, feeling sad and grieving for the beautiful world she had loved and lost, that God began a new work in her.

Physically, she became intensely aware of the daily challenges of disability. Spiritually, she became intensely aware of God's great love, not just for her, but for every weak and vulnerable person.

Major surgery eventually put Julia back on her feet, albeit with limited mobility, and her life returned to some degree of normality. However, it was during her season in the desert that God prepared the ground to plant a seed within her heart. It's now beginning to bear fruit.

Encouraged by a friend, began researching the idea of setting up a charity. She hoped to provide all-terrain mobility scooters, known as trampers, to enable those with limited mobility to access the mountains. As she began to speak to relevant organisations she felt God prompt her to approach Living Options Devon, a charity which empowers disabled people. Julia says: 'Neil Warren at Living Options believed and trusted in what I wanted to do. We set up Skype meetings and eventually went on to partner with them, along with other agencies. I just found out this year that Neil is a Christian. I very much believe that God opens doors and God closes doors.'

Julia Walker (right) has launched a charity aimed at increasing access to the Lakes for disabled people.

In April 2017 Lake District Mobility was granted charitable status. In May 2018 the first site was launched at Whinlatter, in the north west of the English Lake District. Whinlatter has unrivalled views across a dramatic landscape that has inspired many of the world's greatest artists, writers and thinkers. Lake District Mobility is currently auditing two new sites, with plans to add a further four.

Julia believes strongly in the benefits and blessings of the great outdoors and wants to see the physically less-able getting out into God's creation. She says: 'When someone is unwell it can often mean that the whole family stays at home and everyone's fitness is reduced. One of our regular users has MS. Now he can take his dog for a walk and the whole family have increased their activity levels. His wife can walk more and the children can get out on their bikes.'

All-terrain scooters, or trampers, offer a different experience from being pushed in a wheelchair. Trampers can travel at the average walking speed of two to four miles an hour. They are extremely simple to operate and full training is given. The user is in full control and can lead, follow, stop or go as and when they like. The tramper brings social benefits too, Julia says: 'There's a freedom in it, because you're sitting higher up, you're at eye level with other adults, and can feel more part of the group. If you're age 14 or over and something stops you from going up a mountain then it's for you. Come and use it for a few minutes. If you don't like it that's fine, but if you do, then go and have fun. You're the one in control of it!'

Christian TodayGrasmere in the Lake District.

She adds: 'We offer a taster membership for £2.50, because people in pain don't always know what the after-effects are going to be. Annual membership is £10 and that's literally how much it costs for us to process the forms. For that you can use the tramper as many times as you can book it. When I set this up I was determined it should be as inexpensive as possible."

When Lake District Mobility allocates a tramper to a host site its also undertakes a thorough audit of the disabled facilities and issues its recommendations in a detailed report. Julia says: 'God thinks about everything in everybody's life, including the difficulties that people with limited mobility have. When people visit those sites and go out on the tramper, I want them to know that someone cares about the detail of their experience; that God cares.'

As Julia speaks boldly about her hopes for the future it's very easy to forget that she's a young woman with a history of mental health problems, severe dyslexia, and in her earlier life was the victim of some serious bullying. She has no GCSE's, no A-levels, no degree and low self-esteem, yet within her broken frame she has the beating heart of a warrior. She says: 'I believed I could do pretty much nothing, but my friend believed in me and told me I could do it. God tells me to do something and I just do it, but it scares me witless, and I just pray and then do it. I find the whole concept that I actually run a charity absolutely wild but I know that with God anything is possible.'

For more information about Lake District Mobility click here.

Val Fraser is an author and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @ValFraserAuthor.

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