Inclusion at Hestercombe Gardens thanks to funding success

Based in Somerset, Hestercombe is a tranquil oasis filled with historic gardens, an art gallery and tea room. Keen to make the attraction more accessible, Hestercombe applied and were awarded a Discovery Community grant towards a Changing Places facility.

1/4 million people in the UK need Changing Places Toilets to allow them to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities that many of us take for granted. To use a toilet in safety and comfort, these people need a facility that has more space and the right equipment. The project was jointly funded by the Discovery Community Fund and Reflect PMLD, a specialist daytime support service for adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Changing Places are designed so that they are completely accessible and provide sufficient space and equipment for people who are not able to use the toilet independently.

Hestercombe Estates Manager Warren Leavens says:

“We have around 30 people who now regularly use this facility and family members have said how it has opened up the venue to them, giving them peace of mind and enabling them to feel confident that they can have an enjoyable day. We have two gentlemen who visit almost every day, and their support staff say what a difference it has made.

For Warren, making Hestercombe inclusive for all is something that is very close to his heart. His daughter, at the age of two, was diagnosed with Mosaic Down Syndrome, which he says “changed his world” and “opened his eyes”.

Changing Places facilities became invaluable to Warren as a single dad at the time, and he says having these doors open to everyone is so important. Reflect PMLD offer adult day care at Hestercombe and felt that they did not have the toilet facilities that were needed. Warren said that after conducting research he realised that the equipment needed was expensive, so they decided to apply for a grant from the Discovery Community Fund. This grant, together with a contribution from Reflect PMLD, made the plans a reality.

Warren says:

We were very fortunate to get the funding and between the two, we did it. We refurbished the facility, we decorated it, added new flooring and installed specialist equipment and now it’s an accredited Changing Places toilet on the map – which I am personally delighted about.

Warren says that the grant has helped provide more opportunities to bring wellbeing and mindfulness to a wider group, which is very much part of the Hestercombe vision of improving lives. He says he would highly encourage other local organisations to consider applying.

I can’t say enough how great it’s been. I’m ever so grateful. Well, we all are very grateful and would say to others to go for it, the difference it can make is huge.

Warren says that for the future there are still areas in which he’d been keen to address to further improve accessibility at Hestercombe. This includes lifts to certain floors within the house itself, improving signage around the gardens, easy reads, and subtitles on videos.

I probably have a 20-year career ahead of me and there is so much more I would still love to achieve, so I will keep on pushing. I think we have a wonderful estate here. It is so much more than a historic site and I want to share that with as many people as possible.