Rishi Sunak honours Dales access campaigner with Prime Minister’s award

Rishi Sunak presents Debbie North with her Points of Light award at Richmond Swimming Pool wheelchair hub.

Rishi Sunak has honoured a countryside access campaigner with a Prime Minister’s Points of Light award.

He presented Debbie North with the award to recognise her work helping to make the Yorkshire Dales accessible for all.

Mrs North, of Birkby, near Northallerton, founded the charity Access the Dales to help people with disabilities to enjoy the rugged countryside.

The charity has established wheelchair hubs across the dales, including at Richmond Swimming Pool which Mr Sunak visited to present Mrs North with her award.

The MP for Richmond (Yorks) said he was delighted to be able to present the award and see some of the free-to-hire wheelchairs available – including specialist all-terrain versions for tackling some of the most difficult ground.

“What Debbie has achieved is quite phenomenal and will benefit so many disabled people who long to enjoy our wonderful landscape but don’t feel confident venturing out,” he said.

“The capability of the various all-terrain wheelchairs is really impressive – it brings so much of our beautiful Dales in reach of so many people who might think their disability prevents them from enjoying the countryside.”

Debbie, who has used a wheelchair since 2008 due to a degenerative spine condition, had blogged with her husband Andy about their accessible adventures in the Yorkshire Dales National Park until he passed away from cancer in June 2021.

His wish was for Debbie to continue promoting accessibility in the countryside, encouraging her to launch her own charity.

Supported by Amanda Owen, TV’s “Yorkshire Shepherdess”, who made her home in Swaledale the site of the first Access the Dales hub, the charity now has five sites across the National Park.

Access the Dales has also been able to purchase their first all-terrain wheelchair for children to be able to access the countryside, and in 2022, launched their first accessible Yorkshire Dales festival.

Mrs North said: “I was delighted to be given this award by the Prime Minister and my local MP. The charity Access the Dales lives in my heart.

“I passionately believe in a countryside for all and I will continue to strive to make my beloved Yorkshire Dales accessible to more people living with disabilities and long-term illness.

“I believe in our motto – making the inaccessible accessible.”

Debbie has been appointed by the Cabinet Office as Disability and Access Ambassador for the Countryside, working with the Minister for Disability Tom Pursglove.

Points of Light awardees are outstanding individual volunteers – people who are making a change in their community. Every weekday the Prime Minister recognises an inspirational volunteer with the daily Points of Light award.

If you would like to nominate an outstanding individual volunteer for a Points of Light Award please visit www.pointsoflight.gov.uk. Find more information about Access the Dales at www.access-the-dales.com.