Outdoor winter festivals are fast becoming a winter school holiday family favourite so I’m thrilled to see councils improving access and inclusion. Last week we headed to the Parramatta Winterlight with the promise of an accessible ice rink.`
As I’ve previously mentioned, AJ has been a long-time skater, taking weekly skate lessons and spending much of these school holidays at a local rink. BJ is always keen to join her when he has the chance but our local rink won’t allow wheelchairs on the ice.
So, it made my heart sing watching the joy on BJ’s face as he whizzed around the ice rink at Parramatta Winterlight with AJ. He was one of many enjoying a warm winter’s day and the novelty of an outdoor rink.
Although BJ likes to watch AJ’s tricks on the ice he wasn’t fond of being still for long. He’d watch her do a spin or cross over, clearly enjoying it, but would quickly be self-propelling towards her asking her to take him for another lap.
He keeps all of us on the move but his delight is so infectious it’s hard not to give in when it’s something like ice skating.
Winterlight is located in Prince Alfred Square, across the road from the Riverside Theatre. The outdoor ice rink is the most popular attraction, though there’s a whole ‘village’ set up with small carnival rides, live music, food stalls and craft.
After collecting our tickets from the box office, a staff member escorted us to the rink entrance via a ramp. AJ has her own skates so we didn’t need to queue for skate hire. A staff member assisted with getting BJ on to the ice as there is a small edge around the rink. A wooden ramp made it easier to get on to the ice.
When the kids had finished we had a staff member pop the ramp back in position and they assisted with getting the wheelchair off the ice. We’ve been to rinks previously where the entrance is barrier free which is much easier but this rink is possible with assistance.
There are two rinks, the main rink where AJ and BJ skated and a small indoor rink. The smaller rink may be more suitable for children who find crowds overwhelming. The inside rink is quieter, has low light and parents are allowed on the ice with shoes to assist their child. This is suitable for children up to 12 years
The cattle-grid queuing at the ticket booth is difficult with a wheelchair, however, I’ve double-checked and it’s fine for wheelchair users to avoid the grid by going to the right-hand side to purchase tickets.
Companion card is accepted.
Sessions are 45 minutes so arrive early to hire skates and you’ll be ready to hit the ice the minute the rink opens.
We always leave BJ’s anti-tips (stabilisers) on his manual chair for ice skating but they made it harder on the ramp. I suggest putting the anti-tips on once you are on the ice if possible.
There’s an accessible stand-alone large unisex bathroom facility. Security have it padlocked to ensure it is kept free for those that need it. As soon as we walked near the bathroom they quickly walked over to help open it. Apparently, I was the second person to take a photo that day. Clearly, I’m not as weird as my family would lead me to believe!
The first hour of the event, from 11am – 12pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are dedicated sensory friendly (quiet times), where music levels will be lowered and smaller crowds are expected at the event.
All workshops in the Kids Creative Hub are sensory friendly and open to all children. The Hub is open every day from 11am – 6pm with various workshops running during these hours.
The Grass Arts Company will also be running workshops that have been specially designed to create a safe and welcoming environment for children on the autism spectrum or other disabilities that create sensory sensitivities. These workshops will run from 11am – 1pm, every Monday and Wednesday. Please note there is a small step up to the Kids Creative Hub
Check the accessibility and inclusion guide on the Parramatta Council website here.
If you are reading this as someone looking to organise a similar event in the future, just take a look at the photo of BJ’s face. That’s the joy inclusion brings. Don’t settle. Insist on an ice rink or facilities which facilitate inclusion. It’s something we should all be striving for and we’ve seen festivals including Vivid and Sydney Festival do it so well. We need you, as an organizer, not to accept anything less.
I shall now step down from my soap-box and return to being a mother who is overjoyed at seeing her son and daughter enjoying an activity together – proving a wheelchair should be no barrier to fun.
We were guests of Parramatta Council and received tickets for the kids to trial the ice rink. As always our opinions are our own and BJ’s smile does not lie!