One of the West Midlands biggest attractions has faced a fierce backlash from upset families after it axed free entry for carers of disabled people.
Visitors have accused West Midland Safari Park (WMSP) of ‘penny-pinching’ following the controversial decision, which has been in place since January 1 of this year.
Previously, carers were offered free admission and this meant families with disabled children could easily and regularly visit the park for a much-needed break.
In a statement, the Bewdley attraction has insisted the decision was not one it ‘took lightly’ and added it was partly driven by people ‘exploiting the system’.
However, the new £22 charge for carers is a slap in the face for several Midlands parents, who feel like they can no longer afford a source of regular comfort for their disabled children.
One such parent, Mary Collins, said seeing the animals provided an escape for her ‘profoundly autistic’ daughter.
The 49-year-old from Kidderminster told WorcestershireLive : “It’s a big disappointment for us as WMSP is a great place for our child to access with a carer.
“Being able to send a carer along for free has given us the opportunity to give our daughter a fun and affordable day out with great facilities and the family a much-needed break.
“Being local it is ideal and she has been able to pop in even if just for an afternoon.
“It’s seems penny pinching for WMSP to do this especially as they have the new safari lodges.
“I really hope they’ll reconsider,” she added: “It’s such a great place – if it wasn’t people wouldn’t be bothered about this new ruling.”
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she used to visit the park regularly with her mum after falling seriously ill and being left unable to go out alone.
However, the axing of free entry for carers has potentially robbed her family of an invaluable day out that they enjoyed frequently.
“I know a lot of regular people with disabilities that go and it will be a real issue financially for them,” she said.
“They’re impacting on people who actually need support more than other people, especially when they’ve been in isolation for so long.”
Local mum Manda Wright added she was also disappointed by the decision, saying: “We have a 15-year-old child who has complex SEN, including social anxiety disorder.
“She struggles getting out the house and will only go for a drive in the car, so we take her to safari park to help educate her and to try build up confidence.
“She will only ever stay in the car and sometimes she won’t even get half way round and we have to go home.
“She needs two carers at all times. We went the other day and it cost us £67 to just drive around the animals, which is a lot of money and now we cannot afford to keep taking her or pay for us all to have an annual pass.
“We know they give a discounted carer price of about £3 cheaper but this doesn’t help us.
“I know it’s a business but it’s become just a money grabbing business. When we did go there, it seemed like it was very much based around the lodges.
“It used to be such a fantastic place for everyone including children with special needs and disabilities.”
What did the safari park say?
After receiving backlash from families, West Midland Safari Park issued a statement defending its decision to axe free entry for carers.
A spokesperson for the park said the move was partly driven by people ‘exploiting the system’, among other factors.
The statement read: “We understand there will be guests unhappy with our decision to remove free admission for carers, when accompanying a guest with disabilities from January 1.
“Whilst this new policy is in line with a number of other attractions across the UK, it is not a decision we took lightly and there were a many factors we took into account. These include examples of people wrongly exploiting the system.
The park went on to say: “We are one of the most disabled-friendly attractions in the UK and it is important to note that carers can still purchase discounted admission tickets, annual passes, and receive free-multi-ride wristbands when accompanying a guest with disabilities.
“As one of the region’s most popular and inclusive attractions, we make a number of adjustments in the park to ensure disabled guests and those with mobility problems can visit without any accessibility issues.
“We are also proud to support a variety of local and national disabled charities and donate thousands of free tickets every year.”
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