Beyond the Trees Avondale Recognised as a World Leader
Thursday, 3rd November 2022: Age Friendly Ireland has today awarded Age Friendly recognition to Beyond the Trees Avondale, located in Avondale Forest Park, County Wicklow, acknowledging it as the first age friendly tourist destination in the country. Beyond the Trees Avondale received its official Age Friendly Charter at a launch event today and will now also be recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an international model of good practice for age friendly development. A case study publication was also launched today by Age Friendly Ireland, outlining the work undertaken at Beyond the Trees Avondale.
Beyond the Trees Avondale is a spectacular new visitor destination, developed in partnership between Coillte, Fáilte Ireland and EAK Ireland in Avondale Forest Park, County Wicklow, combining a stunning 700 metre Treetop Walk with a 12-story high Viewing Tower, created for the project by EAK Ireland.
Age friendly principles were incorporated into Beyond the Trees Avondale in order to ensure its ease of use and accessibility across the lifecourse.
Under its Age Friendly Programme, Wicklow County Council, in partnership with the key stakeholders, co-ordinated the age friendly four stage process to ensure that older people’s needs were considered in the development. This work included consultation with a diverse range of older people and a walkability audit.
In undertaking the improvements, Beyond the Trees Avondale referenced the guidance material provided by Age Friendly Ireland for the development of outdoor space and buildings and the World Health Organisation’s checklist for age friendly cities and communities.
Chief Executive of Wicklow County Council, Mr Brian Gleeson, outlined that the ambitious project to incorporate age friendly principles into the unique Beyond the Trees Avondale visitor experience, stemmed from a desire to ensure that Wicklow is a great place in which to grow older.
Speaking at the official recognition ceremony, Minister Mary Butler TD, Minister for Mental Health and Older People said:
“I am delighted to be here at the Launch of Ireland’s First Age Friendly Tourist Destination Beyond the Trees Avondale. As Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, it is wonderful to be able to visit and see in person this extremely impressive world class amenity where you can journey through the forest and above the canopy of the trees.
The Government is firmly committed to the Programme for Government goal of creating an Age Friendly Ireland and making Ireland a great place to live as we age. This age-friendly tourist destination brings us one step closer to achieving this goal.”
Minister Butler continued:
“The importance of creating age-friendly public spaces cannot be overstated. Design that takes an age friendly perspective can help to create environments which provide enhanced access for all. By making our outdoor spaces pleasant, clean, accessible, and safe for older people, we can create inclusive communities and age-friendly spaces across the State for everyone. I would like to congratulate all involved in this project for creating this unique offering within the tourism sector that has been specially tailored to the experience of Ireland’s ageing population.”
Imelda Hurley, Chief Executive, Coillte, said “We are very proud to achieve Age Friendly recognition status for Beyond the Trees Avondale. At every stage of the planning process, we wanted to ensure that this unique visitor destination would be fully accessible, offering visitors young and old and of all levels of ability the opportunity to witness the beauty of Avondale and the surrounding Wicklow countryside in a fascinating new way that brings drama and excitement to the simple exploration of the forest. Alongside our project partners, Fáilte Ireland and EAK Ireland, we were delighted to collaborate with Wicklow County Council and Age Friendly Ireland to successfully ensure that this wonderful environment could be experienced by everyone. Since Beyond the Trees Avondale was officially opened by President Michael D. Higgins in July, we have been delighted to welcome visitors of all ages and abilities to enjoy this unique and beautiful visitor destination.”
The age friendly elements of Beyond the Trees Avondale include:
- 22 Age Friendly car parking spaces as well as 25 Disabled Parking bays and 6 Electric Vehicle charging points.
- Changing Places toilet facility (which includes an adjustable bench, hoist and shower)
- Fully accessible Treetop walk aligned to age friendly principles
- New age friendly signage
- Concessions on ticket prices for 65+ age group
- Accessible trails including a multi access route that is suitable for wheelchair users
- Age Friendly seating along the route
- Pedestrian access from village and railway station
- A family cycle trail
- Dedicated accessibility content on the website
A substantial number of Age Friendly Car parking spaces are provided close to the entrance. These are suitable for any older person who has mobility, sensory or cognitive issues that make walking longer distances difficult. They are suitable for people with arthritis, dementia, vision limitations, people recovering from operations, and their carers.
Mai Quaid, chair of the Wicklow Older People’s Council, explained how this will be of benefit to older people:
“Avondale is a wonderful facility here in the Garden of Ireland. It is tailored to suit the needs of many ages but is geared to cater for older people who will appreciate its many amenities. Beyond the Trees Avondale enables people to reconnect with nature and witness the changing seasons at first hand. Older people from across Ireland and our international visitors will really enjoy the experience.”
Speaking at today’s ceremony, Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Cllr Tommy Annesley, said the recognition of Beyond the Trees Avondale as the first tourist destination of its kind in Ireland was “a very significant development for Wicklow as it continues to promote Ireland as a world leader for Age Friendly Communities.”
He added: “The work that has been carried out to ensure that Beyond the Trees, Avondale is Age friendly gives us all a reason to feel even more proud of our county, because it ensures that this facility welcomes and accommodates people of all abilities and ages. As a result of this initiative, everyone in our community, in Ireland and our international visitors, regardless of age, will be able to visit and enjoy this very special corner of County Wicklow.”
Mr Brian Gleeson, Chief Executive, Wicklow County Council, said 13% of Wicklow’s population was aged 65 and over and this was going to increase. “We must be ready for this change. People are living longer lives, and in many cases, older people are living more active and healthier lives than in the past. Older people today want to continue doing the things they always enjoyed doing.”
This was why Wicklow County Council had developed its first Age Friendly County Strategy, for 2017-2022.
Consultation is now taking place to develop a new Age Friendly Strategy for County Wicklow which will run from 2023-2027.
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