Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Whizz-Kidz, the UK's leading charity for young wheelchair users, have teamed up with two young wheelchair users from Reigate and Croydon to promote London's first step-free art trail that opens today (Monday 19 June) and runs throughout the summer to 20 August.
The wheelchair-friendly trail, 'Morph's Epic Art Adventure', features 56 giant six-foot Morph sculptures at a series of locations along the Thames and in the heart of London, each individually painted by a wide variety of talented artists and celebrities.
Morph, the iconic mischievous animated clay character who first appeared in 1977 in the BBC children's programme Take Hart, was chosen because his freedom is limited by his environment - the presenter's table - and many of his adventures are born out of frustration with these limitations and the challenges of being a little guy in a big world.
This echoes the daily experience of many young wheelchair users, who find their freedom and independence limited by the world around them, people's attitudes, behaviour and perceptions of what young wheelchair users aspire to and can achieve.
Whilst exciting and inspiring people of all ages to celebrate London through creativity, the trail will also increase public awareness about the need for young wheelchair users to be mobile, enabled and included in society.
Step-free with Thameslink
The trail is easily accessible from Thameslink stations London Blackfriars, London Bridge, City Thameslink and Farringdon, which offer step-free access all the way from the train to the platform and onto street level.
GTR Accessibility Improvement Manager Sophie Court said: "We are committed to creating a more accessible and inclusive railway, where everyone has the confidence to travel, no matter what their disability or need for assistance.
"We've teamed up with Whizz-Kidz as this is a fantastic opportunity to help promote this terrific step-free trail and tell people about the assistance we have on offer.
"We're the perfect partners to get people to the trail, as all the London train stations between St Pancras and London Bridge have step-free access for our Thameslink passengers from station entrance to train.
"This trail is a great day out for wheelchair users and their families. With these routes being step-free you can just enjoy the sights."
Thameslink videos feature young wheelchair users (read case studies)
Two young wheelchair users, from Reigate and Croydon, have helped Thameslink promote the trail by giving a glimpse of their journey into London in specially-commissioned videos due to be featured across social media (see videos below).
Eleven-year-old Kash Smith, from New Addington, Croydon, says: "I have cerebral palsy, although my condition affects all my four limbs, I try not to let it affect me mentally and I am so happy that I have such supportive and caring family who encourages me."
Mum, Latoya, adds: "We do take the train to Victoria or London Bridge and they have a good system: as soon as we go to buy our ticket a staff member comes up to offer assistance and there's always someone on the platform there with a ramp."
Ten-year-old Jasper Collins, from Reigate suffered a spinal cord injury caused by a stroke in his spine when he was two years old. He features in a video taking the train to London with his mum and brother.
Mum Kate Collins said: "As soon as we get on the platform, someone is there to assist us and puts up a ramp and helps us on so it's always very smooth." Jasper added: "I'm really excited to see the Morph step-free trail. It is going to be really fun! I can't wait to have a day out in London and find them all!"
Thameslink Morph at Blackfriars!
Thameslink has specially commissioned a Morph of its own to promote accessible and inclusive travel across the city to iconic landmarks. It has been painted by twin sisters Phillippa and Rachael Corcutt, who are autistic, and it has been placed outside London Blackfriars' south bank entrance.
Rachael Corcutt said: "Accessibility is so important and having staff trained to assist people with non-visible and visible disabilities is a wonderful way of making it easier and more accessible for people to use rail services.
"We are both autistic and non-verbal, so having staff that can help and assist with certain aspects of travelling by rail is really helpful and we think it's really important that people with disabilities feel enabled.
"This design evokes a sense of adventure and discovery and travel. We wanted to showcase the sites and buzz of the city from exploring the well-known landmarks to finding somewhere new."
Eye-catching: The sisters with the Thameslink Morph
Partnerships Manager Jackie Bookal said: "It's not just Morph's Epic Art Adventure trail that will wow families. There are lots of step-free attractions, including the SEA LIFE Centre, Shrek Adventures and St Paul's Cathedral that have great 2-for-1 deals for anyone with a rail ticket. That coupled with our 'Kids for £2' ticket and Advance fares means a family could travel to London very cheaply."
Sarah Pugh, Chief Executive at Whizz-Kidz said: "We are thrilled to be involved in this step-free art trail project as it not only provides accessibility for all to experience the beauty of art but also helps to raise awareness about our charity's cause. We strongly believe in the power of art to bring about positive change, and this project is a wonderful way to draw attention to our mission and impact more lives."
At the end of the trail, the Morphs will be auctioned off with the aim of raising £500,000 for Whizz-Kidz to support young people by providing the wheelchairs, equipment, support and confidence-building experiences they need, and campaigning for a more inclusive society.