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Wales & West Utilities has trialled innovative ramp prototypes as they move closer to commissioning a product which will help people living with disabilities move around utility work sites.

The gas emergency and pipeline service has been working with four innovators since 2019 to come up with safer alternatives to traditional kerb ramps after one of its engineers saw first-hand the struggle wheelchair and mobility aid users had in negotiating work sites on roads and pavements.

In response, Wales & West Utilities launched the Ramp Up project, and has been testing prototypes in partnership with Whizz-Kidz, the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users.

The testing allowed wheelchair, powerchair, scooter and walking frame users the opportunity to test designs in a range of conditions that would be encountered in every day use, including the dry, in the rain, and on narrow conditions. The findings will allow the most appropriate to be rolled out by Wales & West Utilities and other gas networks and utilities across the country.  

Jake Sami is an Engineering Manager who saw first-hand the challenges experienced by people using mobility aids around engineering work. He saw the potential for alternative products and pitched an idea to improve them at Wales & West Utilities annual customer conference.

Jake explains:

I’ve watched many people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters struggle to negotiate engineering work and felt that it was important that we made changes, where we could, to make things easier for them and improve their experience.

It’s great to see these prototypes in action – and I’m looking forward to seeing them used in communities across Wales and south west England as we work to upgrade gas pipes to keep the gas flowing safely today, whilst preparing the gas network to transport green gas like hydrogen and biomethane.

Testing ramp designs in a bid to improve the lives of vulnerable people

Building on Jake’s idea, the EIC launched a collaborative Call for Innovation in a bid to find innovative ramp solutions, and the Ramp Up project kicked off in December 2019. It unites four innovators (Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Hahn Plastics & Oxford Plastic Systems), three gas distribution networks (Wales & West Utilities, Cadent and Northern Gas Networks), two electricity distribution network operators (Northern Powergrid and SP Energy Networks), and disabled children’s charity Whizz-Kidz, with the shared goal of improving customer safety and experiences of navigating street works.

Jo Fashan, Associate Director for Engagement & Policy at Whizz Kidz, said:

The Ramp Up project is a hugely important initiative and one that Whizz-Kidz are proud to be a part of.

With around 75,000 young wheelchair users in the UK, it is imperative that spaces are designed and, where needed adapted, to enable wheelchair users to move as freely as possible.

Making accessibility an integral part of planning these works will help to take away some of the frustrations that come with travelling as a wheelchair user. Wales & West Utilities is setting a great example by making positive changes to improve accessibility and we encourage other companies to consider what inclusive steps they can take.

Wales & West Utilities, the gas emergency and pipeline service, brings energy to 7.5m people across the south west of England and Wales. If you smell gas, or suspect the presence of carbon monoxide, call us on 0800 111 999 straight away, and our engineers will be there to help any time of day or night. Before visiting, we'll ask you to let us know if you or anyone in your household, is experiencing Coronavirus symptoms or self-isolating. We'll still come and help you: but our teams will take some additional precautions to keep us all safe.