South Yorkshire’s legendary Army veteran Ben Parkinson MBE was the star guest when Rotherham stately home Wentworth Woodhouse launched its rooftop tours.
The roof, which is the size of six football pitches, sits 18 metres from the ground and it takes 135 steps to reach.
But getting there was a breeze for Ben.
The former Lance Bombardier, the most severely injured UK serviceman to survive the Afghanistan conflict, was able to take the lift…
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust have ensured their latest tour is possible for people of all levels of mobility.
Two lifts rise through the huge scaffolding shell which now clads the famous East Front of the mansion to enable vital roof repairs.
Famed for his can-do attitude and challenging the public’s perception of disability, Ben, 35, of Bessacarr in Doncaster, cut the ribbon to officially launch the tours.
Sarah McLeod, CEO of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, which is steering a major restoration of the house, said: “We are very proud that people of all ages and abilities can head to the roof of our Grade I listed mansion and enjoy our latest tour.
“Who better to officially launch this than local legend Ben, who has never let his disabilities define him and sees any challenge as simply something to overcome. We love his spirit and determination.”
Ben was not expected to survive the injuries he suffered in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2006 when his armoured Land Rover hit a mine. He lost both legs and suffered 40 different injuries.
He defied all odds, and has undertaken numerous charity challenges, including a trek through the Arctic, and cycling across New Zealand.
Ben, who has now left the Army, said: ”Some people thought this house could never be saved and had no future, but now it is being repaired and restored. I can relate to that. It is a real privilege to open tours that people of all abilities can enjoy.
“I have never accepted that there are things I can’t do and I think everybody should have the opportunity to experience anything an able-bodied person can,” added Ben, who carried the Olympic torch in 2012 and is a Freeman of Doncaster.
Another special guest was West Melton former teacher Gail Corbett, 56, who has Multiple Sclerosis and relies on a wheelchair. Gail was one of the first to sponsor a new slate for the roof by supporting WWPT’s Make Your Mark In History appeal, which closes on August 31.
Also attending were the Master and Mistress Cutler, Nick and Liz Cragg, Mayor of Rotherham Cllr Jenny Andrews, Mayoress Jeanette Mallinder and MP for Wentworth and Dearne John Healey and Giles Proctor, of Historic England, which distributes funding for this project from the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport.
They posed for pictures at the rooftop Selfie Station and tried out the rooftop Ding-Ding Donation Station, sending their pound coins down an 18 metre drainpipe into the gift shop.
WWPT plans to give full access to as many areas of the house as possible. Said Sarah McLeod: “Because of the mansion’s age and design, this is one of our greatest challenges. Our state rooms are on the first floor and many ground floor areas involve different floor levels.
“But we are working hard to overcome this and have already earmarked an area inside the house where an escalator can be fitted.”
Commented Ben: “Historic houses pose big problems for people with limited mobility. I have experienced problems many times at military functions in old buildings. I once had to miss an awards presentation by the Duke of Kent because it was upstairs and I was stuck downstairs. I’m really pleased to hear that Wentworth Woodhouse is determined to solve such problems.”
- Roof tour visitors can view three roofs from different historical periods, watch skilled heritage craftsmen carrying out vital repairs and hear tour guides’ updates on how restoration work is progressing.
- Tours take around an hour and will take place six times a day from Wednesday to Sunday, with spaces for up to 20 people. Tours cost £12 for adults (half-price for National Trust members), £6 for children aged 5-17 and under fives are free.
- Anyone who cannot climb the 135 steps can take a ride in the lift.