Liberty Drives is quite possibly the best thing in London that you have never heard of. This amazing charitable scheme was started 19 years ago in 1997. They offer 30 – 50 minute tours around London’s Hyde Park grounds on wheelchair accessible buggies. This service may be used by people with disabilities, or reduced mobility and their caregivers, friends or family. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the founder of this charity, Richard Briggs OBE. He told me about how he got the idea to start Liberty Drives.
After he had complete the Queen Elizabeth Gate in honour of the Queen Mum, Richard suggested introducing a buggy service. It would be for those less able to walk around the vast grounds of Hyde Park. The idea came to him as he had been at the park before and had seen nurses from a local hospital pushing patients around the park. He figured that their energy would be better focused elsewhere, and to have someone else handle park transportation.
When the scheme started in ’97, Richard and his son drove the buggies and gave the tours themselves. Now, Liberty Drives now has around 25 – 30 volunteers. The expert volunteers provide tours weekdays 10am until 4.30pm, from 1st May to 31st October. Tours may be booked over the phone, or via their online booking system. They cover the highlights of the park including, TheSerpentine Lake, Princess Diana Memorial and Kensington Palace.
While the official pick up point is the East side of the Serpentine Lake, you may request to start from several other points. This service is kept running by volunteers, please do try to give them as much notice as possible regarding your bookings.
I love the awesome things that this initiative achieves, but what I appreciate most about it, is the name. Most, if not all, physically disabled people attest to how great independence and freedom feels. I had been thinking that a scheme like this has been long overdue. Only to then find out that it had been running for coming up to two decades. For those that don’t know, here is a little history about Hyde Park:
“Henry VIII acquired Hyde Park from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536; he and his court were often to be seen on thundering steeds in the hunt for deer. It remained a private hunting ground until James I came to the throne and permitted limited access. The King appointed a ranger, or keeper, to take charge of the park. It was Charles I who changed the nature of the park completely. He had the Ring (north of the present Serpentine boathouses) created and in 1637 opened the park to the general public.” – Source
Liberty Drives is also available during various events that are held in the park. This includes the famous BBC Prom in the Park, and other concerts and events. They improve the facilities for disabled concert goers, especially in terms of crowds. Those with reduced mobility need not miss out on the fun, and are included. This magnificent park is made just that little bit better by Liberty Drives. This initiative is free of charge to users, but they solely operate through donations. If you are able to contribute, you may do so here.
Dates: 1st May – 31st October; Mon -Fri; 10am – 4.30pm
Stations: Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge [Piccadilly], Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Queensway [Central]