DESPITE laughing at colleagues struggling to negotiate an obstacle course set up for mobility scooter users, Graeme Hetherington experienced first hand the difficulties people face on a daily basis.

Ask most shoppers or pedestrians what they think about mobility scooter users in town centres and the usual responses you get are "they are a nuisance" or "they are dangerous".

However, to the people who need a scooter to get around they are a vital lifeline to help them live a more fulfilling life.

In an attempt to get a better understanding of the manoeuvrability of the scooters and the hazards users face, I climbed aboard and took control of a scooter in Middlesbrough town centre.

Despite travelling at the slowest possible speed, I found the scooter was still tricky to control without knocking over the obstacles.

In expert hands, the scooters are relatively easy to steer and drive but one thing that did surprise me was they don’t stop instantly.

There is a delay as the automatic brake comes into action – which was my excuse for running a red light – and something that many pedestrians believe is done deliberately by users.

Photographer Stuart Boulton had a torrid time at the controls when he knocked down several cones and almost knocked the organiser of the training session, Shopmobility manager Gail Chester, off her feet.

The exercise was part of a new awareness event which was created after she undertook an academic study on the use of the scooters and powered wheelchairs and highlighted issues with having untrained users.

As a result of the findings work has been carried out to develop Scooter Safe – a free two-hour course consisting of a one-hour theory presentation followed by an hour of practical manoeuvrability training.

She said: “When people have a go of a scooter they realise how difficult they can be to manoeuvre in small spaces and for people who are lacking in confidence, other people’s impatience can make things even worse and more frightening for them.

“People treat wheelchairs users differently to those in scooters but they are both essential means for the users to get around and live their lives.”

Scooter Safe is suitable for both existing mobility scooter users and those thinking about purchasing or hiring one from Shopmobility.

Following the town centre open day the first four courses are being held at Acklam Green Centre, Wednesday, May 14, 1pm-3pm; Hemlington Recreation Centre, Tuesday, June 10, 1pm-3pm; The Manor, Coulby Newham, Friday, July 11, 1pm-3pm; and Southlands Leisure Centre, Beckfield, Tuesday, August 19, 1pm-3pm.