Having documented my problems with the town council over a number of blogs in relation to the lack of disabled access at a brand new play area that was built at Ketts Park last year you all know how, despite me highlighting the issue before the park was built and promises of there being a path put in this hasn’t happened. Then at the last council meeting on the 2nd February a proposal made by the Chair of the Leisure and Environment forum (the man who is meant to have his finger on the pulse of things like disabled access) to move play equipment from the one accessible park that had a £75,000 refurbishment in 2014 to yet another inaccessible play area at a cost of a further £60,000 was passed by Councillors despite many impassioned pleas and me and a gentleman with MS highlighting the breaches of the equality act something inside me snapped. I was no longer prepared to stand (well sit actually) by and watch all this happen. I issued the town council with an official complaint on the grounds of disability discrimination under the Equality Act. As I left the meeting one Councillor stopped me and said that the photos I took of Ketts Park and handed round were completely unacceptable, another Cncllr Julian Halls left the meeting to grab me and tell me that he was disgusted and that he would be putting the issue of Disability Access in/on all council owned buildings and facilities on the next town council agenda. Adding insult to injury the other Councillors and mayor decided that it was more appropriate that this was spoken about in the next Leisure and Environment Forum. This was an insult because unlike Town Council Meetings that are advertised on the council website and widely across social media these “forums” seem to happen like some sort of secret cinema and people on them make decisions without speaking to people who can be considered in the know, and even when they get advice they choose to ignore it!
I know this because despite raising concerns about Ketts Park at the planning stage the park was built without disabled access and furthermore I have several emails from the council claiming that the parks are compliant. I have asked several times what it is compliant with and never had that question answered in written format. I was however at a face to face meeting told it was compliant withe the Disability Discrimination Act. I somewhat facetiously at this commented that I got it, since that act no longer exists and it has since 2010 been the Equality Act it was an admission that it wasn’t compliant. Don’t think others got my sarcasm.
So move forward 10 months and the announcement about the park and I was seeing red. The next morning I was on the phone to a reporter who covers the county as well as the town papers. We organised a photo shoot for today and I promptly got onto a local Facebook page and I posted what I had done and organised and created an event. The next day I got a really good response from people being supportive, understanding and appreciating the predicament I was in, many of these people didn’t know me, had never met me and were able to grasp how upset I was. I also unfortunately had some people who know me comment that I should spend my time focussing on my family and my disability and not fighting the council when minorities always get screwed over. I had a bit of a wobble at this and started questioning whether I was doing the right thing. This coincided with some sleepless nights as my LG was coming down with Chicken Pox and I really got stressed.
We have a free weekly newspaper in my hometown and it arrived, I cannot remember whether it was Thursday or Friday (the last week has blurred, dragged and flown by all in one) and the headline front-page news was obviously the talk of the town, the Park. My LG saw the photo and was all excited at seeing the park, and asking why it was on the paper. I explained to her what had happened at the meeting I went to the other night meaning I missed bedtime and that the park was being downsized. Almost instantly a garbled “but it’s the only park you can take me too daddy” came out and my LG sat with crying for about 15 minutes. It felt like it was 15 hours but it made me realise that I was sticking up for a minority not only because any sort of discrimination is wrong but because this park is my family time, it is next to the library and it means it is somewhere I can get on my mobility scooter and take my LG too without relying on anyone else. Sticking up for the future of the park, was not only the right thing morally, but also for the good of my family. I thought if a 3 year old can get the significance and the impact of her quality of life how can grown men and women (well 8) not see it.
As the weekend went on word spread, I gave an interview with the Reporter yesterday evening about why I was so passionate about saving the play area, how important disabled access is and how difficult day to day life is when you live in chronic pain and with a disability. There are so many things I took for granted before my car accident and I never for one second thought being able to take my family to a local park, let alone a full day out somewhere would be so difficult. Before heading down today there was 23 people on the Facebook Event confirmed that they were going, a few others had confirmed verbally and I thought this was a good amount in under a week. When we got down the park today I was met by a few people who had never met me before but who were in full support of why I was taking a stand. One lady S had printed out a number of posters that had been designed by D the man with MS who uses a mobility scooter so had the same issues as me when taking his children out. D had also brought a number of flyers that he had been getting put in local shops and we are starting to see in people’s windows and cars in the town. S had also printed out a number of copies of a cartoon image that a very talented resident Chris Cooper had drawn. The rosette is now blue (all those who voted in favour were tories) and the play piece in the background is identical to about the only piece of play equipment that will survive (I exaggerate a little here) but I’m sure you’ll agree the image is fantastic.
Then I met Tony who produces a talking newspaper each month for the blind and people with sight issues in the community. I was buoyed by the community spirit that was there and the number of people who wanted to meet me (ok I was fairly recognisable being in my wheelchair) and thank me for organising the photoshoot. As it passed 3.00pm and the local school kicked out more and more people came down, with children in support and playing on the equipment. I met many people today and I feel I have done some of you a disservice by not remembering all your names or writing about you but please do not think bad of me. In truth by the time everyone had arrived and the photographer Sonya Duncan arrived we numbered well over 100 hundred people. I think probably nearer 200 – I had so many parents thank me for making a stand, saying how the park encourages them to visit the library next door with their children and then into town to one of our many excellent cafe’s, there were representative’s from a local community political party (with no mainstream party affiliation only one of community matters at its heart), from Wymondham Matter’s Facebook Page, Local Fundraisers who have helped get defibrillators in town, people working with the Dementia Awareness group from the town and many others. I came home and this evening I had a bit of a cry whilst writing this, I really was overwhelmed by just how many people turned up (and it was very cold) and who supported in numerous ways including giving me some legislation relating to Disabled Rights to provision being removed and everything else I have written. I met many mums and dad’s who came down for their children but also many adults who came down just to support the need to save the Kings Head Meadow playscape recognising how important it was for disabled residents to be able to take their children, grand children etc down to play.I know many of you took the trouble to find me and thank me, but the real thanks goes to all of you who made a disabled man very proud today, very honoured to be part of the community and most of all confident that I, no strike that WE did the right thing today. I fear this is just the beginning, but it was a very impressive one and I look forward to meeting many more of you in the coming weeks, including those of you unable to make it today, as we continue to work to keep the park unchanged #saveKHM #wymondhammatters
The local Councillor’s were conspicuous in their absence – although at this point I want to thank Councillor Julian Halls, who not only attended but took time to speak to me afterwards, to listen and help me with my concerns (he’s not even my Ward Councillor I hasten to add), promised to keep me posted as to when the Leisure and Environment Committee will meet to discuss disabled access so I can ensure that it is adequately supported in the Town and who gave me some advice with regards to creating my ultimate goal; this is setting up an umbrella Disabled Access focus group for Wymondham and the surrounding towns and villages. This will require help, volunteers, undoubtedly fundraising, support from the local towns and villages and the various disability groups and will be designed to try and stop issues like this arising. I hope that the local press will be able to support us in this quest. I see the purpose of the group to have representatives with a variety of disabilities who can liaise with local councils at the planning stages to highlight things such as accessibility, where to place hand rails, the best colours and lighting to use for people with sight difficulties and so on and so forth. I hope this will happen, Dereham and Norwich both have them and it is needed in South Norfolk too, when you look at the picture below and the number of people in it you will understand why I was so overwhelmed today!
Image By Sonya Duncan Seachy