On Friday the 1st April I had the pleasure of being joined for a trip around town with Cllr Wyers, this trip came about as I offered the council members the opportunity to join me in my spare wheelchair. The idea was to give someone able bodied just a small glimpse as to what it is life to be in a wheelchair. She was apprehensive at first as she didn’t want people to think she was taking our life flippantly but I reassured her it was a good thing that she was doing. Anyone could break a leg and have a period in a chair easily enough.
We met in central hall car park and Sharon and I had a brief chat about our pasts and what had happened to me and her having children who had gone through the schools in Wymondham etc. My parents had offered to be our carers for the day helping us at times when we did not have the energy or ability to cover the terrain. We started off by visiting the only council owned accessible play ground Kings Head Meadow, I was able to demonstrate how good this was for someone in a wheelchair and we attempted to leave crossing grass so she could see how much harder propelling yourself on grass is. Then we went int0 town to look at shop access, some of the positive things in the town and some of the frustrating issues. Right in front of us we had two gentleman pull into a blue badge bay, no blue badge hop out of their car, pause briefly as they saw us before then running into the bank. It was the only bay available so they used it, I mean it is far more important for them to park close than a wheelchair user. Then within seconds a teenager had put his bike down on the floor outside the newsagents/come post office. Blocking the pavement causing a trip hazard for everyone let alone for the visually impaired.It is these sorts of actions that led us to put educate and share best practice in the Wymondham Access Group mission statement. I wouldn’t have thought about it as a child but if we could access schools and share some of this advice we can educate the next generation.
We then decided to go for a coffee, my wife and I usually go to the Coffee Shop it is a little shop with 5 or 6 tables in it. Councillor Wyers said the shop is quite small they may not want two of us wheelchair users in there at once. I then said take the words wheelchair users out of that sentence and say it again – a cafe wouldn’t not want two of us in there at once! Of course they would it is why they are open but it is also why we struggle going out to places with just me in a chair, I feel a nuisance wherever I go as people have to move things etc, going out with my friends in wheelchairs is virtually impossible and this really shouldn’t be the case.
The residents of Wymondham know and appreciate that part of what makes our little Town so beautiful and amazing is also part of what is holding us back from the 21st Century Access for all we would love to see. Shops have limited floor space and many are in ancient buildings difficult to convert, nonetheless there is still a wealth of things for shop owners to adopt with a little help and guidance from the right people, many will cost the price of a sign and a doorbell, others may be more expensive but there are grants available.
We had coffee outside a different cafe as we could not get inside and then we went to the council offices. This was perhaps the most ironically funny and worst example of access issues in our town. Councillor Wyers was honest and said she had no idea where the wheelchair access was, it took her a while to find and even when she did due to an ill fitting door couldn’t get the door open wide enough to access the building. Here some signage, a bell and a bit of planing on a door would make the building accessible, the council have known this for a while as a member of the public raised it as an issue in a council meeting over 2 months ago so perhaps this demonstrates the wall of change we are up against. The first step for me thought was creating Wymondham Access Group, the next step was this trip in to town with Sharon. It was great to meet one of my own Councillors 1:1 and to talk and chat and for her to see first hand the town from my viewpoint. There are good things in the town and we need to advertise these and I will make sure the Access Group does this, there are also suggestions that can be made to improve the town for a wide spectrum of visitors and residents and we can also do this. I asked Sharon for some of her own comments following our trip and she kindly shared these with me over the weekend and she sent me this
“At a recent meeting of Wymondham Town Council Mr Seach read out a statement detailing his involvement in setting up the Wymondham Access Group.
It was put to the Council it would be beneficial to both parties if a member of the Council were to join him in his spare wheelchair to experience first-hand not only the difficulties and barriers, but the positive aspects of the town.
I believed this would be a very positive way to begin a working partnership.
I met with Neil and his parents last Friday afternoon, and it soon became clear the issues facing wheelchair users and other members of the community, eg mothers with pushchairs and the visually impaired.
Simple unintentional thoughtlessness such as bicycles abandoned on the pavements, inconsiderate parking, misplaced A-boards, and lack of information regarding accessibility all create potential difficulties.
Surfaces and gradients soon became very noticeable, and I thank Julie for her support!
But, it was also encouraging to see the positive steps some businesses had made with regard to providing access, and this should be seen as the way forward.
Wymondham is a historic market town and some access will be impossible, but it is clear so much more can be done. Some of these things are quite simple eg, extra signage, some more expensive eg, extension of accessible paths within the town.
The afternoon was very enlightening in identifying ways in which Wymondham Access Group and the Town council can work together in the future, and I wish Neil and Wymondham Access Group success in their valuable work.
Councillor Sharon Wyer”