A wheelie good time……

A wheelie good time……

I’ve just returned from a spoon sapping 48hour trip to Nottingham with my friend and PA Andrew. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I am so very lucky to have him as my PA but I’m even luckier to have him as a friend. The trip was to go and watch an ODI International between England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 and the old enemy Australia 🇦🇺 and the ticket was a gift from Andrew and his family for my 40th birthday.

I’d set as one of my spoonie goals years ago to go and watch a live sporting event in my wheelchair. No big deal you’d think, just book a ticket and go, well its what I always did before my accident. Except it’s not that easy. For one many stadiums despite new regulations aren’t up to standard, including many Premier League football clubs who should be ashamed of themselves. Two, believe it or not I want to go with other people and sit with them in the crowd. I say this because believe it or not I do know a mix of people, I do have friends without disabilities who want to go with me. All too often disabled viewing areas have been an after thought and not well designed so that viewing is obscured, spaces are severely limited and the expenses don’t match the experience. Add to this the overly complicated booking process and the hoops you have to jump through (like sending off evidence of your disability) and it is easy to see why I’ve put off going for so many years. I no longer just ring and book anything and it is frustrating, I understand why but can’t help thinking there is a better way of doing things that takes some of the pressure off. A national system perhaps which means you don’t have to go through the same lengthy process at every venue…… I digress! Back to the fun.

We travelled up to Nottinghamshire and it was a nice easy run, having family close by I knew the route well, we stopped for breakfast on the way and arrived at our travelodge early. They let us check in early and we’re very helpful. Even coming rushing to the room when the alarm was set off whilst Andrew was untangling the cord and attaching a note to say leave this cord untangled!

The weather was good so we decided to walk/wheel to the ground along the river trent. It was easy to find and we were directed to the reception in the Radcliffe Road stand. A quick check of our tickets and we’re told to take the lift behind us to the third floor. I spin round and there is a member of staff holding the lift door open waiting for me. This is all going worryingly smoothly. Third floor out we go and we’re greeted by a lovely man who looks at our tickets and says follow me. On the way he is helpfully asking a few questions and telling us everything we need to know. When I say us, I mean me, he’s actually talking to me not Andrew as so many people do when we are out together. Yes this is my first time, no don’t know where anything is, great there’s the bar, and the disabled toilet, and we exit outside to see the cricket pitch. Along we go to my seating area and Andrew’s seat that is right next to me. I can’t really explain what it is like so I’ll add a couple of photos. We have an amazing view, up high I can see the whole ground and I have plenty of room to put my wheelchair and get comfortable for the match.

England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 didn’t disappoint dispatching balls all over Trent Bridge and scoring a new record high of 481. Eoin Morgan becomes England’s all time run scorer in ODI’s and some of the fastest 50’s and 100’s scored I’m ever likely to see. Couple this with an amazing view, brilliant staff (three times I was asked if I needed anything, this included going to get me food and drinks) who had clearly been trained in understanding how to work with disabled people and make the day enjoyable. If ever there was a shining light, it was shining bright at Trent Bridge, we thoroughly enjoyed the day, were brilliantly looked after and we were treated to an excellent display of cricket.

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course there was the odd issue of ignorant people, some standing right in front of me as so often happens at large gatherings, me being in my invisibility chair as people dart infront of me and then wonder why they get their ankles clipped. All in all however the day was excellent, in fact pretty much perfect in every way. We went to get a burger as the last over fell and the masses made their way out. We had a short wait for the lift and as I wheeled in I half trapped someone in the corner who was waiting for the lift to go to the Forth floor not the ground floor. It was none other than Kumar Sangkkara and he was now faced with the unenviable dilemma of being frustrated that he wasn’t going to the floor that he wanted but unable to really moan about it because for me the only way down was in the lift, and let’s face it one of the greatest batsman of recent years could climb a few sets of stairs if he’d wanted. 🤣

Anyway we had our burgers and then took a stroll out of the ground back along the river to our hotel. Undoubtedly this will not be my last visit to Trent Bridge as despite the pain and limited movement today there really has been a lot of thought gone in to making the new stadium accessible, in fact the only thing left for them to make it perfect would be the installation of a full changing places toilet so everyone can be catered for.

The icing on the cake of the trip was meeting my cousin for breakfast the following morning is West Bridgford which also had good access and facilities, time know to update some reviews on trip advisor and Euan’s Guide!

The bad, the good and I guess it makes me the ugly…….

Yesterday my wife, LG and and Grandad took a trip to the cinema. This is no easy thing to organise in the first place. Our cinema choice is severely limited by access restrictions before even leaving the house. We have three in Norwich and one in Dereham. Dereham I am yet to try in my wheelchair however a recent purchase of a Spree book means this will change in the near future I am sure. Norwich is an issue as parking at two is limited which means only one really is an option for us. There is a multi storey car park nearby (within easy pushing/wheeling distance) and it has an abundance of disabled parking bays meaning it is ideal. Well in location at least.

It is an Odeon cinema and they have an extensive guide online, they tell you all about their wheelchair spaces, their premier seats and so on. Unfortunately in the Norwich one at least they don’t have premier seats that are accessible in many if any screens, I cannot sit in my wheelchair at the front of a huge cinema looking up to watch a film. The pain is unbearable, it leaves me with the choice of watch the film in pain or drag myself up stairs to comfy seats and watch the film in pain. Not much of a choice really. I have tried to call and speak to a person, but no efficiencies mean that it is an automated service. I had similar issues when trying to book seats for the Star Wars premieres, I cannot book me, a carer and 2 “normal” seats. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with cinema trips, they are anything but relaxing.

Follow this up with our lunch at Frankie & Benny’s, Riverside, Norwich and it was a completely different story. Usually I arrive at a restaurant and immediately a table is set and a chair removed for me to wheel up to the table. Now I’m not saying this isn’t good service, it is. However most restaurants miss one vital step, that is asking me if I can transfer out of my wheelchair (which I can) and whether I would rather sit in my chair or at the table. Why you ask, well wheelchairs aren’t designed to be sat at a restaurant table easily, I am often knocked or get my handles bashed, not fun whilst you are eating, and also because some chairs are more comfortable to sit on when eating. I want to give the staff here for top marks, first of all for asking the question, and secondly for asking me the question not the person who was pushing me. Top marks for awareness here. A simple, can you transfer from your wheelchair sir? and this is your table would you like to transfer and we can take your chair or stay in it were two fantastic questions and I wish I had taken the name of the staff to thank them properly. It is a small thing but it shows fantastic awareness. MY chair is my legs when I go out but I am not super glued to it. The Odeon could learn from this and offer alternative access/design and more comfortable seating options in their screens.

That leaves me the ugly, not much more I can say really………………..

Access for disabled travellers has improved – but more work is needed – Tourism – Eastern Daily Press

AN ARTICLE I WAS INTERVIEWED FOR BY OUR REGIONAL NEWSPAPER

With millions of disabled tourists contributing billions to the economy, attraction owners and accommodation providers are waking up to the importance of accessibility. But, as Lauren Cope reports, there is much more to be done.

Source: Access for disabled travellers has improved – but more work is needed – Tourism – Eastern Daily Press

What is Access?

What is Access?

When people talk of access issues in the majority of people’s minds a person in a wheelchair springs to mind, probably stuck somewhere. It certainly was mine for many, many years. Then I became disabled, as a result I met more and more disabled people and I realised that just like all people we come in all different shapes and sizes and we all have very different disabilities, and very different problems in day to day living.

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The town I live in has a beautiful Train Station, as a child growing up I regularly enjoyed using it, as a teen I was cool heading into the city, as a 30 something I am now stumped. My LG would love to catch the train to meet my wife for lunch (who works near the station) and I’m running out of excuses as to why we can’t do it. I have explained the truth to her but it doesn’t make sense in her mind.

The truth is the return journey to Platform 2 leaves me stranded on one side of the railway station where the only way off is 2 flights of stairs (a small issue in a wheelchair). It doesn’t compute to her because she cannot understand why there isn’t another route it is “silly daddy” yes, yes it is! It is also the bizarre truth. I have been contacted recently by the local press as they want to run a story on it and wondered whether the Access Group that I am chair of were aware of the issue. I explained we were, it was on our list of issues to work on and many residents have contacted the various MP’s and companies involved for many years. The paper wants to do a story on it and we hope the publicity will get it moving again.

View from platform on Wymondham side looking at the track disappearing into the distance towards London
Tracks to nowhere……………

The Bridge you have to cross to get to or back from Platform 2 at the Station

I did mention to the reporter that the Access to the platform goes far greater than wheelchair users, and a friend posted on social media. It has attracted many comments, elderly people struggle with the volume of steps, holiday makers with large cases, parents with more than one child, parents/grandparents and carers with pushchairs/buggies/prams, a cyclist who cannot carry their bike over the bridge, those with elderly dogs (there is a grooming parlour for pets on side 2) all have commented today and I am hoping many will be joining us tomorrow to meet the reporter and make the companies with a vested financial interest realise just how much potential income they are losing out on. It just goes to show how quickly one can lose access (even temporarily with a leg or arm break) or more permanently, or how throughout one’s life things are forever changing and at different times access is an issue. It is one of the reasons why Wymondham Access Group welcomes everyone as members as everyone has something to offer, and everyone can help promote good access. Reporting a faulty pavement, straightening up a dustbin for example (things mentioned at our last WAG meeting).

Watch this space I guess…………..

The Marina Theatre, Lowestoft – Well Done

The Marina Theatre, Lowestoft – Well Done

Yesterday we had a fantastic family trip to watch the Gruffalo’s Child at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft. Not knowing the layout of the area around the theatre we arrived in plenty of time and were pleased to discover that almost outside the door of the theatre there were 8-10 time limited disabled parking bays, one of which became available as we arrived. We (well my wife) unloaded the car, wheelchair, me and our LG and we set off to find somewhere for lunch. Attached to the Marina Theatre was the box office and cafe so we decided we may aswell eat there. They had great level access at the doors and the box office even had a low level till point. It led straight into the cafe where there was plenty of room. To me in a cafe plenty of room means it was easy to move around without bumping into food stands people and without making them get up to let me through. They had contactless payment so I could easily pay for lunch from my chair. As we made our way to a table (they bring your food and drink over so no worries there, I indicated to my wife where I wanted to sit as I would not be in the way of others and made my way to the bathroom. A member of staff who was having her lunch immediately got up and moved a chair away from the table to allow me to park up. Fantastic – this is the sort of service I would love everywhere. Making room for your chair is so difficult and having a member of staff so on the ball to the needs of disabled people to do that was perfect.

The one issue I would say is that the disabled toilet was snug (but then you can only work with the space you have. There was room to maneuver round once inside and plenty of grab rails so as to transfer to the toilet, although I did bang the door a few times. Pleasantly there was no hand dryer but paper towels, and this was within reach of the toilet so that I could wash my hands and dry them before redressing and transferring back into my chair. Usually the heater is on the far side and I have to dress and transfer with wet hands before getting to the dryer!

From here we went to the theatre and there was once again easy level floor access with plenty of room for my custom built larger than average wheelchair to get round and through the doors and into the theatre itself. I quickly identified that the crutches (that are mounted on the back of my chair for those few times when I have to walk a short distance) would block the view of others behind me. The staff once again were fantastic, and the lady that showed us to our seat/parking space took my crutches and put them safely away in the office. No fuss whatsoever and not once did I get that feeling I often get of “being a nuisance” and it was all the staff in the theatre.

To cap it off the performances were AMAZING, three brilliant actors kept adults and kids alike captivated for an hour. At an hour in length the show was perfect time for me so that I did not become too uncomfortable, any longer and I would have need an interval but this was ideal.

Using the toilet as I left inside the theatre, this was even smaller and there was not room for me to turn my chair around. I transferred from it to the toilet and back easily enough but needed my wife (carer) to open the door and wheel me backwards out again. It was the only slight issue but hey at least the design meant there were at least 2 disabled toilets in the complex and certainly enough staff on hand to help you out if you needed anything.

I would without a shadow of doubt highly recommend from all aspects of access, parking, facilities and staff attitude (and this cannot be underestimated) and levels of performance, a trip to the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft. It may have been an hours drive to get there but we had a lovely few hours having lunch and watching a fantastic production.

I even had enough spoons left to take a trip to the seaside (it is after all a coastal town) and watch my LG and wife make sandcastles and “skim” stones and see a ship come sailing by!