Strangers in the night………

What do you do when you arrive on the platform at Halifax Station from a meal in Manchester at 10.30pm and the lift is broken to get up to the exit to get in your car to go home? There are about 30 steps up to the main hallway. Halifax Station is relatively quiet at that time of night and is definitely not the sort of place you would like to hang around at for long.

You are with your Personal Assistant (or worse on your own) and you can’t be left on your own. There is no attendant around.

Other than panic (which the PA did slightly – God love her!) what was the option?

  • Ring someone for help? – no number available that was emergency out of hours
  • Get back on another train and get off at another stop and get a taxi back to Halifax station to pick up the car? – worry that another station would not have disabled access. Worry that another station would have no accessible taxi rank (highly unlikely)and you would be left stranded
  • Sleep the night on the platform? Undesirable place, cold and damp and therefore not an option
  • Scream for help?

 

Luckily my daughter Nadia did not actually have to scream for too long. A tough and rough looking stranger arrived to catch his late night train after his shift at the scrap metal merchants.   Never judge or make assumptions. His heart was as big as his physical appearance.   He oozed with the smell of booze intermingled with kindness and compassion.

His communication with Nadia was great. He asked her if it would be ok to lift her and carry her to the seats at the waiting area.   When she agreed he bent down and scooped her up in his large but gentle arms telling her to hook her arm around his neck.

He safely delivered her to the seating area and then returned down the steps to get his equally strong mate to help him lift the wheelchair. He was told by the PA that it usually takes 4 men to lift it at which point some rather puny, younger blokes on a night out eagerly sprinted in the opposite direction – determined to get the next train rather than volunteer their services.

 

He and his mate then carried the electric chair up the steps and right up to where Nadia was waiting. Both were sweating profusely but still managed to smile between gritted teeth and pained expressions.   Once Nadia was happily back in the wheelchair he continued chatting away to Nadia explaining he was pretty tired due to having taken four cars apart that very day.

He waved goodbye to run for his train – he had no mobile phone and was not on facebook so we have to thank him via this blog and hope that someone somewhere will know him and thank him on our behalf. We owe him a beer.

As he left another stranger approached Nadia and PA who was extremely friendly and confident with her communication. She had been watching what had happened and was checking that everything was ok and if Nadia was alright.   Like a long lost friend she spent a couple of minutes talking to Nadia and then left.   We would like also to thank Julie Hesmondhalgh (ex Coronation Street Hayley Cooper) for her consideration and acknowledgement of the situation).

In the meantime, we are in touch with Northern Rail to find out what their emergency policy is on broken lifts.  We’ll let you know how we get on.

 

 

 

Great feedback from Northumberland Tourism Board

Visits Unlimited are delighted with recent feedback from Jude Leich following our VisitEngland Access For All training session held at Matfen Hall Golf and Spa Hotel.

“Thank you to Visits Unlimited for an inspiring course in Northumberland. All our participants agreed that their eyes were opened and your enthusiasm and positive approach has made them seriously look again at how they can tailor their business offer to suit everyone. We’d very much recommend your courses to other destinations wanting to dispel the myths around accessible tourism and up their game.”
Jude Leitch, Director, Northumberland Tourism

Tourism businesses from the region attended and we had a great day with them.

VisitsUnlimited supporting the SSE programme.

Our director Matt Riley has accepted the invitation to join the School of Social Entrepreneur programme.   Matt will be able to contribute his expertise in the field of accessible tourism with other entrepreneurs to share insight, ideas and practice in making their businesses successful for the benefit of society.

Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs Programme gives social entrepreneurs the best possible chance of success by providing access to support and funding. To date the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme has supported 450 social entrepreneurs.  Getting on the programme isn’t an easy process so well done Matt!

 

“EVERYBODY HAS THE CAPACITY TO BE REMARKABLE”

Michael Young – Founder of SSE

Michael Young is recognised as one of the world’s most creative and influential social innovators.  Listen to him:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jrlf3

More on the SSE:  https://www.the-sse.org/about-school-for-social-entrepreneurs/

 

Irwin Mitchell research into Accessibility at Festivals.

Rob Dixon, Integrated Campaign Officer at Irwin Mitchell LLP kindly forwarded this blog to us.  We welcome research conducted through Irwin Mitchell’s Access All Areas campaign.  Thanks Rob for this.

Nadia and PA’s hit the festivals!

Access All Areas – Ensuring Festivals Are Open To Everyone

Nothing says British summertime these days quite like the festival season, with the number of events being held up and down the UK growing every year and thousands of people flocking to fields to watch their favourite bands.

For many, festivals are as much about a communal spirit and people coming together as they are the actual entertainment on offer, but at Irwin Mitchell we have been keen to find out whether such events really are as inclusive as they hope to be.

We’ve launched the Access All Areas campaign with a simple goal – to review disability access to festivals and other major gigs to consider the experience for music fans who require specialist support to attend.

Our campaign involves representatives from Irwin Mitchell’s Serious Injury team, who specialise in helping those with serious disabilities to regain their independence, joining forces with clients to assess all aspects of the process including:

· Whether festival and venue websites are designed with accessibility in mind

· The ticket booking process and information available support disabled visitors
· General accessibility at the events, including viewing platforms, merchandise and other amenities
· Staffing levels and their understanding of needs of disabled visitors
· Transport to and from the venue, as well as any specialist parking support
· On-site accommodation or advice on nearby hotels and facilities

While we are hopeful this will highlight how so many events are properly catering for all needs, we’re also keen to discover what else can be done to better improve such events for everyone who is attending.

Music festivals are a fantastic rite of passage which everyone should be able to enjoy, which is one of the reasons why we are sponsoring the fantastic Chase Park Festival being held in Gateshead on August 8th.

With Irish punk-pop legends Ash headlining, the open-air festival specialises in providing access facilities for deaf and disabled audiences, artists and volunteers and is one of three festivals to achieve the Gold level of Attitude is Everything’s Charter of Best Practice.

Chase Park is a great example of ensuring that everyone can enjoy the festival experience and we hope that our Access All Areas research will provide pointers on how other events can follow suit.

John Davis, Partner and specialist serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

——

For more information go to their website campaign page:

http://www.irwinmitchell.com/newsandmedia/2015/june/access-all-areas-stage-set-for-review-of-disability-support-at-uk-festivals-and-concerts-jq-198984

Access For All at Shay Stadium!

VisitsUnlimited have worked with the Shay Stadium earlier in the year.  A review of the access strategy led to Safety Officer disability awareness training and a review of practice on match days.

What was the benefit?  How about these comments from a former disgruntled supporter turned advocate.  It makes our work here at Visits Unlimited and the management team at The Shay worth while.

 

 

“Hi Katie I just wanted to let you know we have been to The Shay stadium today for the first time since the disaster of The World Cup (Rugby League World Cup 2012).  We had a great experience and were able to experience it like everyone else.
Thank you to you and all at Visits Unlimited for going out to The Shay and doing what you did, I believe it has made a difference…….We ALL had a fantastic time. Well done again Visits Unlimited and well done The Shay.”

Katie Punch.

 

Katie Clarke – The Visitor Journey real time!

Katie explains the issues for visitors with access needs when planning and taking a day out. As one in five of us has an impairment it’s relevant to attractions that they listen to this story and take on board the advice Katie offers.

Museums & Heritage Advisor: Understanding the Visitor Experience.

Delighted to be raising the agenda of Accessible Tourism in the heritage sector. Understanding the visitor journey for those with access needs is a starting point to developing a strategy to meeting the expectations for all visitors to your attraction.

Click on the photo for the story.

Conisbrough Castle with Katie!

Conisbrough Castle

Great day out at Conisbrough Castle with Katie! When Katie and I first got to Conisbrough Castle we had actually arrived slightly early and the visitors centre wasn’t open as it opens at 10:00am however the lovely staff had invited us in as we were there for business, they escorted us to their staff room where they offered us tea or coffee and made sure we had everything that we need while we waited for the lady we were meeting. A lovely young girl who was a volunteer was going on the tour with us, she explained her role and how she helped out on a weekly basis. Once the visitors centre opened the school trip which we were following on the tour of the castle arrived, the castles staff immediately assisted the staff and students and made sure that they had everything they needed, they showed them all the facilities (toilets, gift shop etc.) and made them feel comfortable.

Once the tour began the staff got everyone together and explained the castles history with a poem and then asked the children questions about the poem to see if they were paying attention and also to get them involved. The staff then took the group up to the castle and explained the next activity they were going to do, they split up into three groups and took them to different parts of the main area to do a little investigation with a bag that had objects in that the children to could look at, smell and touch that helped the children understand what it would have been like 850 years ago, it was a great sensory activity that got all the children and staff involved. The staff got all three groups back together and got them to explain about each of their areas to the rest of their group.

We then went into the castle itself, the first area was about the keep and ask the children what they though was kept in there, the volunteer girl explained that on some days there would be a short film shown. We then moved up a floor to the main chamber where the lord of the castle would plan and discuss issues, the staff got the children to go and see different parts of the room and asked them what they thought the areas where used for and got them to see if they had the same areas in their homes and how they were different if they did, once again they got the children to explain what they had seen to the rest of the group. We then moved to the next floor to the lord and lady’s sleeping chambers where there was a chapel attached and the staff explained about the activities the lady would have done. After all this we had lunch and then spoke to some of the staff about what other activities they did and what they thought could be improved to make it better for disabled visitors.

The second part of the visit was an activity that got all the children to get involved in the story about the history of the castle by getting them to dress up and do some of the work that the workers would have done in the castle, it lasted a good couple of hours and I must say I think Katie and I enjoyed it more than then children, the young male staff member who was telling the story, Liam, was incredible!! I’d highly recommend going just for the second have!! Well at the end of the day it was time to go home, we had a lovely time, met some wonderful people and it’s safe to say that our day out to Conisbrough Castle was the best work day I’ve had and I will definitely be going again!!

To find out more about great days out at Conisbrough Castle, click on the link.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/conisbrough-castle/

First week at Visits Unlimited!

Hi I’m Adrienne and I’ve just had my first week at Visits Unlimited and it was absolutely amazing! Matt and Katie are wonderful, lovely people and run a really great business which I’m so happy to now be apart of and I look forward to a great year working with the team!

Considering Accessibility? – The decision that can’t wait.

Over the past twelve months there have been significant steps forward within the tourist economy in addressing accessibility. Research undertaken to assess the nature and value of accessible tourism have been conducted, highlighting the benefits in making accessibility a priority issue for estate managers in planning the visitor experience.

I’m sadly of the age now when I fail to recall what I had for dinner last evening and such ‘senior moments’ are becoming more regular! The mundane routines of daily life are easily forgotten but childhood memories, with family and friends on a day out or holiday, remain vivid in the memory. As a boy I recall vividly the first sight of a truly terrifying German two-handed sword held at Bamburgh Castle, the strangely tiny suit of armour worn by Henry VIII, the water sprinklers moisturising the timbers of the Mary Rose, the 15 inch naval guns stationed outside the Imperial War Museum and ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus residing in the central hall of the Natural History Museum – unforgettable.

Of course back in early 1980’s most objects could only be peered at by pressing my face to the glass cabinet, viewed from a distance behind a rope and studied by reading a plaque positioned on a pedestal in front of the object in question.

The thought came to me at the time, no doubt, that I could take my children to see such wonders one day? When I was blessed with Annie, born prematurely, it became apparent that this ambition might not be quite so easy to achieve.   So it begins.

Before we set off….

Our family ‘visitor journey’ is a little more challenging than what I recalled as a child. I’m sure dad pawed through the AA Road Atlas the night before we set off for ten minutes at most.   Planning our family day out takes many hours, much of it completed late at night when children aren’t requiring attention. Navigating websites for information is part of the planning process with an eye on suitability for Annie. Researching transport connections, parking for our family ‘bus’, suitable toilets for three adults (Annie uses a full size wheelchair) to manoeuvre her, what help we can expect if we need it when we arrive, where to store all our gear?   What about somewhere to eat that offers more than cup cakes, brownies and tiffins that maybe a temptation for mum, dad and eldest but offer a significant health risk to Annie who can’t burn the calories so easily as a wheelchair user?

When we book we’d prefer to speak to someone rather than book online – many families like ours feel the same way. Our questions can be answered and ideally the person on the other end of the line has knowledge of the physical access limitations of the attraction and features and services that meet Annie’s needs and aspirations.

Setting off…..

It didn’t take long for myself and three siblings to jump in the Austin Allegro and idle up the empty A1 heading for Scotland. It was a fact none of us contemplated buckling up and so it seemed a speedy process leaving the drive.   When embarking my family has a routine with everyone having a task to perform in setting off in our adapted van. It takes about five minutes minimum for us to work together in securing Annie in safely and it’s a physical activity that we all benefit from. Upon arrival we do everything in reverse of course.

Katie, my colleague at Visits Unlimited, states families who arrive at a venue ‘deserve a medal.’ That’s right! So we expect a warm welcome when we arrive and an open question such as ‘How can I help you?’ Annie likes to have her opinion sought too.

The visitor experience…..

My lad is a bright boy, studious and well behaved…but I’m not too sure he’d be totally enamoured if he were to be transported to the 1980’s museum experience I recall – looking into a cabinet and reading a paragraph. Young people expect to engage, explore, interact and question. Contrary to media opinion, teacher training and pedagogy practice has progressed in the classroom.   Teachers are judged in demonstrating and exploring the way children learn, identifying learning styles and then developing resources to meet the needs of all learning styles. Children understand their learning styles as a result, raising their expectations as visitors to attractions. Adults too have such expectations. Fail to address learning styles and fail to engage with the visitor.

Has Fraser’s Xbox and PS3 posed a threat? Actually developments in technology hardware and software now offer fabulous low cost solutions to engage your audience. The Apple or Kindle could offer an alternative learning solution for visitors who cannot get up the staircase at your Grade 2 listed building…including Annie using her wheelchair. Annie also loves the opportunity to demonstrate her prowess to others in using and engaging with her ipad.

What constitutes a ‘reasonable adjustment’ shouldn’t be a term that strikes fear into the Finance Officer at the attraction. This term is often mistakenly associated with solely the need to invest significant budget into a capital project to install a lift. Investing in replica artefacts to handle for the kinaesthetic learner (and visually impaired visitors use their hands to see), developing learning resources with inclusion in mind, training employees as a pair of helping hands if required or perhaps as trained guides for visually impaired visitors, hearing loops, appropriate signage….there are so many low cost reasonable adjustment quick fixes. It is estimated only 6% of disabled visitors are permanent wheelchair users.  You can be accessible though physical access barriers exist. Physical access limitations are not an excuse for failing to keep accessibility off the management action plan as Emma Manners, Fountains Abbey Learning Officer remarks.

“We understand that accessibility at venues must start with management buy-in. We recognise that all our Project planning needs to include disability access and awareness. Management training will be crucial in rolling out a programme of change. From event planning to playground development, signage and pre-information, disability access and awareness needs to become a part of all our projects to transform equality and the visitor experience for the long term.”

So what’s the biggest access barrier that families like mine face?

In a word, attitude. When we at Visits Unlimited asked our families on social media this question, the number one answer was ‘poor attitude in understanding and meeting our needs.’ Physical access barriers and inadequate toilets were other significant barriers after this.

Annie was the driver for my decision to join Visits Unlimited in offering clients in the heritage sector face-to-face and in-depth training focusing on visitors with additional needs and supporting attractions in strategic planning on accessibility issues to improve the visitor experience and of course, increase footfall.

VisitEngland commissioned us to lead the face-to-face training element for their ‘Access For All’ programme in support of their efforts to meet their accessible tourism 5% annual growth forecast in the coming years. Certainly VisitEngland think it’s a necessity to offer attractions accessibility training.   The ‘Purple Pound’ research data suggests families like mine – parties with a disabled travelling companion, spend £12.4bn annually, a figure that makes everyone take note.

Significantly there is a reported £1.8bn per month ‘latent spend’ – potential spending power sat at home and not playing out because of barriers stopping UK visitors experiencing our wonderful heritage. There is much work to do in encouraging disabled visitors to our wonderful heritage attractions. Informed choice, engaging experiences and great service on a heritage visit broadens horizons and creates memories for all of us. Annie is no exception.

Acclaim for Visit England “Access For All’ Training Programme.

The access training element of VisitEngland’s project ‘Access For All’ (co-funded by the European Commission) is now reaching conclusion.  Access Unlimited, the collaborative partners of the face-to-face training element of the programme made up of Visits Unlimited, The Accessible Training Company and Access Solutions, are on the last leg of their England tour with six of the seven regions involved in the project now trained.

Katie Clarke of Visits Unlimited has led the training and has toured Lincoln, Birmingham, Nottingham, the Peak District, Brighton and yesterday, Kent.  Businesses from hotels, Premier League football clubs,  theatres and restaurants all came together to form regional ‘Accessible Destinations’ with the common aim to work together in understanding accessible tourism and becoming more accessible and appealing to all visitors.

Northumberland businesses make up the seventh ‘Accessible Destination’ to receive this training on the 10th June.  Katie and Matt Riley will be delivering this final session and concluding this phase of the project.

A snapshot of feedback in Kent shows the power of face-to-face disability awareness training led by the people who live with or have a disability.

“The strongest point of the training was the personal insight and the stories.”

“ l learned today how important it is to make things as easy as possible for disabled visitors and their families.”

“The most important thing I have taken away with me today is to ask “What can I do for you?”

“Learning from first-hand experience is invaluable. Now I really, really understand that your experience starts way before you even get here.”

“Our welcoming is going to be even more welcoming.”

“I now have the confidence to ask the person what their access needs are and if there is anything I can do to meet those needs.”

“I am definitely going to make sure that we improve our website and I have learned today how important the pre-planning and information is.”

“Don’t pigeon-hole people. Ask the local community what it is they want.”

“ Now we have a greater understanding of what it takes to go through each day. It is my responsibility to make sure that the trip goes as good as it possibly can and is as relaxing and stress free as possible.

“I am going to make sure that our website is much more family-friendly with more pictures and imagery, better worded and more appealing.”

“I learned today that we are only a small part of the whole visitor experience and that the very tiny details are the things that can make a big difference.”

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money – it is much more than putting a lift in. It doesn’t have to be a huge outlay, increasing business and revenue can be achieved with a very small investment.”

The training modules covered in the one-day course was jam-packed with the latest information on Accessible Tourism, legislation found with the Equality Act 2010, customer service tips and action planning support – all delivered by inspirational trainers with personal insight and expertise on the subject.

Well done to The Accessible Training Company and Access Solutions for coming together with the team at Visits Unlimited and putting together an excellent course for the programme.

Huge thanks to Ross Caladine and Hannah at VisitEngland, Brian Seaman for all the prior work including access statement audits of the businesses signed up, each of the seven ‘Destination lead’ project managers and the businesses that have taken part.

Well done to Katie also.  You will be able to reacquaint with your family again after the final session!

Focus on accessibility.

Visit Lincoln Businesses Inspired!

 

Thank you Katie & Angie so much for the session on Friday. I was really inspired by the day & thought you delivered the session in a great way – it had impact, was memorable and also really practical!

I have already reflected many times on the content & your stories – and what we can do in Lincoln to ensure we are supporting families like yours who just want a great day out/holiday.

On behalf of Visit Lincoln & all of our partner businesses – a huge thank you.

Emma Tatlow, Visit Lincoln Partnership Manager.

Marketing Birmingham Taking the Lead in Accessible Tourism

Becky Frall, Policy and Development Manager for Marketing Birmingham attended our recent ‘Access For All’ training day and has fed back to us.

“I will let fellow destination practitioners and hospitality businesses know that the understanding resulting from this training will generate a desire to implement practical solutions to access needs and empower all staff to attend with kindness and courtesy to the inclusion of disabled visitors, resulting in the very apex of quality in customer service. Getting this right will generate a loyal repeat market and strong word of mouth recommendations, impacting positively on their bottom line. I will highly recommend your training services to our network in the city, and to fellow destination managers.  Thank you so much for such a well-rounded, enjoyable and enlightening day.  I look forward to seeing you and Matt again.”

We look forward to meeting up soon, Becky!

Birmingham Venues Tackling Accessibility.

A fantastic response from delegates attending our ‘Access for All’ Visit England training programme yesterday held at Le Tour Hotel, central Birmingham.  Representatives attending were:

Marketing Birmingham, Le Tour Hotel, Aston Villa Tours, Selfridges, Think Tank Science Museum, Alfie Birds and Birmingham Hippodrome.  They all collaborated enthusiastically, working towards offering truly accessible and amazing experiences for disabled and non-disabled visitors to their venues.

 

Visits Unlimited Joined Up Thinking.

 

images-3

Visits Unlimited were delighted to meet with Access Champ’s Arnold Ferrell this week.  Sharing ideas and knowledge is the key to progress.

The accessible tourism market is growing and changing at great pace. It’s essential to work collaboratively with partners to create the most robust business model and offer great services that will stand the test of change and meet the needs of the customers we serve.

 

Visits Unlimited Joined Up Thinking.

We believe there is a need for a collaborative approach in tackling access issues. We are keen to support and work with industry experts in the field to move the access agenda forward. There is much work to be done. Great to speak and connect with Martin at IDACs.

http://www.idacs.co.uk