A local disability campaigner has told the Chronicle that she first highlighted issues with the new lift at the town hall in Abergavenny almost a year ago.
In last week’s Chronicle Monmouthshire County Council admitted that it had identified a number of ‘snags’ which were being worked on but now disability campaigner Benita Kelly has pointed out that the main ‘snag’ is that the lift is too small to accommodate mobility scooters or large wheelchairs
“MCC says that the age of the building has caused issues but the age of the building is immaterial. Accessibility should have steered the refurbishments from the start and if that location could not offer a big enough lift, then the lift should have been placed elsewhere,” said Ms Kelly.
“The bottom line is that the lift is not suitable for mobility scooters, large wheelchairs or double pushchairs, barring a large number of Abergavenny residents from accessing either the library or Borough Theatre. The irony of that is that there are designated disabled seats in the theatre!
“I am aware that solutions are being sought (“a building specific access management plan”) but that will entail disabled people asking for help.
“In 2022 disabled people should be able to access public buildings without having to ask for help! Many will not feel confident enough to do so and will simply decide not to use the facilities. One would have thought that the original planners would have had training in these matters,” she said.
“The previous lift, which served the town hall and the Borough Theatre and which is not ideal, will have to be brought back into use and staffed before and after theatre performances. Library staffing must be increased so that the previous lift can be used when needed.”
To prove her point Ms Kelly visited the town hall earlier this week and strugged to go beyond the entrance due to the heavy, non-automated door and had to wait for someone to hold it open for her to even get through.
The lift itself was a tight fit for Ms Kelly and her mobility scooter - something which is acknowledged by a notice on the door, which warns that the lift is not accessible to mobility scooters... but does not warn that wheelchairs and double buggies will also struggle.
When Ms Kelly attempted to use the lift to physically demonstrate how unusable it was, the doors closed on her before she was halfway on, begging the question of how she and other members of the public would fair on getting out of the lift in time if their scooters or wheelchairs were able to fit in the first place.
“ If you do manage to get on it, the lift deposits you in front of a banister with little room to manoeuvre a wheelchair. People who use purpose built wheelchairs, which are too big to go in the lift, cannot transfer to a smaller wheelchair and there is the whole issue as well of what might happen if they were to fall in the process. The planners obviously had no disability training. This really means that disabled people cannot use either the theatre or the library.”
Ms Kelly’s views have been mirrored the complaints of residents who have shared their disdain on social media.
One comment stated, “The whole fiasco has been a shambles from the start. Disabled access was one of the main reasons for the complete revamp. Surely at least one idiot managed to consider mobility scooters?! Or do the powers that be live in the dark ages and believe that disabled people only go about in manually pushed wheelchairs with a carer and couldn’t possibly be independent in any way?! And God knows when The Borough Theatre will be finished! I for one won’t believe it’s nearly finished until they finally open the doors, and I’m far from convinced that will happen when they say after changing the opening date multiple times. It’s an embarrassment.”
A disgruntled mother also talked about the difficulties when manoeuvring something as basic as a pram. “It’s also really difficult to navigare with a buggy! Let alone a double buggy with one walking toddler. Nice idea to run kids programmes in the library but no good if you can’t get up there.”
The exasperation of residents could be summed up in one corrrsondent’s question - “Surely there is a legal right to access nowadays?”
A spokesman for MCC told the Chronicle, “The Borough Theatre refurbishment has greatly increased access to the Borough Theatre for all users, which includes level access to the whole theatre floor including from the front of the stage, to the bar area which was previously restricted by steps. Wheelchairs can access the auditorium without assistance via the new lift, unfortunately mobility scooters range from a number of different sizes and we cannot guarantee that all will fit into the lifts.”
“The size of these lifts were influenced by the existing space available within the listed building and we are developing a strategy to identify reasonable adjustments that can be made for customers who use mobility scooters or require additional assistance in general for the whole building. This will not impact the theatre reopening.”