In her latest blog, Jess Grugeon highlights the lack of accessibility in a rural area...
Access in Aldeburgh
My parents moved to Suffolk to retire 10 years ago. They chose to live in a bungalow, near the church, in the coastal town of Aldeburgh. It lies on the east coast, facing the North Sea and to the north of the river Alde.
It is not a large town, about 2000 people. Historically, it was an important fishing port however, nowadays it is mostly a venue for holidaymakers and tourists(at least 600 of the houses in Aldeburgh are holiday homes).
Aldeburgh is avery pretty place, there are some lovely old buildings – the Moot Hall, where the town officials would meet, was built in 1520.
I am often asked why I don’t move to this part of the world. I semi jokingly, reply that, the average age in Aldeburgh is 80! Although this is an obvious exaggeration. One thing that has always slightly concerned me about this town, is that considering the ageing nature of the population, Very little provision is made for access.
First off, if we consider the High Street from the chip shop end; an iconic chip shop that people travel from miles around to visit. There is a huge step on entry, so in my battery operated chair I am denied access.
Next to it we have the White Hart Inn, although I can enter, the amount of people inside and the position of tables, chairs, dogs et cetera don’t make it easy. There is no toilet but there is access round the side and into the garden. Indeed their wood-fired pizzas are to be recommended.
Carrying on down the High Street you can’t help noticing that there are a cluster of clothing shops that you wouldn’t normally see in such a tiny place. First we have Joules, which I can enter, but has a step downwards so once in, cannot get out. Fat face, I can sometimes get into depending on how well my battery is charged and how many people there are in the doorway. Be prepared for many a glare and a tut of annoyance. Pedestrians and members of the public are usually kindbut do seem to turn into monstersin a crowded space. Especially if you drive anywhere near the dog or child.
I digress, Aldeburgh Market does some lovely food, but , unless I sit outside I cannot eat there. The same is true of Munchies, another café, which comes with decking that is too high for me to climb. Regatta restaurant cannot be accessed, nor can Jack Wills, Crewe, Slate (delicious delicatessen) the Chemist, Fleur, half of O&C Butcher, the Adnams shop, the Pug and the Pussycat, L’Occitane, Looma and most of the galleries. Of course the option to ask people to open doors and for me to shout are available with most of these just not the posh clothes shops.
I can however get into the co-op and into Baggots, the newsagents, and the new ice cream place (not Ives) and my favourite pub ever that makes the most amazing Thai street food, Dave’s Place. Thanks goes to Eliza and Ben for offering to redesign DPs when one of us wins the lottery! Not forgetting the bakery (Two Magpies) and the charity shops. Also MCT electrical shop and Alde River souvenir and gift shop do allow access but are both very tricky to negotiate once in.
The only restaurant that I regularly visit is Prezzo, it has arguably the best accessible toilet in Aldeburgh. They regularly let me in at all hours of the day to use the toilet. Sea Spice is anotherfully accessible restaurant. The food there is lovely. The toilet is great too!
I cannot leave out my favourite little hippy clothing shop, Anjali, Despite the access being appalling (there are steps to get in). The owner, Anita,always comes down to see me and bring out things that I may like.
I am also able to access the post office, library and the cinema.
The pavements that run along side the High Street are fairly uneven, on one side of the road there are drainage channels on the pavement which make it a bumpy ride. Crossing the road is very scary ,drop curbs never correspond and there are no obvious or safe places to cross. In the high season with lots of impatient motorists I often find myself trying to cross to beeps of a car horn.
My biggest bugbear however, is that wheelchair users cannot access the beach. They have started putting a bandstand on the beach every June. The only sign of a wheelchair ramp can be found on the seafront. In theory, it takes you up on to a small paved area in front of two benches which look onto the beach. How this ramp was ever considered to be safe I am not sure. You travel up a very steep incline and are then met by similarly steep decline, where there is usually no way of getting a wheelchair past anyone sitting on the bench. In June there are always people sitting on the bench.
When I was there this February there were people sitting on the bench.
As the town’s sole concession to wheelchair access, I am not very impressed. I realise wheelchairs and beaches, be they pebbles or sand, do not mix very well but I have seen other places that manage well, even an area of decking on the beach maybe?
My dream would be to continue that path past the Shell (sculpture on the beach) all the way to Thorpeness (next village) so that wheelchairs, pushchairs and bikes could easily follow that route.
Apart from Prezzo’s toilet there is a good RADAR locked public toilet near the boating lake. The 3 main hotels all offer access, do not attempt to get in The Mill PH although The Railway PH is fine. It is possible to ask for a ramp for the Lighthouse, restaurant, although I found it very steep and it is tightly packed inside.