In our September Blog, Ben Smith writes about accessibility in two different parts of Bournemouth, and asks:
Southbourne v Castlepoint Can you be a hipster in a wheelchair?
I will always prefer my local high street to the big corporate monsters of shopping centres or chain restaurants and cafes found in your local megaplex. Those coffee houses and micro pubs will always have ten times more soul. However, using a wheelchair stretches this loyalty. I live in Bournemouth where the main out of town shopping centre is Castlepoint. This provides all of the big name shopping and mass produced eating experience one could need. My local high street – Southbourne, is the alternative, with its wide variety of independent shops, hipster coffee houses, coolish bars and occasional big(ish) names too small to fit in a big out of town place. Basically, Castlepoint is accessible, it has plenty of parking, step free access etc. Southbourne doesn’t. It has very limited disabled parking, uneven pavements and is also on a slight slope. It is at a disadvantage straightaway. But it does have plenty of other attractions, but can it really provide a welcome for someone wanting to avoid mass consumerism and embrace latte drinking, micro pub, laptop work from the cycle cafe, vegan burrito eats? Well, yes, and sometimes no.
I love using the pubs and cafes around here. I’ve got to know many of the owners and always have plenty of help wherever I go, whether it is staff, owners, or customers. The food and atmosphere always outstrips any out of town complex. I've got develop a wide taste for craft beers I would have never tried, as well as learning the delights of a Dirty Chai. I also use my local cycle cafe, for work, coffee, breakfast and even have my recumbent bike serviced there - not all on the same day though.
These independent businesses need everyone to use them. I wonder how many other people just look at the lack of accessibility in some buildings (whether it is getting in, or toilets) and just go to Castlepoint. A real shame.
Many of the shops and cafes have large steps at the door. I don't want to overdo this, but there's some sort of step on a large number, maybe as high as 30%. Of course this is a hangover of Victorian architecture.There’s plenty who have made great efforts, but some who haven’t. Look, I get it. Running a small business is incredibly tough. It may not be the first thing on your list to invest in rebuilding your ancient shop to make it accessible. Recently a new restaurant opened up in a 1970’s building. The front was completely rebuilt, including moving the entrance. This old entrance had several steps, but the new entrance was built ... with steps! Surely that was the opportunity to make it step free? I don’t know the full story as I haven’t been in, and probably never will. However, on the other side of the road a restaurant has put a permanent ramp over the step that was at their entrance. You can imagine which is more likely to receive a booking from my family.
Ultimately I don’t expect everywhere to be perfect. Frankly, it’s not possible for your local independent to compete. As long as I can get in, and reasonable adjustments are made, that’s great. All I ask is when rebuilding, or extending, that’s the time to just consider accessibility. However if I can’t get in .... I really don’t want to stop using my local high street, but sometimes, there is no choice.