May 24 – Today, I visited the Vassall Centre in Bristol, which is a centre very similar to Unity 12.
I went with Unity 12’s Facilities Manager, Cicily and my PA, Lesley. I’ve been there before, so, no great surprises were expected. We knew the main transport problem was getting a wheelchair accessible taxi from the Vassall Centre back to Bristol Temple Meads train station, so we pre-booked that in advance of the visit.
The train company was FIRST GREAT WESTERN
I use Southampton Central train station regularly, so I knew I could just turn up on the day, get the tickets and organise the ramp onto the train on the fly. The station staff just put down a ramp to get me on the train, and there was easy access into a designated wheelchair user space, with seating for my companions next to me. The First Great Western train was old but OK for my access needs.
The journey to Bristol Temple Meads was uneventful, but when we got onto the platform at Bristol, we found out that the lift was broken, preventing our exit from the platform!
After a while we tracked down a woman who said she’d take us via the goods lift, a very long walk through the bowels of the station. The woman excitedly told us she was part of a station staff syndicate of 50 people who had just learnt that they had won the lottery. Excited for her, we asked if she had won much, and she said she thought it would be about “£12”, to which we said it’s nice to win anything, she then added “…thousand…each”.
Obviously she was very excited, and we were for her as well, made us all feel good inside; and good compensation for the long journey to the main entrance.
When we got to the main entrance, the taxi rank had several wheelchair accessible taxis and we got to the Vassall Centre more or less on time.
Sadly the journey back wasn’t so good.
It started badly, the pre-booked taxi was about 15 minutes late arriving, which resulted in us only getting back to the station 10 minutes before the train we wanted to catch was due to leave (we wanted the train before the cramped rush hour train which is horrible… as we have experienced before). We therefore decided to risk it and go straight to the platform, hoping that by now they would have fixed the lift. Sadly… they hadn’t.
We went back to customer services only to be told no one was available to take us via the goods lift, and therefore we would have to wait an hour for the next train; the dreaded rush hour train.
After a brief meeting of worried looks, we decided to tell Cicily to run and catch this train and me and my PA would have to wait an hour.
During the conversation with customer services, they said it would take several days to fix the lift because the train station wouldn’t pay the lift maintenance company enough for a quicker turnaround. This is obviously ridiculous and demonstrates to me that the station considers functional lifts as a luxury rather than an essential access need. Bear in mind here, we are not talking just about Disabled People in wheelchairs, but also Older People with mobility difficulties, and parents with pushchairs, and probably many others.
These different groups of inconvenienced people, together must add up to a fair proportion of the travelling population.
However, the delay had its compensations. Customer services said they would give us a £3 drinks voucher, in compensation for our delay. My PA, who is an expert negotiator, convinced the man that £3 wouldn’t go far, and that we were very inconvenienced and very hungry and very thirsty!
As a result we ended up with £12 of vouchers! It ended up an embarrassment of riches and found it hard to spend it all!!
Anyway, the hour passed, food and drink was nice, and we got on the next train, which actually wasn’t as busy as we feared. After a few other delays we eventually arrived back in Southampton about an hour and a quarter after Cicily who did manage to catch the train that we were prevented from catching.
So, the journey was OK, train access was good, station staff very nice and well trained, and the taxi’s worked well. The broken lift wasn’t good, but obviously breakages will happen. What was not acceptable was the inadequate maintenance contract for the lift, which resulted in it being out of action for far longer than was necessary for such an essential piece of equipment.
My equality score: 3 stars