Back to the Bins

Last July I wrote a long letter to Nick Gorse, Dean of Camberwell College of Art, about how awful wheelchair access is at their main site. After a long wait I got a fairly disappointing reply, which said, basically, that because the building is so old not much can be done.

This evening Leftwing Idiot and I went back to the College for a consultation at about their latest plans to modernise the site. Just like last year, when we got there the wheelchair ramp at the front of the building was broken. Leftwing Idiot went to ask the security guard to let us in, and I got ready for my repeat trip down to the bins. Wheelchair users have to use the goods entrance if they want to get in. Once we’d made it past all the rubbish the guy who let us in realised the lift wasn’t working properly either so he disappeared to sort it out.

Eventually we made it to the foyer where the consultation was taking place and had a look at all their plans. Nick was nowhere to be seen, but there were representatives from the College and the architects and they took the time to talk us through everything. I’m pleased to say that level entry is a big part of the new design and that inclusivity seems to have been given a lot of thought throughout.

There were several display boards with different plans on them dotted about the room. At one point one of the architects pointed out the side entrance saying, “And that’s where goods are delivered,” to which I replied “And where wheelchair users have to go if they want to get in.” There was a pause followed by a quiet murmur of confusion. Leftwing Idiot said, “Have you tried getting into the building as a wheelchair user?” After a general shaking of heads he suggested that we give it a go.

We made our way to the lift, pointing out a dangerously steep ramp on the way, and went down to the rubbish-filled goods entrance. I think it’s fair to say they were all shocked. Leftwing Idiot told them that if everyone had to come into the building by this route they’d have sorted it out in no time. We chatted with the uncomfortable looking group for a few minutes before one of them suggested we go back up to fill out their feedback forms!

It’s great that inclusive access is being considered in the designs for the new and improved buildings at Camberwell, but at the moment they’re only plans. What I want the College to think about is how it’s serving people with mobility difficulties, or just with pushchairs, now.

I’m hoping this second trip to the bins will be more productive than the long letter I wrote nearly a year ago. I’ll let you know.

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