For people with physical impairments inadequate access to public buildings can be one of the biggest barriers preventing them living an active and independent life. But accessibility isn’t simply a matter of ramps and lifts, people with a visual impairment will struggle if areas are not well lit with good colour contrast, and people who are hard of hearing can be excluded from discussion if an induction loop is not provided.

South Gloucestershire is a large area with no natural centre so public offices are based in a number of different locations. Towns and villages have set up local community facilities as have the various centres which fall within the Bristol conurbation. Some of these date back to the 1950s and were built with little consideration for the access needs of disabled people.

Buildings built since the 1980s are likely to have given some consideration to access for wheelchair users, although for cost reasons a lift to the upper floors is sometimes seen as an unaffordable luxury. However even newer buildings don’t necessarily consider all impairments with few including induction loops and some having features such as unmarked glass doors which can be a death-trap for someone who is partially sighted.

It is questionable whether there is any such thing as the perfectly accessible building because the needs of different impairments vary so greatly. Many wheelchair users like buildings with long wide corridors, but for people who can only walk short distances these can be a problem. Town centre venues with good transport links work well for people with impairments which mean that they cannot drive, but in such areas parking is frequently difficult creating problems for disabled people who are dependent on their car.

Buildings used by South Gloucestershire Disability Equality Network

SGDEN has held meetings in a number of local venues. Below set out the summary of our experiences of using them.

Turnberries – Thornbury

This is probably our favourite venue. Automatic doors and smooth wide corridors and a massive accessible toilet make this excellent for wheelchair users but distances are not too long for ambulant disabled people. Avon Hall is light and airy and there is an induction loop which seems to be regularly used. However parking in the immediate area for blue badge holders is limited and the centre is tucked away from the mail public transport routes.

Shireway Community Centre – Yate

This venue too is good for wheelchair users and people with mobility problems with easy access and the main rooms off a central entrance hall. However the lack of automatic doors presents some obstacle. Toilet facilities are disappointed, one is rendered virtually unusable by a combination of a sliding door and a baby-changing shelf, the alternative is better, but needs to be reached through the bar. There is no loop and the interior really needs brightening up and redecorating. There is extensive parking with blue badge bays right outside the door. There is a bus stop nearby.

Longwell Green Community Centre – Longwell Green

This hall has level access from the extensive car park with no great distances involved but the doors are heavy. The accessible toilet is in good condition but is at the end of a corridor from the main hall. There is no loop and little natural light in the main hall.

Poole Court – Yate

Poole Court is generally suitable for smaller meetings up to about 25. An older building access for wheelchairs is via a side door. Corridors are narrow and doors are heavy. There is blue badge parking close to the wheelchair entrance. The accessible toilet is small and some wheelchair users struggle. There is a small and slow lift to the upper story.

Kingswood Civic Centre

South Gloucestershire’s Council Offices in Kingswood are a 1970s construction which provides adequate, but not necessarily exemplar, access. The offices now host the main Council meetings and disabled people may want to attend some of these which are making decisions relevant to them. The meetings rooms can sometimes be used by community groups. The building has a One Stop Shop giving access to the full range of Council services. It is also the registry office for weddings and civil partnerships. There is limited blue badge parking right outside the main entrance, but if these are full on-street parking is difficult and the area is quite hilly. The One Stop Shop is right by the entrance and the meeting rooms are on the first floor reached by a lift in the entrance lobby. The lift is small and can’t accommodate anything much larger than a standard wheelchair. There is an adequate accessible toilet. Most meeting rooms are light and airy and the most of them have a loop.

SGDEN has also used the Vassall Centre which is just over the border in Bristol. Designed to have exemplary access it is an excellent venue.

SGDEN will in time add fuller access report to the above venues and other facilities in the district. If you have feedback on venues you have used please get in touch via the contact us page.