Posted by Patrick McKenna
I visited Hebden Bridge for the first time in several years on Saturday, with a close friend of mine who is wheelchair bound following a motorcycle accident which damaged his spine very badly. My friend is a die-hard United fan and was keen to watch the derby somewhere in town, and I suggested we try heading along to the Hebden Bridge Trades Club to watch the match, knowing they had installed a large screen and regularly showed football matches.
To my astonishment, and (according to my friend) despite being obliged by law to do so, the club makes absolutely no provision for access by wheelchair users. And according to the club staff, there is not even any indication as to when they might be able to. Given the socialist, egalitarian ideology that is evidently the inspiration for the club's founding principles, this seems utterly deplorable. I cannot imagine that the local Labour party or the unions which support it, being impressed by this total disregard for the equality of opportunity which all members of society deserve. Surely the members of the club must be outraged that money has been spent on a vast television screen, rather than to make the club accessible to wheelchair users, and crucially, leaving the club vulnerable to costly legal action. Every other pub in town appears to have invested in making some concession towards this, what is special about the Hebden Bridge Trades Club?
Can anyone on the Hebden Bridge website explain to me why this venue is able to so arrogantly exclude wheelchair users? More importantly, are there no wheelchair users living in Hebden Bridge who feel aggrieved about being so blatantly discriminated against by one of the most well known venues in the area?
Thankfully, my friend's day was not completely ruined by the experience, we managed to enjoy the match elsewhere, and spent a very leasant weekend in what is a mostly a fantastic town. Much as I probably won't back to Hebden Bridge for a while, one thing is certain, neither my friend or I will be visiting the Trades Club when we do.
Patrick McKenna, Rochdale
From Rev Tony Buglass
I'd be very surprised indeed if the Trades Club has no intention of providing disabled access. It doesn't surprise me that committee members are unable to give a date for installation of such facilities. A lift would entail huge capital expenditure, a stair lift somewhat less. I imagine that kind of expenditure is part of future planning at the Club.
However, my point in responding is that Patrick hasn't quite grasped the nature of the legislation. Disabled Access must be provided where reasonably possible. I know of old chapels on hillsides in villages where the cost of providing ramps and disabled toilets would cost as much as the building is worth. In some cases, it simply cannot be done.
So, no discrimiation at all, then, simply the difficulties of working with an old building for which there is not yet enough money for proper modernisation.
From Johnny Marascalco
Rev, the Trades building is perfectly adaptable, it would be very straightforward to install a platform incline stairlift and create an emergency exit refuge. The cost is no excuse. As Patrick pointed out, the club has spent considerable amounts of money on other things such as the projection screen and redecoration. If the Trades stands by it's principles, then perhaps the committe should be more actively and publicly seeking compliance with the legislation, given that it has been part of their future plans for years now. It looks a lot like poor planning and financial mismanagement to me.
From Larry Kin
Johnny, the person in question wanted to watch the match on the big screen. Replacing the big screen with wheelchair access would not really have helped their situation.
More generally, I am sure that all would agree that it would be an improvement were the Trades to be more accessible. However, if this improvement was at the cost of other facilities and quality of acts then it is not so clear that such improvements would be universally desirable.
Perhaps, as you suggest, it is indeed straightforward to make the necessary adaptations to the building (although I suspect your standard of 'straightforwardness' may be more permissive than most people's). Nevertheless even straightforward building alterations are rarely cost free. Given that the Trades is not (to the best of my knowledge) running at a significant profit, these costs will have to be borne by the punters somehow. This is of course as it should be, we all have some kind of duty to ensure equality. However the vagaries of the market economy are such that increase in costs or decrease in quality of service are typically met with decrease in demand for the service. If the demand for the services of an organisation with low profits falls by only a small amount that organisation becomes loss making. Loss making organisations do not tend to flourish.
Given the somewhat unique nature of the Trades as an organisation perhaps a solution would be for them to set up a fund specifically for making their premises more accessible?
From Peter Lazenby
The Trades Club has a plan in place to make the club more accessible to people with disabilities. The plan was drawn up by a Trades member who herself is disabled. It is pinned on one of the noticeboards.
Progress is slow because of lack of funds. We have made some changes, such as wall-mounted support handles in the loos, but much is still to be done. Ideally we need a lift, though the problems of installing one are both structural and financial. We have been advised that a chairlift is not suitable.
The cost of the large screen which we installed last year was £700. The cost of installing a lift will be tens of thousands of pounds. We have in place a three-year financial recovery programme following years of heavy losses. Thanks to new management systems and controls we showed a small surplus for 2005 and again for 2006. More changes have been implemented which we hope will lead to a more substantial surplus in 2007 - hopefully enough to begin to tackle the access problem faced by people with disabilities.
Any constructive suggestions on how to deal with this would be most welcome.
In the meantime staff and volunteers have physically carried people with disabilities up the stairs - a practice which is neither dignified nor safe.
From Johnny Marascalco
Very funny Larry, but I was thinking in broader terms. The Trades offers a wide variety of great entertainment to a wide variety tastes and age groups, just not to those in wheelchairs. I was under the impression that since December 2006, private members clubs such as the Trades were obliged by law to meet that need. It's not as if it was sprung on the Trades from out of the blue, they've been aware of this for years.
I'm very surprised the Mr. Lazenby openly admits that the club has so irresponsibly endangered the safety of all visitors by carrying physically impaired visitors up the stairs and into the club. I can't say that I'm impressed by the installation of handrails either. If the building is essentially inaccessible and unsafe for wheelchair users, who are they there for? I appreciate that there may be a significant cost, and I'm sure there must be more than one solution, but is it really the responsibility of Hebweb readers to provide one, or is it the responsibility of the Trades to explore the options more thoroughly and make something happen?
What is more likely though, is that apathy will prevail and the Trades will hide behind their plan for another 10 years.
From Rev Tony Buglass
Sorry, Johnny, but to argue "the cost is no excuse" is simply nonsense. As Peter has explained, the cost is the reason why the job has not been done. He also points out that there are structural issues, which belies your assertion that the Trades is perfectly adaptable.
As I said, I have only been a member for a short time, and so I cannot comment on the reasons for the years of financial difficulty the Club has faced. I'm glad things are now beginning to improve. My principal contribution to this conversation is based on my experience as Chair of Managing Trustees of a couple of dozen historic and elderly buildings since the DDA was enacted. Sometimes it is simply not feasible to adapt an old building, sometimes the costs are prohibitive. Either way, the intention to fulfil the legislation is there, but it is not reasonable to do so.
Posted by Andrew Hall
Tony is right on this one. One of the key words in the Disability Discrimination Act is 'reasonable'. Organisations need to take 'reasonable' steps to ensure provision for disabled people. Similarly, Johnny is wrong when he says "The cost is no excuse" - it most certainly is an excuse. As Peter Lazenby implies, the intention is often there, and I'm sure that any reasonable organisation such as the Trades Club would bend over backwards to comply with the DDA. But sometimes, finances simply don't permit us to do what we'd like.
Posted by Dave Boardman
The Trades Club has not ignored the DDA - and we are 'in compliance' with the law as we have plans to introduce access. We also understand and agree with the social model of disability and therefore realise that we are not yet able to do our bit - but there are more inaccessible buildings than grant funds to rectify the situation. I resent people making accusations like this - apparently after talking to a part time member of the bar staff with little knowledge of the overall situation.
My 83 year old mother can't come to the club because she can't get up the stairs - so we do understand the situation. We have had several options costed and need several thousand pounds to do the least expensive of them.
If anyone knows how it can be done without money, please tell us...cheap and 'straightforward' options are not available or usually desirable - it is they that pay lip service to access. Does the contributor who says there are straightforward and inexpensive options have any understanding of the structure of the building? or how muuch we've spent on structural surveys and investigations into refurbishment and getting access for all. Have the critics attempted to raise funds through grants for access to 80 year old buildings?
If they have any advice please let us have it - as we have failed to gain grant funding for this - not for the want of trying. Access will happen at some point.
Or would you like us the close the club and take away a facility from this town because we haven't got the money to do what we want to do?