Winchester City Council says ‘listen to DAD’

Press Release: 19/01/2015

There has been significant progress in making life easier for Winchester residents and visitors who have disabilities but challenges remain: that is the City Council’s conclusion following National Disability Action Day (DAD) on Saturday (17 January).

A Destination Access Audit carried out in 2011-12 identified a list of actions to improve the accessibility of the city centre for all.

Making the most of the energy and excitement in the build up to the London Olympics, when many additional visitors were expected across the UK, the Council’s tourism team contacted restaurants, hotels, shops, transport operators and other businesses, asking them to take on board the recommendations of the audit and to do more to improve the experience of those with disabilities.

One of the key difficulties cited by the audit was the lack of specific information on websites to help people with disabilities plan their journeys effectively. A new, detailed section was added to the Council’s tourism website about travelling to and around Winchester, and a number of ‘360 degree’ photos and films were commissioned for key attractions to give a clear view of what to expect on arrival.

The Council is now working with Winchester Area Access For All to push forward with improvements – across the whole District, and not just the city centre. Winchester Business Improvement District is also investigating the addition of a new field on its recently launched ‘View Winchester’ app to add to the provision of good quality information.

Cllr Vicki Weston, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for the Built Environment at Winchester City Council, said:

In historic cities and market towns, life is full of challenges for people with disabilities. Wherever we can, we try to make things a little bit less difficult for them.

In 2012 the Council helped to set up a new Disability Sports Forum, bringing together sports clubs that can provide all kinds of facilities and activities ranging from Boccia to volleyball. It is one of the fastest growing groups working with the Council at present and has already organised disability sports taster days to encourage more people to try adapted sports for better health and new social opportunities. This is especially true at the Winchester and District Sports Association for the Disabled which meets twice a week at River Park Leisure Centre.

Major refurbishments also present the opportunity to make changes for the better. The public toilets in Abbey Gardens provided greatly improved disabled facilities. Investment in Guildhall Winchester provided access throughout the building for the first time. The resurfacing of the High Street and The Square with the County Council saw a reduction in the number of items of street furniture which can cause problems for those with mobility and visual impairments. And the recent opening of River Cottage Restaurant at Abbey Mill has demonstrated that even the oldest and quirkiest buildings can be adapted in a sympathetic way to suit the needs of more people.

Viaduct Way, the new walk from the city centre out to the South Park and Ride across the Hockley Viaduct, is completely accessible for wheelchair users. The three-dimensional interpretation panels are also interesting for those with visual impairments.

Cllr Weston added:

It’s easy to focus on disabilities that can be seen, but there are plenty of others that go unseen such as mental health conditions. Winchester High Street has been designated a ‘dementia friendly’ place and ‘safe places’ have been identified for people at our Tourist Information Centre and at Winchester Discovery Centre providing vulnerable people, particularly those with a learning disability, with a safe place to go to if they feel scared or upset while out on their own in the community. But we believe that every organisation and business could take another step towards making ours a more hospitable District for those with a range of disabilities. Disability Action Day is definitely a call to action for us all, and I look forward to seeing a united response.

Winchester Tourism is inviting shops and accommodation providers across the District to get in touch and share what facilities they have put in place to make life easier for everyone with the aim of including more information on the popular tourism website