You Say Mistake, I Say Opportunity
Do you recall when I made that film what went viral? Sure you do. Well, remember that last shot, where I roll down a slope and sip on a pint of beer? Yeah, that one. That scene was filmed at the pub at the end of my road. It's called Islington Bar & Kitchen. I don't really go there often because it's not really my scene. But the other week, on the way back from my Sainsbury's Local, I noticed the establishment was undergoing some outdoor renovations and decided to take a look at the work.
Aside from the new decking, the thing that really stood out to me was the repositioning of the access ramp. I rolled a little closer and couldn't believe what I saw. The new slope was treacherous. The contractor had simply poured concrete down an existing set of steps and deemed to call it a ramp. It was not a ramp. It was a descent. In skiing terms it was like going from a Green Run to a Red Run. In real terms it was like a slap in the fucking face.
I did the only thing any riled activist would do. I Tweeted:
Please can someone explain how it is possible that a London bar can become LESS accessible?
@BrewhouseUK @BKIslington @EHRC
The next day I got a reply:
Hello Will, We're sorry we're not looking out best atm-in the midst of a refurb. We're exploring options with the gradiant of the ramp. It will be resolved in the next few days - please bear with us! We'd love to chat to you more about this - Could you PM us your email. B&K
So I PM'd my deets and this is the email I received from their Operations Manager:
Thanks for getting in touch via Twitter with regards our brew pub in Highbury. We have been trying to complete some upgrade work to our garden which has certainly proved rather challenging to complete with the pub constantly trading. The accessible ramp is approximately twice as wide as the original one but I can clearly see from your picture that we failed to keep it clear and free from any obstructions which I can only apologise for. Secondly we will be undertaking further work on Monday to reduce the gradient of the slope and to add a coloured non-slip resin to the ramp in order to finish it off.
I’m very sorry that you feel we were trying to make the pub less accessible, I can assure you that is not our intention. You can of course though only judge by what you found and saw at the time. I would very much like it if you’d call by next week and take a further look once we are complete as I’d value your opinion and input. I’m around on Monday evening and Thursday next week and would love to buy you a pint if you are around.
I had pointed out an issue and the proprietor had assured me it was in hand, plus he offered me a pint.
The following week I saw some labourers tending to the problem area and patted myself on the back - wheelchair users of Islington had found a new hero. A couple of days later, on the way back from my favourite Sainsbury's Local, I decided to check the new slope. I rolled into the outside area and approached the ramp. Oh dear. Not good. The new slope was essentially the old slope with a slight extension that struggled to significantly reduce the gradient. I was perplexed. Was this the finished job? Was this their interpretation of the EHRC's 'reasonable adjustment' mandate?
With my hero status hanging by a thread, I took my shopping home and did the only thing any renegade would do. I downloaded a Spirit Level app. Then went back to the bar and measured the gradient using my iPhone. For your information, a ramp designed for manual wheelchair usage should be no more than 4.8º. It may not seem that much, because it isn't. That said, it's strange how steep things feel when you're sat above them in a chair laced with wheels. But if you've ever been on a family holiday where you're dad drove down a 1-in-4 hill, you'll know roughly how it feels.
This ramp was 9.8º. More than twice the stipulated guidelines. I wasn't surprised. I knew it looked steep. The app simply affirmed my suspicions. I went home and wrote another email. And I didn't get a reply. Well, not for nearly a week. In which time, I suspect a fair amount of ramp scrutiny took place.
Here's their response:
I very much wanted to keep you in the loop and aware of the further steps we are planning to take in Highbury. I can only apologise that clearly, having been let down by our design and build team we are offering a current access solution that isn’t fit for purpose.
We are putting a temporary management plan together and looking at further changes to the ramp or alternatives as appropriate. I’m fully aware that given my assurances over email recently these may seem like hollow promises but please rest assured we will ensure that ultimately the pub is restored to being as accessible as it was before, if not more so.
Please do stay in touch as mentioned before I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback but would also like to, once again take this opportunity to apologise that this project is now dragging on.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me should you require any further information.
The plot was most certainly thickening. But I wanted to know more, so I angled for that pint and arranged to meet up with the Operations Manager.
The following Thursday, at the designated time, I made my way to the bar and waited at the top of the ramp. In fact, it felt like five minutes had passed before I was able to grab a member of staff. (Ahem.) I told them who I was due to meet and they disappeared back into the bar. A few moments later, a small group of smart/casual men approached my personal space. They stood around me in semi-circular formation and proceeded to introduce themselves. We had the Operations Manager, the General Manager and the Big Boss of the whole frickin' company. This was not what I was expecting and it was almost intimidating. I introduced myself and suggested that one of the blokes help wheel me down the ramp so we could enter the bar. Point-in-fucking-question.
Once inside, they got me a pint of the Romford Pele (an homage to Arsenal's Ray Palour) and conversation commenced. To their credit, the ensemble were overtly apologetic and utterly dismayed by the situation. They, of course, blamed the contractor, assuring me the ramp was not the one they signed off. I told them that mistakes are made, but the most important thing is how people respond. I also informed them that by virtue of the fuck-up it had presented me with an opportunity to affect change, as well as gain an insight into their approach to inclusivity. What's more, on telling them about my activist activities, they began discussing the possibility of employing me to educate their staff about inclusivity. Zing.
We finished up our drinks and they outlined their plan of action, starting with a temporary bell and sign at the top of the ramp. I acknowledged their intentions and they made assurances to keep me in the loop, as well as let me know about the possible job op. I left the pub feeling pretty goddam pleased, so treated myself to a plate of food at Black Axe Mangal - which, for those of you haven't been, is the only place in Islington that serves Offal Flatbreads and Ox Heart Rice.
A few days later, on my way back from - you guessed it: Sainsbury's Local, I decided to pop into the bar. I rolled up to the ramp and, shock-horror, there before me was a bell and a sign. The trio had actually been true to their word. I basked in my hero status and swaggered home.
The moral of the tale is really rather evident: If you yourself notice that a local establishment is failing their disabled clientele, then you yourself should do something about it.
And who knows, next time, you yourself might be the hero of the story.