Opinion with Christine Tongue: Fairs, stairs and mobility prayers

A challenge for Christine

When wheels have taken the place of your feet a whole new set of challenges opens up —obstacles that are unnoticed by the walking world. You’ve become a dalek circa 1963, before they could fly.

Steps of any sort stop you in your tracks. Ramps are vital.

I have a new mobility scooter — hurray. But life is still limited. Steps are still my enemy and some are sneakily hiding in unexpected places.

It was the central landmark of Broadstairs  that upset me most this week. I discovered that a major effort to help the disabled has backfired quite seriously.

Pierremont Hall, seat of our town council and venue for all kinds of local events, including being a polling station for many years, has long been a hazard for the wheel dependent. After years of making a fuss about the rubbish two plank ramp they had to get wheel chairs into the polling station they finally acquired a decent one. It had a handrail and was all in one piece and securely fixed at both ends.

You might be amazed to hear that the old one was literally two planks that were supposed to link together and balance on the top step. Took courage to use! And before you say, just get a postal vote —we wheelies and stickies just want to be able to what everyone else can do and think buildings should adapt to us, not us adapt our lives to fit some Victorian idea of what looks nice.

That was all at the front of the hall. A victory for Access Thanet, the disability campaigners who wouldn’t let it drop.

But what about at the back?

There is now a metal sloping walkway from the car park to the back of the Hall, where the nice patio and impressive columns are. And where French windows provide access to the main hall, at the top of a big flight of steps (no handrail).

On Saturday there was a Christmas fair, some stalls outside, some inside. So round I go, through the autumn leaves, past the resident drunks, up the metal ramp, get to the patio —and there is a huge step to the inside. It even advertises itself as MIND THE STEP!

By now I’m weeping  with frustration and not able to turn round because of the  tables and chairs outside so that lucky souls can drink mulled wine — which they bought inside.

A staff member  came out to talk to me and explain the problem. Apparently no builder is prepared to take on the task of destroying the step of a listed building and creating a flat entrance. Really? Isn’t there any adventurous builder out there who can give me access to a building I’m paying council tax to maintain? I’m sure Queen Victoria wouldn’t mind. She used a stick in her old age, didn’t she?


So, the staff member says to me “I can get you in up the steps in the front of the building.” “Oh,great, the new ramp with the handrail?” I ask optimistically. “No, it’s two planks that link together.”

No thanks.


    • With my scooter I just sit on the seat and it swivels into a front facing position. No stepping up at all. I can’t bear weight on my left leg and have to use two sticks to walk. No climbing anywhere at the moment!

      • Sorry to hear this. I was thinking it may have been easier to have the staff pop your scooter inside for you and help you up the step. Still, that’s not the point, you should be able to access public places independently.

      • Hi Christine,you can tell the person who Left that stupid remark don’t know what it’s like to be disabled,do you Honest Question!

  1. Please help my challenge in thanet to stop vehicles parked on footpaths and over dropped kerbs, my wife uses a mobility scooter and she finds it very hard to get from A to B because of parked vehicles, it’s got to the stage where she doesn’t bother to go out a lot now .

    • See my next column! Time we got more militant about our awful roads. We need all kerbs to be dropped! Don’t despair make a fuss!

      • I think all kerbs should have dropped bits at regular intervals, and at junctions etc. But if the whole kerb was dropped, there would be even less to differentiate between road and pavement, and keep the cars on their place.
        100% behind a drive to keep cars off the pavement at all times and in all circumstances.

      • The change of gradient at a dropped kerb is a danger to my aging father when he is walking on a pavement. It throws him off balance.

        How are his needs to be accommodated along side the needs of those in mobility scooters ?

  2. It is a sad fact of life that there are just some places that cannot be made accessible to disabled persons for reasons of cost, practicality or history.

    Where do we draw the line ?

    What is next ? Demands for a ramp or lift to the Keep at Warwick Castle ?

    • In this case, it just needs a wedge shaped piece of wood or some concrete to make a slope infront of and behind the step.

  3. There are easy ways to get into any building the equipment is available but the owners don’t want to pay for it, they hide behind the fact they can say it’s not possible to do with this kind of property,but it can be done and with out changing the look of the property and damage too, maybe it’s time to have a on line group to get things done and it can be done .

    • It’s a question of costs and benefits. If a huge sum of money would be needed to provide facilities for very few people, it’s understandable why no one is keen to do it.
      I note that there is a number of London Underground stations without disabled access. That’s because the costs of installing lifts would be astronomical. All new DLR stations etc have enabled access incorporated.

  4. 14 million people are disabled in the UK. The whole population is ageing. We need to plan for a future that is easier for everyone.

    • We are all getting older: true. I don’t know if the population as a whole is aging.
      I quite agree that every new development should have regard to accessibility. And generally speaking, where new roads and buildings are constructed, it’s usually quite straightforward to provide accessible facilities. But I can see that what’s easy in new build can be a real difficulty in old buildings.
      I happen to think that every road junction should be a “table” junction, like an extended road hump, so it’s the same level as the adjoining pavements.
      This has several advantages: it makes moving around town seamless for the less able, and sends a message to motorists that there are pedestrians, and they are important.

  5. If I’m spared I will be entering my ninth decade next birthday, and have mobility problems caused by two life threatening lung diseases, and a genetic heart condition. Just recently I had to face climbing up 20 steps, for an appointment at a hospital, because the lift was out action, Duuurh!

      • Due to being investigated for suspected Dementia I was sent to the QEQM Older Persons Mental Health Unit, but they had phoned a few days earlier and asked if I could manager 20 steps! Incidentally, the Dementia tests took an hour and a half, and I aced it, and passed with 92%! I was diagnosed though with Age Related Mild Cognitive Impairment, which basically means I am getting forgetful!

  6. Had the same problem yesterday went to sainsbury at Westwood Cross to find the escalator going up wasn’t working, the lift working but with so many people not wearing face masks l didn’t want to use it, so l had to use the stairs which is hard for me as I suffer with asthma, by the time I got to the top l wasn’t in a good way ,and to top it all people were pushing by me going up and down the stairs, when the escalator going down was working.

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