Opinion with Christine Tongue: Somewhere to put my sticks

Christine stayed at The Grand in Eastbourne

Lock down, covid and hip surgery have meant we haven’t had a holiday for three years. My poor partner needed a break from caring and cooking and I needed remotivating to get my legs working again.

With three years holiday budget to spend we searched for hotels accessible to wheel and stick users and preferably with a swimming pool I could get into. And not too far away as my leg isn’t keen on sitting in one position for too long.

It’s a lot harder than you might think – even if you have a lot money to spend. I’ve heard “yes we’re very accessible – only two small steps to the front door.” Or, “yes there’s a handrail and steps into the pool.”  But they don’t say the steps are very deep and the handrail is in the OUTDOOR pool.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding of disability, and – you can only conclude – a bit of a reluctance to have to be bothered with unsightly elderly stickies. My wheelchair using friend tells me “Very often the most accessible rooms have a view of the car park or the bins. And the flat access is round the back, through the tradesman’s entrance.” Very welcoming.

The worst, surprisingly, often are spa hotels. They don’t really want people with serious health issues, just the affluent well who like to get a massage while hubby plays golf, for example. “We do an anti ageing facial” I hear when I ask about treatments. Well, I’ve aged so it’s too late!

So we decide on The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne  – I know, sarcastic friends say why go to another oldies resort when you live in Broadstairs?  But I haven’t left Thanet in three years. I wanted an adventure. And we have old friends in Eastbourne so that decided it.

Wildly expensive, but they had a  totally accessible room, with wet room and outside patio, and the hotel has a pool  with a hand rail and spa treatments like reflexology that sounded more serious than just fancy cosmetics, and might help my painful joints.

Why is there nothing in Thanet like that?

But how to get there?

I’m still dependent on crutches and my mobility scooter, so I’m  too scared to book complicated  rail journeys  – you need ramps to get in and out, and accessible toilets are often out of order. So a friend who uses a wheelchair mentioned Thanet Community Transport.  You pay a fee to join up and they take you where you need to go. It costs about the same as a taxi but they understand disability and have drivers who can help with getting in and out.

I thought they’d send a big car or something but what turned up outside my house was huge and had AMBULANCE on the side!

It usually takes disabled kids to school or on trips, so it’s like a small accessible bus (wish they all were). Nice ramp and a lift to save climbing steps, and big window so I could savour bits of Kent and Sussex I hadn’t seen in years.

Even a traffic jam in Hastings seemed interesting.

So we turn up in my ambulance at the Grand, a hotel so posh it doesn’t have its name on it. Flunkeys rush out to try to figure out how to flunk an ambulance, carry our minimal luggage and show us where the ramped entrance is. It’s at the side of the main entrance, not round the back and through the bins. First plus point!

Fading Victorian grandeur meant long wide corridors – perfect for crinolines and mobility scooters, and carpets everywhere meant I could use crutches without them slipping. Try wet laminate flooring if you fancy breaking a bone or two.

I could scoot into our room, which was huge. The promised outdoor terrace had a step – minus point – so not good for a wheelchair.

The pool had a handrail – hurray. But only one. Boo! When one leg doesn’t work you need two. But a chair on the side to hang onto for the last step and a lot of help and encouragement  from staff and guests, and I managed!

Meeting with a friend 

I know it sounds sad and pathetic but   when you’re in a long rehabilitation process minor triumphs are vital.

But why are there no regulations for swimming pools? High steps, no hand rails, ladders where the last step is so high I’ve had to crawl out and be picked up by fellow swimmers, pools that have picturesque gritty rocks round the steps so your hands are flayed trying to climb out etc etc. I’ve seen them all.

And why are there no requirements for hotels and cafes to have some form of flat access?

But even if we have more regulations, we need more than that. We need a change in how we think about and treat disabled people, don’t we? I’m one of around fourteen million disabled people. We  vote and we need politicians who will listen. Any suggestions?

Christine is a founder member of Access Thanet, a local disability campaign group.


  1. Perhaps break the health secretary’s hip and opposite leg and force them to get into the que. 10 years for a knee replacement only to discover that half was done the other half will get done when yet again it becomes unbearable. The hip yet again will have to wait.

    Do they realise what damage pain killers etc do to to ones vital organs over the years and the unnecessary drain on hospital finances.

    PS my last holiday was in 2011. Medical insurance for this old crumblie is £200. Will I ever get to use my 588 thousand air miles. ?

      • Should KLM resume flights from Manston then there is the potential. Manston -Europe-Europe to Thailand. Friends went Manston-Europe-USA. Still more economical than using HR or GW and less traveling time to airport.

        • For that to happen, there would have to be:
          A) An airport (there isn’t)
          B) Passenger flights (there aren’t)
          C) A large enough passenger base to make Manston a commercially viable project (there never were in the past)
          And what on Earth has flying to Thailand got to do with taking an “enabled ” holiday in Eastbourne?

          • A) An airport (there isn’t) But soon will be!
            B) Passenger flights (there aren’t) But soon will be!
            C) A large enough passenger base to make Manston a commercially viable project (there never were in the past) But soon will be!

        • Thailand! That’s ambitious for someone who had enough risk and adventure going to Eastbourne! And I can’t take long flights for a while as I had thrombosis after my operation.

          • Thrombosis (DVT) can be life threatening especially if it breaks away and travels to a major organ – I have had two now along with an embolism very scary – I have to visit family in Barbados maybe once a year so, I now inject myself with an anticoagulant just before any long-haul flights and seems to work well – Just thought I would add this as this maybe a fix for you too Christine as most defiantly stops me from worrying while traveling – My GP gives me a letter to keep with the injections as to easily clear customs outbound & return – Good luck & happy traveling.

  2. Hi Christine good to see you having a long deserved holiday away from Thanet totally agree with all.of your comments there is still a lot of non understanding businesses that don’t really want people with disabilities on their premises you have probably got the same travelling about Broadstairs in your mobility scooter with pavements crowded with cafes and restaurants going over the required legal distance with long tables and chairs and cars parking on the pavements I have been pushing TDC/KCC highways to address all of these issues the high street pavements blocked with cars and A boards marine drive in Margate bars along their are breaking the law I contacted both my labour councillors and the labour member for my devision on KCC to no avail photos sent to them including KCC we don’t have enough enforcers to deal with the issues during the summer season it’s horendous for disabled people to get around safely I have been promoting for the guide dogs with the same issues like blind or partially sighted people on pavements are for people including access to pubs cafes and restaurants I have recruited twelve traders in the old town who have put green stickers on their doors or shop windows saying they are welcome many still don’t allow disabled people access to their premises you have to leave mobility scooters outside only three in Margate allow this the coffee station on Margate railway station the old Kent market and the coffee shed on the parade if room good to see you it’s been a while.

  3. If you think Broadstairs is bad, try St.Peters! Roads resemble the Battle of the Somme with potholes, lumps left by utilities infilling very sloppily, pot holes and decayed road surfaces. Drove up Beacon Road which is a nightmare. Double parking all the way up, bins and other stuff left on the pavement. I drove up the road on my money scooter for only about 200 yards but soon had a convoy crawling along behind me! Had to wave sorry for the delay to the queue backed up behind me. The useless crew running KCC needs to be pushed into resurfacing the estate roads on St.Peters Estate, most of which haven’t been done since they were built in 1954!

    • I’m afraid Eastbourne roads are just as bad as Thanet for potholes and lack of dropped kerbs. But the seafront is smooth and wide and unbumpy for miles!

    • Totally agree Keith it’s the same all over the district pot holes bad pavements parking on pavements including dropped kerbs which is now illegal heavy fines need to be informed we could go.on and on.

  4. I take issue with your comment that on trains, accessible toilets are often out of order.
    In my (considerable) experience of rail travel, they rarely are.
    And, indeed, ramps are necessary to get on and off some trains. But they are provided, available and deployed by helpful staff.

    • You’ve been lucky! I can only speak from my own experience. Accessible toilets on stations are often locked as well!

  5. I hope the person commenting above who thinks there will soon be an airport at Manston is completely wrong. (I mean the person whose pseudonym, if you can call it that, consists of little pictures.)

  6. Hi Christine x so glad you gone to Eastbourne. I love it there too. Nothing wrong with anyone. Just mindful of buggies. Its always sunny there unlike this dreary lot mumbling on about Manston. What has Manston got to do with your story. I live out of Thanet now. Overlooking buiding sites on an AONB. I know how it feels that places are not disabled friendly. I raised £10k for Ramsgate youth club it was great we put in disabled toilet and ramp at front entrance. X

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