Why centre:mk is a better choice for shopping than Queensgate if you are disabled
There is a reason people with disabilities travel to Milton Keynes rather than Peterborough to do their shopping.
The contrast between the two city’s main centres is stark, with one making great strides in improving their accessibility and the other containing a lack of facilities for people with additional needs.
The PT, as part of its Peterborough Unlimited campaign, spent many weeks speaking to people with disabilities to hear why they believe the city centre is not accessible for them.
PETERBOROUGH UNLIMITED CAMPAIGN
One of the key themes was Queensgate Shopping Centre, both due to its lack of toilets (as covered in previous articles), but also because it so difficult to get into if you rely on a wheelchair.
A few weeks ago, the PT joined several people with disabilities on a tour of the city centre, and it was shocking to see how just inaccessible Queensgate is for many.
From the station there are three options, none of which are appealing. These are: navigating the steep underpass towards Cowgate, using a car park lift before going across a footbridge, or crossing Bourges Boulevard near Waitrose and either navigating stairs or having to find an alternative entrance.
Graham Barnes, who has cerebral palsy, was left exhausted trying to use the underpass, while others have also acknowledged the long-standing problem which has never been tackled despite chiefs at Queensgate and the city council promising to take action.
Wendy Van-Ristell, Peterborough shop manager for disability equality charity Scope, told the PT: “I think this definitely needs working on. I had friends come to Peterborough one day and they were absolutely soaked by the time they got into Queensgate because they can’t use the bridge over the road as there was no lift access.
“It’s dreadful people in wheelchairs having to cross that road (Bourges Boulevard). There should be better facilities.”
Another person to have backed our Peterborough Unlimited campaign - which has five demands, including better access into Queensgate - is Chrissie Fovargue, manager at Shopmobility, based at Queensgate, which provides wheelchairs and scooters for shoppers with disabilities.
She said: “Some of our customers have in the past wanted to come in by train, but it’s very difficult if they want a wheelchair or scooter to get from the station into Queensgate.
“If they ring us up we would help in any way we could by taking something over there. The bridge isn’t easy and to get over the road is quite a long route from the station into Queensgate.
“It could well be a deterrent because they’re not making it an accessible town.”
Back in 2017, Queensgate centre director Mark Broadhead, and the city council, promised quick progress on improving access from the station.
The pledge came after Mr Broadhead and senior figures from the local authority tried the different routes from the station to the shopping centre in a wheelchair to better understand how hard the journey is for people who are disabled.
The difficulties identified during the activity prompted council cabinet member Cllr Peter Hiller to remark: “People are coming into the city and can’t access the main shopping centre.
“I will certainly be lobbying for changes. Having had it demonstrated to me I had not realised the impediment for disabled, blind and partially sighted people.”
Mr Broadhead added at the time: “There’s a great dialogue between the owners and the council and it’s something that will come on the agenda shortly.”
However, since then no changes have been made, and Queensgate has repeatedly refused to comment when questioned by the PT, including in the past few weeks.
Contrast the situation to centre:mk which had a make-over in 2016 and can now boast a changing places (fully accessible) toilet which is complete with a hoist, as well as standard disabled toilets.
The centre regularly works with local and regional disability groups and takes part in the annual ‘Purple Tuesday’ to raise awareness of the needs of disabled customers.
Last time, the centre held an open day, inviting feedback from the local disabled community of their shopping experience, the facilities offered and initiatives which are in place, such as the sunflower lanyard scheme designed to help people with hidden disabilities receive the right level of help and support.
Other initiatives include quiet shopping hours twice weekly and an ongoing training programme for staff to be able to recognise and assist guests with both seen and unseen disabilities.
The centre said it is “proud to be purple” all year round and that it won the Re:spect prize at the Revo Gold Awards in December 2019 in recognition of its “ongoing programme aimed at ensuring the highest standards of customer experience for their disabled guests”.
Kevin Duffy, centre:mk director, said: “Our work with the disabled community fits with our ‘open to all’ strategy - our ongoing programme to make the shopping experience at centre:mk more supportive and comfortable for people with disabilities.
“We are always looking for more ways to make guests to the centre feel welcome and cared for and strive to deliver the best customer service for every guest who visits.”
The purple pound is said to be worth £274 billion a year, but at the moment Peterborough is missing out on its share.