‘It was a massive eye opener’ - A first person account of using a wheelchair in Peterborough city centre

The group in the footbridge leading into Queensgate Shopping Centre
The group in the footbridge leading into Queensgate Shopping Centre
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It’s hard not to feel a huge amount of admiration for David Weir, writes PT reporter Joel Lamy.

Ten minutes using a wheelchair was all it took for the me to say ‘enough is enough’ and say a small prayer of thanks that tackling the city centre in a wheelchair is not a daily occurrence.

Lewis Banks, front, and PT reporter Joel Lamy

Lewis Banks, front, and PT reporter Joel Lamy

Because unless you are a Paralympic champion like Mr Weir, being disabled and using the city centre is hard work.

Take David Wait, manager at Serpentine Green Shopping Centre and chairman of the Peterborough Chambers of Commerce, who looked tired after battling through the underpass next to Cowgate and Priestgate, which ends with a huge slope.

“I have done that and I’m pretty fit. If I’m an elderly person - no chance,” he said.

“It was a massive eye opener.”

As David explained, the ‘purple pound’ is worth £240 billion to the UK economy, but how much of that is coming to Peterborough?

Barry Plumb (56), who is vice chair of the Peterborough Disability Forum and lives in Dogsthorpe, said: “If I want an enjoyable day’s shopping I go to Milton Keynes - it’s all on one level. I rarely shop here.”

After donning some fetching red gloves (we were told our hands would sting without protection), I tried using a wheelchair inside Queensgate’s Yellow Car Park, which requires navigating a ramp to get inside. From there it was a case of clumsily manoeuvring into a lift and then out again on the sixth floor (after narrowly avoiding being caught in a closing door) before wheeling across a footbridge into the shopping centre. It was noticeable how much tougher it was going across the bridge, where there is a slight uphill slope, than coming back, not helped by an inability to steer the wheelchair in a straight line.

It was hard not to be apologetic towards the shoppers who patiently waited for the wheelchair to be reversed out of the lift, then had to dodge the terrible steering.

The end finally came when I (now without the gloves, which were slowing me down) momentarily lost control down the ramp leading out of the car park, prompting some assistance.

Unperturbed, glasses which mimicked the effect of having sight impairment were tried on. It was striking how uncomfortable it was crossing the road with such poor vision, despite being told there was nothing coming. There are 30,000 people in Peterborough with disabilities or long term health conditions and nearly 8,000 with blue badges, according to Bryan Tyler, disability forum manager in Peterborough.

After watching the difficulties the group had navigating the city centre in wheelchairs, he noted: “It’s got to change.”