Opinion: ‘Peterborough needs inclusive facilities for all’

Councillor Julie Howell, leader of the Green Group on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Monday, 30th August 2021, 1:45 pm
Councillor Julie Howell, Leader of the Green Group on Peterborough City Council

I woke one morning in 1991 and everything was blurry.

Punishment for a heavy night out, you might think.

But despite being a student in those days, I hadn’t been out the night before.

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By the end of the day, I was seeing double, and was unable to see clearly again for six weeks.

These unsettling symptoms were the start of my journey towards learning I have the neurological condition multiple sclerosis (MS). Twenty is pretty young for an MS diagnosis.

The condition doesn’t usually rear its head until much later in life.

At 20, I found myself facing more tricky choices than many people my age.

Early on, I decided not to learn to drive, as the persistent blind spot in my vision meant my sight was unreliable. This led to a lifetime of public transport, walking or car-sharing. We call these transport options ‘sustainable transport’. I was an accidental Green, decades before becoming a deliberate one.

Not driving, I’m dependent on affordable, reliable bus services.

This has meant that I understand how important public transport is for people who do not drive. I appreciate the importance of access to timetable information, which is why

I help residents in our community with large print bus timetables. If you are dependent on the bus for a hospital appointment then you need to be confident about when and where the bus you need will arrive.

Many disabled people and people with long-term conditions like mine do choose to drive. For them, being able to get around by car is essential. Some people may be able to walk only very short distances before needing to rest, so being able to park close to shops and other amenities is vital.

I was pleased to support

Cllr John Fox’s recent council motion to create additional ‘blue badge’ parking bays in the city centre. The blue badge scheme helps people who have difficulty walking by providing parking spaces close to local amenities.

I’m working with other disability champions in the city, including local activist Julie Fernandez, to call on the council to create a city-central block of clean, safe accessible toilets that everyone can use, whatever their needs. The government has announced grants that are available to fund the creation of ‘changing places’ toilets. These are large cubicles that have within them flat surfaces so that people who need help with their toileting or those with a stoma or additional requirements when using the loo have enough room for their needs.

We believe that by providing accessible toilets we will attract more shoppers to the city centre, as worries about not finding an accessible loo can put people off making the trip into town.

Thirty years of life with MS has been quite a journey. I am pleased to share the benefit of my lived experience with those responsible for the design of our city, and really honoured, at this stage in my life with MS, to be making a positive contribution to Peterborough.