‘Peterborough Unlimited’ - Campaigners and PT unite to demand city centre improvements for disabled people

The Peterborough Telegraph is today joining forces with campaigners to demand improved access for disabled people wanting to visit the city centre.

By Joel Lamy
Thursday, 10th June 2021, 12:44 pm

The PT has produced a set of five proposals for Town Hall chiefs after speaking to dozens of residents who have outlined significant barriers which deter them from heading into the city.

These include a shortage of toilets, lack of parking and difficulty accessing shops.

Our ‘Peterborough Unlimited’ campaign calls on the council to make sure disabled people are not forgotten about in the rush to ‘build back better’ following the coronavirus pandemic, with many already facing a sense of complete isolation.

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The launch of the Peterborough Unlimited campaign. From left: Hayley, Matthew and Rebecca Stannard; Samanatha Stokes; Graham Barnes; Julie Howell; Julie Fernandez and Sarah Pilbean

As previously outlined by the PT, an ‘unwelcoming’ environment has led many disabled residents to travel to other cities such as Cambridge or Milton Keynes to do their shopping.

This is not only a huge inconvenience to themselves, but deprives the Peterborough economy of the lucrative ‘purple pound’.

Launching the PT’s manifesto, editor Mark Edwards said: “Over recent weeks many disabled residents and campaigners have made it clear just how difficult it is for them to access parts of our city centre.

“We have also seen first hand the challenges they face. To hear many now travel to other cities where facilities are easier to use is worrying for Peterborough.

“We have launched this campaign to highlight these important issues and to give a voice to many in our community who are struggling to get action on issues that have a huge impact on them.

“They are keen to work with businesses and the city council to resolve some key issues and ensure that everyone can enjoy the city equally.”

The changes being called for by campaigners backed by the PT are:

- Building of a fully accessible toilet block in the city centre

- The creation of a disability officer post at the council

- More Blue Badge parking spaces

- Keeping St Peter’s Arcade permanently open

- Improved access for disabled people into Queensgate.

Each issue will be addressed in further detail over the coming weeks to highlight why they are a barrier for disabled people in visiting the city centre.

It is hoped that the appointment of a disability inclusion officer will also seek to address other challenges which discourage residents from venturing into the city.

Among those backing the campaign is actress and campaigner Julie Fernandez, the former project development manager at Disability Peterborough who starred in hit sitcom The Office.

Ms Fernandez, who has been campaigning on rights for disabled people for the past three decades, both locally and nationally, said: “Disability equality and rights should be the bedrock which all societies achieve. The fact that we live in 2021 and are still having these discussions says a lot about us as human beings.

“Disabled people and their families here in Peterborough are coming together to show the business community and Peterborough City Council that we have value and that we wish to be included just like they are.”

Wendy Van-Ristell, Peterborough shop manager for disability equality charity Scope, told the PT: “I think it is an excellent campaign and it’s fantastic the PT is spearheading it. It’s something which is very much needed.”

Karen Oldale, friends and service users lead at St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool, added: “I very much welcome the PT’s campaign to improve disability access in the city. This would help so many disabled people, including those with hidden disabilities, their families, friends and carers and families with small children.

“By making Peterborough an inclusive and accessible city for disabled people we make it a more inviting and welcoming place for everyone.”

Steve Conway, CEO of Peterborough-based charity Deafblind UK, is another to back the campaign.

He told the PT: “We are very keen to work with local organisations to make the city centre as inclusive as possible for everyone in the local community.

“A trip to the shops can be extremely difficult for people who are deafblind, even more so now we have social distancing rules and one way systems which all use visual markers.

“If we can help more people and organisations to understand that small changes can make a big difference, then we are well on the road to making the world a better place for people who are deafblind.”

Chrissie Fovargue is the manager at Shopmobility, based at Queensgate, which provides wheelchairs and scooters for shoppers with disabilities.

She said: “I think it’s a very good campaign. We’re behind it to try and improve things. 

“The things you are campaigning on are the main issues.”

MP for North West Cambridgeshire Shailesh Vara said: “It is vital that there are proper access facilities for everyone and improving disability access in Peterborough is very important.

“All new projects should have proper disability access, and in the meantime we must do all we can to improve the existing facilities.

“One of the difficulties is that there is no single entity that we can turn to to make the improvements.

“Peterborough City Council certainly has a key role to play but there are also third parties who privately own land and property and there needs to be active engagement with them too.”

Peterborough City Council was contacted for comment but we had not received a response at the time of going to press.