Why a lack of toilets and Blue Badge spaces is deterring disabled people from visiting Peterborough city centre

The loss of John Lewis was a big blow for Peterborough, and not just because of the shopping experience.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 4:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 8:36 am

For many of us the retailer was a lifeline for when nature called, and with the recently revamped shop now closed for good it means for many of us a trip to the city centre will be that bit more uncomfortable.

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Graham Barnes trying to access the Changing Places toilet at Car Haven Car Park

It is a feeling people with disabilities can empathise with as many have highlighted a lack of suitable toilet facilities as a reason why they will actually travel to Cambridge or Milton Keynes to do their shopping, rather than make the short trip to use local stores.

Car Haven Car Park, the site of the only changing places toilet in the city centre

Michelle King, CEO at Little Miracles, a parent led support group for families with children that have additional needs, disabilities and life-limiting conditions, said recently: “I take my little boy to Milton Keynes and we go shopping.

“It’s a couple of hours out the way but there’s a place where he can get changed. That’s our sole reason.

“Queensgate did research on the disabled people using the shopping centre back in 2019 and they were finding that disabled patrons were going out of Peterborough and other shopping centres, mainly in Cambridge and Milton Keynes.”

This is a view echoed by Wendy Van-Ristell, Peterborough shop manager for disability equality charity Scope.

She said: “The toilets are very important. That stops a lot of people with disabilities coming into town. As far as I know the only changing places (fully accessible) toilet is at Car Haven. We desperately need somewhere centrally at Queensgate so people can come and meet friends, have a meal or drink and have access to a specific toilet facility for them.

“It can make people feel like a second class citizen and isolate them if they can’t get to a toilet. It’s hugely important we improve that for people. You and I take that for granted but it’s not like that for everybody.”

Currently, the only changing places toilet - which meets the needs of people with a wide range of disabilities - is available at Car Haven Car Park at the back of the Town Hall.

Local autism campaigner Nazreen Bibi explained why it is vital more are introduced into the city centre: “Changing places toilets are larger toilet facilities which include an adult size changing mat and a hoist, enabling more than 250,000 severely disabled people to have greater access to public places including town shopping centres.

“A change in building regulations in England now requires thousands of large 12m sized, well equipped fully accessible toilet facilities. These include equipment such as hoists, curtains, large bins, adult size changing benches and space for carers.

“Often people have reported that they have avoided using the city centre or refrain from drinking fluids so that they can avoid accidents and children have had to wait longer to have their dirty pads changed. It’s unacceptable.”

There are currently disabled toilets at Queensgate and Rivergate shopping centres, as well as the rail station, but there is a consensus among local groups that the current facilities are completely inadequate.

It is for this reason the Peterborough Telegraph is calling for the building of a fully accessible toilet block in the city centre as part of our Peterborough Unlimited campaign.

This would have a range of facilities for all toilet users - including those who are not disabled - with security to ensure they are not vandalised and people feel safe using them in the evenings.

Another one of our five demands is for the creation of more Blue Badge parking spaces which, according to local disability activist Julie Fernandez, are like “gold dust”.

Julie, the former project development manager at Disability Peterborough and an actress who starred in hit sitcom The Office, has been vocal for decades on the need to make more use of the “purple pound” which she said contributes £249 billion to the national economy.

“We need to offer more places then people can come and support their local community rather than go to Milton Keynes,” she recently told the PT.

“Think of it in terms of investing in the business community by incentivising more people to come to Peterborough to shop.”

She added that the Blue Badge scheme has been extended to people with hidden disabilities which means more people will have access to it.

Another area Julie would like to see the city council take the initiative on is encouraging businesses to carry out an access audit and have disability equality training.