Do the right thing

I have thought about writing this post for a long time now but coming across a tweet by Sophie Morgan on Twitter, in January 2019,  has  finally got me around to writing it, in the hope that I can raise some awareness and understanding.

Accessibility is a topic I feel passionately about. 20 years ago I was diagnosed, along with my father, with a neuromuscular condition called centronuclear myopathy. The condition is slowly progressive and 20 years on, I can still stand and walk and manage stairs (albeit in my own sweet way) however for 20 years the disease has been slowly chipping away at my ability to do things.

There are days when my legs feel like lead, I am constantly tired, I experience severe back pain when I stand for any length of time without support and stairs are really not my friend. Standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, feels like standing at the foot of a very large mountain. A stair rail (combined with a lot of will power) means currently I am able to put my weight through my arms, rather than through my legs when I ascend but even so, sometimes I simply lose momentum, getting stranded midway and land up dragging myself up the remaining steps. At home, I could get a second hand rail or a stair lift but I am conscious when out and about, these are not things I would have access too and I am scared that I will come to rely on them and make matters worse for myself.

So, being ambulatory, I have questioned for a long time whether I should should write about building accessibility, after all, I do not use a wheelchair but inaccessible buildings affect me hugely and I know from first hand experience that ramps, stair rails, lifts and escalators can be the difference between me being independent or not.

When I talk about building accessibility, first and foremost,  I am referring to whether someone in a wheelchair or with a level of impaired mobility, is able to access a  public building, whether that be a shop, office, restaurant or entertainment venue, because that is how I experience accessibility or the lack of it. However, there are a wide variety of disabilities that must be considered when addressing access for all, including sensory impairments (e.g. visual and/or hearing), mental illnesses (e.g depression, stress, anxiety, phobias, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), learning disabilities (e.g. autistic impairments, dyslexia, down syndrome), mobility and dexterity impairments, communication impairments, physical coordination impairments and memory/concentration impairments. There is not a one size fits all accessibility solution.

In order for me to access a building that is situated either up or down stairs, I only need there to be a stair rail but for someone in a wheelchair, steps are a total barrier. For the building to be accessible to us both, I would expect there to be a ramp, or a working lift. The word ‘working’ is key, because having a working lift going up but a broken lift or no lift going down doesn’t count and if like me, you are able to use an escalator, the same goes for these too – it is only common sense that if someone needs to use an escalator to go up, then they will need an escalator to go down too. I would expect this help to be found at the main entrance too, not out of sight, so the  building has to be accessed in some obscure manner.  Having a lift or the ‘accessible entrance’ hidden away at the back of a store doesn’t count either.

The law states that buildings should be accessible. The Equality Act, which was passed in 2010, is structured around nine ‘protected characteristics’, one of which is disability, and it prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation against all those who fall within these groups. The Act defines a disabled person as ‘Someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities.’

Whilst the accessible design of buildings is regulated by Building Regulations law, The Equality Act requires ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be made when providing access to goods, facilities, services and premises.  (Ref: Designing Buildings)

Reasonable adjustments might include changing a physical feature of a building,  providing an extra aid or service, or widening aisles so a wheelchair can get through. (Ref: Citizens Advice Bureau)  Reasonable adjustments, in my opinion, are not having a member of staff bring products out of the shop for a customer to view, nor does it mean a member of staff shopping for the customer or that the customer is manhandled on and off the premises … and doing absolutely nothing at all, is absolutely not a reasonable adjustment either. Making a building accessible, means that as far as is reasonably possible, the ‘disabled’ customer has the same experience as any other customer, allowing them to retain their dignity and independence.

Let me give you some examples of situations I have experienced. On picking up a prescription for my dad from the local chemist one time, I was asked by the woman behind the counter how my dad was. I explained that he was sat outside because he was no longer able to manage the large step and the heavy door. ‘Awww’ came the response.  My dad did not need sympathy, what he needed was for the owner of the property to stop breaking the law and make reasonable adjustments to their property, so that my dad could retain his independence and continue getting his own prescriptions for as long as possible.

My home is the city of Chester – built by the Romans, the city boasts the most complete city walls, Tudor style buildings, the oldest racecourse, the largest Roman Amphitheatre in Britain, a one thousand year old Cathedral and the Rows galleries, 700 year old two tiered shopping galleries, providing two high streets in one, meaning their are many steps. The city is charming but while it is possible to cite examples of accessible practice, it most certainly is not accessible (the chemist referred to above it should be noted is not situated in the old part of the city) and I feel for those who are tasked with making it so but worry that the owners of buildings in the city, think because of its heritage, they do not even have to try to make reasonable adjustments. For example, how difficult would it be to extend an existing handrail on steps leading down into a major department store, so it is alongside the first step, or to place a hand rail on the steps at the entrance leading up into a women’s clothing chain store.

Recently a new sandwich shop opened in the city. As a new business at street level which opened in 2018, I would have expected the building to be accessible. I thought I would pop in for a sandwich but on getting to the door, I found there were a number of steps that led down into the shop and no handrail. I stood outside looking in but didn’t trust my legs to support me down the steps, so I walked away. The shop lost my trade and possibly a regular customer.

Again, in Chester, a hairdresser I had been going to had a large number of steps to be navigated. Steps led up into the building from street level but in the time I went to the hairdresser, the hand rail was never screwed tightly to the wall and shook as I held onto it, so I never felt safe. Once inside the building, it was necessary to navigate a grand staircase with a wide wooden bannister on one side which I struggled to get my hand around and a dado rail on the other – stairs led to a half landing and then there were further stairs. I persevered for some time, not wanting to choose my hairdresser on the basis of whether or not there were stairs to negotiate but eventually I gave up.

I attended a building on the opposite site of the road for a job interview and phoned ahead, advising I had mobility issues and that a stair rail was crucial if I needed to go up and down stairs. Oh yes, I was told, there was a handrail on either side of the staircase but on getting to the interview, I was confronted again with a wide wooden bannister and a dado rail. Dado rails really don’t count as stair rails but are better than no rail at all I suppose, which was the experience I encountered at a recruitment agency in the city, where I struggled up and down the steep staircase trying to hold onto the wall, while the recruiter watched.

Concert, cinema  and theatre venues can be a nightmare too. And whilst I have sympathy with old theatres, there really isn’t any excuse for the stairs it is necessary to navigate at modern concert venues in our big cities, which are quite terrifying. Credit where credit is due, the Storyhouse theatre in Chester, situated in an art decco building dating back to 1936, is a very good example of what can be achieved, The recently refurbished Vue cinema in Ellesmere Port nearly left me speechless (although it still needs work for disabled users who might not want to sit right up next tot the screen) and the O2 in London was an excellent experience too – here I was whisked away to my seat, meaning I didn’t have to queue, by a member of staff who didn’t make me feel in the least uncomfortable or like I was being a nuisance.  However, having to trek half way around a concert venue to get to your seat or being told at the end of the show that you have to wait for everyone else to leave before you can, was not a good experience.

My worst experience was at an arena in Liverpool. On arriving, I advised that I would prefer not to use the stairs to my seat.  I presented at the arena as an ambulatory person with a walking stick and with the Equality Act having been in force since 2010, expected to be advised there was a lift. The woman I spoke with asked for help from a man and I also advised him that, I was trying to get to my seat without using the stairs. Absolutely, he said, there was help available and I would only need to use a couple of steps. Fabulous I thought … and then the situation snowballed. Firstly, the man called for First Aid (sadly my condition cannot be cured with first aid). Then he requested a wheelchair for me (my worst nightmare – I am living with a progressive muscle condition and fighting every day to stay out of a wheelchair). “‘Oh no” I said, “I don’t need a wheelchair”. “It’s too late” came the dismissive response, “it’s on its way now, don’t move from that spot”. At that point, if I could have done a runner, I would have done so but the wheelchair and two first aiders turned up. Once again I advised I don’t need a wheelchair. “It’s okay” came the chirpy reply but for me, it was anything but okay and in order not to cause a scene, I seated myself in the wheelchair and allowed myself to be pushed half way around the arena, telling myself that the ordeal would be over in a few minutes and that I would be delivered within a couple of steps of my seat.

And then we arrived at our ‘accessible drop off point’ … the top of the large flight of stairs I had specifically said I did not want to deal with, so not only had I been pushed around the arena in a wheelchair, something that I absolutely did not want, I still had to manage the stairs. “This is the nearest we can get you”, I was advised. At this point my mum asked about the lift to the ground floor. She was advised, there was no lift to the ground floor and knowing that I would not want a fuss, she let it go. Subsequently, I had to manage the entire staircase from top to bottom (worrying each time I reached a break in the handrail that I was going to fall), with one of the first aiders walking backwards down the stairs in front of me. Interestingly, having created such a drama getting me to my seat, none of the people involved, asked if I needed help getting back up the stairs. I was left to struggle back up those on my own, dragging myself up each step using the hand rail, feeling as if I was making a complete show of myself.

I later complained to the arena  and was advised “The venue has multiple areas where there is lift access, and the stewards are all aware of these locations. On Tuesday evening, our team could have directed you to the lifts to gain easier access to your seat, and so I can only conclude that the staff who were trying to assist you failed to consider this as an option.”

Writing from a personal experience, since the Equality Act came into force, I have seen  little in the way of change and that makes me very sad, but why would a business go the the expense of making costly changes if the law  does not get enforced and businesses are not fined? Businesses have had since 2010 to make changes and have not done so. If real change is to take place and the law is to be more than just lip service, this needs to change.

For the record, when you get diagnosed with a medical condition that leaves you with legs that can sometimes be a little wobbly and unreliable or altogether no use whatsoever, you don’t suddenly stop enjoying doing all the things you have enjoyed up to that point. If you enjoyed shopping, eating out, going to concerts, theatre and the cinema and getting your hair done prior to your diagnosis,  you still going to want to do those things after it. Why should you not be able too? And even if the law did not state that buildings should be accessible, isn’t it simply the right thing to do?

Further reading

The above is very much a personal perspective and only scratches the surface of the accessibility issue.  Further selected related reading can be found below.  If you have this far, please take the time to learn more and help spread the word.

Love is…

The Love is… illustrations were created by New Zealand cartoonist Kim Casali (née Grove) in the 1960s. Originally private drawings that Kim gave to her future husband, they were subsequently published in booklets which Kim sold for $1 each, before being published in newspapers.

In the UK the cartoons appeared in the Daily Mail. Sometimes my dad would come home from work with a copy of the newspaper and I would pounce on it and cut the cartoon out to keep.  The small collection now lives in a drawer in my home.


Further information

To learn more about Love is… visit the official Love is… website.

The Knife Angel

The Knife Angel is a sculpture designed to show how bad knife crime and violence is within the UK. Standing 20 feet tall and made with 100,000 knives surrendered in the UK, it is the work of artist Alfie Bradley and took four years to create.  The sculpture aims to show how bad knife crime is in the UK and also hopes to bring about the introduction of new knife amnesties.

The Knife Angel
The Knife Angel, outside of Chester Cathedral, November 2019.

With permission of the  Home Office, surrendered knives and weapons were collected from all 43 police forces across the UK. The project also involved anti knife crime charities, action groups, ex-gang members and families that have been directly affected by knife crime.

The focal point of the sculpture is the angels wings. In order to create theses, each blade’s handle was removed to give a feather like appearance. Some of the blades are inscribed with the names of the lost loved ones of the 80 or so families who have supported the project, some with messages of disbelief at how bad knife crime is in the UK, others with messages of forgiveness and messages of regret from ex-offenders who now strive to work against knife crime.

The Knife Angel on tour

In 2019 the Knife Angel visited the City of Chester, where it stood outside of Chester Cathedral for the full month of November. Chester was the eighth city to host the Angel since its UK tour began in December 2018.

The Angel was greeted and blessed by the Bishop of Chester, Peter Foster, followed by a number of civic speeches conducted by members of the group who helped get the monument to the city. Also present were a number of families who have been affected by knife crime.

Whilst in Chester, it was hoped the Angel would act as a catalyst for educational workshops to be conducted for  regional youth, focusing on the negative effects of violent and aggressive behaviour.

Further information

Arthur Shortland and Frances Milbah Polle

Arthur Shortland was one of 12 children born to Richard and Eliza Shortland.  Further information about Richard and Eliza can be found below.

The information below was give to me by Linden Kilby who is the great great grandson of Arthur Shortland and Frances Polle.

Arthur Shortland  Frances Shortland.

Linden told me:

The details you have provided about Richard Shortland pretty much match with the details of what I know about him. He was in the army and stayed on in Australia. He ran a successful freight operation in Sydney, his company would transport goods by dray from the ships in Circular Quay to the warehouses in the city from what I know.

Eventually, as the younger generations took over, the business was forced to fold. However, the children didn’t do too badly either. I believe one was a judge and another owned a music shop.

My great great grandfather was Arthur Shortland. He was born in Sydney on 10 February 1867 and he was married to Frances Polle who was born on 29 February 1868 in Redfern. They married on 23 April 1900 at St. James Church, Sydney. Arthur died in Turramurra on 21 June 1945 and Frances in Hornsby on 30 August 1955.

The Shortlands were not a close family, so not all that much is known about them. For Frances this would have been a big difference, because the Polles were a very close family. It is known that Arthur was a quiet man whose occupation was a draftsman – he was listed as a Government Official on the Electoral Rolls..

Arthur and Frances had three children, Milbah born in 1901, Arthur born in 1902  and Elma born in 1909. Milbah was the family member who everyone admired, for she won honours at Sydney Girls’ High and completed two University degrees. She matriculated with honours, graduated BA, Dip. Ed. from Sydney University and entered teaching at Cootamundra. Stan and Milbah had five children. In order of birth they were Helen, born 1927, Ruth, born 1928, Stanislaus, born 1930, Patricia, born 1931 and Denis, born 1936.

Arthur and  Frances were reasonably wealthy and when Stan Riley married Milbah, the wedding was held in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.  Milbah was forced to resign from teaching at this time as married women were not employed  in those days. However, during world war two, with most men at the war, women were re-employed. She became a French teacher at Cooks Hill High School (Newcastle), then Wollongong.

At age 80, Milbah became interested in music and because she couldn’t understand the names or lyrics of German Classical songs, learnt German and in one year was conversing and corresponding fluently with German nationals.

At age 82, Milbah was diagnosed with stomach cancer and rather than die a slow, painful death, she starved herself to death. She died peacefully at home with all her children in attendance.

A brilliant woman, who due to the customs of her time who never reached her full potential.


Eliza Butts

Eliza Butts was the wife of Richard Shortland who came from England to Australia in 1841. I found myself researching Eliza, as it seemed learning about Richard and Eliza, may lead me to learn more about the story I have been told, that my family is descended from Lieutenant John Shortland but she turned out to be interesting in her own right and I have now amassed quite a bit of information, which is published here.

Richard and Eliza married on 15 November 1847, at age 16 in Armidale, New South Wales and they had 12 children – their marriage certificate records Eliza as being a minor but that she is marrying with the consent of her father. Eliza passed away on 19 March 1910, at age 79 in Sydney.

A search of the My Heritage website found that Eliza was born on 5 December 1830, in Bisley, England, to Jacob Butt and Ann Butt.  I have also learned that Eliza’s father Jacob was a clothier named Robert Butt. Eliza’s mother Ann was also the daughter of a clothier named Moses Smart.

Further information about Jacob can be found on the Wiki Tree website below.

The website explains that after they married, Jacob and Ann lived in France Lynch, just north of Chalford where there were mills. However, in the 1830s the industrial revolution had an impact and over a third of the people were unemployed. Many were starving. The Bisley vestry records show that Jacob occasionally obtained financial assistance to enable his family to survive.

In 1837 the Rev Thomas Keble was involved in raising funds to enable 68 people to emigrate to Australia on The Layton. Jacob, his wife Ann and children were chosen. Sadly there was an outbreak of measles on this journey and some of the children died at sea.

An economic history of Bisley can be found below.

Information about the Rev  Thomas Keble can be found on the National Archives website.

The Butt family appear to have been assisted immigrants. Assisted immigrants were able to travel to Australia through the financial assistance of the government, organisations, or wealthy individuals.

Jacob, Anne and their family were among the first group of 13 families (68 people) to leave Bisley in England and travel to Australia, arriving in January 1838 aboard The Layton. I have located information about the family on the WikiTree website below.

The website explains that the barque Layton left Bristol on 8 September 1837, and arrived in Sydney in January 1838. It was carrying 122 emigrants and 110 children. An outbreak of measles caused the deaths of 70 children.

A copy of the passenger shipping records can be found below.

The arrival of the ship in Australia was reported in the Sydney Gazette.

Pam Taylor (nee Shortland)

Pam Shortland is the daughter of Percy Douglas Shortland. Percy was born in 1880 and married Edith Ramsay in 1919. The couple had three children, Pam, John and Judith. Percy died in 1954 and is buried in Rookwood cemetery, Sydney.

Pam’s grandparents were John Shortland and Louisa Douglass who were married in Richmond, New South Wales in 1878. John is thought to have been the fourth son of Richard Shortland who came to Australia from England in 1841 and married Eliza Butts.

Pam told me:

‘Eliza Butts came from England when the spinning industry went bankrupt and proceeded to have I am told 12 children. Richard must have worked hard because he succeeded in buying up many houses and hotels which he left to his children although the girls seem to have been provided with money. The story I heard was John raised his family on the rent he collected from his houses. Richard died in 1887 or there abouts. The family talked about these aunts and uncles but I can’t remember meeting them.’

‘After a fair amount of research I haven’t been able to go much further except to discover Richard’s father was the eldest of the family and he joined the army when his father died at quite a young age leaving a number of dependant children. His father was also called Richard and Richard’s wife was Mary. I cannot recall her surname.’

Stories about both Richard and Eliza can be found on this website.

Tayler Brothers

The photo below was given to me by Keith Shortland.  The two children pictured are believed to be Keith’s cousins, Gillian and Marion. Their mother and father were Ken and Marion Stephens, who ran a hairdressers in the Radford area of Coventry. Keith also told me that Ken’s sister, Maude Stephens, was one of the few ladies running a men’s hairdresser in Southam.

Two children

A hand written note on the photo indicates the photo was taken by Tayler Brothers of Coventry. Information about the Tayler Brothers studio and the Tayler Brothers project which archived photos to tell stories of Coventry’s past can be found on the Photomining website below.

Mark Cook from Photomining told me:

‘Tayler Brothers ran a photographic studio in Primrose Hill Street, Hillfields, Coventry, from just before the first world war until the 1970s. The Studio was on what is now Sidney Stringer Academy, just past the junction with Vine Street. Tayler Brothers were commercial photographers, and did not keep a record of their past work. The photograph you have looks like it could be from the 1950s, from the clothes, shoes etc.’

The number 32037 appears on the reverse of the photo. Mark Cook also advised Photomining ‘have a photo numbered in the 28 thousands that we think is late 40s and one that is in the 40 thousands that we think is late 50s’ so believe that the photo above lies between these dates.

Joseph and Ann

Joseph and Ann Abram (nee Cox) were my great great great grandparents. I have been able to locate the couple on the 1861 census, where Joseph, a shoemaker aged 23 and Ann aged 21 were living at 4 Lower River Terrace, St Sepulchre in Northamptonshire with three children, Emma, Charles (my great great grandfather aged 1) and Harriett.

I believe Joseph was the son of James and Rebecca and I have located him on the 1841 census aged 3 and the 1851 census aged 12. Sadly, it appears that Joseph died aged just 28.  The death certificate shows he had been suffering from Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis) for 13 months.

Ann appears to have married William Maloney in 1869 to and her story continues on the 1871 census, where, aged 31, she is living at St George Square in Northampton but now with William Maloney of Ireland, Charles (aged 11 and recorded as Charles Abram Maloney) and three other children, George, Emma and John W Maloney.

In 1881 William and Ann can be found living at 12 Alpha Street, Northampton, with four children, Jeremiah (aged 9)*, Eugene, William and John Maloney.  Finally, in 1891, Ann can be found at 50 Adelaide Street, Northampton.  She is a widow and working as a laundress. Eugene, William and John are still living with her.

* Jeremiah Maloney does not appear on the 1891 census with his mother and siblings but I believe I have located him, aged 19, living as a boarder at Luther Street, Leceister in the home of William and Sarah Abrams (both recorded as being born in Northamptonshire) and their children Herbert and Amy, along with two other boarders,  Ellen Maloney aged 24 and and Eva M aged 1.  (I believe that Jeremiah Maloney married Ellen Frost in 1889).

Betty May Abram

Betty May was the daughter and youngest child of my great grandparents Joseph Charles Abram and Milly May Bowers.  She was born in Halsted, Essex in 1924 and died in 2015.

Betty served in the RAF for a time but her records show she was dismissed under Kings Regs paragraph 652 for being with child.  She later  married Geoff Bryant in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire – they met while working in the Derngate office of the United Counties bus company in Northampton.  Interestingly, this is the same company her father took on during his time as proprietor of Earls Barton Motors.  Geoff was later a Company Director at C Butt Warehousing, a truck haulage company.  He died in 2016.