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Nigel and friends enjoy New Year in London Atlast

New Year Eve – Nigel made the conscious decision to do something different, he wanted a break from the norm and that’s exactly what accessatlast helped Nigel and his friends do!  This is his story…

 

I began looking at going to London with a few friends for New Years Eve way back in August ’04 as most of you will know, trying to find a hotel with adequate wheelchair accessible facilities can be a hard task at the best of times and even though the new DDA (Disability Discrimination Act 1995) had already come into effect, most disabled rooms in majority of hotels still have a bath tub and for me this is unacceptable.

 

After many hours searching the Internet, exchanging emails between web sites and different hotels I eventually found www.accessatlast.com  and filled in their enquiry form to see if they could find me an accessible room that met my needs for New Years Eve.

 

I wanted a hotel in the centre of London, preferably near Trafalgar Square as this was the place to be when celebrating the New Year!

 

Within an hour Stephen (accessatlast consultant) contacted me to discuss my requirements.  He understood exactly what I needed and although he was unsure of a hotel that would be suitable, he advised me he would call me back before the end of the week.

 

Within a few days, accessatlast had sourced the Thistle hotel, Charing Cross that met my budget and only 5 minutes from Trafalgar Square!

 

After a brief discussion with my girlfriend and friends I called Stephen back and he arranged the booking of the rooms and managed to get a great price.  It worked out at around £44 per person per night and for London this was a great price.

 

For piece of mind Stephen sent an accessatlast access consultant to the Thistle, Charing Cross to measure door widths and take pictures of the bedroom and shower area.

 

Stephen arranged for a shower chair to be delivered the day before my arrival. I would like to mention that the shower chair was not what you might have at home and it was a bit small for me.  I would advise you let them know your measurements as they can then find a more suitable sized shower chair.

 

All that was left was to get the train tickets and find some where to go New Years Eve, and after searching the web we found a restaurant in the national theatre, The People’s Palace.

 

So everything was in place, I tried getting the train tickets but good old First Great Western and the Christmas timetables meant I couldn’t get them until two weeks before travelling. I would suggest if you ever go to London try and get first class apex tickets, I couldn’t believe how cheap it was to go first class and have all the perks that go with it, free food and drink.

 

You can arrange wheelchair assistance by ringing the operators disabled assistance line and book the wheelchair space required to. So with everything arranged and booked, the only thing left to do was wait.

 

The day of travel arrived, we met at Newton Abbot Train station with enough time to inform the station staff of my travel (something they ask you to do) so they can get the ramp ready and awaited the arrival of the train. From then on the station’s staff took over (in case anyone has carers), they get the ramp ready and wheel you onto the train and into the wheelchair area, and they also ring the destination station to inform them of your arrival.

 

This was it, a first class train journey to London with the free perks of the tea, coffee, and light snacks, and the journey was enjoyable.  When we arrived in London around midday, someone was waiting to take me off the train the same way as I was put on.

 

On leaving the station the famous black cabs were awaiting customers and we had no problems getting into one and set off to the hotel.  Some cabs have a bit more head room than others as I found out being 6”2, but the cabby was a good laugh and pointed out the usual tourist attractions.

 

When arriving at the hotel I came across the dreaded cobbles outside the hotel front, not the nicest feeling in the world but I’ll let it go due to the room being so good (room 210). The hotel staff were really helpful, the porter arranged for my bags and the hired shower chair to de sent to my room.

 

On arriving at my room I noticed the room had its own door bell and a switch for closing the curtains. The en-suite  bathroom was as expected, large enough for a wheelchair user and the shower area was big enough for a wheelchair display team let alone one person.

 

One down side was the toilet, it was slightly raised so the shower chair couldn’t fit over it.  The hotel certainly did a reasonable job at make the room accessible for disabled people. Although, the mini bar wasn’t but how many people do you know would want to pay £1.70 for a Mars bar?

 

We spent the rest of the day touring the shops around Covent Gardens, watching the street entertainers and negotiating more lovely cobbles, even though the DDA had come into effect it’s still surprising to see how many shops, bars and restaurants still after 10 years haven’t made their services accessible to wheelchair users’

 

People mention Londoners aren’t always the most friendliest of people but for the whole trip not once were we confronted with un-friendliness.

 

The next day (New Years Eve) after the large array of breakfast available at the hotel we all decided to do the tourist bit and ventured towards the Millennium Eye. From the hotel you can walk through the station below (Charing Cross) and out over the Hungerford Bridge over to the south bank.

 

After coming back down to earth with a slow stop my girlfriend and I decided to tour the Saatchi gallery, and after 10 minutes trying to find out how to get in, the flyer staff of the gallery rang the security guard to meet us round the back and escort us to the service lift.

 

At that time there was only one access point to the gallery which is via the London Travel Inn Hotel.  This is due to be changed in the near future as the gallery was allegedly paying for a wheelchair lift at the front of its building. The gallery is completely accessible.

 

New years eve and we left the hotel for the People’s Palace restaurant inside the Royal festival hall (If you plan on going for New Years Eve I’d suggest to book yourself in for a meal as the pubs get very crowded). Inside there are lifts to the restaurant and balcony (but wheelchair users cannot access the balcony). The meal was fantastic but for £90 a head you’d expect it to be, the staff gave us exceptional service. 

 

Midnight was nearing and the wine was flowing.  A band was playing its heart out and the fireworks of New Years Eve were upon us. After finding out there was a private bar to view the event from which over looked the Eye, the scene was set for the big countdown on the building behind and the lavish £1.2million firework display with 150,000 people screaming in the background on the other side of the Thames was exhilarating.

 

 

After the celebrations we headed back to the hotel.  Due to diversions we went up the South Bank to Big Ben and over the bridge and down the other side were thousands of bottles were left by revellers (I’d suggest having solid tyres, as the amount of glass is unbelievable), but the interesting thing was the number of different nationalities from all over the world to visit London for one evening with no trouble but the means to celebrate.

 

It was an great experience to see everyone wish complete strangers a Happy New Year but was surprised that in our British capital we hardly came across a single Britain.

 

Arriving back at the hotel we where greeted by a wall of Police and wonder how to get into the hotel, but the helpful officers came to our aid. I remember seeing a man in an Indian head dress with women’s knickers and high heels on, what a sight.

 

New Years Day was a late affair but we had tickets to see Arsenal v Charlton at The Valley to end the 3 day trip to London.

 

Word of advice - if you plan on going to see any football match in London, you may want to use the trains, if your going with friends it is easier for them to help you on and off the train as they don’t stop for long as we found out.

   

On arriving at The Valley the stewards were very helpful and showed us to our seats via a lift from street level. The view from the Charlton stand is fantastic and there is trolley service for the disabled to help avoid the queues.

  

Funnily enough Arsenal won 3-1 (no surprise really) and we trudged back to the train station for the ride back to Charing Cross with the help of friends.

 

Time to rest before the evening meal at Pizza Express and to my surprise everywhere was packed, I guess London never rests. After tea we found a great pub in Leicester Square, The Nags Head (not the one with Del Boy I’m afraid).

 

The next day we travelled home as it started, it finished with us all meeting at London Paddington and informing First Great Western of my travel back to the sunny West Country and time to reflect over free drinks again.

 

A wheelchair users perspective of London is fantastic, there’s loads of places to go and things to do.  I felt the restaurants catered for my disability as best they could and will endeavour to get you in to spend your money.

 

If you can go, GO!!!

 

All thanks to the accessatlast team ! Thank You.

 

Nigel Barber

Devon