My #TravelStories

Wheelchair with buggy board and seat for sibling
(In response to the ‘Greater Cambridge City Deal’)

I’ve never commuted by car.

In my working life, I actually enjoyed my morning commute by train or tube (when I lived in London), and underground (when I studied in Glasgow), allowing me time to get stuck in to a good book or listen to my ipod – yeah, ok, not always, I certainly don’t miss having someone’s armpit in my face!

I’ve also enjoyed commuting by bike in London and in Cambridge.  I love cycling and it’s by far my favourite mode of transport, IF the infrastructure is there (otherwise it’s a wholly stressful experience!), if the distances allow and IF you are able to!

I’ve always found buses stressful.  Possibly my own anxiety issues?  They seem less predictable than train/tube/tram, the time is harder to judge and I’m always anxious I’ll miss, or not recognise, my stop. I’m a bit (actually, a lot) of a map geek and I guess I like the clarity of trains and tubes.  In fact I’d describe both me and my husband as map/transport geeks!  It seems perfectly natural to us to have selected each of our homes together based on the transport links, train lines and cycle routes!

EJ in a baby carrierWhen EJ was small, public transport was still easily doable.  I didn’t attempt the faff with the pram/pushchair as I had a baby carrier for walking the dogs, so I used it most of the rest of the time too.  EJ’s always been light for her age so I carried on in that way pretty much until she got her prescribed specialist buggy from wheelchair services, which coincided with her brother arriving, and her starting nursery in a neigbouring (awkward to get to by public transport) village.  It was at that stage I began to use the car a lot more.

As I say, I love cycling and we are a cycling family so we do have a selection of bikes/accessories to enable us to carry on pedalling, including a fantastic family trike (zigo leader) which has a detachable front pod that can be used as a buggy.  As EJ is a wheelchair user, we can’t just cycle somewhere without having a mobility aid at the destination!

Trike on a car free cycle routeHowever there are limits to how much and how far we can cycle, physically (I’m pretty exhausted generally through lack of sleep and I do a lot of lifting and carrying in my role as carer) and also the time I feel is reasonable to expect the kids to be strapped into bike seats.

Public transport, on my own, at rush hour, with wheelchair and two children… no…. just, no.

I don’t mind driving from time to time and in many situations I now find it necessary (to take the kids to different destinations.  To transport the dogs, shopping, wheelchairs, walking frames….).

However I now find myself commuting by car.  And I hate commuting by car.

EJ has just started Year 1 at special school.  It is 6.9 miles from home (so google tells me).  The next closest school (and, apparently, officially her catchment school, although I have never found or been supplied with any documentation to confirm this) is 8.5 miles from home.  We have not been allocated school transport.  With EJ less than 6 years old, I don’t think I would be taking up school transport even if we were offered it, I’m not ready, EJ is still my baby girl and it’s something I’ll investigate further later down the line.  In the meantime I’ll take my little girl to school myself, like I would do if she was at mainstream school.  However as she’s not at mainstream school that (normal parental job – the school run) involves a 6.9 miles journey at rush hour.  So we drive.  It takes us at least 40 minutes there and then about 20 minutes home, which is a long time in the car, but I feel most guilty for my almost 3 year old being stuck in the car all that time.  (And of course then there’s the school pick up later in the day, so in total it’s 27.6 miles/day.)

EW on the train platformOnce or twice a week my husband is able to drop EJ at school on the way to work, leaving the car close to school.  The wee guy and I will then make our way into town by public transport, which involves at least one change and generally a longish walk, depending on the route we choose.  Thankfully EW is a bit of a train fanatic so he loves that part of the journey (however if more parking restrictions come into force this may no longer be possible for us, as we can’t afford the cost of high car parking charges on top of all our travel costs).

The current ‘City Deal’ proposals for Cambridge are a real worry for our family and I know they are for many others too.

I don’t feel we have any viable alternative to the car – I would LOVE if we did.  The proposed congestion control points will impact directly on our current route.  We will have to change to a longer way round, along with everyone else, so not only will the distance increase, it will also become busier.  Our journey WILL take longer.

I don’t have the answers.  I totally understand this is an extremely complex puzzle, but it seems to me that if you make driving awful for the average commuter (the ones you are trying to encourage onto public transport), you also make it awful for everyone else, including those who have no other viable options.

Us. Other disabled people. Carers and community services, local residents and local business to name a few that spring to mind.

I think there have already been a few contradictory strategic decisions in the city.  Introducing charging for car parking at the park and ride, for example, seems to me to be counter to encouraging people onto the bus or cycling from those out of town locations! Positive reinforcement works for kids (and dogs! 🙂 ), perhaps it does for commuters too!  Wouldn’t it be better to be offering incentives/rewards for ‘good behaviour’ rather than punishing the ‘bad’!

In our ‘special needs world’, there was a county decision a decade or so ago to consolidate the special schools into a fewer number of better equipped schools.  Great in many ways as we love EJ’s school! However it means kids have to travel further distances and most of them have to be driven to school (either by bus, taxi or private car), and at least some of the staff need to drive as they also have community support roles to fulfil, so it’s inevitable that there will be traffic trying to get to the school at morning rush hour.

My feeling is that if you make public transport and cycling the most attractive option for the fit and able individual commuters, you have a far better chance of striking a natural balance between car use and more sustainable forms of transport.

Make the cycling infrastructure truly integrated (on my route into the city centre there are still many hairy sections and tricky junctions).

Improve public transport.  We’ve yet to see how the new Cambridge North station might improve congestion, and I know there are proposals for another new rail station at Addenbrookes in the South of the city.  Perhaps there are other options too, for additional suburban stations on other lines into Cambridge? How about a station in Cherry Hinton/ Fulbourn on the Ipswich line for example?

Wheelchair with buggy board and seat for sibling


So this is my tuppence worth on the Cambridge congestion problem.

I know something has to be done, it really does, but to make sure some of our #TravelStories don’t get even worse, please think about the non typical commuters and the people living/schooling in the the midst of the congestion zone too.

Please think about those who who have little or no choice but to drive.

Accessibility Stories (sept 16)

I am very excited to be launching my shiny new linky today!

I’m hoping this will turn into a helpful informal tool to allow an exchange of ideas and experiences (good and bad!) of the accessibility of buildings, places, spaces and products, and to spread the message much further than our lone voices can!

Rusty old key in a door lock

I welcome input from anyone that is affected by accessible design – users, carers, friends and family as well as designers, developers, managers and legislators – so pretty much everyone then!

I intend for this to be a regular monthly thing, on the last Thursday of the month, so a round up of the month’s posts of sorts (however posts don’t have to be written that month, or indeed new!).  Depending on the number of posts linked, I’ll write up a little summary or pick out a few highlights at of the previous month’s entries when I post the next link.

I’m really looking forward to reading some fab posts from friends old and new!

Please read the guidelines and then get linking below (the link will be open for a week)!


1. Link up to 2 posts each month (old or new)! I don’t have a badge, but it would be lovely if you could add a text link back to my site so people can find the linky and read the other blog entries.

2. Please comment on this post to introduce yourself if you’re new to the linky, and comment on some of the other linked posts to help share ideas and experiences!

3. It would also be amazing if you could share your post (using the hashtag #AccessibilityStories) on social media to help spread awareness of the issues around accessibility!  I’ll also try to retweet as many posts as I can!

4. I welome blogs from professionals and suppliers as well as individual bloggers as long as they keep within the spirit of idea exchange and are not sales posts for products or services.

When is accessible not accessible?

Changing Places toilet selfie

Toilets may not be the most glamourous element in a building but they are certainly necessary! Often classed as part of the building’s ‘core’  – it’s essential workings – we’d never consider designing a building without them.  Indeed we wouldn’t even expect to attend a temporary outdoor event without some toilet provision being put in place…. but are they accessible to everyone?

sketch plan unisex accessible WC
Unisex Accessible WC

Architects and developers all know this little diagram of a unisex wheelchair accessible toilet from part M of the building regs.

There’s lots of info about the design of this loo, the minimum dimensions, the positioning of sanitaryware and fittings which are all critical to enable a wheelchair user to transfer to the loo and (maybe just?) enough space for a carer to assist an ambulant disabled person to use the loo.

It’s automatic to include this accessible toilet in our designs now (of course it’s part of legislation so we have to, but) it’s inclusion isn’t it? Everyone has to go to the loo so we need to make sure that where there are toilets, there’s a facility for everyone, right? Well, actually, no.

Changing Places toilet selfieThe thing is, this ‘unisex accessible wc’ is actually pretty small when it comes to using them in a wheelchair, particularly a motorized chair (check out your nearest one!), and impractical (if not impossible) if you are not able to transfer on your own or can’t stand up to change an incontinence pad.

It seems so obvious to me now, when I really look at that drawing, and see the compact little wheelchair drawn neatly next to the loo.

My 5.5 year old daughter needs assistance with personal care.  She wears nappies/pads.  She outgrew ‘baby change’ tables long ago and yet cannot use this accessible loo.  What do we do? Where can she change?  (I refuse to entertain the idea of laying her on the floor!).

Sometimes (if we ask) we may be offered the first aid room.  Which for us is doable as EJ is still small enough for me to lift without a hoist, and we don’t need the use of a toilet – but this is discretionary and not a permanent solution.

So most often we go home – we cut our trips to the length of time it’s reasonable between nappy changes – we are timetabled and our lives restricted by the toilet.  Or, if it’s not possible to go home, we might change her in the car (not very dignified, or practical, especially as she grows older).

So many people end up with no choice but to change their loved ones on that small area of floor in the ‘disabled loo’.

People don’t really talk about their toilet needs, or the needs of those they care for – it’s all a bit embarrassing and many people just make do or stay home – so I think the lack of facilities is just a case of not knowing there is a need, unless you have the need, and a lack of joined up policy that we (society) are only just starting to catch up with.

I’m ashamed to admit that working as an architect (pre-children) I didn’t put two and two together. I worked in housing mostly, including extra care housing, where we designed accessible homes with space for carers, bath and shower rooms with ceiling hoists etc, but it really didn’t occur to me that those sorts of facilities wouldn’t be provided for people when they’re out and about!

The best practice standards for Changing Places toilets were conceived to address these needs.  A CPT is essentially a larger room, with space enough to accommodate a large wheelchair/scooter, 2 carers, a changing bench and a ceiling hoist (in addition to toilet and wash basin).

Plan of a Changing Places Toilet
#ChangingPlaces Toilet

The Changing Places campaign  has just celebrated it’s 10th year, and in that time the Changing Places toilet best practice standards have been included in BS 8300:2009 (section 12.7) and referenced in Part M of the building regs. However, despite official acknowledgment of this need, it’s still not compulsory for ANY building to install a changing places toilet, irrespective of building use or occupant capacity.  I think this is a huge deal, because when something is only recommended it implies it is ‘not essential’ – however to those of us who need them, they really ARE essential!  There’s also a huge potential to miss recommendations completely, when already juggling the complexities of all the complusory regulations in a large building project.

There are now over 850 registered Changing Places in public places and venues across the UK, which is both exciting (given that from nothing the campaign has had 850 successes) and also shocking (in that there are only 850 toilets in the WHOLE of the UK that my daughter can use!).  For example there are only 2 CPTs listed in the whole of our home city of Cambridge!  One at Addenbrookes Hospital, and the other in the Grand Arcade shopping centre – I would hope more places in Cambridge would welcome disabled visitors than that, but how far is it reasonable to travel away from the only toilet you can use?

It does have to be acknowledged that Changing Places toilets do require a significant amount of space and, understandably, to many smaller individual retailers/venues & in refurbished buildings the degree of space and cost required can be quite a commitment.  However if your project is smaller, or existing building too awkward, to accommodate a BS standard changing places toilet, please don’t dismiss the idea! There are other options for upgrading the standard facilities and it is definitely worth speaking with access consultants or the CP consortium to help you get the best out the space available.

My own view is that in smaller venues, particularly those with a family friendly ethos, should be looking to provide more inclusive ‘family facilities’ – perhaps where they’d currently provide a baby change area, one that would provide space for all, from babies to grannies (and everyone inbetween) who need help to use the loo.  Something in the spirit of these proposals by the Space to Change campaign. (Note: if thinking of combining facilities, care has to be taken to ensure the needs of those currently met by the ‘unisex accessible WC’ are not compromised).

As an architect passionate about inclusive design, I’m hoping that we can encourage our clients to see the positive impact in upgrading their toilet facilities.  Make those ‘reasonable adjustments’, asked for by the Equality Act, and make buildings welcoming and inclusive for all.

Family out shoppingOften the focus of discussion around ‘more standards’ can become negative.  Quite understandably, clients are concerned about cost, loss of area & sometimes security…. however aside from the improved sense of inclusion around their business, there is the huge potential increase in patronage by disabled customers (and not forgetting their friends and family!), if the facility is effectively promoted and well integrated in the design to ensure good security.

Research tells us the purple pound represents billions to our economy! People with greater accessibility needs, families like ours, want to get out and about and enjoy our built environment, socialise, spend money as much as the next person!

Where EJ can’t go, then we can’t go, so we will choose to go to the shopping centre, restaurant, cinema, tourist attractions where we know our child, friend, partner, parent can use the loo comfortably – We will stay there longer, and we will spend more money!

I’d like to end with this link to a fab blog by fellow changing places campaigner @ordinaryhopes who, I think, really illustrates the challenges our built environment presents us with, and one of my favourite quotes from one of her posts:

At the end of the day, it isn’t really about the toilet. Nobody goes to a theme park just to use their toilet. We want to be able to use their toilet so that we can go to the theme park


Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

check out the toilets

sketch plan unisex accessible WC

Have you ever considered how wheelchair accessible the average ‘disabled toilet’ might be? Next time you are out at a café, shop, cinema, or even in your office, check out the toilet (even better take a friend or colleague and an office chair, or wheelchair if you have one, and do a bit of role play! – I’d especially love for building developers, designers and facilities managers to try this!)…..

sketch plan unisex accessible WC
Unisex Accessible WC

Now open the door…..

  1. Could you wheel a chair into the room? Is there space around loo for the chair so that you (the seated person) could transfer to the loo (some people prefer to transfer from the side and some from the front)?  There’s not a bin in the way is there? That’s a very common frustration! Or a mop, hoover or even spare office supplies!? More common than you would imagine!  If you can – brilliant! – that’s a tick from many part time wheelchair users and full time wheelchair users able to self transfer.
  1. However, now imagine you cannot transfer to the loo on your own. You may be able to stand and weight bear so perhaps your friend (carer) could help you?  Is there enough space to do that? With the chair in there too…. and the door closed? A bit of a squeeze?  But what if you cannot weight bear? Can your friend help you get over to the loo?  Is there a ceiling hoist? A portable hoist?  If not is it safe for them to lift you from chair to loo!? Probably not.
  1. Finally imagine you wear an incontinence pad and cannot stand up to change. What do you do?  Is there a changing bench big enough for you to lie on? A hoist? If yes – brilliant! Gold star! If no, what do you do?  Are you prepared to be lifted by your friend out of your chair to lie on the floor? And is your friend happy to lift you, another adult!, on a slippy toilet floor, lower you onto the floor and then kneel down on said floor to help you to change? I suspect not…!

The solution to scenarios 2 & 3 would be a #ChangingPlaces Toilet (as well a whole range of other scenarios for which changing places are the solution too).  A toilet with a changing bench and hoist and a bit more floor space that can accommodate a wheelchair user, their wheelchair (some electric wheelchairs in particular are lot larger than the compact one shown in the above sketch!), plus 1 or 2 carers to move around comfortably.  Have a look at the map on the Changing Places Consortium website to see where the nearest one to you is.  Chances are it’s not very close! As I sit writing this, google maps tells me the closest one to me is 2.5 miles!

Would you travel that far to use the loo!?

No neither would we, so we have to go home or change our daughter in the car.  However there is so often no choice for people but to use that small, uncomfortable, dirty toilet floor…..


Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

talking of home

Vaila and the other speakers on stage

I gave a short talk at the Health, Social Care & Housing conference last week!   One of a series of sessions running parallel with the main Chartered Institute of Housing Conference in Manchester from 28-30th June (#CIHhousing16).

Laptop showing powerpoint slides It’s totally out of my comfort zone, but raising awareness of inclusive & accessible housing is such an important issue to me that when Habinteg kindly asked me to join them in a talk, I just had to say yes!

Habinteg are champions of accessible design and are one of the founders, and now maintainers, of Lifetime Homes standards (the widely used inclusive design standards for housing). Habinteg’s Paul Gamble chaired the session, which examined the links between accessible housing and the pressures in social care.  The two other speakers were researcher Martin Wheatley (@wheatley_martin) and Michelle Horn from Centre for Accessible Environments.

Martin presented highlights from the new research he’s been carrying out (involving Habinteg, Papworth Trust, IPSOS Mori & LSE), trying to identify and quantify the REAL need for accessible housing. Such a difficult area to pin down as not all people who need increased accessibility necessarily identify themselves as disabled, and/or may not be ‘in the system’, so even these new results could be an underestimate of the real need. (And of course that’s putting aside the fact that although every family doesn’t ‘need’ their home to be accessible right now, every family, at any point in time, could need their home to be more accessible for themselves or for their wider friends and family).

Some really interesting findings were presented, which could help give context to, and generate a more widespread appreciation for, the value of inclusive and accessible design in the mainstream.  The two findings that excited me most were:

  1. Disabled people are not mostly old people! Martin’s stats showed that over 50% of disabled people are working age people or children.  I think this is really important for design, because often the perception of accessibility is ‘old age’ and this often takes the style and glamour out of it! (Not that I’m saying older people are not stylish and glamourous you understand! I know many who are! – but there does seem to be a hint of the industry not trying very hard when it comes to design + old age.
  2. Accessiblity features don’t put house buyers off! I think this is huge! Part of the research was a survey of a typical cross section of society (with a broadly proportionate number of disabled & non-disabled people). The question was broken down into elements (broadly similar to the lifetime homes categories) and most were seen as an advantage rather than disadvantage.  It was just the very specialist items, like vertical lifts, that were deemed were off-putting (presumably to those who didn’t need them!). I think this is really valuable information to help demonstrate the desirability of accessibility!

Michelle talked of our existing housing situation in the uk. For example, at present only 6% of our homes have even the basic accessibility features, in line with the new ‘visitable’ building regulations standards (Part M: Category 1).  So even if we were building 100% of homes to lifetime homes standards (or Part M: Category 2), it’s going to take us a very long time to reach anywhere near enough to house the current estimate of 20% of families with a member who has access needs. And if we are to continue on our current trajectory, only providing 10% of wheelchair accessible housing in our newbuild developments, there’s no doubt that more expensive (and disruptive) adaptations will continue to be necessary to existing properties.

Vaila and the other speakers on stageMy own contribution to the talk was one of two halves.  Firstly our own home story, told from a family perspective, what ‘making do’ actually means for us and what we plan to do to our house – you can read part one of my talk on Habinteg’s blog.

The second half was more of a call to action – How do we shake the perception that accessibility is niche? That there isn’t inclusive design & normal design, that if society is really serious about inclusion and equality, then shouldn’t all design be inclusive? Edited to add: Habinteg have posted part two on their blog too.

I’m so glad I took part in the talk. It was great to meet & chat to the other speakers and we had some lovely feedback from people who attended.

Habinteg are following up with a day of action on Friday 8th July!

Do get involved on twitter with the #ForAccessibleHomes hashtag!


picture books

Children's books

One of the things I miss about not working in the office is access to the practice library.

The internet is brilliant for finding information, ideas, images…. especially when you are researching for a blog from the comfort of your own sofa!  But not everything is available online.  Building standards, reglulations and technical design guides for example.  I’ve also found it quite tricky finding interesting and inspiring examples of accessible housing projects online… and of course the internet is not quite the same as flicking through real paper books, with pretty pictures in.  Designers do like a pretty coffee table picture book or magazine for a bit of inspiration!


The picture books beginning to take over my bookshelves are not quite relevant for building design… unless you count Iggy Peck Architect, Rosie Revere Engineer & What Do People Do All Day?!

It was my birthday recently and some of my lovely relatives gave me some money to spend so I thought it was about time I treated myself to some nice new books (to compete with the kids on bookshelf space!) and to get me up to date with new ideas and get some design inspiration.

So, as you do (when you want some geeky techie books and coffee table architecture books), I popped onto the RIBA Bookshops website and searched for:


Ok well I’ll try:


I wasn’t expecting loads of titles, but I have to say I was pretty surprised to see next to nothing come up on any of the searches I did for accessibility, inclusive design, wheelchair accessibility….!  So much so, I emailed the bookshop to ask if I was missing something, but they only came back with a couple of other titles.  Another big surprise was that, of all the titles I found, only 2 are post 2010! Only two accessible design titles listed in the UK’s biggest architecture bookshop published after the Equalities Act!?

It would be nice to think this is because accessible & inclusive design publications don’t need to be singled out from the general design books….. maybe one day….. but I don’t think that’s it.  I just don’t think we (we, as in everyone, not just designers) have grasped the importance of accessibility for all of us, not just as a niche, not just as a token gesture.

My other theme of interest is sustainable & eco design, and it’s telling just how much a general popular interest in this concept has broadened it’s appeal, and I guess, snowballed the demand for ‘eco’ building, such that there is now a pretty good selection of specialist books for that subject, plus coverage in general architectural design books, magazines and the home design media.  My searches for titles in this category came up with much more healthy results:

Eco homes/housing/house = 121/154/600 products

Green homes/house = 22/14 products

So, I don’t quite know how we start it, but for so many reasons, not least if we are serious about building an inclusive society, we really need to start an accessible design snowball ASAP….!



are home design magazines accessible?

No, not directly anyway.

But, with a little shift in focus, I think they could quite easily be more inclusive.

I tend to buy a home design/refurbishment/style magazine each month. Not always the same one, I like a bit of variety!

This month (July 2015) I decided to do a little bit of homework and grabbed a selection of them. My perception was that there wouldn’t be much mention of inclusive design or accessibility, but I’d never really scrutinized them before and thought it would be an interesting exercise to be more analytical about it. And so, I decided to read my selection (Grand Designs, Homebuilding & Renovating, House Beautiful and Living Etc) word by word from cover to cover to see how many direct (and indirect) references I could find….

My criteria was: Use of the words (or variations of): disability, accessibility, inclusive/universal/design for all, flexibility and/or any articles which made reference to future needs, varying abilities etc. So my results were….

A pretty resounding: NIL 

This mini study was obviously with a very small sample group so I could be doing a disservice to the magazines I selected, however…

IMG_3587In the 4 magazines the only time I saw the word ‘accessible‘, it was in relation to the colour blue!

I spotted the word ‘disabled’ in one article (hurrah!), but it was just one sentence about how self building was something everyone can do, and unfortunately there was no expansion of the statement to explain the benefits that self-building held for those with a disability.

No use of the word inclusive at all (that I could find).

However there were a few articles that referred to flexibility for future use (mostly in the context of growing families.  I feel a little bit of extra content could easily have extended that concept to include families or individuals with other needs).

Another article mentioned multi-generational living. It’s an area which I find really interesting from an inclusive perspective, except that in this particular article it was used in the context of the older generation not selling up, and therefore causing a stagnation of the housing market.  (I’m not really clear how multi-generation living would cause a problem in this way as, it seems to me, to be a positive way to inhabit larger homes!?) – A slightly odd take on it I felt, but at least it was mentioned!

Also an ad for a new kit home (House Beautiful) covered multi-generational living.  This was one of the 3 show homes built at the Ideal Home Show. By far my favourite as it looked to me as if it probably complies (or comes close to) Lifetime Homes standards.

However although there were no direct references to inclusion, there were lots of articles and at least one or two lovely projects featured (in each magazine) that contained many aspects relevant to inclusive design. Lots of projects with big open plan living spaces, many ‘single level homes’ (bungalows!), some 2/3 storey homes with a downstairs loo (some large enough for a shower!) and a couple that also featured a separate room that I thought might be suitable to convert to a bedroom (if needed by a family member or overnight guest that couldn’t use the stairs)!

It would have been lovely to see these inclusive aspects highlighted and celebrated in the articles. An ideal opportunity to prompt people to think about their own future needs, and to think about how they could make their home more welcoming to disabled or elderly friends or family.  Not to mention giving some inspirational examples to people who are actively seeking to make their home more accessible!

And purely from a sale’s point of view…there’s whole market out there that isn’t being catered for (e.g. this gov article about the ‘purple pound’ on the high st)!



an ideal home?

On my quest to get up to date with what’s going on in the design world, and try to work out the amount of crossover there is between the homestyle and homebuilding sector and the independent living world, I’ve been googling, tweeting, browsing magazines and have gone along to a few shows/exhibitions. I had hoped to get to a few more (unfortunately the pesky issue of childcare foiled me there!) so I had planned this post as a comparison of some of the home shows and independent living shows, however as I did make it down to London Olympia for the last weekend of the Ideal Home Show, I’ll have to concentrate on that trip!


I was running late (as usual!), and almost managed to go to the wrong venue (Earls Court – oops!), but I made it just in time to catch the start of George (Amazing Spaces) Clarke’s talk! I really like George Clarke’s programmes, Amazing Spaces and Shed of the Year are particularly enjoyable, I think because they are so tangible to people – it’s so easy to imagine yourself getting stuck into a small project like the ones featured! In fact every time I watch Amazing Spaces, I end up on google looking for small caravans to refurbish (and I’m really not joking! – a bespoke adapted caravan would make holidays so much easier with Twinkle because sorting out a safe bedspace can be a major issue for us on overnight trips!)!

I love these sorts of exhibitions! There’s always loads see, but they can be pretty overwhelming unless you have a specific focus.

I think my favorite area this year was the garden zone, probably because it is most current in my mind – we are planning to sort out our own forest garden and would love to add a lot of sensory aspects. I’m also a little obsessed with inclusive playgrounds so I’m always looking out for interesting landscaping ideas, sensory elements and interesting textures.

As well as updating myself on design trends and picking up ideas for our project, the big reason for me going to the exhibition was to see how (if?) inclusive and/or accessible design was addressed. I’m afraid to say it really wasn’t much at all (I’m so sorry to pick on you, Ideal Homes, but as I didn’t make it to Grand Designs Live or the Homebuilding & Renovating Show, I don’t know how they compared).

There were very long queues for the full scale show homes (built in the middle of the hall!) but I felt I must look around the ‘Future proof home’ thinking it would be the one for me. Info on the route round was a bit lacking, the people in front of me were expecting futureproofing to mean technology and (of course!) I was thinking futureproofing meant design for life, but in actual fact it was environmental sustainability (we had to ask one of the members of staff at the end of the route!). For more information I was directed to the company who had a stand just outside. From an environmental point of view it was really fantastic, almost passivhaus standard which is exactly the right direction we should be going as far as I’m concerned from an energy point of view. However there was no specific reference to inclusive design or accessibility as part of the futureproofing. I got the impression that it was not something they’d really considered as ‘a thing’. Yes, of course they’d design for wheelchair access if the client asked, as each house would be bespoke, but for a product that is such a huge investment shouldn’t we be encouraging homeowners to consider their future needs? I get that growing old or considering ill health is not completely in the spirit of aspiration for an ‘ideal’ future, but people are willing to discuss insurances and invest in pensions for the future, so why wouldn’t they want to think about designing their house to adapt for their lifetime? – If they could be shown how inspirational design could make that a reality!?

The House Beautiful showhome was a different story. I have to say the actual aesthetic of the house was not completely to my taste (sorry guys!) but the important thing is that the internal planning has been well considered. The driver for them was to design for multi-generational living, and it followed that the resulting layouts are accessible and adaptable and look as if they follow most, if not all, of the Lifetime Homes principles. The bloke at the stand that I spoke hadn’t heard of Lifetime Homes, and it wasn’t mentioned on the literature, but if the plans do comply I think they ought to be celebrating that and using it as a positive sellable asset in the marketing of their new homes!

A few people I spoke to around the hall seemed interested but I didn’t feel it was something that was really on the agenda and one guy quoted some odd (very low) figures to me about the number of people who ‘need’ inclusive housing. On the spot I couldn’t recall any figures myself so I made a mental note to research the stats! (Edited to add this link to the government website giving some disability facts and figures).  However my point was, inclusive design isn’t just for people who ‘need’ it, it’s not just for the stereotype disabled person, it can just make life easier for everyone e.g. parents with prams and wriggling toddlers. When I put that to him, he said ‘well our parent’s managed’ – erm!? Don’t we want more from an Ideal Home than just managing? Shouldn’t our homes be designed to make life easier for all the family? Young, old and disabled or not?

As I was leaving the hall, I stopped at the map by the entrance and had another scan through the exhibitors to see if I’d missed the big accessible design area….but no, nothing obvious. A couple of the (very lovely and very helpful) staff asked if they could help and I asked them if they could think of anything. Neither of them could. I also asked them if they’d had many disabled visitors, and they said yes they had!

So Ideal Homes (and all other homestyle and homebuilding media), in planning your future shows I’d like to ask you to:

Please think about the disabled visitors you have that want to be inspired!

Please think about the vsitors who have disabled or elderly relatives and friends who could make their homes more accessible and welcoming!

There is a huge market out there that you are missing out on!


playground fun

Feeling the vibrations, Robert Burns Museum, Ayr

I spotted a poster on our village notice board a few weeks ago for a consultation event about a new children’s playground for the village, and (being both a mum and an architect!) I couldn’t stop myself from going along and to see what it was all about!

It was a really well attended event and exciting to see lots of families engaging with the ideas being displayed!  Lots of drawing and children and parents filling out comments forms.

There were 4 concepts tabled by 4 different companies (Hags-SMPKompanPlaydale and Wicksteed).

The proposals all catered for a large age range (toddler to 12ish years old) and all of them had fun suggestions. I don’t think I really favoured any one particularly over the others – there were similarities and differences that made them all interesting in different ways.

Culzean Country Park, National Trust for Scotland
Culzean Country Park, National Trust for Scotland

Our request was (surprise surprise!) for the final design to consider inclusive play and equipment as much as possible!

I am passionate about EJ being able to join in activities with her friends and siblings (in her own way). However, I think it’s also so valuable for all children to have the opportunity to meet and interact with children with differences, because the more they do, the less ‘different’ disability becomes.

It would be fantastic if more playgrounds featured inclusive activities and equipment, that everyone can use. This approach is not just about enabling children with additional needs, but also allowing siblings and friends of varying ages, and even mum or dad to join in, and play together. Inclusive play also often equates to more imaginative play, as children find new ways to use equipment and join in with activities.

Cherry Hinton Park, CambridgePlaygrounds are really important to all children’s development (balance, body awarenes etc) but for children like EJ with sensory processing disorder, vestibular stimulation (things like swinging, spinning around, bouncing) is particularly important – it’s all fun therapy and learning!

I’m always on the lookout for places that EJ can join in with her brother and cousins.  I have a list of our favourite playground equipment on pinterest, that I try to spot when we are out and about and passing new places, and I’m also starting to gather ideas on my pinterest boards for fun (and lots of sensory) things to do in our own garden (some are more achievable than others! – unless I get Alan Titchmarsh’s team to come and sort us out!).

In the playground, we love:

Nene Valley Park, Peterborough
  • Swinging – who doesn’t love a swing! EJ is too tall now for a toddler swing so we particularly like the big basket type that she can lie in safely.
  • Spinning – there are lots of cool accessible roundabouts on the market now which are flush with the ground and that you can push a pram/buggy/wheelchair onto.
  • Bouncing – trampolines, rope bridges, nets (again, fun for everyone!)
  • Textures – EJ loves the feel of sand!
  • Scrambling – Things to crawl over and scramble about on (like mounds and tunnels)

My favourite new idea from the day was adding a saftey net below a rope pyramid climbing frame which EJ could lie or sit on and would be able to feel the bouncing and vibrations from other children climbing on the ropes – she would love that!

Meanwhile, 16 month old EW spend most his time monopolizing the little slide, so I guess he was trying to tell us his preferences lie there!