There have been six meetings of the Group since the last AGM, on 11 May 2022. After some difficulties with using ‘zoom’ facilities, especially limitation on the time restrictions on free use, it was decided that with David’s assistance, the Group would fund an annual subscription to the service, and also invest in some suitable equipment. This has proved successful, and some members are joining meetings using ‘zoom’, though there have been ‘in person’ meetings for members to join if they can. Meetings have been well attended with at least six or seven members able to contribute.
Attempts to re-start the Cathedral’s Access Advisory Panel have been frustrated, and no progress has been made. The Group was invited to meet with Cathedral staff and visit the building. Alice, Len and Barry gave up their time to undertake this visit, and a report drawing attention to some weaknesses was prepared for the Group. Assurances were given that the panel would be re-convened, and if it had been the report would have been presented. Subsequently, the Group was asked to comments on steps the Cathedral had taken to improve some aspects of its operations intended to assist those visitors with a visual impairment. The request was declined, as it was pointed out that the Group does not have the power, or appropriate skills, to operate as a consultancy service.
Ruth Chittenden, from Ushaw, met with the Group, and suggested that a visit by members of the Group to Ushaw, might be arranged with a view to providing suggestions as to respects in which access could be improved. This visit has yet to be arranged.
The Group has supported attempts by guide dog owners to provide safe facilities, in parks or elsewhere in the City, for the dogs to exercise and run free. This support is continuing.
The Group is increasingly concerned about its failure to recruit new, and younger, members. Attempts have been made on a regular basis in recent years to improve publicity for the Group, but they have had little success. Some members believe that the Group may be coming to the end of its useful life. This concern is coupled with disappointment that access issues are not receiving the attention they deserve. The failure of the Cathedral authorities to discharge its responsibility as a visitor attraction, and the failure of local authorities to address effectively problems created by pavement and street obstructions, are examples of cases where although there may not be breaches of equalities law, the legitimate needs of some members of the public in Durham City are being overlooked. A letter, drawing attention to the Group’s disappointments was written to the Durham City Parish Council, and there are hopes that there will be some positive outcome.
The Group has helped with attempts to ensure that the layout in W.H Smith’s in the Market Place makes access easier for users of mobility aids, and in particular ensures that the lift providing access to the Post Office in the basement is not obstructed.
There is to be a pedestrian underpass beneath the Millburngate Bridge roadway, joining the ‘Odeon’ car park beneath Riverwalk to the new yet-to-be-opened Millburngate development. The design for this underpass walkway, which has been approved by the Planning Committee of Durham County Council, incorporates steps, which will make it unusable by wheelchair and mobility scooter users. Protests, by the Access Group among others, have been ineffective. It remains to be seen whether any suitable remedy can be found.
Some members of the Access Group are also members of the DCC Disability Partnership, which is being consulted about steps being taken to develop the site of the currently closed DLI, and the building itself.
The City’s Parish Council has commissioned a Heritage Trail and, at a late stage following prompting, sought and accepted the Group’s advice.
There was a successful post-Christmas lunch at the Duke of Wellington, which was enjoyed by those able to come.
Barry Gower, Secretary, Durham City Access For All Group May 2023