There have been seven meetings of the Group since the last AGM, on 8 May 2019, including one virtual meeting, using 'zoom'. It has not been possible for the Group to meet in person since March 2020. Most of the meetings in person were held at the Methodist Church, Carrville, though one took place at the Community Room of Sheraton Park. The experiment of meeting virtually using the 'zoom' facility in January 2021 was successful, and the Group will continue to meet in this way until it is possible to meet in person. The number of members attending meetings has varied between nine and six.
The Group was very pleased to welcome Councillor Liz Brown of the City of Durham Parish Council as a member. Effective liaison with both DCC and with the City's Parish Council is valued by the Group. It was also very pleased to welcome Michael Stoker.
It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Diana Sanderson, a long-standing member of the Group, and a person whose contributions were much valued. We miss her wit and good sense.
The Group remained concerned about the location of the new DCC Headquarters, though it had been consulted about the building itself, and was optimistic about the suitability of its facilities. Strong objections had been expressed to the building's location, including a letter from the Group to the Minister of State for Local Government. The objections have been ignored.
In the interests of drawing attention to the work of the Group, it was agreed that there should be a stall at the Market Place when the farmer's market was operating, with members present to answer questions from anyone interested. Colin Wilkes, the manager of Durham Markets, would help with the practicalities. 'Pop-up' banners were needed to make the stall more visible, and it was agreed to invest some of the Group's financial resources in these. The banners were made, and were used in the summer of 2019 with some success.
It was agreed that since the Group's Constitution was out-of-date and did not represent the Group's mode of operation correctly, a new Constitution should be prepared and adopted. The Group's requests for financial assistance in meeting the costs of banners, as well as of help with publicising the activities of the Group via a maintained website, would require that a suitable Constitution was in place.
With the assistance of several DCC councillors, funds have been provided to enable the Group to launch a new, maintained, website. The hope is that, with the provision of more information on the website, the activities of the Group will become more widely known.
There is to be a new Local History Centre based in a development adjacent to the Mount Oswald Manor House. The Group has been consulted about the plans for this development, with members attending meetings and drawing attention to issues which will need to be addressed.
There has been an attempt to establish a link with the City's student population, but it has not yet proved effective.
Durham Cathedral has developed a project centred on improving the usability of its cloisters. Since the project requires Heritage Lottery Funding, the Group's Secretary was invited to a preliminary general meeting for a wide ranging discussion of the project. It was apparent, however, that there was little or no interest in addressing access issues even though it had been emphasised at meetings of the Cathedral's Access Panel how important they are if the Cathedral wishes to make itself a more effective visitor attraction. Despite reminders and requests, the Cathedral's Access Panel has not met since the completion of the project to open the Monk's Dormitory. A consequence of the Group’s dismay at the Cathedral’s apparent lack of concern was that the Secretary was asked to draft a letter to be sent on behalf of the Group to the regional director of the Heritage Lottery Fund drawing attention to the Cathedral’s attitude. It was agreed that the draft letter should first be sent to the Cathedral’s Chapter Clerk for information. As a consequence, the Cathedral authorities have agreed to re-convene its Access Panel, though the opportunities to do this have yet to arise because of the current restrictions.
A new bus station is to be built on North Road, and the Group has been involved in discussions about the plans, as well as the facilities it will provide. The Group was particularly pleased to learn that the bus station will include a Changing Places facility.
The DCC's Disability Partnership, which members of the Group attend, commissioned access audit reports covering most of the streets, paths and pavements in the City. Five of these reports have been prepared. They are detailed, and very useful in that they draw attention to a large number of needed improvements, including many that are required for safety reasons. The Group has welcomed these reports and commented on the matters to which they draw attention. The City's Parish Council has asked to see both the reports and the Group’s comments. We understand that both the City's Parish Council and the DCC will be considering the report and comments.
The Miner's Hall at Redhills is being refurbished, and members of the Group were invited to visit and comment on what is needed to improve access both to and within the Hall. Reports have been prepared, and submitted to those managing the refurbishment.
Barry Gower, Secretary, Durham City Access For All Group.