Although born in London I spent my formative years living in Gloucestershire. The rural setting of the country was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the ‘Old smoke’ as it was known in those days.
Most of my mates looked on our capital with a little trepidation. The colossal size of the place, my accent and its football teams were always open to debate, but school trips were always treated with awe and respect. It’s majestic buildings, flash cars and the general buzz of the place seemed to beguile everyone as we all gazed from our coach at its madness and wonders.
I finally returned to my place of birth on a permanent basis years later. I had always been a regular visitor staying with friends and family so was confident getting about but living there again was an eye opener. At first my A to Z of the city was essential viewing, but in time my knowledge (much of it learnt on a push bike) grew until I was confident of its roads and able to navigate its four corners.
Much has changed in the twenty eight years since my return. Some of London is unrecognisable – new buildings have sprouted from every conceivable angle and the place has become much more accessible for people with disabilities.
This is very relevant for me since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis twenty years ago. Reliant now on a wheelchair to get around I tend to shy away from public transport. Only 24% of the tube network is accessible to me and buses have their own issues with space and getting on. Then you have the mass of people, which can envelop you.
“Although my award of the higher rate of Disability Living Allowance signalled my condition was getting worse, it ironically opened many doors.”
For many people like me with mobility problems this can be a major bugbear. Besides my personal complications with fatigue, a trip to the theatre or attending a concert sometimes needed military planning and was often just not worth the hassle. There were quite a few times when I made my excuses and missed out on an event or some other attraction settling for a cup of tea and a night watching TV at home.
I’ve always liked to engage in society though, absorbing its cultural diversity and was determined disability wouldn’t curtail that. Although my award of the higher rate of Disability Living Allowance signalled my condition was getting worse, it ironically opened many doors. A successful application for a Blue Badge, followed by an introduction to the Motability Scheme saw the arrival of a sleek black hatchback a few weeks later. It handed me back my independence and opened up new opportunities.
Subsequently I started to take advantage of the opportunities that abounded on my doorstep, re-engaging myself with what I loved. By law public venues have a duty to provide access and make adaptations for people with disabilities and London is a wash with an eclectic mix of museums, theatres, concert halls and sporting arenas as well as plenty of other places of interest screaming out to be visited.
With most shows or concerts securing tickets can be a headache but Julie, my wife and carer, is a dab hand at sorting that. She always plans ahead and over the years we’ve seen many theatre productions and concerts. It’s really cost effective for people with disabilities as the carer usually goes free and tickets are often sold at subsidised prices.
James Coke at Wembley supporting his beloved Everton
I’ve also kept the flame alive for my other passion football. I’m a big supporter of Everton and by joining their Disabled supporters group I’ve been lucky to attend many games around the country including a few at Wembley. Julie leaves the football to me and my close friend James who does an excellent job as my substitute carer and fellow believer.
The common dominator though as with theatre visits (excluding a regular beating for the Toffee’s), is you can use your Motability Scheme car to transport you back and forth to whatever ground you are visiting – it just makes logistical, financial and peace of mind sense.
Getting round London nowadays is so much easier. Sat navs have been a game changer allowing you to map your route, taking you directly to your destination. They avoid the panic of getting lost. There are also then a number of websites providing details for blue badge holders on where to park.
The 4 hour parking limit easily allows you time for some supper or a bit of therapeutic shopping before your main event. There are many bays to choose from some adjacent to venues, but they do come on a first served basis, so keep your smart phone handy and your options open.
The Motability Scheme has certainly enriched my life down the years. The cars have helped provide that little extra spice in life we all crave for emboldening me to do more. Secure in the knowledge I have total backup it’s allowed me to rise above my disability and live the life I want to, making use of societies changing disability map. If only Everton’s away form was as reliable as the Motability Scheme – then it would be a perfect world.
Like many big cities, London is full of people – but don’t let them put you off. There are so many brilliant parks, restaurants, museums and other attractions in this metropolis that a weekend stay or visit will have you totally engrossed. However like all excursions it will need some preparation and planning. So to help you on your way, I’ve put together some handy hints, useful things to know and a list of some fantastic places of interest you can visit accessible to all.