The access panel members meet

On 1st December 2022 our first access panel meeting took place. This was an incredibly exciting moment to have people with lived experience of disabling barriers visiting West Horsley Place, with the shared vision to see it become more accessible to people who may struggle to access heritage sites due to a wide variety of physical, sensory, and learning barriers.

At the meeting there was a shared affection for heritage sites, with a collective love of outdoor spaces, history, culture and art, and a desire to see West Horsley Place becomes more accessible, not only for those sat in the room, but everyone.

We were pleased to welcome representatives from local groups, including The Grange, Surrey Coalition of Disabled People and Bloomin Arts, alongside individuals with a personal passion to improving access.

At historic sites, improving access is often a long and windy road. It’s not possible to approach it like you would a new site; widening door frames and resurfacing floors to meet the highest accessibility standards. It’s important to remain sensitive to the historical context and conserve the site for generations to come. Thankfully this is something our access panel are sensitive to.

Our first meeting was an informal introduction to one another, setting the vision and a brief tour of the manor house. Panel members gave their first impressions of house and suggested small improvements such as a sign to highlight the step in the men’s toilets and updating our website to include the dimension of our lift and an emergency access routes.

We have also introduced a 1-2-1 hearing loop system thanks to the advice of one or our panel members, improving our welcome to hearing aid users. This will be available on request at our registration and merchandise desk when we reopen in April. While this system is limited to a stationary spot, it will be available for hearing aid users to communicate more easily with our volunteers and staff as they enter West Horsley Place.

Our access panel will be meeting again when we re-open in April, to focus on improving disabled guest’s experience when they arrive at West Horsley Place and access to our external spaces. We will continue to implement our panel’s feedback where there is a low, or no-cost, to the changes suggested. Suggestions for bigger changes will be collated into a funding bid and influence our future activity plans.

Watch this space for more updates over the coming months.