Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Disabled people regularly use platform lifts such as this one, the writers say.

Disabled access group on platform lifts and being spoken for

The inclusion of a platform lift in the proposal for a new restaurant on the council-owned site in Harold Place proved controversial. The disabled access group HAVE, as potential users, offer their own views on the matter.

The startling words Wheelchairs win in Harold Place application refusal surprised us at HAVE. The headline conjures up an image of empty wheelchairs flying over the finishing line – but we know this relates to the somewhat skewed and protracted story of planning and disability access for the proposed Loungers Cafe at the site of the old toilets.

We are HAVE: Hastings Access to Venues and Events. A tiny if occasionally vocal campaign non-funded collective, we are not a charity and operate through our founders – Theresa Hodge, Penny Pepper and Kev Towner. Our broader membership is through our Facebook group, where we offer peer support amongst ourselves and occasionally to signpost venues and others to resolve access issues.

We’ve successfully supported Wonderfill, The Forbidden Fruit and lent ramps to St Mary in the Castle. Occasionally we help by a conversation – as happened recently with Afri-Co Lab. Between us, we have many years of comprehensive hands-on experience of access barriers across impairment groups and also an impressive connection to countless user-led disability networks and organisations. We’ve been equality trainers, speakers, journalists, activists and civil disobedience agitators in the name of disability and equality. We know this fight from our many years of experience.

Uncomfortable and exploited

We write now together with the HAVE voice. The Harold Place cafe access matter left us feeling uncomfortable and exploited. Many of the arguments took on a life of their own that we felt had little to do with the disabled experience and the realities of access.

While we welcome solidarity for the disabled community, we also felt “the disabled” were being used as a stick to beat Hastings Borough Council. There was also considerable confusion about the nature of a platform lift. Perhaps the idea to those not experienced with mobility impairment brings to mind something like a forklift truck?

Posh platform lift at the Wellcome Collection museum.

The image above shows an average platform lift and that at the side the rather posh one at The Wellcome Collection museum in Euston which has a marble floor and glass sides.

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery has a platform lift. Many of the HAVE membership have taken this lift. They are often used in new-build houses specifically for disabled tenants. The older models and some design aspects can be a bit tricky in terms of how the doors operate. But we are not against their use overall and know they work successfully for many disabled people. It is important to stress that these lifts in particular work well in smaller spaces and difficult buildings.

However, as HAVE – and as disabled citizens – we are not access auditors and our role is to highlight and question bad practices from a general principle of working for equality.


We also note there is much confusion concerning disability discrimination law. We are covered by the Equality Act which includes access to goods and services. Then there are building regulations under planning law which include design elements around access for disabled people. These acts are separate and best discussed with qualified building and planning professionals. Yet these professionals are not likely to be experts in the Equality Act – which no doubt adds to confusion within planning.

Many activists consider the disability aspect of the Equality Act weak – for instance, the proposed Loungers Cafe could claim “reasonable adjustment”.

A simple positive example might be where the seating in a restaurant is split into two types – drinks and snacks in one, and full meals in the other. But the snack area seating is not suitable for a disabled and/or elderly person who has a back pain issue. The reasonable adjustment would be enabling them to sit in the other area of the venue that has the appropriately comfortable seat – even if they only want coffee…


Reasonable adjustment can be used to create equality but it can also be used as a get-out – an example we’ve come across is a venue that states outdoor seating creates equality to the service when you can’t get inside due to steps. Not exactly equal access when it’s snowing!

HAVE is also not an easy resource available for free, and neither are disabled people happy being used without consultation to underline any failures of access allegedly caused by Hastings Borough Council. In terms of planning applications and such business, the process is often barred to many disabled people – literally – with inaccessible websites and print formats and a lack of alternative means of information and engagement. There is also the assumption that disabled people will have the internet and the skills to use it.

This leads to the all too familiar absence of our input. Don’t tell us we’re unresponsive when there are barriers preventing our response!

The story has unfortunately served only to demonstrate the all too common and rather outdated tendency to speak on our behalf (however well-meaning that may be) rather than offering a suitable platform for the disabled community itself to air its view.

While we at HAVE are approachable, welcome solidarity, and always look to collaborate, we urge in future that it is recognised that disabled people have a right to speak for themselves and that we have input in all matters which affect us.

Remember – Nothing About Us Without Us.

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Posted 19:42 Friday, Jun 17, 2022 In: Home Ground


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  1. Bernard McGinley

    Yes there’s more to disability than wheelchairs. In the Harold Place case however the Council showed discrimination as they (and Loungers’ architects) repeatedly ignored the legal requirements of their own planning application.

    Reportage in HOT gave marginalised groups and others the chance to comment, and HAVE didn’t. (Fair enough.) That was why their later statement was a surprise, with grievances that were a matter for HBC. There was no need for ‘a stick to beat the Council’: HBC were simply wrong in this instance. HAVE commented on platform lifts ’we are not against their use overall’. Not even when it’s unlawful? That seems like undue deference to an oppressor.

    I wasn’t speaking or acting for anyone else, and will read the Byline Times. Heather Grief’s suggestions are welcome, especially on information and consultation. The importance of lived experience is well stressed by Penny Pepper, and disabled people have many forms. There are many barriers to access too. Rapid approval of a White Rock Hotel reapplication for a ramp would be one improvement.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Monday, Jun 20, 2022 @ 11:26

  2. Penny Pepper

    Bernard, I’m unsure how to respond to your comments in depth because we always appreciate allies.

    But the level of chronic discrimination towards disabled people (which is not a synonym for wheelchair-users incidentally) is systemic and digs deep into the daily infrastructures of domestic, social and professional life.

    Surely you accept you speak from a position of non-disabled privilege? Would you take the same approach with other marginalised groups?

    Disabled activists and campaigners have fought for a semblance of equality for so long and yet our stream within the Equality Act is weak and we know it. For more understanding, I invite you to read my columns in Byline Times – “Who Are the Disabled?” and others such as Frances Ryan and John Pring. I have no interest in becoming an access auditor and neither can I read planning applications or realise they are there – due to access barriers. Perhaps we can learn from this experience and call out to allies to get in touch if planning applications affecting us appear?

    HAVE is primarily three people (including me) operating on a voluntary basis as a focal point to 300 members of a Facebook Group. What we share is lived experience. We need respect for that. Too long have disabled people (in all impairment groups) felt crushed under those (often well-meant) who want to speak and act for us, perpetuating many outdated stereotypes.

    I’m relieved the Loungers cafe is not going to happen for many reasons and I’m sure we all appreciate your efforts that helped prevent this. But we remain committed to making sure our voice – disabled people’s voice – is heard, and have the barrier-free space to make this happen.

    Comment by Penny Pepper — Sunday, Jun 19, 2022 @ 21:33

  3. Heather Grief

    What a lot of words! What we need is actions:
    1 – HAVE and any other relevant groups (e.g. blind, elderly, parents of small children) should automatically be consulted by people submitting plans to the Planning Committee
    2 – HBC’s Planning Cttee should include at least one person who is disabled in some way, or have a person who is disabled present to comment from that perspective. They should also send groups like HAVE a list of applications.
    3 – The safety of staff carrying food and drink up and downstairs in glass and other dangerously breakable materials was only mentioned by one councillor – presumably the rest have never worked in catering, and didn’t have the imagination to think of the heat in a kitchen facing south either. That says something about the high-up decision-makers at Loungers.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Sunday, Jun 19, 2022 @ 16:03

  4. Bernard McGinley

    Being spoken for? Surely not. HAVE do good work but it didn’t happen regarding the Council’s own Harold Place application (HS/FA/21/00905). Wheelchair rights were fought for nevertheless, successfully.

    The group talk of feeling ‘uncomfortable and exploited’, but how is not explained. If second-class status is not wanted, there’s a need to do something about it. The campaigners go on to say ‘Many activists consider the disability aspect of the Equality Act weak’. But it’s not so weak that it didn’t prevent the platform lift. The refusal decision specifically mentioned an unsuitable lift.

    As for the suggestion that ‘the proposed Loungers Cafe could claim “reasonable adjustment”’: No it couldn’t. It was to be a new building, and the proposal was a clear case of disability discrimination, as the Building Regs spelt out. HOT ran four articles by me on the case. The Council officers conceded nothing but eventually the Planning Committee rejected the Council’s application.

    It’s not credible to suggest of the regulatory apparatus that ‘These acts are separate and best discussed with qualified building and planning professionals’, when a) HBC planners have an unfortunate reputation regarding their expertise, and b) were anyway trying to foist an unlawful design on the town centre. Like dozens of townspeople, the HOT articles opposed this and were vindicated. On 23 March, Councillors on all sides agreed with the argument that the platform lift was not allowed in this proposed new building. (How does one become an ‘access auditor’? By studying the small print, as members of the Planning Committee did. Those details are also ’the realities of access’.)

    The suggestion that disabled people were ‘used without consultation’ is strange. All are entitled to campaign for the disabled, and there’s nothing ‘allegedly’ about the ‘failures of access’ the Council was prepared to give wheelchair users in the proposed building. The committee report and officers at the meeting did not even mention the Equality Act.

    HAVE regret the ‘rather outdated tendency to speak on our behalf (however well-meaning that may be)’ but my HOT articles weren’t speaking on their behalf, just seeking a better Hastings. We agree on a lot therefore, as there’s much to do.

    (This comment was lightly amended on 19 June.)

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Saturday, Jun 18, 2022 @ 13:40

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