We all have our own way of living in London. For most of us, it’s just a matter of personal taste but for some, a lot more consideration has to be taken. Journalist, TV personality, and disability and access consultant Mik Scarlet tells us his favourite wheelchair accessible venues in London.
When I first came here it was called the Camden Palace. It was the centre of the New Romantic scene and it’s still at the heart of Camden’s nightlife. It isn’t perfectly accessible, because if you’re in a wheelchair you won’t be able to get to the dancefloor, but it’s pretty good for a listed building. Contact the management first – they’ll make sure you have a great night. They normally give you a special VIP area and your own member of staff to get you drinks, meaning you end up having punters ask you ‘Hey, are you famous?’ all night. They provide hearing loop systems for their gigs, and the disabled toilet is huge.
This place, like the next, explains why my waistline has expanded. It’s a popular pub with a fantastic beer garden, a huge stock of designer drinks and super-tasty food (I love the pea, green bean and mint risotto). In fact, it’s a great place whether you’re out for a quick drink, meeting up with mates, having a party or wanting a romantic night out. The staff are really friendly and helpful, and there’s a big disabled toilet.
3. Al Parco Pizzeria
The best place for pizza – ever. Many years ago my wife and I found a pizza restaurant in Barcelona we fell in love with – and Al Parco is even better. Since we’ve been eating here, our trips to Barcelona have dropped off. Sad or what?
4. The Camden shopping experience
I love to eat, but my favourite pastime is shopping and, being a weirdo who hasn’t really changed style since the ’80s, I find the shopping in Camden is right up my street. The Stables Market can be a bit of a battle, with all the cobbles, but I am currently working with the market’s owners to improve the disabled access. Things have already got better, so watch this space. The Lock Market has a lift and is dead easy to get round, apart from one cobbled area. The Canal Market can be hard, as most of the huts are up a step, but all the stall holders are ready to help you part with your money. Need a break from the crowds? You can now get on to the canal towpath via a ramp. Perfect.
5. Spitalfields Market
Of course, if you want to browse a market that’s super-accessible, it has to be Spitalfields, which has it all. Loads of quirky stalls and shops, an art market and, yes, you guessed it, a disabled toilet or two. I can spend hours just wandering round, and the stalls change daily – an excuse to go back again and again.
6. Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, Regent’s Park
For a break from the craziness of Camden, this is my bolt hole. I love roses, and when they’re all in bloom, the smell is glorious. The nearby Garden Café is a great place to stop off for a drink and a pee break. And there are loads of Blue Badge parking bays all round the Inner Circle.
7. The South Bank
For a no-hassle day out, the South Bank wins every time. It’s an area where you don’t need to plan ahead and you can just run free – wander round the Hayward Gallery or head along to Tate Modern, eat, catch a show, and just soak up the glory of the Thames. It’s a totally accessible environment that proves it can be done.
8. Getting about
I’d recommend the fantastic online resource Wheelmap.org. It’s a user-led access information service for wheelchair users. I haven’t mentioned tube stations here, because I have no idea about the Underground system, as so few stations are accessible. Instead, I drive a lot. Parking in London is a nightmare, even for us Blue Badge holders, as central and inner London has its own rules about where we can park. But in Camden, or at least up the market end, Blue Badges can be used just like elsewhere in the country. And you might think I’m obsessed with toilets, but they can be a real hassle. Luckily the provision of accessible loos has improved recently, so my best tip if you’re feeling squeaky is: ask.
Mik’s blog ‘Scarlet Sees Red’ is at mikscarlet.blogspot.co.uk.