Anyone who has problems with disabled access will be familiar with the worries this brings when one is visiting an unfamiliar venue for the first time. And, when that venue happens to be an iconic piece of Victorian architecture, the concerns are amplified.
The Victorian era was one of amazing innovation and there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the inventive minds and forward thinking of the age. However, one thing they were not renowned for was access for the disabled. On the contrary, most cripples of the time were hidden from view and probably destined for a life in the workhouse, or, if they were one of the gentry, they were likely housed in an asylum away from prying eyes and society’s disapproval.
Thankfully, things have moved on since then and laws have been implemented to attempt to level the playing field. Nevertheless, when you walk the walk of the wobbly legged, there is inevitably a seed of doubt when one is stepping in to unfamiliar territory.
But, if you’re planning a visit to the Royal Albert Hall any time soon, there is no need to worry.
I was lucky enough to see the brilliant Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra there in November who were, needless to say, fantastic as always. I went with my pal PJ who is usually my able bodied companion on these kind of trips; she carries the bags, pushes my wheelchair, protects me from the marauding masses and generally helps me get from A to B safely. However, rather inconveniently, she managed to injure her back and was wincing her way through every step on the day.
I don’t find trains very easy and the tube is nigh on impossible for anyone who, like me, has balance issues. Have you ever tried an escalator with vertigo? Take it from me, don’t bother!
It was always our intention, therefore, to drive to the Albert Hall and we had luckily pre-booked our space in the disabled car park.
There are ten spaces reserved for disabled drivers in a small car park immediately outside Door 8 of the hall. This is a really excellent facility and is free of charge, but you must pre- book it at the time you book your tickets. You can book it by calling the accessible booking line on +44 (0)20 7070 4410, full details are available at Disabled parking
The car park opens two hours prior to the start of your event, so there’s plenty of time for you to have a meal or drink at one of the many bars or restaurants either in the Hall itself, or in nearby Kensington. You give your name to the attendant and if it’s on the list you can come in; don’t bother to turn up on spec without having pre-booked as you will not be allowed entry.
Driving through London at the height of rush hour is not for the faint hearted, but we made it through and arrived at the hall bang on opening time. The charming young man who met us at the gate told us which restaurants had availability. We were also meeting some friends there but we had their tickets so they couldn’t get in without them. He explained to us that there was not a place we could leave the tickets for our friends to pick up, but the Verdi Italian restaurant has an entrance from the street and had availability so we could ask them to meet us in there, which is exactly what we did.
There’s a ramp allowing wheelchair access directly in to the venue and, very conveniently, an accessible loo is just inside the door and so is the lift to all floors. We made our way to the Verdi and were guided by the multitude of staff who were on hand and eager to assist the two hobbling eejits as we limped our way around the inner concourse.
We explained our predicament to the restaurant staff on arrival and they very helpfully sat us at a table just inside the door so that we could easily spot our pals when they arrived, and we all enjoyed an excellent pizza and a glass of wine before the concert began.
We had booked seats at the end of a row in the stalls, which was perfect as PJ was able to get up and stretch her legs when her back became twingey. There are, of course, dedicated wheelchair accessible seats, and if you book early enough concessions are available allowing a free companion ticket for disabled clients. Full details of accessibility arrangements are available here Royal Albert Hall Accessibility
It was, as expected, a superb concert and good fun was had by all. And, contrary to what you might think, the Royal Albert Hall is one of the best venues in terms of accessibility that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
Be brave; give it a go.
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