Evaluating Access at Quarry Bank Mill
Wendy Brewin, Sensory Trust
The Sensory Trust designed and delivered a national training programme for the National Trust. The training consisted of developing an access evaluation process that could be easily employed by site staff in the National Trust to ensure their sites were as accessible as possible for their visitors. Due to the success of the technique we are now carrying out a second round of training in all eleven National Trust regions throughout the UK. These promote use of the access evaluation process and help site staff build links with local disability groups and individuals.
One of these training sessions was held at Quarry Bank Mill, near Manchester. It is a beautiful property, consisting of an 18th Century cotton mill and extensive grounds, and was a perfect place for some site evaluation training. As with all of the training sessions for the National Trust, guests were invited along to take part and share their experiences of being outdoors. This is critical to the access evaluation process and we always aim to address the widest range of disabilities through the groups and individuals we include. The guests spend time with site staff to help them gain a greater understanding of the needs of individuals with disabilities. At Quarry Bank Mill we were joined by a group from a local residential centre for people with learning disabilities.
When working with a range of people in engagement sessions it is crucial that people are happy with the activities and no one is made to feel uncomfortable. It is important that invited guests know what they are taking part in and what will be expected of them. We always hope that longer term relationships can come from these sessions. The days are an opportunity for site staff to learn how to provide good responses to the needs of individuals they work closely with, and to open up experiences on their sites to a wide range of people. In order for this to develop there needs to be benefit on both sides. Individuals should be happy to spend time giving their opinions about a site if they know it will create a better experience for them and their friends, family, partners and so on in the future. There is also something very rewarding to know you are helping create a better experience for others in a similar position. However, asking people to give their time needs to be handled in an appropriate manner and people cannot simply be used as a free source of research.
The days revealed some important practical details. For example, it was a bitterly cold day and the group were not able to spend much time out of doors. Fortunately, there were alternative indoor facilities that could be used at Quarry Bank. But it highlighted the importance of contingency planning and good communication of activities to ensure that days are comfortable and rewarding for people who have given up their time to help. The day was a success with useful feedback on exhibits for the Quarry Bank staff, the group shared their opinions on the site and it was beneficial for site staff to work with guests .
The day highlighted how important it is to make sure everyone is clear on what a consultation day entails. Working in collaboration with people is the best way to improve experiences and accessibility. You cannot second guess what people’s experiences will be and the best way to find out is to ask. Presume nothing! Working with people is rewarding and fundamental to any process of improvement, but make sure you go about it in the best way possible.