Wednesday 3 July 2013

In/accessible Europe (6): Birmingham Southside

On the 23rd January this year England & Wales' very first specialist LGBT health & well-being centre was launched, officially opening its doors to the public on 29th inst. to "serve the needs of the city's local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community." One might expect it to be located in London, the capital city; but you would be wrong. It is not in Manchester either. It is actually situated in the Southside district of Birmingham, right next-door to Brum's gay 'village' and animated Chinatown.

[Image description: the frontage of the centre with the name and seven rainbow-coloured spots]

The centre's opening statement reads:

"Welcome to the homepage of the new Birmingham LGBT Centre. The centre will have a focus on Health & Wellbeing and will host and develop services to address health inequalities and meet the needs of Birmingham’s diverse Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans communities. Located in Birmingham city centre on Holloway Circus at the edge of Birmingham’s vibrant gay village, the fully accessible centre covers three floors and includes a range of versatile spaces including  meeting and training rooms.

As well as services for individuals the centre will be home to meetings of independent  LGBT Community Groups, events and other activities…"

According to its website there are at least eight groups regularly meeting at the centre including for bisexuals, transvestites and alcohol dependents. Personally, I am excited by an additional support group for LGBT folk over the age of fifty-five, TOPAZ or The Older People's A to Z. I have not heard of any other such grouping so this appears both innovative as well as being desperately needed.

[Image description: the logo for TOPAZ; ©]

Additionally, the site is home to several health clinics and a source of health information and advice.

[Image description: various health education posters, designed for NHS
in conjunction with BLGBT; ©]

Their website very handily has an interactive map which enables one to zoom in and study the buildings. Added to the photos of the outside we were able to immediately spot the nondescript 1960's style edifice from the A38 as we were driving in a southerly direction.

We managed to find a parking space on Thorp Street (as recommended by Birmingham LGBT Centre) in a pay-and-display zone. However, thankfully, blue-badge holders were exempt from the charges. The pavements were even and well kept, so no trip hazards as this time I was on foot rather than in my wheelchair (my stubbornness was responsible for my later suffering acute pain and exhaustion for several days afterwards!). The centre was easily reached and the doors opened onto a gentle ramp that rose to the café level; so, had I been a wheelie, there would have been no access problems. We had arrived a full twenty minutes early for the Matt Alber benefit concert!

The centre "aims to be accessible to all sections of the LGBT community, facilities include; Baby Change, Trans Changing Space and Gender Neutral Toilets. The centre is accessible for people with mobility impairments and other disabilities and includes a lift, ramps, hearing loops and braille panels. The centre also has a disabled care suite with shower and hoist and a fully accessible disabled toilet". In fact, it transpires that WC is the only one in central Birmingham and so is accessed by disabled folk from the wider community. So the centre is providing a public service too!

[Image description: the centre's accessible WC; ©]

The affable staff and volunteers at the centre, including David, Rose & Chris, instantly put me at ease and made me, my assistant and other attendees most welcome. I have no doubt that all visitors feel similarly comfortable at the centre.

After the concert, my assistant strolled and I hobbled into Chinatown. We could not find a single flat-entry restaurant, although a couple had just one step. We eventually elected to enter Chung Ying on Worttesley Street. There were three steps which I was able to mount with assistance. Electric wheelchairs definitely could not manage them. My assistant insisted however that he would have had enough strength and the turning-space to help me up them had I been in my wheelchair. The waiters did open the doors and I suspect would have offered extra assistance if needs be. The establishment has a disabled WC, but I would not have succeeded in navigating through the tightly packed furniture to reach it had I been in my wheelchair, which has a full leg extension. Despite these minor misgivings, the food was excellent and very good value in respect to price, quality and quantity. We departed fully sated.

On a previous visit, I dined at Malmaison in the Mailbox. The restaurant was accessed via lift (elevator) with no difficulties. I did not check out the toileting facilities as I did not need to.

Whilst on this occasion I did not go on a shopping spree, I can advise that the Bullring precinct is accessible. Certainly the iconic Selfridges' building is fully so. Those with poor mobility might find some of the inclines in the shopping area tough-going, however, or you may need to take a few extra breathers!

All in all I should say, "Visit Brum!" %)

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