Friday 28 September 2018

The Whitworth (Art-Gallery), City of Manchester


Firstly, May I introduce myself. My name is Colin-Roy. I have been disabled for more than twenty years. My conditions fluctuate dramatically. Sometimes I can walk with one or two walking-sticks; sometimes I use a manual wheelchair. Mostly I am trapped abed and unable to leave my room. So my rare outings are full of excitement for me, even if it is to the G.P., dentist or hospital!

On Saturday, 22nd September 2018 my principal carer took me to The Whitworth, a long-established public art-gallery in central Manchester.


Prior to setting off, we looked for accessibility information. This is not located in the top menu. One has to scroll right to the very bottom of the museum’s home page and then read across the bottom menu. Alas, this only includes a statement of intent. Hence why it is hidden at the bottom of the page.

We returned to the home page and decided to click on “Visit”. Six items down is “Access”. We were directed to potential disabled parking-bays. These are listed quite comprehensively, but with no map. There is a link to a map, but it is not marked with the bays’ locations. A map on the same page as the explanations as to the whereabouts of the disabled parking-bays would be useful and reduce the amount of pages which one is required to negotiate. This important to many different impairments.

Recommendation 1: a map clearly marked with disabled parking.

Access into the Building

The southern access to Manchester is extremely difficult to negotiate and it is very easy to slip onto a ‘bus-only route. Staff at The Whitworth advised that several disabled folk have incurred fines for straying onto the restricted routes. Therefore, I should suggest that one’s route be planned prior to setting off on one’s journey. Do not rely on a sat-nav!

We decided to aim for Denmark Street. My carer used to work in the area; but the frequent changes  to one-way systems, etc. meant we lost our way once. On reaching the road, we immediately espied the disabled parking-bays and took a spot.

The above photograph was taken from the bonnet of our car in the nearest bay. An entrance can be seen just right of the lamp-post. There are six steps without a grip to what becomes a very gentle incline. If one were in a wheelchair, one would have to go to the end of the railings and turn right.

If one were manually wheeling one’s chair, it is a very long distance to the main entrance, although the gradient is very gentle. One has to take a very elongated U-shaped route to the entrance. It is difficult to comprehend why an access-route from the Oxford Road entrance (anyone coming by ‘bus would use this entrance - in the centre of the photograph on the left) was not constructed to the base of the ramp into the main entrance (which can be seen in the bottom of the photograph on the right), rather than sending the wheelchair-user on a circuitous route.

After our visit to the art-gallery, we were leaving in our car when I noticed a sign (photograph below) that indicates the level-access into the venue. If only a prominent notice had been placed either near the disabled parking-bays or at the base of the steps! This route takes one through one of The Whitworth’s own gardens and into the building, whereupon one needs to take a lift up  to the galleries themselves, the café, the two shops and the information desk (situated at the main entrance).

Recommendation 2: review access-routes into the gallery and improve access-route signage.

Food & Drinks

We were hungry as we had passed on breakfast to ensure a parking-space at our destination. So our first stop was the café.

As can be clearly seen in the image above, there is ample space for manuœvring a wheelchair. However, we noted none of the chairs available had arms and given the flimsy appearance of the tables, one may feel unwilling to lean on same to help one rise from being seated. All the chairs are of the same height, which may cause difficulties for those requiring, for example higher seating due to not being able to bend down lower. I also suspect that the ‘horns’ on the chair-backs might prod into larger visitors.

Recommendation 3: introduce a variety of seating options, various heights, with & without arms, and stools (useful, for example, to kids who kneel & larger customers whose size militates against small chairs).

We thoroughly enjoyed the views over the gardens and the adjoining park. We watched children exploring outdoor art-projects from the comfort of our table.

The food offering was very good. It tended to be pricey - we payed £8/9 for each meal (veggie brunch, top image above, and scrambled eggs with salmon) and approximately £2.50 for a coffee. Given the quality of the produce and how full we were, we did consider the food good value-for-money.
Access Inside the Building

Whilst there are stairs between floors, there are also several lifts - not all go to all floors, so one needs to carefully read the signage outside each respective lift. Each lift was amply large for a wheelchair, some large enough to do a circular turn. 

There are ramps to raised areas, but be aware that one may have to exit the way one entered, whereas able folk may have choices.

I had no need to visit the conveniences on this trip. However, my carer did so and he checked out the disabled facilities. He averred that it was large enough for my wheelchair, which has a leg-support extension, but that there is not much turning-room. He was also delighted that they were immaculately clean with no malodour.


I have already mentioned the seating in the café. Similarly all the seating we spotted in The Whitworth were low benches or banquettes; there was no high seating for those with difficulty bending down low. Additionally, none of the seating had arms, so that one could help raise oneself.


Had I been in my wheelchair, I should have been rather concerned at entering the shop with ceramics & pottery on display, in case I banged into a display. But the shops would be generally accessible to a wheelchair-user.


We turned up on a day when live singing was being performed approximately every half-an-hour. The sound levels were deafening. I have an aural acuity issue that means loud noises cause me actual pain. I am aware that many conditions, including autism have issues with loud noise. Due to all the hard surfaces within the galleries, the sound appeared to be augmented. There was no safe space to escape the sound.

Additionally, some of the William Kentridge exhibits used sound: one of which I could not enter at all, as even outside of it, I was suffering pain from the noise levels being produced. The artist is hearing-impaired and hence the sound levels were set to a high level. I understand from gallery staff that the levels are going to be reduced as they have had several complaints. Ideally, the exhibit needs to have a quiet, standard and high level sound rotating for the differing requirements of visitors.

There were no notices at any of the galleries entrances warning of high sound-levels on the day we visited. This fails many folk with a variety of conditions. This was disappointing, as the black & white prints, making up the Goya & Hogarth exhibition, would otherwise presumably be accessible to those with autism, as there is a distinct lack of colour in the relevant spaces.

Recommendation 4: ensure warning notices are prominently displayed when sound levels might be an issue and provide ear-plugs to those who might need them.


I spoke to ten members of staff whilst there: two different folk at the main-desk; three different folk in the two shops; three in the café; two folk in different galleries. Excluding the café, all staff were friendly & helpful. The staff in the café were professional but officious.


I realise from my criticisms that one may think that The Whitworth is not worth the trouble of visiting. Rather, over all, I spent a lovely few hours in a wonderful space admiring fabulous works of art. I intend to visit again, even if just for their brunch; but I shall park nearer the level-access entrance and take my own ear-plugs!

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