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Perfect for our fairytale day!

Wheelchair-lift

The Sesame lift at the Institution of Civil Engineers helped make Nina's perfect day perfectly stress-free

"The fabulous lift with the receding stairs was definitely a big deciding factor for our venue choice. Arriving at your venue, on your wedding day, is such an important moment and needs to make you feel special, glamorous and equal. This is definitely not a moment when a bride wants to worry about poor access.

My husband and I loved that One Great George Street not only had an accessible main entrance, but also one that is stylish and has a touch of magic to it, as the stairs miraculously disappear and reveal the lift. Perfect for our fairy-tale day!"

When searching for a venue, we knew that we wanted to have the wedding in a historic building or a livery hall, as we feel that we want the venue for ourselves on the day, so a hotel was out of question. Neither Bob nor I are religious, so we were also looking for a venue with a licence to hold the ceremony – it seems more practical, and easier for guests, to have the whole shebang at the same place. Last but not least, we wanted to get married in central London – this is our home, and this is where we met at a music festival, one and a half years ago.

The first venue we looked at was lovely – an old livery hall that was built in the 14th century! Of course, access in a historic, graded building is never the same as in a venue that was built from scratch with access in mind – however, it was clear that the venue did what they could to make it accessible: there were platform lifts and ramps to reach every part of the venue and disabled toilets on every floor. That first venue had everything we hoped for and more: a lovely little garden, a venue manager who would be there on the day to make sure all the lifts and ramps work as they should, and they were willing to make the ‘accessible side entrance ‘ the main entrance for our wedding.

After this experience we were really excited to see all the other venues: But the rest of the week was rather disappointing. The ‘brilliant’ access the venues promised was sometimes far removed from reality: In one venue, the lady who showed us around said she found the disabled toilet they had ‘horrible’ – surely I could use the ‘normal’ one, as it was rather big? This resulted in a very awkward experience for both of us, as she realised that while the toilet was big, a wheelchair user could never close the door once the wheelchair was inside the cubicle, and the whole endeavour became quite embarrassing.

Another venue stated that I had to leave the building and go through their courtyard every time I want to use the toilet, which left me with images of me out in the rain in my wedding dress, desperately trying to find the disabled toilet through their labyrinth of little pathways and corridors. I honestly feel let down by that venue – I think they should have warned me on the phone that the disabled toilet can only be reached via the courtyard and that the garden pathways were full of gravel. To make matters worse, none of their staff were properly trained to use the platform lift they had. Although the manager of that venue promised me to email me an information pack, I never heard from them again, and I think they realised that their access isn’t good. Access in historic buildings can be tricky, but this venue hunt showed me that it can be done really well, and there is no excuse for staff not being able to operate lifts or not knowing where they store the ramps when they know that they have an appointment with a disabled bride.

With most venues we did not end up choosing, access was not the deciding factor, though. Rather, we felt with some that they would not fit the style of wedding we had in mind, or it was simply a case of liking another venue better.

On the last day of our venue hunt, we visited a place called ‘One Great George Street’ in Westminster. Over the phone, I was told that they had a special lift at the entrance, which is ‘quite something and needs to be seen to be believed’. When we arrived at the venue, I was confused – there was no lift in sight, only stairs. However, once we rang the bell, a doorman came out and made every wheelchair user’s fantasy reality: At the touch of a button, the stairs vanished, withdrew inside of the building, and revealed a platform lift. The wedding co-ordinator told me that they also had a stair-free back entrance, but that the venue had felt that this was not good enough. The building is also the home of the Institution of Civil Engineers, so they came up with a very elegant solution indeed.

One Great George Street was built about 100 years ago, and looked like the place I had imagined my wedding in when I was a child – there were fireplaces and chandeliers everywhere (is anyone else obsessed with chandeliers?), the walls were light and beautifully decorated, and most rooms did not have carpet. Carpets are more difficult to get around on in wheelchairs than other kinds of flooring, but I also think that most carpets are just plain ugly.

The venue was absolutely wonderful both in terms of access and the way it looked, and the wedding co-ordinator, Aoife, seemed really forthcoming and cooperative about all our suggestions and ideas.

This left us in a tricky situation: We had two venues we really liked, and it became quite clear that Bob, after imagining our wedding for over a week in the first venue we saw, found it difficult to consider a different one, while for me, seeing One Great George Street had changed everything. There was a lot of tension between us, and it took a few days for us both to realise that we should be incredibly happy that we found two incredible venues, rather than quarrelling over which one was ‘better’.

We did end up making pro and con-lists, and while it was no easy decision, we ended up picking One Great George Street. I think what won Bob over were two things: That this was exactly kind of wedding venue my 6-year-old self would have dreamed up, and that access simply wasn’t an issue. The venue did not make me feel disabled: there were no barriers or difficulties for me to consider – if the lift by the entrance broke down, there was another accessible entrance, if the lift inside broke down, there were two other ones we could use. Instead of focusing on access issues when thinking about the wedding venue, my mind was completely free and I could immediately start thinking about colours, cakes and dresses. Which is what it should be like, really.

Nina Neon

View Nina's blog and many others here: http://www.lovemydress.net/blog/2012/11/disabled-wedding-venues.html

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