Back in September, I went to my first gig since live music started up again after the lockdowns. I saw Bring Me The Horizon at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham with my best mate Dev. This was a new venue to me. And you know that means just one thing: A NEW ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW! With that said, let’s get started.
(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)
I wasn’t the one buying these particular tickets as Dev actually bought them as my birthday present and left a note in my card to say we were going. Once I knew we were going, Dev had to ask me for my “Access Card” number or other form of disability “proof”. I suppose this was to prove I ACTUALLY needed the wheelchair access seating she had booked for us. Having to prove these things will always feel odd to me but here we are. Then, a couple of weeks before the gig, Dev realised she still hadn’t received our e tickets. THEN she realised never actually received the email confirmation of booking and had just been given a reference number over the phone. After yet more hours spent on the phone to TicketFactory (who I believe handle all access seating for the venue) we FINALLY had our tickets and could actually head to the gig.
*February 2023 update: You can actually buy accessible tickets for Utilita Arena on the website, as long as your Access Card is connected to your TicketFactory account. Oh and as long as you’re not two people with Access Cards and accessibility requirements trying to attend a show TOGETHER. I found that out when I tried to book tickets for my friend Lizzie (also a wheelchair user) and I to see Fall Out Boy. I was told that, because only one Access Card can be connected to one account at a time, I would have to use the access booking line, give the staff member both of our Access Card numbers and just SEE if they could seat us together. Thankfully on this occasion I was successful in my mission, but it’s just another example of the hoops disabled people have to jump through to do a simple thing like attending a show with friends.
In terms of travel, once Dev was in Birmingham there wasn’t really much travelling to do as the venue is only a short walk from my house. We did stop by a canal side pub (and a couple of other bars) because, you know, pre gig beverages and all.
Experience & Seating
Soon enough we made our way to the gig, and this is where most of the issues occurred. I must stress none of this was to do with the actual gig itself (Nova Twins, You Me At Six and Bring Me The Horizon were all brilliant and my perfect reintroduction to live music) and everything to do with the venue. First off, it was very difficult to cross the bridge in order to get to the venue as there were so many people. It was these same people we were walking against in order to follow the signage to the “accessible” entrance. I used quotation marks for a reason, because the accessible entrance wasn’t really that accessible. We had to walk all the way down a steep path with a questionable drop kerb at the end, before walking THROUGH a cark park, cutting a left turn THROUGH the queue and then standing outside a door in a dark unlit section of said carpark. Sounds dodgy right? Once we were inside, we underwent the security/bag check and then were sent up to the main level in a lift. There was only one person to direct people from the lift round to their accessible seating block (hold onto that piece of information, it will be become important again later). One good thing I did spot is that the arena has a Changing Places toilet (this is a bigger accessible toilet with additional equipment such as a hoist for those who need it). We did walk past merch on the way to our seats but took one look at the queue and Dev decided she’d come back for us during one of the support acts instead. We were then led to our seats. I would say pretty good seats overall, on an accessible section of the arena with a seated height barrier, so I could actually see without having to fuss too much. The accessible seating was actually positioned in between two sets of standard tiered seating (with some tiered seating below us and some above) so I really felt in with the crowd rather than as though I was on some separate platform away from crowd atmosphere. It seemed like the accessible seating went all the way around that level of the venue as well which I was pleasantly surprised by as it actually looked like a decent amount of accessible seating.
*Little update on this from Royal Blood’s show at Utilita end of March 2022: It turns out there is an alternative accessible to the one I described above. THAT entrance was entrance G (turning right outside the Costa as you head over to the bridge towards the arena). There is also an entrance C which I used for the Royal Blood gig. You turn left as you come over the bridge and should see a giant Lego giraffe around the entrance. This is a flat accessible entrance with no car park to drive through. Once you’re through security you just take a lift up to arena level. The only thing I would say here is the door that leads from arena level to the lift is different than the general exit door for this entrance, and you can easily go through the wrong door if you’re following the crowd on the way out and then have to fight back through the crowd to get to the lift exit door. Take a tip from the girl who learned this the hard way.
When it came time for Dev to pop out and get merch, she realised there was STILL a massive line at both sides of the merch stand (we figured that it would be quieter once the gig had actually started). When she FINALLY made it to the front, my contactless wouldn’t work. So, she had to have the merch staff put the shirt I wanted aside whilst she came to get me so I could use my pin. Merch purchased, we headed back into the gig.
The gig, I must say, was excellent. Nova Twins, You Me At Six and Bring Me The Horizon all absolutely brilliant. They say you don’t know how much you miss something and how much you need it until it’s gone. Well, this gig certainly showed me how much I missed and needed live music. When I had finished cathartically screaming every lyric to every song and the gig was over, it was time to make our exit. This is where things get “interesting”. We figured that there couldn’t POSSIBLY be just that one accessible entrance we had entered through. Having drawn that conclusion, we decided to make a quick dive out of the nearest exit opposite our seating block.
Reader, our earlier conclusion was wrong. Once we made our exit, we soon realised that the only way down from the arena to street level the WHOLE WAY AROUND was stairs. Realising our mistake, Dev went to speak to some security on the door to ask that we be let back in or directed around to another exit so that I, obviously a wheelchair user, could accessibly exit the building. The security guard heard what Dev was asking and pointed down the stairs (don’t ask me how he thought the stairs and wheelchair was going to go, I must be missing the levitation button on my wheelchair). After about 10 minutes of arguing that the stairs weren’t an option, I decided to just head back inside to see if the staff inside would be more helpful, since re-entering the building seemed our only option for an accessible exit. Once back inside I managed to speak to a staff member who told me we would have to fight against the crowd to head back to the same lift and entrance we’d entered through. Once we made it back to the lift, I realised that the same person was stationed there as when we entered, which meant it made sense why we’d struggled to exit as there was no one to tell us this was the ONE accessible entrance/ exit. This also meant we had to go down the same lift, through the same dodgy car park and up the same dodgy drop kerb to exit. Then it was over many bridges (which had weird speedbumps in the middle for some reason) and THROUGH a pub (due to lack of drop kerb) to get back onto the canal path to head home.
Overall, thoroughly excellent gig with good accessible seating and the first time I’ve ever seen a Changing Places toilet a gig. However, there is still much improvement to be made to the ticket buying process and accessible entry/exit system (in that having one accessible entry/exit point in a venue that size really ISN’T a system.)
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels
Pingback: Wheelchair Accessibility in UK Venues: Ranked From Best to Worst | Invincible Woman on Wheels
Pingback: Birmingham O2 Institute2 Accessibility Review | Invincible Woman on Wheels