Travelling the length and breadth of this fine island for concerts and MMA shows, I’ve been to a variety of venues with varied accessibility. With that in mind, here is a comprehensive list of the highs and the lows of my experiences with venue accessibility.
So here it is, every venue I’ve reviewed on this blog ranked with a quick word as to why it was ranked that way. I do intend for this to be an evolving document with rankings changing as venue access changes and I visit new venues.
Castle and Falcon, Birmingham
Of course we had to have a new number 1 after this review went live. I just…so simply brilliant. Bought a ticket, got in (via step free entrance), watched the gig, went to the bar and managed to use the accessible bathroom. All without having to ask a single question or worry about a single thing. A refreshing venue experience and just the way gigs should be.
The number two spot on this goes to Bristol Bierkeller. This may seem like a bit of an odd one since the Bierkeller could not be classified as “accessible”, but the venue team were aware of that and did everything they could to make sure I could attend , which yes included carrying me up a set of stairs in a manual wheelchair. I’d rather that kind of attitude to accessibility than being turned away completely (obviously full wheelchair accessibility is the best option, but I know that can’t be instantly achieved at some venues). I was sad to hear that the Bierkeller had closed and it will always have a piece of my heart for making sure I could attend a gig I didn’t think was possible.
Next up is The Viola Arena in Cardiff. The winning element here is the fact that the wheelchair spaces are amongst the standard seating rather than on some specific accessible platform . This meant I felt more a part of the atmosphere which is definitely one of the best parts of attending Cage Warriors shows like the ones I’ve attended here.
O2 Institute2, Birmingham
Other than a small issue getting in (which could have been partly my driving as well as an access issue) and a minor argument with security about a metal barrier, I would rate this venue highly for accessibility and would feel very comfortable going back.
Next up is Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Even though our seats were pretty far back here, the staff assistance was great and really made me feel welcome. I had heard that the theatre had undergone refurbishment since my visit so I would be interested to see how the refurbishment changed accessibility or not.
I won’t lie, when I researched this venue, I was slightly nervous about what their access would involve as I knew it was an older (possibly listed?) building. However, this was possibly the simplest access in terms of knowing how access was going to work and not having to jump through too many hoops. It showed me that access to older buildings is possible and that “it’s an old building” isn’t a get out of jail free card for not providing access. This is another venue that’s been refurbished since I did this review so it would be interesting to know how access may have changed with the refurb.
Symphony Hall Birmingham
I felt this was a quite accessible venue, one where I was able to comfortably attend solo and not feel like I was going to struggle getting around. There was the issue with the restricted view, but this was explained to me BEFORE I bought my ticket for the gig so I was able to make an informed decision that I was ok with a possible restricted view.
York Hall, London (Bethnal Green)
My main issue was the dodgy looking stairlift that looked old and ready to break at any given moment. I worry what will happen when that stairlift does give out, and what they will have in place for access as and when it does. I suspect the answer is “there is no plan UNTIL the inevitable happens”. But I really believe all venues should have a plan for when their access fails, if it involves lifts/stairlifts particularly, because the mechanical elements WILL fail eventually.
BEC Arena, Manchester
Whilst there were no major accessibility issues in regards to booking tickets or my seats, The one area where this venue falls down is safe travel to and from events. As a wheelchair user, taxis often refuse to pick me up, and have refused multiple times from this venue. That combined with limited late night public transport means I am often faced with a 45 minute walk back to even the nearest hotels, not the safest option as a solo, female, disabled traveller.
Charter Hall Colchester
Whilst I found this venue to be quite accessible when I got in. Getting in was quite an issue as neither the ticket sellers (Eventim) or the venue initially seemed to know who was in charge of accessible ticket sales. Furthermore, it seemed that ticket sales had started BEFORE accessible tickets were actually sorted and available, and I firmly believe that tickets shouldn’t be on sale until you’re able to put both standard and access tickets on sale AT THE SAME TIME.
Camden Electric Ballroom
I feel this venue is the perfect example of “accessibility doesn’t just mean getting into the venue”. I was able to physically get into the venue fairly easy. But it was quite an isolating experience in a way. The only way off of the wheelchair access platform was to exit the venue entirely, with no independent access to merch or the bar. My friends were also told to leave the platform immediately when they came to say hello.
O2 Academy2, Birmingham
I feel like this was another example of “accessibility doesn’t just mean getting into the venue”. I was able to physically get into the venue fairly easy. But, once I was in the RIGHT ROOM, the access platform was quite tight and there was no real way to get away from that, as the only other way out was to leave the room entirely. We as wheelchair users also had no access to the merch stall and were only able to get merch by effectively yelling our order down to merch staff for the entire venue to hear.
O2 Arena London
This is probably the venue I’ve been to the most, for both concerts and MMA shows. I am sad to say that the accessibility and experience for disabled guests seems to be decreasing, particularly when I compare my concert experience to the experience I had at the second UFC show I attended there.
Indigo At The O2
The reason this venue drops behind its “big brother” venue O2 Arena London is mostly due to the VERY limited amount of wheelchair spaces, just a single cramped platform. Add to this the distance from the cage (it was an MMA show I was watching) and I sort of felt like this venue wasn’t entirely built for me to be there and I was intruding somewhere I wasn’t expected to be.
Resorts World Arena
Next up is Resorts World Arena in Birmingham. Now, I’ll be honest here, this ranking is probably a little harsh on the arena and it should probably be higher. Having attended both with a friend and solo, there were no issues with the access here but also nothing mind-blowingly brilliant, and it’s difficult to rank it amongst the others when there’s nothing specific to remember (good or bad) about the accessibility.
O2 Academy Birmingham
The reason for this ranking where it does is simply that (other than the hassle regarding the last minute tickets), there wasn’t really too much to report in terms of good or bad accessiblity. This means that, like the Resorts World Arena review above, it’s difficult to rank O2 Academy Birmingham at either the “good” or “bad” end of my accessibility scale as there wasn’t much that was memorable about the experience TO rank.
The thing that struck me about the Excel London is just how busy and difficult to get around it could be despite being such a large venue. The fact that I was attending Comic Con London probably factored into that, but I think my experience at the Excel opened my eyes to the issues with accessibility at conventions in general.
This is another one of those “not terrible but not great” access review situations, other than the accessible toilet being in an adjacent building and the card readers not being detachable. There was nothing particularly terrible about the access here but nothing particularly great either.
The main reason this drops below Mama Roux’s is because, despite better access on the ground floor and similar accessible toilet issues to Mama Roux’s, I can’t access an entire floor of Asylum as it’s up a flight of stairs which downgrades the access rating a fair bit. This is another venue that’s been refurbished since I did this review so it would be interesting to know how access may have changed with the refurb, although I know I still can’t access that upstairs level.
M&S Bank Arena
Next up is M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. My main issue here is that the wheelchair space was at the top level of the arena seating which limited the view. This was specifically annoying as being able to see the action is a major part of seeing a UFC show live, which is the event I was attending.
Similarly to the M&S Bank Arena, the problem with the Roundhouse in Camden was that the wheelchair space was higher up at the top level of the venue which limited the view.
O2 Islington Academy
This one was a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, the accessible “platform” section was at the front of the venue next to the stage which of course was fantastic in terms of view and what I could hear. However, on the other hand, having the platform right at the front meant having to fight all the way through to the back of the venue when you wanted to leave. This is quite difficult, as you can imagine, when an entire venue full of people is trying to do the same thing.
This venue goes here as it improves on my one issue with its predecessor Kingston Hippodrome (see below) with a lift to the accessible viewing area rather than a slightly dodgy ramp.
My only issue with this venue was that it was difficult to navigate the ramp up to the access platform. Despite the access issues, I’m sad that this venue has now closed but look forward to checking out and reviewing the new venue for Banquet Records New Slang events (Pryzm Kingston).
My main issue with Cardiff Castle as a gig venue (and why it ranks so low here) is the lack of cover for the access platform. It just seems somewhat ridiculous to me to have an outdoor gig. In Wales. Where it rains A LOT. Tell us NOT to bring umbrellas and have no cover AT ALL. It seems particularly dangerous too when many disabled people are immunocompromised and cannot be out exposed to wet weather for as long as were were. This meant some people at the gig I attended left before the main act even came on because they weren’t physically able to cope in the torrential rain any longer. It’s also quite dangerous given that some disabled people (like me) attended these gigs in ELECTRIC wheelchairs, and we all know electrics and water don’t mix. This issue with the lack of cover was compounded by the fact that stage times for the show were never publicised and the first band started an hour and a half after gates opened, so we were sat exposed to the weather for significantly longer than necessary.
The problems here started before I’d even entered, and to be fair I’m not sure there’s that much the venue themselves can do about this. What am I talking about? COBBLES, the cobbled path to the accessible entrance was REALLY not fun for my back. Once we were in, the view from the accessible section was poor and we had to move around the section to near the toilets to be able to get a decent view.
Utilita Arena Birmingham
This may seem like a bit of a low ‘mean’ ranking. However, between the VERY dodgy looking accessible entrance (wheeling through a car park to wait outside an unlit entrance really isn’t fun), the fact there’s was only ONE wheelchair accessible entrance pointed out in an arena size venue, and the fact I had to battle with staff to be able to re enter to exit through that ONE accessible entrance, when it wasn’t well signposted in the first place, makes this ranking fair in my mind.
O2 Institute Birmingham (main room)
The reason this falls so low in the rankings is a combination of 2 things: One being the lift breakdown which stopped wheelchair access to 2 of the 3 rooms within the venue (the main room being one of those rooms). However, I know that lift breakdowns are just part of using mechanical equipment. The more frustrating part of this was the lack of communication. There’s nothing more gut wrenching than watching everyone walk into a gig you have a ticket for but can no longer access. Especially when you booked the access just hours earlier and no one raised an issue.
Ahh Alexandra Palace London, those of you who have read my review of this venue will know it’s not a nice review, and that’s all I’ll say. It would have been last in these rankings but for contact and a very lengthy email that was sent discussing the concerns I had raised and informing me about changes that had taken place since my visit.
HMV Oxford Street
I know that since I visited, this “venue” (technically it was a shop, but I attended an in store concert there) has closed but I still thought it worth mentioning. The accessible platform ticket policy, whereby I bought a ticket first and then rang to see if I could secure the one wheelchair space, was odd and felt slightly unfair. It also meant I missed out on multiple shows and had to throw away perfectly good, already purchased tickets and let them go to waste just because I had nowhere to sit.
I hope this helps put everything I’ve written regarding access reviews into one place!
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)