Photo Credit Gurder (for right hand side image). Image Description: 3 images of Emma's view at Bowlers Exhibition Centre for 3 different events. The images show the view from (from left to right): Section E1, Section E2 and Section B4. In the left and centre images the view is an empty Cage Warriors cage, and in the right hand side image Paddy Pimblett carries Liam Gittins on his shoulders in the cage.
Back with another accessibility review! Technically a 3 in 1 type review as we have trains, hotel and venue all in the same review. As you can see from the title, I’ll be discussing 3 Cage Warriors events from last year, but I used the same train operators and hotel each time, and all three events were held at the same venue. Right, there’s the background, now on with the review!
(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 other experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)
Cross Country Trains (Birmingham New Street to Manchester Piccadilly)
Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street
As usual. I booked the tickets on Trainline and the assistance via the Passenger Assistance app. On the day of travel, I arrived at the assistance lounge in New Street station around 20 minutes before my train as instructed and staff took me to my train from there and helped me to board with the ramp.
Onboard the Cross Country trains, I’ve always found that the wheelchair spaces are difficult to navigate into because the spaces themselves only just about fit my wheelchair and the table in the space cannot be moved so it’s not like you can lift it up and move it out of the way whilst you park up and then fold it back out again. The corridor is also quite tight so trying to get into and out of the carriage whilst other passengers are boarding, or disembarking is tricky. I have, however, found it reassuring that guards on Cross Country always make sure to check where I am disembarking the train. It’s comforting as a disabled person to know that a staff member is aware you are onboard, as I often have anxiety about getting left on the train.
Disembarking & Leaving at Manchester Piccadilly
Thankfully, staff at Manchester Picadilly were ready with the ramp as soon as my train pulled in. They were then able to assist me down the (very steep ramp and staff advised me which bus I needed to take to my destination.
Premier Inn Trafford Centre West
This was quite a simple process thankfully as I just booked an accessible room directly via the Premier Inn website. I could also choose between a room with a lowered bath or a wet room on the site when booking a room. I chose the wet room as that’s the most accessible option for me.
I took the bus from Manchester city centre to the Trafford Centre bus station. I will admit that the first time I visited I found this particular Premier Inn (There are 3 with the ‘Trafford Centre’ name) difficult to locate. Partly because it was late and partly because you have to cross a road or two to get there from the bus station, so it wasn’t immediately visible from the bus station. Once I found the hotel, I had to roll through the car park to get in as the other path didn’t have a drop kerb.
The hotel itself was actually quite accessible. I was given a ground floor room which is what I prefer as that means I don’t have to battle with evacuation chairs and evacuation protocols in case of a fire. The room itself was very spacious and easy enough to manoeuvre around. I must also add that staff were very helpful in assisting me at the buffet breakfast. Hotel buffet breakfasts are something I struggle at when I travel solo as they’re often quite difficult to reach from a wheelchair.
Bowlers Exhibition Centre (BEC Arena)
As usual with Cage Warriors events in these kinds of venues, I booked the accessible seats for all 3 events over the phone with Eventim.
Even though I picked one of the closest hotels to the venue, travel was still a little complicated. I managed to get a bus part of the way there and then the rest of it was a 30-minute walk through what I believe was an industrial estate. Check out the ‘Experience’ section for what the post event travel was like because it was…interesting.
Experience & Seating
Once I got to the venue, there was a ramp up to the entry door where our tickets were checked. From there it was through a corridor (including past the accessible toilet, more on that later) before entering the area where there was a food counter, merch and some benches/seating. From there I was led down a ramp into the arena and to my seat. The accessible seating was another case of simply removing a plastic seat so I could park my wheelchair. I had pretty good seats for all 3 events. The 135 and 136 events in April were on consecutive days, and my seats for those were essentially one seat apart from each other across the aisle in section E1 and E2. My seats for the November event (146) were in section B4 (again, good seats). I would say the main difference between seating in E section and B section is that B is the opposite side of the arena to the bar and accessible toilet. They do close off part of the arena (so you can’t cross from B section to the bar/toilets) when walkouts for each fight happen. So, I would factor that in if you want to make a bar or bathroom run between fights (or use the information to your advantage so you can end up right on barrier for a particular walkout, you choose). I had some issues with my view of the cage being blocked when people stood up or stood in front of me if they got particularly invested in a fight. Thankfully, in the April events I was on the back row of the section and there was plenty of room behind the seats, so I just backed up and used my chair riser to see over everyone. Staff and fellow fans were also very good at spotting when my view was blocked and offering me empty seats where I would have a better view.
Now for more on that accessible toilet in the entrance corridor. I believe it’s on the radar key system. But the radar key door doesn’t open straight into the actual bathroom as there’s an entry way and then an open doorway (without a door) into the actual bathroom. So, REMEMBER to lock that first door. The other problem with locating the accessible bathroom in that entrance corridor is that it was sometimes difficult to get to the bathroom through the flow of traffic entering and leaving the show.
As I mentioned earlier in the ‘Travel’ section, leaving the event is where things got interesting. For the April events, the buses back to the Trafford Centre had stopped running and I didn’t know where the nearest tram stop was (and frankly didn’t fancy figuring that out at gone 11pm at night, alone in a strange city). However, having seen a few taxis parked up, I thought I’d try my luck. Any wheelchair users reading this probably already know that was a false hope. I had one driver tell me that the ramp was broken (AFTER having a full 5-minute conversation with me about where I wanted to go whilst they could see I was sat in my wheelchair. The second taxi then IMMEDIATLEY said they didn’t have a ramp and frankly the immediacy of the response (before I’d even finished my sentence) made me sceptical about whether that was true. With two refusals behind me, I called it quits and decided to make the 45-minute walk back to the hotel. Alone, in the dark, through an industrial estate. Not the safest idea but frankly it was the only option I had.
With that experience in mind, for the November event I didn’t even try using the taxis that parked outside and skipped straight to the 45-minute walk. Thankfully, I had a friend with me this time but it’s still a sketchy walk and generally not fun to walk 45 minutes in November weather in the UK.
Overall whilst the trains and hotel were great with no complaints and the venue seemed quite accessible. The lack of late night, accessible post event travel options make the situation a little difficult and sketchy, particularly if you’re disabled and travel solo as I often do (and did for the first two events here).
I hope this review was insightful and helps if you’re planning to visit Bowlers Exhibition Centre.
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels