Our community centres report is in a local newspaper!

Last week one of our joint projects was featured in the Ham & High local newspaper.

We issued a report with Camden Disability Action (CDA) entitled: How accessible are Camden’s Community Centres? – which enabled disabled Camden residents to visit and give their first hand feedback on accessibility at some of Camden’s community centres.  

The report was prompted by Camden Council’s strategy for disabled and older people that says that it will tackle barriers to accessing community facilities.

Camden’s many and varied community centres offer a lot of activities and services.

We wanted to find out how realistic it is for someone with a disability to use the centres in order to help Camden Council have a better understanding of the current situation and also to help local disabled people.

Disabled Camden volunteers participated in the project and got the opportunity to give first hand feedback by visiting 28 community centres and reporting back on accessibility. There were excellent examples of good overall access such as reasonable wheelchair access. The majority of centres were very welcoming with many keen to implement recommendations to improve accessibility.

The disabled volunteers noted that improvements were needed. These included disability training – only a minority of staff had training with many not knowing useful information on parking and guide dog usage. Most websites did not include access information and easy read format documents were not routinely provided. Few centres had good access for deaf residents and there was no specific provision for people with learning a disability.

One disabled volunteers said: 

“The staff were really very welcoming and friendly. I felt that they understood disability as far as the needs of the people currently using the centre go as they have a lot of older clients with disabilities.”

And another said:

“….We felt that the member of staff we spoke to didn’t know much about disability. Someone let us in when we arrived but there is a buzzer system so we thought this needed signs in case people didn’t know which button to press and no one was at reception.”

Our key recommendations for community centres included:   

  • Audit their access and make a costed plan for improvement – even if this plan will take some time to implement
  • Provide comprehensive information about disability access in their website
  • Routinely provide information in big print and general information in easy read

Key recommendations for Camden Council included:

  • Work to support community centres to maintain and improve access
  • Have a clear policy on the role and value for community centres in the borough and on the purpose of its support for community centres
  • As a commissioner of services at community centres – check the centre’s compliance with the Equality Act and offer support and guidance where there is non-compliance

Frances Hasler, Director at Healthwatch Camden, said:

“We welcome Camden Councils commitment to tackling barriers to accessing community facilities. The overall picture is of good service provision at the 28 community centres that our disabled volunteers visited – this is excellent.

“However there was plenty of room for improvement to make the community centres more accessible.  

“Healthwatch Camden aims to make sure that local people get their voices heard in service provision. We’re pleased that on this project we had the opportunity to let the people who are affected by accessibility have their say. Everything we do is driven by what matters to local people. We hope that this report encourages improvements and sharing of good practice so that community centres can cater for Camden’s diverse community.”   

Oliver Greene, Chair of Camden Disability Action said:

“We are delighted to see that overall the community centres we visited welcomed disabled users. They were also keen to make changes based on the report’s recommendations to improve accessibility.

“We are hopeful that the opinions and recommendations of the disabled volunteers who helped with the project will be listened to so that all members of Camden’s community can visit community centres and have an equally fulfilling experience.”

The report recognised that the community centres are challenged by rising costs, in particular for rent and states that the council could do more to help.

Camden Council responded positively including saying: “Camden Council recognises in a time of diminishing resources that addressing access issues is challenging for Community Centres and we want to look at how we can enable centres in Camden to maximise opportunities and resources.”

Also they said that Camden Council’s Community partnership team will work with centres to agree how the council can best support them in order to enhance their role in supporting residents.

Camden Community Centres’ Consortium (C4) responded positively to the report saying: “C4 broadly agrees with the recommendations in this report. Some are ‘quick wins’ and easily – and cheaply – put in place. Others have longer term implications and higher costs attached.”

Some community centres have already implemented changes based on the report’s recommendations. Healthwatch Camden and Camden Disability Action hope that the report will be used as a constructive tool to improve accessibility to local community centres, so that everyone can have the best possible experience when visiting their local community centre.

See the reports here and make a comment below!