A Great Event…Unless You Have Accessibility Issues!
On the surface it sounds an all-round great idea: a magnificent cathedral using a popular Lego exhibition to raise a vast sum of money for their education fund that, at the same time, provides swathes of families and tourists with something fun, educational and of wider interest than solely religion during the hectic school holiday period. Everyone’s a winner, right?
My first gripe is that the cathedral seems to have reduced the age at which families are expected to pay for toddlers from the widely accepted 3 years of age to 2 years of age. Zoos, animal farms, festivals, in fact all manner of places these days, generally offer free entry up to 3 years of age. Some even offer free up until 5 years of age. Not here.
To put this in perspective, the exhibition was solely about Lego not Duplo, its toddler-friendly sibling. The activity tables, where children could build for themselves, contained Lego, not Duplo. Yes, the same Lego frequently avoided by parents of toddlers for its ease of swallowing characteristics. Instead, we choose to buy Lego’s well-loved, chunkier, fatter sibling, which is not only less likely to result in a trip to A&E and the resulting painful poo, but is also easier for little hands to manipulate and build with.
Furthermore, inside the exhibition, most of the impressive Lego models are placed within display cases above the eye line of our 2 and a half year old (who is far from small for his age). As I was on my own (the reason why will be revealed shortly…), I needed to carry him around the whole exhibition just so he could see what was on display. So, for the pleasure of him having nothing to play with on the tables and being unable to see, we had to pay!
Now, onto my biggest gripe and the reason why I was indeed alone with Jesse inside the exhibition, leaving Nat and Amelie to stew outside. After paying our fee at the front desk, we proceeded to make our way to the entrance. We, like countless other people, have two young children and, therefore, have a double buggy. Now, let’s get one thing straight: double buggies are not uncommon, they are not the abominable snowman of critter transport. And yet, both the entrance door and the exit door were not even close to being wide enough to allow us to pass through as a family.
When I asked a member of staff for an alternative, it was confirmed that these doors were the only ways in and out of the exhibition. At this point, I also mentioned to her that, being as narrow as they were, this would also prohibit a lot of wheelchair users from accessing the great models and information inside the exhibition. She agreed and told me that the front desk should be warning people of this on arrival. They should, but unfortunately they don’t. If they had, of course, it’s highly likely we would have left without paying, so make of that what you will! To make matters worse, the member of staff also told me we were far from being the first people to complain about the access arrangements at the exhibition, and yet they remain unchanged! Come on Chester Cathedral you can do better than this!
I really can’t believe that a building that welcomes so many visitors, worshippers and tourists every year has been this short-sighted in 2016, when accessibility for all is, rightly, so prominent. As it was, I accompanied Jesse around the models and information points while Nat, Amelie and the buggy were parked outside. Once we’d finished and exited, I stayed outside with Amelie and the buggy while Nat went back around with Jesse. Hardly family friendly, I’m sure you’ll agree!
All of this is such a shame. Despite having family members who are regular churchgoers, we are not, and I suspect that many people and families attending the exhibition will be in a similar position. This was a great opportunity to leave secular people like me with a positive impression about the role of the church in modern society and in our communities. The exhibition itself was brilliant and Jesse, once picked up, loved the variety of model Lego vehicles on show. The truly vast Titanic model was beyond impressive, and I shudder to think of the working hours that have gone into making it.
Finally, the whole point of the exhibition is to raise a whopping £350,000 for the cathedral education fund by building a scale model of the cathedral itself, using 350,000 blocks of Lego. Having a base measuring 4 meters by 2 meters, this model will be huge, and is on its way to breaking a Guinness World Record. Visitors can spend an extra £1 on top of their entrance fee to buy a single block of Lego to add to the structure, which also makes this charitable fund raising very interactive and engaging, particularly for children. The very helpful and informative guide informed us that there were approximately 54,000 blocks on the model currently – already a great achievement and a great sum of money raised for a worthy cause.
Having recently written part one of our guide to affordable days out and activities for families during these summer holidays, in theory, this should have been a winner. Unfortunately, until the issue of accessibility is addressed, it won’t be included in part two.