Report of the Focus Group for People Living with Disabilities in Sefton
LCR Spatial Development Strategy Consultation Monday 25th January 2021
The purpose of this focus group was to give people with disabilities, living in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, the opportunity to give their views on the Liverpool City Region Spatial Development Strategy Consultation.
10 participants with a range of disabilities took part in the consultation in January 2021. Due to lockdown conditions the focus group took place virtually using the Zoom platform. The group forms part of the second stage of local engagement on the Spatial Development Strategy (SDS). The aim of this stage of the consultation is to ensure the SDS continues to be shaped positively and meaningfully by the people of the Liverpool City Region. Participants were recruited through local disability networks.
The focus group concentrated on three key areas of the consultation:
- Health and Wellbeing;
- Climate Change and Environment;
- Place Making and Communities.
The facilitator followed the question areas outlined in the online consultation. There was also time for participant to make any additional comments. The framework of the SDS was explained to the group in advance.
Age: 18-24 (0) 25-34 (2) 35-42 (0) 43-59 (2) 60+ (6)
- Physical Disability 5
- Visual Impairment 3
- Learning Disability 2
- Dementia 1
Health and Wellbeing
An issue was raised about the experience of people with a disability when they have to be admitted into hospital. Two participants spoke about their experience of being in hospital for a problem not related to their disability, and due to the lack of expert care, they had found that their mobility was significantly impaired when they were discharged.
“If you don’t get treated appropriately for your disability, your disability gets worse, especially if your mobility needs are not supported.”
Participants have benefited from some elements of digital access to healthcare, but some have found systems such as Patient Access too complicated and difficult to get on to.
Access to health care was raised as an important issue in improving health and wellbeing. The focus group expressed concern at the shortage of GP appointments and they worried about more pressure being put on the health system by new housing developments.
A specific request was made for a “Walk-in Centre” in the north of Sefton to replicate the one in Litherland. Currently people have to travel to Ormskirk for this service. One participant was part of a local community group to improve a park in the borough. She felt strongly that parks provide excellent opportunities for people to improve their health and wellbeing and feel involved with their local community.
Participants felt that local community groups have a strong role to play. Projects such as ‘Its Your Neighbourhood’ and social prescribing projects are important in encouraging people of all abilities to get involved with their communities and improve their health and wellbeing.
The built environment can be a barrier to people with disabilities accessing local facilities. Participants of the group brought up the importance of flat, well maintained paths that are wide enough for mobility scooters and wheelchairs. This is particularly important for people to be able to access coastal paths or canal ways. Other participants raised the need for accessible toilets for wheelchair users to be provided in parks and along the coastal paths. Seating was also important. Having benches placed at intervals along footpaths helped people with limited walking ability to enjoy the local area.
However, there was not equal access to green spaces across the whole of Sefton and one participant felt that there was very little green space in her part of south Sefton. Several participants said they had experienced difficulties in using gyms, either because they needed help and guidance to use equipment and that this was not available, or equipment was not suitably adapted for the needs of a person with disabilities.
“A lot of people with disabilities find it difficult to go to the gym and use the equipment. Could people be encouraged to join groups in parks and gardens instead, perhaps through social prescribing?”
In the future, participants would like to see gyms with more equipment that is usable for people with disabilities and for gyms to have personal trainers who are knowledgeable and able to help disabled people.
“We are lucky to have a lovely outdoor environment in Sefton. We need to encourage people to get out and about in green spaces.”
Climate Change and Environment
Participants were keen to do what they could to improve the air quality in their local environment.
“It is vital now that we take the time to think about our environment”
Most participants felt that walking was accessible to most people. Participants also discussed cycles for different abilities (one participant having a hand bike). Whilst participants wished to encourage active travel, they were concerned about cycle ways that came close to footpaths and about shared space initiatives.
“For people with a visual impairment, you can’t always see cyclists coming.”
“Cyclists go very fast on the canal paths and it can be dangerous if you have gone for a walk with a group of friends with learning disabilities.”
“It’s not always clear where you can walk and where you can cycle.”
Participants suggested some solutions:
“Could we have standard representation from people with disabilities on planning committees?”
“We need clear signage, textured path to differentiate use for people with visual impairments and cycle lanes need to be properly joined up.”
“Can there be measures to slow down cyclists, that don’t hinder access for wheelchair users?”
Public transport was favoured by focus group participants in usual circumstances. However access to public transport could be improved. One participant suggested bigger numbers on buses for people with visual impairment.
Participants would also like to see a joined-up public transport infrastructure that would put an end to the problems people experience in getting to hospital appointments or travelling to other parts of the borough. One part of the borough,
Maghull, has very limited bus services.
Participants described the physical difficulties they had using public transport. They have developed their own strategies, such as travelling at quieter times. It was very helpful to have lifts at train stations.
Place Making and Communities
This was felt to be very important to the group.
One participant suggested that amenities should be planned in when new housing estates are developed. Bus routes were particularly needed where there is specialist housing provision for people with disabilities or older people. Ideally this should be integrated into planning procedures for housing developments, otherwise “people are prisoners in their own homes”.
Participants of the group from Southport would welcome the return of a travel centre in their area as it can be difficult to get to Bootle.
The group felt that there are many historic and community buildings in Sefton which have recently fallen into disuse, perhaps because of austerity measures. They would like to see these buildings being given to the community for new purposes.
“We need to get the buildings back into use.”
“Community groups can do a lot with historic buildings – look at what is being done at the Station Master’s House in Birkdale.” [This has been turned into a community library by a local charity].
The constraints put on conservation areas and listed buildings can make things difficult for people with disabilities, as it can be difficult to find access solutions. However creative thinking should be able to solve these problems.
The closure of community assets such as banks, shops and libraries can make things harder for disabled people. It was pointed out that Aintree Village is now very much lacking in amenities. The closure of some local libraries is seen as a great loss.
One person talked about the closure of day services and the reduction in day time opportunities for people with disabilities. Another suggested that more sustainable funding was needed for community groups who often rely on year on year funding streams.
“We need to make sure that people with disabilities are included in planning stages so that things are not overlooked. You need to ask people who are affected by the decisions that are made.”
The group enjoyed taking part in the consultation and one commented:
“We don’t often get chance to join in a mixed discussion group for people with different disabilities. It is great to take part. It makes a massive difference to feel listened to.”