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Family Voices Frustration Over Guildford Disabled Access Problems

Published on: 17 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 19 Jan, 2022

Will and Peta Lawrence with their daughter Anna

By David Reading

The parents of an 11-year-old disabled girl have described their long battle with Guildford Borough Council in their attempts to improve life for people like their daughter. 

Since birth, Anna Lawrence has had cerebral palsy, which affects her limbs and her speech. She is in a wheelchair and uses an electronic speech device to communicate.

Anna’s parents, Will and Peta Lawrence, say that for many people in the disabled community, Guildford is effectively a no-go area.

Will Lawrence, an artist, illustrator and designer, has worked in adult learning since 1980 and has been an avid supporter of accessibility for disabled people. It was back in the late 1990s, after the Disability Discrimination Act came into force, that he first approached GBC.

“We have regularly chivvied them about accessibility with absolutely no helpful response – just a lot of excuses,” Will said.

A major problem, he says, is that there appears to be very little concern or action at GBC – which the council denies.

The Lawrences say the problems for disabled people in Guildford are fundamental, exacerbated by the very nature of the steep High Street.

“Parking for wheelchair users is not easy,” Will said. “We drive a converted van to accommodate our daughter’s wheelchair. At two metres high, it won’t fit under the barriers to most of the car parks and its length, when you add another two metres for the lift, means that it won’t fit a standard disabled or any other bay.

“Moving around the town is also problematic. Many of the pavements are in a poor state of repair. The High Street is paved in blocks, making it particularly uncomfortable for wheelchair users. There used to be smooth crossing places, but these were unaccountably removed during the last refurbishment.

“Guilford public buildings are also inaccessible. My daughter loves going to art galleries. However, Guildford House, the town’s public art gallery, with its many steps is completely inaccessible to wheelchairs, pushchairs and others with mobility issues. For similar reasons, we have never taken her to the castle or to the museum.

“If we are visiting the town and she needs the toilet there are limited options. There is a recently installed Changing Place (a toilet with a hoist and a full-size changing table) in the Friary Centre but this relies on this being open. If we are at the top of the town then it is a long push down to get there and a hard push back up to the top. It is hard enough for a fit carer.”

Anna has an active life, attending Treloar School in Alton and Challengers, the playscheme for disabled children based in Guildford.

Will, a tutor at Surrey Adult Learning in Sydenham Road, Guildford, said he has taken GBC to task about the crossing places in the High Street but they just blamed Surrey County Council, who in turn blamed GBC. “We also tried to get them to put a Changing Places in to the town,” Will said. “Their excuses were that Ward Street was too small (not true) and then opted for one in the Friary rather than Tunsgate. It goes on and on.”

GBC has told The Dragon that it is fully committed to making Guildford accessible to all.

Cllr Julia McShane

Cllr Julia McShane, deputy leader of the council, said: “We are sorry this family and many other people who are disabled have not been able to enjoy all of Guildford. We want to make Guildford as accessible as possible for visitors regardless of their ability.

“We recognise that Guildford can be very hard to move around, being on a hill and having lots of historic buildings that have restrictions on what adaptations can be made to them. We will continue to pursue making Guildford accessible to all.

“In Guildford House we have installed handrails, a bell to call for assistance, a portable ramp, power-assisted opening on the shop door, an accessible toilet and an induction loop. We also offer online exhibitions and large print formats. Because it is a listed 17th-century building it has not been possible to make it fully accessible.

“Across the town, there are disabled bays in the town car parks and we offer free parking in our pay and display car parks with the Blue Badge scheme. As many of these are standardised disabled bays, they will not all accommodate everyone’s needs.

“We help fund the Shopmobility service, found on level three of Bedford Road car park. The scheme provides manual and powered wheelchairs and scooters for people who have problems walking around the town centre.

“There are two Changing Places facilities we have contributed towards in Guildford town centre (Friary Centre and the Baptist Church). We offer disabled facilities in most of our public toilets. These can be accessed using the RADAR key scheme. Keys are available for purchase from Guildford Tourist Information Centre.

“We have no plans to add another Changing Places toilet near the top of town at the moment. We are operating in extremely challenging times and like councils throughout the country, we face ongoing budget deficits.

“Despite being on track to achieve our target of £8 million savings through our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, we need to save a further £6 million – 10 per cent of our spending – over the next four years in Guildford alone.”


Shopmobility: Tel 01483 453993 or email

Guildford Access Group: The Guildford Access Group – Guildford Borough Council

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Responses to Family Voices Frustration Over Guildford Disabled Access Problems

  1. William Lawrence Reply

    January 17, 2022 at 9:25 pm

    It is really sad that Guildford Borough cannot see that public facilities, such as the Tourist Information Centre and the town’s art gallery, that cannot be accessed by all of the public, no longer fulfill their function and need to be relocated. There is no excuse. The council has had decades to resolve this but have effectively done nothing.

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