There are more than 10 million disabled people in Britain. Half are over state pension age. One in five people of working age have some form of disability. There are 770,000 disabled children in the country.
It’s a fair bet that many of them would NOT want to stay in an hotel that felt more like a care home or clinic – otherwise Disney wouldn’t have cornered the dream disabled holiday market.
Nor do they want to be charged a fortune simply because hoteliers have had the good sense to invest in fully accessible facilities. Hoteliers who pay little more than lip service to disability discrimination laws miss out on what amounts to a lucrative market.
“Why should holidays just be for the so-called able bodied?” says Anthony Williams, marketing manager of the New Mayfair Hotel, on New South Promenade, South Shore, part of a chain challenging the status quo by investing in what should prove a winning format.
The New Mayfair is now run by Safehands, a Blackpool-based firm which operates nurseries, corporate and private babysitting services, mobile creches, social care and other facilities, with 5,000 registered carers across the country.
“Our hope is this hotel will be the first of many,” adds Anthony. “We had shopped around elsewhere, but when the New Mayfair came on the market, we knew we had the basis from which to create a bespoke hotel which reflected all our care values and was fully accessible – at a sensible price.”
Breaks start from £99 for three nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast with live entertainment. Transport is available to bring guests door to door. Any type of care can be provided from around £11 an hour – which matches social services rates – and means disabled guests can holiday with or without their carers.
Anthony adds: “We don’t want it to feel like a care home or institution – it needs to feel like a hotel where people can come to holiday, relax, and enjoy facilities in a safe environment. It is our aim that all our guests are given the same quality of holiday available to everyone.”
The transformation of the hotel, which previously catered for a niche market, Arthritis Care, has already turned heads on the Promenade, from the new Mercedes Sprint minibus parked outside, which takes guests on excursions, to the solar panels for power.
While most hotels offer aids or adaptations provisions can be piecemeal or patronising. There’s nothing tokenistic about the more than £500,000 ploughed into a new-look reception, bar and lounge, downstairs toilets, redecorated rooms, 10 new bathroom suites, and new signage. And there’s more to come, including a new frontage, further redecoration, reflooring, an accessible gym and solarium, a games room, new bistro and bar and landscaped gardens.
All the emphasis is on increased comfort, from bed to bathroom to beyond, for disabled guests, and accompanying partners, or carers. It’s early days yet but, online, and in person, the hotel’s reviews are warming up, and applauding what MD Gary Farrer and wife Stephanie, who founded Safehands, hope to achieve.
The previously rundown hotel averaged an occupancy of 15-40 per cent, says Anthony. “Midweeks now we average between 60 to 80 per cent of available rooms, and the figure’s rising.”
Sheila Wilks, from Leeds with fellow luncheon club members, says: “It’s lovely, rooms are really nice and you can’t fault the food.” Menus have been devised by leading local chef Nigel Smith.
Carers Gemma Irvine and Kaye Henderson have brought Linda Sanderson and Karen Pitrie, who have cerebral palsy, for four days respite from a specialist facility at Ellington, Northumberland.
“It provides real stimulus,” says Gemma. “The hotel couldn’t be better.”
Fourteen new jobs have been created by Safehands at New Mayfair.
Maintenance man George Wood, one of the two former staff retained, adds: “There’s more team spirit now. It’s a sound business investment and good news for Blackpool. Things are looking up.”