Row as disabled group leave club... over toilet

Kim Jensen outside the Progress Club, Exchange Street, Blackpool.
Kim Jensen outside the Progress Club, Exchange Street, Blackpool.
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A long-running social group for disabled people in Blackpool is to be moved – because the current venue does not have a disabled toilet.

Users of the Thursday Club, which is held at the Progress Club on Exchange Street, have been told that it is to be moved after the charity, which has taken over the running of the group from Blackpool Council, raised concerns over the lack of disabled facilities.

Empowerment, a Blackpool charity which helps vulnerable people, said there was no disabled toilet or suitable fire exit at the club, which caters for people with learning disabilities.

The popular group has been run at the Progress Club for four years, offering lunch and activities including pool, bingo and karaoke for up 30 people at a time.

Blackpool Council had employed two staff to run the group, and had not raised any issues over the absence of disabled facilities.

But in November the council decided to contract out the service to Empowerment.

At first the charity continued to run the group from the Progress Club but it has now decided it must be relocated after carrying out a risk assessment.

Empowerment will now continue to run the group on Thursdays at the Wainwright Club on Hornby Road.

And that has left group members at the centre of a tug of war, with Progress Club manager Kim Jensen vowing to continue hosting the group at the same time using volunteers.

Mr Jensen claimed that nobody had been consulted about the move.

He said the club had not been given the option of installing a disabled toilet, despite the fact it is currently carrying out refurbishment work, adding that only one wheelchair user currently attended the group.

Mr Jensen also said the fire exit passage could accommodate a wheelchair.

“The group has been run here for four years without any problems, so we are giving users the chance to stay where they are and we want to open it up to more people,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to some of the carers and they say they still want to come here because people with learning disabilities do not always react well to change. It’s not nice for them to suddenly be told they have to move.

“Group members here get the chance to mingle with other people who are using the club so it really is a community thing and nobody treats them any differently.”

Empowerment chief executive, Ellen Miller said the activities available at the new session at the Wainwright Club would be extended to include things like trips out and arts and crafts.

She said: “We have fully qualified staff who are experts in supporting people with learning disabilities but we empower those people to lead the activities themselves.

“You often find that people with learning disabilities have mobility problems but the Progress Club is not wheelchair friendly and we were unable to take these people when they were referred to us.

“It’s a shame because Kim has done lots for these people but it’s just not a good facility.”

Access to the group at the Wainwright Club will also be free but the hours will be from 11am-2pm rather than 10am-3pm at the Progress Club, which Ms Miller said was too tiring for some users.

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