Disability access drive moving on up

Staff at Old Courts CIC, Crawford Street, Wigan
Staff at Old Courts CIC, Crawford Street, Wigan

A leading Wigan arts venue is in a desperate race against time to raise enough money to buy specialist equipment for disabled access.

The Old Courts needs to find £3,000 by next week in order to purchase an unusual mobile motorised lifting device to allow people in wheelchairs or with mobility problems to attend events at the 19th-century culture hub.

We are all delighted at the prospect of a realistic solution and we’re already overwhelmed at the support we’ve seen to make it happen

Rebecca Davenport

The community interest company (CIC) has turned to the public for help and is already over a quarter of the way to the total, which it needs to raise by Wednesday January 25.

Currently the Victorian former courthouse’s massive staircases pose a challenge to disabled Wiganers wanting to visit the music venues, rehearsal spaces, art galleries and other cultural facilities there and the team at The Old Courts says it is desperate to change this.

Rebecca Davenport, social director at The Old Courts, said: “One thing we’re really happy with is the progress we’ve made in terms of building an audience and offering a wide variety of events.

“However, and this is a big issue, with the increase in events comes an increase in the number of people unable to get in. Having to inform someone they can’t come in is without doubt the worst part of running the place.

“We are all delighted at the prospect of a realistic solution and we’re already overwhelmed at the support we’ve seen to make it happen.”

The Old Courts is looking to buy a Super Trac, which is a mobile device consisting of a large platform attached to caterpillar-type tracks.

The platform holds a wheelchair or mobility scooter level while the tracks angle themselves on the stairs and roll up or down.

The device can be moved around to help someone access any staircase in the venue and does not have to be left in position when it is not in use.

The Old Courts turned to this unusual solution to its disability access issues after a combination of cost, the layout of the former seat of justice and the limitations imposed by a historical building made installing stairlits, standards lifts or other devices impossible.

The venue’s senior leaders say getting a Super Trac would represent a long-held ambition which has become an increasing necessity as more function rooms and arts spaces are opened on the upper floor or planned for that area of the building.

The Old Courts director Jonathan Davenport said: “Since before we even opened our doors to the public we have been seeking advice on making our building as accessible as possible. We’ve had many companies visit and tell us the various solutions but until now, the cost of the equipment, required modifications and installations has been far, far beyond what we could possibly find.

“The whole purpose of what we set out to do is to provide an excellent arts centre and to enable everyone to benefit from it in one way or other so access is right up there with our top priorities.

“A portable wheelchair lift seems to tick all the boxes for us as it will allow guests to access every venue so we’re going to pull out all the stops to make this happen.”

The arts hub is currently in the middle of a major expansion and construction phase, with work well under way on the new 200-seater theatre space which it is hoped will be open in time for Wigan Arts Festival in the spring.

A regular programme of exhibitions is also being devised for the first-floor art gallery and other developments on the upper level are in the pipeline. The Old Courts needs to raise £3,000 by Wednesday January 25 to make the building accessible to disabled people by buying a Super Trac wheelchair lifter.

To find out more about the campaign or donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/old-courts-wheelchair-access