Thursday, 15 August 2019

My Experience of Train Travel with a Disability

I can’t remember the last time I made a journey by train and didn’t have some sort of accessibility problem. It’s happened so much now that I just can’t ever imagine being able to take a train somewhere on my own. With every journey I make, I live in constant anxiety about what’s going to go wrong next. And it really shouldn’t be like this for anyone. Train travel should be accessible to all. 

One of my biggest bugbears about taking a train in the UK as a disabled person is that there is very little opportunity to be spontaneous. As an able person you can pretty much turn up to any station without prior warning, buy a ticket and hop on a train to anywhere you fancy. But if you’re going to need assistance getting on and off the train, you’re expected to have made arrangements at least 48 hours beforehand. OK, so most train companies say that they ‘recommend’ you book assistance before you travel, but in reality, you often get a lot of stick if you don’t follow that recommendation. 

I travel up to London quite a lot for medical appointments, which means needing to use both mainline and London Underground/Overground services. Medical appointments in themselves will often create higher levels of anxiety, so add into that needing to travel long distances and you’re already starting the day feeling more vulnerable than usual. For the majority of my outward journeys, I tend to ring up ahead of the day and let the train company know that I will need a ramp to get on and off the train. That’s usually the easy part. I give them my details, tell them I’m in a wheelchair and let them know which trains I am planning to use to get to my destination. 

So far so good, right? Well, apart from the fact that this then ties me down to having to catch an exact train, as well as having to make sure I am quick enough to make any connections, it wouldn’t be so bad if it actually worked! But, ninety nine per cent of the time, I will arrive at my local station, wait patiently on the platform for my train to arrive and then when it does, no one will have any knowledge of me needing assistance. Sometimes the guard will spot me on the platform, ask if I’ve booked assistance and when I say that I have, will say that they hadn’t been told. But at least then, they will usually find a ramp and get me on the train. But a lot of the time, the person I’m travelling with (or fellow passengers) end up running up and down the platform trying to find the guard before the doors close and the train leaves the station. So I end up wondering – is there actually any point in booking assistance in the first place?!

My experience when I’ve supposedly booked assistance isn’t particularly dissimilar to my journey home again when I haven’t. It’s impossible to book assistance in advance for my train home from hospital (or any other trip to be honest!) If it’s a hospital appointment, I have no idea whether I’ll be seen on time, how long I will end up waiting, how long my appointment will last and whether I will need to do anything else after that appointment. And if it’s not a trip for a medical appointment (like, on the odd occasion, I do actually like to try and do something fun!) then I don’t really want to feel like I’m constantly working to a time limit – it just adds constant pressure to my day and takes away any enjoyment. So I don’t ring 48 hours in advance to book assistance for a particular train. 

And like my journey out, I reach the station and am usually asked by station staff whether I’ve booked assistance. So many times, when I answer ‘no’ to this question, I am made to feel like I’ve done something wrong and that I’m an inconvenience. Even when I give my reasons for not booking (which I really shouldn’t have to do) I’m still told that I really should have booked if I wanted help. I’ve effectively been ‘told off’ by station staff before for not doing things ‘properly’ – way to make a disabled person feel completely humiliated! I just can’t comprehend why train companies can’t understand that disabled people just want to be able to travel in the same way as everybody else! How would they cope if someone told them that they had to plan the exact trains they needed to get every single time they needed to go out somewhere? 

One of my worst train experiences happened fairly recently after a hospital appointment in London. I came back to the first station of my journey to find absolutely no station staff anywhere. The ticket barriers were up, the ticket office was closed and there was nobody on the platform. Sitting in my chair on the platform, I hoped that the train would have a guard who could at least help me. But when it turned up, there was no guard on this particular train (and this is one of the reasons why I completely support the need for guards on trains!) Other passengers got on and off, and all I could do was sit by the door, hoping that someone might notice that I was stuck, while my Dad ran up and down the platform trying to find someone. 

Another passenger noticed that I couldn’t get on and asked if there was anything she could do. I use an electric wheelchair that weighs around 100kg, so short of learning how to levitate there’s unfortunately not a lot anyone can help with. She was absolutely lovely though and ended up running down to the driver to tell him that I needed to get on. This situation began to draw the attention of other passengers, who were either staring at me, or watching this lady attempt to talk to the driver. There was quite a commotion happening as we watched the driver throwing his hands in the air at this lady. As she walked back down the platform towards me, she told us that the driver had simply shouted at her for causing a problem and told her to go away. So, she then decided to simply stand in the doorway so the doors couldn’t close and therefore the train couldn’t leave. The driver eventually had to come down himself and get the ramp for me, much to his protests and anger. I understand it wasn’t really his job, but again, it’s not nice to be on the receiving end of someone’s anger for something I can’t do anything about!

Whilst I massively appreciate the passenger standing up for me (I would probably still be stuck on the platform if it wasn’t for her!) it is hugely embarrassing to have everyone’s eyes on you because you simply can’t access public transport. It didn’t help that the train driver then made an announcement to the whole train that the reason for the delay was that there were no platform staff to help me! I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. So whilst of course I appreciate other passengers looking out for me and standing up for my rights, I would much rather that they didn’t have to at all. I don’t want to make a big scene when I use public transport. I just want to get on and off like everyone else does! On this occasion, I was so close to crying because I felt completely humiliated and embarrassed about the whole situation. This isn’t accessibility or equality!

There are so many other things that have gone wrong when I’ve travelled by train in my wheelchair. Whether it’s lifts not working (and being shipped off on different trains all over the place), people using the wheelchair spaces for luggage and refusing to move, not being able to get off a train and ending up stuck going to completely the wrong place or not being able to access the toilets on a train journey and therefore having an accident. 

Yes, there are staff that try their best to make train travel accessible to those with disabilities and I will be forever grateful to the ones that do. But I think this problem goes higher than individual station/train staff. Why, in 2019, are our railways still so inaccessible to people with disabilities? I know so many people who simply don’t or can’t travel because the accessibility just isn’t good enough. People, who could, if disabled access was given more thought, actually go out on their own, be independent or leave their town for the first time in years. But instead, they end up trapped in a small bubble – unable to access medical appointments, unable to go to work and unable to go out and have fun. Simply because disabled access doesn’t seem to be a priority. 

I want to be spontaneous. I want to be able to get on a train without drawing unnecessary attention. I don’t want to arrive at a station and feel absolutely terrified that I’m going to be told off, left on a platform or end up trapped on a train because there’s no way off. I want to be able to access the world, to enjoy myself, to get to my medical appointments on time. And I don’t think that that’s too much to ask.

If you’re disabled, what are your experiences of travelling by train? And if you’re not disabled, what are your thoughts on disabled access on trains?

Friday, 9 August 2019

The Body Shop 'Return Recycle Repeat' Event - AD Gifted

*I was invited to The Body Shop for a Blogger Event and was gifted a product afterwards. All views are my own though

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will probably be aware that I’m a big fan of The Body Shop. I’ve used their products since my pre-teens (does anyone else remember the bath pearls?! I used to absolutely love popping those!) and continue to enjoy their beauty items today. So when I saw that The Body Shop in Festival Place Basingstoke were having a blogger event a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t resist going along to check out their new products. 

It was one of the hottest days of the year so far when my Mum and I made our way over to Basingstoke to see the team, and unfortunately it turned out that the air conditioning in the store had broken, so we were all rather sweaty! But it didn’t stop us from having a lovely evening hearing all about what The Body Shop are doing at the moment. My evening started with a relaxing hand and arm massage to test the moisture levels of my skin after using either Body Butter or Body Yogurt (spoiler – both did an amazing job and there really wasn’t much between them when it came to improving my skin’s moisture levels). Although I like both products, I feel like I sway more towards ‘Team Yogurt’ in the summer, simply because it is so cooling and absorbs really quickly. I could quite happily have sat there enjoying a massage all evening, but there were other products to check out and projects to hear about.

The staff were really excited, as they had just received a delivery of a brand new product, which even they hadn’t had a chance to try out yet! So I got to have a sneak peek at what it was and how it works, and let me tell you – it looks like it’s going to be good fun to use! I don’t want to give too much away, as I know there are some spoilers going up on Instagram over the next couple of weeks. So I thought I would just share a few pictures with you, and let you guess what you think it might be!

Moving on to the main reason for the event – we were there to hear all about The Body Shop’s brand new ‘Return Recycle Repeat’ scheme. They have realised that plastic pollution is a global crisis and have come up with a project to protect our planet and empower people to do the same. So, in a large selection of Body Shop stores, you will now find a box like the one in the picture, in which you can put ANY plastic beauty packaging from ANY brand to be recycled (there are a few things that cannot be recycled, such as products that may contain flammable liquids e.g. perfume bottles). It doesn’t have to be products you’ve bought in The Body Shop, which is amazing because so many beauty products cannot be recycled in our kerbside recycling bins. However, if you are a member of the Love Your Body Club (it’s easy to join here) and you bring back five empty Body Shop products to recycle, you will receive a £5 voucher! 

The Body Shop have teamed up with a company called Terracycle®, who will be helping them to make this scheme a success. They are global market leaders within the recycling industry and are present in 21 markets, looking to enhance brands through finding sustainable solutions to 21st century issues with waste and packaging. They focus on the triple bottom line:

·     Planet – The Terracycle® primary objective is to recycle waste that is typically considered “non-recyclable”, diverting billions of pieces of waste from landfill and incineration since 2006
·     People –To date, Terracycle® has paid more than $10 million to schools and non-profit organisations in return for the waste collected through the programme
·     Profit –Terracycle® is structured as a for-profit social business, however maintains a small profit margin so that the rest can be reinvested to enhance the scheme and pursue further sustainability projects

If there is any packaging that cannot be recycled by Terracycle®, it is then made into post consumer goods such as benches and watering cans. One of my local schools even won a competition with Terracycle® recently, which will see the installation of a new playground made from recycled products! The Body Shop aims to collect 25% more packaging than they sell, and by 2030 they aim to have no single use products or packaging. 

As well as the Return Recycle Repeat scheme, The Body Shop are also committed to tackling the plastic crisis in a slightly different way. As well as plastic affecting marine and ocean life, it also affects people. In India, almost a third of waste is uncollected, which has given rise to 1.5 million people known as ‘waste pickers’ who collect this waste in the informal sector. The Body Shop have partnered up with an organisation in Bengaluru, India, who call themselves ‘Green Force.’ They work with ‘waste pickers’ who work tirelessly to clean up their city’s streets. 

These ‘waste pickers’ are mostly made up of what are known as ‘dalits,’ (formally known as ‘untouchables’) – the lowest social group in India’s caste system. This makes them extremely vulnerable to discrimination and poor working conditions. By working with Green Force, The Body Shop can help to provide access to more sanitary working conditions, a fair price and the respect and recognition they deserve. 

Not using plastic isn’t the only answer to dealing with the plastic crisis. If used responsibly, plastic can be sustainable, so The Body Shop are encouraging people to show love for the plastic we do use. This is why they have started using Community Trade recycled plastic from Bengaluru, India. It not only helps to tackle the existing problem, but it will also help to empower the ‘waste pickers’ that they support. Their Community Trade Partner, Plastics For Change, are a for-profit organisation that partners with local NGOs Hasiru Dala and Hasiru Dala Innovation (HDI) to provide Bengaluru’s waste pickers with a stable income and better opportunities, including boosting their skills and providing training for other areas such as urban gardening. 

So far, The Body Shop have started using their Community Trade recycled plastic in their 250ml Shampoo and Conditioner bottles. In the future, they want to buy even more Community Trade recycled plastics from their partners, so they can use it in more of their product packaging and strive to be even more sustainable, which definitely sounds like a step in the right direction.

After we’d heard all about what The Body Shop are doing to address the plastic crisis, we had a look at a few other new products that are currently out. They have a couple of new scents out for the summer, including Banana and Ginger. Both ranges are made from ‘Wonky Fruit and Veg,’ which is basically bananas and ginger that supermarkets won’t sell because they don’t look ‘perfect.’ So it’s great that these items aren’t going to waste and are instead making yummy smelling beauty products! The new products in the Banana range are also all now suitable for Vegans (and smell delicious – kind of like those foam banana sweets you can get!) I thought the Ginger range might smell a bit Christmassy, but it’s got citrus elements in it, which really gives it a summery vibe. 

They also have a few new biodegradable sheet masks for us to try out including Seaweed (for oily/combination skin), Vitamin C (for brightening sensitive skin), Aloe (for calming sensitive skin) and Vitamin E (for all skin types). At only £3.50 each and packed full of moisturising ingredients, these are perfect for some serious pampering. 

Also in the ‘Wonky Veg’ range are the Carrot Wash Energizing Face Cleanser and Carrot Cream Nature Rich Daily Moisturiser. Both are Vegan and made from 100% recyclable packaging, as well as being enriched with organic carrots and Community Trade organic Aloe Vera from Mexico. I’d never really thought of having carrot scented beauty products, but these are definitely worth a try!

The last thing I had a look at was some of the new make-up, as I always seem to forget about The Body Shop selling make-up! What really caught my eye were a couple of beautiful eyeshadow palettes – Paint in Colour and Own Your Naturals. The colours are perfect for the summer months, with a mixture of matte and shimmery shades. I particularly liked the range of colours in the Paint in Colour Palette, especially the glittery pink and gold! The other new make-up item that jumped out at me was the Happy Go Lash Mascara. It thickens and defines your lashes, and lasts all day without flaking, which is always a good thing! I particularly liked the pink packaging with green palm leaves on it – very summery!

Overall, we had a lovely time chatting to the staff from The Body Shop in Basingstoke, and I’m so pleased to hear the brand are making steps to start tackling the problems we have with plastic. I know I have watched and read a lot about the harm plastic is doing to our world and I do want to start making changes. But sometimes it feels so overwhelming when options to recycle, reuse and find more sustainable options are so hard to come by. So having a high street store offering this option to recycle plastic products and also supporting those who try to make plastic more sustainable is a brilliant thing to have. 

Are you a fan of The Body Shop? What do you think about their new schemes to help with the plastic crisis?