Access for all*
A central feature of the St Stephen’s Project is the aim to provide access for all; with particular emphasis on those who are experiencing hearing, sight, or mobility difficulty.
Since the early 1970s, St Stephen’s has been shared with charitable and community organisations wishing to promote their activities, recruit members and raise funds for their cause. Over the years this sharing has expanded and by 2010 about 80 organisations on about 84% of all weekdays are sharing use of the building. Church members provide support and an organised welcome for these sharing organisations.
The re-ordering of St Stephen’s provides an opportunity to deepen and extend this sharing to include greater emphasis on the needs of those who are experiencing hearing, sight, or mobility difficulty.
The Project aims to:
lower the existing floor to street level on the north side of the building and install a ramp alongside the internal north wall. This requires changing the level and construction of the floor in the body of the church, the relocation of the present kitchen, the provision of an entry communication system, new doors and internal safety rails and steps.
lower the existing floor in the tower to permit level access from the body of the church. This requires structural underpinning of the tower walls and a new frontage and door.
furbish the relocated servery for access by wheelchair users.
design the chancel area at the east end for both liturgical and performance use by and for those with impaired mobility.
decorate the building, install appropriate heating and lighting, position strategically placed handrails and introduce furniture with texture and colours which provide appropriate contrast for those with impaired vision.
install a hearing loop and other appropriate sound communication systems.
display information designed to assist those caring for the less able and to provide information to the public.
It is recognised that there are areas of the building which will still not be accessible to all. These include the balcony and the first floor meeting room (there are plans for a second meeting room at ground floor level) and the old sanctuary at the east end. Entry by the proposed Catherine Square door will also continue to be difficult for wheelchair users – after detailed consideration it has been found that the provision of a permanent external ramp in Catherine Square is not feasible.
In order to promote and sustain the intention to provide access for all, an Access Advisory Group (consisting of specialists in hearing, sight, and mobility impairment) has been established with terms of reference which include:
a continuing audit of the facilities and operating procedures provided;
the identification and maintenance of appropriate supervisory roles with particular reference to health and safety issues;
the organisation and provision of appropriate training;
the sharing of the experience gained from the St Stephen’s Project scheme with others.
It is hoped the St Stephen’s Project will become a focal point for all. In addition to providing appropriate facilities, the location of the Project in the very centre of Exeter makes it an ideal place for public access to relevant information and interactive education concerning the needs of the less able members of our community.
* ‘access for all’ is defined as providing facilities for the access and use of the refurbished St Stephen’s by all, including those experiencing hearing, sight, or mobility difficulty.