Yesterday we took my mother-in-law out to Anglesey Abbey National Trust gardens. We have a new wheelchair called Django allowing us to go for longer perambulations than would be possible on two legs and a stick. All praise to the volunteers, organisation, and most definitely the gardeners of this amazing place for giving us miles of delight around the grounds on the flat.
In the café afterwards we happened to share a table with another couple with one of them in a temporary wheelchair. In talking he was cheering the staff of the O2 who couldn’t have done more to make him feel welcomed and looked after when he went to see Lionel Ritchie in his chair (that’s our table guest not Mr Ritchie).
This led to him talking about the attention his son (with a broken foot) had received when visiting the Lyceum with family to see the Lion King. Here the family were whisked from their planned inaccessible middle row seats and escorted to a box which they loved. And at the interval a member of the theatre staff poked their head around the door to take drinks or ice cream orders.
The National Trust, O2, and Disney at the Lyceum all ended up being praised to the skies by two sets of strangers having tea in a café. We will remember those stories and continue to have a great sense of customer care when thinking about these major organisations.
My first full-time job was as a House Manager, and my boss – the amazing Peter Todd (who led Bristol Hippodrome, Darlington, and Birmingham Hippodrome over many years) wrote an inspired article in the first TMA Marketing Manuals in the mid-70s. He questioned whether each theatre manager in the UK had ventured recently into the ladies & gents loos to check how neat and tidy they were, or walked around the outside of their theatre to look at the drains, or checked the state of the gallery / most inaccessible staircase for old posters. He was challenging us as theatre management to care for every aspect of the customer experience. I have never forgotten that advice…or at least I hope I haven’t.
When we were building the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick we gathered a group of people who would need to use every aspect of the good access facilities of the building when it opened. They then started to walk the plans of the theatre with us thinking of themselves and their colleagues needing wheelchair access, or wanting to check on audio loops and accessible routes for those with no, or restricted, sight. When the building was erected they were the first gathering to explore the passages and help us think about signage and customer care. I handed over to Patric and Ian as Exec and Artistic Directors from my role of resident project manager before the opening. I am sure the group continued to help the team make the building the best it could possibly be – welcoming everyone with the best possible access.
So, this week, as you walk around your theatre/venue/office as a staff member or manager, or visit an arts facility as a customer – have a look at the care that has been taken to make the building accessible to all. And if you have the power, think how you might go that extra mile to ensure two more wheelchairs like Django celebrate your customer care.
Thanks to the staff of Anglesey Abbey, the O2, and the Lyceum Theatre for inspiring this blog. Feel free to celebrate excellent experiences with comments here. Thanks