Members of the Local People project in Brighton supported by Scope

The Local People project in Brighton, supported by Scope, works with local disabled people and unpaid carers to develop shared priorities, including raising awareness and acceptance of disability in all forms, as well as supporting local people to influence organisations and government to be more inclusive and create more accessible spaces.

Scope asked participants from its Local People projects in Brighton and Hove to support a work site visit being run by SGN (Scotia Gas Networks), one of their utility network partners, at a site in Shoreham-by-Sea in order to influence the accessibility of the site.

SGN is a gas network company keeping gas flowing safely to 5.9 million homes and businesses in the south of England and across Scotland and is a founding member of Scope’s Utilities Membership, which is a group of the UK’s leading utility companies who have come together to address some of the big issues that disabled people face and are working together to enable utilities to better serve them as customers and employees.

Five days before lockdown was announced, a group of disabled participants from the Local People projects supported by Scope visited gas improvement works with SGN.

SGN’s CEO John Morea and a small team met the three disabled attendees to discuss SGN’s essential upgrade work on the network and the impact this could have on the daily lives of local disabled people. John was keen to have feedback and hear the additional considerations SGN may need to take into account for disabled people when planning and carrying out their projects.

Giving local communities greater control over what happens in their area brings about better outcomes locally, greater social connectedness, a greater sense of purpose, and a greater sense of belonging, all of which are strongly linked with wellbeing. In a great example of this, a list of recommendations was generated from the work with the volunteers, which included:

  • Consider less obvious challenges for wheelchair and mobility scooter users, such as site equipment blocking the view of traffic when crossing the road, turning space when setting up walkways or placing fencing, and using signage to indicate ‘wheelchair access’, providing clear instruction that the area is wide enough for wheelchairs or scooters and lines up with dropped kerbs.
  • Consider the type and colour of road plates being used, so that they are more obvious and easier to navigate.
  • Consider marking edges of adjusted paths, fences or equipment to help avoid hazards, particularly for people who are visually impaired or have learning disabilities.
  • Publicise access support and alternative communication methods to all customers.
  • Offer alternative ways than door-knocking or letters to update customers affected by works, especially for those who needed predictability or clear routines.
  • Use simple language on correspondence and offer Easy Read alternatives as well as other alternate formats.
  • Consider a telephone line just for disabled people and families, so they can feel confident that the customer service staff know they are disabled or have particular health needs without having to disclose this first.

John Morea wrote a personal thank you letter to all who attended and his remarks included:

“It was great to have the opportunity to take you through our project as members of the Local People programme, local people supporting Scope to help increase accessibility. Your feedback is fantastic, and we have already shared this with our colleagues in Operations and Innovation to see how we can improve the experience for all our customers.”

Pamela Goee, Head of Community at SGN said “We were delighted to be able to work with the volunteers on this very important site visit with SGN’s CEO John Morea. The information gained is invaluable and will be used to ensure that we consider the needs and requirements of all when we are planning our project activity. A big thank you to those that attended the site”

Harriet Cavanagh, Community Engagement Officer for Scope said: “Visiting the works with SGN was a fantastic opportunity to be listened to and asked for input around our lived experiences as disabled people. It was a great example of local people being able to share their knowledge and insight of access barriers to spaces, systems and services, with the possibility to influence significant decision-makers. It made a big difference for everyone to know that feedback was being welcomed at such a high level in the organisation and so could lead to meaningful changes.

It was fascinating for us to learn more about how gas networks are maintained and upgraded, and how much utilities are taken for granted.”

When people have more control over decisions and actions that affect their lives, they have a better chance of improving and maintaining their health. The Local People projects in Brighton and Hove are enabling people to come together, build connections and gain more control collectively.

The Local People projects in Brighton and Hove supported by Scope are funded by People’s Health Trust using money raised by Health Lottery South East.

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