With the pandemic having forced us to spend more time at home, many people have re-evaluated the role and value of our public spaces.
Whether it’s your local park, a shopping centre or the high street, these places bring us together, and it’s crucial that the built environment does more to ensure that everyone can benefit.
Far too many people are still unable to visit public spaces, either comfortably or at all, due to a lack of accessibility provision. That could either be at point of creation or as a result of poor planning or lack of resources, which can result in issues such as lack of seating or other facilities like public toilets.
There are ways in which the property sector should do better. Firstly, we need to design with inclusivity embedded in our plans. When London Designer Outlet opened in 2013, for example, we already featured a Changing Places Toilet, an enhanced, more spacious and better-equipped facility that is vital for a quarter of a million people in the UK to enjoy a day out with comfort and ease. We also have standard disabled toilets, ample accessible parking and lifts ensure guests can travel throughout.
The amenities of Wembley Park, which includes green spaces to relax, have also been incorporated into the design of our community.
However, this physical infrastructure is just the starting point. We also need the ‘people and services’ infrastructure that helps visitors feel welcome. This can include anything from the likes of Cineworld’s autism-friendly screenings to a new service we recently launched at London Designer Outlet, which provides guests with different needs and abilities with shopping companions who can support them on their visit.
According to disability equality charity Scope, one in three disabled people feel there is a lot of disability prejudice.
It is imperative we in the property sector do our bit, which starts with removing the physical manifestations that reinforce this perception. Everyone should be able to feel comfortable and confident that the places that bring us together are places where they are valued.
Sue Shepherd is general manager at London Designer Outlet