Wheelchair Users Road Test A New HQ For Blackwood

by Melissa Clark

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Maggie KillenCare and housing specialists called in the experts when hunting for new headquarters – two wheelchair users.

Edinburgh-based Blackwood has more than 40 years heritage in providing accessible and affordable housing to people with disabilities – so decided the best way to choose its new HQ was to ask the people who use its services.

Tenants Maggie Killin and Lizanne Burton were asked to run the rule over a shortlist of buildings which were being considered as the new home for Blackwood and many of its 400 staff who are based in Edinburgh.

The organisation, which operates 1600 properties in 29 of Scotland’s 32 council areas, was seeking a new home of its own after many years based at Craigmount in Edinburgh.

Maggie, who lives in a Blackwood property at  Abbey Court, off London Road in Edinburgh,  arrived by taxi to test the transport links to the offices being views.

She said: “Being a wheelchair user can cause a lot of access issues that many people forget to consider, so I think it’s great that Blackwood are allowing us to try it out and listen to our feedback.

“Finding a property that is fit for purpose for all visitors is extremely important as many people who visit the headquarters are Electric Folding Wheelchair users or have other disabilities which need to be considered.

“Lizanne and I looked at everything from the widths of doors, lifts and hallways through to parking and the local geography of the streets, something many people would forget to consider.

“Hopefully this information we gathered will now help paint a clearer picture of whether or not the property will be suitable and help find the best property to suit everyone’s needs.”

Lizanne, who lives in Laura Fergusson Court, East Craigs, added: “I think it’s fantastic that Blackwood has been thinking out of the box with its move.

“It was interesting doing the test as we had to think of problems that could occur for anyone with a physical impairment, not just in a wheelchair. It’s so easy to miss something that can be imperative to somebody else.

“Blackwood have got it right by including a lot of disabled people in the decision making process as it will eliminate many issues that otherwise could have gone unnoticed.”

Colin Bellett, project officer for the move, said Blackwood whittled a shortlist of potential properties down to two city centre locations, which were tested by the two women, both of whom are members of Blackwood’s tenant scrutiny panel.

Many factors were taken into account, including ease of picking up and dropping off visitors, wheelchair access, door and lift widths, access to reception area, appropriate signage and user friendly lighting and heating.

He added: “We’ve never done anything like this before but we think it’s the most effective way of analysing what we need from a property to suit the varied needs of our visitors.

“It was incredibly insightful. For example one of the women uses an electric wheelchair, while the other uses a standard wheelchair and they both faced very different challenges.

“Taking steps like this accessibility test is vital to decide which property will best suit Blackwood and what adaptations will be needed to make the new headquarters best for everyone.”

Blackwood was established by Dr Margaret Blackwood in 1972 and is recognized as Scotland’s leading experts in property adaptations to help those with disabilities live life to the full.

Its heritage in both housing and care means it integrates the two, addressing care requirements at the same time as finding a user the ideal home. People who use Blackwood’s services include older people, those with physical or learning disabilities, mental health issues or sensory impairment.

Project managers will now discuss the feedback from Maggie and Lizanne to help finalise a decision on the new Blackwood HQ. It is expected the organisation will move into its new home in March 2014.


Melissa Clark

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