Which venues in Tunbridge Wells welcome disabled professionals as they return to work?

Lisa Beaumont, Associate at Colley Raine & Associates has been out to explore her local area.

“In Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget, announced back in March 2023, there was a focus on new measures to encourage over-50’s, disabled and benefits claimants back to work. The government committed to spend up to £4,000 per person to help them find appropriate jobs and put in place the support they need. It will fund 50,000 places every single year.

Therefore, it is likely that during 2023, more disabled professionals within my community will be working in Tunbridge Wells, holding meetings with their clients in cafes and venues around the town.  I took the time over the last few months to take a snapshot of my local area, by compiling a review of five café venues, from the perspective of a disabled person. I have been wheel-chair-enabled , partially-sighted and neuro-divergent since 2011. My disabilities are visible and invisible, too. I assessed each on the following accessibility criteria:

  1. Proximity to parking – to facilitate drop-off by a carer
  2. Entrance
  3. Staff
  4. Interior Design – space to manoeuvre wheelchair /likely sensory overload.
  5. Toilet facilities

My assessments were conducted with the help of my experienced, professional Carer. Here are our findings:

  1. TN1 Bar &Kitchen 8/10

This café/restaurant /bar performed very well, thanks to its proximity to a disabled parking bay in Crescent Road car park, level entrance with manageable doors and helpful staff on hand to assist, if needed. Inside the tables are well-spaced to permit movement of the wheelchair noise and the toilet is very easily accessible from the dining area.

  • Fine Grind at The Amelia Scott 6/10

This cafe performed less well than I’d hoped for within a new, council-run premises. Access is awkward for two reasons.  Firstly, signage inside The Amelia Scott foyer is poor. Secondly, the glass door into the café is extremely heavy which means that my carer struggled to keep it open while she pushed my wheelchair through it. Fortunately, a member of the public offered us some help. Nevertheless, inside the café our difficulties continued. Tables are packed together tightly so that we had to ask several customers to move to make space for my wheelchair to reach a free table. The need to disrupt others added to my feeling of anxiety about being in an unfamiliar space in my wheelchair.

“After my visit, I was incredibly impressed by this cafes willingness to hear my concerns. They want to implement improvements wherever possible.”

Throughout my meeting, I noticed that this café is extremely noisy which contributed to my sensory-overload which made it more difficult to focus on my meeting. Staff were cheerful, even though they were struggling to walkaround my wheelchair in the tightly-packed space. It offers a good range to cater for dietary requirements. I did not have an opportunity to check the access to the disabled toilet.

  • Trinity café/ Clocktower Bistro: 7/10

Trinity’s café has some key strengths: convenient parking, slope entrance, light doors and space to move comfortably inside alongside no auditory over-load, easy to access the disabled-toilet facility, excellent options for vegan or food intolerances.

  • Earl  Grey Tea Rooms Southborough 0/10

On a visit here, I identified that this café is not wheel-chair accessible for me. There are steps which make it too sharp an incline to use the ramp which staff offer for wheelchair-users. My carer had to rely on my client to use his strength to push me inside.

  • Bill’s Fiveways 7/10  

I visit this café weekly for a networking group. It’s weaknesses are: parking and two heavy glass doors which staff don’t always hold open for my carer to get me inside. Sometimes we’re in luck and have a very pleasant visit. For meetings, I like the ability to reserve a table in advance.

Lisa Beaumont MCIM has over 20 years’ experience in publishing and advertising. Recently, Lisa identified a gap in digital marketing and developed her skills in social-listening to deliver qualified leads to SME’s and sole traders. Lisa has a passion for community engagement projects; Trinity Theatre, Different Strokes West Kent which she established in 2015 and Rusthall Community Arts to name a few. As well as being an Associate at Colley Raine, Lisa runs her own consultancy. Following her survival from a brain haemorrhage in 2011, she continues to fight to improve her health, despite some ongoing disabilities. Lisa lives with her family in Tunbridge Wells.