Council admits it can’t afford a wheelchair lift for disabled actors
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
Disabled actors can’t take to the stage at a Colwyn Bay theatre because Conwy County Council can’t afford a wheelchair lift.
At a theatre committee meeting yesterday, managers admitted Theatr Colwyn isn’t equipped to help performers with mobility problems reach the stage.
And one manager said installing a hydraulic lift would be ‘nigh on impossible’
Theatr Colwyn first opened its doors in 1886 and is also believed to be the UK’s oldest operating cinema. The theatre received a major facelift in 2011 when Welsh Government and council funds saw £740,000 spent on a major refurbishment.
The upgrade saw the bar moved, work to the front of house and disabled access installed on all floors.
But over a decade later the theatre, which hosts both community and professional plays, is still without disabled access to the stage.
Theatre committee member Malcolm Worth raised the issue at the meeting yesterday, revealing earlier pleas for a lift had failed to prompt action.
“I think we are missing a trick. We are neglecting the disabled community,” he said.
“We can’t at present have disabled cast members because we can’t get them up on the stage, either from the front of the stage or, obviously, from the dressing rooms. It is an impossibility, I would suggest.
“I know I asked you about this two or three years ago, about the possibility of a hydraulic lift to get people onto the stage. Has anything been done with that?”
Also speaking at the meeting, Theatr Colwyn manager Phil Batty admitted it had not.
“From backstage, it is a nightmare. Where we had our major redevelopment ten or eleven years ago, it didn’t include backstage, which would have been an additional, let’s say, £250,000 then, which we didn’t have the money for,” he said.
“It is the lift issue that is the cost. We did look into that, but it hasn’t moved any further. We started looking at a hoist at the front. Nothing moved forward. I can’t remember why. Obviously we’ve had COVID the last few years, but we will certainly pick it up again.”
Sarah Ecob is the head of economy and culture at Conwy County Council.
“I remember well going through possibilities when we did the refurb for the front of house area,” she said.
“So we were able to make all the front of house area accessible, which was fantastic. The addition of a lift in 2012, I think, at the stage was going to be three-quarters of a million pounds, and it was a separate project because we were working on the front of house, not back of house, at that stage.
“It is definitely still within our thinking. It is extremely complicated because of the footprint of the building.”
Mrs Ecob explained the council looked at several modifications to the Victorian theatre but couldn’t resolve the issue.
“So we had a look at going out (extending) into the lane at the back, the alleyway at the side, whether there was anything we could do inside the building. It was nigh on impossible, I’d say, which doesn’t mean to say we can’t crack it,” she said.
“It is not off the table, but it will take a huge, huge amount of money, but it is something we really need to be aware of and address if we can.”
Cllr Frank Bradfield is Conwy’s disability champion and was critical of the authority. Speaking later, Cllr Bradfield suggested not having a lift was discrimination, adding money was not an excuse.
“People who have disability should have access. It’s an equal rights matter,” he said.
“The cost of the lift doesn’t come into the rights or wrongs of it. You can’t discriminate against people on grounds of disability.”
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