A Blackpool hotel does great things in both helping to reinvent its seaside home and to highlight the lack of services, amenities and experiences often felt by guests with disabilities.
For those of you who did not grow up in the United Kingdom, Blackpool is a seaside town in Lancashire famed for its pleasure beach and illuminations but which—not unfair to note—suffered tremendously after British vacationers realized in the early 1970s that the sun was far more likely to shine on the Costa del Bravo in Spain than it was on the northwest coast of north England.
I have only been there once, on 29 August 1981, and I know the precise date because I disliked it so much, a decision was taken among my friends who I had traveled with on a coach trip from London to abandon the attractions of the seafront and arcade games and spend the afternoon instead watching the local soccer club, Blackpool F.C., which beat Stockport County 2-0.
That was the month after which Princess Diana married Prince Charles and terrible rioting took place in Liverpool, and the same year the hugely palpable sense of terror ended with the arrest of a serial killer named the Yorkshire Ripper.
1981 no doubt contained some joy, but most headlines were bleak.
I have never been back, but I think I would like to.
Blackpool is a long way from London—and from New York City where I lived for 20 years—but I have been to more recently, and several times, much nearer Margate, another seaside town that also attracted millions of vacationers in the first half of the 20th century and up until the 1970s.
Margate is quite cool now and contains the art museum Turner Contemporary, which opened in 2011.
A lot of good work has gone into reviving these bustling seaside towns, and I see Blackpool has the very nice-looking Art B&B, which has 19 rooms all designed by artists. The hotel was founded to attract and serve what its owners see is a definite type of guest drawn to these places for their edgy art and retro cool.
The hotel caught my attention as each room has been designed by a different artist.
That in itself is not something new—Accor’s Jo&Joe Paris-Gentilly property invited artists in, too, as does the five-asset Artists Residence chain in the U.K.
But the Blackpool hotel has one room, The Welcome Inn, designed by wheelchair-bound artist Christopher Samuel to be very annoying, with the website blurb for the room announcing “Warning! This room is deliberately awkward (but fun) to stay in. It has been created by (Samuel) to give visitors a taste, with a strong sense of humor, of what it is like to face access barriers, as disabled people regularly do, across the U.K. hotel network. Everything in this room functions—but not as easily as it should—as you will enjoy finding out.”
Book that room with an open mind, I’d say, but with the idea that for many this “fun” is reality.
The Art B&B blurb continues, saying the room is also equipped with “a small desk to write your letter of complaint to the hotel manager on.”
There are many good websites that show hotels that have purposefully done much to cater to those with additional needs, but this one I clicked does not include the Art B&B. Perhaps wheelchair guests cannot get to the Welcome Inn, which would definitely once again underline Samuel’s argument.
Samuel says on his own website that the room is not designed for the disabled, saying “it was about designing a space that needs to be experienced to be understood, a slightly theatrical space, one that targets non-disabled people.”
The hotel also was set up as a community project through the Local People in the Community-led Projects group and is steps away from the Grundy Art Gallery, which has survived almost 110 years and has featured work by such world-renowned artists as David Hockney, Eric Ravilious and Gilbert & George, of whom I have a coffee mug made by that I, by the by, live in almost daily fear of accidentally smashing on the kitchen floor.
I must plan on getting up there.
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