On a new hub for disabled people’s organisations in Greater Manchester

I believe that many disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in Greater Manchester would benefit from coming together by having a hub again for offices and meetings. The previous hub was closed seven years ago by austerity cuts.

Eight months ago I wrote about the need and benefits of a new hub – the link is below.

So it might seem odd during the covid-19 pandemic to be thinking now about being close together again. DPOs are campaigning hard on the appalling number of deaths in care homes, and on the lack of emergency support for disabled people who are shielding or isolating during the lockdown.

But I think we also need to put a marker down, to demand a say on the social designs of the future that are being started now, the “new normal”.

After the previous hub was closed in the years of austerity, many DPOs have been using offices which are much smaller than before, cramped, and dispersed, and often less accessible.

What if the “new normal” says that people who are younger and non-disabled can happily move about, socialise, go out to events, but the “vulnerable” will have to stay indoors and keep using zoom. And DPOs as responsible employers will be rightly worried about the thought of staff teams being asked to return to their small offices.

So some new thinking is required.

Firstly, a covid-19 vaccine is not certain, and if possible it will take many months to develop, and no-one can say yet how long it would stay effective for. There are other coronaviruses in nature where no vaccine for humans has ever been made despite many years of effort. And secondly, many people now agree that we need to redesign our new social arrangements to make us more pandemic-resilient against any future plagues that will come our way. There is good scientific research on the increasing interactions between humans and wildlife which is accelerating the movement of viruses between species.

So what might a pandemic-resilient new hub for DPOs look like?

My early guess is that it will be flexible, but not open plan. Given the circulation space needed for disabled people who are wheelchair users, this means larger offices which are not over-occupied by people or furniture. The previous hub had some of this, partly by accident because it was a retrofit of an institution which typically has larger rooms.

The new hub will also need to have a range of good transport connections, so probably near but not in the middle of a city or town, with significant parking for disabled drivers, with good public transport links (trams, buses, trains), easily walkable and with safe cycling routes. These are all general desirable features, so it means looking for a hub design or location that might also attractive to other organisations with more clout – and not accepting the cast-off options.

In design terms, the hardest element of a new hub would be the meeting spaces within it. A core feature of the previous hub, as well as the synergies of many DPOs sharing the same place and all the conversations and joint working that resulted, was it’s ability to hold large meetings of disabled people without rubbish access. The parking was sufficient, the circulation space was (mostly) flexible, the necessary tech was built in, and the toilets were many and dispersed. Perhaps most importantly, the hub tenants were very skilled and knew how to run an accessible large meeting.

No-one yet has a blueprint for all of these requirements, but I feel the debate needs to start before DPOs are given “the answer” without even getting a chance to ask the question, what do we need now?

My previous blog post on a new hub

https://tonybaldwinson.com/2019/09/26/the-need-for-a-hub-in-manchester-for-disabled-peoples-organisations/

Keep well everyone.

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