Open letter to the owners and Chairman of Southampton Football Club

Dear Ralph and Katharina

I hope this finds you well. I would like to draw your attention to something, in the hope that you can help me and the many disabled supporters our wonderful football club has.

Manchester United announced recently that they have now installed a Changing Places facility at Old Trafford, along side the brilliant facilities already at Arsenal, Liverpool and Wembley. Whilst I appreciate they are ‘big’ clubs and stadia, I thought we had the same ambitions?

My son Hadley, along with many other Saints supporters with disabilities or additional needs, is simply not catered for by our club, as he requires a ‘Changing Places’ facility when away from home. He has Cerebral Palsy, is a wheelchair user and is incontinent due to his disability, so must wear nappies. A changing place is a special toilet facility that includes a height-adjustable changing bed and ceiling tracking hoist, as well as additional space and a peninsular toilet with space for carers either side. Whilst this might seem excessive to many people, to families like ours it is nothing short of vital and essential for using the toilet – a basic human need and activity that most of us take for granted.

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Without a Changing Place type facility at St Mary’s stadium, children and adults with Hadley’s needs simply cannot attend matches, or they are faced with the indignity, unsanitary and I believe inhumane reality of having to be changed on a dirty toilet floor, or having to sit in their own bodily waste for prolonged periods of time. Would you lay on the floor of a toilet at a football match? I can assure you it is heart-wrenching as a mother to subject my son to such circumstances, which is why we currently cannot attend matches of the football club that I have adored since childhood myself. (I was a season ticket holder until I had my son!)

We are a family club, something that I and my family have always been so proud of. But currently one of  the most cherished members of my family is being excluded. Just to give you an idea of how much we adore our club, here is a list of approximately how much money the 10 season ticket holders in my family alone, spend per year with the Club!

£7,000 per year on season tickets and other match day tickets
£1,100 per year on refreshments
£300 per year on programmes
£750 per year on shirts 
£750 per year on merchandise from the Club shop
Four of these family members have been season ticket holders for life!

I have been liaising in the past with your customer services team, who have offered the use of the first aid room for changing my son at a match. Whilst it is a appreciated and a thoughtful gesture, and they have been very friendly, it does not solve the problem! This would only help my family, for one match. Which is really missing the point don’t you think? What about all the other supporters who already attend matches (or who wish to) who have these needs, who would require a hoist to be lifted for changing or toiletting?

I understand that a Changing Place has been “on the table” for some years now and so I am hoping that you agree that the time is now right to put this in place, as our club continues to strive for bigger and bigger success.

You may or may not be aware that I am heading the campaign for these facilities in our area and have been on BBC Radio Solent and in the Echo recently, discussing these issues and facilities. Public awareness and support is very much increasing. Even our local activity farm is currently in the process of installing a Changing Places facility, and I can assure you its turnover is significantly smaller than SFC!

So many people do not realise that these issues even exist, which is completely understandable if you have never had to live with them. But I feel very strongly that businesses and large public venues, particularly those that charge substantial prices for people to enter or use, have a responsibility to ensure that all of their customers are included and welcome.  I believe Southampton Football Club, and St Mary’s Stadium, comes at the very top of that list of those who should and must provide one of these facilities in order to fulfil their responsibility to those customers.

There is a lot of information I can provide you with. I have a personal campaign website www.hadleysheroes.co.uk and the national campaign is www.changing-places.org, but perhaps most noteable is the following:

The Equality Act 2010 replaces the Disability Discrimination Act. Under it, service providers are required to make reasonable changes – including to the built environment – where a disabled customer or potential customer would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage. I believe having to have a nappy changed on a dirty toilet floor is more than a significant disadvantage, don’t you?

The Equality Act 2010 also requires: that ‘service providers must think ahead and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people’ and that they ’should not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service’

BS8300:2009 The Design of Buildings and their Approaches to Meet the Needs of Disabled People – Code of Practice was published in 2009. It recommends that Changing Places toilets should be provided in larger buildings and complexes such as:

a) major transport termini or interchanges, e.g. large railway stations and airports
b) motorway services
c) sport and leisure facilities, including large hotels
d) cultural centres, such as museums, concert halls and art galleries
e) stadia and large auditoria
f) shopping centres and shopmobility centres
g) key buildings within town centres, e.g. town halls, civic centres and main public libraries
h) educational establishments
i) health facilities, such as hospitals, health centres and community practices.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You are very welcome to contact me at any time to discuss and I will help you in any way that I can. I will be only too happy to provide you with details of the type of equipment and supplies that would be suitable for a facility and can put you in touch with trusted suppliers that I have met throughout my campaigning. And I would welcome the opportunity to meet you to discuss this in person.

The club is great at PR and liaising with fans, but I would really appreciate your personal thoughts and plans on this. I was very sad to learn that a fellow campaigner of mine has been speaking to the club for over two years about these issues and has not even been getting replies to his messages of late.

I hope to hear from you very soon.

Yours sincerely,
Mrs Sarah Brisdion

Please sign the petition

Dung heap raises £4,000 for special needs facility at Longdown Activity Farm.

On 29 December 2015, nine teams took part in Dung Heap Challenge, at Longdown Activity Farm in Ashurst, to raise funds for a special accessible toilet and changing room at the attraction. The race to see which team could move the most manure in wheelbarrows in 45 minutes, included shoveling and moving tonnes of manure from the cowsheds at the farm, in wheelbarrows to a dung heap.

IMG_0773The event raised over £4,000 towards the £15,000 target to pay for for a state-of-the-art disabled changing and toilet facility, known as a Changing Place. It will be equipped with ceiling tracking hoist, height-adjustable adult-sized changing bed and carer accessible toilet. It is hoped that the facility will be ready when the farm re-opens to the public in the Spring.

The Challenge was organised by the owners of Longdown Activity Farm and Sarah Brisdion, a mother of two from Brockenhurst, who has dedicated her spare time to campaigning for these sorts of facilities and raising awareness of the need for them. Sarah’s five-year-old son, Hadley, has Cerebral Palsy, is a wheelchair user and wears nappies and cannot use a standard disabled toilet when away from home. He is the face of Sarah’s local campaign, Hadley’s Heroes.

64488_806383082804629_8756828857389274231_nSarah said. “Many people will not be aware that standard disabled toilets do not meet the needs of thousands of people. Without facilities like this, children and adults like Hadley, are faced with the undignified and unsanitary situation of being changed on a dirty toilet floor when away from home. Something nobody should have to endure. The owners of Longdown Activity Farm are certainly our heroes, for getting behind our campaign, understanding the need and addressing it immediately. We’re all very excited as the farm is very special to us as a family. I wish other attractions and venues were so supportive. Hopefully this facility will inspire others to follow suit and become more inclusive.

The room will enable parents and carers to safely lift people from mobility equipment and tend to their toileting and personal care in a dignified manner and will make a huge difference to so many local families who already enjoy the farm and open it up to new visitors whose needs will now be catered for.

12469408_806383352804602_1180611110366117760_oBryan Pass, owner of Longdown Activity Farm said: “We care deeply about being as inclusive as possible and so we are excited to be able to offer such an important facility to our customers with additional needs. We could be one of the first attractions in the New Forest area to install an official Changing Places facility for its visitors and that’s something that we will be very proud of.”