There are some trips which I feel the need to "psych myself up" for - or talk myself into - and attempt to convince myself it is not going to turn into a complete disaster. These are usually to places that other people have visited and praised in such glowing detail that I become convinced that there is a downside to them.
Yes - I know - there are only supposed to be Seven Circles of Hell. However, my experience of the new Birmingham New Street Station (and attached "Grand Central" excuse for a shopping centre) left me feeling not just disappointed but actually depressed.
Now - I should give a disclaimer. I can imagine someone who has not got my vision difficulties would almost love the place. They would certainly have far fewer complaints about it. In fact, I was left with the nasty feeling that people who do have vision difficulties were not considered at any point during the planning.
I admit I was never the world's biggest fan of the old Birmingham New Street Station - it was mainly the steep staircases to the platforms which put me off the place (as well as the tiny screens at the top of the staircases showing what time the next trains were due to depart). At least the old version was easy to escape from - and you could easily get from Bimingham New Street Station to the Palisades Shopping Centre (and go from there to the Bullring if you so desired).
The most impressive thing about the new Birmingham New Street Station is that the steep staircases have all been replaced with escalators. To be perfectly honest - that was the best bit of the entire experience - apart from the massive screens which I could see from the "Pret A Manger" concession quite some distance away (pity I couldn't actually read them clearly from that distance). These screens screamed the times of the trains from the various platforms.
When I stepped off the escalator into the main passenger area of the station I was left feeling the train had overshot the station and ended up in either Birmingham International Airport or (more likely) Schiphol Airport. I was left feeling almost as confused as I had been when I had had to change trains at Crewe on one of my trips north 8 years ago (put it this way - if I never have to venture through Crewe Railway Station again I will be extremely happy indeed).
There was nowhere near enough signage for my liking - and what signage there was appeared to be confusing - instead of clearly marking things like the exits the signs seemed to be intent on telling me about how to get to the "Red Lounge", "Yellow Lounge", etc. (These lounges had no seats in them - I ended up more thinking about the "Departure Lounges" you find at airports.)
I spotted an escalator up to something which advertised itself as "Grand Central". This appeared to be a failed attempt to replace the "Pallisades" Shopping Centre.
I only found one electronic "map" screen - which was totally useless for two reasons. One was the map was far too small for anyone to see without a microscope - the other reason was (ironically) the bulb had died on the part of the map which may have told me if I would have been able to get to the Bullring Shopping Centre.
I said "ironically" because - if there was one thing the Grand Central Shopping Centre wasn't short of it was extremely bright lights.
As you may know I am a Bookaholic - so I was really interested to find a bookshop I had never come across the name of before. Unfortunately the lighting was so bright that I walked in and immediately walked back out (with a mild headache). Good for the funding situation but not so good for someone who wanted to browse a new bookshop.
In fact - the darkest places seemed to be the food concessions which were situated below the dome window in the middle of the roof. These were around the rim of what can best be described as the "Balcony" which Grand Central seemed to be - overlooking the main passenger concourse for the main Birmingham New Street Station.
Maybe - if the map screen had been working - I could hve found a way of getting to the Bullring. All I know is there were no visible signs telling me where the little walkways - which were like offshoots of the main balcony - would go.
After I had completed my circuit of the Grand Central Shopping Centre - I got the escalator back to the main concourse of the station and found the "Pret-A-Manger" concession (by this time I was feeling hungry). I thought I might have been able to catch the stoptrain back to Leicester after I had bought my food and drink but I missed that whilst I was being served,
This resulted in me being directed to both Platform 12A and "Yellow Lounge" - no sign of anywhere painted Yellow - never mind any seats. The escalator back down to Platform 12 was slightly hidden from view until you were nearly standing at the top of it.
As I said at the beginning - I am sure that anybody who does not have any vision problems whatsoever would enjoy both Birmingham New Street Station and the Grand Central Shopping Centre. Unfortunately, my overriding feeling on getting back on the platform was pleasure at being back in a not very brightly lit space with a proper contrast between light and dark.
I am sure someone will give it an award for "Best New Station" at some point in the very near future. However, I doubt the judging panel would include anybody with either sight difficulties or any other form of disability.
We really need to build buildings (and Public spaces) which are truly "accessible for All" - and if that includes involving people with practical experiences of disabilities being involved in the Planning stage (preferably in a Consulting capacity) whose views are legally binding - I would be the first to sign up to offer my opinion.
I had really high hopes for the new Station and Shopping Centre - but I came away feeling cheated and more than a little disappointed.
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