Appalled at access to polling station

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I am writing to express my dismay at the appalling arrangements made at the polling station at Cullercoats Primary School for the elections last Thursday.

My mother is 90-years-old and can only walk any distance with aid of a ‘wheeler’.

I took her to the school to vote and headed for the main hall, which has always been used for polling since the 1960s.

Nearby were scooters and bikes, so it appeared that, unusually on polling day, children were at school.

We made our way up the splendid purpose-built ramp, with iron railings for disabled/elderly access, only to find the door locked.

We were asked ‘Had we not read the notice?’ and told polling was taking place in another hall in the school.

Sue enough, notices in the windows at the front of the school said ‘Polling Station’, which were there every election day, also had stubby square arrows pointing enigmatically to the left.

We left the car at the front of the school, as we were told there was no car access, and began our ‘long march’ following the arrows round the back of the school.

However, there was no purpose-built disabled access, unlike at the unused main hall. Instead, the elderly and disabled had to negotiate a steep, bouncy, wooden board that had been placed across two very high steps in the building.

There were no railings to hold onto and my mother found this a difficult and frightening experience until we finally made it into the hall and my mother was able to exercise her democratic rights, and I was able to complain about this situation.

We were informed that, unsurprisingly, many people had already complained and were given a ‘feedback’ form.

I would also like to thank the lady election scrutineer, who looked after my mother and found her a chair to rest while I made my way back to the front of the school and drove along the seafront to try and park the car in Beverley Gardens, which now that we knew where the polling station was, I realised provided closer access.

This in itself proved difficult as it is a residential street with many parked cars on either side, but fortunately I was able to leave the car displaying my mother’s blue disabled badge near the school gates.

This was doubly fortunate as by now parents were gathering to collect their children from the school, so parking anywhere near was clearly going to be a problem.

I then went to the hall where the kind lady who had looked after my mother helped me get her down the bouncy board out the building, one of us taking an arm each side so she would not fall.

My mother was fortunate in that she had help when needed, but I feel particularly sorry for any elderly or disabled people who made their way to the polling station on their own only to be confronted with this unexpected situation.

This unsatisfactory experience leads me to ask the following questions:

• Why was the school open on polling day if this caused problems for the electoral process by forcing a change to another less suitable hall?

• Why leave a purpose-built and safe disabled access point unused and force the elderly, disabled and infirm to ‘walk the plank’ up a bouncy board more suited to a gymnastics display?

• Why was the changed location and relevant information not given in advance on the polling card so that people could plan or decide what they were going to do in terms of casting their vote?

• Would the polling station have passed the necessary regulations for disabled access, and was this checked in advance?

• Surely in an age of falling turnouts, and increasing disengagement from the political process, should we not be making ti easier not harder for people to vote?

• If using the school as a polling station causes problems for the school, why not have the polling station somewhere else in Cullercoats where there is proper disabled access?

• Last, but not least, who made this decision? The people responsible should explain themselves to the Cullercoats electorate, apologise for the unnecessary stress caused, and promise that the proper hall will be used in future.

Allan Barron

Address supplied