There are many challenges when operating or managing listed places. When thinking about accessibility, it is important to think of more than just enabling access to those with mobility needs but also to think about a wide range of disabilities and impairments.
There are some listed places that have come up with creative solutions to improving accessibility to disabled people.
Here, we pull together 10 listed places that have thought of positive ways of making their sites accessible to a range of disabilities.
Sites on this list were put forward by both heritage professionals and recommendations from disabled people.
1. The Art House, Wakefield
The Social Model of Disability employed in a Grade II listed Art Gallery.
The Art House is a gallery situated in a Grade II listed Old Library. The Old Library was constructed in 1905 in a neo-baroque style, and was listed in 1990. It was established in 1994 to provide studio space that is physically accessible and adaptable for as many artists as possible. It is now home to over 50 artists, makers and creative businesses.
“The Art House’s mission continues to respond to the lack of facilities available to disabled artists… the diversity remit of the organisation is extended through new activity that will see them throw national focus on challenging conventional approaches to diversity and the arts.”The Arts Council
Providing access to disabled people is at the heart of everything the Art House does. They subscribe to the Social Model of Disability. This says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment.
Barriers can be physical, such as not having accessible entrances or can be caused by non-disabled people’s attitudes. The Art House employs this model and removes these barriers, which offers both disabled artists and visitors more independence, choice and control.
2. Westonbirt Arboretum
Carefully considered accessibility in an outdoor setting, providing a wide, open and accessible space that helps your wellbeing.
Westonbirt is a Grade I listed pleasure garden and arboretum. Created almost 200 years ago by Victorian horticulturalist Robert Holford, it is now home to one of the most important plant collections in the world.
With approximately 15,000 specimens and over 2,000 species of tree, as well as being place to explore or relax in for people of all ages, it is also a place of vital research and conservation.
Accessibility at Westonbirt is carefully considered, with an access guide being available on their website. This detailed information means that disabled people can plan and prepare their visit in advance.
As well as complimentary tickets for people providing assistance to disabled visitors, staff also undertake disability awareness training and can provide additional support on arrival.
For people who are neurodivergent, there is a visual story available to download online prior to visiting. For visitors with visual impairments, alongside providing information in large print there are self-led sensory walks.
Those with mobility issues can use the many seats on the seasonal trails, and level access, with over 10 miles of hard paths suitable for wheelchairs, mobility scooters, prams and pushchairs, and most of these areas can accommodate two side by side.
3. Nothe Fort, Weymouth
A community-led museum continually working to improve accessibility to a complex, historic building.
Built in the 1860s and completed in 1872, Nothe Fort was constructed to protect the harbour at Portland and is located at the entrance of Weymouth Harbour and overlooks Portland Harbour.
Abandoned in 1956 as it was no longer required for defence and by the time the Weymouth Civic Society took responsibility for the fort in 1980, it required extensive restoration. Now it is transformed into a successful museum and tourist attraction that tells the story of the fort’s life and history until its decommission in 1956.
The fort has been recently praised by Visit England, the national tourism agency, for “its accessibility, considering it was originally designed to keep people out!” The team are continually trying to improve access to a range of people, and have made significant changes to ensure as much of the site continues to be as accessible as possible.
Modern lifts have been added to ensure access to the three main levels of the fort, as well as ramps and other improvements to increase access to those with restricted mobility.
4. Westminster Abbey, London
A royal church with a commitment to providing a welcoming space for disabled people.
With over a thousand years of history, Westminster Abbey is a Grade I listed royal church and World Heritage Site. It has been the setting for every coronation since 1066 and other royal occasions (such as royal weddings), and is the final resting place for 17 monarchs.
Originally a Benedictine monastery founded under the patronage of King Edgar and St Dunstan in the 10th century, it was enlarged by King Edward the Confessor in the 1040s. In the 13th century, it was rebuilt by King Henry III in the new Gothic style, and has continued to grow and now welcomes thousands of people each year, for both worship and to experience the architecture and history.
While some areas are still inaccessible to visitors with reduced mobility, the abbey is committed to making as much of the abbey as accessible as possible for those with mobility impairments.
They are still making changes to the abbey to make more spaces accessible, such as an upcoming project looking at their Triforium Galleries and stepped doorways. For visitors with sensory impairments, there are audio-described tours, hearing loops, and British Sign Language (BSL) multimedia tours.
5 and 6. Liverpool Museums
National Museums Liverpool is a group of 7 galleries and museums, which has grown over the last 170 years to house one of the largest collections of museums and galleries in the UK.
The museums have all carefully considered accessibility and developed creative solutions in a range of challenging historic buildings. However, we’re taking a look at two of them here.
The World Museum
A historic, world-class collection with modern accessibility.
The World Museum first opened in 1853 and moved to its current site in 1860. The building was financed by Liverpool merchant William Brown, who ended up spending more than £20,000 on the building, instead of the £6,000 originally offered.
Today the museum is famous for its fantastic collections and the family-friendly experience it offers to visitors, located in the stunning Grade II* listed William Brown Library and Museum building.
The museum provides a lot of information online to enable disabled people to get the most out of their visit, and plan as much as possible. There are lifts to all floors, wheelchairs available to borrow, and seating throughout the museum for mobility-impaired visitors.
For hearing-impaired visitors, there are videos and interactives with subtitles and/or BSL. There are also facilities for neurodiverse people. There are visual stories to help autistic people prepare for their visits, as well as dedicated relaxed sessions for visitors with autism, learning difficulties, or additional needs.
International Slavery Museum
Provides greater awareness and understanding in historic and contemporary contexts, in an accessible setting.
The International Slavery Museum is on the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, in the Grade I listed former warehouse at the historic Royal Albert Dock, designed by Civil Engineer Jesse Hartley in the 1840s.
The International Slavery Museum opened in 2007 and works in partnership with other museums to focus on freedom and enslavement to provide awareness of the legacy of slavery today.
As well as providing access to those with mobility impairments, the museum considers wider disabilities. For people with visual impairments, audio descriptions are provided. There are also solutions in place for visitors with autism, learning difficulties and additional needs. There are relaxed sessions for visitors, and visual stories to enable people to plan their visit.
7. Waddesdon Manor
A stately home with a range of carefully considered solutions to accessibility in place.
Waddesdon is a Grade I listed manor house, as well as a Grade I listed park and garden, located in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside. The manor house was built by built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild between 1874 and 1885 as a weekend residence to entertain guests and showcase his art collection.
As the collections grew and the estate passed through the Rothschild family, the collection has grown, and the property is now owned by the National Trust and managed by the Rothschild Foundation, welcoming thousands of visitors each month.
It can be challenging to make Grade I listed sites on such a scale as this accessible, however Waddesdon is committed to providing an accessible visitor experience for everyone to enjoy. There is a lot of information on their website that enables disabled people to plan their visit in advance.
There is a range of solutions in place, not just for those with mobility impairments, but for a range of disabilities. For disabled people with sensory impairments, there is a Reflect and Roam Sensory Map, which explores nature through a range of senses, such as touch, smell, sound, and sight.
For people who are autistic or have other requirements, there are specific sections on the website and a social story to help visitors prepare for their visit. There are also specific quiet spaces that people can go to.
- You can read the list entry for the house here, and the listing for the park and garden here.
- Find out more about Waddesdon.
8. Lincoln Castle
Accessibility in a Scheduled Monument designed to keep people out.
There are some historic sites that are more challenging to create accessible solutions for due to their original function. Lincoln Castle is a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Monument. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 as a symbol of power. It has been a Seat of justice, fortress, and prison. Today it is a popular place to visit and explore.
While there are some uneven surfaces and walkways that are to be expected in a Medieval castle and Victorian prison, Lincoln has carefully considered how to enable disabled people to visit and enjoy as much of the site as possible.
Even the Medieval Wall Walk is accessible to those with mobility impairments, and the audio guide features an accessible tour route. Importantly, the detailed information online allows disabled people with mobility impairments to plan their visit in advance.
Other barriers to accessibility have also been thought of. You can download an audio guide, easy read guide that is autism-friendly, and a café menu all to your device in advance of your visit. On arrival, a full transcript of the audio guide is available for visitors with hearing impairments, and induction loop headsets are available.
- Read the listing for the Scheduled Monument at Lincoln Castle and the list entry for the listed building at Lincoln Castle.
- Visit Lincoln Castle’s website for more information.
9. Oxford University Museum of Natural History
A personal approach to providing accessibility through visitor experience.
Sometimes it can be challenging or costly to make large, physical changes to historic buildings to remove barriers to accessibility. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has implemented small, successful and creative solutions enabling disabled people to have a positive experience in a Grade I listed building.
The museum was established in 1860, and a neo-Gothic building was designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and Benjamin Woodward. It has continued to grow ever since and is now home to 7 million objects and 30,000 zoological-type specimens.
There is an accessible entrance, lifts, downloadable audio descriptions, and a visual guide. There are touch tours and sensory tables for people with visual impairments to be able to experience the collections. There is also information available online to allow disabled people to plan their visit.
However, the most significant solution to providing a positive, accessible experience however is the visitor services team. The Front of House team have all undertaken training and delivered a personalised approach to ensure disabled people have a positive experience.
By working directly with disabled people to remove barriers where possible, they enable disabled people to have positive, personal experiences in a listed building which could potentially create lots of barriers.
- Read the list entry for the Oxford University Museum of Natural History here.
- Find out more about the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
10. The Royal West of England Academy
Changing a listed building through physical transformation enables everyone to enjoy art.
The Royal West of England Academy (the RWA) is the only Royal Academy of Art located in its own, purpose-built gallery. The gallery was built in 1857, with Charles Underwood designing the interiors and the façade being designed by JR Hurst. The building recently completed a £4.5m transformation, which has opened up access for a wider audience.
The RWA provides a wide range of exhibitions, events, workshops and lectures and is committed to ensuring art can be enjoyed by everyone, and promoting it to the widest possible audience. They also aim to inspire people and enhance wellbeing through art.
The RWA provide access to a range of people alongside those with mobility impairments. As well as being fully wheelchair accessible, the RWA has implemented other solutions.
There is a quiet room, accessible tours (BSL, Described tours, Dementia Friendly Tours) and an app that can be downloaded to provide audio interpretation for the exhibits for people with visual impairments.
Written by Cath Poucher.
Did we miss any of your favourite accessible historic places? Let us know in the comments.
The role of Historic England
We help protect heritage for everyone. Many of these buildings are protected as listed buildings. You can find out more about them from the National Heritage List for England.