I’ve changed the title of this blog entry as of May 2013 from Wray Scarecrow Festival: Where Wheelchairs Aren’t Welcomed to what you see when reading now, although I’ve kept the permalink (web address) as it was because it’s long been indexed by search engines and I’m not about to confuse them. The title change reflects in fairness the historic nature of the issues outlined below. I sincerely hope the village did learn from this for future disabled visitors and was given an assurance that they had after making complaint to their organising committee. Still, I believe the entry, with this added note, should stand as an advisory for all communities to ensure stories like this become less prevalent.
It was an awful trip to Wray Scarecrow Festival that I made with my parents on Monday. An annual event in the village of Wray in Lancashire, it attracts many visitors and this year was supposed to celebrating its 25th anniversary. What happened to our small party was a disgrace, though, and we won’t attend or recommend this sorry excuse for a community festival ever again.
Disabled parking consisted of a section of the same field as everyone else, just closer to a rock-strewn gateway that had just a flimsy board flat on the ground before it, and led directly onto a road with no pavement alongside. My father was greatly embarrassed and felt humiliated at having to be helped out of the field by a crowd of people because I couldn’t get his wheelchair with him in it over this inexcusable barrier.
As I drove to pick up my parents from where they ended up stranded, unable to proceed further into the village or up the rough gravelled path to the fair, one lovely villager called after me, “Go and crash”. This was all because of my comment about their non-existent disabled access, which I really don’t think deserved my being cursed at all. He didn’t know my window was open and I heard what he said.
I’ll be writing my complaint to all relevant authorities, of course, as well as blogging it here to serve as a warning and advisory to all wheelchair users and their carers to avoid the village of Wray like the plagueMy father was left distraught for hours, wringing his hands, biting his nails and fretting terribly over his being a “nuisance” and a “trouble”. I was white-hot with rage at the Wray residents responsible for making him so upset. It’s frankly inexcusable but my father is deserving of a full apology from the residents of Wray and those individuals among them who have brought shame and a bad reputation on their community.
Way to go, Wray Scarecrow Festival. Where wheelchair-bound war veterans and their carers get abused. “I helped you get him through,” one Wray resident working as staff said. “And we were grateful,’ I replied, “What’s your point? It shouldn’t have happened.” “The ramp worked fine up until today,” he said. “I don’t care,” I snapped. “My father’s here today and that’s all I care about.” I got dirty looks and attitude when I pulled up my car to get my parents, in a spot where i clearly wasn’t supposed to park. But no way was I taking my dad back to the inaccessible car park. He’d suffered enough.
The residents of Wray should choose their official event representatives more wisely and show they give a damn about disabled people. And yes, frankly — I do expect public events supported by local authorities and taxpayers to be wheelchair-accessible. I’m awkward that way. I also expect a little Lancashire village to show some respect to a 90-yr-old WWII veteran and enable his enjoyment of their event. They owe their freedom to people like my father. Without his bravery and that of others like him, they’d be living very different lives.
I’ll be complaining in writing to all the relevant local and regional authorities, as well as the tourist board. This story casts a dark, ugly cloud over the festival’s anniversary and those responsible should be brought to book—by which I mean not only the narrow-minded woman with her wheelchair comment, or the nasty man who urged me to crash my car, but also whoever was responsible for organising and planning the event. Because clearly, he, she or they should stick to organising paperwork and not large-scale events where everyone is invited but not everybody is welcomed or catered for. For future reference, a muddy field does not a disabled car park make.
Wheelchairs are such a nuisance, aren’t they? Installing ramps and adding or widening paths in a village would so ruin the picturesque views. I know— let’s keep Wray for the able-bodied. That’ll work!
UPDATE, 10.05.2012: I was heartened to receive an email through the contact page on this blog from a representative of the Wray Scarecrow Festival organising committee this morning, assuring me that our experience will be investigated and asking me for suggestions on how to restore their reputation and improve the experience of wheelchair visitors in the future.
Here’s hoping something positive for the future comes of this. I’ll update the blog entry again when I’ve anything else to report. Kudos to the organising committee for moving swiftly, for investigating and promising change. I have asked them to write to my dad to apologise to him directly.
UPDATE 23.05.2012: My father has received a written apology in the post, which has pleased him greatly. I am now convinced the organisers take what happened very seriously indeed and are keen to learn from the experience to better provide for wheelchair users in future.
What follows is an extract from the most recent email on the matter I’ve received from the organisers:
1) An apology is in the post to your father for the quality of his
experience which could have been improved with better information on
our website, a better ramp to assist his exit from the car park and/or
the option to park in an alternative location. We have also apologised
for the apparent humiliation he felt when our volunteers (and others)
tried to assist him even if their actions were well intentioned.
2) With regards the comment you reported overhearing through you open
car window and the circumstances which surrounded it. If such a remark
was made and directed at you then I would like to offer an apology for
it. Although, no one I have spoken to has admitted to making the
comment or hearing it being made.
3) I understand (although you did not mention it) that an integral
part of the incident involved the volunteers on duty preventing you
from exiting the car park via the entrance and this this action caused
you some annoyance. We operate a strict one-way system on safety
grounds and therefore this action was entirely appropriate.
4) Although we already have a section in our briefing for volunteers
reminding them that they are representing the village when on duty we
will be reinforcing this message in the future.
5) I have recommended to the organising committee that careful
consideration should be given in preparations for next year’s event as
to how we can improve the experience for wheelchair visitors including
the introduction of some of the ideas I have previously outlined. I
hope that our actions will benefit wheelchair visitors to our festival
in the future and therefore that some good will come from this
I regret that you and your parents left our village with a bad
impression but hope that our response has been both fair and swift and
that this will go some way towards restoring our reputation with you.
There was no need to apologise for my dad’s humiliation at being assisted per se—that was an outcome of the situation being so dire, it was the situation that needed the apology. He understood people were trying to help, the point was that they shouldn’t have had to—and, unsurprisingly, it seems nobody is willing to admit to what was said to me when I drove the car away, because it was frankly disgusting and they’re probably ashamed. I can’t hold the organisers to account for that specific outburst. The altercation relating to leaving the car park was due to the fact that I’d had to strand my parents and was keen to get to them as quickly as possible. Instead I had to drive a circuitous route back into the village, which, under the circumstances, shouldn’t have been the case. There should’ve been some flexibility under the circumstances, which I tried to communicate.
But these are relatively minor points. The essential substance is that the organisers are acting to make sure this kind of horrendous episode never happens again and that future disabled visitors won’t face the same issues. Let’s hope so.
It’s vitally important to recognise that volunteering for roles in public events like this is admirable but being a volunteer doesn’t mean you’ve opted out of being subject to disciplined and appropriate behaviour. You can’t just do what you like. A small number of volunteers gave this village an appalling reputation that, as happens with these things, had consequences beyond those who were affected. The hostility and rudeness of a few people meant the organising committee had to spend more time on diplomacy and healing than they spent shooting their mouths off.
My parents and I accept the apology and are glad that good should come out of our experience for next year’s visitors. I believe this to be a successful outcome, assuming next year visitors see changes for the better.