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15th July, 2022

“Attending concerts in a wheelchair” – Georgina’s blog

I absolutely love live music and attending concerts but what’s it really like to go to one in a wheelchair? This month I was lucky enough to attend two. There was definitely a difference between my experience with wheelchair seating in an arena environment and then a stadiums.

First up was seeing Billie Eilish supported by Jessie Reyez in London at the O2. Now this wasn’t our first trip to the O2, in fact I think it was about the fourth time we’ve been here and once again it was fantastic. The O2 is more than just an arena so we got there with plenty of time to spare to make a day of it. To get here we opted for the scenic ride, the Emirates Cable Cars from Greenwich. We love getting here via this route and this is our second time doing so, it just adds something a little extra – we had great weather, so why not?! It offers gorgeous views of London over the River Thames and is completely accessible. The staff stop the cars and collapse one side of the seating so that it’s easy to get into and then you just have to reverse out…the Whill C is the perfect size for this! There are also lifts to get you to where you need to be.

Inside there are many restaurants, shops and experiences to do. We went for food at Gordon Ramsay’s Street Burger and then to Snowflake Gelato (both accessible with good food) before heading round to the arena entrances which is simple to get through in your wheelchair. The O2 has been one of the best venues not only for making a day out of the concert but for also the accessibility seating as its one of the only arenas that doesn’t make you feel out of the crowd or atmosphere as on the same level as you there is bar like seating. Because we normally go to a concert as a four and accessibility seating still only allows you to have one person (sometimes they’ll allow you to have two other people with you). We have to split up into pairs which isn’t ideal as we would prefer to be together but what we try to do is get two in the wheelchair bay/accessible seating (there’s plenty of space on the accessible bays to be sat comfortably in my Whill) and then get the two standard seats directly in front of them. We do this by phoning the accessible line to book the tickets and we’ve found that this is the best way to still be together and experience the show with one and other.

I had forgotten a portable charger for this event and with taking plenty of videos of the concert my phone battery was running low but the Whill being the clever piece of technology it is, has a USB port so I was able to plug my phone in and charge it with my wheelchair without draining the charge of my chair much at all. This day was amazing and Billie was absolutely incredible, such a talented artist who’s fans created a great atmosphere from start to finish.

Something would I recommend while visiting london is the River Thames Boat Cruises. It’s a great way to get around and see the sites without having to walk/wheel around. To get onto the boat they have a ramp which they lay out for you. It is pretty tight to manoeuvre to get onto the ramp but thanks to the Whill’s narrow size and easy manoeuvrability with the ability to turn on the spot I was able to get on. They had a disabled toilet onboard but it was on the small side so just keep that in mind if you’re going to try out this excursion.

The second concert was over in Manchester, watching Harry Styles supported by Mitski at the Emirates Trafford Stadium. I was joined by my best friend who uses a manual wheelchair and our sisters, so it was the four of us which made for a lovely girly trip! We had plenty of time this day and were ready in advance knowing that people queue a lot for his concerts so we wanted to get to our location early. Our plan was to get two accessible Uber’s or cabs to get us to the stadium but unfortunately there were none available. After waiting a while to see if one would pop up, we made the decision to get the tram. It was a short tram journey and a follow of the crowd to the main entrance (there was no specific disabled entrance) and thankfully the queues were really short so we was able to get in with ease. We had booked the wheelchair platform and emailed in advance to check everything was in order and ask if we were allowed to stand on the platform during the show to which we got the response of a definite yes to all our questions, so we felt quite confident going in knowing all was ok. Arriving at the venue the platform was massively oversold, our +1’s kept getting asked to give up their seats, our views were restricted and were told we were no longer allowed to stand/dance on the platform. We were definitely a little disappointed but we stood our ground and spoke to the people there who then brought the kindest manager to help us. He then proceeded to move us from the platform to the wheelchair seating in the stands that just happened to be right next to the stage which was perfect for us. It wasn’t ideal having to go through the uncertainty and it shouldn’t of happened but thankfully we had a really positive outcome. We were able to have comfortable wheelchair seating with space, a great view and our sisters had their seats too. A bonus that we were able to stand for a couple of the last songs (we are both ambulatory wheelchair users) which is what we wanted to do.

The earlier experience at the platform did make us feel like disabled concert goers were an afterthought and they shouldn’t be! They would have surely known that there were more wheelchairs than what could fit on the one accessible platform so it should have been organised before we even got there. It certainly didn’t feel as well arranged as the O2. The stadium that had more of a festival vibe with disabled porta-loos – one of which was out of order not long after we got there (and we got there early). However, besides from the slight problems with seating, we had an absolutely gorgeous evening seeing Harry Styles who is undoubtedly brilliant. The atmosphere there was one of love and a feeling of safeness to be whoever you are. It was beautiful seeing him perform at sunset with the best company and core memories were made in these moments. We are so thankful to the kind staff who made the changes to help make sure we got the best experience possible; it really wouldn’t have been the same if they hadn’t of been there. Just like Billie’s, I loved this concert!

These two concerts were so different but equally brilliant, I just wish I could do them both all over again. They are up there in my top 5 and quickly have become favourites of ours.  I know for sure that if they tour again, I’ll be trying to get tickets.

In the end, we had fun and at the end of the day, that’s what matters, that’s what we take away from this. We could get hung up on the problems or we can look at what we did and think back to how we felt when the artists were singing to us and we were singing back to them. We just hope that at some places, there’s a little more thought to those in wheelchairs/need access.

I will forever love seeing music live and you can be sure that July will include more!

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