A shopping centre has earned national recognition for the quality of its facilities for disabled people.
The disabled toilets at Eagles Meadow in Wrexham have been accredited by learning disability organisation Mencap and included on a map of their approved locations.
People with disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, who simply can’t use standard accessible toilets, need facilities they can use to enable them to get out and about.
To use the toilet in safety and comfort some disabled people need to be able to access a Changing Places toilet which has more space and the right equipment, including a height adjustable changing bench and a hoist.
It’s been a Godsend for retired builder Peter Billington and his wife, Barbara, from Bangor on Dee, whose daughter, Ashley, 29, suffers from Cerebral Palsy and is a wheelchair user.
According to Peter, having a Changing Places facility at Eagles Meadow means Ashley’s carers, who take her out once a week, can spend time out without having to panic about getting home so she can go to the loo.
He said: “There are very few places that have suitable toilets for disabled people like Ashley.
“Ashley has carers who come and take her out once a week giving Barbara and myself some time to ourselves. But they aren’t allowed to lift Ashley without a hoist. That means they are always restricted to how long they can spend away from home.
“Ashley has been toilet trained since she was a very small child but she needs help to go to the toilet as she can’t stand or change herself.”
Barbara added: “Ashley loves going out with her carers. She enjoys eating out, although she can’t feed herself. And they take her bowling and do many things ordinary people take for granted.
“But, with nowhere to go to the toilet, they are limited as to where and how far they can go and how long they can go out for. Having a hoist is massively important and a changing bench if it’s needed.
“The facility at Eagles Meadow is great and means Ashley’s carers can take her without having to panic about getting her home. I wish there were more facilities like it but there are very, very few and those that do exist are very hard to find.”
Sophie Lay, 18, of Johnstown, also has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Her mum, Sharron, said: “It’s an amazing facility and a good size. It means Sophie can come out with her carers without having to panic about how long they are out. It means she has some small level of independence and freedom.
“I go out for days out with Sophie and I’m constantly thinking about where I can find a toilet with a hoist and, importantly, a changing bench that an adult can use. There are so few around which is unfair.”
She added: “I end up sometimes worried about how much water Sophie has had when we are out and that can’t be right. If there were more facilities such as the Changing Places toilet at Eagles Meadow then life would be so much easier.”
Carol Gardner, the charity manager of Wrexham-based Dynamic which provides activities for young people with special needs including a range of physical disabilities says the Eagles Meadow Changing Places toilet is a vital resource to the charity.
She said: “It’s really important. It means when we bring young people to Eagles Meadow whether to go bowling, to a restaurant or just too simply shop we have somewhere where we our young people can go to the toilet safely and with some dignity.
“Having a hoist and a changing bench is really important when you are caring for young people and adults but there are so few places that provide adequate facilities.
“We have used the Eagles Meadow facility on numerous occasions when we have brought young people to the shopping centre and it really is a vital resource.”
She added: “Sophie attends Dynamic and Ashley used to but now she’s 29 she is too old. It’s a shame but once disabled people such as Ashley get to 25 there is very little provision for them and it’s really left to their parents.
“But having somewhere suitable so Ashley can go to the toilet when she needs to means her carers can bring her out for the day with some peace of mind. And it means her mum and dad get a break too.”
Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley wants more people to be aware that the Changing Places facility is available at the shopping centre.
He said: “The Changing Places Consortium launched its campaign in 2006 on behalf of the thousands of people who cannot use standard accessible toilets.
“This includes people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, as well as older people.
“It’s a facility that is only really important to a relatively few disabled people and those that care for them. But it’s a vital facility that allows a measure of freedom they otherwise might not have.
“We have had the Changing Places facility here since the shopping centre opened and I know how important it is to a number of disabled people and their families.
“It has to be right that people who need a hoist and an adult sized changing bench within a toilet have access to such a facility so they can enjoy days out whether that’s to go shopping or pursue leisure activities that everyone else takes for granted.”
To find out more about Changing Places and where to find a fully equipped public toilet facility please visit www.changing-places.org