The Grand Opera House, Belfast, Accessible tourism review part 2

Happy 2022 everyone, and welcome back to Phoebs Lyle Journalism!

The Grand Opera House in Belfast is Northern Ireland’s most recognisable theatre, first opening its doors in 1895. For generations since, the Opera House has continued entertaining audiences, with it’s famous Christmas Pantomime being a favourite each year. In 2020, its much anticipated rebuild began, costing £12.2m, with the theatre opening for performances again last year. I did a review of the theatre’s rebuild back in October, but since then, I was invited up for a private tour, just before Christmas, where I had the opportunity to see round most of the building. So as promised, this is the follow up of my Disabled Tourism Review: The Grand Opera House’s Rebuild, and my full thoughts on the rebuild and how accessible it is, after getting to look round more of the building.

Starting off with the doors when you first arrive at the theatre, I was easily able to fit my wheelchair in. Although they aren’t automatic — which might not suit those who like as little assistance as possible — but it is extremely easy to get in, and the staff are very helpful if you need anything.

‘The Grand Opera House, Belfast, Reception at Christmas’ © Phoebs Lyle

The reception is gorgeous — and having went on this tour slightly before Christmas — the decorations made it even better. Although I don’t use stairs, I couldn’t help but admire their look from the reception and later up the stairs, — so for anyone who’s just generally interested in architecture — whether they’re disabled or not — it is overwhelmingly gorgeous. The way they were built really fits into the overall rebuild — although it doesn’t help with promoting the idea with letting disabled people use lifts — which might be a problem for you, depending on how you view that.

‘Wheelchair Person Fitting in Lift’ © Phoebs Lyle

Turning to the lifts, the lifts in the new rebuild are definitely big enough for a disabled person and their carer. I fitted in with one of my carers — with the other one going up after with my equipment and our tour guide — and I didn’t face any difficulties.

On the night I went up to see ’School of Rock: The Musical’ I had to use one of the downstairs disabled bathrooms, due to bad weather and to make it easier for me to get suction (for those of you who aren’t that aware of what that means, it’s just getting secretions you’d normally cough up getting sucked out of my trachea). When my two friends and I finally got in there, we found that the space was considerably small, which was slightly confusing giving that it was a disabled toilets room, and I’ve heard others voicing similar problems.

‘Grand Opera House Disabled Bathroom’ © Phoebs Lyle

But when I was shown the upstairs disabled bathrooms as part of my tour — which are directly next door to each other — we all found they were they were different altogether, meaning a lot more spacious. While this is good, I was told that it would probably not be possible for them to knock the two rooms into each other when I brought up an idea for disabled changing places room. This is something I’ll hopefully have the opportunity to talk to the Oprah House about later this year, so I’ll be able to give more details then.

Everything else I got to see as part of the tour was an exhibition which the rest of the public will get to see hopefully this year (if Covid behaves itself), as well as the different levels of seating, and where actors and crew would chill out or rehearse a performance. I didn’t get to see the stage, so I can’t give any information on that, but maybe that will change in future.

So overall, I think the architecture of The Grand Opera House’s rebuild is stunning. It was very exciting seeing all the places that the public wouldn’t necessarily know about, the bar is gorgeous, and when the restrictions are finally lifted, the Heritage Exhibition about the theatre’s history is well worth a visit — no matter what age or ability you are. However, even with all the beauty, I’m still going to give out some facts on the bad side. While there is no way a changing places bathroom could be fitted into the disabled toilets downstairs, the two upstairs ones which are next door to each other definitely have enough space. If they were knocked into each other, they’d make the perfect changing places room, even if not all disabled people weren’t a fan of all the key equipment. Yes; this would also throw up other problems, such as if lifts would still work in the case of fires, and issues surrounding the dignity of disabled people if any situation of toileting while something dangerous happens occurs. But the fact this didn’t come up when the new building was being built is ridiculous, as it could have easily been sorted out.

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