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.

Disabled Tourism Review: The Grand Opera House’s Rebuild

The Grand Opera House in Belfast is Northern Ireland’s most recognisable theatres. Open since 1895, it is known for staging musicals, comedies and pantomimes — making it an all round family favourite venue — and with its much anticipated rebuild now complete, the theatre is now back!

But how accessible is it if you’re a family with a disabled person, or if you’re a disabled person wanting to go out for the night with your friends? In this article, I will be reviewing how easy it was getting into and around the Grand Opera House on my recent visit, as well as my opinion on where the theatre falls short, based on the information found out by the wider disability community about the lack of disabled changing places within the theatre. I didn’t get to go all the way around the theatre, however, so another part of this review might come out in a couple of weeks after I go to see another show, when I will have time to go and look at other parts. But this is my review of the Grand Opera House, Belfast’s rebuild, an accessible tourism review!

Getting to the Theatre

The lead up to going to the theatre was exciting but stressful, mainly because of the new guidelines for attending events. Yes; I’m talking about the Covid Vaccine debate here — and it isn’t that I don’t want to get a covid passport — as someone who is physically disabled, I do — but the website to apply for one just isn’t accessible enough for me, because there was no ‘upload photo’ option for a proof of identity. There were various other problems as well as just the one I’ve mentioned — but without getting away from the story, after talking to the Opera House I was told I’d be allowed in if I showed evidence of a negative Covid test taken at least 24 hours beforehand. I was able to get in and see the show in the end.

Moving Around After Covid Checks

After getting in, it was easy to show our tickets, to find the room where the show would be held, and to find our seats. We arrived when people were still coming in, so one of my friends went to get the program for me, while the two others stayed with me in case anything happened. The security staff were nice and helpful, and there was definitely no problem in communication if they needed to discuss something with us or vice versa.

How Accessible is the Grand Opera House, Belfast Overall?

Keeping in mind again that I haven’t been the whole way around the theatre, and I’m only commenting so far on my experiences two weeks ago, I think the majority of my feedback is overwhelmingly positive. It was easy to get in, it was easy finding where the show would take place and our seats, and the security — when we needed them — were brilliant.

But even with that, there is one problem.

The Grand Opera House was given £11 million in government money for its newest rebuild, for which they promised something great. Yet – according to top disability advocates and information friends gave me about the toilets, there was no disabled persons changing places.

If you take my case as an example, I would need a hoist to help get me out of my wheelchair, and a table or bench to lie on. Even if the table was a flip down one, it would be good enough, and although I’m not the biggest fan of overhead hoists, it would be a good enough way forward.

I wouldn’t bother with visiting a disabled persons’ changing places room if I was going to a short performance with no interval like ‘Six’, but in a couple of weeks I’m going to be going to see ‘School of Rock’, which I know will be a longer performance. It would be nice to have the option of going to the toilet during the interval, rather than being forced not to drink beforehand when out for a dinner with friends beforehand.

But despite this, the accessibility isn’t awful, and the Grand Opera House does have information on its website on how they can give you help if you have specific needs. In fairness to them, their attitude to disabled people attending the theatre has always been great, and they deserve a big applause for that.

So with this in mind, I will give the Grand Opera House’s rebuild ****.


Belated Birthday Blog: Happy 22nd to Me / VR City Review

Hi guys and welcome back to Technology Reviews! First of all, thanks to everyone who’s read my post Before writing it, I never expected it to get as many views as it has, so I’d like to thank you a lot.

Since getting that post out, I’ve also managed to set up a few more social medias for this blog. You can still follow me on my personal Twitter account: @Phoebslyle, or on my personal Instagram account: therealphoebslyle. But if you want to follow my business Instagram for here, it is: technologyreviewsuk, and the Twitter is @TechReviewsUK_. You may have also seen I’ve been starting work on a new Podcast for Technology Reviews, which you can find by searching for Phoebs Lyle on Soundcloud.

So if you’ve been keeping an eye on my personal Twitter account, you’ll have seen that on 8th January, I celebrated my 22nd birthday. As well as the Turtle Beach headset _ which was featured in my Christmas blog but was actually meant to be for my birthday _ I got a lot of other stuff, as well as a new Blue Snowball ICE to replace the one I thought I lost but only ended having lost the cable _ which I will review as soon as I get through a whole lot of other ones.

I got up at half ten, and then got a lift up to VR City _ where I was booked in for 12 o, clock. I had a brilliant time, and after I finished, I got a Subway for lunch, before coming back home for 4. My full thoughts on my day at VR City are below.

VR City is a Virtual Reality arcade at Cityside, Northern Ireland _ offering Single and Multiplayer games, and doing experiences for ages 7+. You have a choice of 8 VR Stations _ 4 VR machines _ including a VR futuristic bike; Spacepods; a shotgun and a race car _ or 4 VR Booths _ and over 280 games! They have accessibility options available, and great wheelchair access, as well as sensory options. But I think there’s a good amount of accessibility they still need to improve on.

You get a lot of different types of games, but how accessible these are, at the minute, depends on your level of disability. I spent most of my time playing the Roller Coaster games, which you get access to by the Spacepods. They include small and big Roller Coasters, and even a Ghost Train one where various ghouls jump up at your face, but what I liked about them is how I was able to control them by moving my head. These made them feel more realistic and more creepier.

Later on, I got to try a Shooter one, but I didn’t enjoy it as much, as there was no way for me to control it using accessible controls. This is where I feel that Virtual Reality in general needs to try harder in including disabled people, which should be becoming easier with the rise in popularity of accessible controllers. First of all, you need to install a hoist so that wheelchair dependent people can get from their chairs to whichever VR Machine _ even if it’s not an overhead one, but one on wheels _ which I would prefer. But you also need to research into accessible controls for those who come in and need accessibility options, because not every wheelchair dependent person can play games in the same way as their able bodied peers. Such options could include voice control, head controls, or even accessible switches, but I am more than happy to give advice on what all is out there and what would be easier.

Nonetheless, I was able to play a large variety of games for when I was there, and the staff were very, very nice. But with just a few more adjustments, it could be even better.

Either way, I enjoyed my time, and overall, I will give VR CityX ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.