Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been very involved with the launch of the ‘Locked Out’ report, which was launched last Wednesday at the APPG for young disabled people, and that Paul Maynard chaired. A few days prior to that I’d been contacted by the MDC press office to ask if I would be happy for my details to be passed on to media wanting to cover the story, both of the launch of the report, but also my personal story. Within a few hours of this being arranged, I’d been contacted by three newspapers, including the Guardian and a couple of local newspapers. It was clear very quickly that there would be an interest from a wide range of media sources, I was interviewed by Inside Housing, who focus on social housing needs, also the Hull Daily Mail and local newspapers from Norfolk where I am now living. The ‘Locked Out’ report is one I’ve particularly taken a lot of interest in as I have had personal experience of being unable to find accessible housing to rent when I moved up to Hull for a job. It took me a year to find somewhere to rent so in the mean time had to live in a bed and breakfast, so you can imagine that I was quite keen to hear what changes were going to be made to improve the situation.
On the Tuesday, I was phoned by MDC to say that Channel 4 were interested in the story and wanted to film me the next day going down to Westminster to the APPG. Everybody was really excited about this but to me it just seemed really scary! When I got off the train at Kings Cross on Wednesday morning from Norfolk, the film crew and Cathy Newman, the presenter, were there to meet me. They first did some filming of me getting off the train, which had to be repeated three times due to background noise, much to the annoyance of the assistance man with the ramp! Then for the next challenge was to try and get everybody in taxis. The original plan was to get Cathy Newman, the camera man and me into one taxi so that they could do some of the interview during the journey, and then my PA and the Channel 4 producer into one following. However, like all good plans, we realised that this was not going to work as there was going to be no room, so the camera man went in the other taxi. During the taxi ride, we chatted about what the interview was going to involve. They’d arranged for the interview to take place in an outdoor café opposite Downing Street. This proved to be somewhat challenging as sirens and other traffic continually went past, so we had to keep stopping and re-recording. We also had to rearrange the whole café so that we could all be in the right place and at least partly under the cover. This took quite a while, and the waiter, who was obviously keen to be on TV, kept coming over to try to clear the table while they were filming. The actual interview went well, and Cathy really understood the issues we were trying to get across, and was keen to put across the positives in terms of what we were trying to achieve through the APPG group, not just the difficulties of finding accommodation. Cathy had to ask one question five times as just as the siren had died down in the background, a huge number of protestors came marching past, chanting. By this point we were both in fits of giggles, so filming had to be paused while we recomposed ourselves.
Once the interview was done, there was very little time to get over to Westminster to the APPG. While going through the security process of getting in, I had a phone call from the Channel 4 producer to say they needed to do more filming once I’d finished. Even though the meeting was slightly shorter than usual, we managed to get all the points across and I felt it was really positive, as the panel, which included the head of the landlord association, estate agents, and local government associations were really shocked at some of the housing experiences Trailblazers had had and agreed that urgent action needed to be taken. I was even given assurance by the head of the landlord association that I would be contacted directly in relation to one of my questions, which was ‘how can we promote adapted housing to landlords so they don’t think the house will lose value?’ So I guess we’ll watch this space on that one!
After the meeting had finished, the Channel 4 producer came and asked if we could go and do a little bit more filming. We had to wait quite a long time to be escorted in the lifts out of Westminster, and were told that we would have to wait so that everybody could go out together, which would take about 45 minutes. Once it had gently been explained that the filming needed to be finished so it could make the 7 o’clock news, we were finally given our own escort. The final bit of filming comprised of having to go in and out of the entrance about five or six times to look as if I was arriving at the beginning and then leaving at the end. This seemed to amuse the security officers who were standing trying to move people out of the shot. This piece was shown on the Channel 4 7 o’clock news that evening as part of the ‘No Go Britain’ series.
The media coverage did not finish there, as the next day I was contacted by BBC Look North, who wanted to cover the story as my experience of trying to find accessible accommodation was in Hull. On Friday, I happened to be in Hull for the University of Hull steering group for their housing research project, where I did a ten minute presentation on the Locked Out report, and the report was really well received. After this I went back to the B&B that I stayed at for a year to film with BBC Look North. This involved getting very wet and lasted about three hours as they filmed me going in and out, as well as talking about my experiences. They then wanted to get some shots of me getting in and out of the lift as well as in the kitchen; the manager of the B&B was very keen to get involved with this and was giving her tips to the camera man! This again seemed to get the message across that we were calling for action to be taken.
It was really exciting to be involved in this week of coverage and will hopefully be the start to some real changes for young disabled people trying to find accessible accommodation.