Barcelona…. Here We Come!

Mik at Derby Feste 2015Wow, what a month this has been. After spending an amazing weekend up in Derby enjoying their arts festival Derby Feste, it was off up to Stockton on Tees, to perform in Pauline Heath’s ground breaking play Occupation. I joined a truly talented ensemble cast and played to a packed house, as we challenged many stereotypes around disability trotted out by today’s right wing media. It was a joy to be a part of and has rekindled my love of stage acting. I want to do more!

Cast of Occupation

While rehearsing I was contacted by ITV’s This Morning to take part in one of their debates. So after a hard day’s fighting with my script I jumped on a train and shot off back to London. Then it was up early to appear on This Morning, meeting Phillip Schofield again after decades, to debate why non-disabled people park in Blue Badge bays. It wasn’t the hardest debate I taken part in to be honest, but it is a subject that needs airing. Especially if people really feel the other person on the sofa… speechless!

In the This Morning studio

Then back to Stockton for play time, with Occupation going live. The audience loved it, and I must admit I’ve fallen in love with the North East. Lovely place, lovely people. I will be back soon. Of course, I said this was a busy month, and so no sooner did I return to Camden and the wonderful Diane than I was up at 4am to shoot off to Sky News, for their Sunrise program. Yes, it was new review time again and I was on with Anne Diamond. I get so starstruck when I’m on with Anne, and she is one of the loveliest people in TV. But the Sky studio is a great set, and Stephen Doxon and Gillian Joseph are great too, so it’s a job I don’t mind getting up at stupid o’clock for. Even if I am a pinko liberal that annoys many Sky viewers…. or that’s how it seem thanks to Twitter!

Mik with Anne Diamond

With that all in the bag, you’d think it might be time for a rest… but no. Or no then yes. On Wednesday Diane and I jet off to Barcelona as I have been commissioned to write a story about the city. Of course as it is one of our favourite places on the planet, we have booked some extra time there for a holiday. Can’t wait, even if the weather forecast is for rain. Being wet in Barcelona is still fantastic. Then when we get back it’s off to London’s Forum for three nights of Gary Numan as he recreates his three hit LP’s from the 80s. I’m going to be in synth heaven!

During all this I recorded a voice over for a film I am in, but I can’t say too much about that. Top secret and all that!

Gonna need a rest in November… although it is our 10th wedding anniversary so better get planning eh?

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Derby Feste, Here We Come!

This weekend Diane and me are off to enjoy Derby Feste, the city’s annual arts festival. It’s always a thoroughly enjoyable weekend for us, as Derby is one of those places that gets access for disabled people and so allows the disabled visitor to switch off while they are there. When you combine this freedom with a fun filled itinerary of arts for all the family, from street theatre through to the music and firework extravaganza that ends the festival, which this year is courtesy of Les Commandos Percu and Deabru Beltzak, it’s one of those events that is a must see. Luckily I will be accompanied by my mate and local actor Emily Howlett, founding member of Deaf Arts company PAD Productions, who will be giving me the skinny on the secret side of Derby. I am planning a review for the Huff, both of the festival and of any key shows that grab my eye. So watch this space. And if you are knocking around Derby this weekend and see Di and me come and say Hi! Especially if you have something in mind that you think we just have to see!

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Too Busy To Post! Again!

Argh! August was a crazy busy month. It’s started with three days of training at the BBC weather department, as part of their weather presenting training scheme. It was an amazing three days and I learned loads. Being a weather presenter is one of the hardest jobs in TV, and I doff my cap to anyone who does it. You never know, one day it might be me!

BBCWT01aNext I spent a great afternoon scooting around Richmond Park in an amazing powered all terrain wheelchair, called a Boma 7. I had a blast as I think you can see by this video –

 

Another video clip that came out in August was my contribution to the Scope campaign. End The Awkward. I originally did one about always being asked if I could have sex, but they went with a less rude experience instead. See what you think…

Then I spent a week celebrating hitting my 50th birthday, ending in a humdinger of a birthday party. A huge thanks to everyone who came. Here’s to the next 50 eh?

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But I had no time to recover as I was then off to Brighton to act in a short film, directed by 90’s heart throb Toby Amies. I can’t say too much but I got to fire a gun… for the first time ever in my life. While it was a really long night shoot, I can’t wait to see the finished result as the film looks like a gore fest with a superb twist!Gun Mik

 

I’ve also just finished my regular column for PosAbility magazine, and an article exploring sex with a spinal injury. I also shot a film with Enhance the UK about the problem page I write for, The Love Lounge, alongside my partner Non-expert Sexpert Emily Rose Yates. I’ll keep you posted when that is ready to look at.

So as September begins it still looks just as busy. I have been asked to create an access guide to Camden by the owners of the market, have loads of Disability Equality Training coming up as well as a visit to Derby to review the up coming Derby Feste. If you are up that way for the festival maybe see you there?

Anyway, I will try to up date this website on a more regular basis. I did say try of course……

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Thoughts of Chairman Mik

This weekend I paid another visit to the wonderful city of Derby. I had been invited to come up and speak at the launch of the new Speaker’s Corner in the city square. It’s a great idea. If you live in the area, get yourself down there and get your voice heard.

I took the opportunity to give the following speech about Embracing My Imperfections, a new social enterprise that plans to campaign to champion the idea that we are all beautiful. Here’s the script of what I said, although I did wonder off a bit. The joys of speaking live huh?

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls my name is Mik Scarlet. I’m a broadcaster and journalist as well as a disability rights campaigner. I would like to thank the organisers of today for allowing me to talk to you at this the launch of Derby’s Speaker’s Corner. When I started thinking of what to talk to you all about many things came to mind. I firstly I felt that congratulating Derby on being amazingly accessible for disabled people might be a great topic. It really is a great place for those of us who have mobility issues, and demonstrates that if a place is made accessible then the lives of disabled people can be improved beyond imagination. Then I wondered if I could talk about the representation of disabled people in the media, or should I say that lack of it. Sure we’ve seen disabled people everywhere in the media during the Paralympics, but we were pretty invisible before and we seem to have disappeared again since.

But all of this may only be of interest to those of you who are listening that may have a disability or know someone who does. So instead I felt that this was a great opportunity to bring to your attention a fantastic social enterprise that is starting up here in your fair city.

I first met the very talented local photographer Rei Bennett last year, when I was writing an article for a magazine on her project Beauty Through Damage. The driving force behind this project is to show that beauty exists in everyone, and that illness, disability or difference can actually make someone more beautiful. The strength and drive that allows a person to get through an illness or have a happy and successful life with a disability or physical difference leads those people to actually be more beautiful on the inside, and this can shine out. Rei uses her photography to capture this beauty, and she does so very successfully.

Now not only is Rei a great artist, but she’s a great person and I now count her as one of my closest friends. During another visit to your wonderful city, which I have fallen in love with I must tell you, Rei myself and group of other local talented people decided to take Rei’s project further. We want everyone to appreciate that they are truly beautiful.

Everywhere we look there are images of perfection. On TV, in magazines, advertising, even in shop windows we see images of perfect people. But now we even find Photoshop computer software is being used to make already perfect people impossibly perfect, unachievably perfect.

Of course there is much discussion about how this effects us all and about what should be done about the growing issue of unachievable images of perfection. But surely perfection is a construct decided by the wider society, so shouldn’t it be something that mirrors that society? Why are we so ready to accept the images we see around us? Well I would say it is a lack of confidence in ourselves. We don’t feel that we are perfect so we put up with these images.

This is what Rei, myself and the rest of our group are trying to correct with our social enterprise. We want to everyone to feel that they are beautiful, that they are perfect. We believe that those elements that make us different, that make us stand out are exactly what makes us beautiful, makes us perfect. Whether it’s the signs of age, our size or our imperfections, which can be small… or big – like my wheelchair, they show our journey through life and our experiences. This why we have called our group Embracing My Imperfections. That’s what we want everyone to do, feel happy with the things about them different, special. In the true meaning of the word. To see their imperfections as the very things that make them special and beautiful, and to be at one with the way they look. Which will lead to everyone being much happier, and so be even more beautiful as that happiness will shine out of them. 
 
Now all of this may sound great, but how are we planning do anything? Well we plan to campaign for better representation in the media, so that all areas of the media but especially the advertising and fashion industries mirror the wider world, to work with school and colleges to give our young people the tools to know that they are all special, important and beautiful, and to take our message of learning to love ourselves our to the country and then the world. We hope to get all of you here today to join us by adding your voices to our campaign. Together we can create a world that sees the validity in all of us, that allows us all to feel happy in our own skin and ensures that our children grow up to feel that they are all beautiful.

It’s time for all of us to stop putting up with the Tyranny of Perfection, to know that there is Beauty Through Damageand to allow everyone to begin Embracing My Imperfections.”

So there you go. I’ll keep you all posted on the progress of EMI (which means beauty in Japanese apparently). We are still getting everything together, but are hoping to get the ball rolling early 2013.

I love this photo by the way. Very “power to the people”. Appeals to the rebel in me. Watch out politicians… next step Mik for MP… and then PM!

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Return to Derby – An Accessible City

Earlier this year I wrote an blog about my trip to Derby, and how fantastic the access was for disabled people. After reading my blog, the local council invited me back to Derby to show me around this historic city. Of course I jumped at the chance, and so in April I set out up the M1. I booked into the Cathedral Quarter Hotel and paid a visit to the very talented Derby resident and friend, local photographer Rei Bennett for a night out. She took us for a great meal at a Japanese restaurant called Moonsha. Truly superb food, great service and a totally accessible venue (as well as the yummiest house white I have ever tasted!). Already the joys of Derby if you are disabled were hitting home, as I had spent a great night where the issue of access hadn’t raised it head once.
The next morning I went down to the lobby of the hotel accompanied by the darling wife Diane and met up with Andy Smart, a projects manager with Derby council, and Stella Birks, a visitor services development manager with Derby tourist board. As soon as we set out, the heavens opened. So rather than get soaked we retired to Jack Rabbits coffee shops for a latte and yummy cakes. This was already my kind of visit. While the rain fell, we chatted and it soon became clear that everyone at Derby council has a real commitment to making the city not only accessible but fully inclusive. On cue, as we finished our coffee the sun began to shine, so we set off out once again.
We walked down to the river side, and saw the works that have been carried out to create a community space that is used for public events and entertainment while also providing a great public space. Even the grass areas had been ramped and the whole site was a real triumph of inclusive design. impressed we then wondered towards the shopping centre. There are loads of live events on through out the year. As soon as you enter Derby City centre you discover how well shared spaces, once called pedestrian zones, really work. I know that there is a great deal of controversy around creating shared spaces, but Derby has been using them since the early 90’s and they have ironed out many of the issues that some groups raise. Andy informed me that this has been done with the full cooperation of local disability groups.
Sure as a wheelchair user I do think that shared spaces are a great idea, but as someone who works in accessible design I also appreciate that there are major concerns about taking this route when trying to create accessible environments, especially within the visually impaired community. However, I must admit that it seemed to me that Derby had found solutions to many of these objections. There is a clear demarcation between the pavement and road areas, created by a dramatic colour changes in the paving around these transitions, for those with some sight, and using the drainage gully to mark where the pavement ends for those who use canes. The dreaded tactile paving, well dreaded  by us wheelies, has not been used through out, which may worry some people I know. The best solution is that huge areas of the centre are closed to traffic during the day. As of 10am all the cars vanish from the city centre and the roads belong to the pedestrians alone. Having said that, later on that night we were walking across one of these streets, now open to traffic, and a car slowed down a let us cross as if it was totally natural. If I’m honest I think that everyone who is interested in the issues around shared spaces should visit Derby and get in touch with Andy Smart.

Next we went to new arts centre, The Quad to meet up with Derby’s very active disability group and the council’s Equality and Diversity Manager Ann Webster to discuss the cities entry in to the European Award for Accessible Cities. Developments like The Quad are examples of great inclusive design, with all the facilities on offer being open to all, and as we chatted over sandwiches and coffee it became obvious how vocal local disabled people were in the evolution of their city. Just shows what can be done if you get involved. From this fantastic public facility we visited the local Shopmobility Scheme, which was staffed by a great bunch and really well equipped. Then off to see the new fully accessible bus station, which serves a fleet of accessible buses. I think you can see there is theme developing here.

Although this all sounds wonderful, the funny thing was that both Andy and Stella felt that there was still a lot to do. The picture above is of a proposed new access down to the river Derwent, that runs through the city centre. The plans for the new Council House, which is currently being developed, really demonstrates the commitment to inclusion, as do the proposals for the train station. A key element to Derby is the amount of historic and heritage buildings there are. Normally the preservation of historic buildings can be a bar to access and I know I have worked a couple of projects where all of my work has been stopped by the heritage lobby. But in Derby the council is so pro-access that they provide a fund available to local businesses to pay for any access works on historic buildings to ensure access is created that is in keeping with the preservation of the feel of several areas of the city.

This means that for anyone who is disabled and especially those of us with mobility issues, the entire shopping district is a dream. From the Westfield and High Street, through to the boutique shops in the side streets and even the local markets everywhere you go is just easy. In fact it is so good that when you do stop a shop with a step or two it actually shocks you. On top of the access, every one I have ever met in derby was really friendly and helpful. Before we parted I made sure that Andy and Stella understood that if Derby didn’t win that award there was no justice. 

Back at the hotel we prepared for another night out with Rei and a gang of local creative types, including local disabled film maker Jen White. This time were we taken to a student pub The Friary and we weren’t let down. Fully accessible, and very reasonably priced (hic), we had a great time, even if I was easily the oldest person in there. As we got ready to leave the next morning I felt a little sad. After two days of being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted as easily as imaginable, I was going back to the real world.

Now all this might sound like I am in the pay of the tourist board, but honestly I’m not. It’s just that I discovered Derby by chance, and was totally blown away at how easy it was there for me. Every time I visit, I can forget my disability completely. Maybe it seems so good because I live in Camden in London, a place that is world famous for it’s appalling access. All I know is that Derby has won a place in my heart. The council is totally committed to inclusion, as I keep saying, and that shows everywhere you turn. I now hold Derby up as an example of what can be done if you put your mind to it when I am talking to my access clients.

If you are disabled and haven’t been… get yourself there ASAP! Check out the Visit Derby website for information of what going on and places to stay. I know I’m planning to go back very soon.

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Travelogue 1 – Derby

At the start of 2012 I promised myself that I would try to see more of the great country I live in. It seems that February really kicked started this goal, with a series of trips all over the UK in my diary.

The first was a visit to Derby to write an article for Disability Now magazine on the photographer Rei Bennett’s Beauty from Damage project, which will be in the next issue of DN. I have been to Derby a few times in the past but as a singer with various bands, as it is a great place for live music. The only problem with seeing anywhere when you’re touring is that you don’t get to see it. You arrive, sound check, have something to eat, do the show and retire to a hotel for drinks and passing out. The next morning you’re back on the road with a place name ticked off your tour itinerary, but with no actual knowledge of what that place is like. So I wanted to experience what Derby had to offer, and with this in mind I booked a hotel room for my wife and I the night before the interview.

We stayed at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in St. Mary’s Gate, which was a great choice. It’s a really nice high quality hotel, that came at a very reasonable price. From the minute we arrived outside it was obvious that the Cathedral Quarter was going to be accessible too. While it is an old building, the Old County Offices, it’s wheelchair accessible through out. Our room was nice too. Not massive, but superb for the price paid and very swish. The bathroom was very accessible too, with a walk in shower and handrails galore. The whole hotel was a superb combination of designer chic and historic features, including stained glass windows on the sweeping stair case in the lobby. The staff were really helpful and very friendly.

In fact everyone we met in the city were friendly and chatty. So much so that it made the whole visit even more enjoyable. It’s funny how your experience of a place can be so heavily influenced by it’s people, but it only becomes clear when you visit somewhere where everyone is so nice. But not only has Derby got great people, it’s also a really great place.

At this point I must mention the thing about Derby that really impressed both me and my wife… just how accessible for disabled people it is. In fact it is so accessible that I would say that Derby should be a shinning example to other towns and cities. In the past I have always given the example of Barcelona as proof that a anywhere can be made accessible, but Derby equally proves it and is here in the UK. Derby really is that good. It starts with the pavements, with large areas being pedestrianised. I know that many people find the idea of shared spaces frightening, but Derby demonstrates that these fears are unfounded. The changes from pavement to road area are marked with noticeably different coloured paving, and have a small dip to make sure people with visual impairments are safe, while ensuring a smooth surface for us wheelie types. Pretty much all the shops had ramped access, and everywhere had lifts and toilets. They had even made most of the cobbled areas accessible by smoothing off the surfaces of each cobblestone. Anyone who uses a wheelchair knows how truly evil cobbles are, but Derby has cracked the whole issue. Keeping the historic nature of the cobbled areas while making them usable for all people. If you are disabled, a trip to Derby is a must if only to witness how accessible it is.

When you are a wheelchair user like me, how accessible a place is can really effect how you experience what is on offer when you visit. I have lost count of the number of holidays and trips out have been ruined by crap access. With Derby being so accessible it became clear that our one night was not going to be enough. We arrived early, as I am a sticker for time keeping, and after we unpacked in our room, we went out for a walk around. I love shopping, and in Derby I could feed my addiction very nicely. We did pop into the Westfield shopping centre briefly, but much preferred the myriad of shops outside. Something that is noticeable about Derby is how many of the shops inside the centre are repeated outside. Thus saving shopping centre phobics, like my poor wife, from the horror of being stuck in the unnatural environment of Westfield and the like. On top of the usual high street fair, Derby has loads of little boutiques selling high quality items. From local designers to designer labels there’s something for everyone. I found some great jewellery shops too. Hmm, that’s good shopping.

While I love to shop, Diane loves to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. Derby has many lovely coffee shops and restaurants, catering for all tastes. Top quality gourmet food, local produce and high street chains are all there. We tried out a couple of little coffee places, a cheese and bread place just next to the hotel and Pizza Express. All yummy with great food and really great staff.

Even if you don’t fancy shopping and eating (are you still alive?), you can easily enjoy just wandering around the city. Being an architecture buff, I found the many architectural styles of Derby fascinating. It has spans the most of industrial history, from Georgian and Victorian grandeur through 30’s and 60’s modernism to recent new developments. Definitely visit Waterstones. It’s a glorious old building with loads of original features, with an amazing 30’s building opposite, currently housing spa. In most of the centre of the city I got to combine my love of shopping with sight seeing lovely buildings, especially in the side streets off St Peter’s Street. Check out Pictures of Derby to see what a treasure chest of buildings the city is. I’d also advise a walk down by the river. Romantic and beautiful.

If you haven’t been, I would advise you give Derby a try. I fell in love with the city after one day and know I want to go back, soon. I know it has a thriving arts scene for one thing, and I want to taste some of the creative offerings Derby has to offer, as well as it’s other delights.

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