How can York Central be designed to work for people who have Multiple Sclerosis?

Joanne Chapman lives in York, and blogs about her experiences of being a parent and having Multiple Sclerosis. In this blog, Joanne explores what possibilities York Central might offer disabled people. This is part of a strand of My York Central work looking at how York Central can be an inclusive and accessible place where disabled people can live, work and play.

What would your home be like? How would the designs enable you to live?

My condition makes the way I live more planned. I just want my home to be easy. My main symptoms of reduced mobility, fatigue and bladder weakness have to be accommodated in the house adaptations.

For my mobility, I need to ensure that access to the front and back of the property e.g. getting in and out, access the garden as well as moving around my home is easy. In terms of what I’d be doing, I would like every room to work for me, so the adaptations and design has to assist my condition by making my home more accessible. My aids need to be discreet, so my home doesn’t look like a special home that is “aid central”. I recently went to NAIDEX, a disability conference with one of the aims to help understand how home design can assist me.

Homes on York Central could be designed to be easy to use for disabled people.

I don’t wish to think how to make my home accessible for a wheelchair but it’s a necessity. With an ageing population and individuals wanting to remain in their homes for longer and not strain services by moving out, new homes need to address accessibility, so doorways have to be wide enough for a wheelchair to easily pass, items placed at appropriate levels from a wheelchair like light switches and plugs, using technology for smart accessibility like blinds and smart door locks so accessing via a chair isn’t an issue, accessibility into and outside the home, to include your garden. Mood is also important especially as MSers have a high likelihood of depression in their lifetime. Different light levels can aid mood. This can be used effectively in different areas of the home.

I recently had a company in to provide understanding of the decisions involved before purchasing a stair lift. I spoke about the marketing material the company used which featured elderly people. I told him that I appreciate that the elderly are the target market but everything was marketed towards the elderly (photographs, language used). The biggest learning is not to assume. Not all disability is visible. If I was a designer, I would be getting a range of opinions from individuals who have a wide range of disability.

What would public spaces and social spaces be like? What would they enable you to do there?

Public spaces need to be redesigned to enable people using wheelchairs easy access, including accessible Changing Places toilets and rest places.

Public spaces like my home need to be easy. So a lot of what I’ve written for my home can be applied to public spaces. I’m disabled not because of my condition but because public spaces make me feel disabled as there are usually unfriendly. For example, I visit a local park. The entrance is blocked by a gate. I park my scooter near the gate and use my walking stick to walk in and access the park. I understand the gate prevents bikes entering the park they also restrict wheelchair, scooter and pushchair access therefore preventing many individuals from using. When my mobility gets more challenged I will be unable to visit. I choose not to use this park for its lack of accessibility and ironically it is the closest to my home. For every public place I visit, I think about my condition and how my symptoms of reduced mobility, fatigue and bladder weakness affects visiting them. Before MS, I just went out. How this affects me in York, is proper planning for best parking, places that are accessible (my husband gets me into shops, by supporting me as some York shops have steps. As an old city obviously York wasn’t designed for accessibility). I also think of somewhere to rest and use the toilet. To be honest, I now need to think like this. I also look at how accessible a place is for children too as I’m a mum. Public places often don’t have a resting spot. For example, I visited the York Balloon Festival last year. A blue badge gives you closer parking but not closer toilets and no resting place. If public places addressed this, it would be a god send (like a resting place specifically for disabled guests and families, accessed via a blue badge).

Public spaces also includes transport links. At the moment, you usually ring ahead to plan a ramp etc. You’d prefer to just turn up. The partnership with Network Rail presents many opportunities to ensure all aspects of the rail journey is accessible: from using the toilet beforehand (I highly recommend Changing Places toliets) to boarding the train.

Being a true Northern powerhouse, we have to ensure all our spaces are accessible, for all children and adults. For those who are disabled or those supporting disabled individuals like a child or if you are a carer. We need to change the current attitude.

Social places need to reflect this too. I phone ahead to reserve tables at bars and restaurants. I inform taxi drivers of my condition. Again, like an able person you wish to act spontaneously but can’t.

In York Central, I’d like all places would to be easy and spontaneous.

Where would you blog from? Are there co-working, live-work arrangements / facilities /networking opportunities that would enable you to write?

Unfortunately as public places aren’t accessible, I would write from home. They are currently no facilities/networking opportunities established for accessibility. If this was different I would have a different answer.

How would you get around? What transport options would there be? What would enable your mobility?

Getting a scooter then a wheelchair on public transport is simply a nightmare. I would struggle independently. I need charge for the scooter. There is no designated area for disabled people to rest or visit the toilet. The main toilets in the city centre have been removed. I avoid visiting the city unless it’s vital. York is bike friendly. I would love to see the city as a beacon place for accessibility. Sadly no place is easily accessible, but maybe York will lead the way?

To read more or follow Joanne on social media see:

Facebook: poorly parents

Twitter: mummywithmsjmhc


How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?

Contributions to the Festival of York Central which raised questions about the future of rail in York.

How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?
24th May, 6.00-8.00pm
National Railway Museum

Last week we ran an event at the National Railway Museum to explore the question: How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?

The event was chaired and introduced by John Nelson who has a long-standing involvement in the railways. In terms of considering the intersection of York Central and rail industry,  John described his interest as motivated by a ‘passion for the rail industry’, that he was still involved with three rail companies, a former trustee of the NRM and is a local resident, based in Holgate.

When John arrived in York in 1987 there were about 8,000 rail employees and about a quarter of the population some way dependent on the rail industry. The Carriageworks was closed due to political decision to “show the benefits of privatisation” and was at the time the most advanced facility in the UK. The loss of the Carriageworks meant the loss of many motivated people. The loss of higher-skilled jobs (and hence higher paid jobs) has lingered. John believes promotion of higher-end employment in York is needed – and that York Central is an opportunity.

Currently around a 1000 people in York work in the rail industry – a massive change in twenty years. Nationally, (via the Rail Industry Association website) it is noted that the rail sector is worth £36bn to the UK annually, with a tax benefit of £11bn annually, bigger than food and drink or pharmaceuticals. Across the UK jobs directly/indirectly associated with rail number just under 600,000, with 115,000 working directly within the system, 42,000 in the retail side, 250,000 in the supply side.

Can we re-find a role in the industry which might allow York to live up to reputation as a rail city?

The next speaker was Lynne Minett, who is Head of Learning and Events at NRM. Lynne’s role is to make collections engaging to all. Lynne said that she knows that people want to engage with the site and collection and acknowledged that in the past they haven’t always told York’s story well. York Central is a catalyst to:-

  • Reinvigorate South Yard and other outdoor spaces
  • Reinvigorate indoor displays
  • Create new central gallery linking two main buildings
  • Create a Wonderlab and a maker/tinkering space

The NRM are conscious of need to fill the STEM skills gap and that both the NRM and whole Science Museum Group have a role in this.

The NRM now working more closely with rail industry via the York Central Partnership and elsewhere. Through the Future Engineers initiative there will be a programme of events to focus on engineering and in particular encouraging young women into STEM.

The NRM very positive about rail industry on York Central giving an opportunity to being the story of railway up to present day.

The final of the three speakers was Alastair Morrison who works for Tracsis in Pride Park, Derby.

Pride Park is bounded by rail lines, river and the station. It is soon to be extended by the extra Triangle site. The initiative was supported politically when it started in 1990’s. It took 20 years (almost) to fill the site. Derby College has a large number of engineering courses and apprenticeships.

Pride Park has very good rail connectivity and road access. Bus services improved after temporary diversion of services demonstrated the need. Tracsis moved there for connectivity. There are the nearby Network Rail offices, a good network of collaborative companies and bigger pool of employees. There are lots of companies working in different aspects of the industry and the East Midlands Rail Forum is very active in promoting the industry. There are other supporting businesses too such as banking, food, property consultants, hotels etc.

Two of the post it notes on the rail industry contributed during the Festival of York Central


The event was then opened up for discussion.

1990s legacy of lack of investment

‘It was difficult during 1990’s. York was relatively prosperous and so it missed out on government funding. There was also in this period an escalation of land values which limited the type of businesses which can be attracted. Inward investment dried up too, which left the city dependent on the region’.

Museum – about the past but also for the future?

‘I am thinking about the ‘museum’ part of the title of the NRM. Does “the past” get in the way of thinking about the present and future?’ Lynne responded that there is a strong commitment that current industry needs to be focus of the museum now. NRM is partnering with companies in the industry to fund events. Alastair added that on Pride Park Roundhouse (College) offers ‘good facilities for events and as a shopfront to the site’.

What kind of railway businesses?

‘Can we generate rail activity?’

‘Any new activity  would probably on supply side – what strategy would deliver on the potential? How can the council as planning authority help drive change and overcome hurdles such as high land value?’

‘I work in the rail industry for Siemens, could HS2 could be brought into York either as station or for maintenance depot?’

‘There is still significant rail employment which will collapse if the issue of future of the industry is not addressed. Neither of the Universities do engineering; could this change? Or could York College grow to fill this gap?’

‘If York wants rail to grow, then all participants need to “sing from the same hymn sheet”. Regional development agencies in midlands very focussed on engineering – not the case in Yorkshire. There was no drive across the board to retain / maintain rail industry in York’.

Lynne noted: ‘York is a “City of Media Arts” which leaves engineering out and often makes NRM a lone voice for engineering’.

So, there is an image problem and a problem of advocacy with the universities. Isn’t there a digital strand to the rail industry? John Nelson replied that ‘yes there is, but we’d need a broader group than this to explore that’.

‘Does the training college at Doncaster create problem by draining skills from region, leaving gap for creation of training facility in York? We need to involve a wide range of partners and explore synergies – universities etc. Need a process to involve immediate partners (Network Rail etc) as a starting point’.

‘How did the HS2 training centre end up in Doncaster? Mainly due to mechanical engineering in Doncaster’.

‘The demise of Virgin Trains East Coast franchise might give a chance for new opportunities – new alliancing arrangement. Can we set up a conference to explore ideas? Local links are useful such as the Institute of Transport Studies in Leeds, and the closeness of Doncaster’.

It was noted that no-one from CoYC Economic Development at the meeting and that Make It York is very focused on tourism.

How to increase the number of people involved in the conversation

‘There is a possibility with York Central, but this needs buy-in from wider range of partners. We need engagement of local people in the process of development. Also the broader industry such as HS2 and construction / civil engineering’.

‘North Yorkshire LEP should be contacted. There is frustration with York in terms of tackling future employment’.

‘We don’t have an equivalent of Midlands Rail Forum. Should we form an equivalent? ‘Railway Industry Association cover supply side across the country, could they be involved in providing member information? ‘The lack of attendance tonight is a symptom of lack of stimulus – so how do we target and engage wider group’.

‘York Central has dominated discussion, but around access etc there has been no real discussion of wider issues of business nor what actually goes on within the site’.

‘Perhaps we need to frame a discussion about the rail industry in York, not just York Central. Perhaps the better question (that the title of this event) would be “Is there a future for the Rail Industry in York?”’

Next steps

  • Develop an advocacy process for the rail industry in York
  • Explore an event on alliancing opportunities and an event asking ‘Is there a future for the Rail Industry in York?’

Build university contacts in this area

Open Briefing Document – Work

Post-it notes contributed during the Living and Working Creatively on York Central event.


Week 3 of the Festival of York Central was focused on ‘work’, asking what kind of work and ways of working might York Central enable. Getting engagement with the mainstream business community was problematic – “commercial confidentiality” seemed to prevent a lot of possible avenues for discussion on what was wanted on York Central. However, we still had useful discussions and some very creative input. Special thanks to York@Large and the Guild of Media Arts. Our open briefing document is based on the following:-

We are also currently developing an event: ‘How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?’  details to be announced soon.

Accessible infrastructure

A key theme – which stretches across all of the Festival of York Central themes – is that York Central has the opportunity to create an underpinning accessible infrastructure that enables gender equality and is not a disabling space.  This includes easy to access crèches, accessible buildings, child care facilities, spaces where you can be with your children, gender neutral and accessible toilets. The definition of “work” was also questioned during conversations – much work is unpaid but contributes to economic activity, and this should be considered too.

Hubs of similar businesses

‘A hub of people doing the same things helps everyone thrive’

York was seen to be doing okay in terms of creating space for very small business and is becoming a well-established centre of excellence in media industries, although the “low profile” of these businesses mean that this would probably be a surprise to many in the city.

Rather than see each other as competitors, the existing community of creative and digital agencies was seen as positive and York Central was seen as an opportunity for this to grow and develop.

Middle-sized businesses

There is a missing “middle band” of size of business and premises for them. An example given was that of architects with staff of ten in an office which fits seven with no space to expand beyond that. If middle-sized businesses do want to stay in York they are forced out to Clifton Moor. ‘If you bring a client to the centre of York, that’s great – Clifton Moor… not so much’. This issue of the wider setting of the workplace was mentioned many times; bringing a client on foot from their train through a buzzy neighbourhood to a workplace with good cafes/restaurants/meeting places nearby was seen as massively positive.

Freelancers, flexible and networking space

‘In the future, there will be much fewer paid salary jobs. A lot of people will be forced back onto their own devices’

There was support for the idea of co-working hub spaces where freelancers could share facilities (printers or craft materials), book affordable meeting space for clients and network. An example given was Melting Pot in Edinburgh, which has been operating successfully for over a decade.

Living and working in an integrated way

An interesting dimension of the discussions was the sense that there was no need to zone or separate living and working strictly. Many small-ish creative businesses are both good neighbours to each other (as they often collaborate) and also good neighbours to other uses – including residential – as they create little nuisance. In fact there were benefits in having the kind of activity throughout the day and night that happens when work and homes are linked. Furthermore as many of the types of jobs that York is seeking to cultivate are not strictly of the 9-to-5 variety that life-work proximity enables child care and might also enable the new 21st century version of work-life balance where work time is not zoned into certain temporal parts of your life. 

Open Source Planning: being able to change use of your home easily

A popular idea from David Rudlin’s talk on Grow Your Own Garden City was open source planning where a planning authority could pre-approve a variety of possible uses for people’s homes so they could turn them easily into small scale workspaces (open a hairdresser / set up an office). This is an issue which leads immediately to consideration of Neighbourhood Planning – what will be the status of York Central (will it simply be part of one or more existing wards? How will neighbourhood planning issues be dealt with as the community – residential and business – develops?

Affordable places to live are essential to keeping graduates and York’s young people

Keeping graduates is seen as crucial to growing York’s own talent. But this was seen as intimately connected to housing costs, as graduates can’t afford to take risks because housing costs are so high. Graduates have to work so many hours to cover living costs, so there is a greater hurdle to jump in terms of getting starts ups happening. Affordable housing is not just a “housing” issue, but has an impact on economic activity.

Unpaid work and enabling contributing and taking part

It was noted that many people the future will simply not have jobs and they will be looking for creative ways of spending time and contributing. Some will be doing unpaid work of various kinds, including caring for children or older relatives. The design of the city should facilitate this, again pointing towards a mixed environment rather than one where work and homes are strictly zoned. This was already touched upon during our “homes” discussions, flagging up the possibility of older residents wishing to have the option of inclusion within economic life, with the option to “invest” capital or time (or both) in nearby economic activity which contributes to their immediate environment.

The cultural hub: Draw creative contributions (paid and unpaid) together

‘Having a variety of spaces which allow different uses is powerful’.

Mixed uses has been a theme of the Festival of York Central discussions, and has been driven by many of the examples from The Life Sized City film series, where community initiatives have made use of unused or under-used urban space to bring activities that would otherwise be excluded by strict zoning. The idea of York Central as a place where there are always exciting and creative things going on was discussed. How to make this happen was debated and the idea of spaces where things could happen was a key idea. This would include places which could provide venues for lunchtime talks and films, places for broader thinking and debate open to all. Libraries were often seen as “anchors” for this type of activity but it has a breadth which goes well beyond the conventional definition.

Shouting about what is already going on

There was a strong sense that York needs to make more of what is already going on as a way of attracting more interest and activity. Could York Central offer an exhibition space that showcases innovative work going on in York? Can we explore ideas both short-term and long-term – “meanwhile” and permanent – where a “gateway” between station and the rest of the city provides a showcase for the talent, energy and creativity which powers the city but is otherwise hidden?

Living and Working Creatively on York Central – A workshop to develop ideas and networks

Post its of the discussion captured the big ideas

Wednesday 4th April
7:00pm – 9:00pm

As part of the ‘Work’ week of the Festival of York Central we collaborated with York@Large to develop a discussion about living and working creatively in York Central. Some new themes emerged, such as how to connect across scales of economic activity and how to make the city’s generational and class wealth gap work for York. We were also able to deepen and extend our discussions about some key themes – such as affordability and mix of uses – that have shot through many of the Festival of York Central discussions so far.

‘It is easy to build homes, office and hotels. You can’t build community. To get community you need to invest in people. We need to bind York Central to the city and bind York Central to the people of the city’.

Hubs of similar businesses

‘A hub of people doing the same things helps everyone thrive’

In Swinegate there are a small creative businesses above almost every shop. Rather than see each other as competitors, this hub and community was seen as positive and something to consider for York Central.

Creative industries were seen as ‘making good neighbours’…

  • With each other (for networking)
  • With other uses (they’re low impact)
  • They are often “first floor” businesses.

There is a shortage of flexible space – Hiscox local hub was oversubscribed by factor of four.

What makes for good work space?

York was seen to be doing ok in terms of creating space for very small business. The benefits of above the shop workspaces were seen as being ‘cheap and centrally located’. Clients often travel by train, so being in the centre or closer, as York Central would be, to the station was seen as positive. First floor work spaces was acknowledged as cheaper because there was no street frontages, yet it was suggested that ‘giving up the ground floor might be a mistake’ as lively inviting shop frontage might give a chance to show and showcase the work going on in York.

Middle sized businesses

‘We used to have industry, the carriage works and chocolate, but nothing replaced it’.

‘Retail and tourism has soaked up a lot of that… but there is that missing middle layer of better paying jobs’.

There is a missing “middle band” of size of business and premises for them SCY Creative strategy discussions suggest this is true for creative industries, where there are start-ups and some global mature businesses, but trading conditions are less ideal for medium sized (ie small) creative businesses. This conclusion is supported by the demographic analysis in Cities Outlook 2018 from Centre for Cities (Population Aged 30-44, percentage point change 2012–2016)

‘This is not about trapping businesses in York but we need to recognise that those middle band businesses are not thinking of coming to York’

An example given was that of architects with staff of ten in an office which fits seven with no space to expand beyond that. If middle-sized businesses do want to stay in York they are forced out to Clifton Moor. ‘If you bring a client to the centre of York, that’s great – Clifton Moor… not so much’.

If we’re building 3/4/5/ storey buildings adding “a floor for business” is a relatively cheap addition – just four extra walls since foundations/infrastructure and upper parts/roof would be built anyway.

More on mix of uses

‘Having a variety of spaces which allow different uses is powerful’.

Mixed uses has been a theme of the Festival of York Central discussions. The idea of York Central as a place where there is always exciting and creative things going on was discussed. How to make this happen was debated, the idea of spaces where things could happen was a key idea.

Ecosystem of economic activity (how it works across different scales)

‘We need to grow our own talent. Grow our own base’.

‘York is a relatively small city, we’re not about to become Manchester. We need to stay the right size city, which needs the right grain of development and link up with other cities of a similar size’.

‘Do we need to attract a couple of big employers?’

There was a lot of discussion about the wider economic ecosystem for York. The issue with the middle band of business was not simply seen as being about space but that there just isn’t the economic activity to sustain businesses once they get beyond start-ups. This was noted not just as a York issue but is region-wide issue. ‘Economic growth in York needs to “ripple out”’.

‘York Central needs to bring something to the broader table’. It was suggested that we need big economic drivers in York to create demand for smaller services. Ideally companies which make stuff and have big supply chains. We also need co-dependent businesses.

‘Media City in Salford has lifted the whole region but took time and required big investment’.

Generations and Class: York’s young people, keeping the city’s graduates and older people retiring to York

‘Young people feel York is for tourism and students’

‘I said to someone under 30 you need to be involved in York Central – this is the future of city – and there was this blankness’

‘You look at those pictures and you can’t place yourself there’.

‘People under 30 don’t believe they’ll ever buy a house or have a pension – so York Central feels very much like it is for someone else, someone older and more affluent’

We discussed the issue of how York can keep its graduates. This is seen as crucial to growing York’s own talent. It was seen as intimately connected to housing costs, graduates can’t afford to take risks because housing costs are so high. Graduates have to work so many hours to cover living costs, so there is a greater hurdle to jump in terms of getting starts ups happening.

But there is also an issue for York’s young people who do not go to University.  How do we create pathways from school and college. ‘We need to have a layering of the skills base – how do we develop this?

It was noted that there is a trend of people wanting to retire to York. As is often noted in UK-wide policy debate, the ‘baby boomer’ retirees can be comparatively wealthy and capital rich. This trend to retire to York is one dimension driving York’s housing costs and making it harder for young people from York and graduates to stay. As a positive response to this, we discuss what a ‘circular economy’ – cross-generation – might look like. This could include  learning from each other – (this brought to mind Ivan Illich’s classic Deschooling Society) – sharing skills across generations and making the most of the professional skills and networks of York’s new retirees. It also linked to ideas emerging from the Forever Affordable event about co-operative, mutual approaches to development, where funds for community-led development are raised though a community shares issues (see Headingly Development Trust for an example). This could also be a way of asking those that benefit from the tourist economy to give back to create facilities and housing for local communities (second homes owners / holiday home owners / big hotels).

Making the most of what is already going on

‘York doesn’t celebrate these things’

‘York Science park needs to be part of the city’.

There was a feeling that so much amazing work is going on in York but York doesn’t shout enough about it. ‘The Universities tend to keep stuff to themselves’.  Church Fenton was given as an example – ‘can we create a York post-production hub? ‘Or a centre for the interpretative arts – how good would that be?”.

The York Psyche! How to ‘break the spell’

‘York needs to pull its socks up a bit’

‘York has somehow got to sell itself, it has to be audacious’.

‘Sometimes feel like we ned permission for things to happen in this city’

Can we make a bold move in one area to “break the spell” – medical robotics?’

‘York’s reputation has allowed muddy thinking to persist’.

Throughout the conversation comments like this were made… with the positive flipside being some of the ideas around the idea of a development trust and ‘making it happen ourselves’.

Narratives for York Central

It was felt that narratives for York Central were needed. Could local businesses be involved in developing York Central. For example, like the example give at the Forever Affordable event, could a factory be onside to build the buildings (e.g. passivhaus). Then ‘how the site is developed becomes part of the ongoing story of the site’.

Areas to follow up:

  • How do we get the Universities involved in York Central?
  • Can we have an experimental Planning Order to enable flexibility of use/activity?
  • Can we create a development trust for York? Can this make the most of the circular generational economy?