My recent visit to London by Michelle Hedley

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting London for a few days. Living in Northumberland means that, like so many others, I try to fit in as much as I can into one visit. This time around was no exception.

Amongst the numerous places that I visited (National Portrait Gallery, Theatre Cafe, Singing Lift in the Royal Festival Hall, British Library, walking tour through the East End) there were two that stood out.

The first main event that I organised was a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament which I arranged through my MP.

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Everyone can do this for free, but you do have to book in advance. You can also book a tour on the day but it (as far as I am aware) is a self guided audio tour that you pay for. Getting through the airport style security was a bit difficult as I struggled to understand what was being asked of me as they assume you have been in airports and know what to do!! I kept missing the instructions on what I had to do, but got there in the end. Being deaf and relying on lipreading, I was a bit concerned about whether I would be able to follow the guide and whether the group would be too big. Within a minute though, I knew that I was able to lipread the guide, Roger King who had a lovely neutral English accent, and there was only 10 in the group so I simply ensured that I was at the front all the time when he was speaking.

The tour itself lasted 90 minutes, although I think it was meant to last 75 minutes but Roger was one of those guides that liked to add on and gave us so much more of his knowledge! Throughout the tour I was able to follow what he said and I thoroughly loved his style and the way he made history and politics interesting. To be in the actual places where the Lords and MPs were (they were walking around alongside us!) and see the exact same things the Queen herself would see was fascinating. I had not realised that the Great Hall was where the Queen Mother (and Winston Churchill amongst others) had lain in State, I had assumed that was in Westminster itself.

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We visited the House of Lords, but as the House of Commons was in session we could not visit this part. Instead, we went into the public gallery after the tour to view from there instead. The decoration throughout the building was very extravagantly opulent, a far cry from most of the buildings we have ever worked in! Very cathedral like but also very British – there was four stained glass windows each depicting our Saints of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

After the tour I stayed behind to personally thank the guide and he loved the fact that he had been accessible enough for me to enjoy it. He did point out that they also have sound enhancement headsets that I could have used, and with advanced booking a tour with a BSL interpreter can be made available. There is also a tactile touch and feel tour available for those with sight issues, again needs to be booked in advance. In the public gallery of the House of Commons there are television screens showing the live action complete with subtitles which meant I was able to follow the debate that was happening. I was told that there could be a signer made available too if requested.

Later that evening I went along to the second event that I had travelled to London for – Made in Dagenham which was being captioned by Stagetext at the Adelphi Theatre.

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Although I have been to many captioned shows outside of London, this was my first time in the West End. I was amazed at the sheer number of deaf people that attended this event, as I am used to being the only one, or part of just a few people to benefit from the captions. It was very pleasing to see a big part of the deaf community benefiting from this. The show itself was excellent with a very talented cast, although it was very apparent that without captions I would have hugely struggled to follow the story. I did have to move seats though, along with another couple as we felt we were too far to the side. Luckily there was no one else in our part of the row so as the lights went down we quickly moved and the issue resolved with no fuss. I was also impressed the theatre had an usher that was deaf and also signed, and obviously she was utilised in the area we were in! Although it will not benefit me personally, I hope the Adelphi will continue to provide captioned performances as clearly there is a demand.

I had a lovely few days and look forward to my next visit!