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Creating a more inclusive space at Manchester Theatre and Arts Venue 53two 

By Simon Naylor, Artistic Director at 53two

accessible arts venue 53two, photography by Ella May Askew
(Credit: Ella May Askew)

As we approach the third anniversary in our current space, I’ve been reflecting on our journey to become a theatre and arts venue for all. Before the doors to our historic arches were even open, we knew that accessibility would be at the heart of the space and how we operate.

It is something we have always wanted to offer, and we have worked closely with different stakeholder groups to implement facilities that can make a difference. 

Those conversations have been a huge learning and helped to inform many of the changes we’ve implemented over the past three years: 

A Changing Places toilet 

Implementing a Changing Places toilet was something of a Holy Grail in my vision for the venue and I’m incredibly proud that 53two is the first indie arts venue in Manchester to have one installed.  

We underwent extensive consultancy with theatre and arts communities, people living with disabilities and building specialists to ensure the space had the necessary privacy, comfort, space and equipment. 

Those discussions were incredibly important and highlighted things that those not limited in their mobility might not consider. For example, something as simple as having a privacy curtain means we can help users, who might be entering the facility with a carer or assistant, to retain dignity. 

The result is a 130 square metre facility which allows adequate space for users, turning space for a wheelchair and room for two carers if required. Some of the equipment includes height adjustable sinks, a height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench and a tracking hoist system. 

British Sign Language for 53two staff, and performances   

When we talk about accessibility, people’s first thought is often around physical access but of course, it encompasses so much more. The Manchester Deaf Centre is one organisation that we’ve engaged with to make our venue welcoming to deaf and hard of hearing communities. They worked to deliver British Sign Language (BSL) lessons so that our staff can engage in basic conversation with BSL users visiting the venue and serve them at the bar. 

Many of our shows also have BSL accessible performances. 

Retractable seating 

Earlier this year, we were lucky enough to receive funding to help us make a series of renovations and upgrades. This included rethinking our auditorium and implementing a retractable seating bank that would allow the space to be used more flexibly. 

We’re now able to push the seating back completely so that the space is all one level. This allows us to provide a bigger floor space, and for the area to be used for different types of events.  

The new seating has also been designed to cater to all visitors better. We know that wheelchair users are often seated in a dedicated area in front of the seating bank, which can be isolating. Our new seating has been designed with cut-outs so anyone using a wheelchair feels included and can sit next to the group they are visiting with.   

There is still so much that we want to achieve, including introducing more assistive technologies such as an audio induction loop system and audio description booth. But by making changes where we can, we are helping to put accessibility front and centre and open up the arts to more people.  

Simon Naylor, Artistic Director at 53two

Simon Naylor, the artistic director at 53two

Simon is artistic director at 53two, Manchester’s only independent theatre venue with accessibility at its heart.

After studying, then later teaching at Italia Conti, Simon set up Manchester Actors’ Platform (MAP) – affordable, accessible training from industry professionals, still active in their field. 53two was then born, and under Simon’s creative direction has quickly grown to be Manchester’s most exciting and accessible independent theatre.

53two encourages, champions and nurtures disabled, disadvantaged, and underserved artists and visitors from across Greater Manchester and is a registered charity (Registered charity number: 1179418).

Simon continues to act, direct and produce not just in the arches of 53two but across the north west. He teaches at the Arden School of Theatre, Manchester School of Theatre and ALRA North. Simon has also led outreach sessions at Manchester Hospital School and community sessions with colleges across Greater Manchester and proactively encourages and supports new writing within 53two.

Visit the 53two website here.

Read the article ‘Accessible arts venue 53Two welcomes new patron, Ruth Madeley’ here.

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