Our Aberdeen workshop

I recently joined a group of around 20 people boarding the MV Hjaltland at Aberdeen harbour. However, we weren’t planning to sail to Orkney or Shetland – we were there for the first of the Making Connection workshops, looking at how we can plan the test journeys we will use to find out people’s experiences and barriers when travelling from the railway station in Aberdeen to the harbour.

The location was pretty special, and there was a lot of discussion and excitement about the comfy ship as we settled ourselves in the bar and began to get to know each other over cups of coffee. After a quick safety chat from NorthLink, Andy from Go Upstream began the workshop by introducing us all to the concept behind Making Connections: that improving disabled people’s journeys doesn’t mean just concentrating on the time that you’re on a bus or train, but thinking about journeys as a whole: from when someone leaves their home, to when they arrive at their destination. 

For someone travelling to the Northern Isles, this may involve multiple stages – from home to the train station, travelling on the train, walking from the train station to Aberdeen harbour, getting on the boat, sailing on the boat. We agreed that while Aberdeen has a bustling town centre that has seen significant development in recent years, there are undoubtedly still problems that people can face when navigating their way to the harbour – especially for those less familiar with the city. Andy explained how organising a journey together – walking the route and noting down what we find – will be our first main part of the process. In order to organise this so that it works well for all the participants, we needed feedback and experiences from the people and organisations who are experts in this area – hence this workshop!

To start off discussions, we broke into groups and discussed what made a journey good or bad, and the connection experiences we’d had that day. There were some brilliant quotes and highlights, and lots of agreement.

For example, connections work well if:

  • signage is clear

  • staff are around to ask

  • you feel in control

  • if you leave yourself plenty of time

Connections work less well when:

  • there are unexpected delays or changes

  • places are unfamiliar

  • announcements are unclear

  • you can’t find the toilet

Talking about the particular Aberdeen context, Seumas from NorthLink gave us all an overview of NorthLink’s work to improve accessibility. With exciting new accessibility developments there was a lot to feel positive about. Katrina from ShopMobility discussed the brilliant services they provide for anyone in Aberdeen, ranging from borrowing scooters to just meeting for a cup of coffee. We discussed how some of these services are not so well known – several participants hadn’t heard of them - but they could be crucial for people with physical impairments making connections in Aberdeen. We all agreed we were keen to shout about these services, thinking about how often, it’s a lack of information that makes travelling hard.

Image showing workshop participants considering questions and sharing their experiences (Image: NorthLink Ferries)

Image showing workshop participants considering questions and sharing their experiences (Image: NorthLink Ferries)

Following lunch, we heard from some participants about the particular challenges people with different disabilities face in regard to travelling and making connections, and their thoughts on the project. Fiona works for PAMIS, one of the project partners, supporting people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and their families. She gave us an overview what PAMIS does, explaining her Changing Places project and its recent success significantly increasing the provision of Changing Places toilets in Scotland. She’d even brought a portable one with her, parked in the car park – and encouraged us all to take a look at it after the workshop!

Avril, from the British Deaf Association, talked about the specific challenges that Deaf people can face. Services that only use audible announcements to tell passengers about service changes for example.

With so much to think about and consider, we then went on to think about how to apply these insights to designing the journey and how to collect information during our connection journey. Allan and Dave from StudioLR, and Sara and Agnes from Open Space, shared some possible methods of recording: journey maps showing the route, picture prompts for discussion, profiles for representing each person’s experience.

Image showing workshop materials (Image: NorthLink Ferries)

Image showing workshop materials (Image: NorthLink Ferries)

Reactions were enthusiastic but there were lots of useful comments for improvement. This was the idea, to develop the materials and tools with participants, not just based on what we thought might work. Everyone wrote feedback on draft copies of journey questionnaires which we’ll now develop before our upcoming Aberdeen journey on the 12th of March. 

With a final thanks to all participants, and some words from Andy summing up the day, we left the ship feeling energised and looking forward to the next stage of the project. Retracing our steps to the train station, we talked about how next time we’d be doing this journey, we’d be recording everything for real!

If you live near Aberdeen and couldn’t be involved with the workshop, but would like to join us on the journey, you can sign up here.

Emma is a Research and Project Assistant at Go Upstream