Step Free Abba Exhibition extended until 29 July 2018
This review is especially helpful for those who have or use the following: Wheelchair
Step free temporary Abba exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall, in London's Southbank. Entry to exhibition is by timed admission tickets with tours starting every 15 minutes. Each tour is limited to a maximum of 16 people.The tour itself lasts one hour and there is a tour guide who provides information and leads you through the exhibition as well as pre-recorded commentary from Jarvis Cocker. The tour covers nine different themed rooms which tells the story of Abba. It's an immersive experience. The exhibition is a lot of fun and there's lots to see. Please note that the doors are narrow and only manual wheelchairs less than 80cm wide can fit.
Transport & Parking
I travelled by public transport. The nearest tube is Waterloo (very appropriate for Abba). Waterloo tube has some step free access but it depends which line and entrance you use. The Jubilee Line at Waterloo via Waterloo Hall entrance is step free with lift access between street and platform. And the Bakerloo Line via York Road entrance also. For all other options please check with TFL (Transport for London) website. Several buses stop nearby on Waterloo Bridge but there is a set of stairs to walk down. However the RV1 bus stops nearer to the entrance and exiting here avoids the stairs.
The exhibition is on level 1 and the easiest step free way to get to the exhibition is to arrive from Belvedere Road/ Waterloo Station, rather than from the River Thames entrance. If you are facing the Royal Festival Hall from Belvedere Road walk across the courtyard and make for the far right hand corner of the building, walk round the corner and follow the building round to the main entrance on the left. There are several doors, but I think they are all manual opening. The step free entrance to the exhibition is on your left immediately after the doors. As the exhibition is by timed admission this is the area to wait until your tour starts. The exhibition has 9 different rooms. The door frames from one room to another are very narrow. The website says that only wheelchairs less than 80cm wide can fit and motorised wheelchairs do not work on the uneven surfaces. Pre- booked Southbank Centre manual wheelchair are available for hire. Their website says turn up 15 mins early if you want to borrow one. I used one and although only an occasional wheelchair user and not very good at steering, I found it generally very easy to self steer apart from a few of the doorways (due to the narrowness and angle in relation to the design of the room). There were a couple of places where there were ramps, my friend really struggled to get me up the 1st ramp, so after that when there were ramps I got out of the wheelchair and walked, but I'm mindful that not everyone will be able to do that. There was also one room where there was uneven surfaces and it was a little difficult to self steer. The exhibition itself is excellent, but in terms of accessibility there's a couple of small things which could have been better designed, there are a couple of rooms where there is video footage and this is with a small, low level TV screen which depending where I was sometimes my view was blocked by other people, so I'd suggest making for where the screens when you go into the room. There are cases with archival documents, costumes, etc and some of them due to the small size of the rooms, the layout and the other people made it a bit difficult for me to view everything easily from my wheelchair. The first room is dark when you enter and the lighting gradually increases. The exhibition has fmGenie wireless communication system designed specifically for use by people with a hearing loss. At the end of the tour there are steps to exit but I was escorted by the tour guide to a step free exit which involved going outside for a minute or two and re-enter the building where the tour started so I could return the wheelchair and collect my crutch. The gift shop is on level 2 which is easily accessed step free via the JCB Glass Lift (the singing lift).
A Changing Places toilet is located very close to the exhibition entrance, on level 1, next to the JCB Glass Lift. However their website says that the key for this room is available from the Welcome Hub, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall. There are accessible toilets on each floor. I didn't use the facilities on this occasion.
The staff were extremely helpful. I had booked our tickets for a 12pm time slot originally. I later decided that I would wanted to access the exhibition via a wheelchair. Although the website says "If you wish to borrow one, please arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of your tour. We recommend that you attend with a companion who can assist you", I decided to email them to make sure I would have access to a wheelchair when I visited. At this point I was told that they would have to move our time slot as the tour we were already booked on was full and as the wheelchair took up space we had to go on a less full tour, so we were changed to a 1.15pm slot on the same day. The staff could not have been more helpful in facilitating this but I'm not sure what would happen if we had just turned up as advertised 15 minutes earlier for our pre-booked slot without contacting them first. When we arrived a member of staff brought the wheelchair to me. The website recommends wheelchair users being accompanied by a companion and I found going through the exhibition it was my friends and myself who navigated me round the exhibition with the tour guide leading the way.
Anything else you wish to tell us?
The exhibition is a lot of fun. It is step free accessible but as mentioned above there are a few design things they could have done to make it a bit easier for wheelchair users to get around, but it is not a deal breaker. Hopefully they can think about these issues for future exhibition design. They are offering specially adapted tours, including British Sign Language Interpreted, Autism and Tourettes Friendly and Dementia Friendly tours. British Sign Language Interpreted 5pm Wednesday 31 January and 5pm Wednesday 28 March. Autism and Tourettes Friendly 10.30am Wednesday 28 February. Dementia Friendly 10.30am Wednesday 18 April The exhibition is on until 29 Apr 2018 and is well worth visiting.