Disappointing and potentially dangerous as no staff came when accessible emergency cord pulled
This review is especially helpful for those who have or use the following: Walking Aid
Natural History Museum is a large museum with a has a wide range of fascinating specimens. With impressive galleries including dinosaurs, animals, birds, fish and fossils. If the score was just for the collection I would give it 5 out of 5, it's stunning and world class. While the building itself has good general accessibility, my overall experience and expectations of going this major South Kensignton Museum was disappointing.
Transport & Parking
The nearest tube station South Kensington is not step free. Although the Piccadilly, District and Circle line stop there all the platforms involve steps to the ticket office hall level and then further steps to street level. This is really disappointing. There are a number of buses that stop outside or near to the V and A. I would suggest picking up bus no 14 from Green Park which is an step free station. I arrived in a taxi from Victoria with some of my group, as out of the group of 12 - 14 friends, 3 of us had mobility disabilities.
We arrived and used the Cromwell Road entrance. Although this entrance had a wide ramp entrance and exit, the surface of the ramp was mixed. There were 3 rows of vertical lines, all with cobblestones, Although the outer two row were quite flat, some on the middle row were raised. Given that it was busy and the ramp is used by people both entering and exiting the museum I had to contantly move to avoid people so couldn't avoid the cobblestones in the middle. It was ok for me when I visited but if it had been raining and the floor was slippy I would have struggled. Approaching the entrance there was a member of staff standing by a podium, as there was a ramp at the front door and not familar with the set up inside, I didn't approach the member fo staff outside for help. However, having now visited I would suggest to any disabled person requiring assistance to ask the first member of staff you see. Once inside there was a roped off area which people had to walk through to enter the main hall. There was only one member of staff on at the far end of the roped off part, he was busy shouting out asking if people could give donations, there was no member of staff once inside to ask for assistance until you had waited your time in the queue and approached the person at the end of the roped off area. Te queue was short when we visited. However, it it had beenany busier the onus would have been on the disabled person to negosiate with the queue to fast track due to the lack of staff. Once we had passed through the roped off area and where in the main hall there was a lack of signposting. Immediately in front was a flight of stairs but it was not clear where the lifts were which offered step free access. When we visited it was a busy Saturday afternoon, however it wasn't extremely crowded, but even then an accessible route was not clear. At the 2 passageways either side of the main staircase I noticed a wheelchair sign, so we made for that thinking it might be a step free route. However, this turned out to be the sign to the accessible toilet so we went back to the entrance and found a member of staff to ask where the lifts were. We were directed down a corridor to the right of the main hall. We turned into the corridor the only sign we notced was one saying "Life in the dark". We walked passed the T Rex Grill, which had big green signs outside, see photo. Just after the T Rex Grill was a lift bit it only served the ground floor and lower ground floor. When we exited at the lower ground floor the area was closed off, see photo with blue walls. We took the lift back to the ground floor and retraced our steps. This time we saw the sign for the lifts. This was the lift we had been looking for as it took us to the 1st and 2nd floors. We exited on the 1st floor and found that the route was step free as there were ramps as well as stairs. We went on the balcony part that overlooks the main hall, there is quite a lot of bench seating, without any back support and without arms. We went into the Mineral Gallery, which was very interesting. The majority of cabinets were at standing height. There was some seating with back support, however this was full of people on their phones. When we walked round to the far end, by the stairs, at first glance it looked like the only way to get down was use the stairs or re-trace our steps back to the lift. However, when we went into the Treasures Gallery we exited on the otherside and so could do an entire lap of the 1st floor. There were stairs going up to the 2nd floor but for the 1st 4 - 5 steps there was no handrail, see photo. We went back in the lift to the 2nd floor. We exited on the 2nd floor and there is a part of trunk rings of a sequoia tree amd it's a excellent place to view the architecture of the building, by admiring the detail of the roof and the animal carvings. I didn't notice any seating in this area. We then went back to the ground floor and the cafe. There is a self service cafe selling drinks and food. There is free standing tables and chairs. It was busy and we were luck to get a seat. (Sorry no photos of cafe but by this time I was tired). After a break we decided to go home rather than wait to meet up with the rest of the group 45 minutes later.
Just before I left I used the accessible toilet next to the cafe. The toilet is in part of an area which also has seperate baby changing facilities. When I arrived the accessible toilet was in use. Almost immediately of me arriving the emergency alarm in the accessible toilet went off. It was audible from where we where standing and above the door the orange light was on. We knocked on the door and the lady inside explained that her daughter had accidently pulled the emergency cord and she didn't know how to switch it off. She remained in the cubicle for 3 - 4 minutes more. I then went into the cubicle and looked for and then press the reset button in the toilet. I was inside the toilet for a further 3 -4 minutes. During this time no member of staff came to check why the emergency cord had been pulled. I then made my way to the information desk at the front of the building, where the cloakroom is to report the problem. The member of staff I spoke to took my concerns seriously and called for the duty manager Basil. I was asked if I wanted a seat while I was waiting. When he arrived I explained he explained that they are usually informed by control room staff when the emergency alarm is pulled and that staff immediately respond to the call. He said that as he had not been notified he assumed that the control room staff were not aware that the alarm had gone off and he would follow this up. I'm pleased that they were proactive in following it up but it is still worrying that this happended in the first place and it is unclear how long the alarm had not been working properly.
I see on the NHM website that they "aim to provide a friendly, accessible environment for all our visitors and the widest possible access to our buildings, exhibitions and collections." Their website says that "All D/deaf and disabled people, and their accompanying family members and personal carers can jump the queues to enter the Museum. When you arrive, please approach a member of staff at an entrance for assistance." I visited as part of a group of about 12 - 14 friends, in the group there were 3 people with visible mobility disabilities (1 person was using a stroller, 1 had a walking stick and I had my crutch). I'm not aware at any point as we entered the building that any of the staff were proactive and tried to fast track the people with disabilities through the albeit short queue. Disabled people sometimes feel unable to ask for assiatance/ feel bad about asking to queue jump, it would have been helpful if staff had been more proactive this this. Although Basil was helpful when I raised the issue about the emergency cord, I 'm still very concerned that no staff came when the emergency cord was pulled in the toilet.
Anything else you wish to tell us?
I found my visit very disappointing and to be honest quite stressful and tiring. I'm confident that Basil was going to follow up regarding the emergency in the accessible toilet, so I hope that is easily fixed. Overall the building has very good accessbility but with lack of signage and proactive staff it's difficult to navigate the building easily. It was frustrating trying to find the lift. It would be really helpful if the NHM put on its website more information about step free access route and locations of lift. Also much better signage is needed around the museum as they have done big signage for T Rex Grill they could do the same for lifts and toilets which would make the musuem easier to navigate for everyone. The musuem is fascinating but access improvement are needed to make it a more inclusive and welcoming experience for disabled people.