This year’s LFCC was held at the Olympia Exhibition Centre Kensington in London. The Psych Twins / Amputee diaries were lucky enough to be invited down to review the event over the three days, as well as the opportunity to interview guests, cosplayers and attendees.
Showmasters, who organise these events all over the UK and now in Germany and Amsterdam, class the summer convention as their showcase piece, with some of the biggest names in Film, TV and Comic book genre attending.
We wanted to know how this worked for people wishing to attend who had mobility issues, disabilities, mental health issues or issues such as ASD, ADHD, Anxiety or panic attacks. Previously we have reviewed these conventions held at Newcastle and Glasgow. Although Showmasters are not responsible for the facilities that each venue they use provide, we feel that these things are important to take on board when organising events such as these, especially something as huge as the summer LFCC.
I am in a wheelchair full time with very limited ability to get out of the chair and walk and unable to self-propel. So it was me and my husband who went down to review the event.
We travelled down by train on the Virgin East Coast line from Newcastle central station to London’s king cross. This was my first time using a train for this type of journey since having my amputation and being in the wheelchair full time, so I was very apprehensive and nervous about this journey and how it would work.
According to Virgin it should be pretty straight forward to book passenger assistance for travelling as well as discount being available. After ringing to find out what the discounts where, and being passed around as no one seemed to know what I was on about I spoke to one customer service representative who was extremely rude, who even after being told I needed to stay in the wheelchair and their website offered discount for that, got nasty wanting to know what my disability was and telling me I was wrong. After referring her to the company website, she got loud telling me I did not need to read out the full page, passing me onto someone who deals with the website. I am pleased to say that this person was more than helpful sorting everything out and finally managed to get the tickets booked and passenger assistance booked for the journey.
Arrived at the station in plenty of time as requested and reported to the Virgin customer help desk. Shortly before the train pulled in a very polite gentleman arrived and pushed myself whilst my husband dealt with the luggage across to the platform our train arrived on, up to the carriage. He then got a ramp to put in the door way and pushed me onto the train wheeling me to my designated wheelchair spot in first class. We were assured that they would ring ahead so when we arrived at Kings Cross they would be someone to assist us off the train and to our car we had booked. The carriage they put us on was wide enough for the wheelchair to fit through the doors and access to a wheelchair accessible toilet. As some carriages have different dimensions, this is something that is taken care of at booking to make sure the journey you have booked is suitable for the dimensions of your wheelchair. After a very smooth and uneventful journey, we arrived at King’s cross station and no one there to meet us. After waiting for nearly ten minutes on a completely empty train, my husband had to go and physically get help to get me off via a ramp. This was done but we were then dumped on the platform and left with a case, two bags and me in the wheelchair to manage off the platform and out of the station to the car. The return journey was just as complicated. Although we had access to the first class lounge at Kings Cross which offered free charging stations, soft drinks, hot drinks and snacks and someone came to collect us in plenty of time there was still issues. Upon arriving at the platform and being wheeled up the ramp on to the train, it soon became apparent that the carriage was not big enough for my wheelchair. There was no turning space and the wheelchair did not fit through the automatic door at all. The representative for Virgin had no idea what to do, so I had to stand from my wheelchair and in quite a bit of pain manoeuvre into the carriage so my husband could fold the chair to get it through the door and into the wheelchair space. However due to the fact of the aisle not being big enough and the chair fitting through the door nor was there a accessible toilet on the carriage, I had to spend a three and a half hour journey with no toilet break.
The company we used was Addison Lee which you could very easily download their app on to your phone or access it by tablet, pc or laptop to pre book journeys. The website was very easy to use and once you entered all the journey details even give you a price for the journey before you booked! The driver we had was very polite and friendly with no issues on using the car they sent.
We were staying at the Hilton Olympia in Kensington, which was only five minutes by foot away from the exhibition centre which made it the ideal accommodation. Once checked in we were told that the original room we had booked had steps leading to it, which was not something mentioned on their website. The staff member checked for other rooms available that would be accessible as again there was no option to book an accessible room via the site using the HH honours system, ( this gives you preferential rates and better deals when booking on line and is free to sign up to), but there was an option to list any requirements that you might have. There was nothing with an accessible bathroom or wider doors so we opted for a normal room minus the stairs. So after being given our room key we went to put our luggage way before heading to the restaurant for tea, but on arrival at the room found out that it was not easy to move around with the wheelchair even though we had booked a king executive room. David went and spoke to one of the staff members who very kindly upgraded our room to a suite to give us the extra space for the chair, but again this was not an accessible bathroom or wider doors.
The restaurant had a specific lift to the restaurant which was big enough for the wheelchair and two other people at a push. There was an ample size disabled toilet and the restaurant was very spacious and the tables easy to get to and reach.
The Olympia Exhibition centre is a huge, ornate, beautiful building on Hammersmith road and easy to get to via road or tube. They have a few disabled entrances to the building, the lifts are manned and internally there are a lot of lifts to get between the floors if you cannot use the stairs for whatever reason. There were plenty of disabled toilets, which included baby changing facilities but no adult changing facilities if someone needed personal care. However these where well sign posted and the space was amazing. The Olympia sets out the spacing of all exhibitors and traders at the various shows it hosts so this means that there is plenty of room to get around the venue if you are in a wheelchair or with a pram, even on a busy day and each event can book out different floors and sections of the building depending on how much space they require or want. This includes any side rooms or conference rooms that where on those floors that where hired by the event. It did occur to me if this was something that maybe Showmasters could have adapted in some way into an adult changing area for personal care needs.
The Friday was very quiet which meant there was lots of space and made it very comfortable to get around and easy to access all the traders, autograph queues and photo shoots. Once again for London they had out done themselves with stars such as Jeremy Renner better known as Hawkeye from the Avenger movies, Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner, Mad Mikkelsen from the new Marvel film Dr Strange and Hannibal from the TV show of the same name, just to name a few, not to mention cast from the popular TV show Game of Thrones, various power rangers and Wrestlers from the world of WWE. Access on the Friday was very confusing as no one seemed to know where they were supposed to be. Security were unaware of where desks were or where to collect extra help passes from, there were other members of the public trying to find out where to collect gold passes and diamond passes from and the staff did not know. I actually had to give one team of security staff my print out of the map of the event, which turned out to be of no use as exhibits had not turned up or things had to be moved.
We ended up spending the first twenty minutes trying to find which entrance to access the building, which may not seem like a huge deal, but when you take into account how many people are rushing to get virtual queue tickets for some of the bigger names, the lower the batch number the best chance you have of fitting more autographs/photo shoots in that day especially if you are not down for the full duration. Also if you have a higher batch number there is a chance that you will not get to see that star as they may need to leave early, which is what happened to us on the Saturday.
We then spent another half hour trying to find out where to collect the extra assistance wristbands and walked the length and breadth of the downstairs of the exhibition hall. Finally we found a pit boss who issued us with extra assistance band and carer’s band but did not ask for any paper work as proof. Speaking to other families who were in attendance over the weekend, both with and without extra help assistance, it became apparent that this was a common issue, with one family whose daughter suffered with MS having to also walk the length and breadth of the hall to find where to collect the extra help bands from. Not everyone who was there or who needed extra assistance where aware that help was available or that there was a free carer’s ticket available upon sending proof into the extra help team. Although there was plenty of space so people could sit on the floor, there was no seating area for anyone who may have difficulty getting on or off the floor, nor was there an offshoot or separate room where any one suffering an anxiety or panic attack or a sensory overload could go that was quiet and cool so they could calm down.
Another great thing about the venue was the fact that there were plenty of places to grab something to eat, but like most venues of this type it was overpriced for what you got at £5 for a sandwich or £4.50 for two cans of coke. Although all places to eat where accessible to myself.
If you have the extra assistance wrist band and have paid for photo ops or wanted autographs then help was available to do this so you did not have to wait too long. Although some staff in the blue t shirts who were volunteers and not showmasters staff, seemed confused regarding what you could or could not be helped with. With regards to the photo ops, staff are meant to feed you into the queue with the first batch so there was no waiting and with the autographs if the queue was too long then provide you with a virtual queue ticket, which would allow you to return later and be added to the end of the queue, which should mean that you wait no longer than five minutes. Personally, I experienced no issues with gaining access to the photo queues or autographs, although it meant going to the pit boss to clarify what I was to do or where to wait and as stated earlier the blue shirts were unsure or just told you no, as there seemed to be no queuing area for any one going in on an extra assistance band. There was only one occasion over the entire three days where I was moved to the front of the que upon returning or told by a blue shirt that they were not sure what help was available or what they had to do, claiming they had not been given training for that particular issue. Funny enough something that some of the security were saying as well.
Interviewing some of the amazing Cosplayers that were attending the event the general consensus was MCM London was better, especially when it came to cosplayers attending and being looked after, but in my opinion not regarding accessibility to guests or photo ops. Showmasters might not have it right, but they have at least gone some way towards making it better. Most people we talked to said that compared to the is
sues that they had last year with heat, overcrowding and bad organising, this year was a big improvement, but still have a way to go. The YLAC area was easy to access, once you could navigate which lift took you where as the signage was not clear. The comic book alley, props, gaming area and retro gaming area where all accessible to someone in a wheelchair and never too busy and over all a lot cooler! Speaking to the people who were crewing the props such as the Iron Throne etc all said that if someone was unable to get out of the wheelchair to access those for a photo shoot they would work around it which I was very impressed with.
The Saturday was mayhem. It was very intimidating being in wheelchair and even though I do not suffer from claustrophobia or personal space issues, I could feel myself panicking and feeling out of my comfort zone, with people not paying attention, stepping over or falling into you and walking in front of the chair. Because of how busy it was on the Saturday people sitting on the floor with their legs outstretched, especially in narrow walkways upstairs where they had erected temp walls for photo shoots to take place made it even more difficult to get round and in my opinion a danger and accident waiting to happen.
The staff although frazzled on the Saturday, I thought handled themselves very well. Although queues ended up merging and people didn’t seem to know where they were supposed to be queuing, which was the beginning of one queue and the end of another or for what star, they did the best they could to deal with any issues that came about or answer any questions that you had.
Sunday was a mixture between the two, busy but not to the point of not being able to move and the autograph queues were a lot easier to navigate and access as well. Both staff, attendees and stars seemed a lot more relaxed. With a majority of the cosplayers being there on a Saturday and not many around on the Friday, there was still plenty kicking around on the Sunday for photos. Most people we spoke to on the Sunday had just came down for that specific day with it being a much calmer day then the Saturday but not as quiet as the Friday and all the A listers still being there as well. By the late afternoon on the Sunday most of the traders where offering discounts on stock hoping to reduce the amount of stock that had to be packed back up and taken home.
So overall thoughts? Well from a disabled point of view help was offered once you could find the right person or indeed anyone to ask due to the crowds swarming around. Sometimes though this meant grabbing some ones attention or just having to wait patiently. Personally I would recommend plenty of rest in-between shoots and if viable taking a break from the event for a short period of time to get fresh air, lie down or just to rest in general and going back later on in the day as it is a very long tiring day which just increased my mobility issues and pain control and ended up having a knock on effect for the next day. Access was good but not impressed with the lack of knowledge from staff or security staff about where to get the appropriate wrist bands from to access the extra help. More training would be advantageous for volunteers who do not work with showmasters on a regular biases and coordination from all team members would have also been a big advantage, so that every member of staff from pit bosses, showmasters permanent staff and volunteers where all singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak.
Over all a fantastic weekend with a great atmosphere, great guests and lots to see and do. I would have found it impossible to do everything I wanted to do had I just went for a day. Not sure and could find no information on what, if anything was available if you were attending on your own and needed assistance to get around or access anything (Rogue events for a fee can offer an assistant if needed).
So in conclusion as long as you didn’t mind the crowds and mayhem on the Saturday, bring your own food to avoid being over charged, plenty to drink, you can keep your calm and remember the staff and stars are human too so treat them with respect and what the crew member says when dealing with his or her area is the final word, then you are in for a treat. As with all these events, it is a logistical nightmare for the organisers and nothing, no matter how much you try to control or plan these things will run 100 %. There are lots of things that would and could be incorporated into some of the other events and that I would especially like to see happen in Newcastle, including bigger and better guests.