Travel & Holidays

Samantha Renke: why I love London’s South Bank for accessibility

AccessAble Champion and actress, Samantha Renke, loves the South Bank. It’s one of London’s cultural centres and has beautiful views across the Thames. But, more importantly, it’s incredibly accessible. Here, AccessAble shares Samantha’s highlights of the South Bank.

I’m Samantha Renke, an actress, activist and all-round loud northern bird currently living in central London. I was born with a rare genetic condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, more commonly known as Brittle Bones. I have never known life without a wheelchair.

London South Bank accessibility

London’s South Bank will always have a special place in my heart. After moving to London seven years ago from rural Lancashire to pursue my career in the creative arts industry, I spent a lot of my formative London years up and down South Bank. One of my first ever onscreen performances was screened at the British Film Institute.

The two-mile procession showcases everything that is, in my mind, synonymous with London. It has stunning views over the Thames and, on a sunny day, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. More importantly, as a wheelchair user, it’s one of the few places in London I can honestly be completely independent.

With limited upper body strength, I often find it difficult to navigate the streets of London. However, although I’ve not yet tried to, I’m almost certain I’d be able to self-propel the whole two miles and be able to find a number of accessible bathrooms along the way.

Disabled actress Samantha Renke

London South Bank culture

For me, as an actress and performer, the appeal of South Bank also lies in the fact that it has a large collection of mostly state-funded arts and entertainment venues and events. You will never be stuck for things to see and do there.

I’ve listed four of my favourite places to visit on South Bank below, including links to AccessAble’s Detailed Access Guide for each venue. These will give you more information to explore this wonderful part of London without worrying about accessibility.

OXO Tower Restaurant accessibility

Oxo Tower restaurant accessibility

I’m always on the hunt for accessible venues that ooze style to show off London’s beauty to friends and family or even business associates. It’s a little like taking your new boyfriend home to your parents for the first time – you want them to scrub up well and leave everyone with a good impression.

The OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie, is certainly a place to make that first good impression. It has easy access from the South Bank and not one but two lifts that take you to the top of OXO Tower.

The food is on the more expensive side. But I’ve tasted the best scallops I’ve ever had in my life at this restaurant, so worth it if you are on a date or for a special treat.

If you aren’t in the mood for fine dining, the OXO Tower has a viewing platform open to everyone. It overlooks the Thames and it’s absolutely free. So, if you want the perfect Instagram picture but don’t want to spend any money on going up the Shard, then OXO Tower maybe the choice for you.

Visit the Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie Detailed Access Guide for more information.

Thames Clipper accessibility

MBNA Thames Clipper accessibility

As a wheelchair user and someone with Brittle Bones, I tend to stay away from public transport. I prefer to take the door-to-door option of a black cab, which by law are all wheelchair accessible in London. However, I have been somewhat swayed by the Thames Clipper service.

With 16 different ports to stop at, from beautiful Greenwich to the O2 Arena, and all the way to Kew Gardens, the Clipper is fast becoming one of my favourite modes of transport for getting around London.

Staff on board have always been extremely helpful and there is an accessible bathroom. There are also snacks and drinks available, so you won’t go thirsty or hungry.

There are concessions if you have a Freedom Pass for London, but you will need to carry your pass with you on the day. However, Clipper tickets themselves aren’t, unlike the busses or DLR. A day ticket, which allows you to get on an off at any stop throughout the day, is around £6. You can get cheaper tickets if you buy online.

Accessibility, on the whole, is very good at every clipper dock, though some of the ramps are on the steep side.

Visit the MBNA Thames Clippers Detailed Access Guides for more information.

Southbank Centre accessibility

Southbank Centre accessibility

For a unique place to visit in London, the Southbank Centre is for sure your go-to destination. It certainly is a crowd pleaser! The arts centre hosts a festival programme of more than 5,000 events every year, many of which are free. The span across a wide range of genres, including art, theatre, dance, classical and contemporary music, literature and debate.

It is also spacious, a good design layout and has lots of staff on hand. The Southbank Centre also has Changing Places facilities.

There’s a whole host of restaurants around it, including one of my favourites, Wagamama, as well as a weekly food market where you can spend a boozy afternoon strolling along the Thames. I’ve also spotted a lot of benches around the area too, so it’s perfect for those who need a little rest now and again.

Visit the Southbank Centre Detailed Access Guides for more information.

London Eye accessibility

London Eye accessibility

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve enjoyed a ride on the Coca-Cola London Eye. It’s certainly one of the ‘go-to’ activities that never disappoints.

Concession tickets are available for disabled people and carers/personal assistants and a separate fast track queue is in operation.

The ticket box office can be a little overwhelming and crowded and I’ve made the mistake of queueing in the wrong line before now. It’s best to find a member of staff who can quickly show you to the fast-track area. There are signs for it, but the staff are always so accommodating that it’s nice sometimes to have your own escort.

There are also accessible bathrooms located at the ticket box office, so I’d advise you to make sure you visit them before getting on the London Eye. Once you are up there, you are up there and the Eye is actually remarkably slow. Great for taking in the view, but not so great if you need the loo.

One word of advice is don’t be proud and queue with everyone else. The reason you are asked to got to the front is because they actually stop the London Eye to get a ramp out and steady the pod so that you get on safely and don’t feel rushed.

The pods themselves are spacious and only have a maximum of 23 people, so you’ll never feel overwhelmed or squashed once inside.

Visit the London Eye Detailed Access Guide for more information.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my favourite South Bank locations and maybe I’ve persuaded you to give some of them a visit?

Don’t forget to download the free AccessAble App from the Apple Store or Google Play Store. The App has Detailed Access Guides to over 50 venues on the South Bank, giving you factual, reliable accessibility information in your pocket to use on the go.

By Samantha Renke for AccessAble

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