Exchange Ilford revamps shopping experience to meet needs of families and disabled guests
PUBLISHED: 16:00 13 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:40 13 September 2018
Exchange Ilford is a shopping centre on a mission to make it a more welcoming and accessible place to the people of Redbridge.
You might have spotted shiny new parent and baby facilities on Level Three, but it’s on Level One where the centre’s team have been busy creating a new space for families and those with mobility needs.
The soon-to-open family room and Changing Places toilet will give them the privacy and support needed to make shopping a less stressful experience.
Redbridge has 40% more families than the UK average, and when shopping it can be a struggle to find somewhere to change a nappy or breastfeed in private.
The final touches are being made to the new facility, which features feeding rooms, a buggy park, and even a cubicle specially designed to help parents or carers toilet train their toddler.
Exchange Ilford’s general manager Sarah De Courcy Rolls has been involved in the revamp from the beginning.
“We’ve got a very diverse borough, and what we’ve tried to do is make sure we understand what’s important to the people of Ilford.
“If you want to be able to just pop in for a bit of escape time, or have a day out with the family, that’s what we’re here for.”
The new layout means you park, come in, and family-focussed shops are right there. Children’s retailer Kidz Zone will be moving downstairs, and the centre is in talks to bring new shops that children and parents will love to the dedicated area.
Level one is also home to a soft play area, Kids Freeplay, which opened last year. Parents can grab a coffee from Costa next door while they watch their child climb, crawl and slide through the Aztec-themed area.
“Shopping centres are often in the heart of people’s local community,” says Sarah, “and are something that they are going to get passionate about. People still care about their town centres, and as such have high expectations of a shopping centre, so what we can change we’ll try and do!”
Improving accessibility for all
Businesses around the country are missing out on opportunities to engage with the fastest growing minority group.
Disabled people and their families’ collective purchasing power is worth £249 billion to the UK economy, the so-called ‘Purple Pound’.
As part of the revamp to Exchange Ilford’s toilets on level one, the shopping centre worked with Redbridge Council, who provided £60K from the Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to create a new disabled toilet and changing facility.
Built to a standard set by the Changing Places Consortium, it’s safer, and more comfortable than your typical disabled toilet. There is a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench, hoist, height-adjustable sink and toilet, and plenty of space for carers.
Leader of the Council Cllr Jas Athwal toured the new family room and disabled toilets ahead of their public opening.
“Having a facility like this increases accessibility for all our residents. As a council, we need to look wider than just Ilford, and make sure wherever we regenerate we need to incorporate facilities like this for all residents so they can feel safe and confident when they come to Redbridge.”
Disability parking at the shopping centre has also doubled on levels two and three.
Making a difference
Shopmobility, part of Disability Redbridge, is located just next door to the new facilities. They provide mobility scooters, wheelchairs and a helping hand to people with mobility difficulties.
Nicky Gee is a volunteer with the charity. A car accident 24 years ago that damaged her spine and arthritis in her shoulders, knees and wrists means she relies on crutches and a scooter to get around.
She also got the opportunity to tour the new facilities, and thinks it’s going to make a big difference to parents, carers and people who might need assistance when out and about in the town centre.
“The Changing Place toilet is going to be so much better for them. People won’t have to lay a child or adult they’re caring for on the floor to change them.”
She says it can often be difficult to get around and do everyday tasks many able-bodied people take for granted, but small changes can make a big difference to disabled shoppers
“If you just want to get into a shop and have a quick look round, and you can’t get in, that shop is losing your custom.
“Some places go above board to try and get things right and ask if there is anything they can do to help you access their store. Others don’t take any notice and make you wait outside while they get something for you. It takes your independence away.
“It’s annoying, but it’s getting better. You’ve now got access officers and campaigners who speak to shop owners and say things like: ‘it would only take a small wooden ramp to open this shop up to wheelchair users.’”