Last month I went to see the Spice Girls at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland and I am still in awe of how incredible the show was! I vowed never to go back to this Stadium after several awful experiences, but I couldn’t pass at the chance to see the Spice Girls live! To my surprise the entire set up had completely changed, making it the easiest concert I have ever attended in terms of accessibility. I won’t dwell on my past experiences, but let’s just say their level of accessibility, hospitality, customer service and dignity was at an all time low! So considering the improvements, I thought it would be helpful to create a blog post detailing what it is like to go to this particular Stadium as a wheelchair user.
Booking accessible tickets for the Stadium of Light wasn’t too difficult, you just had to have a lot of patience! The Stadium created a dedicated email ahead of the highly anticipated ticket release; which I contacted in advance to find out who I needed to call once the tickets went on sale and whether I needed to send proof of disability prior to booking. To my surprise a representative got back to me very quickly with the number for their access booking line, along with some additional ticket information.
The morning the tickets went on sale, it took an hour and a half to get through to the accessible ticket line, (hence why you needed a lot patience) but after that the process of buying the tickets was very quick. The call handler talked me through the accessible seating area so I understood where I would be sat; asked me if I needed an on-site accessible parking permit; took my payment and told me to send proof of my disability to their access email within 7 days. This was required in order to qualify for a free PA ticket.
I only live half an hour away from the stadium, but on the day of a concert it can take anywhere between 1 to 2 hours in the car! There is a mainline railway station that is located 0.9 miles from the Stadium; along with two Tyne and Wear Metro stations situated within 0.5 miles of the Stadium. All of the stations are fully accessible, with lifts to platform where required and step- free access to the trains. However, I personally prefer to avoid travelling by train on the day of a concert due to the enormous crowds. Getting there is never a problem, but once the concert is finished there is a ridiculously long queue to get into the stations, which is not suitable for anyone who struggles with confined/crowded spaces.
Despite Northerners being some of the friendliest people in the world, it can get very loud once you add alcohol into the mix! Something that can be quite difficult for someone who has been sat in their wheelchair for several hours and is really struggling with pain and fatigue. I also find that being low down in a wheelchair amongst a huge crowd means that you often get overlooked, which can result in bumps, tears and panic attacks for people like me. You also end up getting squished amongst too many people on the train home, which creates the feeling of everyone towering over you! So for that reason, I choose to drive to the concert and then have my carer drive me home so I could stretch out and get as comfortable as possible whilst waiting for the traffic to pass.
The Stadium offers a total of 110 free parking spaces for patrons with accessibility requirements. These spaces are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you must remember to request a space when booking your tickets! The disabled car parking area is extremely close to the accessible entrance and ranges from 11m, up to approximately 60m. There are no steps to entrances and lowered kerbs are provided, but as always the dropped kerbs can take you on a slight detour at times! This entrance can only be accessed by disabled patrons and it is approximately 100m to the accessible viewing platforms, which you are escorted too by a member of staff. This is something I really appreciated, as it can be quite hard to navigate your way through the crowds once you get into the main standing area of the Stadium. There is also FOUR disabled toilets located next to this entrance that cannot be accessed by the main crowd, so there was never a queue and they stayed clean for the duration of the concert. Additional accessible toilets are available in all areas of the Stadium, which are fitted with radar locks.
Unlike other venues where both you and your carer are allocated a specific seat or wheelchair space, this Stadium of Light opted to scrap this system and allow disabled patrons to sit anywhere within their preallocated viewing platform. Because of this I was unable to see the stage during a previous visit, due to the front row of the accessible viewing platform being taken up by multiple carers standing up and abled bodied patrons that required an accessible seat. Now I know everyone is entitled to use this area, but the staff did nothing to accommodate those of us who could not see. So I am sure many of you can understand why I wanted to avoid returning to this venue and wasting my money, but thankfully things have now changed! As mentioned above, supporters using the accessible seating areas can bring along a Personal Assistant, who can sit next to them or in the seat directly behind depending on the event. The attendant was very strict in ensuring that anyone using a wheelchair got to sit in the front row, with their carer sat directly behind them. Then anyone requiring accessible seating was sat in the their very spacious back row. It was a fantastic system and allowed every guest to have an unobstructed view of the stage!
Another new service that made a huge difference to my experience, included having one member of staff in each of the 3 accessible viewing platforms dedicated to delivering drinks, food and merchandise. Normally my carer would either have to attempt to take me and get my wheelchair through the crowds in order to buy something, or leave me behind and queue alone. But this usually took a very long time and due to the lack of phone signal, they couldn’t call to see if I was ok. Our biggest fear was that I would into an allergic reaction and I wouldn’t be able to contact them before being whizzed off to hospital! So this new service allowed us both to breathe a huge sigh of relief! The lovely young girl on hand was able to go back and forth to get us several drinks, a program from the merchandise stand and some sweets!
The concert itself was one of the best performances I have ever seen! It was included a lot more than your typical concert in terms of choreography, costumes, set changes, props and audience involvement. As someone who was training to be a dance teacher, I was blown away by the complexity of the routines. So much so, that I actually forgot to watch the Spice Girls at times because the dancers were just incredible! For any other Spice Girls fans out there, you will be pleased to hear that the girls sounded even better than they used too! They put on a flawless performance and really got across the fact that all abilities, sexualities, races and genders were welcomed at their concert. I also never thought I would say this, but you really didn’t notice the fact posh spice wasn’t there! The sound was really good for an outdoor concert, despite it being a little windy towards the end of the night. Our seats were also undercover so we were sheltered from any wind or rain, although it turned out to be a lovely evening! There were two large screens situated at either side of the stage, which were a big help for guests with vision problems or at the back of the Stadium. Particularly during the parts of the concert where the performers were on the side of the stage furthest away from the disabled viewing platforms.
The show started promptly at 8pm and ran continuously for 2.5 hours. Normally we would start making our way out five minutes before the show ended, but I was desperate to see the last song so decided to see if the new set up our make our departure easier; which it did, so I am very glad that we decided to stay for the encore! Once the concert had finished, we waited around 20 minutes for the main crowd to exit. At this point we were then escorted back out of the dedicated entrance and exit for disabled patrons, which was conveniently only 60m from our car!
On this occasion there wasn’t any onsite parking, other than the preallocated disabled parking bays. This is not something the Stadium of Light have enforced during previous concerts; but seeing as it could take hours leave simply the grounds, I am very happy with these changes! It made a huge difference to the crowd flow, as guests were encouraged to either use the public transport or the dedicated park and ride system. Meaning everyone was able to quickly get out of the Stadium and onto the main roads! Making it the easiest exit we have ever had!
With over 50,000 people in attendance, attending a concert in a wheelchair can be very daunting. However, I can honestly say that this was the easiest concert I have ever attended in terms of accessibility and I would highly recommend attending a concert at this Stadium to anyone who requires an access ticket! Not only did I get to see one of my childhood heroes perform, but I got to enjoy every aspect of the show whilst feeling safe and well looked after! Sunderland have really taken time to consider the needs of their visitors living with a disability or medical condition and their efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed, as everyone was praising their services!
After the event I also took a moment to ask about some of the additional features that the Stadium have worked hard to install to ensure they accommodate guests of all abilities. Now even though I didn’t use any of these facilities, I thought it would be beneficial to include specific details in this post.
The Stadium of Light was the first club in the UK to offer a dedicated sensory room for visitors sensitive to loud noise and/or crowded environments. The bespoke room has sensory equipment to allow guests to enjoy the event in a calm and suitable environment. Anybody wishing to access the sensory room for an event should contact the Disability Liaison Officer ahead of your visit. There is also a dedicated Warm Room for guests with accessibility needs, which is available at any time with no pre-booking. This room is equipped with seating and a television, so visitors can watch the game/concert in a warm environment if they wish. The Warm Room is located in the South West Corner of the stadium, adjacent to turnstile 62A.
Ticket Office Phone: 0191 5515264
Ticket Office Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disability Liaison Officer: email@example.com