Disability advocates joined City of Ballarat Mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh in Her Majesty’s Theatre, calling on both sides of politics to provide the $5 million needed to ensure the theatre is accessible to everyone in the community, including people with disabilities.
With the existing design of the building, people with disabilities (particularly those with mobility issues) are unable to directly access most of the 144-year-old performing arts landmark, including:
The main auditorium. Currently, people with mobility issues enter via the side door, make their way to the far end of the building and down a ramp to access a lift. The lift, which needs to be operated by staff, can only take two people, meaning the person’s carer or companion must take the lift separately – posing particular challenges for frail people and children
The Long Room for functions, such as post-show opportunities to meet performing artists, and events. There is no alternative access
The Dress Circle, dressing rooms, the Green Room, offices and the administration area. There is no alternative access
The stage. Instead people with mobility issues take a slow-moving hydraulic chair lift in view of the entire auditorium
Toilets. People with mobility issues must take the lift downstairs to access toilets. The lift does not operate in a fire emergency.
Last year the City launched the Save Her Majesty’s Ballarat – The Time Is Now campaign.
The campaign called on the Victorian and Australian Governments to provide the additional $15 million required for the next, second stage of works, to secure the future of Ballarat’s foremost performing arts venue.
The Victorian Government committed $10 million in last year’s election campaign.
An additional $5 million in funding will facilitate works that will provide greater levels of DDA compliance, including two new lifts to cater for artists and patrons of all abilities.
A lift at the back-of-house aims to provide direct access to dressing rooms, toilets and the stage while a new lift at the front-of-house aims to provide greater access inclusive of the Dress Circle, Long Room and administration offices.
Stage one emergency restorative works began on the theatre in early 2018. The Her Majesty’s Ballarat works are supported by a $2 million grant under the Victorian Government’s Living Heritage Program. The City of Ballarat has also funded the works, allocating $5.3 million in its 2018-2019 budget.
Sharon Eacott, who has multiple sclerosis, is a member of the Disability Advisory Committee. She has also been a director of a number of not for profit organisations dealing with access issues.
“It’s incredibly important for people with a disability to have access because disability is isolating in a lot of different ways and the big one is socially,” she said.
“If you’ve got events that you can’t get to, it just make you feel the disability even more, so to be able to come to something like this and not have to think about how do I get in? Will I be able to get in? Where do I go to get the tickets if I get in? In some buildings you have to go through the entrance next to the bins at the back of the building, through the sub-basement, the serviceman’s entrance.”
Ms Eacott added better access would give those with a disability a feeling of inclusion, of being able to go out with your friends and have the same experience that they do, without being reminded that you are different.
“And we are reminded that the population is aging and anything that benefits people with disabilities benefits everybody, really,” Ms Eacott said.
City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh added that when Her Maj was built there wasn’t the same accessibility requirement in the planning legislation.
“Things are different today. We want to enliven our CBD, we want to make it vibrant, we want to make sure all of our heritage buildings are activated,” she said.
“We know there needs to be accessibility so that everyone in our community can go to any part of these buildings.
“We have to start by leading with an example and Her Majesty’s, I think, is a brilliant way to start.
“So we really ask the Federal Government to support us in this. We need five million dollars to make sure that all of Her majesty’s Theatre is accessible to everyone in our community, to the broader country and even internationally. The performances we host here on stage are second to none and they really should be able to be enjoyed by everyone. As the theatre stands at the moment she’s beautiful, she’s got great history but she doesn’t have the accessibility that we really should be providing to the broader community.”