Theatres in Sheffield are working to improve accessibility including one 19th century venue which is installing disabled lifts as part of a redevelopment scheme starting this summer. 

Despite being a beloved cultural hub, The Montgomery Theatre in Surrey Street, has struggled to improve its accessibility for disabled people due the age of the building.

Sarah Sharp, director, said: “It’s a big move, and it’s not as simple as just putting a lift in there. 

“It’s really affecting everything. We’re having to carve up the building, move our offices to the upper floor, install new toilets to make sure they’re accessible and redo the theatre space to create room for wheelchairs.”

The many steps inside the building make access difficult for those with mobility issues.

Now, it is hoped three new disabled lifts will make sure everyone can enjoy the theatre’s facilities. 

Ms Sharp said the plans had been ongoing since the 1990s and had become “a bit of a joke”.

She said: “It’s been a long time coming but we decided, when looking at redevelopment, the most important thing to change about the building was to make it wheelchair accessible.” 

The theatre is installing a passenger lift and two platform lifts with the redevelopment starting this summer. It plans to open doors again in January 2024. 

Elsewhere in the city, Theatre Deli, which recently reopened in a new location on Arley Street, has ramps at the main entrance in order to ensure easy access.

Above: Ramp on entrance to the Theatre Deli

On top of this, the theatre area has movable chairs, allowing those with mobility difficulties to be able to sit with family and friends rather than having a designated seating area. 

Miranda Debeham, producer at Theatre Deli, said: “As a disabled theatre producer myself, I want to see the industry improve and open itself up to disabled artists and audiences, who often face multiple unseen barriers to creativity.

“Our new venue has level access throughout, including a ramp onto our stage, as well as a calm room for anyone to use if they’re feeling overwhelmed. We’re always seeking to improve our accessibility, and we will soon have a hearing loop installed to improve the experience for people who are hard of hearing.” 

Theatre Deli will be hosting the Social Model…& More Festival, which looks to study all different models of disability and how disabled people feel about it with the full line-up to be announced soon.

Another venue that has worked on accessibility is the Lantern Theatre on Kenwood Park Road in Nether Edge. It has improved the theatre entrance to accommodate mobility aids while also having a wheelchair space that gives a clear view of the stage.

Credit: Lantern Theatre

Kevin Jackson, 52, director of the theatre, said: “We’re lucky in the fact that a lot of the changes that were made to the building in the 1980s were with regards to wheelchair space and similar accessibility improvements. 

“The theatre is a grade II building but the listing came after the renovations which were made in 1957 and then the 1980s. To make the same changes now would be difficult due to the need for planning permissions.” 

The Lantern is planning to install an induction loop which will be available to those who need it. The theatre believes the biggest issue for its patrons is in relation to hearing and therefore is important to improve its facilities in this way. 

Sheffield Theatres, which runs the Crucible and Lyceum, has also implemented several disabled accessibility features across their venues. 

Carrie Askew, media officer for Sheffield Theatres, said: “At Sheffield Theatres we believe theatre should be for everyone, and we offer a range of captioned, audio described, relaxed, dementia-friendly and British Sign Language interpreted performances.

Above: the Crucible, owned by Sheffield Theatres

“All of our venues have level access points, ramps, lifts and accessible toilets available for customers, and assistance dogs are welcome in our buildings and auditorium.”

The company is also a Dementia-Friendly organisation which offers a programme of activities. 

Sheffield City Hall has several designated access points for wheelchair uses in the Foyer and Oval Hall, Memorial Hall and Ballroom. 

It also welcomes assistance dogs in all areas of the building while offering hearing assistance.