Here at Accomable, we know you love browsing our listings to find the accessible holiday destination that’s right for you. We also know that when it comes to choosing the perfect accessible property, the devil really is in the detail - so we’re bringing you more of it.
Meet The Vendors is a series of interviews designed to take you behind closed (fully accessible) doors and give a more in-depth look at some of the properties we feature. Today we meet Tom from the Flat Spaces Foundation.
Hello Tom, can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Tom Yendell from the Flat Spaces Foundation. The Flat Spaces Foundation is a charity that was set up to enable people with severe disabilities to holiday with accessibility assured. We also own and run the Flat Spaces property in Hampshire which opened earlier this year.
I am part of the thalidomide generation and was born without arms. I’ve been an artist for over 30 years and sit on the board of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. This organisation has a membership of over 800 artists all over the world that paint with their mouth and feet.
Is there an interesting story behind the development of Flat Spaces?
Part of the reason we started Flat Spaces was that after arranging accommodation for several conferences for the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, I realised how difficult it was for people with disabilities to travel and go on holiday.
About 15 years ago, I attended a conference in Fort Lauderdale which was the first congress about travel for people with disabilities. They discovered that around $2billion a year wasn’t being picked up by the tourism industry because people with disabilities couldn’t be sure about the accessibility of places and were nervous to travel to new places. So, I thought that if the biggest problem for people was the uncertainty, I decided to come up with the idea of Flat Spaces – accommodation that had guaranteed level access and facilities for people with disabilities. Then by rolling the same building out across several locations, people could easily travel while having the guarantee that they would know what to expect for their accommodation, and that it fits their needs.
Flat Spaces Hampshire is the first of what I hope to be many more! It only opened for bookings in April this year (2016) and is now mostly booked out so it’s obviously a concept that has been well received. So now that we know that what we’re offering works, we’re planning to expand the Flat Spaces accommodation concept across the UK.
Tom standing in the Flat Spaces building site during the build
How have you adapted it to enable people with disabilities to stay?
Flat Spaces was purpose-built rather than being an existing building that was adapted. This means that we were able to specifically design it with access in mind. We wanted to make sure that it was homely as well as functional, and not hospital-like or sterile. We reached out to the mouth and foot painting community, to people affected by thalidomide and Treloar's School, a local school for disabled children, to help us to design the accommodation with a range of disabilities in mind.
The property has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms in total, all being accessible to a wheelchair user and adapted in different ways. Two bedrooms and a wet room style bathroom have a ceiling track hoist running through. The bathroom that interconnects these two bedrooms is a spacious wet room with 2 toilets (one clos-o-mat toilet), a roll-in shower, shower chair, rise-and-fall basin and grab rails throughout. The bedrooms have variable height beds and a carer call system. The third bedroom and en suite shower room doesn’t have doorways as wide as the other bedrooms and bathroom, but is still suitable for a wheelchair user with a roll-in shower in the en suite. The living areas are really spacious and there are roll-under rise-and-fall worktops in the kitchen for wheelchair access. You can find out more detail on our Accomable listing.
Wet room bathroom with roll-in shower, shower chair, grab rails, Clos-o-Mat toilet, bath, ceiling track hoist
Kitchen with roll-under and rise-and-fall sink and hob, and a rise-and-fall dining table
Have you ever had anyone famous stay?
Well they haven’t stayed, but Flat Spaces was opened by Alan Titchmarsh, and Princess Alexandra came to visit the accommodation for a tour and had afternoon tea with us. Aled Jones also came to have a look around.
L-R: Princess Alexandra, Aled Jones, Alan Titchmarsh opening Flat Spaces
Wow, that's an impressive list! What is your favourite thing to do in the local area?
The local Watercress Line (steam railway) runs a Real Ale Train once a month. They run a restored bar carriage pulled by a steam locomotive serving ale from local breweries, it’s a great experience! They have also converted a carriage for wheelchair access. My favourites are probably the Alton Triple fff Brewery beers.
Watercress Line - Real Ale Train
Are there any exciting activities in the area that are adapted for people with disabilities?
There are so many things to do in the local area including Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, Winchester Cathedral, Jane Austen’s House Museum, BirdWorld, lots of museums and plenty more. We’re also only an hour from London on the train so there is lots to do within an easy distance. We’re also close to the South Downs National Park and they have a horse and carriage that has been adapted for wheelchair users that takes you along the picturesque South Downs Way.
Pony Access on the South Downs Way
Have you got any tips for travellers staying with you?
We have ceiling hoists, mobile hoists, profile beds, a shower trolley and lots of other equipment available either in the house or on request. So please check what we have first to see if there’s anything else that you require. And hopefully it’ll help to cut down on everything you normally take when you travel, we aim to make your stay as easy as possible!
What sort of a traveller are you, where do you like to go and what sorts of things do you like to do on holiday?
I’m lucky that I’ve travelled a lot. I go to Ghana to quite a lot as I’m a trustee for a charity there. The charity has built a vocational skills college to give people in the local fishing village a chance to gain skills. I also travel with the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists regularly as we hold conferences around the world. Around 150 artists meet every 3 years and we’ve been to Athens, Mexico City, Shanghai, Sydney, Vienna, Madrid, and are celebrating our 60th anniversary in Barcelona in April.
Wow, that’s a great list! Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
As we’re expanding Flat Spaces across the UK, we’re asking people to look out for plots of land that would be suitable to build on. And fundraising-wise, we need to raise the money for building these spaces. Also, Fourmarks and Medstead Rotary have started a fund to help people afford a stay as we want the facilities to be used by the people who really need them.
Wow, thanks for talking to us Tom, Flat Spaces is certainly an interesting concept, and one I think Accomable customers will definitely be following! You can find out more about Flat Spaces in Hampshire (UK) and book here. You can also find out more about Tom and his artwork here, and about the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists here.