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Protest over no wheelchair access carried to bank's door by man and his disabled mum

By Nevin Farrell

A Portstewart man lifted his 70-year-old mother out of her wheelchair and carried her into a Coleraine bank to highlight access issues.

Mark McGregor (35) is now calling on Halifax to provide a ramp at its branch at The Diamond.

Mark said his mum Sylvia Simpson, who lives in the town, wanted to open a new account but was told she would need to make the 60-mile round trip to Ballymena to do so because of the accessibility situation at the local branch.

To highlight the issue he went to the Coleraine Halifax, lifted his mother out of her wheelchair and took her inside.

Mark, who is her carer, told the Belfast Telegraph his mother wished him to speak on her behalf about what happened.

Because of the access problems, wheelchair users have to ring a special bell outside and staff then come out and conduct business in the open air.

Halifax has said the absence of a ramp is down to the fact the building has listed status.

"They keep saying it is because it is a listed building but I don't think that is the law, though," Mark said.

"This is a pedestrian area, there are no space issues.

"Sometimes the bell doesn't work or you have to wait a long time for someone to come out.

"You would be placed in a queue.

"They would wait until all people inside have been seen to before they would come out - it doesn't seem to be a priority.

"And all the business is done outside, which has security implications. There is no shelter and the person gets soaked, obviously, if it is raining."

He added the situation "might discourage inclusion" of wheelchair users.

He said: "There are currently steep, old-fashioned steps at the branch. Even a woman with a pram would suffer. I would ask the Halifax to install reasonable access.

"Some local businesses may not have the money for that, but a bank? I think they can find the money for that."

He said his mother had now been sorted out with a new account, which she needed in connection with her care package.

"I carried her in. Originally the staff said we should go to Ballymena, so that is why I made a stand and carried her in," he explained.

"She was obviously self-conscious about it but she is glad it happened and ended well. I had to carry her in and find a seat on the far side and plop her down and then go out and get the wheelchair."

On its website, Halifax states: "At some branches steps are unavoidable and a 'call assistance' bell system has been installed so that a member of staff can be called.

"There are some locations where you may find access more difficult due to such as the layout of the premises or planning permission refusal. We record and review these locations on a regular basis."

A Halifax spokeswoman said: "We are aware of issues accessing the Halifax Coleraine branch and apologise for the inconvenience this caused Mrs Simpson.

"We have previously applied for the relevant permissions to make alterations to the listed building, which would have enabled wheelchair access to the branch, but these were declined.

"We are currently pursuing additional options to improve accessibility in the near future."

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