Chelsea Flower Show starts on 23rd May and heralds what’s termed ‘The Season’, a series of prestigious events held before high summer. Below is our updated guide to accessibility at a number of the ‘Seasons’ events. However, our ‘season’ starts with the BBSMIX concert and the line up this year is truly exceptional including,
Midori Jaeger – Cellist
Baluji Shrivastav , OBE – Sitar Player
Maud Millar – Opera Singer
Mark Pampel – Pianist
James Welland – Composer & Pianist
David 9 Lunas – Singer Songwriter
Steven Separovich – Recording Artist
Broadcaster and Musician Mik Scarlet will be compere for the evening.
Tickets are selling fast, buy them here.
Starting in May, ‘The Season’ is the traditional heart of social activity in London during the Summer months. Originally, it was an exclusive period of events created for the aristocracy to get together and introduce debutantes to society. It presented the wealthy with a chance to leave their country estates and come down to the capital to mingle, court one another and have a party. This isn’t just something from the pages of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde – it actually happened!
‘The Season’ may seem like a rather antiquated idea these days but the main events at the centre of it remain. The old fashioned exclusivity and upper class formality has been removed and the social activities have evolved, leaving some great and varied events for everyone to enjoy, in and around London. We won’t lie – if you want to be part of the Season it will probably cost a fair bit but it’s worth it for the glamour and enjoyment that this unofficial programme of events provides. Here’s our guide to the main events and to how accessible they are for the less able:
Chelsea Flower Show 23rd-27th – May
As one season ends a short way down the road, at Stamford Bridge, The Season begins at the Royal Hospital Gardens with the Chelsea Flower Show. Here’s a preview,
That’s 100 years of bringing all things horticultural to
All the marquees at the show are accessible, and all gardens and floral exhibits can be viewed from ground level. None are designed for public access; all are just for show. Where possible, gardens are fronted by hard surface so they should be accessible to view.
We’re advised that it gets very busy at peak times so disabled visitors might prefer to arrive early or late in the day. One companion is admitted free of charge per visitor whose disability necessitates assistance. They ask that you mention this at the time of booking.
A limited number of manual wheelchairs are available for loan on payment of a £10 deposit, but must be reserved in advance.Parking is available in Battersea Park from where buses with wheelchair access run regularly.
All catering facilities are fully accessible, with the exception of Rock Bank Restaurant, Seafood & Champagne Restaurant and Thames View Food Court. It’s suggested that you could book a table at the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Lounge instead.
Afterwards, it’s nice to treat yourself to a meal out. Now, that might seem a little bit extravagant to you but it’s just how the season works farling. Last year BBS Leader Fiona went to Colbert, on Sloane Square for great food and a 2.5 BBS Ticks standard of access. If you want something more relaxed and less expensive try Polpo just off kings road and if you’re prepared to travel to the further end of Kings Road, Bluebird restaurant & bar is a reliably good and one of our favourite drinking holes!
Another good local spot is Tom’s Kitchen restaurant which is also very nearby.
There’s also Bumpkin – a trendy new bar and restaurant in Chelsea which doesn’t actually open until June but is opening it’s ‘secret garden’ to coincide with the Flower Show. The garden has 65 seats, a fabulous garden design by Chris Gutteridge, Gold Medallist from last year’s Chelsea Flower Show and a beast of an outdoor BBQ.
Glyndebourne Opera 20th May – 27th August
Glyndebourne offers you a chance to enjoy the early evening sunshine (if you’re lucky) with a black-tie picnic in their grounds and then go inside to watch the Opera. Bring your own food and tables, order a ‘posh picnic’ or eat at one of their restaurants – there’s a lot of choice. But it’s good fun to go for the picnic option for a bit of an experience.
There is a lift to all levels, but please note that wheelchair access to the auditorium is only available at Foyer Circle level on the ground floor. There are stairs involved on the other levels. The price of a wheelchair space includes a seat for a companion. There are adapted lavatories situated on the Blue and Red side at Foyer Circle level.
Wheelchair access is possible in all restaurants. Mildmay is the most accessible restaurant for wheelchair users and those with mobility issues.
They say, generally, it’s best to give them a call before you go.
The Summer Exhibition 13th June – 20th August
Held by the Royal Academy at Burlington House, Piccadilly, the Summer Exhibition tends to be the hottest ticket in town. The Summer Exhibition acts as a survey of what’s happening in all areas of the contemporary art world. It’s open to all artists and up to 10,000 sculptures, prints and paintings are submitted with the best 1,000 selected for inclusion. It’s the largest and most popular exhibition in the country and if you see anything you like then you might be able to buy it as all the work included is for sale!
The building is accessible – there’s a ramp to get inside, a lift to all floors and level ground throughout. There are disabled toilets too. Every year a number of sculptures in the Summer Exhibition are available for visually impaired people to explore by touch – which is a really good idea.
There are lots of nice bars and restaurants with the BBS seal of approval in the area. One of these is The Wolseley – a high class brasserie in “grand European tradition”. It earned 2.5 BBS Ticks when we reviewed it.
Another good spot to go for dinner is Cecconi’s. They describe the restaurant as a modern day classic Italian restaurant. We described it as a place to see and be seen and that’s what the Season is all about. We gave Cecconi’s a maximum 3 BBS Ticks. There’s also the latest trendy eatery of Street XO if you want to be entertained with ‘off the wall’ food, quirky staff and surroundings. Totally accessible with a disabled toilet.
There are tonnes of other good spots to go in that area of London. If you want to find more stylish, accessible places to go you can consult our BBS App.
Royal Ascot 20th-24th June
There are hundreds of racing meetings but only one Royal Ascot. It combines horse racing with style like nowhere else. They host not one but three of the most prestigious races in the world over the course of the week and it’s not even really about the horses – it’s about the pageantry and the hats. Oh the hats.
The access at Ascot is pretty good. We certainly heard very good things from blind horse racing enthusiast Andy Gemmell about the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff there. Ascot’s website says that: “where possible, Ascot are happy to make special arrangements and to assist with any queries, both in advance and on a raceday.”
Blue Badge holders can be given forward parking in the car parks, free of charge. Carers are admitted, free of charge and within the Grandstand, there are a number of disabled toilets on each level to use… free of charge.
There are dedicated disabled viewing areas in each of the enclosures but they do ask that only one other person comes with you to avoid overcrowding. If you want to finish the day in style or stay somewhere really swanky go to the incredibly accessible Coworth Park one of the 3 BBS Tick establishments.
Wimbledon 3rd July – 16th July
We’re very lucky in this country that the oldest and to many minds, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world is right on our doorstep. Wimbledon is steeped in tradition with Pimms, strawberries and cream and the inevitable rain delays all making the Championships what they are. It’s a great chance to see the world’s best tennis players in action and it’s also a great social event but if you want to eat in style, you might want to avoid the food courts.
The ballot to get tickets for this year is now closed but there always seems to be a way around this, that doesn’t involve having to get in a queue by six in the morning.
The information on their accessibility suggests that it is fairly easy to go to Wimbledon if you are less able. They say that they endeavour to provide a high standard of accessible facilities for visitors and spectators with a disability, including those using a wheelchair. There are reserved spaces for wheelchair users on all of the main courts although you will of course need a ticket for the particular court. There are various disabled toilets around the Grounds. The exact locations are available on their accessibility information page. which all sounds pretty good.
Having said that, there is something slightly strict and a little bit cold about their information on disabled access. We’ve also heard stories of people asking about wheelchair access at the Championships and being told to go watch the wheelchair tennis instead!
The Henley Regatta 3rd-7th July
The Royal Regatta at Henley is a fixture of the Season. Held in beautiful surroundings and filled with beautiful people, it’s one of the most famous regattas in the world. We do have a lot of world beating sporting events don’t we? A highlight of the sporting calendar and social season alike.
To go to the larger area at the finish line – the Stewards’ Enclosure – you need to either be a club member or a guest of a member. However, there is also another area next to the Stewards’ Enclosure – the Regatta Enclosure – which is open to the public. It’s less formal than the Stewards’ Enclosure but a lot of people choose to dress up anyway to add to the experience. Both enclosures have disabled toilets. The access is pretty good although it can be trickier later in the day when the crowds get busier and (let’s be honest) everyone’s had a bit to drink.
You can also go to the COPAS event at Remenham Farm, further towards the beginning of the race. In the true spirit of the Season, the actual rowing takes something of a back seat to the bars, restaurants and events taking place. If you go you can expect to find Mosimann’s Restaurant and Champagne Bar, Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, the Barn Bar and Chinawhite has an enclosure there too. There will be disabled toilets and since everything is in tents there shouldn’t be too much of a problem with steps or anything like that.
The Proms 14th July – 9th September
One of the great features of British summer, The Proms is an eight week long festival of classical music featuring over 100 individual concerts. In recent years The Proms have opened up to a more youthful audience with the Electric Proms but we don’t have time for that nonsense here in our round up of the Season. Pop music is for ruffians not for refined socialites and classical music lovers like ourselves. Highlights at this years Proms are listed here . A few we’re looking forward to include a celebration of film composer John Williams, a ‘Relaxed Prom’ for ‘children and adults with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities as well as individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted’ and the performances by world famous conductors Daniel Barenboim & Bernard Haitink.
Of course the Last Night of the Proms is an unmissably strange event, with its Union Jack waving and intense patriotism. The sort of thing that you’d expect to see in the States or on North Korean propaganda but not in humble Blighty (if you don’t understand this you’ll just have to watch the Last Night of the Proms yourself).
The majority of the events included in the Proms take place at The Royal Albert Hall which has very good disabled access. There are plenty of toilets and there’s parking right outside if you book in advance. The only problem is that the lift can get full and very often you have to wait a while.
Good places to eat nearby would be Zuma, for contemporary Japanese food, The Ivy Kensington, Launceston Place or our favourite and just off the beaten track, The Kitchen W8, we gave them the max 3 BBS Ticks.
While most of the Proms happen at Albert Hall, there are quite a few events at Cadogan Hall where the access is also very good. Companions of disabled people can get free tickets for performances and there are plenty of lifts to help you get around in a wheelchair.
If you have a hearing impairment you need to take into account that the auditorium is fitted with an infra-red amplification system. This is not the same as a Loop System so switching your hearing aid to ‘T’ is not sufficient. You will need to use an amplification aid.
It’s quite close to the location of the Chelsea Flower Show so we’d recommend any of the places mentioned above.
So there you go – a full roundup of the accessible and stylish programme that is the BBS Season. A great selection of events which will make you feel exclusive but have access that is inclusive! It all sounds very refined I’m sure. If you have any different experiences of events included please notify us and we can spread the word.
Don’t forget: wherever and however you want to enjoy the Season, make sure to book in advance to avoid missing out! Now get dressed up, get out there and enjoy the wonderful British summer!!