I think it must be about three years ago that I almost went to see my first live show. When I queried about access to the venue, I was told I could come – sure – but I would have to leave my wheelchair in a corner and then walk some steps to my seat. It wasn’t as surprising as it was disappointing so choosing an evening of Netflix and absolute chill as an alternative wasn’t that hard to do…
I’m no longer a concert virgin, I’m happy to report. For my birthday last week, I gifted myself tickets to my first show ever! It wouldn’t be a lie to say I looked forward to the show way more than I did the idea of getting older. That one freaked me out!
As the day approached, I crossed off each one with a vibrant red marker in my mind excited to soon live through an experience I’d only thought about a couple million times. My excitement was not enough to bury my anxiety though, it found its way out from cemented ground. It always does.
On one hand, I was anxious for all the right reasons fuelled by my love for music. I was more than ready to sing along to songs I know by heart. The idea of being in the midst of a buzzing crowd made me smile absent-mindedly during the day.
On the other hand, however, I had a lot of panic in my head surrounding accessibility. Although I had seen to it that all the arrangements had been made weeks prior, my head spun around all the different ways things might go wrong. I thought I’d share with you my experience with access at the O2 Ritz Manchester.
BEFORE THE LIGHTS CAME.
The first thing I did after buying my tickets was send an email to the venue. I wanted to make sure accessibility would not be an issue early on.
In the email, I sent them all the details on my ticket and what form of access I needed to get into the venue. It took less than 24 hours to get an email back in response. I took that as a good sign.
Another string of emails later they sent me another confirming I had booked a space in the accessible area. We were advised to arrive at the venue 10 minutes before the doors opened for priority access to the venue. The booking was rather quick and easy really which I appreciated.
ON THE WAY TO THE SHOW.
Do keep in mind that I live in Manchester, so travel wasn’t something I worried about. I do know my way around the city now and I have shared with you my thoughts on wheelchair accessibility in Manchester before.
My house isn’t too far from the city centre so getting to the venue was one of the last things I actually thought about. The O2 Ritz is only a 15-minute walk from Piccadilly Station and there is an array of buses that travel back and forth in that direction. I used to travel through the same area to get to university every day so I’m pretty familiar with those routes.
My sister and I ended up getting an accessible Uber to the venue in the end. The only reason behind this was that I didn’t want to go late for any reason. We aimed to get there even before the time advised.
After the show, we chose to walk back into town as it seemed unnecessary to book another car back. Plus, we wanted to walk off a bit of the high of how great Eric Nam was as a performer, but that was useless. We couldn’t shake it off for days! You can read about my full concert experience here.
INSIDE THE O2 RITZ.
Our Uber stopped us right in front of the O2 Ritz. A crowd was already gathered in an orderly line outside the building. I think that was the moment I began to process the fact that it was really happening. My. Very. First Concert.
Aside from being instructed to arrive early, which we did, the email confirming our reservation informed us that once we arrived, we were to go straight to one of the security guards who would assist from that point on. Again, we did as we were told.
The staff led us to a different entrance point on the right corner of the building. We waited there for a couple of minutes, struck awkward conversations with giddy strangers and took a sigh of relief. Miraculously it was all going according to plan.
Soon after we were allowed into the building and were led towards the left corner of the room. There were a few people in the venue already. There were a few other wheelchair users situated there and other people who needed chairs to sit on and perhaps couldn’t stand for a long length of time.
A member of staff quickly introduced themselves to us. I believe their name was John. Their job was to make we were all set up before the show.
We were then given two options; we could either stay in the front left area of the venue with the rest of the crowd, or we could choose to stay in a separate designated wheelchair space on the corner of the stage. The toilet was also in that area which would have made things easier.
I ended up opting for the first option. I wanted to see the stage from the very front rather than from the side. John advised us that if we needed to go to the designated wheelchair area during the night he could make it happen by moving the barricades, but if we were to choose to go there right at the start of the show, it wouldn’t be possible to change our minds later due to the crowd that was already starting to fill up the room. Getting there earlier meant there was only one person in my immediate front and they were also a wheelchair user which meant my vision wasn’t completely blocked during the show.
For me, it wasn’t a difficult choice, but I do think it’s a decision each wheelchair user has to make for themselves.
MY OVERALL THOUGHTS.
I found accessibility at the O2 Ritz to be good, to be honest. It was my first concert so I don’t really have any other points of reference for comparison, but I can say it met my needs.
There is always room for improvement with how accessible a place can be but here it was clear to see steps had been put in place for things to go smoothly. A very big contributing factor was the staff members. They were really hands-on and ready to help. They paid great attention to everything that was going on in the crowd and that made me feel very much at ease.
I think the emphasis on early arrival was essential. I couldn’t imagine getting through so easily if I got there even half an hour later.
If you choose to stay in the accessible area with a side stage view and the toilet seconds away, that’s great. It would certainly keep things convenient as staying with the crowd instead could turn out to not be the best move for everybody.
In my case, it didn’t happen, but there was a real risk I wouldn’t be able to view or enjoy the show if those in front of me were too tall. My choice was mainly motivated by my desire to experience the show from a forward-facing position. If I were to attend another concert there, I think I’d do the same.
Your restless romantic roamer