Campaigners have been rejoicing after a four-year-long battle to get a much needed facility for the disabled built in Horsham town centre came to an end.
Swan Walk is set to create its first Changing Places toilets as part of a new scheme to rejuvenate the shopping centre.
Plans to redevelop the former BHS unit along with the centre’s toilets were approved by Horsham District Council earlier this month.
As part of the works the new disabled toilet facility, which comes complete with a changing bench and a hoist, will be installed and the announcement has been met with joy by Horsham campaigner Samantha Buck.
She said: “I’m just delighted, there are so many things we can now access.”
Samantha began the battle for a Changing Places toilet in the town more than four years ago.
Her ten-year-old son Alfie was born with severe brain damage and has quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. He uses a wheelchair and Samantha has been forced to change him on the floors of public toilets as there are currently few facilities with equipment needed to help him.
She launched a national petition for Changing Places toilets to be provided across the country, which gained almost 40,000 signatures, and has continued to lobby ever since.
She said: “The world has opened up for him (Alfie) because he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. He can go out with anybody now, it doesn’t have to be a team of us, we don’t have to lay him out on the toilet floor anymore.”
Swan Walk centre manager Gill Buchanan said she had been looking to bring in the facility for a ‘considerable time’ and was delighted it could finally be created.
She said: “We are committed to offering the highest level of service and experience for all our customers and have been looking for some considerable time at options to add a Changing Places facility as soon as we were able. It has always been our belief that this service should be located alongside all other welfare facilities to enable family members and friendship groups to remain together and visit a single location.
“The works to increase and improve the ladies, men’s, disabled and baby change provision has enabled us to add even more space and we are delighted be able to deliver our Changing Places room. Works will commence this spring as part of the wider development programme.”
Samantha said the new facility will not only change her son’s life but will also benefit many others including adults with disabilities and the older generation.
“It’s something we have been pushing to have because it’s access for absolutely everyone,” she said. “That’s what we aimed for when we set up the petition.”
She added many families would now be able to enjoy events in the town centre as well as all the shops and restaurants without having to rush home.
Developers carrying out a multi-million pound project to redevelop Piries Place also announced last year they would be including a Changing Places in the scheme. Samantha said she hoped they would continue with this plan to give families a place to go when Swan Walk would be shut in the evenings.
The BHS redevelopment will also see three new retailers and a new 24-hour gym created in the old unit.
Mrs Buchanan added: “This is not just about the centre, this is about the wider investment in Horsham and it is evident that the new facilities will be a benefit to the whole town.”