Amit Patel talks to us about his drive to campaign on the issue of shared space

17 April 2019
Amit and his guide dog

Following his latest campaign win, we sat down for a chat with Amit Patel, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, about his campaigning on Shared Space.

What is Shared Space?

So, Shared Space, it’s taking away roads, taking away pavements. It’s a place where you can mingle but cars could also drive through it. It might work in a place that has no vehicles but if you take away a footpath or you take away a road, you confuse the driver, you confuse a pedestrian. You don’t know whether you are actually on a road or who has the right of way.

Also, in a Shared Space, you find that shops will tend to start putting out signs outside or Cafes will put out tables, where there may never have been tables. So, now you’ve got cars to negotiate and you’ve got clutter on the pavements to negotiate. It’s not just visually impaired people; it’s people in wheelchairs, it’s people with mobility issues, it’s children. They don’t know whether they’re on a road or in a footpath. The council are taking away perfectly safe roads and infrastructure, putting in Shared Space, hoping that people will congregate there. But, it’s actually having the opposite effect. Even though there’s so much objection to Shared Space, it still goes ahead.

Tell us about the Shared Space scheme in Eltham and the impact it has on you

We moved to the area about three years ago and they were working on the High Street renovation. They’ve widened the pavements and drawn lines on the pavement, so cars can park up on them. Having cars come up and down the pavement, it’s just ridiculous. They’ve also made a section of the bottom of the High Street into Shared Space.

They’ve actually made the footpath and the road the same colour. So, there’s no distinction between a footpath and the road. Planners are telling me it’s a safe environment as long as you can see the driver and the driver can see you. But, if you can’t see the driver and you don’t have eye contact - you’re just going to keep walking. They proposed to put in a courtesy crossing, which is dangerous if you’re visually impaired because you need eye contact. A lot of drivers don’t even know what a courtesy crossing is. There’s been a lot of objection for the last couple of years from disabled groups and local residents saying a courtesy crossing is a bad idea. They’d rather not have a crossing at all than to have a courtesy crossing. It’s been a bit of a fight to try and get planners to understand how dangerous this could be.

What inspired you to start campaigning?

Campaigning is good, but, sometimes, people just don’t listen... if nobody in authority actually listens to you, it’s not going to go anywhere. I’m very fortunate that I have an amazing MP; Clive Efford supported me throughout a lot of my campaigning and he’s been supporting me with Shared Space for the last two years. He’s accompanied me to 10 Downing Street, when we’ve handed in petitions. He’s very clued up on Shared Space. It all came about when I was given a Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister on all the campaigning work I’ve done. Off the back of that, Clive Efford, sent me a tweet and said “how about that blindfold walk you promised me”.

Emily Marr, RNIB’s Parliamentary Officer came along and, between the two of us, we took Clive Efford and his team along the High Street. I wanted him to walk up and down the High Street with a white cane. The moment he put that blindfold on and within thirty seconds of him stepping out of a safe building on his own with a white cane – he was petrified because he’s used to walking out, looking at the dangers, he knows where to cross, what to do. The moment the lights are out and you’re reliant on the white cane and your hearing, it’s a whole different world. So, we took him along the High Street. He commented on dropped curbs, he commented on the benches they’ve got out, on the footpath which have got sharp corners.

I think it really hit him when he got into the Shared Space and he kept telling me that cars don’t park in Shared Spaces, drivers should know better. He was walking around with his white cane and then he bumped into a van and he kept bumping into this van. As he’s doing this another car pulls up behind him when he’s not expecting it - when he’s expecting to be safe in a Shared Space. We got back to the offices and Clive said we should have a meeting with the planners because he was aware that there is going to be a courtesy crossing going in.

He took on the fight for me, he arranged the meetings and his office were fantastic and finally, we got a meeting with the planners. Hugh and Emily from RNIB attended and we got them to understand how difficult a courtesy crossing is. How ridiculous it could be, how dangerous it is. The courtesy crossing was actually due to be put in this month. So, the fact that the council turned around and said we’re not going to do this is, is a major milestone. The RNIB, Clive and I got together, and we made them see sense.

What would be your advice to someone who is looking to campaign on an issue local to them?

If you’ve got a little community hub in your area, go and speak to them because you’re probably not the only one with the same issue. It’s a lot easier if you’ve got help and support because the problem with campaigning is, nothing happens overnight. You can write a letter and you won’t hear back for another three months sometimes. But, if it’s something you believe in, I think you need help and having someone like the RNIB, who know the rules, the laws, the regulations, definitely helps. I can tell you it’s dangerous as a blind person. But, I don’t know where the rules and the laws come into place. 

Don’t give up. I think the first step is getting the help of your MP - that’s what they’re there for. Go to their clinics, tell them what your issues are, tell them how they can help, and it becomes a little bit easier when you’ve got them on your side. You have to make them understand your side of things. It might make you angry, but, I think, you have to hold on to those emotions and be very professional about it because you’ve got more likelihood for that to be taken forward.

So, have a game plan. Approach your local community, get people together. If you need to do a petition, do a petition. But, the more support you have, the easier it is.

What’s next for Amit the Campaigner?

Since the success, I am getting inundated with people saying, “I’ve got an issue on my road”, or “I’ve got an issue here”. It’s great because people are seeing a result. They’ve seen that campaigning is a long struggle but, they’ve actually seen a result here. I think because the council have gone ahead and changed their plans on the courtesy crossing, I’m hoping that they’ll also look into other things. I’m hoping that the council take it seriously now.

I don’t think I’m going to stop campaigning. I think campaigning is in my blood at the moment. If we can make a difference, if we can help someone.  It’s not just my campaigns, I’m helping other people with their campaigns. It just doesn’t stop. But, do you know what, it keeps me out of trouble.

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