The Friary officially opened Guildford’s first ‘Changing Places’ facility yesterday, which will enable local people with profound learning or physical disabilities to use the bathroom facilities at the centre safely and comfortably.

Following a major refurbishment, level one of The Friary Guildford is now home to a new all gender bathroom and enlarged accessible toilet. A newly built parents’ room, designated family WC, quiet room and Changing Places loo are now located on level 2 on the site of the former Timpson’s outlet.

The new facility addresses the town’s longstanding need for better provision for people living with disabilities. To use the bathroom in safety and comfort, many people require access to Changing Places facilities, which have more space and are fully equipped with adult-sized, height adjustable changing benches and hoists. Every aspect of the design, down to the colour of the tiles and paint, has been carefully selected to create a friendly, welcoming environment.

Key local figures attended the ceremony on 22 January, including representatives from owners M&G Real Estate, which invested in and oversaw the delivery of the new facilities, Guildford Borough Council, which also provided a financial contribution for the project, and Guildford-based disability charity Challengers. Speeches from Deputy Mayor Cllr Marsha Moseley and The Friary Manager, Vicky Hickson, accompanied a short ribbon cutting ceremony.

Scott Linard, Director of Asset Management for M&G Real Estate, comments: “This is a very positive leap forward in making The Friary – and indeed Guildford – accessible to everyone, regardless of their needs.

“As a business, we take great care to respond to the needs of the communities we operate in and we hope our investment will make a real difference to locals living with disability, as well as their families and carers.”

Cllr Angela Goodwin, Lead Cllr for Access and Disability, said: “It’s fantastic to see the first ever Changing Places facility in Guildford now open for our local residents and visitors to use in The Friary. This will complement the accessible toilets across the town and will help families and individuals with complex disabilities; in the past, we know that families have been put off from coming into our town centre because there haven’t been the right facilities available to meet their needs.

“As well as extra equipment, the additional space allows people and their carers to use the facility safely and comfortably. We hope to open more Changing Places facilities, working closely with our partners to select the best locations and help make our borough more accessible to all.”

Liz Hawkins, a Guildford resident and mother to a girl who lives with disability, said:
“It is great to see that, at last, Guildford has got its first Changing Places facility. There is often little understanding that changing facilities with a solid bench and hoist are required for people with a range of disabilities, both visible and hidden, and standard disabled toilets are not the answer. This development will enable much improved accessibility to both the shopping centre and the rest of the town centre. Thank you very much to The Friary in Guildford!”

Jennifer Corless, Head of Communications at children’s disability charity Challengers, said: “Most people might not view a toilet opening as a big deal, however for those with a disability, like the disabled children and young people who come to Challengers and their families and carers, this means they will no longer have to worry about when and where the next toilet stop will be. The addition of this new Changing Places facility makes Guildford a much more inclusive and accessible place, and we hope that others will follow suit and choose to invest in facilities which are welcoming and accessible for everyone.”