As many as 95 per cent of British people feel that shopping centres should cater for all shoppers and provide an accessible environment, according to a research from Hammerson, the UK’s leading owner and manager of flagship retail destinations. The research finds that 90 per cent believe that shopping centres are important for carers and disabled consumers.

Sixty seven per cent of carers say that shopping helps them to feel part of the community (versus a national average of 55 per cent), and three quarters say that interactions with other people when shopping are good for their mental health (compared to a 71 per cent national average).

To address this significant issue, on November 13, 2018, Hammerson participated in Purple Tuesday – the UK’s first accessible shopping day, established to embed inclusive shopping and recognise the importance and needs of all consumers.

At the Oracle, in Reading, Hammerson has introduced the ‘Safe Space Scheme’. The scheme aims to help people with disabilities to feel confident and calm while visiting the Oracle through offering a range of specialised services, which include: special assistance while shopping inside stores; providing a guide to help shoppers and carers around the centre; or simply providing a temporary safe haven to sit in a quiet location.

Local community groups, including Reading Dementia, Action Alliance, AGE UK, Reading CIC and Autism Berkshire, are supporting the scheme. Reading is also the city within Hammerson’s shopping centre portfolio with the greatest demand for accessible and disabled-friendly facilities, according to its recent research. So far at the Oracle, 14 brands have registered for the Safe Space Scheme, including Lakeland, TM Lewin and Starbucks. Hammerson is also trying a number of different initiatives to assess the most impactful long-term measures to deliver a positive experience for the disabled community, their families and carers.

Mark Bourgeois, Managing Director UK and Ireland for Hammerson, said, “It is vital that our retail destinations make the shopping and leisure experience as welcoming as possible for all our customers. We know from research by the Department for Work and Pensions that shopping, eating and drinking out, is one of the top three most difficult experiences for disabled people based on accessibility.”