‘Pavements are now obstacle courses’: Blind resident urges Camden Council to ban advertising boards

Local resident Red Szell next to an A-board. Photograph: Julia Gregory

A blind rock climber has challenged traders about the problems navigating around advertising boards which makes it a “slog” to go shopping and causes him more injuries than his climbing adventures.

Red Szell, the first blind person to scale the 449ft sea stack the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney, has called on Camden Council to clamp down on A-boards.

The Hampstead resident said they can be a hazard for visually impaired people and others with disabilities as well as people with prams and pushchairs.

They come in varying heights and weights and are advertising everything from coffee to glasses, and even legal services, in Hampstead.

Mr Szell uses a white stick and said it is hard to navigate round the boards and he often hurts his hand on them and has even taken a tumble over one.

“You catch your hand on them and it takes a week to heal,” he said.

“I never wear shorts walking around Hampstead for the same reason.”

Some of the A-boards have metal clasps or chains to hold them open, which can cause injuries.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service joined him in Hampstead town centre to find out about the problem and encountered 31 A-boards on Hampstead High Street alone.

The area is popular with tourists and there are several pavement cafes offering al fresco drinks and meals.

Mr Szell said: “I do not go out on Fridays, because it is busy and people are not aware of anyone around them.”

As he navigated round A-boards, he explained how they can cause a hazard.

“It’s a problem that is getting worse. It’s a rare visit to my local shops where I do not end up incurring some kind of flesh wound to my hands, arms, knees or shins.”

“It’s quite busy, it’s noisy as well and I’m trying to navigate my way back and there are just obstacles everywhere. And when I’m trying to concentrate on how to get back it makes it a slog.”

He carried an A-board into another business to explain why it caused him difficulties.

The business owner has moved it and said he wanted to ensure that people can get round but pointed out companies need to promote themselves, especially after the pandemic.

He questioned why businesses needed A-boards as well as other signs, such as overhead pub signs or shop windows and names.

He pointed out the tall advertising board for The Horseshoe pub and said the A-board is like a “huge, massive barrier, three quarters of the size of my arm, with this metal hook sticking out.”

He visited the pub where staff moved the board and asked what would be more helpful and reported the pub has changed where it puts the board since he visited.

Josh Drake, operations coordinator for pub owner Urban Pubs and Bars said: “We always encourage our teams to be thoughtful in their placement of their A-Boards, and to allow people to pass unobstructed. If the placement of our A-board has caused any problems for Mr Szell, then we would like to apologise.”

Mr Szell who is an author and hosts podcast My Life in Books with Red Szell took his campaign to Camden Council recently.

He urged Camden to make the borough easier to get around for “thousands of visually impaired people using its pavements.”

He told councillors “I am a keen rock climber, so I’m used to a bit of jeopardy, but as a blind person I can honestly say I feel more intimidated and at greater risk of injury on my local pavements than I’ve felt on any rockface.”

The RNIB’s Official Pavement Code urged businesses “please don’t leave A-boards in the middle of the pavement. They cause obstructions to people with sight loss.”

Councillor Adam Harrison who undertook a blindfold walk with the London Sight Loss Council pledged that council staff would visit Hampstead High Street and surrounding roads to investigate the issue.

He said: “Keeping Camden’s pavements clear benefits everyone.”

Cllr Harrison said it was essential that people can get about easily and it was important that A-boards do not impede people. He said some businesses had asked for them “post-covid” to help with promotion.



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