Waking up the market to always being stylish

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Fiona Jarvis is one of the key forces behind the Blue Badge Access Awards. Her approach is to support the market by ensuring they know how they can embrace accessibility and recognise those who have made a positive difference.

The UK purple pound is reckoned to be worth around £249bn to the economy and Fiona reflects on how she built Blue Badge Style and in what way they are redefining disability with style.

The Blue Badge Access Awards is the recently combined international awards of Fiona’s Blue Badge Style business and the Bespoke Access Awards. She created Blue Badge Style with the vision of ensuring that whenever someone goes or whatever they experience, they do it in a fashionable and elegant way, whatever style or disability.

Fiona has been driven by her personal experiences. She has an unbreakable belief to always be stylish and has been resolute long before she started suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). She has taken this determination and created her platform, so others can discover information on the latest and coolest places to go. The platform reviews both accessibility and overall how cool a place is, allowing readers to make up their own mind on whether to visit.

She describes those early days, “I used to work in the city but became progressively disabled. I have always enjoyed dining in the best places but found that the detail on them was scarce and so friends of mine would choose to not try somewhere because they just weren’t sure if it was accessible. They would ask me where the coolest places were because I had my finger on the pulse. I realised I could create something special with this knowledge.”

“I have experienced celebrated restaurants where I’ve been told to bring my own ramp to access the site. Now I’ve heard everything.”

At University College London, Fiona undertook a mobile app building course and created a tool alongside a website. It triggered investment from friends and family and today Blue Badge Style is known as the lifestyle guide for the less able. The platforms are not just for those who are disabled but anyone who wants to know where and what to experience, whatever ability.

Blue Badge Style won competitions which helped fuel their growth and today the platform includes locations across Europe. However, Fiona is not one to stay still for long and soon developed the platform to include awards. These are given out to venues that offer both style and accessibility.

“The awards launched in 2015 and it was only two years after this we then started providing advice on trendy mobility equipment because it can be so difficult to find anything good. I found that there was nowhere to find a quality Champagne glass holder for a wheelchair so working with the Design Council we went on to produce these commercially.”

Blue Badge Access Awards

On meeting renowned hotelier Robin Sheppard, Blue Badge Style joined forces with his Bespoke Access Awards to create the Blue Badge Access Awards in 2018. Launching at the Independent Hotel Show, the combined awards are a strong mix of both the hospitality industry, which Robin brings as Chairman of Bespoke Hotels and public support, which Fiona has grown with Blue Badge Style.

“We realised that we held the same synergy and vision for making a positive difference. Robin kindly stepped in to sponsor one of our Blue Badge Style awards, which is still running today. It was a last-minute act of kindness as another sponsor had dropped out at the last minute.

“The vison is to really wake up the market. I have seen so many silly things and that’s why we created the ‘Ludicrous Loo’ category for our awards. We’re found chairs shoved into the corner of the loo or obstacles placed in front of the door so you couldn’t access. It’s about looking after everyone, whether blind, deaf, mobility, all should be able to have a great time.”

Fiona sees the biggest challenge moving forward as ensuring accessibility is thought about when buildings are being created, not as an afterthought. “The designer hasn’t spoken with the architect and in turn they haven’t spoken to the builder. Suddenly there are glaring mistakes like two steps to access an accessible loo. Or the grab rails in the toilet being placed on the wrong side of the room. At its heart is the need for clearer communications.”

“Another challenge is changing the mindset when it comes to costs. “Putting in a disabled loo shouldn’t cost £10k, its doesn’t need to be anywhere near that amount, it should be less than £5k. Even in heritage properties, who often argue they cannot change, imaginative approaches can be taken.”

Fiona has seen all kinds of reactions to accessibility. From restaurants remarkably asking her to bring her own ramp to other sites, such as M Restaurant’s which won ‘Best Upmarket Restaurant’ in the 2017 awards. “They have gone from one disabled customer a month to one per week as a result. I’m immensely proud to see this.” Fiona isn’t slowing down anytime soon and the hospitality industry will only become more aware and make needed change to ensure full experiences for all.

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