Understanding disability and disabling environments has been the driver for the access improvements at the Mining Centre. The commitment and involvement of operational staff enabled progress with access agenda and completion of the project.
Principal access interventions :
- Circulation : meeting legal requirements and making adjustments
- Heritage interpretation at the heart of the visit and visitor services
- Lewarde, 31 miles (50 km) from Lille
- on the Fosse Delloye, a site of 20 acres (8 hectares), of which 2 acres (0.8 hectares) are buildings and infrastructure
- new building opened in 2002 to host permanent and temporary exhibitions (exhibitions are also staged in the old part of the museum), with ticket counter, eating space, shop, workshop space and conference room
- historical site : 500 yards (450 m) of coal mines open to the public
- archive and documentary resource centre of the history of coal mining in the Nord Pas de Calais
- energy science centre
Illustrated case-study :
Find out more :
- the Lewarde mining centre website (new tab)
Heritage significance and attractiveness
- a museum created on an ancient industrial estate of the 1930ies
- one of the most important mining history museums in France (150,000 visitors a year)
- the underground coal mining infrastructure presented un-surmountable technical obstacles in terms of lighting and mobility
- works carried out in the new buildings of 2002 combine environmental access and access to services
Action at two levels : meeting legally binding standards and making adjustments (where French law granted an exemption)
Circulation meeting legal requirements and making adjustments
Architectural works implemented a range of access features:
- creation of contrasted pathways, usable by electrically powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters
- changes in height overcome by removable ramps with an anti-slippery surface, contrasted handrails, upstands
- signs draw attention to all remaining obstacles
- a system of signage put in place
- a speaking lift with induction loop provides access to services on offer in the new building
The various new buildings did not present major constraints in terms of heritage preservation and access solutions could always be found.
What’s feasible within the constraints of heritage preservation?
The accessibility of the coal mines underground was identified as highly important by the museum. However, their spatial features and the presence of unmovable obstacles (rails, machinery) meant the technical impossibility of legally binding access standards being met. Such environmental changes (heightened luminosity and a 0.7 inch (2cm) thick barrier-free pathway) were considered to alter the nature of the site, which aims to provide an immersive historic atmosphere.
Thus, efforts to improve access focused on other adaptations to the environment, with the aim of being granted exemption from meeting legally binding French standards : for example a route suitable for electrically powered wheelchairs, enhanced visual contrast, additional lighting and the availability of personal guides. In addition, soundtracks and videos have been fitted into accessible spaces, enhancing the sense immersion into historic atmosphere.
The exemption, which was granted, was not akin renouncing access. It rather reflects a serious quest for compromise solutions, which balance heritage preservation with the fundamental rights of visitors with disabilities.
Visitor services at the heart of the visit and visitor welcome
Access solutions developed for different groups of visitors with disabilities enhance the visitor experience and the services on offer. They include :
- multi-media guides with French Sign Language and audio guides
- the possibility of an extended guided tour
- assistance for visiting the mines
- tactile models for all
- adapted signage
- menus in accessible format
It proved indispensable for success to combine these improvements with an enhanced level of customer service.
Players and processes
- Client : Mining History Centre
- Project manager : Atelier Novembre
- Steering Group : staff involved in the project from across the Mining Centre’s departments
Commitment to access played a determining role in the improvement of visitor facilities. The motto of facilities Working Party was :
“The visitor is not disabled, but the mining centre is disabled in welcoming all its publics, hence our access mission.”
The working party that had been set up to reflect on the notion of disability and disabling environments was instrumental for the access improvements of the Mining Centre. 20% of all staff took part in its work. These discussions resulted in environmental changes to the building and also in awareness training for all staff. Training modules included awareness about different groups of people with disabilities, training in French Sign Language and the compilation of guidance on how to welcome visitors with disabilities.
“Staff at the Mining Centre felt that through their work they got involved in a human and community project which is both worthwhile and rewarding.”