Brass in Pocket

Picture of Brass in Pocket (I’m Special) single by Pretenders with IHN logo overlaid.

Picture of Brass in Pocket (I’m Special) single by Pretenders with IHN logo overlaid.

As an inclusive design professional I often speak at conferences and give talks to architects and designers. In February I gave a talk titled ‘Brass in Pocket’ about why hotels need to be much more inclusive at the Colliers International and Howard Kennedy conference in London. The event was themed on eighties pop hits, hence its name ‘Smooth Operator: Keeping Hotels Profitable Time After Time’. The focus was on the finances and profitability of hotels so my talk explained about the purple pound as well as accessibility and inclusion and the work of the Inclusive Hotels Network.

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Publica invited Withernay Projects to get them up to speed on the latest guidance and regulations about access and inclusion. Unfortunately examples of poor practice are still much more common than good practice, and one of the questions during Publica’s was whether there were any examples of really good public realm design. The example that always come to mind first in Granary Square and the route to it from King’s Cross St. Pancras, evidenced by the number of visibly disabled people there every time I visit. There are even two Changing Places facilities there! (The area isn’t perfect, but it’s better than most).

Attending conferences and lectures is one way of ensuring CPD is up to date. Online courses are also available, such as the Design Council’s Inclusive Environments CPD. It took me much longer than the hour that was advised at the start, mainly because I had to keep going back to find other things to click on / watch to complete each stage. The Inclusive Environments Hub is also well worth looking at: it’s a searchable database of guidance, standards and regulations for every aspect of accessible and inclusive design.

Building Regulations Part M

Image: Logo of the Construction Industry Council

Image: Logo of the Construction Industry Council

Three years after the revision of Part M of the Building Regulations and the accompanying changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, I still have conversations with architects and developers about the differences between M4(2) and M4(3). Once they’ve grasped that, more conversation is needed about M4(3) 2(a) and M4(3) 2(b). More worrying is that I am still reading planning conditions that refer to Lifetime Homes standards and wheelchair users’ housing for new developments in London boroughs.

The paragraph above is from a recently published post I wrote for the Construction Industry Council’s blog about residential access standards, following Jane Simpson’s article on a similar subject.

Is the guidance about the Optional Categories in Approved Document M Volume 1 improving accessible housing provision in England? Should Optional Category 2 be the minimum standard required for new homes? Read more here, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Use of Hoists in Guest Accommodation

Image: Cover of The Use of Hoists in Guest Accommodation guidance document.

Image: Cover of The Use of Hoists in Guest Accommodation guidance document.

The second document by the Inclusive Hotels Network is now published.

The guidance of Approved Document M, BS 8300 and other publications are aimed at construction industry professionals. Even if operators are aware of their existence, they are unlikely to be able to interpret the the regulations and standards to make decisions about inclusive environments.

The Inclusive Hotels Network first convened to address this knowledge gap. Founded in 2012, the group now meets each month to discuss ideas and generate guidance and case studies. Working with hotel operators, access consultants, occupational therapists, product designers and others, we meet monthly to share knowledge, experience and ideas.

Guidance documents are the tangible results of our meetings; Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss (by Chris Harrowell and the IHN) was published in November 2016 and the The Use of Hoists in Guest Accommodation is now available to download (free of charge) here.

A comprehensive resource about sanitary facilities in guest accommodation is currently in development. This will complement the forthcoming BS 8300-2: Buildings sections on the subject.

October 2018 note: A new edition of this guidance document with a new cover (as above) and minor amendments to the text is now published. It's available to download free of charge using the link above.

If you have something to say about accessibility in hotels, guest houses, bed & breakfasts or hostels please do get in touch. The IHN is on LinkedIn and Twitter @InclusiveHotels or you can email Rachael here. 

Tower Court wins at the Housing Design Awards


Image: Housing Design Awards Project Winner 2017

Withernay Projects worked with Adam Khan Architects and Muf Architecture/Art and their team on proposals for Tower Court, which was presented with a Housing Design Project Award by Ben Derbyshire of RIBA in July 2017.

Four new buildings will replace the demolished 1950s blocks, providing new homes for returning and new residents adjacent to Clapton Common in London.

The need to design for the Haredi community, as well as other future and returning residents resulted in several features that may benefit all residents and provide a more accessible environment. These include:

  • Generously sized entrance lobbies with space to store children’s buggies and prams;
  • Optimised daylighting of lobbies and cores (to avoid the need for electrical light when observing Shabbat); and
  • An external environment that is focused on families with young children and socialising / entertaining.

Tower Court is scheduled for completion in early 2019.

Writing on the wall

Musings on a WC cubicle wall.

Musings on a WC cubicle wall.

London's Granary Square has become a favourite place to meet friends: it's easy to get to (King's Cross and St. Pancras International have been step-free for a few years now) and there's a good variety of bars and restaurants. The accessibility of these venues is evident in the number of disabled people who visit them, and who knows how many more people with invisible disabilities are regulars too?

The purple pound is currently in the media. BBC News has a quick explanation, and a more in depth analysis of the statistics can be found at VisitBritain, alongside a useful list of resources for business and venues.

After Friday's dinner a group of us left Granary Square for a club in an older building, where customers had vented their access frustrations on the ladies' washroom walls.

Coat hook please & toilet seat [I’m getting too old for this!]
— Disgruntled customer
More writing on the wall.

More writing on the wall.

This exchange of words on the wall highlights the importance of legible text, but it was the comment by the doctor that worried me.

[Arrow to printed sign on wall]
Can’t read / too small, not OK for people with visual needs.

[Arrow pointing to first comment]
I’m a doctor & this isn’t even a thing.
— Frustrated customer and ignorant doctor.

I'm not advocating writing on loo walls or any other walls but pretty sure that the person who wrote the first comment wouldn't have felt it necessary to scrawl a complaint on the wall if 'visual needs' weren't a thing. If I were inclined to add to the debate I'd point the doctor in this direction: RNIB Key Information and Statistics and give them both a telling off for vandalism.

Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss

Cover of Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss document with IHN logo.

Cover of Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss document with IHN logo.

Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss is the first guidance document to be published by the Inclusive Hotels Network and is now available to download from our page on the CAE site.

Written by architect Chris Harrowell and the IHN, the 40 page document goes much further than Approved Document M in explaining how to make hotel guest rooms and facilities accessible to people with hearing loss.

Hotel, hostel and bed & breakfast operators should be aware that as service providers they cannot legally discriminate against people with disabilities (and other ‘protected characteristics’), and should provide an equal service to all guests. But how should they go about doing this? This is what the Inclusive Hotels Network aims to address.

The guidance of Approved Document M states the necessity of providing visual as well as audible alarms in places where people may be alone, the importance of lighting to assist people who use sign language or lip-reading and electronic hearing assistance among other features. However these provisions must be supported with staff training, good management and an understanding of the people’s needs.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester has shown her support for the Network by writing the foreword for all the guidance documents.  

We want the United Kingdom to be at the forefront of making our country as welcoming as possible to everyone, whatever their circumstances. The Inclusive Hotels Network understands this, and I hope these excellent guidance documents will be read by the whole hospitality sector.
— Extract of foreword by Baroness Thomas.

The guidance is free to download so please share widely with architects, hospitality industry contacts and access friends!

* * * * *

Minor revisions were made to this document in October 2017.

* * * * *

Availability, adaptability and awareness

Brochure cover for CIH Health and Housing Conference 2016

Brochure cover for CIH Health and Housing Conference 2016

On being asked to talk at the CIH Health and Housing Conference 2016 I was delighted: it will be my first visit to Northern Ireland, although of course I’ll be getting to know the conference venue and other attendees rather then exploring Belfast.

Another reason for delight is the scope of the programme and delegates: it’s not access people talking to other access people but a broad spectrum of people who are determined to make housing better for everyone, including those with no home.

Northern Ireland’s Technical Booklet R and England’s Approved Document M make for an interesting game of spot the difference for someone who does what I do. However the guidance about meeting regulations in any country, no matter how overly detailed or lacking are simply recognized, or ‘approved’, solutions for providing a basic level of safety, comfort and access. The principles of inclusive design are much more interesting and easier to relate to.

So how do we design an inclusive home? Well we can’t. That’s to say it is not feasible to build one type of home with features that fit everyone’s possible needs. The key is choice, coupled with availability, adaptability and awareness and these are the three themes of my talk.


Paving slabs, cat food and beer

Withernay Projects logos

Withernay Projects logos

It's three years since Withernay Projects was formed, which seems a good time to tell you about the company's identity, designed by the talented Gattaldo. Much coffee was drunk while Aldo asked all sorts of questions about what Withernay Projects is all about, which is not at all obvious from the name.

Anyone who has tried to name a company, band or child will know how agonizing this is. My surname is very well known as a brand of audio equipment and manufacturer of paving slabs so that wasn't an option. Anything that directly related to access or photography was out because the company does both. The answer arrived through the front door on a letter from a friend: Withernay is an old nickname that some friends still use to distinguish me from other Rachels. Technically it should be Rachael 'With-an-extra-a' I suppose. Projects was added because there's already a company called Withernay Limited... which makes cat food.

Handily, the extra 'a' in my name also stands for access and the capital letter is almost an arrow, hence the A in both of the logos. Aldo presented me with a variety of ideas, of which the polygon was a favourite. The access consultancy logo represents the plan of a building, a labyrinth, and a puzzle that needs a solution, which heritage projects often resemble at first.

Seeing the polygon reworked as a circle immediately made sense as the logo for the photography side of the company, being a simple symbol for a lens or the iris of an eye.

Crate Best was drunk three years ago. Yes, I Instagram beer bottles.

Crate Best was drunk three years ago. Yes, I Instagram beer bottles.

Interior photography for an architectural practice.

Interior photography for an architectural practice.

Three years on Withernay Projects continues to advise on access and inclusion for some brilliant design teams and photographs all sorts of places and spaces, from bathrooms to beautiful historic interiors, and the company name still causes confusion on the phone.


New London SPG

Covers of Central Activities Zone and Housing supplementary planning guidance documents.

Covers of Central Activities Zone and Housing supplementary planning guidance documents.

New editions of two London Plan supplementary planning guidance documents are published today and are available on the site.

The Housing SPG incorporates guidance on the application of the new Housing Standards, which include Volume 1 of Approved Document M that came into effect on October 1, 2015 and reference to the Nationally Described Space Standard. Link to Housing SPG on

The Central Activities Zone includes guidance about inclusive design of hospitality, attractions, housing and commercial buildings in central London. Link to CAZ SPG on

2016 Amendments to Approved Document M, Volume 1

Part of cover of amendments to Approved Document M, Volume 1.

Part of cover of amendments to Approved Document M, Volume 1.

A new edition of Approved Document M, Volume 1 was published on March 1st 2016 and is available to download from The amendments came into force on the same date in respect of building notices given, full plans deposited or initial notices given on or after that date.

The changes are relatively minor, and are the same as the list of amendments that was sent out with hard copies to those who bought them. The changes document can be downloaded from this link on

One of the changes is the addition of this note to Diagram 3.8 (kitchens in M4(3) units):
"Unit length should be measured through mid-line of the worktop, not the front or rear edge."

Update: A frequently asked questions about Approved Document M document (published 21.03.16) are available to download from