Disabled access is a human right.
So, when Charles and Jo – parents of 13 year-old Kit – discovered London had no accommodation that is fully accessible for those with complex physical disabilities, they were stunned.
It all began after they set up a Facebook group, Accessible Holidays and Day Trips.
Charles explained: “AbleStay was inspired by an amazing woman called Emma Moss. Emma is a wife and mother living with Motor Neurone Disease. Emma posted in the group in Dec 2019 asking for advice, ‘Does anybody know of where we can stay in London?’ She listed her requirements – profiling bed, ceiling hoist, fully accessible bathroom, changing table, wheelchair access and adjoining carer bedroom – all the things needed by our son and thousands of others. When there was no response, my wife Jo and I did some research.”
He found a hotel chain that offered accessible rooms, but they were woefully inadequate and guests had to compromise.
They spoke to Srin Madipalli, the Head of Accessibility (Homes) at Airbnb who is also a wheelchair user. He confirmed their findings that specialist holiday accommodation wasn’t available for people with more complex physical disabilities and their families.
“That was the point we thought, we’re going to do something about it.”
Charles said: “Going by the government’s own figures with the ‘Changing Places’ programme there are at least 250,000 people living with a disability who require a Changing Places facility. If they are travelling, they never leave home without their carers or family, so that figure rises to around a million.
The number of fully-accessible properties in England and Wales to meet the needs of a million people is 13. The un-met need is massive.”
Their Facebook pages have 28,000 users – parents, carers, those living with a disability and health specialists – covering a whole spectrum of disabilities.
Charles spent ten years serving in the British Army before becoming a business development director, a job he gave up to work full-time on AbleStay.
“You have to have a certain skill set to make something work,” Charles said.
Kit has quadriplegic dystonic cerebral palsy. He suffered brain injury at birth.
“Kit requires total postural support.
Kit has no fine motor control, he is unable to walk, stand or sit independently, he can’t even roll overin bed; we get up usually three times in the night to turn him. Kit is also non verbal, so he uses a communication device to talk. He attends mainstream school, has a great bunch of mates, loves football, has a season ticket to Manchester City, loves going to watch Harrogate Town play, and loves life.”
Charles and Joanna were awarded significant funds towards his life care after the hospital admitted failings.
Although they had the finance to find bespoke solutions for Kit, Charles and Jo are aware other families face extreme financial hardship caring for a family member with disabilities.
They set up AbleStay in February 2021.
“When we talk to people about AbleStay and why we’re doing it, and then talk about the numbers affected by this, the response most have is, ‘wow, surely there should be a law against that, surely there has to be some provision?’”
The couple used their own funds to pay a deposit and take on the £670,000 mortgage on a bungalow in London.
It means carers – and siblings of those with a disability also get much-deserved respite.
After being turned down by the banks, Key Fund invested £70k towards the specialist equipment and alterations to meet high-end support standards.
The bungalow will be rented out from £300 per night (sleeping six). Furthermore, Charles is tapping into his corporate networks to seek charitable donations that will fund families who can’t afford to rent the bungalow.
It means carers – and siblings – of those with a disability also get much deserved respite. Kit has a younger brother, Oliver.
Charles has secured free day passes, worth over £200, for each family that stays in London from Merlin Entertainments, who run major attractions such as the London Eye, Sea Life, Madame Tussauds and Lego Land in Windsor.
The bungalow already has a long waiting list, and aims to support 90 families in its first year. Charles has been contacted by 14 specialist overseas travel agencies wanting to book too.
Charles is now on track to create a further four bespoke properties after securing the support of a capsule investment company.
“In ten years, I’d like to say that AbleStay as a brand, has a property in every UK city that people want to visit. Thereafter, we wish to move abroad.”
Without Key Fund support, they would have been stuck. It had taken five months to find the perfect property to convert.
“We had to know we could secure funding in order to make a purchase, and at the time we’d been turned down by all the larger and mainstream lenders. Had I not have found that contact with the Key Fund, there’s every chance we’d never have been in a position to buy. The relationship we now have and the money itself, have been absolutely critical to where we are now. We are so thankful to Key Fund for enabling us to help so many people.”
EDI Group Disability