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Life-changing injuries

Living in London

This research was funded by a London-based charity and so all the people we interviewed lived in London. We asked them to think about what it was like to live in London after life-changing injury.
 
People often referred to themselves as ‘Londoners’ and said they could not imagine living anywhere else. London was described as dynamic and beautiful. People liked the fact that it is culturally diverse and that there is always something to do, like shopping, going to gigs, museums or the theatre. Kenneth summed up his feelings about living in London by saying, “If you’re sick of London, you’re sick of life”.
 
Living in London offered people the opportunity to be anonymous and not to be labelled by their injury. As a larger city it could offer independence that would not be available elsewhere.
 

Dave thinks Londoners are used to seeing wheelchair users and doesn’t think he is treated any...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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I’ve without exception really only had, I guess good experiences aren’t necessarily the right way to describe it, because you don’t really want to be treated any differently, you don’t want good or bad, it’s just normal. I think certainly there are situations where, you know, you do need help from the odd stranger or passer-by or taxi driver or whatever. And, yes, certainly I haven’t had any problems in that regard. So, yes, I think all round, I don’t think certainly in London there’s too much novelty in seeing somebody in a wheelchair or with some sort of disability. I think London’s pretty good like that. 

Being in London meant people felt they had access to excellent medical care and rehabilitation that they may not have had if they lived elsewhere. Those who were injured in London recognised the speed and level of care they received at the time of their accident and how this helped their recovery. People who used prostheses and wheelchairs thought they probably had better provision than those in other areas of the country.
 

Being in London probably made a huge difference to Marina’s son after his brain injury. He...

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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I suppose we’re fortunate that the trauma centres were set up, not long before Daniel had his accident. He had, he actually had the accident in [place] in [place], which is a good like, 30 minutes away from here; we’re in [place]. And then he was taken straight to hospital, which is in London. If the trauma centres were not in place we have been told that had Daniel been taken to a local hospital from [place] and then transferred to a specialist unit dealing with neurological issues, vital time would have been wasted and he probably wouldn’t be here now. By sending him straight to the trauma centre where they had neurosurgeons on site straight away, he got immediate care straight away in the, I think it’s like the ‘golden hour’ they call it. He had medication straight up. So that made a huge difference.
 
So I feel by living in London. Having those, accessibility to those services definitely made a big huge difference. You know, without HEMS coming out to him, getting his airways clear and getting oxygen straight to him. He was worked upon the whole way in the ambulance up to hospital. And then having the trauma centre on site, neurosurgeons on hand, operating, you know, within a few hours of, you know, after the accident, definitely no time was wasted. And, you know, looking back I think that’s what I see is why his recovery was so, you know, was so good. Because everything was just there 

 

 
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Being in London has helped Jack's experience of limb loss. He feels lucky the police were passing...

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I don't think that anything being in London has made it difficult. I think it's made it better for me. If I was out in the countryside, for example, getting to the hospital to do my physio would have been a nightmare because it would be so far away. The range of activities I have in the City to help rehabilitate – swimming, gym, football matches, London town, you know – I wouldn't have had that if I was in the countryside. So I think being in London has completely made it better. And not only that, I think funding for London limb centres are slightly higher because I've spoken to a few people in the countryside or just in different parts of the country who don't get as much funding as we do. And when I say, “I've got this and I've got that” they're like, "Really?" They say, "Really you've got that as well?" I say, "Yeah." So I think I'm very lucky and just from the accident itself that night being in a city, if I was in the countryside the chances of a police car driving past that day would have been slimmer. I don't know who was looking down on me that day, but there was a police car coming in the opposite direction and this car was stopped so. I was in the city that wouldn't have happened definitely so I think yeah it's enhanced everything just being here. 

London is unique in the UK because of its public transport system: the tube (the London Underground train network), buses, overland trains and accessible taxis. After life-changing injuries, some people are eligible to get a Freedom Pass and to join a Taxi Card scheme. A Freedom Pass entitles you to free travel on most public transport around London, whilst a Taxi Card reduces the price of travel by taxi.
 

Initially Adrian was not aware that he was eligible for a Freedom Pass after his brain injury. He...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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Now I was, when I joined Headway in ’04, I was going to and from [local tube station] and getting the train and bus and paying the travel card. No one said to me I was eligible for a Freedom Pass. My accountant hadn’t told me. No one in rehab had told me. Even Headway didn’t mention it to me. I reclaimed my… I was reclaiming on my expenses, so it was actually costing them to go to and from. Now, I was about a year or so into working at Headway, someone said to me, remember this was two or three years later in Headway, “Have you got a freedom pass?” I said to that volunteer, “Hold on, how come you’ve got a Freedom Pass.” “Oh it’s eligible. I’m eligible for one. Haven’t you got one?” “No. No one said to me.” “Oh yeah, you are”. So I applied and got one. So in a way I wasn’t aware that you were eligible for one, but you are, and it’s handy because that’s a free bus pass UK wide. Ok, trains I only use in London and if I’m going to, [place] for example, to see my parents, my section from London, [place] to London would be free, a bit from London onwards to [place] will be paid for, but I have to pay for that myself. But that’s the benefit it’s nice to have, the Freedom pass, because its freedom, it gives you freedom. Yes.
 
I guess having the options, having the Freedom Pass there and having the ability to go and from by bus, tube, train is good. That’s, they’re all there. I can take any of those.
 
Also the resources around' libraries, getting online in the libraries if need be, having broadband, I’ve got broadband here, and just having the options there. If I want to get shopping oh it’s 10 at night, Tesco is open. So there’s things, there’s all options, you have more options here, maybe than elsewhere that I can do, things to buy, things to do, places to go. I’m not far from the M25, the A10s there... train station’s there. So I can get tubes over there. So if I want to get to and from places, I can drive. There are options; there are so many options that’s what’s nice about being I London. Also, because my long term memory is good, London’s what I know. I know London, so if you ask me how to get to Green Park I know its Victoria, its Piccadilly line. I know that, because I’ve done it time and time and time again. So I know London.

 

 
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After Bryan's injury he began using the Taxi Card Scheme. It makes his commute to work much easier.

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Male
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The taxi card scheme is funded by each local authority, each local London borough. And essentially what it means is you get discounted taxi journeys. So you pay for the first – at the moment its £1.50, but it will shortly go up to £3 – of the journey and you can then, well certainly in [my local borough], you can then double swipe the card up to about a maximum, I think it’s of about £20. And then from there on you pay the rest of the journey.
 
Is there anything about London that has made your experience more difficult?
 
Yes. I’m now finding the daily commute to and from work virtually impossible. I found it very difficult before with much better hearing and with only a visual impairment. All too often, during busy times, Tube staff just don’t turn up. Londoners don’t communicate very well. So if I get on a tube and sort of say, try and say to people, “Is there any space next to you where I can squeeze in?” They will completely ignore you, because they just don’t communicate, you know. 

 

The variety of public transport options in London mean that people don’t have to drive to be able to get around and can avoid dealing with heavy traffic and finding parking spaces. But some people preferred to drive. They were often exempt from paying the congestion charge, but explained that parking can be complicated, especially as different boroughs seem to have different rules. Sam described this as “a nightmare”.
 

Elcena prefers to drive around London, but lack of parking and traffic make it difficult. She...

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
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What about parking in London is that…?
 
Oh that’s a nightmare. That is a nightmare.
 
Why is that?
 
There is no place to park. So every now and then I get a parking ticket. If I park, if you park within a little bit over the parking space, they can give you a parking ticket. Sometimes, I thought to myself, no, do I have to drive round and round and looking for a parking space to fit the whole car inside the parking space, I’ll just park here and get a ticket.
 
For all the years this has been going on I’ve thought to myself, try not to worry so much anymore. When I get a parking ticket I’ll try to appeal it, and if I can’t get it appealed. I pay half price first. And then my first letter to appeal it I need a reply with 24 hours because you have two weeks to pay half price. I put that down and make sure that if I’m not going to get my ticket rescinded, I have to pay the half price. You get used to it. And all these type of things need to go into your full comprehensive assessment of needs under your transport. Annually you budget for how much. You do 365 days a year, sixty-six days a year. You go how much ever days, are you budgeting for 100 parking tickets? I’m sure these types of things, the government would not like if disabled people start doing that. I’m not encouraging disabled people to park illegally. But in London there is no place to park. At the moment they still, sometimes they tow your car away. So you will have to, this is not good. This is very bad. In our report we need to provide for parking spaces, parking ticket, towing charges. If they tow your car it could hit you £300/400 or more, depends on the circumstances and who you have to help you, quite easily. And that is only one day.
 
And are there any things about London that have made your experience particularly difficult?
 
Traffic. Getting from A to B.
 
Yes.
 
Sometimes it takes longer to cross London than it would take to come here in Oxford. I know sometimes in London you can go, a five minute journey will take you an hour. And if there’s more hold up or diverse in the traffic it can take you two hours to move from five or ten minutes journey. At times, maybe in the countryside is better.

 

The public transport system often made it easier for people to get to appointments or to get out and about. Blind or visually impaired people found it helpful that the names of stops were announced on buses.
 
Other people were less positive about their experiences of living in the city after their injury. The taxi card scheme can become expensive because black cabs are expensive to use. It differs across Boroughs in terms of cost and the number of journeys on which it can be used (see ‘Resources section).
 
The London Underground can be very busy and inaccessible for wheelchair users as not all stations are step-free or have lifts. Some people found this disappointing and frustrating, but Sam felt that he couldn’t expect everything to be made accessible to suit him, especially something like the tube, which “pre-dates catheters, pre-dates people who are paralysed even living”.
 
There are websites that disabled people can use to plan their journeys on the tube, but, as Simon B said, “An able-bodied person doesn’t have to plan their journey to work, so why should I?” People who used wheelchairs also talked about problems they encountered when trying to use buses: bus ramps can be too steep for disabled people with limited hand function to use, drivers may fail to stop, buses can be overcrowded with prams in the wheelchair space.
 
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John was unable to travel on the bus twice because of a broken ramp, and a pram in the wheelchair...

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The transport is atrocious.
 
Why is that?
 
Trying to get on a bus with wheelchairs is atrocious in London, because I’ve had a couple of occasions I’ve got onto London Transport and sent them an email on two occasions. I had one occasion where I was with my daughter and my son. They were going swimming. I was going to [place]. And they were going to the swimming baths just up the road here. So they got on the bus – I was with them – the bus driver, he told the bus driver that I want to get on. I don’t want to get off. He tried the slope, the ramp, because it didn’t work, he drove off because it wouldn’t come down. And left me there at the bus stop. So my daughter and son’s gone without me and they’re waiting for me to get on. So I sent a nasty email to them to say, oh you drove off with my daughter on the bus, but fortunately she was with my son, she’s deaf. I think it very poor, for you to just drive off and leave someone disabled at the bus stop in a wheelchair. I said, is it discrimination against people with wheelchairs? I sent him a right nasty thing.
 
And there was another occasion where I collected my daughter by bus from [place] from her friend’s house. She stayed over. We come back got to [place]. I got to the bus stop. I got to the [place] bus stop, a 47 bus; they are the buses that I have trouble with. I have had trouble with all the time getting, trying to get access to. I stopped, the bus stopped. I said to the, there was a pram, one pram there or push chair. I said, “Well could you let me on the bus please?” He said, “No, we’ve got a, there’s a lady with a buggy there.” I said, “Well could you ask her if she didn’t mind collapsing it?” He said, “I’ve asked her. She don’t want to.” I said, “I’m going to take your number and report you, because them spaces are supposed to be for wheelchairs. And you’re supposed to give priority to wheelchair users.” He said, “Oh.” And then he shut the doors and my hand got trapped in the door, where I was holding the handle and he drove off and I just pulled it out from the rubber bit, so I sent an email and said, nasty email. I said, “What a fine example you are, with the Paralympics and the Olympics coming up. I said I’m going to get onto Boris Johnson and complain about the buses. I think you’re disgusting.” That’s what I put.
 
They put back, I got a letter from that first one, saying, “There’s no action to be taken.” Do you know, when they drove off with my daughter and that? “There’s no further action going to be taken,” they said. That’s from London Transport.

 

 

There are organisations in London working to make transport more accessible for disabled people....

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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There are various organisations out there in London that are fighting to make transport more accessible. I don’t know how far they’ve got with that. I mean there’s no current timeline to make the whole tube network accessible. I think they just recently scaled back on making more tubes accessible. I think they’ve actually scaled that back by 30 or 40% on you know, previous plans to make certain tube stations accessible. You know, you have to understand that it’s an old network, so it’s not very easy to make tubes accessible, but it’s all about motivation and money and making these things happen. And they basically are getting a big stick to hit people with to make it more accessible. 
 
People wonder why people don’t leave their houses that are chair users. 
 
They don’t leave their houses sometimes because it’s bloody hard to do so. So, the more easy you make it, and the more you make people part of society, and out there working, travelling, and spending money, and going to pubs, and just being a person that’s, who is trying to engage with everybody else. So you know, it is a problem. You know, on trains, why are trains three foot above the platform, therefore, you need a ramp? Why aren’t they lower to the platform and you don’t need a ramp? You know, I hate trains. I’m like a piece of luggage when I’m loaded onto a train. You know, why aren’t they just low? Or why aren’t the platforms higher? Or why is there not a button on the side of a train that the ramp comes out on its own? Why do you have to wait for some bloke to turn up with a ramp, who often doesn’t turn up? As I’ve found to my costs. I know other people swear by trains and say they’re fantastic and use them every day to go to work. I have had the worst experiences. You know, so that inconsistency doesn’t exactly instil confidence. You know, if one person finds them fine, they probably use them all the time and have no problem, but for me, you know, I’ve had, you know, stuck on trains going down the line, where I’m not meant to be and then trying to get back down the line. It’s just horror stories. 
 
And so no, it’s not brilliant, tube stations, you know, Jubilee line’s not bad in London, but it’s still a problem if the tube’s packed. If the tube is jammed how do you get onto it and nobody will make room? They won’t make room for an able-bodied person, they won’t make room for me, so…. And then there’s a six inch gap that you have to leap over. Even if it’s flat so…. There’s now some websites that actually show you how accessible the tube stations are with video footage and so on, so you can use those to kind of plan your journey. But, it’s another thing you have to do. An able-bodied person doesn’t have to plan their journey to work, so why should I? Why should it be made so hard for me to plan my journey to work? And I’m quite a resourceful resilient person. There are others out that that are far less resourceful, resilient. They must really struggle. So yeah. Universal access in my life time would be a nice, would be a nice thought.

 

Crowded underground stations can also be difficult for people with brain injuries to negotiate as their injuries may not be obvious.
 

On the Tube, people bump into Bridget because her brain injury isn’t obvious, but she likes the...

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Age at interview: 56
Sex: Female
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And one of the things [the neuropsychiatrist] said to me, well when I last spoke to him personally, I just said, you know, “The eyesight thing is the real thing that pisses me off.” And you know, it’s because people don’t know, so they bang into when you’re in the tube, or you’re going up the escalator or something.” And he said, “Well Bridget, just get yourself a little white stick, a collapsible stick which you old in your hand and you can lengthen it or shorten it with the flip of your and just have it there.” But I know I went away and I thought, well he really doesn’t know me at all does he? There’s no way that I’m ever going to have a little white stick in my left hand. Because however bad it is, it’s not that bad that I’m going to do that.
 
Why is that?
 
Because I don’t want it to be obvious. I mean that’s what I like about it, that it’s, it’s not obvious and people don’t know. Yes, it pisses me off when people bang me on the shoulder and occasionally I do say, “Can’t see out my left eye.” But generally, I can cope with that. 
 
I suppose the fact that there are more people around and, therefore, there’s less, people are less ‘kind’, in inverted commas, whereas when you’re somewhere more rural people do let people on the bus before them and they will help you in the street if you need it, or things like that, whereas you don’t get that in London I don’t think, or very rarely. So I think, but I was a very, I was very used to living in London, and, and, you know, I mean I lived in [place name] and so that, and you know, I don’t think that changed after the accident. I think I still liked being a Londoner and like, I like the anonymity and I suppose anonymity is good because I like it. But if I didn’t like it, then that might have been an issue.

 

 

Because he finds crowds and stairs difficult to negotiate, Joe has to psych himself up before...

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
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What about travelling around London. Is that something that’s easy for you to do?
 
Well I have to like psyche myself up because I can’t stand crowded places. And if I, and if I’m, like say like when I used to go up to the RNIB at King’s Cross I have to go at a time when there is less people on the trains or there is less people in King’s Cross and I have to think about it. I really have to psyche myself up and plan it, maybe Google maps and plan so I know basically where the lifts are, how you know, if it just has steps that day will be very difficult. But if I had planned yeah, I can get through it.
 
Okay and are crowds something you don’t like since your injury?
 
Yes. Because I mean, you know, when you play in a band you play to like 10-50,000 people. I mean they don’t all come in your dressing room, but you know at least a good ten or thirty people would come back in your dressing room after, after a gig. But as you are dealing with them out there and I’m here. But now after the accident I just know that I just can’t deal with crowd, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly why, but I just don’t like crowded areas.
 
And you said there as well that when you plan your journeys around London you look to find out where the lifts are in stations and things.
 
Yes.
 
And why do you prefer to use the lift?
 
Well because I have problems like with my joints and, you know, stairs, I’m not really too good with stairs. So I have to really depend on the lifts. And if it’s a place like King’s Cross where I know that area and I know that area and I know that place, I know that I can deal with the steps. Yeah. Or Baker Street I can deal with the steps, but there are some other places it’s just a nightmare, you know.
 
Why is it a nightmare?
 

Well… the stairs are so steep, whereas at King’s Cross they go up may about 20 steps and then it levels up. And then it goes up again. Or it’s got escalators you know. But there are some places it’s just, and it’s just, depending on how I’m feeling that day. But there are some days, I’ve got to say there are some days, just to get from here to Tesco it could take me half an hour there and back, you know. But it depends on that day. There are some days when I get up, I feel much better and I feel I can deal with things a bit better, but there are some days when I just, it’s just not happening and I just don’t even bother. I just deal with what I can deal with there and then. That’s it. 

The speed and pace of the city were too much for some people, particularly those who had experienced brain injury.
 

Ed says life in London is frenetic, noisy and very busy. He didn’t think about this much until...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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Well there’s an awful lot going on. It’s frenetic. Yeah, life is very, very busy in London. Everyone is rushing around. Everything is at a hundred miles an hour. Yeah, and people don’t have time for other people, and so you’ve pretty much got to be on your ball all the time.
 
You said there about London sort of being uncaring, or people being uncaring.
 
Hm.
 
Is that something you thought about before your injury?
 
Not a great deal. I was aware of it. And the only reason London itself is uncaring, the people within it are fairly uncaring is, is because everything is done so quickly. Everyone is, everyone is moving at a hundred miles an hour. The situation just demands it, turns people into it, etc., etc. And there’s nothing you can particularly do about it. That’s just the way the world is, especially when you’re talking about in a really large metropolis. If you don’t like it ship out. But I like some aspects of it. I don’t like other aspects of it. I prefer to stay here. So we’ve just got to deal with it. And be aware of it.

 

The fast pace of city life meant that moving away sometimes seemed like a good option. This was especially true for those whose injuries happened in London after an assault; they felt unsafe in their neighbourhood or didn’t like being reminded of the cause of their injury. But moving away could mean missing out on vital support from friends, family and support groups.
 

People may want to move away from London after injury but Sam thinks it’s important to stay and...

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Age at interview: 29
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But you know, I’m from London. I love London. It’s like, you know, there’s lot of stuff to do, you know, you’re not in the countryside like where pretty much everything you can do is some kind of physical activity. There’s lots of like cultural stuff you can do here, which is which is great. You know, we’re quite, it’s a world city, so there’s a standard that things need to be done to in terms of accessibility of new things. So that’s good. What else is good about London? And you know, it’s where I’m from. It’s where my friends are from. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. 
 
You know, you talk about when you’re in a panic station, when your injury first happens about moving somewhere else and you know, go somewhere where you can be relaxed. It’s just nonsense. You need to not separate yourself from the support that you have already in place. And so, you know, London, that’s what London was to me.

 

London is an expensive city to live in, especially for those on benefits, and this might affect some people’s decision to live there.
 

Because his benefits would go further elsewhere, Brian might move from London in the future. He...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
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Because I mean people up in Blackpool, they great. I mean they actually look at you as a normal human being. They don’t sort of like, oh look at him, like you get down in London. People in London they’re too sort of like into themselves basically trying to sort of like survive and that. Whereas in Blackpool and places like that. Easy Street. I mean they get the same benefits that I get, and no... So they get the same money as well. And … their money seems to go a lot further up there than what it does down here.

Yes. Do you find London an expensive place to live?
 
Well it is yes, it’s becoming very expensive now. But I’ve said to my mum and dad is that I want to do – God forbid my mum and dad pass away, soon or whatever – but not so soon, but in years to come and that, then I’m going to leave London and move out of London, even down on the coast or I’m going to move up to Blackpool.
 
Why do you want to do that?
 
Because people up there are more friendly and that. They actually treat you as normal, as a human being, do you know what I mean? I mean it’s a rat run down here, isn’t it?

Tell me a bit more about that, about it being a rat run down here?
 
Oh bloody hell. It’s sort of like oh I’ve got to here, I’ve got to be there. I’ve got to get this, got to get that, got to do this, got to do that and, you know what I mean? And they’re stressing themselves out so much and, and they don’t, end up having a heart attack or premature death. Do you know what I mean? sad. 

 

Londoners were sometimes seen as unfriendly and “too into themselves” (Brian), whereas people from towns or rural areas were thought to be friendlier. Bryan thought Londoners don’t communicate well with each other. Others discussed positive experiences of their fellow Londoners. (See also ‘Accessing places and public transport’, ‘Benefits and concessions’, ‘Insurance and compensation' and 'Driving'. 

Last reviewed October 2015.
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