Two historic buildings are now fully accessible following a major refurbishment.
Rochester’s medieval Bridge Chapel and Victorian Bridge Chamber are both striking heritage buildings, but neither was constructed with accessibility in mind.
Both buildings had stepped access from Rochester Esplanade and even once inside the Chamber, visitors are faced with a further flight of steps. Changes had to be made, but changes cannot easily be made to a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II-listed building: works must be sympathetic to the historic fabric.
The easiest change to accessibility began on the Esplanade, during the 2020 Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project. In readiness for the Bridge Chamber and Chapel Refurbishment, the paving on the Esplanade was slightly raised in front of the gate leading to the Chapel forecourt. The next piece of work was to the forecourt itself, which was subtly, gradually raised to remove the single step access at the Chapel door. This gets visitors into the medieval building, through which they can then easily travel to the entrance hall of the adjoining Victorian building.
The next difficulty arises with the four steps that bar the way to the rest of the building. These are a striking part of the split-level entry hall and they have to stay.
However, they are now easily passable by anyone who wishes to explore the rest of the building.
A custom-made Sesame lift has been designed and installed. This is fitted into the stone steps so that, unless you really pay attention, it’s hardly noticeable. When needed, an accessible button is pressed and a section of the four individual steps lower into the ground, forming a flat surface for a wheelchair user or mobility-impaired walker to move onto.
The platform then slowly rises to the upper level of the hall, from where people can access the first floor of the Chamber via a conventional platform lift.
Sue Threader, Bridge Clerk (Chief Executive) at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said: “One of the most important aspects of the recent refurbishment was improving the accessibility of the Chapel and Chamber, and we are very pleased to have achieved this. The installation of the Sesame lift was particularly important to me because it significantly improves accessibility while having minimal impact on fabric of the building and the visitor experience.”