London five star Savoy hotel completes £220 million refit but still inaccessible for wheelchair users

Europe, April 6 2011

When the five-star Savoy hotel completed its £220 million refit it promised to “exceed people’s expectations”.

Husnara Begum had problems attending an event at the Savoy hotel. Photo Courtesy: Glenn Copus,

Husnara Begum had problems attending an event at the Savoy hotel. Photo Courtesy: Glenn Copus,

But a wheelchair user told April 4 of her unscheduled tour through its kitchens, goods lifts and a loading bay because of apparent problems with disabled access at the Grade II-listed building.

Legal journalist Husnara Begum (pictured) was attending a networking event and looking forward to views of the Thames from the Savoy’s palatial Riverside Room, which is on the ground floor of the 120-year-old hotel.

Staff struggled to get her there after realising there was no direct wheelchair route across the building. Mrs Begum, based in Oxford Street, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis so painful that she needs an electric wheelchair and cannot reach lift buttons.

After being greeted at its Strand front entrance last week, Mrs Begum said she was led first up and then down in two lifts, through a bedroom and then down a kitchen corridor piled with boxes before finally arriving at the Riverside Room.

Mrs Begum, editor of Lawyer 2B magazine, said: “With the amount of money the Savoy spent on its refurbishment, I was excited and expecting big things. When I arrived the staff were very helpful but in the end I found the whole experience very stressful.” She said the situation descended into farce after the event. “It all fell apart when I wanted to leave and it took them 10 minutes to find someone who knew how to get me out of there. I was taken back through a kitchen, past all the chefs, and through a loading bay where workers were taking a cigarette break.

“I was then left to my own devices in a goods lift and I started to panic because I couldn’t reach the buttons.” Another staff member finally took Mrs Begum into another lift so she could get out of the Savoy, but she missed her train home to Tunbridge Wells.

The Savoy reopened in October after a three-year renovation costing more than double the original budget. The entire building was restored, including the entrance and 269 rooms, wiring and plumbing.

General manager Kiaran MacDonald said: “We are sorry that Ms Begum had a less than satisfactory experience at The Savoy. I have spoken to Ms Begum personally and apologised to her.

“During the restoration, we made several additions to make The Savoy more wheelchair accessible and to meet the legal requirements outlined in the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.” He added that they were purchasing a stairclimber to enable guests to “overcome any challenges presented by our status as a listed building”.


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