For my entire, although admittedly not very long life I’ve only ever lived in two cities, both within sight of each other in West Yorkshire, the best county in the UK.
I spent my school days in Bradford, a city built in the basin between many steep and sprawling hills, which has a mildly unfair reputation for being a city full of low-life criminals. Aside from the several decidedly high-life criminals living there, most of the citizens are decent people trying to make a (mostly) honest living. It has a rich industrial history, and some of the best food in the UK. As someone who spent 18 years there, I can say from experience that it is a multicultural hub of people from all backgrounds, just like many cities around the world.
Unfortunately for the disabled, perhaps as a combined result of steep hills and historical architecture, the track record for accessibility is not brilliant. While the modern buildings have to make provisions for access by law, many of the older buildings are protected by historians who are more concerned with historical preservation than equal rights, making it incredibly difficult to install disabled access. Similarly, a lack of funding often means that smaller shops and businesses simply can’t make the necessary changes to allow wheelchair access. However, even if every building in the city centre was accessible, some of the hills are so steep, the pavements so narrow, and the car parks so expensive that it is virtually impossible to traverse the city centre with any kind of disability. Geography simply wasn’t our side when Bradford was built.
Although I had a great childhood in Bradford, I never felt like I belonged there. This was not entirely due to the disability, as even before suffering meningitis I didn’t quite fit in. My interest in higher education may have been a large factor here, as those running businesses in Bradford quite rightly feel that being clever doesn’t always help day-to-day life. It may also be that my drive to progress and move forward, while many in Bradford are perfectly content to stay in one place doing what they know, set me apart from others. Whatever the case, when I finally came to leave school, I was ready to move cities.
I have lived in Leeds since starting university in 2014. Although hills are still a common occurrence here, they are nowhere near as steep as those in Bradford and the city centre is actually quite flat. Most of the buildings are modern, and have automatically incorporated disabled access, and even the historic buildings often have some form of provision for disabilities. It also helps that when the pavements are disrupted due to building work, ramps are put down for wheelchair users in place of the blocked kerb drops, and they aren’t stolen within a week. Living in the city centre means that everything is nearby, so it is rare that I need to rely on public transport, which is readily available for me when I do need it.
From day one of university, I fell in love with Leeds. While not quite as culturally diverse as Bradford, it still houses many cultures, and that means the food is pretty good. Leeds is the type of city where you will never get bored; you can guarantee that there will something going on somewhere, whether it be a concert, show, or special event hosted by the council. The council make a particular effort to maintain disabled access at these events, so I’m never excluded. I always enjoy just wandering around the shops, particularly near Christmas when the lights and decorations are on full display. Although it can be cold, I’m never far from warmth and a hot drink.
Obviously university quenched my thirst for higher education, but I was impressed by how forward-thinking Leeds was as a city. Admittedly this shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the city has three universities and many more colleges, so a lot of innovative minds congregate here. Many people say that London never stops but that it is always bustling with activity, and I would say the same of Leeds. It is in this fast-paced, liberal, and ever-changing environment that I truly fit.
We still get low-life criminals though…