If you haven’t read my Fight Club: Pro accessibility review, you won’t know that they set the bar pretty high for me in terms of what I expect from accessibility. I was ready and waiting for Progress to duke it out with them for the title of “Least Painful Graps Experience” as I headed into Super Strong Style 16 weekend.
The journey started off interestingly, giving me sub-heading for this review, which is “under children and luggage”. On the train into London, my watching companion, Emmy, and I were greeted with an announcement that due to crowding, the train had been declassified, so we could sit in First Class. The announcement reminded us that priority should be given to people with children and people with luggage. It added that priority should also be given to the elderly, and people with mobility impairments. Emmy and I had a laugh about how the disabled somehow ranked under children and luggage – amusing, but I’ll admit, I worried that would set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
Now, while Fight Club: Pro had a few helpful fans who gave me info where the promotion failed (such as help to find nearby parking, and telling me if the venue was flat – they said it was, and it wasn’t, but at least they tried) and were incredibly helpful themselves, Progress had a sense of being the other way round. Attempts to contact Jim Smallman about whether or not there was an accessible toilet, where it was, and if I needed a Radar key to get into it, were met with “I’ll find out”. He didn’t, and it’s a bit weird to keep bothering a man you don’t know with “Hey, can I piss at this thing you’re organising?”. After Callum Leslie had told me that The Dome was the only inaccessible venue Progress used, I was surprised to find that there were steps into the Electric Ballroom, no matter which entrance I used. It was quite difficult to glean information.
In fact, early discussion was whether there was any chance of splitting a weekend ticket, due to my disability meaning that three days in London is impossible, and the fact that Progress sells out everything, so it’s not like they’d be stuck with the tickets. I did this via the main Progress email, got a flat “no” with nothing to help me, and felt quite demoralised. Thankfully, the PW Grrrl Gang stepped in and bought tickets for me and a carer, and graciously didn’t mind the expense of the wasted Saturday ticket.
Discussion of Access
Most of the conversations I had took place over Twitter, or via Twitter DMs, but as mentioned above, it was not the promotion who tended to most useful with coming up with information. The fans were a lot more helpful in soothing my worries before I arrived, though Jim Smallman did reply promptly and concisely with information. The main email for Progress gave me nothing, DMs were much more useful in procuring answers. 7/10
Physical Access – Discussed
In the end, I asked another disabled attendee about the accessible toilet, and he let me know I didn’t need a key for it. I asked some of the Progress Loyal about where would be best for me to sit to avoid getting jumped on and was given a number of answers, all of which helped. I talked to other fans about the number of steps I would need to manage, as well.
I was told by Jim that I could be let in round the back of the venue as the doors opened out front, so I had a little more space to move, and wouldn’t be jostled, and that there were “a few” steps I would need to negotiate. I asked about strobe when we arrived, and was told that there would “be some”, but couldn’t get anything more concrete. 6/10
Physical Access – Actual
Unlike Fight Club: Pro, Progress managed to surprise me by being better than I expected! We were running late, so asked Jim if we could be let in a little later, and that was no issue. He met us at the back gate, and escorted us inside, where we were handed over to Tosan, who looks he could probably block out the sun. He handed us over to another member of the Progress staff who knew the venue a little better, and we were shown where the disabled toilet was, before being given back to Tosan, who helped us find seats, even asking to guys to move. It was here I started to understand why Progress is considered a family – because the guys offered to move before they were asked.
On the second day, we arrived earlier, to get the same seats, and were lucky enough to bump into one of the wrestlers, who took us in via the stage door.
Every time we walked around, I noticed that people went out of their way to move aside for me, to let me through. People were looking where they were going, not bumping into me, and not tripping me. When I did need to leave my seat for the bar or the toilet, the standing crowd members seamlessly moved out of my way, and the same was true on the way back. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere so crowded where people were so careful not to bump into me.
I will say that both nights, we left via the fire exit, which is a flat exit. I didn’t really understand why no one could have met us at that door and let us in through there on the way in, avoiding the need for the eight to ten steps via the side entrance. True, it would mean not walking through what I affectionately termed the wrestlers’ exercise yard, but it would mean flat access, and I do intend to ask for this in future.
As far as strobe lighting goes, I found it rather amusing that I asked Jim Smallman about strobe, and he said he couldn’t tell you who had it – and then the show started, and there was his strobe lighting. I understand that when you’re not thinking about that sort of thing, you can miss it, but it was a tiny bit laughable. 9/10
Going The Extra Mile
Unfortunately, there was a spot towards the end of Sunday that hit my PTSD triggers pretty hard. I stood up, left my seat easily, and got into a space. One of the guys who was stood near us asked if I was okay, and I shook my head, but carried on. Helena came out from behind the merch tables, got me to sit down, found me some water, and easily and calmly accepted when I told her that I was having PTSD issues.
Unfortunately, as mine relate to men, and the first aiders present were both male, I did not want them near me, even though I could feel that I was shaking. Helena spotted this very quickly, kept them back, and found Emmy, so that I had my carer with me. She listened to Emmy, made sure that everyone else listened to Emmy, and when I said I was going to seize, and wanted to lie behind the merch tables (as it was nearly the end of the show), she was fine with that.
While I had four seizures, and then slowly recovered, Helena and other merch team members not only kept an eye on me, kept me supplied with water, and made me feel like it wasn’t a big deal, they also kept the wrestlers from going behind their tables, keeping them at a distance from me, until I felt safe. A couple of crowd members we’d been sat near came to ask how I was as they filed out, and, indeed, asked the next day, too. This is where Progress comes into their own.
I’ve honestly never had better, calmer, or more friendly care when having an incident than I had at Progress. I was very impressed, and it certainly makes me want to go back. 10/10
I’ve already discussed that the Freedom’s Road shows at The Dome aren’t accessible (unless I bribe someone to carry me up the stairs), but the Ballroom is accessible (even more so if I can convince Jim to let me in the fire exit next time), and their most recent big show, at Alexandra Palace, is entirely accessible. Well, as far as I’ve been told. 9/10
Overall, Progress gets a solid score of 8/10, with just the lack of concrete information beforehand and minimal communication letting them down against Fight Club: Pro. There’s no reason why this couldn’t be easily raise by putting accessibility information on the ticket sales site, which would inform fans before they purchased tickets.
Progress was also let down by one wrestler asking the dreaded question: “so what’s with the stick, then?” – I’m sure not in malice, but it’s still awkward to have to talk about, and best avoided.
As an aside, I feel I should add that Fight Club: Pro have left Fixxion, and moved to a completely flat venue, as Trent Seven excitedly told me at Progress, looking like he was handing me the best present I could ask for, bless him. As such, FC:P now get 9/10 for other shows, bringing their overall score of 6.5/10 up to 8.5/10.