Londoners’ experiences of 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Crowded underground stations can also be difficult for people with brain injuries to negotiate as their injuries may not be obvious.
The speed and pace of the city were too much for some people, particularly those who had experienced brain injury.
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.
London is an expensive city to live in, especially for those on benefits, and this might affect some people’s decision to live there.
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 May 2019.


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