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Escape room accessible to blind and partially-sighted people opens in Canning Town

PUBLISHED: 12:55 26 July 2019

The escape room is tucked away in old pub The Durham Arms in Stephenson Street, Canning Town. Picture: Andrew Brookes.

The escape room is tucked away in old pub The Durham Arms in Stephenson Street, Canning Town. Picture: Andrew Brookes.

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Imagine you are surrounded by darkness and, unable to see, need to rely on your other senses - touch, hearing, even smell - to escape.

Hannah Hammond has a opened a witchcraft and wizardry theme escape room in Canning Town, designed to be accessible to the visually impaired. Picture: Access EscapeHannah Hammond has a opened a witchcraft and wizardry theme escape room in Canning Town, designed to be accessible to the visually impaired. Picture: Access Escape

It's not a scene from the Netflix hit film Birdbox, but the premise of a pop-up escape room in Canning Town designed to be accessible to blind and visually impaired people.

Tucked away in old pub The Durham Arms in Stephenson Street, Canning Town, it is believed to be the first escape room in London - if not the UK - played in complete darkness.

Access Escape founder Hannah Hammond says the idea came from her own passion for escape rooms and experiences playing them.

"We'd talked about it before because we've been to escape rooms with friends and they've forgotten their glasses," she said.

Stuart Harper, Chris Stanton and Stefano Pasotti tested the escape room, in which teams must collect dragon eggs. Picture: Access EscapeStuart Harper, Chris Stanton and Stefano Pasotti tested the escape room, in which teams must collect dragon eggs. Picture: Access Escape

"A lot of escape rooms are very low light and they've not been able to read anything or do the little number locks and it can be quite frustrating.

"It's frustrating for the team, too, if not everyone is able to enjoy it.

"I absolutely love escape rooms and just wished they were a bit more accessible so more people could do them and enjoy them as much as I do."

Access Escape opened on Thursday, July 25. It will be officially launched on August 8.

The game has a witchcraft and wizardry theme, which Hannah said had recently become popular in other escape rooms and had a broad appeal.

"It's quite hard because it's in the dark - and we don't want to lock the door on anyone, so there is a blackout curtain to let people in and out - so instead of escaping in a set amount of time, you have to collect dragon eggs," she said.

"Basically, an evil wizard has stolen six dragon eggs and we've brought in your team to get them back for us before he gets back, within 60 minutes."

Turning the idea into a reality has been a labour of love for Hannah, who began looking for potential host venues in January and has devoted countless hours into perfecting it.

"Before I found the venue, I came up with loads of puzzle ideas and designed them all myself and designed a room, and built (the puzzles) for really cheap," Hannah said.

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"I cleaned out my lounge and built an escape room in it and got friends to come around to test it.

"Quite a lot of stuff didn't work and I had to go back to the drawing board and re-do it.

"We did that for a couple of months."

She got in touch Ministry of Startups, which owns the Durham Arms building and is converting it into a co-working space, and was offered an area upstairs.

Since moving into the space in mid-April, she and her partner have worked hard to perfect the game then prepare the venue.

They brought people in for test runs with mixed results, due to the cheap materials that were initially used.

"It was very tough but when we got the puzzles that actually work and it suddenly clicked together, we could build the room," Hannah said.

"We spent a couple of months building and testing it all again until we got to the point where some groups came in, loved it, had no problems with the games and went through it all smoothly."

Hannah - who worked in events for several years and a disability charity for nine months prior to this venture - said they were supporting charities such as Guide Dogs by collecting donations.

"This is for everyone, but we have built it so that it's accessible for people who are blind and vision-impaired, so we do want people to support them," she said.

The pop-up escape room will be open for up to six months at the Durham Arms.

After that, Hannah hopes to open rooms in other venues around London.

"We're working with Ministry of Start-Up to hopefully have other spaces available for new rooms," she said.

"We've already got new room ideas."

To play the escape room, visit www.accessescape.com and book a timeslot.

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