How to create a DDA access ramp to satisfy regulations, design integrity, and a tight budget.


Church of Saints Philip and James

Poplar Walk, Lambeth, Southwark



The Problem

How does a Church with limited funds and insufficient external space on its frontage build access steps and ramp that comply with the requirements of the DDA and enhance the appearance of a building?


The Church of SS Phillip & James in the RC Archdiocese of Southwark was built at the turn of the last Century. It has been in continuous use for over one hundred years and is the RC Parish Church of Herne Hill. Although not listed, it is an historic building and part of the historic fabric of the area.

The Church is used for regular worship; with daily Mass and three weekend Masses on Saturday and Sunday, Baptisms, Marriages and Funerals. Many services including funeral services, in particular, demand a clear route between the road and the church, free of all barriers, for uninterrupted flow of the cortege.

Access to the main entrance was awkward. The previous steps, part of remodelling works in the 1970’s, were steep and awkward to use, with the doors swinging past the top riser, which made access difficult for many users.

A Disability Group with members drawn from the parish community prepared for the coming into force of the DDA. As part of this process an independent Disability Audit was commissioned. The Report highlighted a number of actions. The Parish decided to replace the previous steps with an arrangement of a ramp and new steps, to make the Church accessible to all, on an equal basis.

A number of options were considered: adaptations to an existing rear or a side entrance, a new doorway at various possible entrance points.  After discussion and consultations a consensus was established and it was agreed that to carry out work on the existing main entrance – although not straightforward – would minimise the disruption to the inside of the building, and ensure the benefit of the improvements would be shared by all.

A planning application was submitted for a scheme with a Part M compliant ramp and stairs, which involved building over the property line, on the public footpath. Although Lambeth kindly conceded the use of the footpath for this purpose, subject to conditions, it asked that a minimum clear width of 1650mm be maintained between the kerb and the lowest step. This required a compromise, with a slightly narrower landing at the top of the steps/ramp flight.

Philosophy and Approach and Sources of Guidance

The proposal submitted for Building Regulations approval, optimised the use of available space and existing ground levels, to minimise the rise of the ramp flight, ease the rise of the steps, significantly improve the landing outside the main doors. It has made access much simpler and easier for all users.

The proposal has taken into account the requirements of the general public, the Church’s users, the DDA, the independent accessibility auditor and her recommendations, The Requirements of the Building Regulations, Part M, its general guidance and recommendations. It has also taken into account the requirements and recommendations of the London Borough of Lambeth Planning and Highways Department.

The proposal aims to provide dignified access for all, in all circumstances.  It also makes a contribution to the local environment and is a civic gesture to the neighbourhood.

Funding and Execution

No outside financial assistance was available. The project had to be paid for entirely by the Parish, who appealed for donations and organised fund raising events, to secure sufficient funds.

In parallel, the method of building the proposals to be attractive and both long lasting and cost effective was studied with great care.

The project was competitively tendered to three contractors, and completed on time and on budget.


Careful planning and sensitive professional advice is required to ensure that the complicated demands of a DDA project do not overwhelm a small community, inexperienced in the processes of handling building projects.

Some ‘Do’s and ‘Don’t’s:

  • Do aspire to a visually elegant solution – it will help you mobilise support;
  • Do get all the statutory approvals before you start work;
  • Do be selective and intelligent – avoid ‘playing safe’ and succumbing to an excess of parephernalia which can come from an over-literal interpretation of all the advisory bodies’ recommendations;
  • Do use professional, properly qualified advisors;
  • Do prepare thoroughly for building work – however simple the problem;
  • Do set up a proper building contract and rigorous contract administration even for small value works.
  • Do not ‘cut corners’ – economise by avoiding duplication;
  • Do not drop your standards – you will have to live with the results for a very long time;
  • Do not forget that it may be impossible to satisfy all the requirements of all the potential users – the DDA requires you to take ‘reasonable’ steps to make your building accessible.