“I just saw a problem and I thought I’ve got to do something about that” – says Gavin Neate

By Paul Richoux



When I met Gavin the things that I liked most about him were his enthusiasm and his obvious courage. He has invested a great deal of his life and £25,000 of his own money to improve the lives of others.


Originally a guide dog instructor, he has just handed in his notice and is leaving what he deems to be “the best job in the world” in order to focus on his pet project. Gavin has taken the leap and is having to make some sacrifices along the way. “I’m selling my Lotus” he tells me with a little laugh “so that gives you an idea of how serious I am”.


Nursing an idea


In 2010 Gavin Neate started his own company called Neatebox, through which he is developing an app of his own invention. In his years spent working with visually impaired people Gavin became aware of the difficulties and dangers which disabled people face when crossing roads. His invention uses proximity aware technology and is designed to make it a lot easier and safer for visually impaired people and wheel chair users to use pedestrian crossings.


For visually impaired individuals, using a crossing can be a real challenge. A lot depends on where the signal box is located and whether they can position themselves on the pavement edge in time. Also, a lot of crossings have no audible signal and those that do get turned off after 9pm in built up areas. At some crossings also, the time allotted for crossing is just not enough. Gavin spotted these problems early on in his training (1999 in fact) and it “was just a case of waiting for the technology to catch up”.


Turning a good idea into a great reality


Gavin’s invention (which has been given the working title of Pedestrian Neatebox) is still in the development stage and for this reason he’d rather I didn’t give away too many details. I did, however, get to see a prototype in action and what I saw was seriously impressive. Gavin is driven by what he describes as his “need to improve the system”, but when asked if he encountered many stumbling blocks along the way he answers “hundreds”.


His first challenge lay in the fact that he was initially on his own to carry his idea forward and when he describes himself, Gavin says “I’m an expert in my field but I’m not an expert at business”. In 2010 he decided to get in touch with Blackwood. They, in turn, were able to put him in touch with Stephen Burns at Napier University’s Institute for Product Design and Manufacture.


Their partnership made it possible for a working prototype to be made. Since then Gavin’s project has come along leaps and bounds. He has tested it with visually impaired people, received a grant from Scottish Transport and is now in a place where he is no longer toying with an idea but powering ahead with a full time enterprise.


Admittedly there is still a lot of work to do, but the future is looking bright and Gavin Neate is now determined to succeed. Perhaps a little ironically he says that he “never set out to be an inventor”.

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Excellent piece.

I think that it defines the problem really well. Many people are struggling with ideas/ problems/ difficulties, and need to be in contact with others to share their passion,  Then they can find the ability to turn the frustration of "disabled design" on its head.

And it becomes  "The Challenge of Designing for Disability."

Kudos, Ga

Thanks Linda, I am constantly frustrated by the apparent lack of thought behind the positioning of many pedestrian control boxes. Few if any long cane users or guide dog owners use a "tactile cone" which has been placed out of reach. This results in an incredible waste of public money whilst retaining the illusion that a particular crossing has been made accessible. Something MUST be done to bring this to the attention of the authorities and the wider public in general.
Kind regards

Ah, but maintaining the illusion is all -important, Gavin.

I am currently tackling the problem of disabled parking at out local hospital. You must drive in one way, and when you park the driver's door is hard against a brick wall! It is bumper to bumper parking, and I am in the middle of writing a letter to the Health Board concerned, pointing out that this is not user friendly for wheelchair drivers or passengers.

The other place for disabled parking, where there is space to exit the vehicle, means an exceptionally long trek (I would say in excess of 800 yards) to the out patients and and investigative treatment, like xrays.

But provision has been made - has it not?

Keep fighting,


I think this is a fantastic invention. I wonder whether it could be used with other client groups. For example I work with a client who has mental health issues and has constant auditory hallucinations. We have tried Road Safety practice with them but as soon as the client is on their own their voices begin to distract them. Although the client does know their way around the local area, we have hit a brick wall when it comes to accessing the community independently becuase of the risk when crossing the road.

I would be really interested to know if it is possible to use this in this scenario.

Congratulations to Gavin who was one of the winners at the recent Edinburgh Apps event. Well done and well earned!


Thanks Paul and a massive thanks to Bespoken were the first to get involved in the project. I am looking forward to getting a new Edinburgh Council backed trial running early in 2014. I am looking for wheelchair and motability vehicle users in the Edinburgh area to get involved and become part of the development process.


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