Making all music festivals inclusive

Making all music festivals inclusive:

Our top tips for supporting people with learning disabilities to go to mainstream music festivals

I’m sitting in a café in Lancaster and it’s been raining all day long and somehow. I don’t know quite how but it got me thinking that it’s festival season just round the corner and we’re going to be off to Glastonbury again. (I had also recently read this article in The Guardian :
‘I plugged my nebuliser into a riot van’: what is it like being disabled at a festival?’ (which nicely gives us a little mention).

A few year’s ago there was a story on the BBC about a ‘learning disability festival’ somewhere and they thought it was brilliant. 

It was a safe place for people to enjoy themselves and it started conveniently at 12pm on a Saturday and ended a few hours later at 6pm (or was it 4pm?) so everyone could go home and be safely tucked up in bed.

There wasn’t even a bloody beer tent for goodness sake!

The premise for the BBC calling this good news was that people with learning disabilities should be able to enjoy events like this because mainstream festivals are deemed just too dangerous, overstimulating, exhausting and just too hardcore. 

So somehow segregating people and not challenging these inequalities seems to be ok, and it’s not the first time the BBC have been guilty of this.

I think a lot of the fear and concern about festivals being dangerous and hardcore places is generally created by people who’ve not been to one but are well meaning and have a distorted view from what they read in the press and watch on the telly.

There are hundreds and hundreds of festivals big and small all around the UK catering to loads of different musical tastes and lifestyles. 

What I love about Glastonbury is that it’s like at least 6 different festivals all in the same place at the same time. 

That means if you are so inclined you can watch someone like Ed Sheeran along with 80,000 other people or you can learn to whittle spoons, watch a stand-up comedian, dance under a fire breathing robot spider, sit round a campfire chatting with strangers or just laze on the hill gazing down at the wonder of it all.

Of course the scale of Glastonbury can present its own challenges for people with disabilities and that’s where Attitude is Everything have done wonders in working with the festival to make it as accessible as possible.

The disabled campsite is centrally located, there’s scooter hire, free charging of devices (and scooters of course), accessible showers and toilets, a changing places truck, free massages, shuttles around the festival, always friendly people on hand and accessible viewing platforms at all the main stages.

Our top tips for supporting people with learning disabilities to go to festivals

There’s loads of advice on Google for preparing generally for a festival trip (wellies, suncream, wetwipes etc).

But we want to share our specific top tips for supporting someone with a learning disability taken from our experiences of supporting people with learning disabilities to attend over 12 mainstream camping music festivals, and countless other events.

Festival tips

1. Have a practice run so everyone is used to sleeping under canvas

2. Do a thorough plan to manage any risks that might occur. You won’t be able to eliminate risks and things will happen that you’ve not considered but make sure you’ve thought through as much as you can.

3. Have a back-up plan. We have an emergency back-up that we’ve never used called ‘The Hand-over in Andover’. The plan being that if we’re at Glastonbury and everything is just too much or someone is unwell then we’ll drive them to Andover and rendezvous with their support staff, family carer who will take them home.

4. Expect there to be some lows. Sometimes we’ve found that Saturday morning seems to be the time when it starts to feel a little bit overwhelming. However, before you know it it’s Sunday night you’re in the silent disco and the sun’s coming up!

5. Take an extra member of staff or volunteer. You never know when you may need some extra support, or you might need a rest yourself.

6. Don’t create an ambitious list of acts you must see. Just soak it all up and have a few key things you’d really like to see. If you miss seeing Ed Sheeran it’s really not going to be the end of the world (I’m speaking from experience).

7. Go vegan! Festivals are very expensive places to buy food so to save money we go vegan for the week and have communal lentil curries etc. It saves us a fortune and is a nice part of the day.

8. If it gets too much ask for help. You could go and sit in a quiet area where there’s complimentary therapies or seek out the welfare tent or medical facility.

9. Volunteer. Festival tickets are expensive so we apply to support people with learning disabilities as access stewards (working on the disabled campsite as well as the viewing platforms on the main stages). It’s a great way of making the event much more affordable and even though you’re working it’s still a huge amount of fun.

10. And it goes without saying but throw any timetables out of the window. Enjoy the wonder of it all, whatever festival it is you’re at and live in the spirit of it. Above all make sure there’s #NoBedtimes!

More in-depth info about managing risks

To find out more about our approach to supporting people here’s a webinar that Kate and Victoria from the Stay Up Late team did for The Gr8 Support Movement. It’s called ‘What could possible go wrong?’

What better way to spend a long weekend?

Last year we were working at Latitude Festival and there was a group from Mencap (from somewhere in London I think) and they were just having the most fun every single day from waking up to staying up late at night.

Someone also commented to us that we just look like a bunch of friends having fun together (and we are!) – even when it’s raining!

Stay Up Late so late it’s early again!

So the message is don’t be put off by the thought of attending a big music festival. It’s a few days in the year where you can live life differently, you can behave outrageously and nobody cares. 

There’s no schedules, No Bedtimes, you can dance outrageously and `wear what you like. I sometimes wish the real world could be a little more like a music festival.

And if you’re at Glastonbury this year do pop by and say hello — we’ll be in the Green Futures Field. Look out for the beaten up old army tent with #NoBedtimes placards and flags around it.

Updated post – an interview with one of our team

‘Going to a festival. A Gig Buddies holiday?’

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