Accessibility for EVERYONE

Festival season is well and truly upon us. Sadly, there is a large part of the population that misses out on these musical life experiences due to the nature of the event, or have additional needs that festivals struggle to cater for.

In one way, we couldn’t think of a place so appropriate – performances, entertainment, excitement, but at the same time potentially so inappropriate – booming music, big crowds, visual overload, lack of routine, general hustle and bustle, all of this can be a struggle for some people with mental or physical challenges.

Some disabilities are visible. Some disabilities are invisible. No matter what, everyone should be able to have as many life experiences as possible and with some careful planning, festivals can be super duper good fun.

Of course, every situation is different and only you will know what is best, but if you are supporting someone that has mental or physical challenges, we have pulled together a list of helpful tips.

1) Do your research: Learn everything you can about the festival you have chosen. Visit their website, check out the line up and perhaps make a list of acts that you want to see. Make yourself familiar with other things that are on, such as street performers and workshops, where to eat and location of facilities.

2) Get your bearings: Some of the bigger events can be quite overwhelming with multiple areas, music tents, fields, etc. Some of the smaller sized events which fit into one arena may be more practical and easier to navigate round. Ask the organisers about the terrine – if the ground is flat and what condition.

3) Ask for a site map: Festivals will only be too happy to give you a site plan before the festival that you can share with everyone going. Make notes on it. Print them out for your party to make notes on. If you would like distances, the festival will be able to provide approx. distances from each destination/activity if it is not already on their website.

4) Make a plan: If it is possible, make a plan for the days that you are there – any anxiety or panic attacks can be potentially remedied by getting back ‘on plan’ and heading off to the next activity.  None of the tents and activities at Underneath the Stars are designated as appropriate for certain ages – all ages and all abilities are welcome to join in activities and workshops that they might enjoy.

5) The music: If there is a particular band that you want to see that your whole party is not familiar with, trying introducing it before the festival whilst you are in the comforts of your home.  This way, when it comes to their performance, they will know what to expect and are less likely to get bored.

6) Breathing spaces: Ask the festivals for areas where there is calmer activity. It is always good to find those ‘breathing spaces’ which have a little less going on. Have an exit strategy – make a plan if a person starts to react adversely, you can move somewhere else to calm that person down. These areas can be ideal for this.

7) Festival stewards: Get to know who these wonderfully helpful people are – they are usually easily identifiable individuals in coloured t-shirts that are dotted around the site to help or recognise anyone that may need help. Make sure your party knows who these people are. If anything, it is always good to know you have help at hand if a complicated situation arises.

8) Accessible campsite: You can apply for accessible camping and a personal assistant pass. These campsites tend to be less crowded than the other campsites, which can help reduce anxiety. They also tend to be much closer to the festival site, which makes moving around the festival less stressful. It is also easier to return to your tent for breaks when needed. If you can park your car next to the tent, even bigger bonus and definitely worth finding out. If allowed, treat your car as an extension to your camping plot as a place to store vital things. You may also get help with putting your tent up, so check with the festival.

9) Pillows for sleeping: Pillows are so important to get a good nights sleep. Bring pillows from home and anything else that would contribute to a regular nights sleep. Familiarity is key.

10) Get used to your tent: You might benefit from putting the tent up in the garden and practice sleeping in it. See what is comfy, you might choose air beds or a roll mat, you might choose sleeping bag or duvets, etc… Once you find your ideal combination, camping will seem a lot less daunting with everyone knowing what to expect. Lots of blankets as well to keep warm.

11) Take regular breaks: Festivals are overwhelming places to be. It is worth taking breaks to come back down to reality every now and again. It is great to schedule in anything on the stages that you want to see, but intersperse with activities, such as a craft area, or a workshop activity. The key is not to pack too much in, leaving plenty of breaks and rest stops throughout the day.

12) Plan your meals: Make a food plan. If you can, try to stick to the usual timing for your eating schedule. Festivals tend to have street food style vans to purchase food from. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so if there are issues with difficult eating, it would be a good idea to take food with you so that you always have options.

13) Take those sensory essentials: Don’t forget to take anything you usually use, such as weighted blankets, fiddle toys, things to chew etc. those everyday items that just make life easier and diffuse a potentially tense situation. Do take some sure fire winner toys, but be aware how the loss of that one essential item could affect your stay.

14) Ear defenders: It may be worth picking up some ear defenders or noise cancelling ear phones if anyone is noise sensitive. Festivals are loud and wearing these helps to reduce sensory overload.

15) Accessible platform: Crowds can be hard to handle so find out if the festival has a disability platform. People jostling around can cause anxiety, but a platform means enjoying the performances without an increased risk of anxiousness or meltdown.

16) Performances: Flashing lights and pyrotechnics can be quite overpowering, so contact the festival and find out if there are any more relaxed performances that may have slightly softer lighting and no pyrotechnics.

17) Mobility equipment: If you or anyone of your party uses a wheelchair , if possible, bring any tools you might need in case you experience any technical issues. If you have replacement parts, it might be a good idea to bring these along as well. If you require power for a mobility scooter, ask the festival on arrival where this is located.

18) Medication: Check to make sure the festival has a safe fridge to store medication if needed to be chilled.

19) Toilets & changing rooms: Make yourself familiar with where the accessible toilets are. Underneath the Stars also uses Mobiloo, a mobile accessible toilet with an adult-sized changing bench, hoist and a super friendly attendant.  The mobiloo is available for all people who would benefit from it – if you are a single adult taking a number of children to the toilet, you can all go in together… #revoLOOtion

20) Assistance dogs: If you or any of your party has an assistance dog, please check that they can be onsite.

21) GPS trackers: If you are concerned about one of your party getting lost, you may want to look into buying a GPS tracker. There are many readily available that incorporate watches, pendants or fobs. Some of them depend on good phone reception that cannot always be guaranteed particularly in the countryside. Best thing to do is ask the festival.

22) Relax and have fun: Attitude is everything. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your party is likely to be. If you need to, just ask for support. Particularly at Underneath the Stars, we are all one big family and are all here to help each other as much as possible.

We hope that there are some handy pointers here. There are so many festivals that really look to make their events a fun and practical environment where everyone can truly be themselves, whilst providing parents and carers a space to relax.

The super lovely Moira Fitzsimmons-Holling is our Access and Safeguarding Officer for UTSf19. She is available to answer any questions you may have and can be contacted via access@underthestarsfest.co.uk. Alternatively you can call on 01226 767872 to speak to a member of our friendly team. We will try to respond within 5 working days after receiving your email.

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