Reading was my first ever festival and 2015 will be my 27th year there. At the attendance of my Silver Anniversary, I was treated with champagne, cakes and a party in the accessible campsite!
Myself, Attitude is Everything (AiE) and Festival Republic have always had a special relationship; this is due to [Festival Republic MD] Melvin Benn being such a supporter and advocate of improving access, and myself nagging him about making improvements since the late eighties.
Since 2005, AiE has been working closely with Festival Republic to improve access across all of their festivals, but in particular, we have some innovative services at Latitude, Leeds and Reading Festivals, which the two organisations have developed together.
Benn approached me with a unique idea of having AiE volunteers onsite at these three festivals. He asked us to assist with the stewarding of the accessible campsites and running an Information Tent staffed with our volunteers, as well as to work in partnership with Oxfam so that they had deaf and disabled stewards working in their team.
This idea was appealing for a few reasons. Many people’s first work experience in the music industry is volunteering, so why couldn’t deaf and disabled people be offered the same opportunity?
Benn also wanted to have peace of mind knowing that his disabled customers would be supported onsite by a set of disabled volunteers who had expertise in and empathy for the realities of being on a festival site.
Both AiE and Festival Republic saw it as an opportunity to make the recruiting, training and delivery of services by stewarding companies more open, inclusive and accessible to everyone who wanted to volunteer. This is something which Oxfam has really taken on board and prided itself in; the Attitude is Everything Information Tent in the accessible campsite and publicity in the official programmes gives us a public profile to all Festival Republic customers.
Our staff and volunteer team really make an impact on disabled customers:
“I have just returned from a great weekend at Latitude Festival and wanted to say a BIG thank you to Attitude is Everything for running such a wonderfully supportive campsite for me and all the disabled festival goers. Gideon (our senior projects manager) and the team worked so hard to make things run smoothly. I very much appreciated their presence.”
Over 10 years, Attitude is Everything have created almost 500 opportunities for deaf and disabled people to work at festivals.
In 2014, more than 700 deaf and disabled people attended Latitude, Reading and Leeds festivals combined.
In terms of facilities for disabled customers, some notable examples are:
• Both Reading and Leeds have viewing platforms at every major stage, with two at the Main and NME stages
• There are interchangeable Personal Assistant lanyards so that disabled customers can sit with different friends throughout the festival – this was in response to disabled customers telling them that a big part of their experience was enjoying the festival with all of their friends
• Latitude had a ‘high dependency’ toilet cabin with a hoist for the first time in 2015. Reading will also have this facility
And if you may be thinking that deaf people aren’t into live music, the deaf audience for Reading Festival is increasing due to the presence of the British Sign Language interpreting service, which was founded by one of our Information Tent volunteers.
In 2014, 12 main stage bands were interpreted in sign language over the weekend and the festival plans on increasing this service in future years.
If you’re onsite at Reading and Leeds 2015, please come and say hello!