04 June 2018

The UK's most accessible festivals

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Festivals – in recent years in particular – have become ingrained in the fabric of the great British summer. Come rain or shine (and, let’s be honest, it’s usually the former), thousands of revellers young and old flock to all corners of the country to see their favourite artists, immerse themselves in the communal atmosphere, and generally have a great time.

As with many things in life, however, experiencing every aspect of what the best festivals have to offer can be more difficult for people with limited mobility. Nevertheless, virtually every major festival in the UK has done a great deal to improve accessibility for wheelchair users and others with disabilities of late, to the point where making that annual pilgrimage has never been easier, regardless of the ticketholder’s physical abilities.

Below, you will find some information about Britain’s most disability-friendly festivals, details of what they have done to open up access to all, and their plans for improving this aspect of their events yet further. We hope it will inspire you to book your first ticket and start looking forward to enjoying the experience of a lifetime.

Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park

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2018 festival dates: 6 – 14 July

Since its inception in 2013, Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park has quickly become established as one of the capital’s most eagerly-awaited annual live music events.

Unlike many other festivals of a similar size and stature, BST Hyde Park has had accessibility at its core since it was first held. Those behind the festival are particularly proud of the fact that it was the first such event to be awarded the prestigious Silver Level of the Charter of Best Practice by the campaigning charity Attitude is Everything in its inaugural year, reflecting BST’s commitment to helping as many people as possible enjoy the world-class acts which perform there.

Attitude is Everything – who are dedicated to championing improved facilities for deaf and disabled people at live music events – are also working closely with BST this year as founder members of their brand new Ticketing without Barriers initiative, which aims to ensure that the ticket-buying process is quick, simple and straightforward for absolutely everyone.

Although BST has always worked hard to open up their events to music lovers of all ages and abilities, with more and better disability-friendly features being introduced every year, the organisers were also keenly aware that – with the festival being on such a large site and there being so much information to process – one of the biggest challenges those attending faced was actually finding out what help was available in the first place. With this in mind, BST has recently launched an excellent easy-read guide that sets out, in plain English, all of the access facilities that can now be taken advantage of by those who attend, from viewing platforms and accessible toilets to wheelchair charging stations and support for people with hidden disabilities. You can download the guide by visiting this page and scrolling down to the section titled ‘Access Facilities – Inside the Event’. 

As for the artists who will be performing at this year’s festival themselves, there are some truly legendary names – both old and new – included in the line-up set to grace the stage. How many other festivals would be able to boast the likes of Roger Waters (pictured above), Eric Clapton and Paul Simon playing at the same event as Bruno Mars and Michael Buble? If you are interested in attending any day of the BST extravaganza, however, you’d better be quick – tickets are disappearing fast, and some of the days have sold out already! Further ticketing information is available here.

Just So Festival

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2018 festival dates: 17 – 19 August

The second event on our list should definitely be at the top of yours if you have been looking for an accessible festival which is perfect for the whole family.

Just So Festival, which is held in the beautifully-named Whirligig – a four-acre area of woodland in the grounds of Rode Hall in Cheshire – was first staged in 2010, and each year presents a fun-filled programme of music, dance, comedy, theatre and much, much more, with every performance designed to be great fun for children and parents alike. With entertainment areas including the Spellbound Forest, the Forgotten Courtyard and the Playground of Illusions, it is fair to say that you will never before have enjoyed such a unique and magical festival experience as this. For more information on what’s happening at the 2018 event, click here.

As well as its family-friendly atmosphere, another area in which Just So excels is its accessibility. Widely regarded as one of the UK’s most accessible outdoor events, the festival has previously passed through Attitude is Everything’s Bronze and Silver Charter of Best Practice levels and is now the proud holder of the coveted Gold status. This achievement indicates that a highly disability-conscious ethos is not only part of the festival but is actually seen as a starting point around which suitable performances are then organised (including the booking of artists who are themselves deaf and disabled).

Just So’s organisers recently received further recognition for the hard work they continue to do in the field of accessibility, and this is acknowledged in the following statement the team issued (which also gives more information about the facilities that festival guests will be able to take advantage of):

‘In December 2016, the festival won an Attitude is Everything Outstanding Attitude Award for its inclusive programme, which includes a range of categories, such as “Sit Back and Relax” and “Make Some Noise”, to enable audience members to make informed choices about activities best suited to their needs for each of the 200 events at the festival. This sort of resource is invaluable for families with members who have learning disabilities or autism.

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‘The festival has also invested in ensuring the site itself is as accessible as possible – employing a dedicated Access Manager, and implementing a range of access provisions such as a Changing Places adjacent to the accessible camping area, signage marking slope-free routes, early access to the accessible campsite and certain performances and flexible viewing areas.’

Just So’s impressive levels of accessibility were also remarked upon by Suzanne Bull MBE, the CEO of Attitude is Everything, who explained that she was ‘absolutely delighted to see Just So Festival, such an innovative and creative family event, gain the Gold Award via our Charter of Best Practice. The organisers are a fantastic example of how access does not need to be treated as a niche, bolt-on addition to a festival. They demonstrate how access can be at the core of creative event-planning, and how this can benefit the experience of all attendees. Exciting things can emerge from consulting with disabled customers and striving to make the festival experience better each year. We can’t wait to see what the festival does next.’

Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod

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2018 festival dates: 3 – 8 July

Festivals in every part of the UK are making strides towards becoming more accessible for guests with all manner of mobility-related and hidden disabilities, and perhaps the best example of this happening in Wales is the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.

The first Llangollen eisteddfod was held way back in 1947. Founded in the wake of the Second World War, the festival was established with the admirable aim of promoting peace and harmony at both local and international levels. This spirit of goodwill and respect for all has continued to be an integral part of the event throughout the intervening 70 years, and certainly now extends to the provision of access for disabled guests.

The Chairman of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, Dr Rhys Davies, told us that the festival’s organisers are ‘proud to continue to offer disability access at the Llangollen Eisteddfod for those wishing to come and enjoy the celebrations.

‘As well as disabled parking, accompanying carers can also benefit from free ticket access to our whole host of exciting concerts. As we look forward to this year’s festival, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to all visitors.’

Although the eisteddfod is probably best-known as a celebration of competitive choral music – with singers across various categories vying for awards such as the ‘Choir of the World’ – there is now so much more to the festival, with a wide variety of soloists, dancers, musical ensembles and big-name performers all taking to its (many) stages throughout the week. This year, some of the headline acts include the Kaiser Chiefs, Alfie Boe, and the legendary Van Morrison (pictured above).

To buy tickets for the individual events or whole days, click here.

The Edinburgh festivals

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Image Credit:  Marketing Edinburgh

2018 festival dates: Various (click here  for details)

It is no exaggeration to say that Edinburgh is probably the most famous festival city in the world. From the pomp and ceremony of the Military Tattoo to the iconic arts celebration that is the Fringe, the calendar of Scotland’s capital city – particularly in the summer months – is packed full of cultural highlights.

Of course, something else that Edinburgh is undeniably famous for is its hilly landscape. As such, providing genuinely accessible events can present a challenge for even the most dedicated of access managers. However, it is also true that every Edinburgh festival is very conscious of the importance of making its events as disability-friendly as possible, and an ongoing commitment to providing better staff training, sourcing more accessible venues, and increasing the number of performances with features like British Sign Language interpretation and Audio-Description is certainly helping to bring the joys of experiencing ‘festival city’ to as many people as possible.

For more information on the staggering range of festivals that have made Edinburgh famous all over the world, you can visit the Edinburgh Festival City website. This site features a very useful accessibility guide, which you can use to help plan your trip to this most cultural of UK cities. We have been told that this guide is set to be further added to soon, so be sure to keep checking back closer to the date of your preferred festival.

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The perception of users of all kinds of curved and straight stair lifts exclusively being elderly is as misleading as the notion that attending festivals is not something anyone with limited mobility would want to do. It is great that the barriers to disabled people being given the opportunity to enjoy all kinds of live music events now finally seem to be being removed, and we hope the above examples of what has been done in recent years will encourage you to visit your festival of choice very soon.

Additional Image Credits: Anthony DELANOIX, Alterna2, Just So Festival, Jarvin, Veld Music Festival