This week, we’re in conversation with Luke Barbanneau, Green Man Festival‘s very own Accessibility Manager. We had a chance to ask Luke what it’s like working onsite for such a freeing festival, and what exactly his role entails.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role.
Hi, I’m Luke Barbanneau, the Accessibility Manager at Green Man Festival. I am responsible for ensuring the festival provides an accessible experience for as many people as possible. My role is very wide-ranging and includes answering questions from disabled customers, allocating tickets and passes for our accessible facilities, liaising with site crew to ensure our accessible facilities are in place and functional, training staff and volunteers, and coordinating a team of stewards who support our disabled customers on-site during the festival.
I previously had many years of festival stewarding experience, mainly working with Oxfam and Attitude is Everything. During my second year volunteering at Green Man I noticed that while the festival was clearly making a good faith effort to provide accessible provision, there were a few areas where they could improve if they had the right guidance and expertise.
Following a couple of conversations with their operations and health & safety managers, I provided the festival with a detailed accessibility report that highlighted realistic and simple changes they could make that would have a tangible impact on disabled access. This resulted in me being offered a job so that I could implement my suggestions at the next year’s festival.
What accessibility policies and procedures do Green Man operate?
We want as many people as possible to be able to access and enjoy the festival so we have a number of procedures to make this possible. Any customer who would be unable to attend the festival alone is entitled to use our 2for1 ticket scheme so that a companion can accompany them for free. Most of our stages have accessible viewing platformers or areas giving disabled people a safe place to enjoy the music and get a good view. These are all staffed by our dedicated accessibility stewarding team, many of whom are disabled themselves.
We also have accessible car parking, campsite, toilets and showers (including a high dependency unit), a dedicated information point, a chill-out tent to counteract sensory overload, a golf buggy taxi service, charging points, cold medicine storage, and a long-standing partnership with Event Mobility. We are also open to making special arrangements to support customers with specific needs not covered by our general provision.
Is there anything you, personally, have implemented at Green Man that you’re particularly proud of?
I am most proud of the mentality shift in the festival management team that has resulted in accessibility becoming a core principle of the festival and it is reflected in everything we do. Every department has made steps to help make the festival become more accessible during my time here.
On a more tangible note I am really proud that we’ve managed to set up an accessible viewing area for the burning of the green man statue and firework display. For many years this was very inaccessible for most disabled customers due to the huge crowds, but we have fixed that now!
What are the biggest challenges to accessibility at music festivals like Green Man?
I think the majority of festivals share this challenge, but it’s the site. It’s large, muddy and on three different elevations so there are hills to navigate. At the end of the day, muddy fields are not the easiest environment for disabled people to be in. But we do our best to mitigate this with trackway and locating our accessible facilities as conveniently as possible.
Another big challenge is that there are just a lot of people, sights and noises on site, which can be overwhelming for some disabled people. My current goal is to make Green Man more accessible for neuroatypical customers (such as those with autism or anxiety). Our new chill-out tent has been very well received and I am hoping we can develop more ways to make all customers feel safe at the festival, and also better communicate how what we already have available might be helpful.
I know some of our customers did not realise that our viewing platforms can be used by all our disabled customers, not just those with physical disabilities, and knowing there are spaces like this that are less crowded can be very helpful.
Can you share a bit about the similarities and differences between traditional venue accessibility and festival venue accessibility?
A lot of it is very similar – you need to think about viewing areas, seating, ramps, lighting, toilets, signage, access to the bar, ingress, egress, website accessibility, etc etc, but at a festival we are operating at a much larger scale. At Green Man most of our customers are with us for five days, so we need to make sure they can carry out all aspects of their life, from washing and eating to taking medication and charging equipment. There’s more infrastructure at a festival so there’s more to think about.
Also, the scope of what customers will do and where they will go is much broader than at a traditional venue. At the O2 Arena, for example, most disabled customers will arrive by car, go through the ticket line, go to the accessible viewing area, and from there go to the accessible toilet and the nearest bar or concession stand – this is a set portion of the venue that can be focussed on. At a festival, our customers go everywhere.
I spend a fair bit of time during our set up week traversing the whole site and visualising how people with a range of disabilities might experience each part of the site and try and preempt any barriers or problems before they occur.
What should more festivals/events be thinking about when it comes to accessibility?
They should be thinking about whether or not they are employing enough disabled staff and crew! Disabled people are severely underrepresented in the music industry and I would love that to change. Obviously, accessibility is not the only area disabled people want to work in within the field, but if you employ someone with a lived experience of disability to work on your accessibility, I guarantee it will improve.
Beyond that, communication is key. No matter what level of accessibility your event offers, as long as potential customers can find out all the information easily on your website, they can make an informed decision about their ability to attend, and come prepared.
What is the most challenging part of what you do?
There are always moments of stress and chaos in the days or hours before the festival opens – whether it’s writing a stewarding schedule at 11pm the night before the first steward shift, or waiting for an artic lorry to arrive so the rest of the campsite infrastructure can be built around it.
What is the best part of what you do?
Seeing our disabled customers having a great time, getting wonderful feedback, and hearing about young disabled people being inspired to work or volunteer at festivals.
What advice would you give to festival-goers with a disability?
I would encourage them to get in touch with the festival if they have any worries and, hopefully, the festival can make the right arrangements. Remember that under the 2010 Equalities Act you have the right to attend festivals and the festival has a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to enable that. But do remember that most festivals are run by small teams, and the person on the other end of your email probably does want to help you.
Do you think the potential of COVID restrictions being put in place at festivals will have any impact on your accessibility policies? If so, how?
To be honest it’s really hard to predict at this stage because we aren’t completely sure what the restrictions and changes will look like. I suspect some changes will be an improvement for disabled people and some will be a barrier. What is really important is that festival organisers remember to consider the impact of any changes they make, and take steps to mitigate any additional barriers that occur. Accessibility should be a core part of the planning stage and not tacked on as an afterthought.
What would you suggest as the first steps for establishing meaningful accessibility for those making decisions in the operation of festival spaces?
My first suggestion is to hire an accessibility consultant to do an audit and give advice specific to your event. Beyond that, it is important to remember that wheelchair users only represent about 3% of disabled people, and accessibility is about so much more than providing for one specific disability. Create ways for disabled customers to communicate their specific needs with you, and ensure your systems have sufficient flexibility within them to accommodate a range of adaptation.