Carly Jones on Festival Accessibility

8th July 2022 • Carly Jones MBE

How did it get to July already? Summer may be well underway but there is still plenty of daytime festivals and weekend events to enjoy as a family this summer. MFON columnist, Carly Jones MBE, had the amazing opportunity of presenting on stage at Glastonbury 2022! If you’re keen to experience some festival action, but not sure how to prepare, read on and hear Carly’s top tips. 

Well, here’s a sentence I thought I would never write! Hello all! I’m just home from speaking on stage at Glastonbury Festival! 

Yes, that still feels surreal to type! In late April, I was contacted by the lovely Rosie who works at Glastonbury via Twitter, and she asked me if I would like to speak on all things Autism at the Glastonbury Leftfield stage. Leftfield hosted the ‘Neurodiversity the fight for human rights’ panel – a theme that was pioneered at Glastonbury by an autistic young woman named Diva Gibson. The plan was for Diva to speak in 2020 but as we know, the festival itself was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Diva Gibson tragically lost her life to suicide during the pandemic. 

The cause, of course, became even more important. 

Consider the options 

As an autistic person myself, I am often driven by my special interests, subjects, and campaigns and I often don’t consider then sensory issues and the consequences. However, after four days of tenting at Glastonbury with my autistic 14-year-old in tow, I can report that the accessibility is, much like Glastonbury Festival itself, world-class. 

Carly and her daughter

If you are considering taking your family to a music festival this year, or indeed Glastonbury Festival for 2023, I have done the grassroots (pun intended) in tents (pun also intended) research for you in advance. 

All festivals’ access will differ, but this is what I have learned from the good standard of Glastonbury, so it’s worth asking whichever festival you choose to attend if they offer the same accessibility! 

Pitching up 

Choose a slightly bigger tent than the number of people who will sleep in it. We went a bit over the top with this because I had expected to be a party of three but on the day was a party of two and we had a tent that had a max capacity of six people. A little too big! not only to be able to put up (thankfully Leftfield had a very kind helper who was on hand to give support with making the tents).

I would say if you had two people going, then a four-man tent would be ideal. Big enough to give one another space; particularly if it has internal separation doors. Make sure you pack a warm sleeping bag, yoga mats or inflatable mattresses, mallets to get tent pegs secure, inflatable pillows (we got ours from the pound shop and they did the job nicely as well as deflated for ease of packing) battery operated fairy lights, these will help you not only find your tent in the dark but also help you see inside the tent late at night. A padlock can also be useful to secure your tent zip from the inside during the night or used outside during the day when you are not in your tent. 

 Navigating the facilities 

The biggest panic for many festival fans is the toilet situation. Glastonbury like many other festivals has disabled toilets, which can be used by guests who have applied for accessibility prior to arrival (more on that in a moment). However, if visiting the toilet is a huge worry, then I would recommend taking disposal toilet seat covers (again pound shop) your own loo roll or tissues, and antibacterial wipes. If using a festival toilet in the middle of the night is a worry – you can buy a pack of medical cardboard bed pans and use these inside your tent (you’ll need recyclable climate-friendly bin bags for this too) can you see why I mentioned getting a larger tent now?! 

Clever catering 

For many families with restrictive diets, the uncertainty of what food will be available and the queues, etc can feel inaccessible. To navigate this – write a list of the foods that you can pack, make and store without too much hassle in case the queues for food stalls are overwhelming. We packed pot noodles, cereal bars, the long-life brioche rolls, crisps, raisins, and tinned tuna. You can also take long-life milk, cans of fizzy drinks, cartons of juice, and canned wine, beer, and cider into the festival but no glass bottles are often the rule for safety reasons. 

Travel tips 

Our trip was unfortunately during the rail strike. However, not having rail and car-sharing with a fellow speaker was an absolute godsend. It’s one thing to pack a tent and your bags, it’s quite another to be able to lift it all to get on a train or even get it all to the spot you’ll pitch your tent and call home for the next four days.

Do ask festivals about accessibility or shuttles from the car park to your pitching space. This will be an accessibility perk. When we arrived at Glastonbury car park, we had a phone number to call and then a lovely staff member named ‘Matt’ picked us up. He then put all our baggage in a truck and drove us to our tent location. The wait was fairly long as poor Matt was rushed off his feet with requests, but it was essential to making it doable (thank you Matt) very important tip: REMEMBER YOUR CAR PARK LOCATION NUMBER! Without it – you most likely will never find your car again on departure day! 

Watching acts 

Glastonbury festival is vast – over 200k people and many, many stages. To navigate from one stage to another is estimated to take a non-disabled person about an hour on foot. For disabled guests, I would double this time if you weren’t using access routes. However, the good news is if you have applied for accessibility in advance, you will be able to wear the purple and orange wrist bands as seen in the photo (sorry about how grubby they are they had been on four days). These wrist bands when shown to the security will grant you the support of using the quiet backstage routes and avoiding the vast crowds. A life saver! 

accessibility wristbands

Accessibility platforms 

The accessibility wristbands also grant you access to the platforms, which are still within the crowd but wheelchair and disability friendly. Providing support from a bit more space and less overwhelm or even a British sign language expert for deaf guests. 

Sensory issues 

Festivals are loud and they are bright. You can expect deafening music 24 hours a day and night, strobes, lights, and fireworks. If this is a challenge then it’s vital to take your own ear defenders for the day, ear plugs for the night, and sunglasses and/or large-cap to help you.

At Glastonbury there was a brilliant sensory room arranged and hosted by the kind, caring, and super autistic friendly team of Diverse U.K. – their room was very close to a large and noisy stage and a busy public walkway which could at first glance seem an odd location. HOWEVER, I feel this was exactly the right location because this is EXACTLY where you’d reach sensory crisis point (and yes, we did!) If the tent was in a quiet area tucked away, you would have no SOS quick escape from the most likely area you would need help fast.

festival sensory area

The moment you arrive you are welcomed by a softly spoken and empathetic team member who will quietly offer you a large adult-sized bean bag, whisper to offer you a weighted blanket (yes please!) and hand you a pair industry strength level ear defenders which feel like heaven to your ears. The loud stage close by suddenly only sounds like someone three streets away has got their radio on. You can stay for as long or as short a time as you wish. They offer you water and there are boxes of sensory toys to hand. 

Carly’s backpack essentials 

A power bank charger 

I use mobile phone power banks for everyday work trips because I fear that, without my mobile phone, I will not be able to contact loved ones in an emergency or contact the teen if we became separated in crowds or simply not get lost! The Power banks I had would last probably for one more full charge of my phone. Going for four days and also having two phones to charge, I purchased a power bank with energy storage of 50000mAh. This meant I went to the festival fully charged and kept two phones alive and kicking for the full four days and the journey home without having to recharge. Being the size of a brick (but only a percentage of the width of an actual brick) the PowerPoint fitted inside my across-the-body handbag to be with us at all times – highly recommended! 

A onesie 

We were blessed with the sun – but no matter how hot the day itself, by nightfall, you’re going to be freezing. Next year the fluffy onesies are coming with us! 

To-do list 

Accessibility and festivals can go together but you MUST apply for this in advance of any festival you are planning to attend. 

Thank you! 

Thank you, Rosie Rogers, Billy Brag, Josh, Matt, Mahlia, Chris Packham, John Harris Diverse U.K., and team, for making Glastonbury a memory of a lifetime, simply unforgettable. 

Teen’s review was: ‘amazing – even better than comic con’ 

It doesn’t get a much higher accolade than that!