We had quite a lengthy discussion on our Facebook page last week.
It started with some questioning about inclusion at one particular festival. The discussion then went on to what some other festivals and conferences provide. Opinion (as ever) was mixed and occasionally very pointed.
Depending on which view point you were looking at it from, it could have been taken in many different ways.
To most, it was interesting, to others it was a place to let off steam and vent frustration (something that is perfectly valid, and we don’t want to stop that).
But for some reading the comments, the content was painful. They were the people doing their best to provide good additional needs support at festivals and events.
On behalf of those people, and as the representative of one of those festivals, I’d like to do some explaining of the issues we face in providing that support.
The organisation I serve has additional needs inclusion at it’s heart, in it’s DNA. They do much to train all of its team from worship leaders and administrators all the way through to stewards, children’s volunteers and platform speakers (and anyone else who serves)
All of us who serve in this capacity agree with you – provision is needed! But, it is fraught with difficulties and obstacles.
All of the festivals struggle to find the right calibre of volunteers who can safely care for children and young people with additional needs. There are often appeals between each organisation to see if they can recommend people to help at another event. In fact, many of us serve at more than one event, giving up both our holidays and the opportunity for paid employment. It costs the volunteers to be there.
So, if we can’t find the volunteers, we are limited in what we can offer in the way of support.
This will vary depending on the style of event. If the event is camping based, then the cost of volunteer accommodation is lower than it would be for an event that has fixed accommodation. This accommodation has to be paid for by the organisation.
For some events, the number of children coming who have additional needs can vary wildly, and parents often don’t tell us they are coming. At one event I worked at, we had 30 children with additional needs in just one age group, all requiring some form of support. I don’t think any festival with fixed accommodation could afford to provide that level of care when there are similar needs over five different age groups. And if they could, it would be impossible to find that many volunteers.
Festivals that are registered with local authorities have fixed legislation to cope with. Saying you offer one to one care ‘could’ land you with a whole pile of red tape. Out in the world of providing care professionally, you have to provide proof of qualification of all your volunteers and staff. If a festival goes on for longer than a week continuously (Final day being the same as the next week’s start day), then you are coming very close to having to meet that legislation – it’s a difficult line to navigate.
Some parents commented on ‘Our Space’ at New Wine. This is something many of us serving at other festivals and events are very jealous of!
But again, we have that camping versus fixed site issue. Many fixed sites just don’t have enough venues and usually none that have all that is required for an Our Space venue.
5. Level of Inclusion
Opinions on this vary widely! The type of support needed also varies widely. Some like to have children and young people fully included in their peer group programme, with quiet spaces within those programmes, others like to have spaces away from the age appropriate groups. Ideally I prefer both! Access to age appropriate programmes (In a way that doesn’t draw attention to difference), but with space to move to a ‘safe’ venue if needed. As we all know, there are children that will thrive in one and not the other, or need both at different times. Again, having both will require more of those volunteers we can’t find!
There is always more that can be done. Many events want to do more, but all the above and much more will often conspire against what can be done.
Please could I ask you to pray?
Pray for those of us doing our best to make a difference.
Pray for wisdom as events plan and seek volunteers.
Pray for a heart for this work across all events, even those we don’t know about.
And pray for buckets of Grace on all sides of this debate. All of our hearts are in the same place – we need to work together to make a difference.
If you feel you want to write to any of these festivals, do. But write with dignity and grace. Tell your story and say what would help. And write in the knowledge that many others will be making similar requests for their individual needs. Many of the messages received by events come across as demands, so a letter/email written with Grace and understanding stands out and will achieve more.
With much love