My disabled music festival diary

  • 2 September 2014
Eileen Hutchinson at the Leeds Festival Image copyright Other

Music fan Eileen Hutchinson has rheumatoid arthritis but she was determined - with a bit of help, planning and the correct facilities - to live it up at this year's Leeds Festival. This is her diary of the weekend.

Day one

On arrival, my personal assistant (PA) and I are given great directions to the disabled campsite and so miss loads of the festival traffic. I bought my festival ticket as normal and then used my reference number and proof of disability to apply for a free PA /carer ticket under the two-for-one disabled access ticket scheme. Many other major UK music festivals have similar policies.

We get to park right inside the site, whereupon my PA and volunteers from Oxfam unpack the car and put up my tent. I have brought a high, off-the-ground, camp bed, which is easier for me to get into, and a tent that I can stand up in to make dressing more comfortable.

The disabled campsite is run by the charity Attitude is Everything, a very cool bunch who believe that access to festivals by people with all types of disability is essential. There is room around each tent so that us self-described "wobblies "don't fall over guy ropes.

Image copyright other

Once settled in, I meet everyone staying at the disabled campsite. They turn out to be lovely friendly people and we immediately start talking about which bands we want to see - mine are The Kooks, and (ex-My Chemical Romance member) Gerard Way.

The disabled campsite has proper showers and toilets. There's also an info tent, with loads of helpful things including an air pump, phone and wheelchair charge points and a kettle. I use this to fill my hot water bottle, which helps with my joint pain, and to make pot noodles. Yum. You don't get such luxury on the main campsites.

I quickly discover that the disabled campsite is within the guest area, with its own bar and food place. It's like being a VIP.

Day two

Music starts today. We are so excited that we get up early, even though we stayed up whirling about to cheesy disco music until late. When we got back to our campsite last night, it was nice and quiet, with on-site security. It's hard for me to get out of bed quickly, which can make me feel vulnerable, so it's nice to know that someone is looking over my tent.

Image copyright Other
Image caption The view from Eileen's seat

I have a pass which lets me use the disabled viewing platforms. They are situated above the crowd, which allows me and other disabled music fans to see the stage from a seated position. The Attitude and Oxfam volunteers make sure that the platform has enough room and that everyone can see. People don't fall over me or elbow me in the face like they did before I found out about the platforms. It makes me feel safe.

Next we head for the autograph signing tent. My legs won't let me queue for an hour, so a lovely security guy lets me sit in a safe area until it's my turn. Then they help me up to meet the band. I of course turn into a wreck, not saying any sensible stuff to Luke Pritchard from the Kooks, only managing a mumbled "I like your suit" and "I think you are cute." Doh!

Image copyright Other
Image caption Eileen meets the Kooks

The food is great but it is hard to find somewhere to sit and eat - I can't get down to floor level. There are some benches but as a disabled person, I am allowed to take essential pieces of equipment onto the site, so my PA carries a camp chair for me to sit on.

Day three

I'm exhausted so we opt for a chilled-out Sunday but then it all builds up for The Hives and Arctic Monkeys in the evening. The crowd looks amazing from our viewpoint and we can see the stage from the platforms really well.

Image copyright Other

Dotted around the site are disabled toilets. There is usually one beside each viewing platform, so we don't have to fight our way through the crowd. They are kept impressively clean too, which is great for those who transfer manually from chair to loo.

We wait on the platforms till the main crowd goes so as not to be pushed or shoved. Paths have been put in so that our wheelchairs or crutches don't get stuck in mud. As we head back to the campsite, we all sing "Follow the yellow brick road" because of their colour.

After swapping addresses, we all go to bed. Tomorrow, everything will get packed up again and we will be offsite with great memories and wishing it was already next summer.

Image copyright Other

Attitude is Everything

More than 3m deaf and disabled people experience live music each year, and as accessibility improves, this number keeps growing.

The charity Attitude is Everything works with musicians, disabled music fans and the industry, to make gigs more inclusive.

More than 90 venues and festivals have signed up to the charity's charter of best practice, which encourages them to go beyond legal requirements for accessibility.

Promoters that work with Attitude typically report a significant rise in ticket sales to deaf and disabled customers - often by more than 100%.


Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and on Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show