Words by Abi Scaife
Update: Sadly Festability 2023 is no longer going ahead.
Music is for everyone - it’s a well-known fact and one that music festivals are built around. People from all walks of life coming together for a passion they all share is a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately, for some, festivals don’t feel all that inclusive. That’s a problem that has effectively been fixed, thanks to three mums from Kent and their brilliant inclusive nonprofit festival - Festability.
Debs, Vanessa and Carrie are all mums to children with extra needs. For Debs the motivation was simple - she wanted all of her children to experience live music in a way that was as equal and inclusive as possible. Each of her three children has extra needs, and all experience the world in very different ways.
“My youngest son is blind [and] we can take him anywhere – his white stick gets him all that ‘ooh, bless him’," Debs tells Smiley News.
"Usually, we end up backstage because the band want to meet him. And if he rocks when he dances, nobody cares.
"But then my eldest son, he rocks when he dances but he doesn't have the right stick. You always walk away knowing he's been judged or somehow made him a point of interest. And I wanted an event where he could just go out and be himself - because he’s fab!”
Debs saw a video on Facebook of a small, inclusive festival that took place elsewhere in England and shared it on her timeline.
Never one to shy away from a challenge (or from something that she knows needs to be done), she asked her Facebook friends if anyone would be interested in doing something similar in Kent.
Festability was born.
Festability is a Community Interest Company (CIC) and takes place in Quex Park, Kent, every year. Aimed at everyone, regardless of ability or impairment, the goal of Festability is to create a safe space for people to enjoy music without having to worry about the issues from traditional festivals that can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, or even dangerous for people with disabilities.
“We have one young boy who comes to us every year," she explains. "I bump into him in town and he's so excited when he sees me because I am Festability for him - it's just so lovely!
"I love watching the parent carers relax. You see them walk in, especially the first time, and they're not sure. And then you see them go, ‘Hang on this is fine; he can do whatever he wants to - because nobody cares!’"
Debs has families who have been to the festival every single year. "They buy the tickets as soon as they go on sale," she says. "They're the first ones there, they come in with deckchairs - it's something I'm super proud of.”
Along with Carrie and Vanessa, Debs has come up with a bunch of different activities to make the festival more enjoyable, and more accessible, to families who have members with additional needs. From messy play (with staff on clean-up duty!) to a VR gaming station for the older ones, Festability is designed for families who need something for everyone - created by people who understand.
Perhaps one of the most important adjustments made by the Festability team is presence of employees who can cover for parent carers so they can enjoy the festival too.
“Carrie manages a charity called SNAAP that's all about activities for people with disabilities, so we pay their staff to come in for the day,” explains Debs, who knows the struggle well as a parent carer.
“Plus, the whole venue is barriered off, which not only stops people coming in, but people getting out. So, even if your child is a runner (and sometimes they're a runner and you're not!) we’ve made sure that they can’t escape.”
It wasn’t until the night after the first Festability that Debs, Carrie, Vanessa and their families really began to realise the full effect of what they had done.
“We sat there in the dark, scrolling through our phones – the feedback started to come in and it just blew us away," she says. "It was people saying things like ‘this is the most fun you can have in a field without alcohol’ … the one that really hit me was a mum who contacted us and said, ‘I hope you know that today. You make dreams come true.'"
Festability 2023 takes place on 10 June at the Quex Park country estate in Thanet, Kent. If you want to buy tickets to Festability, or wish to help them out by volunteering, you can do so on their website. To keep up with everything Festability related you can follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.