These days I am doing quite well physically, I haven’t used my wheelchair since February, and I am gradually pushing myself to do a little more and more over time. It is paying off and I am now able to go and do all day photography shoots, run workshops etc. It is wonderful.

None the less, my confidence has been knocked considerably by getting so ill. My body betrayed me, it literally refused to take another step one day and I spent a huge amount of time in such an exhausted fog of pain and fatigue that Disney films were beyond me. Not being feeling like I can trust my body is an expected side effect of this.

I used to have an abundance of confidence. I commuted across London on a bike, well before it became as bike friendly as it is now. I drove across the country and London on my motorbike. One year I decided I was going to sign up for a Sprint Triathlon the following weekend as a birthday present to myself. I was doing quite a bit of running at the time (I think I had already run a half marathon) and swimming too, but hadn’t really been on a bike for years. I also hadn’t done any outdoor swimming, beyond paddling in the sea. That didn’t stop me, I did it anyway, and did surprisingly well!

I want to start pushing my boundaries again, I’m up to 1800 meters in the swimming pool and I am generally feeling a lot fitter and stronger, but I wanted to really test myself and do the things that I used to do. I wanted to go to a festival by myself, and so after a bit of Googling, I found Greenbelt, a Christian festival.

A couple of months ago I called them to talk to their team and what a lovely, kind and understanding lady she was, I’m sorry I didn’t get her name. It was wonderful to be heard, understood and for them to have already made provision.

I explained that I have an invisible disability and she said that was fine. This is what they do which she said might help me:

  • I can arrive a day early so I can recover from travelling and setting up and leave a day later too
  • There is a camping field which is nearer to the festival
There is a little truck to carry my camping stuff so I’m not exhausted by the time I get there
  • I can use the disabled toilets, so that I don’t have to stand in queues
  • There is a haven in the main festival area to calm down and rest
The stewards will look after a chair for me
I can park in the day car park, so if I can’t cope and I need to go home it is not too big a deal
If I need it I can hire a mobility scooter
Ask any steward and they will help

I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to have all of my concerns addressed before I even asked them.

This is a true understanding of disability in all its forms, they had made provision and there was no fuss. These are just the services they provide which are relevant to me, I know that they have a sign language team, charging stations for medical equipment and much more. There is even a sign language session for hearing people to learn how to sign key parts of worship.  Access is so much more than making sure there are ramps and an accessible toilet and Greenbelt shows they understand this.  They have even been recognised for this

We are really pleased to have been awarded the Gold Level on the Charter of Best Practice by Attitude is Everything for our commitment to improving access for deaf and disabled festivalgoers at Greenbelt.

We’re one of only two mainstream multi-arts festivals in the UK* to have achieved this standard. The other being Glastonbury! (Greenbelt and Glastonbury in the same breath – it has a certain ring to it.)

Once I had bought my ticket there was a form to fill in, to make sure they have the right number of people and support available. The questions they asked shows their true understanding of disability.

In the run up to the festival I have received detailed emails explaining how they want bags packed so they can transport them for us easily, and explanations of how to identify the access team from other stewards and other details. 
I cannot tell you how excited I am, it’s like the first time I got my whizzy wheelchair and I was able to go to the supermarket, which had been out of my ability for ages. I can go and do what I want, spend time at a festival, with access to talks on social justice, music, performance, workshops, worship (including a Goth Eucharist!) and all sorts of activities. It maybe that I go and it is too soon for me, if that is the case that’s fine there are people who can help me. I may have to rest more than I want to, but at least I will be there. I will plan my days accordingly.

My biggest hope is that I don’t need all of this extra provision, but I certainly wouldn’t have risked going to a festival without all of these things in place, or I would have done, but my excitement would have been blunted by worry and anxiety. In an ideal world, all festivals would provide this level of access, but that is just not the case.

Thank you to all the people concerned at Greenbelt, I am really looking forward to it. I think you are already living up to the ‘you, me, us’ and the ‘common good’ straplines you use! I’m heading off on Thursday, to arrive a day early so I can set up and rest before the festival starts on Friday.

Images taken from the Greenbelt website

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