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Glastonbury- By Wheelchair

June 27, 2017

I first went to Glastonbury in 1983, when I was 19, and continued going for five years, like a rite of passage. It felt like a rebel enclave, an escape to a utopia prepared to stick two fingers up to the Tory tyranny which was sweeping the country. It felt highly political – all proceeds went to CND – a kind of gathering of tribes and people who had an alternative swing on life who, when they were there, could forget their troubles and express themselves freely. Some people walked around naked, others sold Killing Joke badges pinned to their underpants, many indulged in the array of drugs available along its paths – a real-time Silk Road, long before the online version.

When I look back now, much of what I remember has morphed into one big bubble. UB40 on the Pyramid stage in my first year blew me away, as did the Psychedelic Furs a couple of years later, with the obligatory laser show sending us all varying shades of green. You always had to take the rough with the smooth – the great flood of 1985 saw our tent stolen, and England’s defeat to Argentina in 1986 watched on an 8-inch black and white TV wired up to a car battery, was hard to take – but those five days were always the highlight of my year.

I never expected to make a return. The onset of multiple sclerosis in 1997 increasingly reduced my mobility and I have been confined to a wheelchair since 2007.

So when my friend Rich, who works at The Guardian, mooted the idea of my going back to write an article on accessibility, I nearly bit his hand off. Of course I knew it would not be easy – it is, after all, a festival in a field and I’m quite dependent in terms of my needs – but I was determined to revisit my old stomping ground.

With visions of being marooned in a sea of mud if the heavens opened, I got my old school buddy, Grant, to come along and hired an all-terrain wheelchair.

The number of deaf and disabled people registering for access facilities at Glastonbury has increased by 700% since 2007 and this year, it hosted around 400 ticket holders with disabilities. Katie Moyes, an accessibility co-ordinator at the festival who works closely with Attitude is Everything, a charity whose mission is improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music, is proud of what’s been achieved. She says: “It is a great feeling to provide facilities to those who could not attend and enjoy the festival without them”.

Although it was physically chaotic getting into Glastonbury, with long queues in the searing heat, the Spring Ground accessible campsite, which is a stone’s throw from the John Peel stage, was perfect. It’s equipped with accessible showers, toilets, mobility scooter hire and its own bus service. Many of its campers have attended countless times and there was a real community buzz about the place, which was contagious. I chatted to countless people with a host of different conditions, from cerebral palsy, to fibromyalgia to arthritis, and all were passionate about the festival. Some worked for the price of their tickets by helping marshall traffic or directing people on the viewing platforms, immersing themselves in the atmosphere and making the festival a second home.

The accessible campsite was also an ideal base because of its proximity to some of the most popular areas. And as our tickets allowed us access to all areas, we could use the quickest and quietest routes to avoid the crowds.

There are still improvements that would make it even easier for disabled festival-goers. I battled my way around on my more versatile mountaintrike as a manual chair couldn’t take the undulating ground and rocky paths. A defence against flooding has improved access and luckily there are lots of disabled toilets, but all the stones and potholes threatened to play havoc with my bladder.

A glimpse of the Glastonbury I used to know can still be found in the green and stone circle fields, but the festival has evolved so much I might as well have landed on the moon, for what I remembered of it. There are more than 100 stages offering countless attractions: at times I was totally swamped by the immense crowds around the main stages. But the 12 viewing platforms allowed me to see a host of bands, even if they too got a little crowded with metal grinding against metal as chairs jostled for the best position. If I just wanted to chill out there were also plenty of places to escape to, such as the theatre and circus fields which were flat, easy to get about in, and not as busy.

Outdoor festivals will never be perfect for people with disabilities and camping in a wheelchair is not straightforward. Still, Glastonbury sets a benchmark for others to follow by making things as easy as possible. It won’t suit everyone in a wheelchair, but when I woke on Monday morning, I felt proud to have made it through to the other side.

If you want to escape your comfort zone and live a bit then it’s definitely the place to be.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 27, 2017 9:04 am

    Reblogged this on michaelsnaith.

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