As with all of the rest of the Big Green Gathering 2006, the Green Access Mobility Area was a huge success. This was demonstrated in part by the sheer numbers of people who opted to come to the Gathering and to camp in our field or to camp elsewhere and use our facilities. There has also been a great deal of positive feedback.

Last year, which was the first year that our team had endeavoured to coordinate the G.A.M.A. provisions, we had 106 people camping with us. This year, we had over 500 plus many day visitors who were unable to camp. At one stage, late on Wednesday evening, it seemed that our campsite might be full and we would have to turn people away. Fortunately, we were able to reorganise the fire lanes and the car parking on the field to create more camping space. We therefore had just enough space. Next year, as our reputation spreads, we feel that we may need some additional space, as many more people will get to know what we have on offer, which is unique in terms of current festival provision. People now know that they can camp in a safe, secure warm and welcoming space with essential facilities for their needs.

Initial Planning

The initial point of planning for this year’s GAMA facilities began at the end of the 2005 Gathering at a meeting with many of the people who camped on our field. The point of the meeting was to receive comments, criticism and suggestions about how we could improve facilities for the Disabled at the BGG in 2006.

Contact and Information

From this meeting we were able to implement a number of improvements. The first issue raised that needed action was about contact and information. People coming to the BGG or indeed to any festival/gathering who have mobility or other issues often need information specific to their needs. As a result of this, we decided to expand the “Accessibility” Section of the BGG Website with more information.

A leaflet was designed to be used by people with Learning Difficulties and their personal assistants. The leaflet was prepared by Penny Ledger, our Assistant Coordinator, and was accessed from the BGG Website. It showed people who had never been to festivals before what to expect in pictures and simple language. It proved to be very useful and it enabled people who may otherwise be anxious about coming to the Gathering to come and enjoy what we had to offer.

The next point that we addressed was the question of contact. Many people wishing to come have somewhat complex needs. In addition to the facilities that we provided in 2005 such as wide access toilets, electric wheel chair charging and wheel chair accessible showers, other issues arose such as storage of medicine, clinical waste disposal, the need to get on/off site in emergency or sometimes on a daily basis, welfare of assistance dogs, access to a ‘fridge and many other things. In the light of this, we decided that a point of telephone contact was essential. When the website went live earlier in the year a telephone number and an email address were provided. We received 268 telephone enquiries and 173 emails prior to the Gathering. We were able to deal with the majority of these requests for information to the satisfaction of most of the people enquiring. In addition we had a mobile number for use in emergency during the Gathering and this was used extensively.

The telephone contact line/ email address was welcomed by a great many people and enabled them to come to the Gathering with a minimum of concern. It has also enabled us to build up a useful database of knowledge which will make the provision of this facility easier next year.

Concessionary and Carer’s Tickets

One important issue that often arose in the run up to the Gathering was the question of eligibility of people to concessionary/carer’s tickets/on site parking. We had based this on the widely accepted criteria of proof of receipt of the Disability Living Allowance/ Independent Living Allowance/ Blue Badge. It very quickly became evident that these arbitrary criteria were not enough. It was evident that we needed a degree of flexibility if we were to enable all who needed to use our facilities to access to the Gathering. This was especially true in relationship to illnesses such as M.E. In some areas of the country, this very debilitating illness is still regarded as being as a psychosomatic “Yuppie Flu”. In other areas of the country it is regarded as the very debilitating illness that it is, and people are given the proper access to treatment and benefits to which they should be entitled.

The ticket booking agents in Glastonbury, the “Speaking Tree” contacted me about several people in this situation. Many of them were unable to walk very far, wished to come to the Gathering, but did not receive appropriate Benefit. They were often involved in long and complicated Tribunal Appeals with the Benefits Agency about their situation. We were able to deal with these situations flexibly and sensitively. My thanks really do go out to Tasha and Dave at the Speaking Tree who did all the BGG ticketing and who referred all of these situations onwards to me so that we mutually could attempt to help. Because of their sensitivity, many people came to the gathering who otherwise would not have been able to. Thank you to both of you.

Healing in the GAMA Area

Another issue that arose at the 2005 Meeting was the fact that many people on our site could not physically make it up to the Healing Field which was at the farthest part of the site away from GAMA. I raised this earlier in the year with Sue and Chris Weaver of he Healing Field and they very kindly offered us the services of six healers from their group to work on our field. We built a lovely healing area with a Yurt and a Tepee and many people who had never had healing before or who had not been able to get up to the Healing Field had a wonderful healing experience. Thank you – Sue and Chris and all your superb healers, Millie and Kitty who donated the Yurt and the Tepee, and Tanya and George who organised transport of the tepee to the site.

Resting Places on the Site

Many people with mobility issues also commented that there were not enough “resting places” at the gathering where they could sit and watch the world go by when they were tired. As a result of this we built a large number of benches which we sited across the Gathering with a notice asking people to vacate them if a person less able to walk needed to sit. Many people commented very positively about the benches and this is a provision that we would like to expand at the next Gathering.

Large Print and Audio Programme

We also produced a large print version of the programme for the partially sited, and John Moore from Green Radio produced a CD version of the Programme which we transferred to tape cassette for the blind. Thank you – John.

Fire Hazard and Wheelchair Access Lanes

We had also attempted to find some way to mark out the fire and wheelchair access lanes in our field without the use of hazard tape as it had been commented that this could potentially be dangerous to blind people or people in wheelchairs. We had looked at a chalk based marking system and had contacted the Soil Association about this. Unfortunately they had not addressed this problem and could not recommend anything. It is something that they are now currently going to investigate, so hopefully we will be able to use this system next year.

Marquee

These were the main improvements that we undertook this year. We arrived on site on Friday to undertake the work necessary to set up our field. On Saturday, the toilets, fencing, showers, water, and electricity arrived. This was wonderful and in sharp contrast to last year. Unfortunately, however, the marquee did not arrive until Tuesday. This caused us immense difficulties as we had to make benches for the whole of the site in the rain, we were unable to paint signs, we had nowhere to store equipment, and nowhere to prepare anything for the activities that we planned for the duration of the Gathering. We had requested that we had the marquee erected on Saturday and understood that this had been agreed. We would like to repeat this request for the next Gathering.

Staffing

On Wednesday people began to arrive and it very soon became evident that we had a great many more campers on our field than last year. As mentioned above the numbers increased from 106 to more than 500. This involved a great deal of work for our Stewards who spent all of Wednesday and Thursday welcoming people, allocating parking, helping people to put up tents, making cups of tea, being generally helpful and giving out information. This continued unabated for the duration of the Gathering.

On Thursday morning our Craft Team began the morning Children’s Workshops. We had instigated these daily workshops in order to give parents a daily opportunity to have some space in order to get themselves ready for a day at the Gathering. The workshops are very much appreciated, but this year, were oversubscribed as we had so many more campers with children. In spite of the huge increase in numbers the Craft Team coped extremely well and the children had a splendid time.

The upshot of the huge increase in numbers was that by Sunday, all of our Team were happy but completely exhausted. Everyone coped extremely well, but it is evident that next year we will need additional stewards and to increase the Craft Team, especially as numbers camping with us will increase. In the light of this, we would like to request an additional ticket allocation.

Entertainment

Last year, many people on our site appreciated the fact that we were able to have entertainment in our marquee in the evening. Many people camping with us cannot go out at night due to exhaustion, lack of lighting on the site, or the terrain of the farm. Last year, once we realised this, we were able to organise music every evening. This was very much appreciated. For example one person was alone in her tent on the first night and was feeling rather depressed. Her carer’s had gone off duty and for her the festival had finished for that day. She then heard music from our tent, got into her wheelchair, came to the tent and had a wonderful time. As she remarked “I couldn’t go to the festival, but then the festival came to me!”

In the light of the positive feedback that we had last year, we hoped to improve on the entertainment that we had in the evening, and understood post the 19th February meeting in Lewes that GAMA was to be included in the overall music setup for the festival. We had informed many people about this, and people camping on our field were really looking forward to nightly music, something that many disabled people are unable to experience. We had discussed our needs and a programme and times with Entertainments and assumed that we had been included. We were in fact overlooked, and for the first two nights of the Gathering had nothing in the form of entertainment on our field. Many people were very disappointed and it seemed that there was a great big party happening on the other side of the hedge and none of us had been invited to it.

On Friday, Bob from AMARE and the people from SchNews organised a showing of “Glastonbury the Movie” in our marquee and the tent was packed and it was greatly appreciated. (Brig you were great !) They also showed Campaign Films on Sunday. Thank you. Other than that provision of music was spasmodic, to say the least. The biggest disappointment was when we were told that we had a ten piece reggae band booked to play and no one arrived. The marquee was full and eventually after waiting a long time, disappointed people went off to bed.

I would like to request that more consideration be given to our evening entertainment needs and that we are not at the very bottom of the pile when it comes to the allocation of music. Next Year, I would request that the GAMA field be included in the programme; and that we are allocated music well in advance. If this is not possible then I would request that we be given the resources to organize our own entertainments in advance.

Toilet Provision

The final matter which needs to be addressed for the next Gathering is the question of toilet provision. From this year’s meting with our campers we need additional toilets on our field. We had more than four times the number of campers on our field and the same number of wide access toilets. This was unforeseen. Next year we need more toilet blocks on our field sited at the entrance, halfway down and at the end of the field. They also need to be lighted and to have running water.

The question of the toilet cleaning also needs to be addressed. Last year the toilet cleaning service was superb. This year the service struggled to keep up. This probably had to do with the vastly increased numbers at the Gathering

We would request that next year we are involved in early discussions on the question of wide access toilet provision on the site.

Transport

Many thanks must go to Pete Delaney and his crew and his horses who did a valiant job. Their help and assistance on our field was very much appreciated and in spite of the vastly increased demands on their services this year, they were always willing to help us. (Thank you Pete for coming and playing for us round our campfire)

General Comments

Reading the above, which are all essential issues that need to be addressed for the next BGG, one might be given the impression that the experience at this year’s Gathering was a negative one. In fact the matters mentioned, important as they are, and as much as they do need to be addressed, pale into some insignificance when one considers the love, the positivity, the happiness, the cooperation and the sheer joy that characterised this year’s Gathering.

So many wonderful people camped in our field and it was a joy and a privilege to be able to share in all the happiness. Many people who had completely given up the idea of ever coming to a festival again came this year and will definitely be back again next year,

The Gathering had so many highlights. For me personally, several moments come to mind. Firstly it was seeing up to a hundred people, ages ranging from 70+ to four years sitting round our camp fire drumming. This workshop was organised by M.A.D. (Mendip All Drummers), a local group with many disabled members. It was very moving. Secondly, at a “Sing and Sign” workshop, seeing a group of people being taught to sign “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round “ by a six year old girl. Thirdly, sitting round a campfire in the early hours of the morning listening to a woman who had arrived at the Gathering with 1 year old twins in quite a depressed state, playing guitar and singing her heart out in front of a large and appreciative group of people. She said later that the Gathering had given her hope and joy in her heart.

The Future

This year’s BGG has been characterised by inter-area cooperation which has meant that GAMA has been much more integrated into the main festival instead of being an isolated entity. In particular, The Healing Area, Amare, The Kid’s Field, Welfare, The Red Cross, The Horse Drawn and Green Radio have all extended a hand of welcome, assistance and friendship to our field. Thank you to all the Area Coordinators who facilitated this. Next year, I hope that there can be much more inter-area cooperation. I also hope that GAMA can become even more an integrated part of the Gathering.

Acknowledgements:

  • All our campers. Thank you for camping in the GAMA field and for all your appreciation of our efforts.
  • Penny Ledger without whose help none of this would have happened on the GAMA Field.Jos Colover for her help, inspiration and a shoulder to cry on.
  • All our wonderful Setting Up Crew, Arts Crew and Stewards. We must be doing something right as you all turned up again this year and worked so hard. Thank you.
  • Sue and Chris from the Healing Field and their wonderful healers. Your presence in the GAMA Field gave us so much joy.
  • Bob from AMARE. Thank you for giving us the movies.
  • SChNews – Thank you for showing the movies!!
  • Welfare and Red Cross. Thank you for all your help and assistance.
  • Pete, the Horse Drawn Crew and Horses. What can one say, except thank you so much.
  • Bill and Alex – On site Environmental Health Team. Thank you for your encouragement, help and support.
  • John Moore – Green Radio. Thank you for the audio version of the programme produced under difficult conditions.
  • Dave and Tasha at the Speaking Tree. Thank you for your sensitivity in dealing with many complex ticketing enquiries. You were wonderful.
  • An extra Special thanks to Suzi, Janetta, Sharon and everyone at the office. Without you we are nothing!!
  • Finally special thanks to Brig and the Directors. This year definitely was the best one ever. Thank you.

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