I’ve never been good with crowds. Even before I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, they made me anxious, and I did my best to avoid them. When I was a teenager I loved going to gigs, but I hated being anywhere near the scrum of bodies at the front. I was much happier hanging back, even if it meant desperately craning my neck to see what was actually happening on the stage.
‘Not being good with crowds’ doesn’t really cover it though – it’s more than that. It’s having a full-blown panic attack when you’re surrounded by people, and being frozen to the spot as you hyperventilate and try to not collapse. I’d all but written off going to festivals, in part due to my anxiety, but also due to my chronic fatigue syndrome, which meant travelling large distances and being away from essential facilities (yes, toilets, I’m looking at you) was a complete no-go.
Along came Attitude is Everything.
I became aware of their festival volunteering scheme through my university in 2013, and signed up straight away – before then, I wasn’t even aware of the accessible provision at many festivals, let alone that you could actually volunteer to help deliver this to customers. I was accepted and allocated to Glastonbury Festival, attended my Oxfam training, and before I knew it, I was down in Somerset for one of the best weeks of my life.
“To all disabled music fans out there who think that their disability is a barrier to volunteering at a festival, please know that it doesn’t have to be.”
The facilities at Glastonbury are exemplary – Spring Ground campsite is a stone’s throw away from the Pyramid Stage, complete with accessible showers and toilets, and there are special disabled access routes across the festival site, which is a godsend whether you have special kit or, like me at the best of times, the energy levels of an anaemic sloth. But what really makes the facilities so great are the campsite staff and volunteers. Everyone’s so lovely and keen to help. It’s like being adopted by a special festival family for five days. Rather than being an afterthought, the disabled access at Glastonbury feels like it’s genuinely something that the organisers put their heart and soul into, and it’s reflected in the spirit of the customers – everyone’s in a brilliant mood that not even the rain can dampen.
Around the site, the viewing platforms at the stages are amazing too. For someone who can’t hack the crowds or standing for long periods, they’ve enabled me to watch amazing artists without worrying about where the nearest loo is, or having a panic attack about getting lost in a crowd of strangers. It’s also incredibly nice to spend time with other patrons who use the accessible facilities – it can sometimes be difficult to talk about your disability, but there’s no need to explain yourself here. Everyone’s there for the music and the atmosphere. It’s refreshing to be able to not worry for once about the symptoms and side-effects of my illness.
To all disabled music fans out there who think that their disability is a barrier to volunteering at a festival, please know that it doesn’t have to be. Attitude is Everything have been amazing in supporting me as a volunteer, helping to find shifts that accommodate my energy levels, and looking after me when I volunteered alone and didn’t know anyone else there. Having a disability can be incredibly isolating, but it’s opportunities like this that make you feel a little less alone – and Glastonbury’s partnership with Attitude is Everything to provide great facilities for all patrons, as well as amazing opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have them, is what all music festivals should aspire to achieve.
Check out more of Hannah’s writing on her website.