Our writer, Mark Forbes, gives a different perspective of Belladrum 2018.
While everyone that is going to the festival has their own way of getting organised for it, it’s very different for our family, as my brother in-law James has Angelman syndrome and uses a wheel chair for mobility.
Just like the rest of us attending the festival he loves the live music and the entertainment and the food as well as being amongst all the people. He just needs a lot of support to do it! In fact, it takes about eight of us, which is made up of family members and friends!
It starts with us buying our tickets. As a big crew it pays to get in first with the early tickets as much for peace of mind as to the price! But we are lucky that Belladrum offer a free carers ticket to people who can prove that they have a disability. This really helps when you have a team of folk to help, as it can become very expensive! We apply for disabled area passes which are needed to access the disabled campsite.
Although we don’t camp overnight we all need passes to get in and out with James. We also need car passes to get in to the disabled car park. We need to take two cars for all our party. One goes to general camping car park and the other one to the disabled car park to help get James there. All in all, we have eighteen passes to print out to get us into the festival.
One of our preparations to make mobility easier round the site we have to alter James wheelchair as we have a normal set up for everyday use and Belladrum festival setup. This means changing the back wheels with mountain bike tyres with different wheel covers which are colourful and distinctive and much admired especially at night with its flashing lights! Also fitting bigger wider front wheels than normal wheels, part of the reason for the change is because we realized one wet year the chair was too hard to push around in the soft ground. It took an emergency phone call and a quick visit to NHS wheelchair services and we were back in action.
The first day of Bella we are early birds and like to get there as the campsite opens so we can be organised before James arrives. Also, one third of the campsite is on a steep slope, which then is not easy to manoeuvre the wheelchair. We start to set up our “base camp”, for the weekend.
The disabled campsite has been in the same location for a while now, but what changes is the way it is managed. Each year it starts with an element of confusion by the staff over what is and is not allowed (we understand there must be rules) but there is a need for flexibility as there is such a diverse range of abilities in the people using the disabled campsite.
Sometimes you are allowed to drop your kit near the gate, others not, which can be a real struggle when trying to empty a car parked on a slope and you are struggling with mobility. Fortunately, we have found that when they have had ten or so folk explain why they cannot manage, they rethink and become more understanding! Having been for a good few years, you recognize the regulars who go year in year out and there is a real sense of community with folks helping each other into the area. We pitch our camp (for it’s definitely glamping) with tables and chairs and rugs and blankets and lots of goodies to eat. With base camp ready, the early birds go home and rally the troops ready to head in for the main arena to open!
Now the reason we choose to go to Belladrum is the fact that it’s a family friendly and proactive festival at helping to overcome problems with mobility also it’s about two miles from our home which is very handy and means we all go home at night and get a good night sleep and a shower! You may say at this point that it’s not so much the festival spirit to be worried about going home and having a shower. But when you have three days of pushing a wheelchair we need this, so we can be ready for the days a head of pushing James round the festival.
Over the years things have changed. On the original Thursday night, you used to have to go down steep slopes to get to the main arena as the main stage was fenced off and covered the roads which were blocking really good access. At the time, we consulted the management team that if they moved the fence over two meters it would give good safe access. They listened and eventually did as we suggested and have done ever since.
Over all most of the site is pretty accessible ,remembering essentially, it’s a field with hills, but It may be hard work pushing a wheelchair. The worst thing that can cause the biggest problems for us is if it has been wet on the lead up to Belladrum as the ground becomes very soft and difficult to push the wheelchair. The worst part to can be getting through is the marshy hilly part just between the temple and the walled garden which never really dries out!
In the beginning when we started to come to Bella the main stage area was not easy to move when acts are finishing but we have learnt that with the hills it’s really difficult to get out, so we just have to wait! This year was the first year while the headliners were on that we struggled to get to the disabled platform as the route was filled with people sitting in chairs and picnic blankets awaiting the show, but once folks started to notice us the crowd parted and we got through. Also the wheel chair has got flashing wheels which has helped with people to see the chair in the dark the lights have had a really positive response not just with helping folks to see James at busy points enabling them to give us space to pass, but also with the drunken revelers saying they like the wheels.
I have to say that from a friendly bunch of festival goers we are always delighted at the response we get. It is the likes of bat girl on superhero year wanting her picture with batman in his wheelchair. And the amount of folks just approaching and wanting to speak to James and see if he is enjoying Belladrum! We are always astounded at the amount of folks that remember us from previous years, James is usually the most well-known and popular of the group! (We know we cramp his style!!)
Our biggest hurdle with attending the festival sometimes is in how individuals in security can deal with you. We unfortunately are not black and white in-fact we are defiantly grey! We are regularly met with a one box fits all mentality. As the disabled campsite is joined to the side of the general campsite ,which is really busy and has narrow gates to get through to the main arena which are also is really uneven-ground. At this point security can be pretty harassed ,after having to put up with chancers all day bending the rules and not able to see individual needs! At busy spells we can sometimes get through a road gate next to this but it’s very much up to the individual on the gate or their supervisor allowing it!
Other points that can cause problems as lots of people with disabilities have lots of medications which have to go with the person at all times and some of these medications we have to have come in glass bottles!
With some of these disabilities also we need to use specialist utensils to aid drinking and eating or even specialist food or drink itself Sometimes the only thing the person will drink from is a certain china cup or a special shaped plate or spoon and it’s difficult to explain when trying to get through a really busy check point. You may well say, you can just go back to the camp area but the effort it takes to get back out of the main arena can be quite substantial and we are lucky if we leave the area a handful of times over the weekend because of it.
Even my daughter this year had problems with a member of security. He would not let her take her glasses through to the arena in her glasses case as she was wearing her sunglasses. We could not understand his thinking on this at all. However most have a common-sense approach and are really helpful and to these members of the security team we praise you.
For a couple of years there was a young security lady on the disabled campsite gate she was friendly and always ready to help. I believe she won an award for it last year, sadly she wasn’t here this year.
Although you have heard me talk about difficulties and hard work that it takes to be able to get James to Belladrum and round it, that is not how it actually is for us. Over the last few years we have made some amazing memory’s with our family and friends, knowing James we can see his enjoyment in it and his eagerness to get to Belladrum over the three days and afterword’s, he is a lifted person! We will be looking at the photos and watching videos though out the coming months with James which just lifts him again and again!
If there is one thing that Belladrum could do to make life a huge way easier is if in any way they could provide a changing facility, not a disabled toilet, with a changing bed and a hoist!
We really enjoy Belladrum. it’s friendly folks, amazing music and entertainment, some really good food as well! the festival overall has an approachable team of staff, it all makes for an incredible experience for all of us.
Keep up the good work and keep striving to make it a more accessible festival for everyone!