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Festival fun after brain injury

Festival fun after brain injury

"If it gets too much, chill at the back"

Festival season is in full swing and if you love music, dancing and the great outdoors a festival can be great fun!

The festival environment can present many challenges for brain injury survivors, however having a brain injury doesn’t have to be a barrier to attending a festival.

In this special feature we give some advice and guidance on attending a festival with a brain injury – including accessibility needs and managing the effects of your brain injury.

 

Accessible camping

The majority of camping festivals will provide an accessible wheelchair-friendly camping area. This is usually relatively flat and will have more toilet and showering facilities than other camping areas.

Some festivals will place accessible camping areas near to the main festival site, whereas others will place it in the quietest area available. Either way, there should be wheelchair access to the main festival site. It may also be possible to park your car next to your tent, otherwise disabled parking should be nearby.

Most festivals also provide a quiet camping area. This is usually away from the main stage and campers are discouraged from playing music or making noise in the evenings. Therefore, if you do not require accessible camping but experience some of the hidden effects of a brain injury, such as fatigue or noise sensitivity, you may want to consider applying for a space in the quiet camping area.

campsite

Festivals will usually have a fridge in the steward’s area where festival-goers can store medications. Many festivals will also offer electrical points for charging wheelchairs or medical equipment.

Accessible camping normally needs to be applied for in advance and fields may fill up quickly. You should therefore enquire about availability prior to purchasing your ticket so as not to miss out. You may be required to produce evidence of any disability in the form of a blue badge or DLA/PIP award letter.

 

Festival-goers at Latitude enjoying the viewing platform (photo credit: Sarah Koury)

Festival-goers at Latitude enjoying the viewing platform (photo credit: Sarah Koury)

Accessible viewing platforms

Mud, hills and fields can prove problematic for festival-goers with mobility problems. Most festivals will provide temporary pathways between areas. Nevertheless, a persistent downpour of rain can make these hard to negotiate for wheelchair users.

Most major festivals will provide accessible viewing platforms at main stages. This is a raised wheelchair-accessible area in the crowd where disabled festival-goers can enjoy performances, usually accompanied by another person.

Accessible toilets will be close to the platform and stewards should be available to assist festival-goers on to and off the platform.

Festival-goers are likely to need a pass permitting them access to the viewing platforms. You should contact festival organisers to register for viewing platform access prior to the festival.

Personal assistant tickets

If you have a carer or personal assistant it may be possible to apply for an extra ticket, free of charge, to enable them to attend.

Festival-goer Jason Barber told us: “Just been to the Isle of Wight festival and camped in the disabled camp site (free ticket for my wife as carer) not as far to walk to the arena and more chilled camping. My wife acts as my minder and we have meeting points if we get separated. I carry plenty of water to keep hydrated and not have too much alcohol. Ear plugs are handy if it's too noisy.

Just try not to worry everyone is there for the same reason, to have a good time. If it gets too much chill at the back.

Noise sensitivity

Festivals are noisy places – music, singing, loud speakers, rides and announcements are all part of the festival experience. If you experience noise sensitivity following your brain injury, there are some steps you can take to make this more manageable, including:

  • Quiet area camping
  • Take earplugs as campsites can be noisy
  • Try to avoid standing near to loudspeakers when watching bands
  • Consider using noise-cancelling headphones if the loud music becomes too much
  • Take a break from the music – there are usually lots of quieter activities on offer, including crafts or comedy
Festival crowd

Managing fatigue

Many people experience fatigue as an effect of their brain injury. Festivals can be tiring places and it’s important to remember not to push yourself too much. Here are some tips for managing fatigue at a festival:

  • Try to keep to a routine – sticking to a routine at a festival can be hard. Late nights and disturbed sleep are likely to cause problems with fatigue. Where possible try to keep to your normal sleep schedule, even if this might mean missing later acts.
  • Plan ahead – take a look at the festival programme and make a list of artists you’d like to see. If necessary plan naps into your day, between acts, particularly if you’re planning on staying up late.
  • Take a chair – standing up at stages all day can be tiring for anyone. Take a folding camping chair to use when watching performers.
  • Know your limits – accept that you might not be able to see every artist that you wanted to see or stay up as late as other people, and that’s okay. If fatigue gets too much it’s fine to take yourself home or back to your tent for some rest.
Man enjoying the music

Memory problems

There are lots of things to remember at a festival. Things like ‘where did I put my tent?’ and ‘which band is playing next?’ are questions you might find yourself asking. Here are some tips if memory problems are something you struggle with:

  • Try to pitch your tent next to a recognisable landmark, such as a pylon or a sign. You may also be able to save your location on the maps app in your phone.
  • Considering attaching a distinguishing element to your tent, such as a flag.
  • Carry a festival programme where you can circle bands and make notes to remind you who you’ve seen/want to see.
  • If writing a diary is your thing, keep it up to date during the festival so you can read back through it at a later date.
  • Take photos to remind yourself of the fun you had when the festival is over.
  • Arrange a meeting point with friends so that if you become separated you can easily find each other (a tall landmark is best).
  • If you might become lost and confused consider writing your name and a contact number on your wristband or arm so someone can call your friend/family member if you need assistance.
  • Keep your phone with you and charged if possible, so you can get help if you need to.
  • Festivals usually have clearly marked help points so head to one of these if you need assistance.
Make plans with where you are going to meet people, familiarise yourself with where your campsite is and always carry a mobile with a power pack with you.

- Holly Robinson

Flashing/strobe lighting

Many performances will contain flashing or strobe lighting that may exacerbate certain effects of brain injury, leading to fatigue or headaches.

Music-lover Zoe Williams told us: “The strobe lighting sometimes brings on headaches so I often wear sunglasses, even indoors and at night time”.

Strobe lighting can also cause problems for people who experience epilepsy, a possible side-effect of brain injury, and can bring on seizures. If you experience seizures brought on by strobe lighting you should avoid performances containing this, and be ready to leave the stage area if you begin to fee unwell. Make sure the people you are with are aware of what to do should you experience a seizure. If you’re concerned, contact the festival organisers for details of the lighting used during different acts so you can plan around this.

Latitude Festival

Wheelchair-users at Latitude Festival (photo credit: Sarah Koury)

Brain Injury Identity Card

The Headway Brain Injury Identity Card is designed to let other people know about your brain injury and ensure you receive an appropriate response.

Consider using your card to explain the effects of your brain injury and request any support you may need.

Find a quiet place to recharge when it gets too much. First aid tents are sympathetic, especially if you have your brain injury card.

- Susan Bourne

Alcohol and brain injury

After a brain injury the body’s tolerance to alcohol might be reduced. Many effects of brain injury are also exacerbated after drinking.

You should consider your own relationship with alcohol and if you are going to drink be mindful of the amount of alcohol you consume during the festival and how this could affect you.

The rules on taking your own drinks in to the main festival site vary by festival. You should therefore check this before attempting to bring drinks (alcohol or otherwise) to stage areas.

Festival bars may sell alcohol-free beer/wine or mocktails if you choose to avoid alcohol altogether.

It's important to stay hydrated and there are usually taps for refilling water bottles.

Read more about alcohol and brain injury here.

Alternatives to a camping festival

Unfortunately the nature of many festivals - camping, muddy fields, crowds and loud music - is always going to present challenges for many brain injury survivors.
But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out and there are lots of alternative options that don’t involve tents and/or mud, including:

  • A city centre festival – most big cities have festivals on varying scales. For example Dot-to-Dot Festival in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham. These can be a good option for festival-goers who would prefer to avoid camping as you can stay in a hotel or Airbnb and still be near the action. Even better, many of the venues will be indoors (so no mud!)
  • Day tickets – festivals will often offer the option of purchasing day tickets. This allows you to still get a taste of the festival atmosphere and might be a better option if you would struggle with a weekend-long trip due to the effects of your injury.
  • Gigs and concerts – if you love live music but can’t handle a full line-up of events there are countless opportunities to go and watch your favourite bands, or smaller local bands, at stand-alone shows. Check with the venue about meeting your accessibility needs prior to the event.
 

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