Health / accessibility

Accessing the arts

By jess connett, Thursday Aug 3, 2017

Bristol Accessible Venues Group is made up of representatives from Bristol’s largest and most established cultural institutions – Arnolfini, Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol Museums, Bristol Old Vic, Colston Hall, St George’s BristolTobacco Factory Theatres and Watershed.

Though they offer very different things, they all are determined to address the access requirements of even more people, whether they are audience members, staff, facilitators or artists

“We have a vision to make Bristol a more accessible city,” says Helen Jaffa, front of house manager at Watershed. “Being accessible is an integral part of providing a service to the public. The arts and culture that make Bristol so attractive ought to be available to every person.”

The working group was born from a conversation at the end of 2015, between Watershed and Colston Hall, around becoming dementia-friendly venues. They began to hold regular meetings to share progress and ideas.

“We got involved in Dementia Awareness Week and trained some of the front of house staff to be Dementia Friends, but for me, the most rewarding part was the link with Colston Hall, and the chance to see how other people do things,” Helen says. “We opened up the conversation to include more venues, and began to develop a forum to share ideas.

A BSL signed reading at a recent Watershed family event

“We weren’t starting from scratch,” Helen stresses. “Watershed had already done a lot of work with the Deaf and hard of hearing communities to make our cinema more accessible – captioned screenings and signed events, for example. We could share lots of the work we had done, and our specific knowledge of how it worked in the setting of a venue.

“Other venues had done work in other areas. Bristol Hippodrome had put on relaxed performances of their pantomimes, to make them a more comfortable environment for anyone with sensory or communication disorders. We all had expertise, contacts and ideas for improving accessibility in specific areas.”

The group is in relative infancy still, but with regular meetings and upcoming training arranged, it’s coming into its own as a place to celebrate successes and learn from mistakes. “It’s a nice space to be in,” Helen says. “It’s not a competition between venues – it’s people in operations roles working together to improve Bristol as a whole.

“I feel so passionate about this,” Helen says sincerely. “Addressing issues around accessibility should be at the top of the priority list, not just something that you do when you have time.

“There’s so much to be done and not always a clear way to do it, so it’s really good to share learning and empower people by putting individuals in the centre of the conversation. The potential is huge, and we can learn far more this way than if we only existed individually.”


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