Charter could give fresh access boost to smaller live music venues

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The country’s smaller live music venues will be encouraged to make access improvements that are within their budgets, and so open their doors to Deaf and disabled audiences and artists, thanks to a new best practice charter.

The Grassroots Venue Charter of Best Practice will support hundreds of smaller, independent music venues – those with a capacity of 500 or less.

The charter, devised by the user-led Attitude is Everything (AiE) campaign, is designed to complement AiE’s existing Charter of Best Practice, which has led to more than 130 larger venues and festivals securing accreditation.

AiE’s figures show that ticket sales to disabled fans at festivals and venues accredited through the main charter increased by 21 per cent in 2016, an estimated economic boost of almost £8 million.

The grassroots charter will allow venues to win accreditation even if they do not have an accessible toilet, by securing permission from local businesses to use their facilities and making sure that that information is available to disabled customers.

It will also allow venues without a lowered bar to secure charter accreditation, by pledging that staff will serve wheelchair-users from in front of the bar.

And venues will also be able to secure accreditation if they provide a viewing area, rather than the viewing platform required by the main charter, for reasons of both space and money.

The new charter focuses on low-cost access solutions, with an emphasis on “flexibility and creativity”.

Among the areas that need to be addressed by venues seeking accreditation are providing accessible booking systems and signage; providing respite and sensory spaces (for silver and gold awards); and ensuring staff can describe access arrangements to customers.

Other targets for a venue seeking the lowest accreditation level of the charter – the bronze award – are online access information approved by AiE’s Access Starts Online initiative; basic access information provided in advance to bands and promoters; and free tickets for personal assistants.

Natalie South, Attitude is Everything’s new grassroots project manager, who was previously a mystery shopper for the charity, said the charter was about asking venues to make reasonable adjustments, so only asking them to make access changes they can afford.

The new charter has been backed by the Music Venue Trust (MVT), with the first bronze award accreditation going to Tunbridge Wells Forum, an MVT member, which has previously hosted artists such as Adele, Green Day, Oasis and Coldplay.

Tunbridge Wells Forum is fitting an accessible toilet and has made adjustments to allow level access into both the performance space and the backstage area.

Suzanne Bull (pictured), AiE’s chief executive, said: “Many artists cut their teeth and hone their performances in local venues all across the UK, and to be able to open these venues up to disabled artists and audiences is really exciting.”

Singer-songwriter Frank Turner, who played Tunbridge Wells Forum in 2013, said: “Small and independent music venues are very close to my heart, and they’re the lifeblood of any music scene.

“That scene should be accessible to all people who want to come. It’s wonderful to see Attitude is Everything bringing these ideas together and working to make sure that everyone is able to enjoy live music at all levels.”

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of Music Venue Trust, said: “We are very pleased to have worked alongside Attitude is Everything over the last few years to enable a really positive charter to come forward.

“It creates a process which supports grassroots music venues to understand and start to address the need for access.

“The charter contains specific, achievable actions which these venues can take and be recognised for.

“We hope many more venues will be able to take positive steps in this area, supported by the bespoke approach Attitude is Everything is able to bring to this process.”

The new charter is part of AiE’s Breaking The Sound Barriers programme, which is funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.