The UK’s leading music festival operator has been forced to sign a legal agreement with the equality watchdog after serious access failings at events it ran both this summer and last year.
Live Nation, which runs Festival Republic, has signed a section 23 agreement* with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), following concerns raised by disabled festival-goers about its Wireless festival in 2022 and Download in June 2023.
Despite the agreement, Disability News Service understands that some disabled people are still taking legal action of their own under the Equality Act following the events that took place at this year’s Download rock festival in Leicestershire.
There were reports at Download of disabled people being forced to camp on gravel because of overbooking, of dangerously-long waits for accessible shuttle buses, a lack of accessible toilets and grab rails, and poorly-trained staff.
One disabled festival-goer reported at the time how the accessible campsite was “overbooked to the point of being a fire hazard” and that she and her partner were unable to find staff to support them, while there was a shortage of accessible toilets and charging points for powered wheelchairs.
EHRC said its concerns followed “multiple reports of poor accessibility” at Wireless in July 2022, with these concerns “heightened” after reports of access issues at Download in June 2023 (pictured), including obscured stage visibility and poor facilities.
Under the section 23 agreement – which will also cover other Live Nation festivals, including Latitude, Wilderness, Reading and Leeds – the company has promised to carry out a “robust lesson learning exercise” to investigate the causes of the problems at the two festivals, and “ensure they are not repeated”.
It will also introduce a new accessibility manual “to assess and promote accessibility on all existing and new festival sites”, which should act as “a one-stop shop for all accessibility-related policies and processes”.
And it will review all its policies and procedures to “ensure accessibility provisions are included”, carry out organisation-wide training on “disability awareness and accessibility”, and employ mystery shoppers “to ensure that staff are responding properly to accessibility needs in festivals”.
Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, said: “Our disabled fans are incredibly important to us and to the festivals they love.
“We acknowledge and apologise for the fact that two of our festivals fell short and people’s experience was not what it should have been.
“We are grateful to the EHRC for working with us to develop a constructive action plan to improve accessibility going forwards.”
At the time that this year’s festival was taking place, Download is believed to have held a “gold” rating with the accessible music charity Attitude is Everything (AiE) under its Live Events Access Charter, but that now appears to have been removed.
Despite repeated requests, AiE had not provided details of the current and former charter ratings of Download and Wireless, and had declined to comment on the legal agreement by noon today (Thursday).
But an AiE spokesperson said in a statement: “Attitude is Everything will be working with the organisers in the months ahead as they work to implement the points outlined in the agreement prior to next summer.
“As part of this, we hope to assist the event access teams to reapply the standards of our Live Events Access Charter as they work up revised plans to make the events in question accessible for disabled live event attendees in 2024.”
Baroness [Kishwer] Falkner, EHRC’s chair, said: “Live music and festivals are a pivotal part of British culture, and we are lucky to have such a vibrant array of events each year that can cater for every individual taste.
“Festivals deserve to be enjoyed by all, including disabled people.
“No one should be subjected to poor treatment when attending or being put off from attending altogether due to unacceptable access issues.
“The reported experiences at both Wireless and Download festival were unacceptable and should never have happened.
“We welcome Live Nation’s commitment to improve their services and the signing of this agreement will ensure disabled people are not left behind at future events.”
*Under a section 23 agreement, an organisation “commits to not breaching equality law, usually in a specific area where there have been previous concerns”
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