On 24th September Kambe’s Production Manager Sarah and Ops Director Chris headed to London to the AIF‘s Wellbeing For Festivals training day. It was a day of learning about accessibility, mental health, crew and audience support, and more. The training offered a chance to hear from leading folks in the field, covering mental health in all aspects of event delivery. The Kambe team were delighted to see the breath of solutions discussed.
1 in 4 people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders in their life time. The fact that artists are 2.5 times more likely shows how mental health is not a niche issue, but something that affects us all, and our industry in particular. It’s immensely positive that conversations are emerging and work is being done to break stigma around the state of our mental health. Particularly in terms of policy, but also in attitudes, mental illness is not supported or accounted for in the same way physical illness, despite both markedly effecting our wellbeing, happiness and ability to work. The question becomes: how do we bring this understanding into the ways we operate as organisations, festivals and teams?
So, how can the festival industry foster good mental health?
A wellbeing- led approach There is a need for the culture of work to shift so that wellbeing comes front and centre. This needs to be a top down approach that creates a culture of openness and support. This allows employees at all levels to feel supported and see the structures in place that signpost this support and how to access it. The end goal is to make this as commonplace as best-practice for Health & Safety. Overwhelming evidence suggests by shifting focus to be more holistic productivity levels actually improve – not that this should be the sole ends in itself. Valentina Camporeale of Kilimanjaro Live gave an insightful talk that argued for investment in “Mental Health First Aid” and nominating two work-place ‘champions’ that act as a first-point of contact, who work as a symbol of a commitment to wellbeing. This is something Kambe hopes to implement in the coming year.
Identify what constitutes mental health best practice It’s important in the industry to have an understanding of who, as an organisation, you will be safeguarding and supporting. We all have core teams, but what about freelancers, those passing through the gates at every level, be they crew, performers, contractors or volunteers? Identifying these different groups becomes a spring board for initiating accountability on multiple levels. For example, when finding contractors, your organisation’s policy on hiring is an opportunity to write wellbeing into the contract – committing to both your responsibilities and the contracting team’s to their staff.
What should festivals be looking out for? Festivals can be totally immersive, high intensity environments. While this is part of their magic, it can also present difficulties for staff, volunteers and performers suffering burnout, for those with preexisting mental disorders, for neurodiverse folks and for those dealing with addiction. A YouGov poll in 2018 revealed the shocking ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault at UK festivals, of which an overwhelming proportion experiencing this were female-identifying. This stat shows how important it is to have robust policy, protections and a medical /wellbeing staff with dedicated trauma and sexual assault specialists. With other AIF festivals, Shambala was involved with the nationwide Safer Spaces campaign which also launched the “Don’t Be A Bystander” campaign.
What are we doing and what have we learned The day was an opportunity to take stock of what we already have in place at our events and a place to provide inspiration for what we might introduce. At Kambe’s flagship Shambala this year we had a specialist addiction councillor onsite, who was available throughout the build too. This is a role we’ll be developing for next year, making sure the service is easily accessible and signposted to our crew who may need it. Hearing from Autism Arts Festival, Kent was illuminating. We were happy to see we already had a visual social story, which made our festival more accessible to neurodiverse people. We have now added this to our family event Starry Skies, and made sure both of these are in more accessible and intuitive spaces on our websites. This talk made us broaden our horizons of what truly autism friendly programming might entail; from sensory wind down tents, content warnings across app, website and programme, and representation.
An inspiring day all round, that is added fuel to the fire in our aspirations to be a welcoming, well-being, people-led organisation and festival.