Festivals often struggle to know how to accommodate families. It’s expensive and complicated to provide childcare and offering children’s entertainment can often mean running two festivals on the same site: one for adults and one for kids (perhaps with a third stream for youth).
Greenbelt Festival (the UK-based art, faith and justice festival that has been going since 1974) grasped the family nettle this year and decided to do away with their drop-off childcare. In its place they offered a range of children’s activities — the idea being this would be more flexible and better serve the needs of family revelers.
I was a little unsure how this would work — having the kids in tow for the four days of the festival would make it hard to get to the music, art and talks I wanted to see. But this being Greenbelt — a yearly experience that has become almost pilgrimage-like for our family — we sucked it up and headed hopefully to the racecourse venue in Cheltenham where it has been for the last ten years.
Like any GeekDad worth his salt, I turned to technology to lighten the load. First I ensured I had enough batteries and chargers (I still find the Pebble hard to beat) to last the time in the tent without being cut off. A wind-up lantern, radio and LED torches for each of us complete the preparations.
Then, on the way up the motorway we were able to browse the hundreds of events on offer with their novel iPad app (available via iTunes and on Android via the Marketplace). So much happens over the bank-holiday weekend that it is easy to miss something. This year though, the app became invaluable as we started to plan what things we would go to. We also checked out the site on the iPad app map and made quickly for a prime camping spot once we got there.
As we got into the swing of things, it was actually Greenbelt’s inclusion of older tech that our kids appreciated. Skate parks, Diablo, juggling and stilt walking were all a big hit. The more creative t-shirt painting, forest crafts and phone case sewing were also lapped up — particularly by my eldest daughter. And for some chill-out time there was an on-site Cinema.
The biggest success though, was that these events catered for the whole family, so mums and dads could get good food and drink while the kids got creative. Combine this with the great line-up on main stage and a bit of turn-taking to get to some talks (and the “Jesus Arms” beer tent) and I think this was one of our best Greenbelts yet.
The clever use of technology like the iPhone and Android apps helped, but more than this it was the fact that the kids felt as at home at Greenbelt as we did that was the big winner. Integrating their events in with the rest of the revelry got them involved with the feel of the festival proper.
They are already planning what they want to do at next year’s festival, and I’ve been brewing up some videogame based art events (their one blind spot) to offer as a contributor. I have a secret ambition to bring PAC Manhattan to the festival next year (but don’t tell them that, will you).