Written by Emily Jones – board member
A few years ago, I attended a presentation by the charity Attitude is Everything which started with the statement that “jazz clubs are probably the worst type of venue for disabled access”! Whilst those in the know understand not all jazz clubs are in basements, the assumption that jazz and improv venues are inaccessible to great swathes of the population left me with a longstanding desire to address the problem.
“Throughout the process, the Attitude is Everything team were on hand to advise when we needed clarification, and were great at suggesting acceptable alternatives when certain criteria couldn’t be met directly.”
Since starting work at Sage last autumn, I’ve gained a great insight into what gold-standard accessibility looks like in a music venue. Musical inclusion is at the heart of what Sage does so access has been a priority for the organisation since its inception. We are fortunate that our building is relatively new and when it was being designed just over 15 years ago, access was pretty high on the public agenda, so we have the advantage of purpose-built facilities with flat level access throughout the backstage area and lifts to all floors and Front of House. However, that doesn’t mean the Attitude is Everything charter has completed itself, as most of the action points focus on training staff, providing customers with information on access and most importantly at the moment, ensuring online content is accessible too.
“jazz clubs are probably the worst type of venue for disabled access”!
Sage had previously been certified as a Gold venue by Attitude is Everything, but our team noticed that over the years some of the arrangements we had put in place had gradually slipped and, in fact, the Gold criteria had been updated by AiE in the meantime. So at the end of last year the team decided it was time to recertify as a Gold venue.
Essentially this meant completing the Action Plan from scratch. We assigned someone to lead the project, set up monthly meetings with the relevant operational and programming staff and also made it a standing item on the agenda for our Creative Diversity and Equality group. Action points from the charter were assigned to different team members who made the relevant arrangements and completed the assessment sheet. During the meetings we ran through each section of the charter highlighting problem areas which needed further discussion.
“This felt like a great example of how much can be achieved when prioritising accessibility starts at the ‘top’ of the organisation.”
For us, a lot of the work involved reinstating certain systems and processes that had been affected by team members leaving or other changes over time, rather than creating new processes. Sometimes it took a while to track down the right information or person: where had the ‘easy read’ menu for the cafe gone? Who had put together the ‘getting to the venue’ guide? Like any arts organisation, this work was fitted around delivering events, so progress sometimes had to pause while staff members were busy with other things. Having said that, forced closure due to Covid-19 has provided us with a handy opportunity to re-train all of our casual staff on accessibility before they return to work, and I can imagine for others it presents a useful opportunity to work towards the charter for the first time. Throughout the process, the Attitude is Everything team were on hand to advise when we needed clarification, and were great at suggesting acceptable alternatives when certain criteria couldn’t be met directly.
There were a couple of more significant changes we needed to meet the Gold criteria, and I think one of the critical factors was having the Directors on board with the process. For example, the Gold criteria include provision of a respite and/or sensory space for disabled customers. The space should be in a quiet area but still be easily and quickly accessible for the customer. The most suitable room in the building was a small ground floor office near the front entrance, currently used by one of the Directors. I was impressed with how quickly arrangements were made for the Director to be allocated a spare meeting room as an office, and within a few weeks the original space had been repurposed for disabled customers. This felt like a great example of how much can be achieved when prioritising accessibility starts at the ‘top’ of the organisation. Since starting at Sage I’ve also been working with a lot more disabled artists, and even through anecdotal information from them, the venue’s reputation as a welcoming space for disabled artists and audiences has spread far and wide.
If you’re interested in making big steps towards making your venue accessible for everyone, then get in touch with our Network manger Lucy Wooley at firstname.lastname@example.org, and join our case studies with Attitude is Everything.