Nozstock: challenging site

Nozstock: The Hidden Valley, first launched in 1998, has long been an exciting member of Britain’s independent festival family, featuring a wide variety of musical genres as well as sharing space with theatre, cinema, and cabaret.

The festival hosts ten stages throughout its setting of Rowden Paddocks Farm, Herefordshire, and while they possess one of the more challenging sites on our Charter of Best Practice, we were thrilled to award them the initial Bronze level following a successful 2015, proving that attitude actually is everything. We spoke to Ella Nosworthy from the festival about how it all happened…

What were your original perceptions about what you could do to make your festival more accessible?

We thought there was very little we could do to be honest. Before we started working with Attitude Is Everything we had tunnel vision, thinking accessibility was all about those with mobility problems. We thought because of the difficult terrain we have on site that there wasn’t really anything we could do and what we could do would mean huge financial layout. How wrong we were!
The staff at Attitude Is Everything made us realise that we could be improving our services for a wide range of people with different challenges with some very simple changes. At first all we wanted to achieve was to show people that despite the gradients across the site we were doing our best to do what we could, and the best way we could do that was to be honest about what we can and can’t do - giving people as much information as we possibly can so they can make an informed choice about whether to attend.

Can you talk a bit about the specific challenges you face with your festival site?

It is naturally very hilly and uneven. We have extremely limited areas of flat ground which can affect those with mobility issues but also causes us huge headaches on where we can place stalls and stages each year; we have to be very careful with what goes where. As a predominately greenfield site it also means that the site can become really treacherous during wet weather, and even when we take precautions it can become extremely hard to navigate when there’s rain.

How did you come to decide to include the terrain gradient and stage breakdown?

We didn’t want people to come to Nozstock uninformed about what to expect. One of our stages lay at the bottom of a steep hill and we felt it wouldn’t be fair to pretend otherwise. We didn’t want people to come here and find they couldn’t see everything they wanted to see and not been pre-warned. If we include pictures of as many areas of site as we can people know we have done our best to be honest about the conditions and can make an informed decision about attending.
This year, in being honest about the challenges on site, it meant people came prepared and actually were pleasantly surprised when they arrived!

Could you please tell us about the development of your social story?

Recently I was personally involved in marketing a relaxed performance at a local theatre; before that had never heard of a social story but experienced first-hand how important and helpful they can be, and realised it was something Nozstock could offer very easily. I understand that for those who use them they can be invaluable; and not just for those with learning difficulties, but really anyone who has never attended a festival before as it can be very overwhelming. We kept it fairly broad so as not to overwhelm people and it’s something we can easily update year on year.

Do you feel the process was easier than expected as people with a background knowledge of disabilities were involved?

Absolutely. Attitude is Everything have been invaluable. They have helped us to change our attitude and realise how simple it could be to make great improvements and being accessible doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of pounds redesigning an entire site. We have gone to the team with various questions about accessibility but also to find out what other festivals have done when facing similar challenges. More than once when asked questions by members of the public I approached Attitude is Everything to find out what standard practice was.  It’s been a great support network for Nozstock.

Have you had any feedback from costumers or staff as to the positive nature of these changes?

A few people have commented on our great customer service, which is lovely, and have complimented aspects of the website. They have also suggested improvements, which is great - there is always more we could do.

What’s been the impact of accessibility on Nozstock?

By making a few really simple changes to our policies, our training and our website, Nozstocks accessibility has improved tenfold in the last year. It has definitely helped to implement a change of attitudes with our crew who are now always looking for what more we could do and to go the extra mile. It has also helped to get Nozstock’s name out there more; in 2015 for the first time we had to open up a second accessible camping area because we had so many requests!

Nozstock were awarded Bronze on the Charter of Best Practice in 20215