Helping make the Cheltenham Jazz Festival accessible for everyone

20 May 2024

Cheltenham Jazz Fesival
Cheltenham Jazz Festival
Type: Text
Category: Student stories

By Ruby Jordan-Burrows, Creative Events Management BA(Hons) student.

I had the opportunity to take part in a field research project with Falmouth University on the 1st-4th May at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, as part of the ‘Live Audience Accessibility and Augmentation 2 project with Beat Blocks.

It’s a research project that measures users' experiences/perceptions of how they feel when using an interactive haptic flooring system, which is a dance floor installed into live music venues that turns the sounds into felt vibrations. We’re hoping this can make live music more accessible for people who are Deaf, disabled or neurodivergent.

This was the fourth stage of research and I was able to go along with three other students and volunteer as a Research Assistant and see the floor in action at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Day One

The first day consisted of installing the flooring into the festival tent. I was able to assist the production team with carrying the blocks to and from backstage to the tent. This was great as I was already experiencing what happens backstage and behind the scenes of production at a festival.

Through doing this I also met those who were involved in the creation of the flooring and the festival site manager: it was really interesting to see how they worked in a chaotic environment, as they were very calm and organised which inspired me to work like that at my future events.

We were instructed on how to install the different elements to the beat blocks and it was cool to see and experience the setup of it on site.

Day Two

The second day started with a briefing where my role for the day was explained.

Many different communities with accessibility barriers came in to try out the flooring and it was my job to collect audience responses as to how they felt the flooring impacted their experience. I also tried to create a calm environment, encouraging those onto the floor as some people were nervous at first.

It was a very rewarding experience and was amazing to see the smiles on people's faces when on the dance floor.

I had a range of audience responses which made it more interesting for me to see how people are impacted differently. An interaction with one woman that really stood out to me; she said ‘I’m deaf, but I really felt a sense of belonging a connection to the music when on the floor, all I need now is subtitles so that I can sing along!’

This day also consisted of a ‘photo elicitation’ process where photos were captured with consent of those on the dance floor, and then they would be taken through to take part in interviews. These interviews gave us a chance to gather audience reactions to the photos of them on the dancefloor.

Although I was mainly on surveys this day, I got to do the interviews at the end too, which was great as I got to experience a bit of everything.

Day Three

On the third day an ‘Access to Music conference’ took place where industry professionals came in; there were speakers from Attitude is Everything and Musicians Union, several panels and a performance from world champion beatboxer ‘Bellatrix’. Audience members tested out the flooring and it was my role to receive feedback and assist onto the dancefloor if necessary. This was a very educational and interesting day and I got interviewed at the end to share my experience of the research project.

Not only was this an educational trip, I also had lots of fun and the whole team got to watch some of the bands, like The Brand New Heavies on the mainstage which was a great end to an amazing few days.

I will take everything into consideration when managing my future events, too - for example, having wheelchair friendly tables, sensory bags, and change how to speak to those who are hard of hearing in a more accessible way.

Since doing the festival I have also taken part in a British Sign Language training event and I will continue to improve my BSL skills. My goal in life is to set up my own music/arts café and I am going to take everything I learned on board!

Cheltenham Jazz Festival

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