The family-friendly branch of the festival industry is one that has grown impressively over the last 10 years. The idea of a family-friendly festival can seem a bit odd to some as festivals are traditionally associated with the consumption of lots of alcohol and/or other substances. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, so the saying goes, and definitely not for children. However, millennials and other seasoned festival veterans, who make up the majority of punters, are moving well into adulthood; a lot are sober (ish) and a lot are having children. And what the market is realising is that it needs to mature along with its clientele. Some of the biggest names on the UK festival circuit are now offering a more inclusive line-up of entertainment, including Glastonbury, Festival No. 6, Kendal Calling, Green Man and Latitude. Nowadays, at the right festival, you can listen to panel discussions on subjects as broad as the mind, featuring renowned musicians, writers and academics; you can have a sit-down gourmet meal with a Pimms cocktail; you can see circus acts or comedy; there’s film, fireworks, parades, crafts and fancy dress as far as the eye can see.
The family friendly, or ‘quiet’, camping areas at mainstream festivals are a place where there will be a few beers but they won’t carry on until sunlight, populated by people who are jolly but not jelly-legged. The family-specific festival, however, goes one step further, attempting to create a cool festival experience that is based around families. Camp Bestival is the undoubted queen of the family festival and ‘sister’ to the hugely popular Bestival, both founded by DJ and seasoned festival organiser Rob Da Bank. “When we started [Camp Bestival], the whole idea of a properly dedicated family festival didn’t really exist. I think we were the first to build the thing from the ground up around the family experience, not just as a tokenistic thing tacked on the end.”
What Rob Da Bank and wife Josie were after was quality music acts alongside quality entertainment that would appeal to all in an environment that is safe and accommodating. Set in the magical grounds of Lulworth Castle, it is as picturesque as festivals get and Camp Bestival was an immediate success – reflected in being named Best Family Festival at the UK Festival Awards in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 14. The Camp Bestival line-ups have always included some of the most legendary acts in popular music (Chuck Berry and Blondie) along with some of the most promising up and coming names – as well as offering that fantastical, carnivalesque experience associated with the likes of Glastonbury.
There are those that bemoan the integrity lost in a festival that showcases theatre, art, food and discussion as well music. There are those that complain about the expansion of the industry and claim that, due to their popularity, festivals have invariably been sanitised. “People say the market is saturated, and there’s no doubt that there are a lot of festivals around,” says Rob, “but running one has always been more of a vocation rather than a money-making scheme. As the market has grown, it’s become too easy for everyone looking in to concentrate on the wider industry picture and not see all the individual innovations… A festival done well, like most of them are, will always have something special to offer.” What we have to realise when longing for some idea of what once was, is that there’s not much we can do about change. What Rob is saying is that a nostalgic view of festivals can distract you from the benefits of present and future opportunities. “There are lots of growth areas, from mindfulness to proper healthy food and drink that have been steadily changing the face of festivals and that will continue for a long time. There’s still a lot of untapped ideas out there.”
There are other factors at work in the rise of the UK family festival. With the 2008 recession, followed by austerity’s tightening grip on working peoples’ budgets and now the economic impact of Brexit on the pound, ‘staycationers’ are on the rise. In some cases, a festival weekend could be a cheaper alternative to holidaying abroad. Not only this, but in an online world, time away from screens and engaging with people in real life can be refreshing. Getting away from the relentlessness of modernity to green fields and entertainment is a welcoming prospect to an increasing number of families. As a festival goer pre- and post-babies, you have the opportunity to appreciate the experience through a new lens. A child’s-eye view is a wondrous thing, no one can deny, and one that is perhaps more in touch with traditional festival intentions: their natural joie de vivre and sense of adventure align perfectly.
Another hugely successful family festival is Deer Shed, founded in North Yorkshire by wife and husband Kate Webster and Oliver Jones. Now in its eighth year, Deer Shed has grown from 1,500 attendees to an estimated 10,000 for 2017. “We were fed up experiencing music festivals that purported to be family-friendly, but, in reality, just penned children off in an uninspiring area while the parents had all the real fun,” says Kate. “We wanted to incorporate families but didn’t want to dumb it down just because kids were involved. Something offering performances, spectacles, activities and workshops that all ages could enjoy.” And this is a trend that Kate sees continuing. “It’s not enough for festivals to just put on a big name on a big stage and expect a big crowd. Providing that organisers realise this and subsequently invest in their whole programme – ranging from arts to science – the family festival industry should thrive.”
As mentioned, music is no longer the sole focus of festival organisers and the industry is producing and supporting a plethora of small independent businesses, from food vans to brass bands, theatre and circus groups. Big Fish Little Fish are an events organisation that specialise in touring family raves, an extension of the modern family-friendly ethos that provide ‘mini festival’ experiences. Classic EDM is teamed with light installation, craft tables, bubbles, glitter and baby-changing facilities to provide a specialised event whose tag line is ‘2-4 Hour Party People’. Founder Hannah Saunders began the event as a one-off party in Brixton four years ago; now, BFLF has regional branches and regular spots at venues and festivals up and down the country, including Camp Bestival and Glastonbury.
“My favourite thing is when we get all generations coming along and Grandma and Grandad join in too,” says BFLF’s North West organiser Rachel Wilkinson. “I had my kids when I was a bit older and found that suddenly I was immersed in baby groups and nursery rhymes. I’d always loved clubbing, [going to] festivals and gigs and felt like I’d lost a bit of my identity in all the new baby stuff.” There’s no doubt that becoming a parent can do murderous things to your social life but it is also important to make time for your passions; families that rave together, stay together. “The kids love dancing with Mum and Dad, and there’s loads of other stuff for them to do,” adds Rachel. The response to BFLF has been phenomenal and just this year the group won not one but four awards at the Get Creative National Family Arts Festival Awards.
It’s obvious that these parents/festival organisers are serious about their music and dedicated to making an inclusive experience that refuses to compromise on this fact. But what is the future of the family festival? “I don’t know how many more different family-specific festivals might spring up, but I do think you’ll see existing festivals take on more of a family-friendly aspect so that people with children know they are welcome,” adds BFLF founder Hannah, and we’re pretty convinced by this line of thought. You only have to look closer to home at Merseyside’s own thriving festival scene – such as LIMF, Arica Oyé and Positive Vibration – to see that it is not uncommon for families to be an important factor in the planning of festivals. And why not?
Take a look at our pick of some of the best family festivals around here.