In February 2020 we launched ourselves as the world’s first Relaxed Venue. In a move to open up to more audiences, we’re radically embedding access and inclusivity across all our activities.
The Relaxed Venue method works to identify and dismantle the barriers faced by disabled people, based on the Social Model of disability.
As part of Arts Council England’s Change Makers programme, we’ve been working with Touretteshero – co-founded by artist Jess Thom in 2010 as a creative response to her experience of having Tourettes Syndrome – to make the entire experience of visiting our venue more welcoming, accessible and inclusive.
“By coming on this journey, Battersea Arts Centre are sending a bold and exciting message to their staff, artists and audiences that they understand, welcome and celebrate disability arts and culture in all of its many forms. We can’t wait for you to experience the difference!”
Jess Thom, co-founder of Touretteshero
Developing a Relaxed Venue Model
The Relaxed Venue method takes the principles that guide Relaxed Performances and applies them across all of an organisation’s spaces and programmes.
Relaxed Performances were originally devised to make performance more accessible to people disabled by the usual rules of theatre etiquette.
The principles encompass everything from clear, understandable advance information, to taking a relaxed approach to movement and noise coming from the audience.
Jess and Touretteshero have worked with our staff at every level to identify disabling barriers and to develop creative solutions to them.
In practical terms, this is being demonstrated in several ways:
- Ensuring the key principles of Relaxed Performances are present for the overwhelming majority of Battersea Arts Centre’s programme, including a permanent ‘chill out space’ in the building, availability of ear defenders, and a commitment to welcoming diverse audiences.
- Consistent ongoing offers of other types of access performances
- Programming that reflects disability culture and disabled-led work
- A range of commitments across all our management operations to ensure that access and inclusivity remains at the heart of all our structures and activity.
Over 90% of performances at Battersea Arts Centre in our Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019 seasons were (or would have been) Relaxed, benefitting a huge range of audiences including autistic people, those with learning disabilities, movement disorders, or dementia – or just people with very loud laughs.
The Relaxed Venue method starts with the social model of disability, which says disability isn’t caused by people’s bodies or minds, but by how society is structured. It understands that it’s completely normal for bodies and minds to work differently, and for some people to have impairments and others not. People are more or less disabled according to their environment or circumstances.
The social model allows individuals, organisations and society to create less-disabling spaces, systems and attitudes by considering difference from the outset.
The Relaxed Venue method focuses on six areas:
- Physical – building and spaces
- Creative – shows and artistic programme
- Structural – governance and staffing
- Digital – website and social media
- Emotional – relationships with audience, staff and volunteers
- Community – connections and social action work
The Guiding Commitments
Three guiding commitments emerged for what Relaxed Venues will work to embed. These simple commitments can be applied to many areas of life and have the potential to radically improve disabled people’s experience of public spaces.
- To create no new barriers: A Relaxed Venue understands disability using the social model and acknowledges that people with impairments are disabled by environments, systems and attitudes that do not consider difference in how they are set up. A Relaxed Venue commits to considering access at every stage of any project, and to creating no new disabling barriers within their work.
- To ensure equality of experience: A Relaxed Venue goes beyond being technically accessible to disabled people and understands that there needs to be parity in the services it provides. This does not mean that everyone has to experience exactly the same thing, but it does mean that thought is put into how experiences feel for all audiences, staff and artists.
- To reduce fuss: A Relaxed Venue acknowledges the accumulative impact that experiencing barriers has on individual and community wellbeing, and therefore commits to reducing fuss around access requirements by ensuring that they are understood, embedded and as seamless as possible.
“Battersea Arts Centre has been transformed by this methodology, far beyond what we could have possibly imagined. It has completely altered how we think of ourselves and our relationship to the world.
There’s a new immediacy and contact between the live performers and audiences that didn’t previously exist. This isn’t just a positive economic or ethical choice for us, it is a positive artistic one. The work we have done has been transformational, not just for a few people, but for everyone who comes into our building.”
Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre
News & Media
Jess Thom chats to Graeae’s Associate Director Nickie Miles-Wildin about the idea behind Touretteshero, the importance of relaxed performances and the impact recent changes in policy have had on disabled people.
Relax Your Venue